The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

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The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#1 Post by Bobcat » 4 weeks ago

(Note to the reader: This is the first in a series of main articles in this thread. See the thread index link towards the bottom of this post for a list of all of those main articles.)

1. "Great Tribulation": Its Linguistic and Prophetic Background


This analysis is somewhat of an offshoot from this thread on the great tribulation. The title in that thread does encapsulate some of what I wanted to focus on here, namely, is there a "great tribulation" that will mark the ending of the current age? But I also wanted to cover some related ground which that thread title doesn't seem to include. Hopefully this thread will encapsulate what I have currently come to believe about "the great tribulation."

Additionally, that thread has wondered a bit topically, so that a 'clean sheet of paper' (so-to-speak) seemed the best way to go. If I come across other threads with similar ideas, I will link to them also for cross reference.

When possible, I will include links to pertinent ideas or material so as to cut down on text in this post. That has been my posting custom and it takes advantage of the Internet's unique hyperlinking abilities (in contrast to the written page). It allows for more 'white space' with easier to read and more logical flowing discussion.

How This World Ends

Even without referring to the words "great tribulation," there are numerous scriptures, both in the NT and the OT, that depict this world or age (or "system of things") as coming to an end in a cataclysmic confrontation with God. And there are pre-existing patterns that support this conclusion: The deluge ended the pre-flood world. (Mt 24:37; 2Pe 2:4-5, 9) The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Luke 17:28-30; Jude 7) The Babylonian invasion that ended the era of the Solomonic Temple. And of course, the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 CE which ended the second Temple era. Past eras don't just go away quietly into the night. Neither should we expect the present age to do so. (2Pe 3:3-7, 10)

Regarding how the present age comes to its end, we have, for example, in the OT, Ezek 38 & 39 describing the nations making a combined assault on God's people, which ends in the destruction of the enemy forces and their populations (Ezek 38:18-23). In Daniel, after envisioning the march of kingdoms across many centuries, Dan 2:44 describes God as 'setting up a kingdom' which then "crushes" all these other kingdoms. Zech 14:1-16 describes a massing of all nations against Jerusalem (at God's instigation, just as in Ezek 38:3-4), which then ends disastrously for the nations, leaving them only some survivors. (Zech 14:16) Numerous other OT examples could be cited. But, in general, they all point to a final, epochal confrontation between the nations of this world and Jehovah God.

The NT also carries this idea, no doubt in part, because of its familiarity with the OT background. Matthew 7:22-23 & 24:36 speak of "that day" which is compared with the catastrophic end of Noah's generation. (Mt 24:37-39) Eph 5:6 speaks of 'God's wrath coming upon the sons of disobedience.' (Compare Eph 2:2) 1Th 5:1-9 also speaks of "the day of the Lord" (1Th 5:2) which is also referred to as a day of "wrath" (1Th 5:9) and which results in "sudden destruction" for all those not ready for it. (1Th 5:3) 2Th 1:6-10 describes the 'revelation of Jesus from heaven' when he brings fiery vengeance upon persecutors of God's people. (See also 2Pe 2:3-10; 3:1-7, 10-12; Jude 14-15)

If there is anything new in the NT references to "that day," it would be mainly the addition of Christ's role in it, although, this is already hinted at in Dan 12:1. Psalm 2 & 110 also include the idea of an appointed king acting in God's behalf against all their enemies massed in opposition. (Ps 2:1-3; 110:5-6)

All of this relates to the question asked in the thread referred to above, namely, whether there will be an age ending great tribulation. One does not need to examine the words "great tribulation" in order to see that the Bible foretells a "great tribulation" or cataclysmic confrontation that brings the present age to its end. But having established that, of further interest is the question of how this age ending event will take place.

Occurrences in the NT

Regarding the word "tribulation" (θλῖψις, thlipsis, Strong's 2347), it occurs 45 times in the NT (see note # 2 below). The vast majority of these instances refer to personal or group sufferings for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, persecution.

Of the 45 occurrences, the only ones that are possibly related to the topic of this thread are: Mt 24:21, 29; Mr 13:19, 24 (which are the parallel to the two verses in Matthew), Rom 2:9, 2Th 1:6, and Rev 7:14.

The phrase "great tribulation" only occurs at Mt 24:21, Rev 2:22 & 7:14. We can exclude Rev 2:22 from this analysis since that verse is referring to what happens to a particular individual and her followers. But we could rightly include Mr 13:19. It doesn't use the exact phrase "great tribulation" (as does its parallel in Mt 24:21), but the phrasing Mark uses has the same meaning.

Interestingly, the phrase, "the great tribulation" (τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης, tes thlipseos tes megales, literally, "the tribulation the great"), only occurs once, namely, in Rev 7:14. (The use of the definite article sometimes highlights the uniqueness, specificity, or the particularity of the noun it is used with.) For the reader, this fact about Rev 7:14 may provide a hint as to why this thread is entitled as it is.

In Matthew 24 & Mark 13

The occurrences of "tribulation" in both Matthew 24 and Mark 13 are of interest for this study. For many people, Mt 24:21 & Mr 13:19 are the go to verses when talking about a future "great tribulation."

As indicated just above, Mt 24:21 & Mr 13:19 don't use the articular phrasing, namely, "the great tribulation." Thus, from a purely technical standpoint, someone might claim that Mt 24:21 & Mr 13:19 do not refer to "THE great tribulation." Nevertheless, the phrasing of both verses speak of that "tribulation" as both a unique and never to be repeated event.

Noteworthy about these two verses is the localized context in which they were to occur: "Those in Judea" are told to flee before it happens. And there are "mountains" within fleeing distance. (Mt 24:16; Mr 13:14) People within the context have a habit of having "roofs" that can be occupied. (Mt 24:17; Mr 13:15) They are to pray that it doesn't occur on a Sabbath, where Sabbath laws would make fleeing difficult. (Mt 24:20) The ones being told to flee are understood to live in a largely agrarian society. (Mt 24:18; Mr 13:16) Travel in the "winter" or while being "pregnant" is understood to be difficult. (Mt 24:19-20; Mr 13:18) Indeed, the very fact that Jesus gives directions to flee is an indication that this "great tribulation" is a localized one. (Contrast Am 9:1-3)

The larger context of these two verses has Jesus mentioning this "great tribulation" in connection with a foretold destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Mt 24:1-2; Mr 13:1-2), and the disciples wanting to know when this would occur (Mt 24:3; Mr 13:3-4). That would argue that Jesus' answer would pertain to desire to know.

