The Great Tribulation: Global or Local?

Written By J.A. Hardgrave

In my first blog, which can be read here, I showed how Jesus stated The Great Tribulation would happen before the generation He was speaking to passed away (Matt. 24:34). I also showed how this event would never be repeated again, since Jesus stated in Matthew 24:21 that The Great Tribulation would be such as has not been since the beginning of the world, nor ever shall be.

What I quickly discovered, was that many people were seeing how The Great Tribulation is a past event, but many were also wondering how The Great Tribulation period was a local event and not a global event, as most of us have always believed.

If you are like me and grew up being taught the pre-tribulation rapture and watching the popular “Left Behind” movies which depict a future world-wide tribulation, it can be difficult to transition out of this thinking. Trust me, I know how it feels.

To help bring clarity, here are 6 clear statements directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself that give us understanding as to whether the Great Tribulation was global, or local. I’m going to pull a Quentin Tarantino and start at Matthew 24:21 where Jesus mentions the great tribulation, and then work backwards.

 

For at that time there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Matt. 24:21

Now let’s look at the statements right before this and see if they communicate The Great Tribulation would be global or local.

Statement #1

“Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.” Matt. 21:20

 

The Greek word for flight here is “phygē” which means “Escape”. It comes from the root-word pheugō which means: to flee away, seek safety by flight metaphor: to flee (to shun or avoid by flight) something abhorrent, esp. vices to be saved by flight, to escape safely out of danger poetically:to flee away, vanish. To summarize, flight means “Escape to safety”.

What are they escaping to safety from?

The Great Tribulation!

Look at the two verses together.

 

“Pray that your flight (escape to safety) will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. “FOR AT THAT TIME there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” Matt. 24:20;21

 

Jesus is saying that right before the time of the great tribulation, there will be an opportunity to escape, but certain circumstances may hinder that escape.

 

The Winter

 

The Greek word used here for winter is cheimōn which can mean either stormy or rainy weather, a tempest winter, or the winter season. If people were trying to escape during winter, or stormy and rainy conditions, it would greatly hinder them, especially since they would be fleeing by foot or animal.

 

The Sabbath

 

There were strict travel laws in place at that time during the Sabbath that no person could walk more than a quarter mile to ensure they observe the Sabbath rest (Acts 1:12). Fleeing on the Sabbath could get them arrested and hinder them from escaping to safety, not to mention that we know from Nehemiah 13:15-22 and Jeremiah 17:21;24 that the city gates to Jerusalem were closed during the Sabbath, preventing people from bringing loads of food in and out and “working” when they were supposed to be resting. The Levites guarded the gate to Jerusalem on the Sabbath, meaning if Jesus’s followers were in Jerusalem and attempted to escape during the Sabbath, they would be locked inside the city and destroyed during The Great Tribulation.

 

Statement #2

“How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!”. Matthew 24:19

 

If The Great Tribulation were a global event, a pregnant or nursing mother would not be at any disadvantage to mothers or women who were not pregnant or nursing. All people would be facing the same exact global tribulation and nobody would be able to escape it. Once we consider that Jesus wanted His followers to escape and flee from the Great Tribulation, it’s easy to see how being pregnant or nursing and caring for a small child would slow someone down in their attempts to escape. When my wife was pregnant, her feet became swollen and she could barely walk at times, plus carrying our daughter around as a small baby meant we had to be extra careful at all times since we are now looking out for another life.

Unfortunately, many have read the words of Jesus here and feared having children because they were taught we are nearing The Great Tribulation in our day. The truth is that unless we were living prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, this verse does not apply to us, thus no one should fear such a joyous event as having children and raising up the next generation due to reading this verse that speaks of an event that is now thousands of years in our past.

Statement #3

“Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.” Matt. 24:18

 

 

I don’t mean to be repetitive, but again, if The Great Tribulation were a global event, it wouldn’t matter it you stayed in a field or left the field to go back to your house to get your cloak. In either scenario, you would still be facing The Great Tribulation Period if it were global. This statement communicates a localized tribulation since leaving the field to enter your house and get your cloak would be unsafe, yet simply avoiding your house and not returning from the field to get your cloak would keep you safe.

 

Statement #4

“Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house.” Matt. 24:17

 

If The Great Tribulation Period were a global event, what difference would it make if you went into your house to get something. All people in all places at all times would be under this tribulation and nobody could escape it. Also, flat roofs communicate The Great Tribulation would take place in the first century due to how common flat roofs were at that time and how uncommon they are today. Most houses had flat roofs at that time. It was much cooler on the roof, and roofs were used for sleeping and living quarters, and for entertaining guests. (See Deuteronomy 22:8;Luke5:19.) This statement also communicates The Great Tribulation would be isolated to a single area that needed to be avoided since staying away from your house would keep you safe, while entering it to get something you forgot made you unsafe.

Statement #5

“Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” Matt. 24:16

 

If we look on this world-map, Judea would be right about where that tiny red dot is. Let’s contrast fleeing from that tiny red dot, verses trying to flee from a world-wide tribulation. If The Great Tribulation was global, fleeing from that tiny red dot would not do any good whatsoever. The only reason fleeing from that tiny red dot would matter is if The Great Tribulation was happening in the same area as that tiny red dot. As I see it, this verse completely invalidates the idea that Jesus was speaking of a global tribulation period for 2 reasons.

 

1) Jesus tells only those who are in Judea to flee to the mountains.

 

If the great tribulation were a global event, fleeing to the mountains from Judea, or any city for that matter, would not do anybody any good. Why did Jesus not tell everyone around the globe to flee? Because He knew that only those living in Judea would be under threat of the coming great tribulation and would need to escape to safety. He also did not mention the entire globe fleeing because if The Great Tribulation were global, nobody could escape it.

