When is the Great Tribulation?

In his time on earth only two things made the Son of God cry: the death of his friend Lazarus and the imminent destruction of Jerusalem. For Lazarus he shed tears, but for Jerusalem he wailed and sobbed (Luke 19:41-44). Here’s why:

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. (Matthew 24:21)

Jesus sobbed because he could see what was coming. He saw the famine with its horrors and the legions with their swords. He saw the streets running with blood and the hills of unburied dead. He saw the end of his people and it wrecked him.

The storm that was coming to Jerusalem was unlike any other. Although the city had been besieged before (by the Assyrians, Babylonians, etc.), the Roman siege of AD70 stands out for a couple of reasons. Inside the city was a larger than usual population of locals and pilgrims celebrating the Feast of Passover. Outside the city was the world’s most highly-trained army. The Jews were fired up by recent victories in their rebellion against the empire, while the Romans were utterly committed to extinguishing their insurrection.

It was the perfect storm.

Was the siege of Jerusalem the great tribulation?

Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s imminent demise, but that does not mean the great tribulation he spoke of in Matthew 24 was fulfilled in AD70. Before we can make that judgment we need to examine the ten signs Jesus listed in connection with the great tribulation:

  1. Your enemies will throw up an embankment and surround you (Luke 19:43)
  2. False Christs/prophets will arise showing signs and wonders (Matthew 24:25)
  3. False leaders will lead people into the desert and inner rooms (Matthew 24:26)
  4. There will be great and unprecedented distress (Luke 21:23)
  5. People will fall by the sword (Luke 21:24)
  6. Nursing mothers will especially suffer (Matthew 24:19, Luke 21:23)
  7. The days will be cut short, so not all lives will be lost (Matthew 24:22)
  8. Jerusalem will be leveled to the ground, with not one stone left upon another (Luke 19:44)
  9. The Jews will be led captive into all the nations (Luke 21:24)
  10. Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles (Luke 21:24)

Were these signs fulfilled in AD70? Yes, every last one of them. In this post we will look at three of the ten signs. (The others are covered here.)

Your enemies will build an embankment and surround you (Luke 19:43, 21:20)

“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies.” It took no less than four Roman legions plus the armies of four client kings to surround Jerusalem, and some of the apostles were alive when it happened. They may not have seen it with their eyes, but they certainly would have heard about it.

When Titus and his legions arrived at Jerusalem, they erected embankments at strategic locations. Later, when it became apparent that the Jews would not surrender, Titus decided to enclose the city. Using rubble taken from Jerusalem’s outer wall, the Romans linked their embankments in one unbroken wall.

“Your enemies will build an embankment around you.” This was a remarkable prediction: A wall around the entire city of Jerusalem? It was an impossible engineering challenge. No one could do it, yet the Romans pulled it off in three days.

The people will fall by the edge of the sword (Luke 21:24)

This is a strange prophecy because embankments and swords don’t go together. In their earlier siege of the Galilean town of Jotapata, the Romans set up a blockade to starve the city into submission. But for less fortified towns like Gabara and Japha, they went charging in with swords swinging. Different strategies for different conditions. Yet Jesus said both would be adopted and in AD70 both were.

During the siege of Jerusalem you had a good chance of starving to death or being killed with a sword. Within the city men with swords plundered homes in search of food, while outside the city soldiers slit the bellies of deserters looking for swallowed gold. And when the walls fell, the Romans rushed in killing everyone they could find. They killed the young and the old, the healthy and the infirm. They killed and killed, Josephus said, until they grew “tired with killing men.”

Nursing mothers will especially suffer (Luke 21:23)

To be a mother in Jerusalem during the hellish months of AD70, with no food and with gangs of thieves stealing everything they could eat, was the ultimate nightmare.

How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! (Luke 21:23)

One particularly sad story stands out. (WARNING: Graphic content ahead.) During the siege a once-wealthy woman called Mary was robbed again and again until her cupboards were bare. There was nothing for her or her nursing son to eat, yet every day thieves broke into her house looking for food.

The poor woman eventually snapped. Out of indignation at the repeated home invasions she’d been forced to endure, she killed and cooked her only child. The thieves smelled the roasting meat and broke into her house again. They threatened to cut her throat if she didn’t reveal her secret food so she showed them what remained of her son. Aghast, the thieves backed out trembling and empty-handed. Mary’s story spread and soon the whole city was horrified. Even the Romans were shocked.