Another indication of a localized "great tribulation" in Mt 24:21 & Mr 13:19 (as opposed to a worldwide event) comes from a comparison with Luke's rendition of the Olivet Discourse. In Mt 24:15 & Mr 13:14 Jesus gives a somewhat cryptic sign that indicates when this "great tribulation" is about to occur. This sign answers, in part, to the disciples' question of "when will these things be?" (in Mt 24:3, Mr 13:4 & Lu 21:7). In both Matthew's & Mark's account, this sign requires "discernment." And in Matthew it is related to the prophecies of "Daniel." But the parallel verse in Luke (Lu 21:20) describes the sign this way: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies ..." Perhaps Luke is using plainer language that his gentile acquaintance Theophilus will better appreciate. (Lu 1:3-4) At any rate, it does show that the prophecy was understood to have a first century fulfillment upon the Jewish nation. (Lu 21:21-23) (Regarding the different phrasing in Lu 21:20 compared with Mt 24:15, see also here.)

Mt 24:34, Mr 13:30-31 & Lu 21:32 also describe a localized time limit during which "these things" will take place. And Jesus assures his disciples that it will happen within the collective lifetime of "this generation." (For the use of "generation" within the book of Matthew, see here. And for links to discussions of various aspects of the parable of the fig tree, see this post.)

All these facts about Mt 24:21 and Mr 13:19 point to a "great tribulation" that would occur in the land of Judea, and within the collective lifetimes of the people then alive at the giving of the prophecy (c. 33 CE). And in fact, such an event did occur in the 66-73 CE time frame.
Luke's account of the opening of the Jewish-Roman War is, on the surface, worded quite differently than Matthew's version. Yet, upon closer inspection, Lu 21:20-24 has all the elements of Mt 24:15-21.
  • Lu 21:20 ("When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies") would equate with Mt 24:15a ("When you see the desolating abomination standing in a holy place").
  • Mt 24:15b ("spoken about by Daniel the prophet ... let the reader understand") becomes Lu 21:22 ("for these are days for vengeance, to fulfill all that is written"). (Compare this with Matthew's "fig tree" in Mt 24:32 versus Lu 21:29, "fig tree and all the trees"). Luke's more general statement ("to fulfill all that is written") would seem to make more sense when understood to be addressed to a Gentile student. (Lu 1:3-4) Matthew's more precise statement ("spoken about by Daniel the prophet") makes more sense when understood to have been written originally to a Jewish audience, already familiar with the OT.
  • The instructions to flee in Mt 24:16-20 are included in Lu 21:21, 23a. (There are some interesting differences in wording between the two accounts. Matthew's seems to have more local detail. Luke's seems to have a more distant viewpoint.)
  • Matthew's warning about pregnant and nursing mothers (Mt 24:19) is mirrored in Lu 21:23. But Luke leaves out Matthew's warning about winter and Sabbath travel. (Mt 24:20) Something a Gentile reader would not be so familiar with (the Sabbath, that is).
  • Matthew's "those days" in Mt 24:19 and "great tribulation" in Mt 24:21 becomes "For there will be great distress upon the earth (i.e. "land"; Gk ges) and wrath against this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations" in Lu 21:23b & 24a.
  • And finally, Matthew's, 'nor will ever happen again' (Mt 24:21b) becomes, "and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (i.e. to the end of the present age). (Lu 21:24b) Implying that Jerusalem would never again be a center for true worship throughout the rest of this present age. (See the link in this post which goes to an online Jewish library article which posits that all the Jewish troubles since the first century have their roots in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 CE. Regarding the phrase "Gentile Times" see note # 1 below.)
Luke's wording makes a lot of sense when seen as an attempt to explain this account to a Gentile who is fairly new to Christianity. (Lu 1:3-4) By comparison, Matthew's version makes more sense when seen as originally written to an audience already familiar with Jewish and Christian teaching. From the view point that these writings were meant to be beneficial to audiences across many centuries (2Ti 3:16-17), this combination of accounts provides a way to explain them better. Perhaps one could gain some insight into why Holy Spirit would choose the different writers for the gospel accounts.


Admittedly, there is some seemingly extravagant phrasing used (Mt 24:14, 21), that is, extravagant for a first century only fulfillment. And there are allusions to OT prophecies that are left unexplained (Mt 24:29=Isa 13:10; 34:4; Mt 24:30=Dan 7:13-14; Mt 24:31=De 30:4, Zech 2:10 LXX, Isa 27:13). These things strongly suggest to some that there must be some extended fulfillment to Mt 24:21 and Mr 13:19 beyond the first century. But a straightforward reading of the prophecy within its context lends itself to seeing a "great tribulation" that befell the first century nation of Israel.

(See also this post which argues that the literary structuring of Matthew chapter 24 requires Mt 24:4-35 to be Jesus' answer to the disciples first question in Mt 24:3 about the destruction of the Temple.)

(Part 2 continues in the next post.)


