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THE GREATNESS OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  Leave a comment

For the past few days I have been focusing on some of the difficult elements in the Olivet Discourse that seem to counter the preterist interpretation. Today I would like to focus on the great tibulation as the worst-ever catastrophe. Since I am arguing that the great tribulation occurred in the first century, I must deal with the natural question that arises?

Was A.D. 70 the worst catastrophe ever? Matthew 24:21 reads: “Then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.” But what about WW I or WW II? Surely they are much worse than the first-century Jewish War in Israel. When we consider this in its biblical context, however, ample information supports my conclusion that A. D. 70 is in view. Note the following points.

(1) Matthew 24:34 states that “all these things” shall occur in “this generation” — and verse 21 is one of “these things.” (2) Furthermore, is not Noah’s Flood even worse than the supposed future great tribulation — which Jesus even mentions in the context (Matt 24:37–39)? In Noah’s Flood the entire human population perishes, except for one family (1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 2:5).

(2) To understand Jesus properly we must grasp the use of hyperbole in Old Testament apocalyptic language. Very often we find that judgment language in prophetic discourse is formulaic, stock-in-trade, highly stylized, poetic language. For instance, in Exodus 11:6 we read these words regarding the tenth plague on Egypt: “Then there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as was not like it before, nor shall be like it again?” Which is it? Is the great tribulation the worst judgment, or is the tenth plague upon Egypt the worst?

In Ezekiel 5:9 we read of the Old Testament destruction of the temple by the Babylonians: “I will do among you what I have never done, and the like of which I will never do again, because of all your abominations?” But in Matthew 24 it happens again. This is apocalyptic, poetic, dramatic imagery. This is even used outside of such dramatically-framed circumstances, as in the praise of kings (cp. 2 Kgs 18:5 with 2 Kgs 23:25). Jesus’ declaration in verse 21 is dramatic speech emphasizing the remarkable nature of this event; it is not meant literally.

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

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