When you read stories like these you begin to understand why Jesus, on his way to be crucified, addressed the women who were weeping for him:

Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” (Luke 23:28-29)

The summer of AD70 was hell-on-earth for the people of Jerusalem and most of them did not survive. Those that did ended up torn from their families and sold around the empire as slaves. In a very real sense, it was the end of the Jewish world, at least for a time.

We have examined three of the ten signs Jesus gave in connection with the great tribulation and seen that they were all fulfilled in AD70. So what? What is the significance for us? We’ll find out in the next post. Stay tuned.

Extracted from chapter 9, “The great tribulation,” of Paul Ellis’ book AD70 and the End of the World.

34 Comments on When is the Great Tribulation?

  1. So what about the type that Daniel spoke of and the Maccabees recorded? I get what you are saying with regards to the fall of Jerusalem but what of the end of ends? The same senerio with Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a time of great tribulation as well. It even follows the type recorded in revelation of weeks and years. I digress, even so trim your wicks.

    • Different subject. The GT is past; Judgment Day is future.

      • Just a thought but is it possible each person will have PERSONAL experience of tribulation at different times during “the season”. “You will know the season but not the time.
        IF there is MUCH MUCH more to Ephesians 4 of one Body, Spirit, hope of calling etc. than has already been revealed to me and many many others, than what may seem obvious in the leiteral, we need to ASK TO EXPAND meaning of that they may be ONE as WE are ONE.
        There is a unity that maybe we must see in whole or in part I am curious about in LUKE 2:52 JesUS advanced in wisdom and stature (a growth pattern) and since we are to manifest JesUS also in mortal flesh we have a similar experience curve to come to manifesting HIM. we can only do that together WITH ONE focUS. “Until we all arrive at the oneness of faith. . . . . . measure of the STATURE of the FULLNESS OF CHRIST. I make no attempt to created doctrine, If this is from LORD SPIRIT He will expand on this flow to me shortly.

      • Aha! Gotcha. Crazy dispensationalist, still messing with me. Though I consider myself a historical premillennialist. 😉

      • Dear Paul, I must thank You.
        You really changed my lige.
        Before I have started reading Your blog, I was slave of works-based religion, especially because I was born and raised into Roman Catholic Church family and area.
        I was religious and lukewarm.
        God bless you, Paul, Jesus set me free through Your ministry.
        Though our human Works cannot give us salvation, I believe you will be somehow rewarded in future life for Your effort.
        I want you to know that Your ministry mase me whole New man, Your posts/articles are spiritual food to me.
        I read Your blog everyday.
        I wish you every blessing and good gift grom God.
        I hope this will be motivation to you to countinue Your work.
        Because od you, I now really feel Like child of Heavenly Father and brother of Jesus Christ.
        I would gladly buy one of Your books, if I had money.
        Now I can countinue to live my eternal life, abiding in love of Jesus, sitting on God’s promises and blessings.
        THANK YOU! 😀

        P.S.
        I dida bit know where to post this, so i chose The latest article

  2. I beg to differ.
    Mat 24: 29-30 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

    If the great tribulation has already happened then why is the sun is still shining, the moon is still giving light, there are still stars in the sky and Jesus has not visibly came back on the clouds in all his Glory.

    • There is much to say about these two extraordinary verses. (I cover them in the AD70 book.) TL;DR: In verse 29 Jesus is following a very Biblical habit of describing Israel’s government as the sun and moon. When Isaiah and Ezekiel spoke of the downfall of Babylon and Egypt, they used astronomical metaphors like this. They spoke of the sun becoming dark and the moon not giving its light (Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7). Given this context the Jews would’ve understood that Jesus was referring to the fall of Israel. This is the only interpretation that fits the prophetic and historical context. As soon as we say Jesus was referring to something that hasn’t happened yet, we have to start twisting his prophecy and redefining words like generation. That is a very dangerous thing to do.

      There’s much to say about the tribes mourning and the coming of the Son of Man on clouds of glory, but I’ll save that for another time.

      • The glory given to JesUS He has given to US to manifest Him in mortal flesh is a release of this glory which is a reflection as if from a mirror. I suggest the coming down is the rising up from within (the fullness of the stature. on earth as it is in heaven which by the way heaven is on earth JesUS saw to that on the cross. Where glory was ALSO released as will our overcoming release glory. Clouds of glory has a meaning not related to human understanding.