Thread Index

1. For a detailed discussion of the "Gentile Times" of Lu 21:24, see this thread. In connection with the "Gentile Times" and how they may relate to Daniel chapter 4, see this post.
2. Below are all of the occurrences of θλῖψις (thlipsis; "tribulation" or "distress"; Strong's # 2347) in the NT:
Mt 13:21; 24:9, 21, 29 (4x); Mr 4:17; 13:19, 24 (3x); Jn 16:21, 33 (2x); Ac 7:10, 11; 11:19; 14:22; 20:23 (5x); Rom 2:9; 5:3; 8:35; 12:12 (5x); 1Co 7:28; 2Co 1:4, 8; 2:4; 4:17; 6:4; 7:4; 8:2, 13 (9x); Eph 3:13; Php 1:17; 4:14 (2x); Col 1:24; 1Th 1:6; 3:3, 7 (3x); 2Th 1:4, 6 (2x); Heb 10:33; Jas 1:27; Rev 1:9; 2:9, 10, 22; 7:14 (5x)

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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#2 Post by Bobcat » 4 weeks ago

2. Objections To a 1st Century Only Fulfillment


Many would take exception to the idea of a 1st century only fulfillment of Matthew 24:21. Persons who hold a 1st century only view of Mt 24:21 are sometimes labeled as "preterists." Although, I believe a true preterist holds that all prophecy has found its fulfillment in the 1st century. And that is definitely not a view that is being espoused in this thread. Rather, in part 1 in the previous post, the only verses that are being viewed this way are Mt 24:21 and its parallel in Mr 13:19. The previous post discussed the context within which these two verses are found. And that context definitely indicates a local fulfillment upon the 1st century Jews. So, what are the counter-arguments that can be raised against this view and that argue for a greater fulfillment?

The Counter-Arguments

One counter-argument that could be raised, and has been raised, involves the wording of both Mt 24:14 and Mt 24:21. The argument basically says that the wording of these two verses requires something beyond what happened in the first century.

Regarding Mt 24:14, the counter-argument generally goes like this: The verse foretells the preaching of the good news in "all the inhabited earth" and as a witness to "all the nations." Therefore, since the entire earth had not been reached by the good news in the first century, the prophecy must have, at the very least, some double, and/or extended fulfillment beyond the first century.

But in response to that argument, one needs to remember, first of all, that the surrounding context, as discussed in part 1, gives no such indication of any fulfillment beyond the first century Jewish nation.* Such an extended fulfillment has to be read into the prophecy, theorized, postulated about.
* With the exception of Mt 24:31. This verse does indeed describe an extension into the farthest reaches of the earth. And notice that the verse concludes the prophecy in a somewhat open-ended fashion. Jesus sends out his angels on an earth-wide gathering mission. There is no "then ..." that follows. (On the Greek word τότε ["then"] and Matthew's use of it to create a chronological timeline of events, see this post.)

But in describing an earth-wide gathering, Mt 24:31 would also argue that the prophecy that precedes it (Mt 24:14, 15-30) is more local in nature. If one sees the events of Mt 24:15-30 as involving the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in the first century, and Mt 24:31 as an earth-wide gathering of chosen ones, then, the prophecy follows the events described in the parable of the wedding banquet. (Mt 22:1-14) There, selected ones are first invited to the king's wedding banquet. (Mt 22:2-4) When they refuse (Mt 22:5-6), the king sends his armies to destroy their city (Mt 22:7). Then the king sends his servants out on an exhaustive search for more wedding guests (Mt 22:8-10). Mt 24:14-31 follows this pattern when understood as described above.

"In All the Inhabited Earth" & "To All the Nations"

Is it possible to understand Mt 24:14 as having a complete first century fulfillment? Consider these points:

1. According to Mt 24:14, the preaching of the good news, to the extent described, happens first. "And then" (Greek τότε) "the end will come." Thus, if Mt 24:15 refers to the situation described in Lu 21:20, then, Mt 24:14 had to have been fulfilled before that. And Jesus assured that it would be so. (Mt 24:35, Mr 13:31, Lu 21:33) Even if one doesn't understand how that could have been, trusting in Jesus (Jn 14:1), that he knew what he was talking about, should move one to look for such a fulfillment, instead of devising arguments that allow his words not to come true.

2. Does "the whole inhabited earth" and "all the nations" have to be understood as referring to "the most distant parts of the earth" (as in Acts 1:8)? Well, consider Paul's words at Col 1:6, 23, where he speaks of the good news as having already been preached "in the whole world" and "in all creation under heaven." The letter to the Colossians is generally thought to have been written about 60-62 CE (that is, before the Jewish-Roman War). Commenting on the phrase, "in all creation," Constable's Notes offers this thought:
The gospel had had wide circulation. “In all creation under heaven” must be hyperbole meaning it had gone everywhere in a general sense. Paul was contrasting the wide appeal and proclamation of the gospel with the exclusive appeal and comparatively limited circulation of the false teachers’ message.

Consider also Paul's words at Rom 16:25, 26 where he speaks of the gospel as having already reached "all the nations." (Compare also Rom 10:17-18. Rom 10:18 is a quotation of Ps 19:4.) Obviously, Paul does not mean that the entire planet has been reached. Paul does not even know if nations exist across the Atlantic. But at the same time, Paul is not restricted to modern ideas of what constitutes scholastic journalism. Nor is he subject to litigation or having to answer to a modern media world trying to pin him down on every word. So that, part of the problem in thinking that "all the nations" can only be fulfilled if the most distant parts of the planet have been reached, this is a problem of imposing modern pedantic ideas of what constitutes journalistic truth, onto an ancient text that had no such extreme views.

It is similar with the phrase, "the whole inhabited earth." The Greek word οἰκουμένῃ (oikoumene, "inhabited earth"), as used in the NT, does not necessarily mean the whole planet (e.g. compare Luke 2:1; Acts 11:28; 19:27). AMG's Greek-English dictionary defines its use in the NT as, “the Roman empire” or “the world as known to the people of ancient times,” or even just “Palestine and adjacent countries.” (p. 1033) (On oikoumene, see also this post.)
"Paul can speak of the area from Jerusalem to the Adriatic as already fully evangelized in the mid-fifties, with the result that he has no more scope for mission there and is already planning to go on to Spain (Rom 15:18-24)." (NICNT-Matthew, R. T. France, p. 909)

These points show that Mt 24:14 can be reasonably understood as having had complete fulfillment before the start of the 66-73 CE Jewish-Roman War. And it would show that, Jews, spread throughout the Roman Empire, did receive a witness before God's judgment fell upon their nation and way of life. And this also corresponds with the fact that the surrounding context describes a first century fulfillment. (Josephus, in his Wars, describes how Jews were massacred in various nations as the Jewish-Roman War broke out.) Indeed, the fact that Bible writers, and even Jesus himself, employ hyperbole with relative ease, this should give the modern reader pause before concluding that any particular phrase must be understood in its ultimate literal sense.

