No wonder there is so much confusion among Christians regarding the timing of the rapture. We have been so focused on getting out of here before the trouble starts that we have completely missed an important key to understanding the end times. After decades of debate, almost no one seems to realize there are three distinct periods ahead, not just one.
The first period identified by Jesus is called birth-pangs. These include a series of troubling events prior to the start of the tribulation period, including false messiahs, wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes (Matthew 24:4-8, Revelation 6:1-8). Scriptures do not identify the length of time for this period, but I believe it has already started.
Jesus called the next period the tribulation. During this time great numbers of believers are persecuted, hated, and killed by the antichrist world government. More false messiahs arise. Many believers fall away from the faith and lawlessness increases (Matthew 24:9-14, Revelation 6:9-11).
GREAT TRIBULATION PERIOD
Jesus described the third period as the great tribulation. He identified it by saying, “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (Matthew 24:29) and “then there will be great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matthew 24:21).
This period is also called the day of the Lord. It begins with very ominous events unlike anything that has ever happened before, including a great shaking of heaven and earth, the sun is darkened, the moon does not give its light, the stars fall from the sky, the powers of the heavens are shaken, there are earthquakes, every mountain and island is removed from its place, and the sky is rolled up like a scroll (Matthew 24:21-31, Revelation 6:12-17). It then continues with the rapture of believers and the outpouring of the wrath of God. See my previous post, “Eight Proofs the Rapture Happens on the Day of the Lord“.
So now we can consider the differences between the tribulation and great tribulation.
1. Two Riders on White Horses
The rider on the white horse who received his crown at the beginning of birth-pangs (Revelation 6:1-2) goes forth conquering and causing great destruction during the tribulation. He is an imposter, a false messiah, the antichrist. He presents himself in the imagery of the true messiah to conceal his identity because he is the antichrist.
By contrast, another rider on a white horse appears during the great tribulation. He is called faithful and true. His name is called the Word of God, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords (Matthew 24:29-31, Revelation 6:12-17 and 19:11-16). He comes to destroy the first rider and his kingdom. He uses a sharp sword to strike down the nations and treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty (Revelation 8-11 and 19:15).
2. Two Different Promises from God
The trouble during the tribulation is persecution and affliction coming from men filled with the spirit of antichrist. They will severely persecute and murder many Christians (Revelation 6:9-11). No one will be allowed to buy or sell without the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-18). God has not promised to deliver his people from these things. In fact, he promised His people would be persecuted, hated, and killed (Mark 13:13, Matthew 24:9-10, and 2 Timothy 3:12).
The trouble during the great tribulation is administered by angels blowing trumpets. This is the wrath of God, which God has promised to deliver us from (1 Thessalonians 1:10 and Revelation 3:10). Most of God’s people will be rescued by the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). Another group of 144,000 bond-servants will be protected by the seal of God (Revelation 7:1-8).
3. Two Different Recipients of Trouble
During the tribulation trouble comes upon God’s people as they are put to death in large numbers by the antichrist world government (Revelation 6:9-11). Believers endure great hardships, but it is only temporary.
During the great tribulation trouble comes upon the unbelievers as they are put to death in large numbers. Others are afflicted with painful sores and made sick by bitter waters. The angel Gabriel described the great tribulation to the prophet Daniel as “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time” (Daniel 12:1). The enemies of the Lord gnaw their tongues because of pain (Revelation 16:8-9). After they are destroyed they are sentenced to eternal torment.
“Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.'” (Revelation 14:9-10)
4. Two Different Sources of Trouble
During the tribulation the source of trouble is men filled with the spirit of antichrist, which is the spirit of the devil. The trouble inflicted is similar to the same kinds of trouble the earth has endured since the fall of Adam and Eve, which includes persecution, wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. However, the level of trouble is increased during this time. The Lord has not promised to deliver his people from these kinds of trouble. In fact, he has promised us we would be persecuted (John 15:18-20) and we would have trouble, but we can be of good cheer because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Even so, God does deliver his people from these things sometimes, while other times he allows us to endure them.
During the great tribulation the trouble is administered by angels and released into the earth when they blow trumpets. There were no mentions of angels or trumpets during the tribulation events. John saw the wrath of God poured out by seven angels blowing seven trumpets (Revelation 8-11). The Lord has promised to deliver his people from the wrath to come (Revelation 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 5:9).
5. Two Different Vessels Proclaim the Good News
During the tribulation, the primary vessel for proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ is the same as it has been for the past two thousand years, the church, the worldwide body of believers. However, the persecution during that time is so severe supernatural protection is required to spread the gospel.
