What Does The Bible Say? Tribulation And Wrath

A Bible Study by Jack Kelley

Recently I was reading a new book on Revelation by an author who subscribes to the pre-wrath rapture position. I don’t recommend this or any other mid-trib, pre-wrath, or post-trib book. I only read them myself because my belief in the pre-trib position is solid enough to not be shaken, and I feel the need to know about the current thinking on other positions in case I’m asked.

When you depart from a literal, contextual interpretation of Scripture, as you have to do when you’re trying to justify the other rapture positions, anything becomes possible. For that reason some of these books, like the one I just read, are so far off the mark as to be ludicrous. But there are two things they all seem to have in common. One is their confusion about the difference between tribulation and the Great Tribulation and the other is the meaning and duration of the phrase “wrath of God.”

Here are some examples of what I mean. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart because I have overcome the world.” This verse is often used to refute the pre-trib belief that the church will not be present during the end times judgments. “After all,” they say, “Jesus said we will have tribulation in this world.”

Another is 1 Thes. 5:9 where Paul said, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here they say the wrath Paul was taking about is not the end times judgments associated with the Day of the Lord, which is the context of the passage, but the eternal punishment to be endured by non-believers. They say that’s the only wrath our salvation protects us from.

So lets take a closer look at these two words as they pertain to the end times and see what the Bible says about them.


In English, the word “tribulation” appears 22 times in the Bible. Three of them are in the Old Testament, although the Hebrew word from which it is translated can be found 105 times, having a number of different meanings. The other 19 are in the New Testament, but there are also 26 times where the Greek word is translated in different ways as well, for a total of 45. In both testaments the other meanings are similar; distress, affliction, trouble, etc.

The phrase “great tribulation” makes only three appearances, all in the New Testament (Matt. 24:21, Rev. 2:22, and Rev. 7:14). In its first one the Lord actually coined the term, identifying its beginning as the time when the abomination of desolation occurs.

So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress (tribulation), unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matt. 24:15-21).

A few verses later He said it would end just before the 2nd coming.

Immediately after the distress (tribulation) of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.

Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30).

Daniel 9:27 tells us the anti-Christ will set up an abomination of desolation in the middle of the 70th Week (Daniel 9:27), or 3 ½ years from its end. It’s the same event Jesus identified as the sign that the Great Tribulation will have begun. This tells us the Great Tribulation will have a duration of 3 ½ years.

Daniel also made reference to the Great Tribulation in Daniel 12:1 when he wrote,

At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress (tribulation) such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.”

Notice that Daniel’s words are very similar to the ones Jesus used in Matt 24:21. The phrase “at that time” refers back to Daniel 11:36-45 where the angel was telling Daniel about the reign of the anti-Christ. For these reasons, it’s safe to assume that Daniel and Jesus were talking about the same thing. In fact, Jesus confirmed this in Matt. 24:15.

Put together, these references identify the Great Tribulation as a specific period of time with an identifiable beginning and end. That makes this 3 ½ year period distinct from the periodic times of tribulation that believers experience in this world. Daniel and Jesus both said this time of tribulation would be the worst the world has ever seen. Jesus said it has never been equaled before and would never be equaled again, and if He didn’t return to put an end to it no one would survive (Matt. 24:22). This is definitely not the every day variety of tribulation you and I face in life. This is the one and only Great Tribulation.

And Wrath

The word “wrath” also has a general as well as a specific meaning, and again the two are differentiated by time. When used in connection with God, the word “wrath” appears in 18 verses of the Old Testament and usually describes God’s feelings toward Israel during their periodic times of disobedience.

In the New Testament there are 16 verses where wrath appears in connection with God. Some of them refer to the eternal destiny unbelievers will face after they die and others are about the end times judgments. We can tell which is which by the context in which they are used. Here are some examples.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them (John 3:36).

In this verse the context is eternal life. Those who believe in the Son will receive it but those who reject Him will not receive it for God’s wrath remains on them. There are only two possible dispositions for mankind, eternal life and eternal punishment. Belief in the Son brings life, and rejection of the Son brings punishment. Only one generation of mankind will experience the end times judgments, but John 3:36 pertains to all mankind. Therefore the Lord had to be using God’s wrath in reference to eternal punishment here.

Now lets take the example we used earlier from 1 Thes. 5:9. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul began chapter 5 by talking about the timing of the Day of the Lord. He said the world would not know the day or hour in advance, and that it would come like a thief in the night (1 Thes. 5:2). At a time when people are saying “peace and safety” it will come upon them suddenly, like labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape (1 Thes. 5:3).

By this we know Paul was not talking about the actual day of the Lord’s return, because earlier we learned that He will come to put an end to the worst period of devastation the world has ever known, not while people are thinking peace has come. And from other passages we know that Daniel’s 70th week will begin with a perception of peace (Daniel 8:25) which will quickly be replaced by war. Therefore Paul’s reference to “peace and safety” points to the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week, not the actual day of the Lord’s return.

