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In Christian eschatology, the Great Tribulation (Greek: θλίψις μεγάλη, thlipsis megalē) is a period mentioned by Jesus in the Olivet discourse as a sign that would occur in the time of the end. At Revelation 7:14, "the great tribulation" (Greek: τῆς θλίψεως τῆς μεγάλης, literally, "the tribulation, the great one") is used to indicate the period spoken of by Jesus. The context by which tribulation (θλίβω) is used in Matthew 24: 21, 29 denotes afflictions of those hard pressed by siege and the calamities of war.
In the futurist view of Christian eschatology, the Tribulation is a relatively short period of time where everyone will experience worldwide hardships, disasters, famine, war, pain, and suffering, which will wipe out more than 75% of all life on the earth before the Second Coming takes place. Some (Pre-Tribulationists) believe that those who choose to follow God, will be Raptured before the tribulation, and thus escape it.
According to Dispensationalists who hold the futurist view, the Tribulation is thought to occur before the Second Coming of Jesus and during the End Times. Another version holds that it will last seven years in all, being the last of Daniel's prophecy of seventy weeks. This viewpoint was first made popular by John Nelson Darby in the 19th century and was recently popularized by Hal Lindsey in The Late Great Planet Earth. It is theorized that each week represents seven years, with the timetable beginning from Artaxerxes' order to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem (the Second Temple). After seven plus 62 weeks, the prophecy says that the messiah will be "cut off", which is taken to correspond to the death of Christ. This is seen as creating a break of indeterminate length in the timeline, with one week remaining to be fulfilled.
This seven-year week may be further divided into two periods of 3.5 years each, from the two 3.5-year periods in Daniel's prophecy where the last seven years are divided into two 3.5-year periods, (Daniel 9:27) The time period for these beliefs is also based on other passages: in the book of Daniel, "time, times, and half a time", interpreted as "a year, two years, and half a year," and the Book of Revelation, "a thousand two hundred and threescore days" and "forty and two months" (the prophetic month averaging 30 days, hence 1260/30 = 42 months or 3.5 years). The 1290 days of Daniel 12:11, (rather than the 1260 days of Revelation 11:3), is thought to be the result of either a simple intercalary leap month adjustment, or due to further calculations related to the prophecy, or due to an intermediate stage of time that is to prepare the world for the beginning of the millennial reign.
Among futurists there are differing views about what will happen to Christians during the Tribulation:
In pretribulationism and midtribulationism, the Rapture and the Second Coming (or Greek, par[a]ousia) of Christ are separate events, while in post-tribulationism the two events are identical or simultaneous. Another feature of the pre- and mid-tribulation beliefs is the idea that after the Rapture, Christ will return for a third time (when also counting the first coming) to set up his kingdom on the earth.
Some, including many Roman Catholic theologians, do not believe in a "time of trouble" period as usually described by tribulationists, but rather that there will be a near utopian period led by the Antichrist.
The Waldensians claim to be the woman in the wilderness church as written in Daniel and Revelations who have fulfilled the 1260 year prophecy of the great tribulation, the Catholic Inquisition lasting 500 years having started in the 13th century, the final end of the 1260 year persecution.
Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in a Rapture at any point. They believe the Great Tribulation is soon to arrive, with the destruction of Babylon the Great spoken of in Revelation. Then the world powers are said to move against God's chosen people for a short while. This will then usher in the destruction of those who do not wish to follow God. The Great Tribulation ends with the battle of Armageddon.
In the Preterist view, the Tribulation took place in the past when Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in AD 70 during the end stages of the First Jewish–Roman War, and it only affected the Jewish people rather than all mankind.
Christian preterists believe that the Tribulation was a divine judgment visited upon the Jews for their sins, including rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah. It occurred entirely in the past, around 70 AD when the armed forces of the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.
A preterist discussion of the Tribulation has its focus on the Gospels, in particular the prophetic passages in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, rather than on the Apocalypse or Book of Revelation. (Preterists apply much of the symbolism in the Revelation to Rome, the Cæsars, and their persecution of Christians, rather than to the Tribulation upon the Jews.)
Jesus' warning in Matthew 24:34 that "this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" is tied back to his similar warning to the Scribes and the Pharisees that their judgment would "come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:36), that is, during the first century rather than at a future time long after the Scribes and Pharisees had died. The destruction in 70 AD occurred within a 40-year generation from the time when Jesus gave that discourse.
The judgment on the Jewish nation was executed by the Roman legions, "the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet" (Matthew 24:15), which Luke presented to his Gentile audience, unfamiliar with Daniel, as "armies" surrounding Jerusalem to cause its "desolation." (Luke 21:20)
Since Matthew 24 begins with Jesus visiting the Jerusalem Temple and pronouncing that "there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (vs. 3), preterists see nothing in Scripture to indicate that another Jewish temple will ever be built. The prophecies were all fulfilled on the then-existing temple that Jesus spoke about and that was subsequently destroyed within that generation.
The Historicist view applies Tribulation to the period known as "persecution of the saints" (Daniel 7, Revelation 13). This is believed by some to have been a period after the "falling away" when papal Rome came to power for 1260 years from 538 to 1798 (using the Day-year principle). They believe that the tribulation is not a future event. Matthew's reference to "great tribulation" (Matthew 24:29) as parallel to Revelation 6:12-13, having ended when the signs and wonders began in the late 18th century.
Historicists are prone to see prophecy fulfilled down through the centuries and even in today's world. Thus, instead of expecting a single Antichrist to rule the earth during a future Tribulation period, Martin Luther, John Calvin and the other Protestant Reformers saw the Antichrist as a present feature in the world of their time, fulfilled in the papacy.
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