During the great tribulation, believers are removed from the earth in the rapture. However, God provides another vessel to proclaim the good news. That is the mission of the 144,000 bond-servants of God who will be sealed with the seal of God on their foreheads (Revelation 7:2-8). 12,000 come from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These bond-servants have kept themselves sexually pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes and no lie is found in their mouths. They are blameless before God (Revelation 14:4). The seal of God protects them from the wrath of God so they are not harmed. In addition to the 144,000, an angel preaches the eternal gospel to those who live on the earth and to every nation and tribe and tongue (Revelation 14:6-7).
6. Two Different Locations for God’s People
During the tribulation believers are still on the earth enduring great persecution (Matthew 24:9, Revelation 6:1-11), but near the beginning of the great tribulation believers are rescued out of the earth and taken to heaven (Daniel 12:1-3, 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18, Revelation 3:10, Revelation 7:9-17).
7. Two Different Durations
The final seven-year period begins when the antichrist makes a covenant with the many (Daniel 9:27). The tribulation occurs during the first 42-months of this period, which is during the reign of the antichrist. After 42 months the antichrist takes his seat in the temple. This abominable act marks the beginning of the end of his reign. It is the last straw, the final abomination, and the catalyst for the start of the next period (Matthew 24:15-20).
The great tribulation begins and ends during the second half of the final seven-year period. It actually cuts short those days of trouble, so the outpouring of wrath must be completed before the end of the seven-year period (Matthew 24:22). We know the wrath continues for at least five months because the locusts released by the fifth trumpet are instructed to harm the people of the earth for five months (Revelation 9:5). So the great tribulation period is a little shorter than the tribulation.
8. Two Different Identities for the Antichrist
During the tribulation, the antichrist continues to hide his true identity from the world. They will be deceived into believing he is the messiah and will worship the beast.
And the whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast. They worshiped the dragon because he gave his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him? (Revelation 13:3-4)
His identity continues to be hidden from the world until the middle of the seven-year period. Even during the tribulation I believe many Christians will be able to recognize his identity.
His true identity is revealed when he enters the temple and takes his seat, which is called the abomination of desolation (2 Thessalonians 2:3). This event marks the beginning of the great tribulation (Matthew 24:21). The world will finally know he is a fraud.
If the world had known his true identity they never would have followed him, but by then it will be too late because they have taken his mark. They will drink of the wine of the wrath of God (Revelation 14:9-10).
9. Two Different Messiahs
During the tribulation many will believe the antichrist is the messiah, the savior of the world. They will worship the beast, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain (Revelation 13:8). They will willingly follow this false messiah to their destruction.
During the great tribulation all the tribes of the earth learn that Jesus Christ is the true messiah, but even then they refuse to repent (Revelation 9:20). They see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). They mourn when they see him because they know they are doomed. They hide themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains and say to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15-16)
10. The Antichrist Increases Then Decreases
During the tribulation the antichrist continually increases in power. He prospers in whatever he does and performs his will with no one to stop him (Daniel 8:12). He rises from ruler of one nation to ruler of the world (Revelation 6:1-2, Revelation 13:16-17). He destroys mighty men and holy people. He destroys many while they are at ease (Daniel 8:24-25).
During the great tribulation the antichrist continually decreases in power. He will be broken without a hand laid on him (Daniel 8:25). Complete destruction will be poured out on him (Daniel 9:27, Revelation 17:11). The Lord will destroy him along with all those who destroy the earth (Revelation 11:18).
11. God’s People Are Worn Down Then Given Dominion
During the tribulation the antichrist will wear down the saints of the Highest One. They will be given into his hand for three and a half years (Daniel 7:25). He will strip them of the right to buy or sell (Revelation 13:16-18). He will put many of them to death.
During the great tribulation his dominion will be taken away, annihilated, and destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him (Daniel 7:26-27).
12. Two Different Endings for the Antichrist
After 42 months of speaking arrogant words and blasphemies against God, and being worshiped by the whole world (Revelation 13:5), the antichrist is still not satisfied. He wants to be God. So at the end of the tribulation he exalts himself to the highest place, taking his seat in the temple on Mount Zion and displaying himself as God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Adding to his long list of abominable acts, this extreme act takes him right to the edge and over the edge. Daniel described it saying “on the wing (the extremity, the edge) of abominations will come one who makes desolate” (Daniel 9:27). The antichrist brings devastation and destruction upon himself and everything around him because of his offensive words and actions against God. He is the abomination that brings desolation.
At the end of the great tribulation the antichrist is arrested and thrown down to the lowest place. He is thrown alive into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, and the false prophet with him (Revelation 19:20). The burning fire will destroy his body and put him to death (Daniel 7:11).
To find out how to know you are going to heaven when you die, read my post, “How to Know You Are Going to Heaven.”
See more End-Time Bible study topics.
Author: James Bailey
James Bailey is a blogger, business owner, husband and father of two grown children. In 1982, he surrendered his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. In 2012, he founded Z3news.com to broadcast the message of salvation by reporting end time news before it happens.