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When does the seven years of tribulation begin?

When does the seven years of tribulation begin?

It’s clear from Scripture that there will be a tribulation and that Jesus will come. But when will it all begin?

To answer this question accurately, we must first ask, Is there any place in the Bible that indicates there will be a seven-year period of tribulation? No. Nothing directly speaks about a last day’s seven-year tribulation. There are some who attempt to squeeze the last week out of the 70-week prophecy of Daniel 9 and say that it refers to an end-time, seven-year period of tribulation. But this prophecy speaks primarily to the first coming of Jesus and concludes with the final rejection of Christ by the Jews three and a half years after His death.

Most of the tribulations spoken of in the Scriptures are three and a half years long—not seven years. The persecution toward Christ during His ministry took place for three and a half years until His death on the cross. The famine in the days of Elijah lasted for three and a half years. The apostle John described a future time of persecution for the church in which the woman, a symbol of the church, flees to the wilderness for 1,260 days (see Revelation 11:2; 12:6, 14; 13:5). These prophetic years are best understood as a time of severe persecution by the apostate church from ad 538 to 1798. The 1,260 days also equal 42 months and three and a half prophetic years.

There is no question that a time of tribulation will come at the end of time. Scripture does not specify the length of this period. But its certainty can be seen in passages like Daniel 12, in which the prophet predicted, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people [this can be none other than Christ]; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1). This indicates that the investigative work of judgment has been completed and that the Lord will now prepare to carry out a verdict. But before this executive phase of judgment happens, “there shall be a time of trouble.”

No matter how long this tribulation will last, there are generally three views regarding when it will take place. Those who believe the tribulation takes place after the second coming of Christ, believe in a pre-tribulation rapture. Those who believe the tribulation takes place before the second return of Jesus, believe in a post-tribulation rapture. And those who believe Christ will come again in the middle of the great time of trouble, believe in a mid-tribulation rapture.

The Bible repeatedly assures us that God will be with us in our times of trouble. “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9). “In the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5). “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble” (Psalm 37:39).

Stories in Scripture show that God carries His people through times of trouble. The Hebrew people were in Egypt during ten plagues. (See Exodus 7–11.) God did not remove His people during this period but safely carried them through this time of trouble. This also took place with Daniel who went through the lion’s den (Daniel 6) and with Daniel’s three friends who went through the fiery furnace (Daniel 3).

It’s clear from Scripture that there will be a tribulation and that Jesus will come. The Bible does not specify how long the tribulation will last or exactly when it will begin. We can know from the signs of the times that Christ’s coming is near—even at the door (see Matthew 24:33). But no specific date is given in the Bible for when the tribulation begins (verse 36).

The more relevant question to ask about the tribulation is, Am I ready for the coming of Jesus? This is what most concerned Christ when describing the signs of His soon coming. His parables and admonitions repeatedly encouraged people to watch and be prepared for His coming. “You also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew 24:44). His message is clear—you cannot pin down His coming in relationship to the tribulation, so always be ready.

What’s most important is that the careful Bible student studies the Word of God and is prepared for Christ’s return. You might believe in a second chance to turn to God—that only some of the Lord’s people will be raptured to heaven before or during the tribulation—but, if you are wrong, there is no turning back.

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