"Unlike Anything That Has Happened ... Until Now"

What about the extravagant language employed in Mt 24:21? The verse speaks of a tribulation "unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now." (Mt 24:21 NET) A person might argue that the flood of Noah's day was far greater than anything that happened in the first century. And technically speaking, that would be correct. Therefore, according to that logic, there has to be a greater fulfillment to Mt 24:21 at some yet future time.

But regarding the language employed to describe the great tribulation in Matthew 24:21*, the NICNT-Matthew commentary (R. T. France, p. 915) has this to say about it:
Josephus’s lurid description of the horrors of the siege (War 5.424-38, 512-18, 567-72; 6.193-213) shows that, while v. 21 uses the hyperbolic language of apocalyptic (cf. Dan 12:1; Joel 2:2; 1QM 1:11-12; T. Mos. 8:1; Rev 16:18), it is an assessment which those involved in the events would have been agreed on. In passing, we should note that “nor ever will be again” confirms that this passage [Mt 24:21] is about a historical event, not about the end of the world!
A footnote in that same reference says:
“Josephus himself, who was involved in the events, claims that none of the disasters since the world began can compare to the fate of Jerusalem (War 1.12).” [This, despite the fact that Josephus also wrote about the deluge in his Antiquities.]

[Material in brackets “[ ]” is Bobcat’s.]

When taken within their context of a coming judgment upon God's disobedient people, and when viewed with the "horrors" that would be inflicted upon the Jews, that tribulation could rightly be described as "unlike anything that has happened from the beginning of the world until now." It was going to be more intense than even what happened during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem.

Compare too, the basic meaning of the word "tribulation." In many contexts various translations render it as "sufferings" or "distresses." Jesus apparently foresaw some of the "great sufferings" that the Jewish-Roman War would bring upon them. In comparison, according to Jesus, the people of the Deluge were, "unaware until the flood came and swept them all away." (Mt 24:39) When seen that way, "the first century "great tribulation" that befell the Jews was certainly worse than what the people of the flood experienced.

Notice also that, in describing this "great tribulation," Jesus next warns his followers not to be fooled into thinking that this is somehow related to "the parousia of the Son of Man." (Mt 24:23-27) The parousia will be universally recognized. (Mt 24:27) So this also argues that the "great tribulation" in Mt 24:21 was intended to be understood as a first century judgment upon the Jewish nation. (On Jesus' parousia, and that it involves a universal judgment, see this post.)

If one wants to believe that Mt 24:21 has to have a larger fulfillment beyond its context in Matthew 24, that is his or her right to do so. But as I will argue further, such a view will cause distortions in how they understand the events involved in a future "great tribulation."

* In Mt 24:21 Jesus may, in fact, be alluding specifically to Dan 12:1 (which itself reflects the language of Jer 30:7). The language in both verses is quite similar. (The NICNT-Matthew commentary says as much, calling Mt 24:21 an 'echo' of Dan 12:1. It also suggests that Mt 24:22b is probably drawn from "your people, everyone whose name is found written in the book" in Dan 12:1.)

Throughout the Olivet Discourse Jesus alludes to various passages in the OT. But, prefacing Mt 24:21, Jesus makes reference to the prophecy of Daniel in Mt 24:15. There, Jesus mentions an event that is referred to at Dan 12:11. And the context of Daniel 12 links verse 11 with the tribulation described in Dan 12:1. For a discussion of the possibility of Nero fitting the description of the king on the north in Dan 11:36-45, see this post. And for a discussion of how the 1290 & 1335 days of Dan 12:11, 12 fit within the context of the Jewish-Roman War, see this post.

Of further interest is the fact that Dan 12:11 mentions two events, whereas, Jesus, in Mt 24:15, only mentions the second of those two, which took place in November of 66 CE. The first event mentioned in Dan 12:11 may have taken place in July of 66. This was when Roman procurator Gessius Florus robbed the Temple. See here for some discussion of that. (That same link also refers to a curious 'cry of peace' made by Nero in May of 66 CE.)

"The End" Begins

"The end" (at Mt 24:14) starts with "the abomination of desolation" standing in "a holy place." (Mt 24:15; Lu 21:20)

Open rebellion against the Roman authorities breaks out in 66 CE. Syrian governor Cestius Gallus is tasked with quelling it. He arrives in October of 66 CE with the XII Roman legion plus auxiliaries. This post has the best timeline, converted to our calendar, that I have been able to come up with. So far it has worked well when linked with other known historical dates. The linked post shows the dating of Gallus' movements against the city and Temple.

For some unknown reason, Gallus and his forces retire from the city. This is November 14/15, 66 CE. Gallus' movements against the city and Temple constitute the sign that Jesus referred to at Mt 24:15. Some months previous, in July of 66 CE, Roman procurator Gessius Florus robbed the Temple of a large amount of dedicated funds. In response, the daily sacrifice was stopped in protest. (See the related link a few paragraphs above in the previous sub-title.) This event and Gallus' movement against the city and Temple constitute the two events described in Dan 12:11. And they start the clock to ticking in connection with the 1290 & 1335 days of Dan 12:11-12.

Gallus' incursion and retreat signal to Christians that the time has come to flee, as instructed by Jesus at Mt 24:16-20. On the other hand, Jewish rebels inflict a humiliating defeat on the retiring Roman forces at the Beth Horon pass (for which see here). When Nero hears the news, he falls into a rage. (Compare Dan 11:44) Josephus writes:
When Nero was informed of the Romans' ill success in Judea [which is "east" of Rome and in connection with the military disaster that befell Cestius Gallus], a concealed consternation and terror, as is usual in such cases, fell upon him; although he openly looked very big, and was very angry, and said that what had happened was rather owing to the negligence of the commander, than to any valor of the enemy: and as he thought it fit for him, who bare the burden of the whole empire, to despise such misfortunes, he now pretended so to do, and to have a soul superior to all such sad accidents whatsoever. Yet did the disturbance that was in his soul plainly appear by the solicitude he was in (how to recover his affairs again). (Wars of the Jews, 3.1.1; material in brackets is Bobcat's for context)

The 'reports out of the sun-rising' would refer to what was happening in Judea and Jerusalem.( See this post for links related to the "reports out of the north.")

