"For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved." Matthew 24:21, 22.
As Jesus spoke these words to His disciples, no doubt He was referring to a similar prophecy made by the prophet Daniel.
"At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Daniel 12:1.
The good news is that God's children will survive the coming tribulation which is a "time of trouble" that culminates with the Second Coming. When discussing the great tribulation to take place just before Jesus returns, keep in mind that there have been several other "times of trouble" for God's people in the past.
For example, the children of Israel endured 400 years of tribulation just before the Exodus.
"6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years."Acts 7:6.
The early Christians also passed through a time of trouble immediately after the stoning of Stephen.
"1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles." Acts 8:1.
From A.D. 303-313, during the era represented in the book of Revelation by the Smyrna church, God's people suffered a 10-year period of tribulation.
"10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." Revelation 2:10.
But perhaps the most notable time of trouble was the 1,260 years of intense persecution waged against true Christians during the Dark Ages.
"And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and threescore days." "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman." Revelation 12:6, 13.
As dark as each of these times were for God's people, none can compare with the final, great tribulation that is yet to take place. The great tribulation corresponds with the time during which the seven last plagues of Revelation referred to in chapter 15 and 16 will fall.
"And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God." Revelation 15:1.
"And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth." Revelation 16:1.
God's wrath will be directed against the ones who disobey His law, distort His truth, and oppress His people.
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." Romans 1:18.
The great tribulation will be right before the Battle of Armageddon. Both take place immediately before Christ's second coming right after the seven last plagues.
"And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done."Revelation 16:16-17 .
This great time of trouble but God has promised it will be done quickly or no one would survive.
"And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." Matthew 24:22
"And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days." Mark 13:20
Here are a few Scriptures that show it will be a short period of time.
Revelation 18:8 tells us, "Therefore shall her plagues come in one day."
The key to unlocking the time prophecies in the Bible is to first understand the day-year principle of interpretation. A "day" in Bible prophecy represents one literal year (see Ezekiel 4:6, Numbers 14:34, Luke 13:32). So when Revelation says that "her plagues come in one day," it means within one year's time. The very nature of the seven last plagues with rivers and seas turning to blood and the planet being scorched with great heat, would render it impossible for the human race to survive. This is why Jesus said that unless those days were shortened "no flesh should be saved".
The experience of the children of Israel just before the plagues fell on Egypt is a type, or symbol, of what will happen to God's people before the seven last plagues described in Revelation 16.
After 400 years of slavery, the Israelites had become influenced by the religion of Egypt and had lost sight of God's law. So before they left and after, Moses came before the people and encourage a revival of commitment to God's law including the Sabbath of creation. The people responded wholeheartedly.
"5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
7 And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him.
8 And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord."
Before the onset of the great tribulation, special attention is once again called to the subject of worship and the Sabbath commandment.
In Revelation 14:7, an angel calls God's people to "worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." Revelation 14:7. The angel is clearly quoting from the Sabbath commandment, which says, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day." Exodus 20:11.
A rediscovery of the law of God, including the Sabbath truth, will stir the dragon of Revelation to intense action. The devil hates the Sabbath because he knows that relationships are built upon time. If he can destroy the day that was set apart for God's people to spend quality time with their Creator, he can destroy the relationship.
When the children of Israel responded to God's call to keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy, the Pharaoh became furious and tried to keep them from resting on it and just work. The devil is using the very same thing today, that people are so preoccupied with work and the cares of this life that they have no time to worship their Creator.
The time of trouble began with the wrath of the devil against God's obedient children.
"17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." Revelation 12:17.
Before the great tribulation begins, God's people will experience rising persecution and the saints will have to share their faith in the face of stiff social, political, and religious opposition.
"And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." Revelation 13:17.
This small time of trouble will resemble the period of time just before the plagues fell on Egypt. The angry Pharaoh tried to turn the hearts of his Israelite slaves against their God by forcing them to produce the usual quota of bricks without providing the necessary straw. In the same way, before the tribulation the government will use political and economic sanctions to pressure God's end-time people into receiving the mark of the beast. When this fails to deter the people of God from obedience, there will be a final death decree. "And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed." Revelation 13:15. At this time, the great tribulation begins and the seven last plagues start to fall.
The main reason this time will be so intense is because it will come after probation closes for the lost. "At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Daniel 12:1. Notice that when the tribulation begins, the cases of all people have been forever decided.
For the first time in the world's history, God's Spirit will be completely withdrawn from the lost. The unsaved will be given wholly over to demonic control. The saved will be sealed and the unjust forever lost as their fate is sealed.
Many Christians believe that the righteous will all be raptured out of the world just before the time of trouble and that the wicked will be left behind to endure seven years of tribulation. Because it sounds appealing, this doctrine has gained widespread acceptance. But the fact remains that the Bible clearly teaches otherwise.
Here are but a few of the many Scriptures which teach that God's end-time people will go through the tribulation:
The Bible describes the 144,000 as "they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Revelation 7:14.
In His great prophetic discourse on the mount of Olives, Jesus made the following statement immediately after mentioning the tribulation: "And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." Matthew 24:22. If the elect were not in the world during the great tribulation, they would not need the days to be shortened!
All throughout Scripture we see examples of the Lord saving His people through tribulation, not from it.
Noah was not saved from the Flood, but through it.
Daniel was not saved from the lions' den, but through it.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego were not saved from the fiery furnace, but through it. In fact, Jesus went through it with them, and He will go through the great tribulation with us as well!
The children of Israel were not saved from Egypt before the plagues fell, but afterward. God demonstrated His love and power by preserving them in Egypt through the ten plagues. In the same way, the righteous will be in the world when the seven last plagues fall (Revelation 16), but God will preserve them.
God never promises that our lives will always be easy. Paul states, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."2 Timothy 3:11
Paul also told a group of disciples that "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22.
Although God does not always provide an escape from tribulation, He does promise to give us the power and strength to get through it.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13.