For people who regularly read my blogs, this article will seem a little redundant, as I have written on this subject a number of times. However it has always been in the context of other subjects and has not been written as a direct answer to the question -
How long is the tribulation? This is a question debated by untold numbers of people. One of the problems in answering this question is that everyone uses a different definition of what the “tribulation” means. To some it is the entire seven years of Daniel's 70th week. To others it is the second half of Daniel's 70th week. To yet others it is the first half of the second half of Daniel's 70th week. Confused yet? For some of us, it is a question to which God does not give a specific answer in terms of days, but He does give a sign that it has come to an end.
First we need to see exactly how the Bible defines this time of tribulation. As the first description above labeled it as a seven year period, we need to say if the Scriptures teach this. The seven year period comes from a passage in Daniel.
Daniel 9:24-27 “Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
[For an explanation on why the seventy weeks are 490 years, please see my article on Daniel's 70th week in the archives, for I am not repeating that here as it is not the subject under question.
The passage indicating the seven year period is verse twenty-seven. “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
This verse and this verse alone is the entire mentioning of this seven year period in Scripture. It is divided in half by an event known as the abomination of desolation in which the sacrifices and oblations cease. The question becomes, where does one see the word “tribulation” or even any indication that this entire seven year period is a time of tribulation in this passage? The indication is that the abominations that are poured out come after this event in the midst of the seven years. There seems to be no indication of what events occurring in the first half might be like, much less that they are times of tribulation. To apply the word “tribulation” to the seven years is to make an unwarranted assumption which is not defended by the Scripture verse. The only appellation which should be used of this time is the one which is also commonly used – Daniel's 70th week.
Now we go to the passage from which the word “tribulation” actually originates and from where it was taken and redefined to be applied to the seven year period.
Matthew 24:15-16, 21 “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.”
This refers us back to Daniel where we have the previous verse from Chapter 9, as well as Chapter 11:31 “And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.”
Here we are told that this abomination spoken of in Daniel kicks off a period known as the great tribulation. So now we see that references about a tribulation are connected with the event which we know takes place in the middle of the seven years. We are told that the tribulation begins after this event of the abomination occurs. There is no reference to the seven years being a time of tribulation. In Matthew there is no reference to the seven years at all. We are told of events that lead up to the abomination, but no timeline is given as to how long these things go on before the abomination.
We do know that God has ordained that there will be a three and a half year period before the abomination. And we know that for there to be sacrifices and oblations that are taken away, there must be at least an altar, if not a temple of sorts, during that first half of the 70th week for them to take place. This is all that we can deduce about the first half of the 70th week from this passage. It is true that we are told in Matthew 24:4-14 that there will be false Christs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes, betrayals, and martyrdoms, but we are also told that we should not be troubled by all this for these things do not indicate that it is yet the end. These will simply be the ongoing problems of the world until it is the end. The event which is paramount is the abomination of desolation. This is followed by a time called the great tribulation. Here is where we are given a partial time frame of the tribulation. It begins at the abomination of desolation, which we already know begins halfway through the seven year period. So the tribulation (great or otherwise) can at maximum be three and a half years long. It begins at the mid-point of the seven years, not at the beginning.
The next question is, when does the tribulation end? We are given a partial clue about that. In Matthew 24:22 “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.” As already mentioned, the maximum length of time the tribulation can run is three and a half years or half of the 70th week. Here we are told that this length of time must be shortened, otherwise there would be nobody left. Now this shortening presents a problem for people, for they know that the seven year period cannot be shortened. Neither can the amount of time that the beast reigns be shortened. He is given three and half years or forty-two months to reign. Daniel 7:25 “And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.” and Revelation 13:5 “And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.”
Another rather unusual interpretation is that each day will be shortened by a few hours. While I do think that at some point during God's wrath the earth will be pushed out of it's orbit to a different orbit, because the Scripture indicates this will happen at some point (Isaiah 13:13 “Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger.”), I do not think that this is what is meant, nor do I think that this would cut the time of the tribulation short. It would still be three and half years, however not not twenty-four hour days. I believe that this is speaking of having the number of days cut short. But how can that be if the beast is supposed to reign for forty-two months?
