The Seven-Year Tribulation
Dr. Thomas Ice
“And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
Critics of the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy have often questioned the biblical legitimacy of a term we use called “the tribulation.” The truth of a worldwide time of tribulation that lasts for seven years is derived primarily from the Bible books of Daniel and Revelation, however it is used many times in other passages. I hope to demonstrate in this article the fact that the Bible does indeed teach that there will be a seven-year period known as the tribulation which will be future to our own day.
Tribulation in Deuteronomy
As the nation of Israel sat perched on the banks of the Jordan River, before she ever set one foot upon the Promised Land, the Lord gave an outline of her entire history through His mouthpiece Moses. Deuteronomy is this revelation and it is like a road map for where history is headed before the trip got underway. Disclosure of an event called the tribulation is included by God as part of the original itinerary. While different segments of the historical journey have been updated with more details being added along the way, not a single adjustment from the earlier course has ever been made. Part of that journey includes the Tribulation.
In the process of Moses’ exhortation to the nation of Israel, he provides in Deuteronomy 4:25-31 an outline of what will happen to this elect nation once they cross over the Jordan River and settle the land. This passage includes that fact that the nation will be scattered around the world, but will one day be regathered. Deuteronomy 4:29–30 says, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress [Hebrew word for tribulation] and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days, you will return to the Lord your God and listen to His voice.” Thus, we see that as early as Deuteronomy God outlines a future plan for Israel that includes a period we commonly call “the tribulation.”
Tribulation in The Prophets
Building upon the Mosaic introduction of “tribulation” from Deuteronomy 4:30, the Prophets use this term in reference to the tribulation at least four times in three passages. Taking these passages chronologically, the first passage we will examine is Jeremiah 30:7 and the well known “Day of Jacob’s Trouble.”
Notice the following observations from Jeremiah 30:1–11 about the “Day of Jacob’s Trouble”:
- It will be a time of restored fortunes for Israel and Judah (30:3).
- It will be a time of when Israel and Judah will be brought back into their land in order to possess it (30:3).
- It will be a time of distress for Jacob (i.e. national Israel) from which he will be delivered (30:7).
- It will be a unique time in history (30:8).
- It will be a time in which Israel’s national slavery is ended (30:8).
- It will lead to a time when Israel will serve the Lord and David their king (30:9).
- It will lead to a time when Israel will be regathered from afar and dwell in the land in quiet and ease with no one making him afraid (30:10).
- It will be a time when the nations will be destroyed where Israel was scattered (30:11).
- It will be a time when God will punish Jacob justly and destroy part of her (30:11).
The composite in this passage does not speak of any past time of judgment upon Israel, but does fit the prophetic pattern of a future time when she will be returned from the nations to her land, put through the testings of the tribulation, but rescued from that time as the Lord judges the nations. This time then leads to her time of national obedience and blessing. This is the tribulation and it is yet future.
Daniel 12:1–2 provides us with another important tribulation passage. It reads as follows:
Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.
This tribulation passage includes the following elements:
“Now at that time . . .” refers back to the previous section (Daniel 11:36–45), which is descriptive of many of Antichrist’s activities during the tribulation (12:1).
- It will be a time when the archangel Michael “will arise,” indicating that he will defend Israel against her enemies (12:1).
- It will be a time of distress such as has never occurred in national history up to that point (12:1). This is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 24:21.
- It will be a time in which all elect Israelites will be rescued (12:1).
- It will be a time followed by the resurrection of saved and unsaved Israelites (12:2).
Once again, we have the picture of national Israel during the time of greatest distress from her enemies in all her history from which God, through angelic intervention, will intervene and rescue His elect nation (Matt. 24:31). This fits the pattern of a future tribulation, but does not correlate with the A.D. 70 judgment of Israel as some critics contend.
