THE TRIBULATION EXPLAINED
¶ “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.
Perhaps nothing has struck more terror in the hearts of young believers than the teaching by Bible-Prophecy preachers about the coming tribulation! I have literally spoken with young people who have had to see a counsellor to try and deal with their resultant anxiety. It is claimed that this coming global calamity will be divided into two equal parts. The first 3½ years will be tribulation where the Anti-Christ will beguile the world into making him their leader, yet all the while hatching an evil plot to exterminate the Jews. The second 3½ years, of the 7 year period of Tribulation, will be known The Great Tribulation. This, it is stated, will be when the Anti-Christ will declare himself to be God, sit “on the throne of God” and challenge the Son of God to war, referred as Armageddon.
¶ “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
Many people have been led to believe that this horrific period is forecast in the Book of Revelation. But how many have their understanding of the Book of Revelation distorted by their lack of understanding about historical context, the use of Biblical language, and even modern opinions?
I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
And this is one of the biggest problems with how people approach the Book of Revelation: the historical background to the Book is unknown to most readers. The second huge problem is that most people who promote themselves as experts on “End Times” or “Bible Prophecy” do not understand how the principles of sound Biblical hermeneutics also apply equally to the Book of Revelation. For example, one of the first assumptions that those who employ sound hermeneutics use is, treat any Biblical book as if it was written to someone else. This demands that we study the original audience context as well as the Biblical context. But this presents a problem to the modern reader since we are at least two thousand years removed from the original audience. If we fail to address these problems when interpretting what the Book of Revelation means by tribulation, we are doomed to commit the same errors that have plagued the history of Revelation’s interpretation. (I have compiled a small list of such of failed interpretations.)
Anyone who studies the Book of Revelation will soon come across the term “apocalyptic”. The language of the Book of Revelation is regarded as “apocalyptic”. Similarly, the student of Revelation will read that “apocalyptic” has to do with symbolic prophetic language regarding the end of the world. This definition though is somewhat unsubstantiated. “Apocalyptic” does not mean the end of the world, rather it means to unveil. It comes from the Greek word, apocalypsis. This is the original Greek word for the English word translated as Revelation. Thus, while the nature of the term apocalyptic is certainly symbolic, certainly prophetic, and certainly about the ending of something, but it is not necessarily (if at all) about the end of the world.
If a student of the Book of Revelation (i) ignores the historical context of the book, (ii) assumes that it is describing the end of the world (an expression no where found in the Book itself) – it will inevitably lead to some wild speculation about what this book means. History reveals that this speculation has brought much discredit to the cause of promoting Christ and His infallble Word when well-meaning (but mistaken) people make bold claims that the Book of Revelation predicts the fortunes of their own nation in their own day. The Book of Revelation not only does not make this claim, it actually claims to be speaking to a first century audience within the existing Roman Empire. But I am now rushing ahead of myself.
The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible for good reason. It requires some knowledge of the rest of the Bible in order to appreciate it. Without understanding the overall context of the Bible, it is impossible to understand the Book of Revelation. It draws upon the language and imagery of the Old Testament. For example, in Revelation 17 it describes a great prostitute who is curiously dressed in the exact fashion described in Exodus 29 yet with deliberately different embossed wording. Failure to appreciate Revelation’s usage of the Old Testament will cause the reader to miss this connection and then fail to get the point of what the author is saying.
The single greatest historical factor affecting the first century Church was: persecution. This was coming from two colluding sources. Knowing this dramatically affects how we interpret the Book of Revelation. These two sources are consistently referred to throughout Revelation- Beast and the False Prophet, Beast from across the sea and the Beast of the Land, the Seven Headed Beast and the Mother of Prostitutes.
I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The Church was being persecuted by Jerusalem and Rome. Christians were being martyred. We are told in Revelation 2 that Antipas had been killed for being a Christian. We are told in Revelation 6 that there were many martyrs who had been killed for following Christ. Even John was writing this Book as a persecuted Christian. It looked to many believers that the Church would be conquered by this unrelenting persecution. But John’s visions of Christ’s Revelation, reassured the suffering Church that Jesus was indeed Lord, and that He would indeed conquer.
Rome launched its persecution against Christians in 64AD under the direction of Caesar Nero. This ended with his death in 68AD. It had lasted around 1240 days (3 and half years). Rome launched its attack against Jerusalem in 66AD and this ended when Jerusalem fell under the leadership of Caesar Vespasian in 70AD. This was a period of 1260 days (3 ½ years). Those who fail to appreciate this background to the New Testament are the ones who have conjectured a tribulation yet to come, with the first three and half being designated as ‘tribulation’ and latter 3 ½ years being designated as the ‘great tribulation’.
The Book of Revelation was not written to an English-speaking Church living in Western affluence. It was written to a First Century Church undergoing intense tribulation – initially from Jerusalem, then from Rome – and wondering whether their faith in Christ had been in vain. Just as there are lessons for the modern Church from any New Testament book, there are some powerful lessons for today from this ancient book.