The Seven-Year Tribulation

In the last couple of articles, we discussed the difficulties of accepting the popular doctrine of the rapture and the signs that would precede the “end times.” Following the common timeline for the doctrine of the “end times,” we will now consider the next event: the seven-year tribulation.

The timeline goes as follows: (1) Signs of the end. (2) Rapture. (3) Seven-year tribulation. (4) 1,000-year reign of Christ. (5.) Final judgment.

A popular religious website (gotquestions.org) explains the seven-year tribulation: “The tribulation is a future seven-year period of time when God will finish His discipline of Israel and finalize His judgment of the unbelieving world. The church, made up of all who have trusted in the person and work of the Lord Jesus to save them from being punished for sin, will not be present during the tribulation. The church will be removed from the earth in an event known as the rapture.”

The first concern I have with this doctrine is the word “tribulation,” which comes from the “tribulum,” a farming implement used to break down a crop to separate the good from the bad. The concept of a biblical tribulation is a pressurized situation that separates the sincere in faith from the weak. But if, according to the doctrine, the faithful have already been removed from this “great tribulation” (via the rapture) and it is only a period of punishment for the wicked, then the word “tribulation” is improperly applied.

The scriptures used to prove a seven-year tribulation are found in Daniel 7, Matthew 24, and Revelation. Attempts have been made to add the 42 months in Revelation 11:2-3 with the 42 months of Revelation 13:5; which, when taken literally, equals seven years. However, what they conveniently leave out is the chapter between those two, which adds another segment of 3.5 years (Revelation 12:14). The numbers just don’t work for a literal seven-year event, but that’s not even the big issue here. The main reason to reject this idea is that Revelation explains itself to its original as a book containing events that “must shortly take place” (1:1), and its message was first signified before it reached the eyes and ears of John (1:1). So because it is signified, then the 42 months, or 3.5 years, cannot be understood as a literal time frame. Further, if these events were to “shortly take place” for the original recipients, then common sense would tell us that these events had been accomplished within their generation; to be tempted to make these events something for our future is to dishonor God’s word.

In Matthew 24:21, Jesus certainly speaks of a great tribulation: “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” But to say that Jesus is speaking of something still yet in our future is to misrepresent the context of His words. Jesus specifically locks in a time when this tribulation would occur when he says “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place” (24:34). To respect the Lord’s word, we must admit that He was speaking of an event that would occur while that current generation on the earth was still alive. This is well understood by many things He mentions throughout this discussion; such as when He specifically tells His apostles “so you also, when you see all these things” (24:33), or “if they say to you, ‘look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out” (24:26), demands that they would be alive to see these events. All of this is in harmony because, respecting the context, Jesus is explaining to His apostles of the destruction of the temple (v.1-3) which, in fact, occurred during their lifetime (in the year 70 A.D.). Jesus does not speak of the tribulation of those days lasting for seven years, only that it will be a great tribulation. This is consistent with the timeframe as well, for the days of the first century, and particularly during the Jewish war, was the Lord’s most widespread “weeding out” of His old covenant people who had rejected Him and His gospel. Recall that the term “tribulation” refers to a separating of the good people from the bad, so the good can be kept, while the bad can be discarded. This was the purpose of the Lord in the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. These things have long been accomplished before our time, but still many have misrepresented the Lord’s teaching and have made the tribulation into a future event that would affect only the wicked.

It is from the book of Daniel that the idea of seven years came to be paired with the doctrine of a future tribulation. In Daniel 9:27, it is said: “Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate.” Now, the first thing to note is that this is certainly a statement that is part of a larger context, and understanding these words is impossible without understanding the context. But, to state the obvious, I still don’t see seven years of tribulation in this scripture. I know that I’m looking at the right scripture because this is the one offered by the advocates of the “end times” doctrine, but I did not read anything about seven years of tribulation. I did read about “one week,” which is seven days, but there is no way that we could justify the idea that “one week” is figurative for seven years; where is the grounds for this?

Another issue here is how the description of the “one week” does not fit the description of the seven-year tribulation given by the “end times” theorists. The verse speaks of a covenant being confirmed, an ending of sacrifices and offerings, and finally the abomination of desolation arriving for destruction. The setting of these events is better determined by the vantage point of the previous verse (Daniel 9:26), which speaks of the Messiah being cut off. We all know when that happened, the Lord was crucified in the first century. The verse further describes what would happen after Christ is cut off, the “people of the prince” would “destroy the city and the sanctuary.” What city is he referring to? Well, look back at the context, two verses up (v.24) Daniel is told that God is revealing the things He had “determined for your people and for your holy city.” Daniel’s people was the Jews and their holy city was Jerusalem. Therefore, the city to be destroyed after the crucifixion of Christ would be Jerusalem, and the sanctuary to be destroyed is the Temple. The “people of the prince” would be the Roman people led by prince Titus, who would be the future Emperor. They are the abomination which causes desolation. Jesus said it himself, in Luke 21:20, “but when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near” (consider how Luke 21 is a parallel discussion to Matthew 24).

On every count, there are serious inconsistencies with the doctrine of the seven-year tribulation, and with the end times doctrine as a whole. The New Testament certainly warns about wild doctrines drawn up by false teachers (Colossians 2:8, 2 Timothy 4:3, 1 John 4:1), and this one, with no foundation whatsoever, certainly fits the warning.

Article by Tanner Campbell