Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Bible prophecies concerning the end of the age describe a period of great tribulation during that time. Jesus describes the great tribulation in Matthew 24. When we understand what the Bible says about this period, we will be ready to face the challenges of each day, no matter how intense they may be.
Hear the words of Jesus:
15 “So when you see the abomination that causes desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand), 16 “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains! 17 A man on the housetop must not come down to get things out of his house. 18 And a man in the field must not go back to get his clothes. 19 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! 20 Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. 21 For at that time there will be great tribulation, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again! 22 Unless those days were limited, no one would survive. But those days will be limited because of the elect.
23 “If anyone tells you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Over here!’ do not believe it! 24 False messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note: I have told you in advance. 26 So if they tell you, ‘Look, He’s in the wilderness!’ don’t go out; ‘Look, He’s in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.
The great tribulation was experienced during an historical event. The original hearers of Jesus’ words and those who lived in the very next generation would have understood the siege of Jerusalem by the Roman army in AD 70 to be at least a partial fulfillment of this prophecy. The army destroyed the city walls, businesses, homes and even the temple. The blood bath during those days was horrible.
History tells us that the Roman leaders had planned to turn the temple in Jerusalem into a temple to one of their false gods, but that did not happen. The soldiers ignored that order and burned down the temple, killing anyone in their path. The historian Josephus described the destruction of the temple in this way:
As the legions charged in, neither persuasion nor threat could check their impetuosity: passion alone was in command. Crowded together around the entrances many were trampled by their friends, many fell among the still hot and smoking ruins of the colonnades and died as miserably as the defeated. As they neared the Sanctuary they pretended not even to hear Caesar’s commands and urged the men in front to throw in more firebrands. The partisans were no longer in a position to help; everywhere was slaughter and flight. Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom.
It is not surprising, then, that first-century believers who witnessed this carnage were ready for Jesus to return at any moment. This event was truly an event of great tribulation. But this was not the ultimate fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy.
The great tribulation is evidenced during our present reality. You will recall that in the first few verses of Matthew 24, the disciples had asked Jesus two questions. One was essentially, “When will the temple be destroyed?” and the other was, “What will be the sign of your return?” The answer to the first question was the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70. The answer to the second question will come in the future. Between these two dates is an era of time that can be described as a period of great tribulation.
No doubt that the present age has much to praise God for, including the missionary outreach described in Matthew 24:14 and all of the blessings that we experience on earth today. The Lord has truly blessed us.
Yet in a very real sense, there is tribulation throughout the earth. With the rise of ISIS and other groups that seek the death of Christians, historians tell us that the age in which we live has seen the most persecution and martyrdom of followers of Jesus than at any other point of history. When we consider how Christians are being put to death in nations across the world and how Christians are being persecuted even in our own nation, an honest analysis would realize that we are in a period of great tribulation.
But the worst is yet to come.
The great tribulation will be extremely intense during the last days. As we move closer and closer to Christ’s return, we should not be surprised that the battles (spiritual and physical) against followers of Jesus are growing in frequency and intensity. Jesus said in Matthew 24:25 that He was telling us these things in advance. In Matthew 24:21 He described a period that will be so terrible that the world has never seen tribulation like this, and that thankfully the Lord by limiting the era of time will show His mercy and grace on behalf the true followers of Jesus (verse 22). One scholar describes it this way: “Undoubtedly, much that surrounded the destruction of the temple and the Jewish war in A.D. 70 will be repeated, probably on a larger scale, just prior to Christ’s return” (New American Commentary, Volume 22: Matthew).
The catalyst to this period of extreme intensity will be the when the “abomination that causes desolation” described in Daniel 9:27 takes place. In the last days, the antichrist — after appearing to be a benevolent ruler — will show his true nature, setting up an altar in the rebuilt temple of Jerusalem and ordering the people of the world to bow down and worship him. This event will unleash the era of greatest tribulation that the world has ever known, as God shows Himself to be the Sovereign, all-powerful God that He is.
People will trust in Christ during that period, but they will be martyred by the antichrist and his forces (see Revelation 7:14). The antichrist will be a man of lawlessness (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4). His reign will be limited (see Daniel 9:25-27, Revelation 11:3 and Revelation 13:5-8). God will prevail (see Revelation 20)!
We as followers of Jesus should respond to these words in this way: be ready and be faithful. God will give you the spiritual insight to recognize the signs of the times. He will give you the faith to continue to trust in Jesus. He will give you the endurance to persevere. He will give you the reward of heaven.
The return of Christ will be unmistakable (Matthew 24:27-28). We say, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” Until Jesus returns, let us be about His business of living faithfully for Him and sharing the good news of Jesus so that others can experience life-changing faith in Jesus.