      • To Gain Christ & Be Found in Him // October 6, 2017 at 4:20 am //

        Stealthsaint agreed! Jesus said the words that I speak are Spirit and life. They are spiritual truths that are intended to draw us unto Him fullness. That’s why the Holy Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual

      • I agree Paul. Modern times did a 20th century spin (interpretation) on a subject that was in context of that time.

  3. William MacDonald // September 28, 2017 at 9:03 am // Reply

    I would love to believe Jacob’s troubles/tribulations was over, but Zechariah CH14 has not yet been fulfilled. It will. V2 ‘I will gather all the nations to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city’.
    It could be claimed that verse was fulfilled in AD70 but v3 says ‘then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle’. It gets better! On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives.’ Second Coming!
    Though AD70 was terrible, I believe it was a shadow of what is to come.
    v12 ‘This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their flesh will rot while they are standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets and their tongues will rot in their mouths.’ Didn’t happen AD70. Definitely future.

    • Zechariah’s prophecy could well be future, or there could be a gap between verse 2 and verse 3. But this article pertains to Christ’s prophecy of the great tribulation. There can be no doubt that the ten signs he gave were all fulfilled in the manner and time he specified, i.e., AD70.

      • William MacDonald // September 28, 2017 at 6:34 pm //

        There could well be a gap between v2 and v3. V2 referring to AD70 and v3 Revelation Ch19 v19.
        Looking forward to reading your book.

  4. Thank you!
    Looking forward with great anticipation to the next post!

  5. nathanbeckrules // September 28, 2017 at 11:24 am // Reply

    What’s your source for the lady who cooked her child?

    • Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 3, Section 4. For the sake of clarity, I don’t normally list sources in blog posts. But full sources provided in the book.

      • nathanbeckrules // September 28, 2017 at 1:14 pm //

        After I commented I googled it and there are verses in Deut and another OT book I can’t remember that mentions such a thing. Was jesus quoting these when he mentioned it?

  6. Matheus Almeida // September 28, 2017 at 5:46 pm // Reply

    These posts about end of times are amazing!!

    Man, i bought this book “AD 70” in PDF, but something wrong is happening… I received an email saying it was already deducted from my card. However, i didn’t receive any other from Gumroad with the PDF link. If you know what is going on, please help me!!

  7. Excellent Post. Consideration of history and prophecy in context of the original audience. Thank you Teacher Paul 🙂

  8. Secureinhisgrace // September 28, 2017 at 7:54 pm // Reply

    Hello Paul, I really enjoy your teaching and understanding of Grace. But concerning the 7 year Tribulation, it is a future event. It comes after the church age is over and we are in heaven with the Lord (Rev CH. 1-3 church age, Rev. 4:1 – “come up here” – John representing the church and seeing events from Heaven)…

    • A future tribulation is one most of us have heard about. I was raised with this teaching. However, like the recent end of the world date that passed uneventfully this week, it is patently false. There is simply no evidence to support it.

      Only two people in scripture spoke of a great tribulation and of the two Jesus gave the most detail. He said what would happen (he gave 10 specific signs) and when it would happen (within 40 years of his prophecy).

      Since all of Christ’s signs were fulfilled to the smallest detail in the period when he said they would be, those who proclaim a future tribulation must stand on two shaky legs. Either (1) Jesus was mistaken about the timing, or (2) there will be a second, future tribulation much like the first. Jesus himself rules out this possibility, for he said the great tribulation would never be repeated (Matt 24:21).

      I will talk about the antichrist in a coming post.

  9. Thank you very much, looking forward to the next post.

  10. So Paul, just gonna be bold here (cause I haven’t been in awhile and am impressed to now) and share that I believe Abba recently told me that we are already in End Days. So reading this post is very confirming for me. And. I have no fear.

    Instead, I keep getting a sense of urgency from Him about “a time such as this.” He is helping me get back focused on Him, setting my face like a flint and not looking to the left or right but square on Him (had my first really ugly and distracting season). Abba is reminding me more and more about how intimately I know His voice because He is my Shepherd and I will not follow the voice of a stranger. Intercessory prayer is happening more and more and I receive impressions of a great harvest, many 1’s of 100 being drawn back to His pasture by His goodness, and a shifting in the body of Christ (like an impression of mondo spiritual changes).

    Do you believe these things HS (the Holy Spirit) is bringing up in prayer are related to what you discuss in this new book (which I definitely want to read)? Are we experiencing a “great harvest” now?

