13.4. Jacob’s Trouble and the Great Tribulation

Two other titles which are related to the coming Day of the Lord are the Time of Jacob’s Trouble and the Great Tribulation.1 Notice that all three involve the concept of an unparalleled time of trouble. Unparalleled implies two things concerning the time periods involved:
  1. Since there cannot be more than one unparalleled time of trouble, their time periods must overlap.2
  2. These events have not transpired in the past.3
Regarding the timing of the Great Tribulation, Jesus said

“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.” (Mtt. Mat. 24:15-22)

Jesus referred to this Daniel Dan. 9:27 “overspreading of abominations” in Matthew Mat. 24:15. Then He said, “then shall be Great Tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Mtt. Mat. 24:21), thereby indicating that the Great Tribulation will begin when the overspreading of abominations of Daniel Dan. 9:27 occurs. Since the Great Tribulation will begin when the overspreading of abominations occurs in the middle of the 70th week, we can conclude that the Great Tribulation will begin in the middle of the 70th week of Daniel, or after the first three and one-half years of that seven-year period have transpired.4

Notice Jesus says, “let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” and “pray that your flight may not be . . . on the Sabbath.” There is an explicit Jewish element to this entire passage. This is because the events are related to the Time of Jacob’s Trouble described by Jeremiah:

‘For behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ‘that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the LORD. ‘And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.’ Now these are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah. For thus says the LORD: ‘We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labor with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.’ (Jer. Jer. 30:3-7)

Notice several important aspects within this passage:
  1. Jacob is Israel - Jacob fathered the 12 tribes and was given the name Israel by God (Gen. Gen. 32:28). Thus, this is describing a time of trouble specifically for the Jews.
  2. Gathering in the Land - This time of trouble occurs after Israel is gathered back in the Promised Land.
  3. Birth Pangs - The passage refers to every man acting “like a woman in labor.” How similar this is to the words of Jesus, “All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Mtt. Mat. 24:8). Sorrows (ωδιν [ōdin] ) indicates “a pang or throe, especially of childbirth.” [emphasis added]5
  4. A Unique Day - There is no other day like it.
  5. Results in Salvation - “But he shall be saved out of it.” Although the Jews undergo an extremely troubling time, salvation comes at the end.6
The Jewish aspect of this period can also be seen in the wider context of Micah’s well-known prophecy concerning the birthplace of Messiah:

Now gather yourself in troops, O daughter of troops; He has laid siege against us; they will strike the judge of Israel with a rod on the cheek. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. Therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth; then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock In the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God; and they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. (Mic. Mic. 5:1-4) [emphasis added]

Scripture record’s two pregnancies in relation to Messiah. The first labor terminates in the First Coming of Messiah (Rev. Rev. 12:2-4+). The second labor terminates in the ushering in of the Millennial Kingdom. It is this second period of labor, subsequent to the going forth of Messiah from Bethlehem, which Micah sets forth. This second labor leads to the millennial age: “For now He shall be great to the ends of the earth.” The time of Jacob’s trouble describes the labor pains associated with the second pregnancy.

“She who travaileth” does not refer to Israel bringing forth (giving birth to) Messiah, but to her last-day Tribulation travail (Jer. Jer. 30:5-7) in bringing forth a believing remnant, . . . Israel’s greatest and most anguishing sufferings of all her long and checkered history of woe will take place during the coming Great Tribulation (Rev. Rev. 8:1+-Rev. 20:3+). Her terrible travail pains that in God’s plan precede the joy of birth (cf. Mic. Mic. 4:9; cf. John John 16:21), will bring forth a regenerated nation to enter the joy of the Kingdom, which will be as unparalleled as the agony that introduces it.7

This period is mentioned in the book of Revelation and also Daniel which provides additional details as to its duration:8