He said believers should not be surprised by this, and changed his narrative from the third person (they) in verse 3 to the second person (you) in verse 4. He did this to distinguish between the unbelieving world, who will be surprised, and the believers, who won’t. Being sons of the light (having the knowledge of Scripture) we will be able to see the signs of its approach, and when we do we should be awake and alert. After expanding on that thought (Vs. 5-8) he came to verse 9. “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.“

Obviously, believers will not suffer the eternal wrath of God that awaits unbelievers. But the context of 1 Thes. 5:1-9 is the Day of the Lord, when the end times judgments will fall upon an unbelieving and unsuspecting world. That’s the wrath Paul was talking about.

So, just like we can differentiate between the periodic times of tribulation we all experience and the Great Tribulation which will be the single worst thing ever to happen on earth, we can also differentiate between the eternal wrath of God to be visited on all unbelievers after they die, and the time of God’s wrath, the end time judgments that will come upon one generation of unbelievers before they die, and which will have a discernible beginning and end.

Is It Time Yet?

Now lets look at the time of God’s wrath.

Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the Lord is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer (Isaiah 26:20-21).

Isaiah foresaw a time when God will pour out His wrath on earth for a period of time he describes as lasting “a little while.” Therefore this passage is not about His eternal wrath against all unbelievers who have died, but is a specific period of time against one generation of unbelievers who will still be alive. And like Paul, he separated believers from unbelievers by changing from the second person (your rooms) to the third person (their sins).

The angel Gabriel gave Daniel similar information, saying, “I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end” (Daniel 8:19). Starting with an overview of the kings of Medo-Persia and Greece the angel quickly focused in on the days of the anti-Christ during the time of wrath at the end of the age (Daniel 8:19-25).

These passages identify a specific period of time at the end of the age when God will visit His wrath upon the unbelieving world.

In the past many commentators have identified this period as being the time of the bowl judgments of Rev. 15-16. That’s because in Rev. 16:1 these judgments are called “the seven bowls of God’s Wrath.”  But the Bible does not say the time of God’s Wrath begins with these judgments. In fact in Rev. 15:1 we’re told that with the bowl judgments God’s wrath will end. If that gives us the ending point then where do they begin?

The answer can be found in Rev. 6:16-17 where the kings of the earth realize that with the seal judgments the great day of God’s wrath has begun.

They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face 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 can withstand it?”

The KJV renders Rev. 6:17 as For the great day of His wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” Based on this, some people see a difference between the wrath of the Lamb, which only appears in Rev. 6:16, and the wrath of God. But the majority of English versions translate the Greek word “autos” in the plural, as happens over 300 times in the New Testament, and translate Rev. 6:17 as “the great day of their wrath has come.” Since both Father and Son are in view in Rev. 6:16 and since the two are one (John 10:30) this seems to fit the context better.

Also note the past perfect tense of the phrase “the great day of their wrath has come”. The past perfect tense is used to describe an action that has taken place at a specific time in the past. From the preceding judgments of Rev. 6 the kings of the earth will realize that they are already in the period known as the Wrath of God. Therefore, the time of God’s wrath begins with the seal judgments of Rev. 6 and ends with the bowl judgments of Rev. 16 and will occupy most, if not all, of Daniel’s 70th Week

Many commentators insist that God’s wrath is the worst part of a time they call the seven year tribulation period, making God’s wrath synonymous with the Great Tribulation. But as we can see, it’s actually the other way around. The Great Tribulation is the worst part of the time of God’s wrath.

When Jesus spoke of the Great Tribulation in Matt. 24:21 He was referring to the bowl judgments of Rev. 16 because these are the only judgments that will take place in the second half of Daniel’s 70th Week, after the anti-Christ sets up the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27). The bowl judgments are the third and final series of judgments that God will execute upon the earth during the time of His wrath.

So there you have it. In the Bible, tribulation and the Great Tribulation are not the same, and God’s eternal wrath and the time of God’s wrath are not the same. These terms are only confused in the minds of people who advocate something other than the pre-trib rapture of the Church. That’s what the Bible says. 03-07-15

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  • mary

    I cannot see how this could be made any clearer and I thank you for your step by step teaching, in plain clear language. I think one would have to have already made up his/her mind to refuse to believe this, in order to reject it.

  • Larry Wolff

    excellent again Jack. I wanted to mention your e-books are incredible. The book of Esther was so good. You have a great gift, thanks for sharing. I plan to read all the e-books you have, they really open the Bible and makes study fun. Some of your writings are like the last piece of a puzzle to me, put it in and everything’s crystal clear.

  • Ddenney1

    I believe all of the controversy about the rapture, new age emergent church and the falling away and liberal church interpretations are all part of the beginning delusion promised that would/could fool the elect!!! I believe the last 100 year in particularly have been the start of all this!!! I have a problem understanding how people miss this when even I get it!

  • gracethrufaith

    The 70 Weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 appears to be based on 360 day years, which was Earth’s original calendar. This is what makes 3 1/2 years, 42 months, and 1260 days all equivalent times.

