How long will the Great Tribulation last? Some claim, it will last for seven years, while others say that it will last for 3 1/2 years. What is correct?
Christ said in Matthew 24:21: “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.” Notice the time frame–the Great Tribulation will begin at the time when the “abomination of desolation” will be observed standing in the holy place (verse 15). At that time, the “man of sin”–a false religious leader–will be sitting in the temple of God in Jerusalem, claiming to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:2-4). This will coincide when Jerusalem’s desolation has drawn near, as it will be attacked and made desolate by Gentile armies (compare Luke 21:20-24).
In Daniel 12:1, we find an additional reference to the Great Tribulation: “At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time, And at that time your people shall be delivered.”
Here, the Great Tribulation is equated with a Time of Trouble. Both expressions refer to the same period, as they both describe an unparalleled time of trouble for man.
When the Great Tribulation ends, Christ will return. In fact, He will return to shorten the time in order to prevent all human beings from being destroyed (compare Matthew 24:22). For an in-depth discussion of the fact that God might even SHORTEN the time of the Great Tribulation, see our Q&A in Update 139.
Some claim that the Great Tribulation will last for seven years. However, there is absolutely no Biblical evidence for that teaching. The Bible dogmatically postulates throughout that the Great Tribulation will not last longer than approximately 3 1/2 years.
Some misunderstand a prophecy in Daniel 9:27, erroneously stating that the “beast”–a future military leader–will make a covenant with the Jews seven years prior to the return of Christ, and that that covenant will be broken after 3 1/2 years. However, Daniel 9:27 does not describe such a covenant or treaty at all–rather, it is addressing the New Covenant which Jesus Christ brought into existence. For a thorough discussion of Daniel 9:27, see our Q&A in Update 175. In any event, Daniel 9:27 cannot be used to teach that the Great Tribulation will last for 7 years.
Let us take note of some of the Biblical references to the time span of the Great Tribulation (which is also identified as Satan’s wrath on the children of Israel and Judah, and the Church of God, compare Revelation 12:13).
We read in Daniel 7:25: “He [an endtime religious leader, the “man of sin,” also called the “false prophet” in Scripture] shall speak pompous words against the Most High, Shall persecute the saints of the Most High, And shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand FOR A TIME AND TIMES AND HALF A TIME.”
During the Great Tribulation, a religious power under the lead of the “false prophet,” in collaboration with a military power under the lead of the “beast,” will persecute the saints. They will do so for “a time and times and half a time.” The commentary of “Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge” (TSK) explains that this phrase means “three years and a half, or reckoning thirty days to a month, 1,260 days.”
The Nelson Study Bible agrees, stating (in their annotation to Revelation 11:3) that “a time and times and half a time” is “a period of three and a half years made up of 42 thirty-day lunar months.”
The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown (JFB) states that the period of “one year, two years, and half a year” equals “1260 days” or “forty-two months,” adding that the phrase is to be understood quite literally as three and a half years” of “persecution.”
In Daniel 12, we find another reference to the duration of the Great Tribulation. Daniel asked an angel how long it would take until “all these things” would be fulfilled (verse 6), about which the angel had told him–including the persecution of the saints, their deliverance from persecution, and the resurrection of the righteous to eternal life (verses 2-3). The angel answered, in verse 7: “… that it shall be for A TIME, TIMES, AND HALF A TIME; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, [then] all these things shall be fulfilled.” Again, we see that the persecution of God’s people during the Great Tribulation is described as beginning 3 1/2 years prior to Christ’s return and the resurrection of the righteous dead.
In Revelation 11:2, we are told that the Gentiles will “tread the holy city [Jerusalem] underfoot for FORTY-TWO MONTHS,” and verse 3 explains that God’s two witnesses will “prophesy ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY DAYS.” All these phrases refer to a time span of 3 1/2 years.
Vincent’s Word Studies (VWS) explains that the term “forty and two months” describes a “period which appears in [several] forms in Revelation: “forty-two months… twelve hundred and sixty days… a time, times and half a time, or three years and a half.”
The commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown (JFB) elaborates, in their notation to Revelation 11:2, that the phrase, “forty and two months” describes “The same period as Daniel’s ‘time, times, and half’… The three and a half… was the duration of Antiochus’ treading down of the temple and persecution of faithful Israelites… Also, three and a half years was the period of the heaven being shut up, and of consequent famine, in Elias’ time. Thus, three and a half represented to the Church the idea of toil, pilgrimage, and persecution.”
John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (Gill) adds the following thought in his notation to Revelation 11:3:
“… it is observable, that the date of the beast’s reign and tyranny is expressed by months, and the date of the church’s being in the wilderness, and the prophesying of the witnesses, is signified by days; and the reason which some give is not despicable, as that the beast and his followers are the children of darkness and of the night, over which the moon presides, from whence months are numbered; and the church and the witnesses are children of the day, over which the sun rules.”
A further reference to Satan’s attempt to persecute the saints during the Great Tribulation can be found in Revelation 12. Some members of God’s true Church will be protected from Satan’s attacks in a place of safety here on earth (compare Revelation 3:10). Others, however, will have to endure Satan’s persecution–and Satan will use his “instruments”–the beast and the false prophet–to bring about such persecution. We will see, again, that the relevant time span described here is 3 1/2 years. The passage in Revelation 12:13-17 reads:
“Now when the dragon [Satan the devil, Revelation 12:9] saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male Child. But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly [this describes supernatural protection and involvement, compare Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11-12; Isaiah 63:9] into the wilderness to her place [this is not describing the unbiblical concept of a secret rapture of God’s people to heaven, as God’s heaven is certainly not a “wilderness”], where she is nourished FOR A TIME AND TIMES AND HALF A TIME, from the presence of the serpent.
“So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood [an army, compare Jeremiah 46:7] after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood. But the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth [compare Numbers 16:31-33]. And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep [in the sense of, who know of, are familiar with, but don’t necessarily DO diligently and with zeal] the commandments of God and have [that is, who know about] the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
All Biblical references to the duration of the Great Tribulation speak of 3 1/2 years. The concept that the Great Tribulation would last for seven years is not Biblical. In fact, there is not one single Biblical passage suggesting that the Great Tribulation would last longer than 3 1/2 years–as mentioned, it is even possible that the time of the Great Tribulation will be cut short.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link