Vespasian's mission, given to him by Nero, is different from Gallus' assignment. Cestius Gallus was sent to quell the rebellion in Judea. Vespasian was sent to destroy the rebellion and hopefully set them as a lesson for any other nations that might think of breaking free of Rome.

All this sets the stage for Jesus' next words: "For then there will be great tribulation ..."

(Part 3 picks up in the next post. It might seem like we are a long way off from Rev 7:14. But what happens in the first century sets a pattern for the future "great tribulation." So we are covering necessary ground.)


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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#3 Post by Bobcat » 4 weeks ago

3. "Immediately After the Tribulation of Those Days"


After foretelling that the good news would be widely preached far outside of Judea, Mt 24:14 ends with the ominous, "and then the end will come." Matthew's account gives the following sequence of what constitutes "the end":
1. 'When you see the "abomination of desolation ...' (Mt 24:15)

2. "Then those in Judea must flee ..." (Mt 24:16-20 NET)

3. "For then there will be great tribulation ..." (Mt 24:21-22)

4. Then if anyone says to you ... for false messiahs and false prophets will appear" (Mt 24:23-28)

(Note Matthew's use of "then" (Greek tote) to chronologically sequence all these events. On the Greek word τότε ["then"] and Matthew's use of it to create a timeline of events, see this post.)

Matthew's account next uses a different phrase to introduce the event that follows:
"Immediately after (Gk Εὐθέως δὲ μετὰ; Eutheos de meta) the tribulation of those days ..." (Mt 24:29)
Mark's parallel account says:
"But in those days, after (Gk μετὰ; meta) that tribulation ..." (Mr 13:24, 25)
(Interestingly, Luke 21:25, 26 begins rather simply with, "Also [or "And"; Greek conjunction kai] ..." This may reflect Luke's gentile perspective and audience (Col 4:11, 14; Lu 1:3-4), as Luke then goes on to give more details about what happens in the gentile world than does Matthew 's and Mark's briefer and more cryptic description.)

The event that follows is this:
"... 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" (Mt 24:29 NWT) (Mr 13:24-25 is almost word-for-word the same.)

Celestial Phenomena?

On the surface it may appear that Jesus is describing some sort of "celestial phenomena." (Mt 24:29, Mr 13:24-25, Lu 21:25) And indeed, there are a number of reports of unusual phenomena in the years preceding Jerusalem's destruction. (For example, this web page lists a number of these phenomena.)

It is hard to know what to make of these various "signs" from our distance in time. No doubt, the times leading up to Jerusalem's destruction lent themselves to people looking for signs so as to know where things were headed. (Mt 24:6-7, 11-12) On the other hand, the fact that these phenomena were widely reported even back then may indicate that these things were experienced in some way. The fact that Josephus and Tacitus report these things not long afterwards means that there was less time for the experiences to become embellished.

What the actual cause of these experiences may have been is equally hard to say. For example, one of the accounts has the priests at the Temple hearing voices say, "We are leaving now." But contrast this with what Jesus said at Mt 23:37-38. (I have wondered if the then recent casting out of Satan and his demons may be a factor. For which see this thread.)

Most likely, these phenomena, assuming they happened in some way or form, should be lumped under Luke 21:10, 11, and not as part of the fulfillment of Mt 24:29, Mr 13:24-25 and Lu 21:25. The reasons for this are:
1. These phenomena are scattered over several years, from several years before the Jewish-Roman War broke out, to during the actual siege of Jerusalem. The spread out nature of these various portents fits in nicely with the description given in Lu 21:10-11. The phrasing employed in Lu 21:10-11 lends itself to happenings spread out over the pre-War period, and even into the War. (One might even see the portents being listed last as indicating things that would happen closer to the outbreak of the War. But then again, that might be reading a bit too much detail into the wording of those verses.)

2. The event described in Mt 24:29 (and Mr 13:24-25 & Lu 21:25-26) is placed within a specific sequence in time. It occurs, "immediately after the tribulation of those days." Then the next verse, Mt 24:30, as well as the parallels in Mr 13:26 & Lu 21:27, follow with, "And then ..." (Greek kai tote). This would place Mt 24:29 sometime after the start of the War, but before Mt 24:30 takes place. (In the larger context, Mt 24:29 would be included in "all these things" that were to happen 'before this generation passes away' [Mt 24:34], so that, this would also place Mt 24:29 within the first century Jewish-Roman War.)

"The Tribulation of Those Days"

In describing what is to happen "immediately after," Mt 24:29 refers back to "the tribulation of those days." If Mt 24:30 cryptically describes the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple (as I will argue later), then, "the tribulation of those days" referred to in Mt 24:29 would have to refer back to the opening portion of the War. Commenting on this, the NICNT-Matthew commentary (p. 919-20) says:
This commentary takes the temporal connection [i.e. "immediately after"] at its face value. In response to the disciples' question when the temple would be destroyed, Jesus has first mentioned intervening events which do not constitute reliable "signs" (Mt 24:4-14 [esp. Mt 24:6b]) and has then spoken of the real sign that the "end" is near, the appearance of the devastating pollution [i.e. Mt 24:15]. This has led into a description of the horrors of the Roman war and the siege of Jerusalem, repeatedly characterized as "those days" (Mt 24:19, 22), but apparently without as yet reaching the actual climax of the destruction of the temple. That climax is still awaited at the end of Mt 24:28, and the words which follow provide it: "immediately after the distress of those days ..." The specific time-scale provided in Mt 24:34 will confirm that all this is to happen before the present generation is to pass away. Thus by the time we get to Mt 24:35 the disciples' first question "When will these things happen?" [in Mt 24:3] has been carefully and specifically answered, and it will be time [in Mt 24:36] to move on to their second question, "What will be the sign of your parousia and the end of the age?" of which a parenthetical preview has already been given in Mt 24:27. [Material in brackets is Bobcat's for clarity. Scripture citations have been edited so as to work with the RefTagger app.]

