What is the difference between the "great tribulation" period and the "tribulation" period?

Email Received:

It seems that some prophecy teachers interchange the terms "great tribulation" period and "tribulation" period. This is confusing to me. Can you distinguish between the two?

Ted's Response:

Jesus was the first one to use the term "great tribulation" (Matthew 24:21). A few verses later, He used the phrase "tribulation of those days" (24:29). By saying "tribulation" in 24:29, He was referring to the "great tribulation" in 24:21. It would be like describing the "great depression" that began in 1929 and then, later, using simply the word "depression" as an abbreviated reference to that terrible period of time.

Many have taken the word "tribulation" in 24:29 out of context and have applied it to the entire 7-year period commonly known as the 70th Week of Daniel (indicated in Daniel 9:27). However, Jesus never used the word "tribulation" to refer to that entire 7-year period.

It mainly is those who adhere to a Pre-tribulation view of the Rapture who believe in a 7-year "tribulation" period and a Rapture in which they will be removed before that 7-year period begins. They see the entire 7 years as consisting of God's wrath and believe that they will be snatched up to heaven before God's wrath, allegedly for the entire 7 years, begins.

Jesus said that the time of "great tribulation" is to begin after the abomination that causes desolation (mentioned in Daniel 9:27) is set up (Matthew 24:15). Whatever this "abomination" is, it will be set up in the midst or middle of the 70th Week, which will be at the beginning of the final 3Ĺ years of the 70th Week. This is when Satan's wrath will begin, with God's wrath coming later. Satan will take out his wrath upon Israel, upon Christian believers, and then upon the rest of the world. Technically, though, that entire 3Ĺ-year period will not be the "great tribulation" period.

Jesus indicated that, for the elect believers. those days (of "great tribulation") would be "cut short" or "shortened" (Matthew 24:22). He said that after the "tribulation" of those days (meaning, after the days of the "great tribulation"), there would be distinct signs in the sun, moon, and stars (24:29). These are equivalent to the signs that are seen after the Sixth Seal is opened (Revelation 6:12,13). The signs of the Sixth Seal also were described by some ancient prophets (Isaiah 13:10,13, 34:4; Joel 2:30,31).

This also is when the Pre-wrath Rapture (Matthew 24:30,31) will take place, and a great multitude of raptured believers will be seen praising God in heaven (Revelation 7:9,10). John was told that these will have been taken out of the great tribulation (7:14), the same "great tribulation" referred to by Jesus.

After that, the Seventh Seal will be opened, and seven angels will begin doling out the trumpet judgments (Revelation 8:1,2). This is when the wrath and vengeance of God will begin, from which believers will be protected because they will have been removed in the Pre-wrath Rapture. I believe that God's "day of vengeance" period most likely will last for a year of time (Isaiah 34:8, 61:2, 63:4). It will be the final year of the 3Ĺ-year period discussed above.

In summary, the time of the final 3Ĺ years of the prophetic 70th Week of Daniel will begin with the "great tribulation" described by Jesus. It will be a time of Satan's wrath, eventually reaching throughout the whole world. After the elect believers in Jesus are removed at the Pre-wrath Rapture, then the Seventh Seal will be opened and God's wrath will ensue during the day of vengeance, probably lasting about a year. After this, Jesus will return to earth to rule and reign. Many more details about all these things are included in my two-part Rapture commentary

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