What people fail to realize is that a person can be technically in charge and reigning, but his ability to carry out certain acts might be difficult or curtailed altogether. In this case, God has determined that the beast may have the political position of being in charge, and the power that goes with it for the entire forty-two months, but God will make events in the world be such that he won't be able to continue pursuing Christians and killing them, as he will be dealing with other problems. And this is indeed what we discover as we search the Scriptures.
We are given the signs that will signal the end of the great tribulation persecution. Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.” These signs are found elsewhere both in the Old and New Testament. The one mention we will consider at the moment is found in Revelation 6:12-15 “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains.”
Now while we cannot exactly place the beginning of the tribulation in Revelation in the chronology of the seals, trumpets, and vials, we can place the end of the tribulation in context within them. By comparing the verse in Matthew with the verses in Revelation, we see that the great tribulation ends with the signs of the sixth seal. But the sixth seal is far from the end of the 70th week of Daniel. There are still the trumpet and vial judgments to come. We can discover though, that the trumpet judgments bring us to the end of the forty-two months of the beast's reign by looking at a few passages and seeing the clues they give.
In Revelation 11:1-3, we are told about the temple and the two witnesses. “And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”
We are given two events that run at the same time, and that time frame is given in two different time measurements. The temple will be tread underfoot for forty-two months. At the same time, the two witnesses will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days. We can place where this period of time falls by virtue of a phrase that is used to describe it. The temple and city will be given to the Gentiles to tread underfoot for forty-two months.
In Luke 21:20, 24 we find this same description given that the city, Jerusalem, will be trodden underfoot by the Gentiles until the time allotted to them has been fulfilled. “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh....And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” This passage is the parallel passage of the Olivet Discourse that we found in Matthew, where we first saw the mention of the abomination of desolation and great tribulation. In this case, we see that when the desolation occurs halfway through the 70th week, Jerusalem will begin being trodden down by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled. We know that this will continue for forty-two months. As it begins at the abomination, and continues for forty-two months, that brings us to the end of the three and a half years and forty-two months that the beast was also allotted.
So now we know by deduction that if this time of trampling starts at the abomination of desolation, and ends forty-two months later, and if the two witnesses are prophesying in that same time frame, that they will also be ending their ministry at the same time. Following their resurrection, the seventh trumpet sounds. In fact, their ministry ends at the same time that the sixth trumpet's events end, for the sixth trumpet is the second woe, and the second woe has just passed when they are resurrected.
Revelation 8:13 “And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!”
Revelation 9:1,12-13 “And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit....One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter. And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,”
Revelation 11:11-15 “And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly. And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
So now we see that between the sixth seal which are the signs that end the tribulation according to Matthew (and we see the verification of this in Revelation 7:14 when the tribulation saints appear on the sea of glass after the sixth seal, “And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”), and the seventh trumpet which ends the forty-two months/twelve hundred sixty days/three and a half years, that there are a number of catastrophic things happening. It is these events which halt the persecution of the saints. There will be chaos and torture of mankind from other sources to keep them occupied. The beast's armies will be too busy with the cataclysms from the celestial events, and then the invasion of what will appear to man to be alien creatures (which are really demonic entities) to bother with going after the saints. There will be, as they say, bigger fish to fry.
So now we know that the tribulation begins at the abomination of desolation, and that it is cut short and ends when the sixth seal signs occur. But when do they occur? That is the question. And it is a question which seems to have no answer. We see that the fifth trumpet invasion lasts five months. Now, we have no idea if these trumpets overlap each other or proceed chronologically, one ending before the next begins. So the minimum time we can apply to this time period between the sixth seal and the seventh trumpet is five months. That means that the maximum amount of time that the tribulation can last is three years and one month. Do I think it will last that long? No, I don't think there would be anyone left if it did last that long. How short or long it will be is a mystery. And maybe God has it that way for a reason. He wants us to live by faith and if we knew how long it might continue we might give up in despair before reaching that point (provided we don't get taken early on). Our survival will consist in hoping that each day is the last. He will give us the strength we need daily to persevere and get through it. And is that not the way He wants us to live? Give us this day our daily.......