General Vespasian (appointed by Nero), along with some 60,000 troops with auxiliaries, began his campaign in the spring of 67 CE subduing Galilee and Judea, but avoiding Jerusalem because its was heavily defended. (For this reason, many Jews fled to Jerusalem in contradiction to Jesus' instructions - Lu 21:21.) It was during this time that Jesus' words about various Galilean towns came true. (Mt 10:14-15 & 11:20-24) Even before the siege of Jerusalem itself there was plenty of "tribulation" to go around. And on top of the Roman war efforts, there were the effects of various Jewish zealot groups, generally adding to the mayhem, and also terribly mistreating the Jewish populace, especially those who did not fully support them. Describing the opening portion of the war, a Wikipedia article (here) says:
The experienced and unassuming general Vespasian was given the task, by Nero, of crushing the rebellion in Judaea province. Vespasian's son Titus was appointed as second-in-command. Given four legions and assisted by forces of King Agrippa II, Vespasian invaded Galilee in 67. Avoiding a direct attack on the reinforced city of Jerusalem, which was defended by the main rebel force, the Romans launched a persistent campaign to eradicate rebel strongholds and punish the population. Within several months Vespasian and Titus took over the major Jewish strongholds of Galilee and finally overran Jodapatha, which was under the command of Yosef ben Matityahu, as well as subdued Tarichaea, which brought an end to the war in Galilee. Driven from Galilee, Zealot rebels and thousands of refugees arrived in Jerusalem, creating political turmoil. Confrontation between the mainly Sadducee Jerusalemites and the mainly Zealot factions of the Northern Revolt, under the command of John of Giscala and Eleazar ben Simon, erupted into bloody violence. With Idumeans entering the city and fighting by the side of the Zealots, the former high priest, Ananus ben Ananus, was killed and his faction suffered severe casualties. Simon bar Giora, commanding 15,000 militiamen, was then invited into Jerusalem by the Sadducee leaders to stand against the Zealots, and quickly took control over much of the city. Bitter infighting between factions of Simon, John and Eleazar followed through the year 69.
Regarding Mt 11:21-23 and the effect of "the tribulation of those days" upon Galilee, Barne's Notes on the NT says
"In the wars between the Jews and the Romans, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, etc., were so completely desolated that it is difficult to determine their former situation." (See note # 2 below for additional on Vespasian's Galilean campaign.)

What Happened "Immediately After"?

The NICNT-Matthew commentary, quoted above, has always been one of my favorite references on the book of Matthew. The writer, the late Richard T. France, was always keen on trying to clear away centuries of Christian tradition so as to focus on the context and what Jesus' and Matthew's words were actually saying. My copy of this reference is well worn and annotated.

France believed that Matthew 24:29-30, in symbolic language drawn from the OT, depicted the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem. If you reread the quote from the NICNT-Matthew commentary several paragraphs above you will see that he hints at that very thing. He believed that the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple was the event foretold to happen "immediately after" in Mt 24:29-30.

I have come to believe that he was mistaken, at least in part. And I will explain why. And part of the "why" is taken from France's own reasoning itself.

The prophecy that answers to the question of, "When will these things be?" (Mt 24:3) comes to an end at Mt 24:31, with Mt 24:32-35 providing a summary illustration. (Jesus ended his 1st & 3rd recorded discourses in Matthew with summary illustrations also: Mt 7:24-27; 13:51-52) And Mt 24:31 itself is clearly describing events that are moving beyond the destruction of the city and Temple (which correspond with Mt 22:7-9 in the parable of the wedding banquet). So, if the siege of Jerusalem lies after Mt 24:28, then, there are only two verses within which it can happen: Mt 24:29 & 30.

But Mt 24:29 & 30 are describing two events. There is what happens "immediately after" in Mt 24:29. And Mt 24:30 follows with, "And then ..." (Greek kai tote), which, as we have already seen in Mt 24:14, 15-16, 21, 23, serves as a temporal marker, and indicator of the next phase in the prophetic sequence.

If Mt 24:30 symbolically describes the siege of Jerusalem (as I will argue in part 4), then, Mt 24:29 symbolically describes something that happens before that, and yet, "after" the opening portion of the war. And as I have already discussed above, the idea that it was some sort of literal "celestial phenomena" (as reported by Josephus and others) does not fit the time sequencing that Jesus presents.

Regarding Mt 24:29 and "immediately after," France comments:
Two verbal echoes [in Mt 24:29] tie the opening phrase ["immediately after"] closely with Mt 24:15-28: "distress" [i.e. "tribulation"] echoes the term used for the experience of God's people during the siege in Mt 24:21, and "those days" picks up the language of Mt 24:19 & 22 (twice). "Immediately after" makes the link even tighter. Matthew does not share Mark's famously frequent use of "immediately" as a storytelling device [for which see note # 1 below], but when he does use it to link events or stages in a story, it always carries its normal sense; here it is deliberately introduced, and, when combined with "after" [Gk meta], it can only mean that there is no delay separating the two events. [Pages 920-21; Material in brackets is Bobcat's for clarity.]
The problem with saying that Mt 24:29 is describing the siege of Jerusalem is that, there was an historically known delay between Vespasian's Galilean campaign in 67-68 CE and the 70 CE siege of Jerusalem. The siege of Jerusalem did not happen "immediately after" the Galilean campaign. There was a year to year and a half lull in the Roman portion of the war. For the Jews there was continued infighting during this period, so that, there was still much "distress" or "tribulation" upon them.