Revelation Rev. 12:1+ states the length of time this persecution and hiding of the Jews in the wilderness will last . . . it will last 1,260 days (Rev. Rev. 12:6+) . . . Revelation Rev. 12:14+ states that Israel will hide in the wilderness from Satan for “a time, and times, and half a time.” Daniel Dan. 7:25 uses this identical time designation for the length of time that the Antichrist will persecute the saints of the 70th week. . . . Revelation Rev. 13:5-7+, when referring to this same persecution of 70th-week saints by the Antichrist, declares that it will last for 42 months, which equal three and one-half years. . . . The Jews will be persecuted and will hide in a wilderness area for three and one-half years, exactly one-half of the seven-year 70th week. . . . the Great Tribulation will be finished when God has completely shattered the obstinate rebellion of the nation of Israel against Him [Dan. Dan. 9:24; Dan. 12:7]. In other words, the Great Tribulation will end when Israel’s rebellion against God’s rule ends.9

Scofield summarizes the character of this unique period:

The elements of the tribulation are: (1) The cruel reign of the “beast out of the sea” (Rev. Rev. 13:1+), who, at the beginning of the three and a half years, will break his covenant with the Jews (by virtue of which they will have re-established the temple worship, Dan. Dan. 9:27), and show himself in the temple, demanding that he be worshipped as God (Mtt. Mat. 24:15; 2Th. 2Th. 2:4). (2) The active interposition of Satan “having great wrath” (Rev. Rev. 12:12+), who gives his power to the Beast (Rev. Rev. 13:4+, Rev. 13:5+). (3) The unprecedented activity of demons (Rev. Rev. 9:2+, Rev. 9:11+); and (4) the terrible “bowl” judgments of Rev. Rev. 16:1+.10

Although the book of Revelation indicates that all those living on the earth immediately prior to the return of Jesus will be involved in troublesome times, this is especially true for the Jews. This is because God applies judgment first and more fully to those who have greater revelation and responsibility (Amos Amos 3:2; Luke Luke 12:48).11

While it is true that all will suffer during that time, Israel will suffer more so. The basic reason for this lies in Israel’s relationship to God as God’s first born (Ex. Ex. 4:22) and, therefore, Israel receives double, both in blessing and cursing. The principle that Israel receives double for all her sins is stated in Isaiah Isa. 40:1-2 . . . It is also found in Jeremiah Jer. 16:16-18. The principle of Israel’s receiving double for all her sins is the reason why the Tribulation is uniquely the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.12

Stanton shows the Jewish character of the period by saying: Deu. 4:30; Jer. Jer. 30:7; Eze. Eze. 20:37; Dan. Dan. 12:1; Zec. Zec. 13:8-9), by the Olivet Discourse of Christ (Mtt. Mat. 24:9-26), and by the book of Revelation itself (Rev. Rev. 7:4-8+; Rev. 12:1-2+, Rev. 12:17+ etc.). It concerns ‘Daniel’s people,’ the coming of ‘false Messiah,’ the preaching of the ‘gospel of the kingdom,’ flight on the ‘sabbath,’ the temple and the ‘holy place,’ the land of Judea, the city of Jerusalem, the twelve ‘tribes of the children of Israel,’ the ‘son of Moses,’ ‘signs’ in the heavens, the ‘covenant’ with the Beast, the ‘sanctuary,’ the ‘sacrifice and the oblation’ of the temple ritual—these all speak of Israel and prove that the tribulation is largely a time when God deals with His ancient people prior to their entrance into the promised kingdom.”13

Our study of the book of Revelation will greatly benefit by keeping in mind the purposes God has for this period of time:

The first purpose is to make an end of wickedness and wicked ones (Isa. Isa. 13:9; Isa. Isa. 24:19-20) . . . The second purpose of the Tribulation is to bring about a worldwide revival (Rev. Rev. 7:1-7+) . . . The Third purpose of the Tribulation is to break the power of the stubborn will of the Jewish nation (Dan. Dan. 12:5-7; Eze. Eze. 20:33-38).14

