The Nature of the Tribulation: A Time of Trouble and Distress

The word “tribulation” best fits under this category, and its literal meaning is “to press,” as to press grapes; it also carries the meaning, to be afflicted, and burdened. Besides the word tribulation, seven other words in the following passages fit under this heading: trouble, distress, misfortune, testing (or trial), gloom, darkness, and desolation.

Deuteronomy 4:30 (ASV)

When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, in the latter days thou shalt return to Jehovah thy God, and hearken unto his voice:

This is no doubt referring to when Israel, at the very end of the Tribulation, sees Jesus coming in the clouds and they mourn over their rejection of Him and repent (read Zechariah 12:10).

Jeremiah 30:7

Alas! for that day is great,

There is none like it;

And it is the time of Jacob’s distress (trouble, ASV),

But he will be saved from it.

Though the Tribulation is meant for all unrepentant sinners, it is especially meant for Israel, to compel her to repent.

Joel 2:1-2

Blow a trumpet in Zion,

And sound an alarm on My holy mountain!

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,

For the day of the Lord is coming;

Surely it is near,

2 A day of darkness and gloom,

A day of clouds and thick darkness.

As the dawn is spread over the mountains,

So there is a great and mighty people;

There has never been anything like it,

Nor will there be again after it

To the years of many generations.

(see also Amos 5:18, 20)

The people in Joel’s day are familiar with the darkness and gloom of a locust plague. Here the prophet uses this well-known plague and drought to warn of the future Day of the Lord when something like locust will invade the earth, but they will be more destructive and demonic (Joel 2:4-11; Rev. 9:7-9).

Obadiah 12-15

“Do not gloat over your brother’s day,

The day of his misfortune.

And do not rejoice over the sons of Judah

In the day of their destruction;

Yes, do not boast

In the day of their distress.

13 “Do not enter the gate of My people

In the day of their disaster.

Yes, you, do not gloat over their calamity

In the day of their disaster.

And do not loot their wealth

In the day of their disaster.

14 “And do not stand at the fork of the road

To cut down their fugitives;

And do not imprison their survivors

In the day of their distress.

15″For the day of the Lord draws near on all the nations.

As you have done, it will be done to you.

Your dealings will return on your own head.

This is a warning and a prophecy to all nations that mistreat and curse Israel. The warning began way back in Abraham’s day when God declared, “And the one who curses you [Israel] I will curse” (Gen. 12:3). So here Obadiah gives a warning to the enemies of Israel not to rejoice and gloat over their calamity, or loot their wealth, etc. Because if they do, those things “will be done to you.” Hence, the Tribulation will be for some the penalty for mistreating Israel.

Zephaniah 1:15

A day of wrath is that day,

A day of trouble and distress,

A day of destruction and desolation,

A day of darkness and gloom,

A day of clouds and thick darkness,

This verse, and verses 14-18, seem to point to the near fulfilment when Babylon subdued Judah, but also to a far fulfillment involving the entire earth in the Tribulation.

Matthew 24:21

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.

Revelation 7:14

And I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

These ones were saved during the tribulation, were martyred for their faith, and are here in heaven.

Revelation 3:10

Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.

Here is God’s promise to this Philadelphia church, and also to all believers of all times, that He will keep us from the “hour of testing,” which is meant as the Tribulation. Hence, God has not destined His church for wrath—either for the Tribulation wrath or for eternal wrath (1 Thess. 5:9).

In this second category we are focusing on all the things that will bring personal suffering, pain and misery. Certainly, God’s purpose for this is to cause sinners to repent. And for many it will work; for as we see in the fifth seal, many will be martyred for their faith. Then also, just as Jesus returns, when they see Him, the entire nation of Jews (those who are spared) will repent and be saved.

Many however, even after all their suffering, will not repent, but will continue to blaspheme God (Rev. 16:21). For them the distress and trouble and anguish, even the darkness and gloom and desolation of the Tribulation will be God’s judgment on them for their sins. Here are a few samples from the actual Tribulation.

Revelation 9:2-6 (the fifth trumpet)

And he opened the bottomless pit; and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. 3 And out of the smoke came forth locusts upon the earth; and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4 And they were told that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but to torment for five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings a man.

Revelation 16:2 (the first bowl)

And the first angel went and poured out his bowl into the earth; and it became a loathsome and malignant sore upon the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.

Revelation 16:8-9 (the fourth bowl)

And the fourth angel poured out his bowl upon the sun; and it was given to it to scorch men with fire. 9 And men were scorched with fierce heat;

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