In discussing the origin of the events described in Mt 24:29 ("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"), France comments:
The words of Mt 24:29 which follow the opening temporal phrase, while not a simple verbatim quotation, are so closely modeled on two OT passages that they are appropriately set out [in France's translation] as a poetic allusion. The first two lines are taken from Isa 13:10; the words are almost all the same as those of the LXX, though the first clause has been recast ("it will be darkened as the sun rises" becomes "the sun will be darkened"). That same text also speaks of the "stars of heaven" not giving their light, which links up with the thought of the second allusion, but the latter is in fact verbally closer to Isa 34:4. In this case the echo is less exact, but the LXX Isaiah text speaks both of the stars falling from heaven and of heaven itself "rolled up like a scroll," while the probable Hebrew text also adds the idea of the host of heaven "rotting away." [Compare with Rev 6:12-14] These two Isaiah texts are the most obvious sources for Jesus' word here, but there are other examples in the OT prophets of similar imagery drawn from cosmic disorder and darkness: see Ezek 32:7-8; Amos 8:9; Joel 2:10, 30-31; 3:15. In most of these passages the immediate context is of God's threatened judgment on cities and nations, both pagan and Israelite; ... In Isa 13:10 the reference is to the coming destruction of Babylon, and in Isa 34:4 to a threatened judgment on "all nations," which is then narrowed down specifically to Edom. Language about cosmic collapse, then, is used by the OT prophets to symbolize God's acts of judgment within history, with the emphasis on catastrophic political reversals. [A footnote compares the cosmic imagery of Mt 24:29 to our modern use of the phrase "earth-shattering," which is sometimes used to describe major turning points within history. Material in brackets is Bobcat's for clarity.]

France then expresses the opinion that this "cosmic imagery" of Mt 24:29 is being borrowed to describe the siege of Jerusalem. But as pointed out above, the temporal connectives that occur at the beginning of Mt 24:29 & 30 indicate that these two verses are describing two events, and the first of those events happens "immediately after" the Galilean campaign, whereas, the siege of Jerusalem is preceded by a lull in the war. And now, as pointed out by France himself, the imagery alluded to in Mt 24:29 actually describes God causing political upheaval among gentile nations.

That Mt 24:29 is describing catastrophic political upheaval among the gentiles can be seen in Luke's parallel account:
25 Also, there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth anguish of nations not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation. 26 People will become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. (Lu 21:25, 26 NWT)

The Year of the Four Emperors

Luke 21:25, 26 uses two phrases that connect Mt 24:29 to gentile political upheaval: "Anguish of nations" and "things coming upon the inhabited earth." (Luke's use of oikouménē ("inhabited earth") typically refers to areas far greater than Judea: Lu 2:1; 4:5; 21:26; Ac 11:28; 17:6, 31; 19:27; 24:5. These are every use of the term by Luke.)

When Mt 24:29 is seen as referring to gentile political turmoil, there is suddenly an historical event that perfectly fits what Jesus foretold. That event is the Roman civil war of 68-69 CE. And it came to be known as, "The Year of the Four Emperors." This post, in the second half of the post, has links to descriptions of the Roman civil war of 68-69 CE. (See also the link in note # 3 below.) It is what caused a lull in the Jewish-Roman War. And it also caused Vespasian to leave the rest of the Jewish campaign to his son Titus, while Vespasian himself left to see about the Roman civil war.

The civil war began with the suicide of Nero in June 68 CE. His excesses eventually led him to become persona-non-grata to the Roman senate and other leaders within the empire. Nero himself foresaw the brewing political discontent within the empire and had plans to move his throne to Alexandria Egypt. But events overtook him and he fled at night, but ended up killing himself before he got too far. (Compare Dan 11:45) For the next eighteen months the Roman Empire went through a catastrophic upheaval that nearly brought the empire to an end. It was just as Jesus described in Lu 21:26. (Vespasian ended up as the fourth of the "four" emperors. Eventually, Titus became emperor after his father. Nero's death brought the Julio-Claudian dynasty line of emperors to an end.)

Why would Jesus interject gentile political troubles into his prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple? The answer has to do with the main source for Jesus' prophecy starting in Mt 24:15. As we have already discussed, there are links in the prophecy to Daniel chapter 12. (For example, Mt 24:15=Dan 12:11; Mt 24:21=Dan 12:1a; Mt 24:22=Dan 12:1b.) The prophecy in Daniel 12 is part of the discussion of the mysterious king of the north beginning in Dan 11:36, so that Dan 11:36-12:12 forms one prophetic series of related events. (For which, see this post which discusses the application of this passage to the time of Nero.)

As already mentioned, "immediately after" closely links Mt 24:29 with Mt 24:15-28. "Those days" in Mt 24:29 also creates a link with Jesus' words in Mt 24:22 about the tribulation being "cut short," even more so if one sees Mt 24:23-28 as an explanatory aside, a sort-of parenthetical warning, in the flow of the prophetic events. From that viewpoint, Mt 24:29 follows "immediately after" Jesus' statement that the tribulation would be "cut short." "After" (Greek meta generally creates a thematic connection between what happens before the "after." In other words, something is described, and then the event that happens "after" is directly related to it.

In the prophecy of Dan 11:36-12:12, the king of the north "enters into the beauteous land and many will fall." (Dan 11:41) This happens sometime before the reports of Dan 11:44 take place. As discussed in part 2, Dan 11:44 links up with when Nero heard the reports of Cestius Gallus' military disaster in Judea.

Historically, Rome burned July 18, 64 CE. It was sometime soon after this that Nero began the first official Roman persecution of Christians. And it was especially vicious. He was trying to deflect claims that he had something to do with the fire. Nero's ability to keep up this persecution ended shortly before his death in June of 68 CE as he lost his ability to operate as emperor. Thus, this period of intense persecution lasted approximately 42 months or 3 ½ times. In the prophecy of Dan 12:7 the angel explaining about the 3 ½ times says that, "when the power of the one who shatters the holy people has been exhausted, all these things will be finished." (Dan 12:7 NET; "all these things will come to their finish" - NWT) The angel's idea appears to be that the conclusion of the prophecy would follow quickly afterwards. (On the 3 ½ times of Dan 12:7 and its application to Nero, see also this post and included links.)