    There are two incorrect assumptions in your second question. First, the phrase “the elect” does not apply only to the church. It’s also used of Israel, post tribulation believers, and even of angels.

    Second there’s no Biblical support for the idea that the 1st half of Daniel’s 70th week (the tribulation) will be a time of peace. Both the seal judgments and the trumpet judgments will take place during that time. The people of earth will experience horrible disasters in those judgments and over 1/3 of mankind will die before the Great Tribulation even begins.

    • Elizabeth Salvatore

      Exactly!! I explain to people there will be a peace accord, of sorts between all the nations and Israel, but we do know from Revelation that during this time of peace accord, 14 judgments will happen too. The covenant with many will be between nations while war, famine, disease and about 1/3 of planet’s population will be killed, that is equivalent to having to bury, in a 3.5 period of time, about 2.5 billion people.
      I think it makes sense on why so many end up in the Mideast at the time, not only to fight at Har Megiddo (Armageddon in Greek) in the Jezreel Valley just before the return of Christ, but people will be driven there by the stench and disease of the horrendous amount of dead bodies.

  • gracethrufaith

    The information about eclipses of the sun and moon put out by NASA is not incorrect, but the interpretation of these events as being prophetic signs is highly suspect.

    You are wise in relying only on the Bible which, by the way, only speaks of one instance of the moon turning blood red (Rev. 6:12) and it can’t be an eclipse because the sun will be dark at the same time.

  • jerialice

    Thanks Jack as always.

  • Elizabeth Salvatore

    I agree. This is as clear as glass. I am in agreement with Mary. Your step ny step approach makes it very easy to understand and follow and to check in the bible to see if it lines up with God’s word. And it makes it super easy for me when I share on my facebook page sir.
    The laying out of the differences between tribulation, wrath and God’s time of judgment on the world during Daniel’s 70th week makes it easier to explain when I refer to those 7 years as Daniels’ 70th week.
    I discuss this time with Gentile and Jews alike when we get on teh subject of “and of the age”.
    And gives everyone a more easy to grasp understanding, of the differences between wrath, tribulation and God’s time of judgment.
    Thanks again for your help sir.

  • ProudVeteran

    I just want to know Gods Truth, that’s why I read what you write and think and pray about it. So far so good. I am not as educated as most, but God teaches me as we go.

  • Craig LaBarr

    I think you might be confused in your understanding of the period defined as a “week”. One week in this case is actually a time period of 7 years, so 70 weeks is equivalent to 490 years. Daniel’s “70th (and final) week” is the last 7 years of the 490 total years in Daniels prophesy. Jack has provided an excellent study on it here:

    • Elizabeth Salvatore

      Yeah, one week is 7 years. And the 70th week is the last of the prophesied 70 total weeks for Israel’s end of their transgression. The weeks stopped at Jesus. and the time, the last 7 years of the 490 was put on hold until the church reaches it’s full number so that Jesus could take for Himself a people from the Gentiles. The clock will start back up at the signing of the covenant Daniel told us about. 🙂

  • Lloyd

    Well written article. Enjoyed reading this. My wife and I have been studying prophesy. Never realized there were more prophecies on Jesus’ 2nd coming than his first. I have a mission pastor friend who is a mid-trib believer. I am a pre-trib believer. He and I have lots of great discussions and debates. One thing he refers to is 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, which is 51 “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” He correlates this trumpet to the last of the 7 trumpet judgments as mentioned in Rev. 11. If this is the case, then rapture is after the seals and trumpet judgments. Any help on this would be appreciated.

    • gracethrufaith

      Since both the Corinthian passage and the one from 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 describe the same things, it’s safe to assume that this trumpet is the same one mentioned in 1 Thes. 4:16 and is not pointing us toward any other event. Also notice in 1 Thes. 4:16 Paul called this the trumpet call of God. The only other time a trumpet specifically connected with God appears is in Exodus 19:16. In both cases the trumpet is heard by those God is calling on Earth.

      Contrast that with the seven trumpet judgments. First, these trumpets are blown by angels in heaven to announce a series of judgments. Second, the seventh trumpet is never referred to as the last trump in the Bible. And third the seventh trumpet is not the last trumpet that will be blown before the Lord returns. The last trumpet before the 2nd Coming will also be blown in heaven and is meant as a signal to angels (Matt. 24:31.

      Simply put, the last trump of 1 Cor. 15 is a unique signal from God to the Church, and is the last one we will ever hear on earth before we depart to meet the Lord.

      • Lloyd

        Jack, thanks for that explanation. I really enjoy your website. Lots of good information and teaching.

      • David Crosby

        I think this falls in context with the days of old Jewish wedding ceremony when nobody knows that time or hour, but when the time is right, the father of the groom will blow a trumpet and they will go to meet the bride in the streets… then take her back to the place the groom has prepared for her inwhich she stays in their wedding chamber (bedroom or whatever) for 7 days.