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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

FAQ: Do Christians Need to Fear the Great Tribulation?

by Adriel Sanchez posted January 6, 2023

The Bible’s teaching about the end of the world, or the last days, is called eschatology. While Christians interpret the Bible’s eschatology differently, we all need to agree that Jesus will come back to judge the world. He’ll return in his resurrected body. That’s absolutely clear in Scripture.  

There are differences among Christians, though, about how and when this will happen.  

Is Jesus going to rapture his church before his second coming? Some Christians believe the church will be raptured and then there will be a seven-year period of tribulation. Based on some passages in the book of Revelation, they think there will be three-and-a-half peaceful years and then three-and-a-half difficult years. Then Jesus will come with his church, whom he already raptured, to save people who converted during the time of the tribulation. Only then will Jesus judge the world.  

That’s not my view, though. The passages that people say describe the rapture are actually just referring to the second coming of Jesus, which is a single event. He isn’t going to come for his church and then come a third time to judge the world.   

That means that, yes, Christians will experience great tribulation. But the seven years in the book of Revelation aren’t literal. They’re symbolic. In Revelation 7:9–14, John has a vision of “a great multitude” of people in white robes worshipping God, and someone says, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” Then he said, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).  

That language of great tribulation is something that we see in other places in the Bible. Matthew 24:21 describes a period of great tribulation. Revelation 7 alludes to the prophecies of Daniel 12 in the Old Testament that speak of a time of great trial. So this idea of a tribulation has Old Testament roots.  

And if you read the book of Revelation, you see that those prophecies in Daniel had already begun to be fulfilled in the early church. John’s original audience was already experiencing a great tribulation. It wasn’t just some reality thousands of years in the future. John described himself to them as “your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). He wrote from imprisonment on the island of Patmos. Both he and his audience were already experiencing great tribulation.  

The kingdom of God, the people of God, and tribulation all go together. The letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2:3 show that the early church, John’s audience, was already experiencing tribulation. John tells them, “I know your tribulation and your poverty” (Rev. 2:9). 

There’s a difference between tribulation and condemnation, though. Jesus told us we’ll have tribulation in this world. But he also said,  “Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16). So we don’t need to be terrified. God has saved us through Jesus. He’ll bring us through tribulation to his heavenly kingdom. 

We experience tribulation in this world—there are Christians around the world today facing persecution, dying for their faith in Jesus Christ. We need to pray for them. This has been the reality for 2000 years: it’s all been a time of trial and tribulation. It’s our job to hold fast to the gospel, to the truth of God’s word.  

So that’s how I understand those passages about the great tribulation in the book of Revelation, but again, there’s room for disagreement on this.  

This article is part of our Frequently Asked Questions series. Listen to Pastor Adriel answer this question on Core Radio here.

Dig deeper with these free resources from Core Christianity:


These clear and concise PDFs answer some of your toughest questions about the Christian faith:
What are the Main Views of the End Times?, Who Are the Prophets?, What are the Genres of the Bible and Why Do They Matter?, Can I Trust in the Resurrection? 


Dive deeper with these lengthier and more thorough guides to difficult topics in the Christian life:
5 Things You Should Know About the Bible’s Final Book, 7 Things You Need to Know About Heaven 

Photo of Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez

Adriel Sanchez is pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In addition to his pastoral responsibilities, he also serves the broader church as a host on the Core Christianity radio program, a live, daily call-in talk show where he answers listeners' questions about the Bible and the Christian faith. He and his wife Ysabel live in San Diego with their five children.

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