Historically, the Roman civil war ended in December 69 CE. Titus began his siege of Jerusalem in February 70 CE. And by the end of July the temple lay in ruins. This would explain Jesus' inclusion of the Roman civil war in Mt 24:29, and in what way "those days" would be "cut short."


Part 4 will focus on Mt 24:30 and the siege of Jerusalem. But is was necessary first to give detailed consideration to Mt 24:29.

It might seem strange that a thread with a theme centered around "the great tribulation" of Rev 7:14 would give so much attention to the "great tribulation" upon the first century nation of Judea. But as you will see, understanding how the events of the first century "great tribulation" take place will reveal a pattern that will be closely replayed in the yet future "great tribulation."


Thread Index

1. Every occurrence of εὐθέως (eutheós; Strong's # 2112, "immediately," "directly," "at once") in the NT (87x):
Mt 3:16; 4:20, 22; 8:3; 13:5, 20, 21; 14:22, 27, 31; 20:34; 21:2, 3; 24:29; 25:15; 26:49, 74; 27:48 (18x); Mr 1:10, 12, 18, 20, 21, 23, 28, 29, 30, 42, 43; 2:8, 12; 3:6; 4:5, 15, 16, 17, 29; 5:2, 29, 30, 42; 6:25, 27, 45, 50, 54; 7:25, 35; 8:10; 9:15, 20, 24; 10:52; 11:2, 3; 14:43, 45, 72; 15:1 (42x); Lu 5:13; 6:49; 12:36, 54; 14:5; 17:7; 21:9 (7x); Jn 5:9; 6:21; 13:30, 32; 18:27; 19:34 (6x); Ac 9:18, 20, 34; 10:16; 12:10; 16:10; 17:10, 14; 21:30; 22:29 (10x); Gal 1:16; Jas 1:24; 3Jn 14; Rev 4:2.
You can hover over each occurrence to see the verse. Note how eutheós (especially in Matthew) always indicates something that happens soon or quickly.
2. For any interested in the details of Vespasian's Galilean campaign, this YouTube video has them. It is about two and a half hours long. But a detailed outline can be seen in the comments just below the video. These details are not necessary for this post, but are included for the reader's convenience.
3. Additional details and links to the Roman civil war of 68-69 CE can be found in this post.

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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#4 Post by Dajo1 » 4 weeks ago

I’m looking at your “mind map” Bobcat.
Travelling around NZ and Australia where I now live, one of the great joys would be to pull up on a side road, unfold our great big paper map on the bonnet of the car, see WHERE we were. And excitingly SEE WHERE we could go.
You have the skilful ability to step outside and VIEW much of the research in this remarkable place and connect it.

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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#5 Post by Bobcat » 4 weeks ago

Hi Dajo,

I appreciate the encouragement. And just as a heads up, there were some significant edits in post # 1 that you might want to revisit. Nothing ground shaking though.


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Proselytiser of Jah
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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#6 Post by Proselytiser of Jah » 3 weeks ago

Great post :)

As for the "Extravagant Language", of the signs in the sky, I find it interesting to note that there are historical sources which claim such things happened at the time. Josephus, an ancient non-Christian historian even states that there were celestial signs and quakes during these times... ... /war-6.htm

"A meteor, resembling a sword, hung over Jerusalem during one whole year."

"On the eighth of the month Zanthicus, (before the feast of unleavened bread) at the ninth hour of the night, there shone round about the altar, and the circumjacent buildings of the temple, a light equal to the brightness of the day, which continued for the space of half an hour."

"At the subsequent feast of Pentecost, while the priests were going, by night, into the inner, temple to perform their customary ministrations, they first felt, as they said, a shaking, accompanied by an indistinct murmuring, and afterwards voices as of a multitude, saying, in a distinct and earnest manner, "LET US DEPART HENCE."

"The fruitage of the Spirit is; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control..." Galatians 5:22-23

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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#7 Post by Bobcat » 3 weeks ago

Hi PoJ,

Thank you for the thoughts. I had to do some major reorganizing of the opening post. It now occupies posts 1 thru 3. Posts 1 & 2 are now done. Post # 3 will be soon.

I think I bit off more than I was expecting. But I'll manage.

I appreciate also the thought on the celestial phenomena. Reference to that will be in post # 3.


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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#8 Post by investigate » 3 weeks ago

Thanks for these organized posts. Another comment - Rev 3:10 speaks of an hour of trial to come upon the Earth, and that those sealed would be kept from this test (Rev 3:10). If we take it that John received the vision after the destruction of the temple, this would also be future. Compare these with Rev 7:3 and Rev 9:4.

Look forward to the rest of this...

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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#9 Post by Bobcat » 3 weeks ago

Thread Index

This post has an index to the main articles in this thread. Below that is a subject index where I will try to catalog all the significant posts by their main point.

Main Articles:

Subject Index:
Subject . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Post #

Mt 24:29 "Celestial Phenomena" . . . . . . . . . . . .# 6, 7
Rev 3:10 "The hour of test" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .# 8, 10, 17-19


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Re: The Great Tribulation of Rev 7:14

#10 Post by Bobcat » 3 weeks ago

Hi investigate,

Regarding Rev 3:10, I am inclined to think that "the hour of test" involves the opening portion of the future great tribulation. See the link in point # 1 in this post where I posit that "the hour of test" is related to the parable of the sheep and goats. (Obviously, my take on the parable of the sheep and goats is a bit different from the WT's.)

If I were to try to be more specific, I would place "the hour of test" in the time from Rev 16:16 (which is just before the "great earthquake") to by the end of Rev 16:19. Rev 16:20-21 equates with Rev 19:17-21, which would parallel with where Jesus sends the goats off into destruction in Mt 25:41, 45,46.

I personally am inclined to believe Revelation is late first century, c. 96-98 CE, or thereabouts. (See the first link in this post for a thread where we discussed this a few years ago.)

They've been working me hard at work lately. So I've been tired.


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