2) Jesus tells people to “flee” which is the same Greek word pheugō we looked at earlier used in Matthew 24:20 which means “to escape safely out of danger”.

 

Now Jesus has said TWICE that the great tribulation could be escaped. Nobody could escape a global tribulation, thus the great tribulation had to be local. Luke’s account of this statement gives even more evidence for a local tribulation verses a global one.

 

“Then those in Judea must flee to the hills. THOSE IN JERUSALEM must get out, and those out in the country should not return to THE CITY.” Luke 21:21

 

Ah, now we are getting somewhere. Everything Jesus is saying here is directed at getting people out of Jerusalem once the great tribulation period was about to happen, and keeping people from entering Jerusalem so they don’t get caught up in the great tribulation period.

Why?

Because Jerusalem is the city where The Great Tribulation would occur.

Jesus is saying in essence, “I don’t care if you left your cloak in Jerusalem, I don’t care if you left your cute puppy named Cuddles in Jerusalem and you just got him a new custom dog collar at PetSmart (that was a joke you can laugh). When The Great Tribulation is about to happen, GET OUT! And let those who are in the field or outside of Jerusalem, STAY OUT!, I don’t want you getting caught up in the destruction and chaos.”

But what would be a major sign that The Great Tribulation was near and they needed to flee from Jerusalem? We find out in the statement just before this one.

Statement #6

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’spoken of through the prophet Daniel, (let the reader understand). Matt. 24:15

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.” Luke 21:20

Both Matthew and Luke list specific information we need to know in each account so I listed both verses.

Matthew highlights Jesus’s statement that a sign His followers needed to flee would be when they see the “abomination that causes desolation” set up in the Holy Place, which is the temple in Jerusalem.

Luke highlights Jesus’s statement that a sign His followers needed to flee would be when they see Jerusalem surrounded by armies just prior to its desolation/destruction. Notice both accounts of this passage show Jesus focusing on one single city that would need to be fled from when they observed these two signs, Jerusalem.

It’s debated as to what exactly “the abomination that causes desolation” was, however, we know it was set up in the temple in Jerusalem right before The Great Tribulation and that temple was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans. This is further evidence that both the abomination that causes desolation, and The Great Tribulation are past events.

Also, we know the abomination that causes desolation had to have been set up in the temple that was destroyed in AD 70 and not a future rebuilt temple, because there is not a single New Testament verse that predicts the temple we will be rebuilt in the future. The temple can rebuilt 1,000 times, but the mere rebuilding of the temple does not automatically make it the fulfillment of Bible prophecy because the New Testament only predicts the temple’s destruction (Matt. 23:38/24:2, never it’s reconstruction.

The historian Josephus records that in AD 70 the Roman army encompassed Jerusalem under the command of Caesar Titus and then seized and ultimately destroyed the entire city.

“Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), [Titus] Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple… This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind. 1

This next bit of information is not needed whatsoever to prove the validity of The Great Tribulation being a local event in Jerusalem and not a global event, because Jesus has already well qualified a local great tribulation in Jerusalem through the statements we just went over. Although it is fascinating that church history also attest to Christians fleeing from Jerusalem just prior to it’s destruction.

They fled to a town called Pella which was in the region of Perea.

“The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella. Here those that believed in Christ, having removed from Jerusalem, as if holy men had entirely abandoned the royal city itself, and the whole land of Judea; the divine justice, for their crimes against Christ and his apostles finally overtook them, totally destroying the whole generation of these evildoers form the earth. -Eusebius, Church History, 3:5.

“So Aquila, while he was in Jerusalem, also saw the disciples of the disciples of the apostles flourishing in the faith and working great signs, healings, and other miracles. For they were such as had come back from the city of Pella to Jerusalem and were living there and teaching. For when the city was about to be taken and destroyed by the Romans, it was revealed in advance to all the disciples by an angel of God that they should remove from the city, as it was going to be completely destroyed. They sojourned as emigrants in Pella, the city above mentioned in Transjordania. And this city is said to be of the Decapolis.”  -Epiphanius, On Weights and Measures, 15.

As you can see from the picture, they started in Jerusalem, went to the region of Perea, then to the town of Pella. This would have been ample distance from The Great Tribulation which would take place in Jerusalem where Josephus records that between AD 66 and AD 70 1.1 million Jews were violently slaughtered. 2

I want to end by clarifying that I fully understand and am grieved that all around the world there is currently Christian tribulation and persecution taking place. My heart aches for this situation and my prayers are with those who are carrying the gospel in the darkest places of the Earth. I do not believe we are currently in “The Great Tribulation”, but yet that doesn’t mean Christians are not experiencing tribulation that is extreme and disheartening. With that understanding, I also want to be faithful to what Jesus is saying in the verses I presented which show “The Great Tribulation” was a specific term used to describe a specific event that would take place in the city of Jerusalem before the generation Jesus was speaking to passed away (Matt. 24:34). I believe that event was the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple which took place between AD 66-AD 70.

Also, the reason I stuck with only the words of Jesus in the Olivet discourse to show whether The Great Tribulation period is global or local is because not only is the Olivet discourse clear language, but we have also 3 synoptic accounts of it in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, giving us plenty of information to come to a solid conclusion unlike other passages that are not as clear.

If you also believe the words of Jesus that clearly show The Great Tribulation was a local event and not a global event, and believe the future is bright, would you pass this blog on and help me promote an optimistic and hope-filled world view in the body of Christ?

1 Flavius Josephus. The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem. Containing The Interval Of About Three Years. From The Taking Of Jerusalem By Titus To The Sedition At Cyrene. Book VII. Chapter 1.1 2 Flavius Josephus. The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem

2 Flavius Josephus. The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem

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