The final Old Testament passage under consideration is Zephaniah 1:14–18. This passage heaps together just about every term into one passage used to describe and designate the tribulation that can be found in the Bible. More than half of the Old Testament tribulation terms are found in this passage. Interestingly, the emphasis in this passage is upon the Lord’s judgment of the nations when “all the earth will be devoured . . . all the inhabitants of the earth” (1:18). This passage teaches us that during the tribulation the Lord will judge the nations.
Day of the Lord
The “day of the Lord” is the most widely used term in the Old Testament describing the time we call the tribulation. Dr. Paul Benware summaries the activities of the “day of the Lord” as a time when “the Lord will intervene in human history to judge the nations, discipline Israel, and establish His rule in the Messianic kingdom.” Once again we see a reoccurring feature in the day of the Lord that we have seen in other tribulation descriptions and that is the Lord’s defense of Israel against the nations. This is especially clear in Zechariah 14:1–8. “I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, . . .” (14:2a). “Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations as when He fights on a day of battle” (14:3). This hardly fits the A.D. 70 event or any historical possibility as some might claim. It awaits future fulfillment.
Daniel’s 70th Week
Daniel's "seventy weeks," prophesied in Daniel 9:24-27 are the framework within which the tribulation or the seventieth week occurs. The seven-year period of Daniel's seventieth week provides the time span or length of the tribulation. A graphic presentation of the seventy weeks assists greatly in understanding this intricate prophecy.
The seventieth week of Daniel is the basis for our understanding that the future tribulation will be seven years in length. This is confirmed in Revelation where there are references to two three and a half year periods. The ministry of the two witnesses occurs in the first three and a half years (Revelation 11:3), while other tribulation events are said to occur in the second half of the seven years (Revelation 12:6; 13:5). Since the first sixty-nine weeks were fulfilled literally in history (as seen above), it follows that the final week must be fulfilled in the same way. Any attempt to find a literal fulfillment of the final seven years requires a gap of time between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. This provides the basis for the final week of Daniel’s prophecy to be fulfilled literally in the future.
The Tribulation in Zechariah
Zechariah was one of the final contributions to the Old Testament canon. It should especially prove helpful to any interested in the timing of the tribulation. Zechariah’s focus was not only on the nation of Israel, but he provides prophetic focus on Jerusalem. Zechariah 12–14 involves prophetic details that I believe are descriptive of a future tribulation.
Zechariah 12–14 clearly depicts a time when all the nations of the earth will have surrounded Jerusalem in a siege. When this event happens, the Lord does not use these Gentile armies as His agent of judgment, as in A.D. 70, instead He intervenes to rescue Israel from this threat, which will happen in the future tribulation. This passage describes a yet future time when Israel is surrounded by hostile Gentile armies from all over the earth, yet this time the Lord intervenes to save the Jews, as Israel is sovereignly converted to Jesus as their Messiah, as indicated by 12:10 and 13:1.
Zechariah 14 describes a picture consistent with a futurist interpretation of these events: (1) The tribulation ends with the second coming of Jesus to Jerusalem to rescue his repentant people Israel. (2) The coming of the Lord does not result in judgment upon Israel through the surrounding armies rather it leads to a Divine judgment of the nations and rescue of Israel. (3) After the second coming, the millennium begins in which Israel is blessed nationally. (4) Israel’s reception of Jesus as their Messiah results in worldwide blessings to all the nations of the world.
The Bible clearly teaches a future time-period we commonly call the tribulation, which will be seven years in length. The purpose of the tribulation will be to purge out the rebels or unbelieving Jews, which leads to the national conversion of Israel to Jesus as their Messiah. Further, it is a time in which Revelation 3:10 says that God will test the earthdwellers or unbelievers in order to demonstrate in history their unbelief no matter the witness or circumstances they are exposed to. Maranatha!
 Paul Benware, Understanding End Times Prophecy (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), p. 244.
 One of the most readable and extensive discussions on the chronology of the 70 weeks is found in Harold H. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1977), pp. 115-39. A more popular presentation is Herb Vander Lugt, The Daniel Papers (Grand Rapids: Radio Bible Class, 1994).