    I want to add that the Holy Spirit brings to my remembrance that Abba’s sense of time isn’t like our earthly understanding and that He is patient, wanting as many to come to Him as possible. He is our Abba Father and wants to be to even more of His human creation.

    Thank you for believing Jesus, mi hermano! God bless you always and may His grace and mercy and peace be multiplied unto you.

    I thank God for the sound doctrine that you have in Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God that you have the mind of Christ. I thank God that no weapon formed against you and your family shall prosper. I pray that you continue to receive the vision and word of our Abba Father through the life of Christ Jesus in whom you are inseparably one with. To God be the glory. Woooohooo!!! Amen 😁 Joy joy joy of the Lord…wonderful and abundant joy to you all!

    • Thanks JT. I think of all the things we misunderstand about God, his patience must be one of the biggies. I took about the patient long-suffering of the Father in the book and how Jesus told parables that involved people waiting a long time. The fear mongers say time is running out, but that’s mostly true for the devil. Time is on God’s side.

      • Amen! I joke with Abba sometimes when He says to me, “for a time,” about whatever the case may be. I joke and ask, “Like are we talking your time here, Abba? Like a day is a thousand years kind of time!” 😂 He just reassures me to trust Him and remember that He IS trustworthy and His timing is perfect.

        Probably goes without saying, still getting His help on waiting patiently, and joyfully, for His timing.

        Excited ‘bout this new book 🙂

  11. Stephen Byaruhanga // September 30, 2017 at 7:10 pm // Reply

    How can i get the book in pdf?

  12. Matheus Almeida // October 2, 2017 at 6:15 pm // Reply

    Man, i have a question concerning one event you didn’t detail so much in your book and it’s something i hear a lot about from my church brothers.
    What about millennium? Is it gonna happen?

    I LOVED your book!! It changed all my view about this subject. Grateful for your life!

  13. Paul:

    Matthew and Luke include different elements in their treatment of future things. Luke indeed does describe the events of AD 70 in Luke 21:20-24. But Luke does not include the word “tribulation” in his account.

    On the other hand, Matthew is describing the Great Tribulation. He does not include the phrase “Jerusalem surrounded by armies” that we find in Luke’s account. Matthew also not include any of the material in Luke 21:24. This is the most significant verse that proves Luke is addressing AD 70 while Matthew is not. Only here in Luke 21:24 do we have the Jewish people falling by the edge of the sword and being led captive into all the nations.

    Matthew includes material that Luke does not, and this material all points to a still future Great Tribulation. In Matt 24:15 we have the abomination of desolation mentioned by Daniel standing in the Holy Place. Matt 24:20-26 is not found in Luke’s account. This is the time of the Great Tribulation, and IMMEDIATELY after the Great Tribulation the Second Coming of Christ occurs (Matt 24:29-31).

    Luke also describes the Second Coming of Christ, in both Luke 17:22-37 and Luke 21:25-28.

    Luke includes material on AD 70, while Matthew includes material on the Great Tribulation. These are separate and distinct events. One has already happened while the other is yet future.

    • Both Matthew and Luke record the Olivet Discourse. While Matthew refers to a “great tribulation” Luke prefers the term “great distress” (Luke 21:23). Although both authors identify unique elements of this unique event, they also identify several common events. For instance, both Matthew and Luke note that the event will be especially harsh on nursing mothers (Matt 24:19, Luke 21:23) and both record that the Jerusalem temple will be leveled to the ground (Matt 24:2, Luke 21:6). Since these things have happened, we can conclude that both Matthew and Luke were describing an event that is far in our past.

      In addition, Luke records a number of other predictions in connection with the great tribulation/distress. For instance, he says Jerusalem will be surrounded by sword-wielding armies (Luke 21:20). This was fulfilled when four Roman legions and several client armies marched on the city and surrounded it with an embankment in AD70. Similarly, Luke’s other recorded prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem have all been fulfilled. Every last one.

      Jesus was very detailed in his prophecies regarding the great tribulation. He specified what would happen, how it would happen, when it would happen, and who would do it. A proper response is for us to marvel at Jesus and the amazing accuracy of his words. Surely the Lord who made all things and knows all things and sees the end from the beginning is a God we can trust.

  14. Hey Paul. Is the fall of the Roman Empire AD 70 being described in the boom of revelation?

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