The Old Testament presents at least five purposes for the Tribulation. 1 . The Tribulation will complete the decreed period of national Israel’s judicial hardening as punishment for its rejection of the messianic program, which the partial return from exile did not remove and which culminated in the national rejection of Jesus (Isa. Isa. 6:9-13; Isa. 24:1-6; cf. John John 12:37-41; Rom. Rom. 11:7-10). 2 . It will produce a messianic revival among Jewish people scattered throughout the world (Deu. Deu. 4:27-30; cf. Rev. Rev. 7:1-4+; Mtt. Mat. 24:14). 3 . The Tribulation will convince the Jewish nation of their need for the Messiah in order to produce a national regeneration (Dan. Dan. 12:5-7; Jer. Jer. 31:31-34; Eze. Eze. 20:34-38; Eze. 36:25-27; Eze. 37:1-14; Zec. Zec. 12:9-Zec. 13:2; Isa. Isa. 59:20-21). This will result in a massive return of Jews to the land of Israel (Zec. Zec. 8:7-8; Eze. Eze. 36:24; Eze. 37:21). 4 . It will end the time of the Gentiles and effect the deliverance of the Jewish people from Gentile dominion (Isa. Isa. 24:21-23; Isa. 59:16-20; cf. Mtt. Mat. 24:29-31; Mark Mark 13:24-27; Rom. Rom. 11:25). 5 . The Tribulation will purge the earth of wicked people in order to establish the Messianic Kingdom in righteousness (Isa. Isa. 13:9; Isa. 24:19-20; Eze. Eze. 37:23; Zec. Zec. 13:2; Zec. 14:9; Isa. Isa. 11:9). This violent reduction of the world’s unbelieving population will result from the divine judgments unleashed throughout the Tribulation (Rev. Rev. 6:1+-Rev. 18:1+), climaxing with the Battle of Armageddon under King Messiah (Rev. Rev. 19:1+) and His purge of rebel Jews and oppressive Gentiles at the end of the Tribulation (Eze. Eze. 20:33-38; Mtt. Mat. 25:31-46).15


1 “The Scriptures indicate that the Day of the Lord, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, and the Great Tribulation have several things in common. First, the concept of trouble or tribulation are associated with all three . . . Second, the concept of an unparalleled time of trouble is identified with all three [Joel Joel 2:1-2; Jer. Jer. 30:7; Dan. Dan. 12:1 cf. Mtt. Mat. 24:21] . . . Third, the term ‘great’ is used for all three . . . Fourth, the concept of birth pangs is associated with all three . . . Fifth, the expression ‘that day’ is used for all three . . . Sixth, Israel’s future repentance or spiritual restoration to God is associated with all three . . . These comparisons demonstrate that several of the same concepts and terms are associated with the Day of the Lord, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, and the Great Tribulation . . . they indicate that the Day of the Lord will cover or at least include the same time period as the Time of Jacob’s Trouble and the Great Tribulation.”—Renald E. Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come (Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995), 41-42.

2 “Both the Time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jer. Jer. 30:6-7) and the Great Tribulation (Mtt. Mat. 24:21) are described as the unparalleled time of trouble. Since there can only be one such time, both will cover the same time period. The Great Tribulation will begin in the middle of the seven-year 70th week. We know this because Jesus indicated that the Great Tribulation will begin with the abomination of desolation (Mtt. Mat. 24:15-21), which will take place in the middle of the 70th week (Dan. Dan. 9:27). . . . Since the Great Tribulation will begin in the middle and terminate at the end of the 70th week and will cover the same time period as the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble will also cover the entire second half of the 70th week.”—Ibid., 23-24.

3 They must necessarily eclipse all the world wars and the horrors of the holocaust unless God be accused of exaggeration.

4 Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come, 43.

5 James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship, 1996), G5604.

6 How different this is from the interpretation which preterists force upon Matthew Mat. 24:1! The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 involved no intervention by God on behalf of the Jews.

7 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), Mic. 5:3.

8 See Prophetic Year.

9 Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come, 44-46.

10 C. I. Scofield, The Scofield Study Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002, 1909), Rev. 7:14.

11 “It has been denied that God’s people were actually worse than the pagans about them, but reckoning must be in proportion to spiritual knowledge and privileges enjoyed. The judgments of God are always relative to light and privilege granted. . . The Latins have a pointed saying: Corruptio optimi pessima (‘The corruption of the best issues in the worst.’)”—Charles Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1969), 37.

12 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 282-283.

13 J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), 237.

14 Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, 177-181.

15 Randall Price, “Old Testament References to The Great Tribulation,” in Mal Couch, ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1996), 415.