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What is the Tribulation?

I answered, "Sir, you know."
And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Revelation 7:14
Some believe those in Revelation 7 are Tribulation believers from a future tribulation.  Some believe they are Tribulation believers from the time period of John.  The question is then what tribulation do they come out of?  There are many times in history when Christians went through a tribulation - Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Crusades, Nazis, and today in the Middle East, Asia, China and Africa…or is it sometime in the future?
The Date of Revelation
First of all, the timing of the writing of Revelation is critical here.  If Revelation was written before 70 AD, clearly John wrote to warn the people about the destruction of the temple and the increasing persecution of Christians.  If it was written around 90 AD, then people feel the book is a warning of a future persecution that has yet to happen.
Remember, Revelation started with a warning of things that were to happen “near” and “soon” which in the Greek language mean...near and soon!
Daniel and the Tribulation
Many get their view of the tribulation from Daniel 9.
"Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy
"Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him."  Daniel 9:24-27
This passage speaks of periods of time of destruction and desolation.  People read the first “seven” as the rebuilding of the temple with Nehemiah and Ezra.  The “sixty-two sevens” as the Messiah/Anointed One’s arrival.  Then the last “seven” is a period of tribulation.
The Hebrew word “seven” (shabuwa`) can mean seven days or seven years.
Jesus and the Tribulation
Jesus spoke of a coming tribulation.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."
As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?"  Matthew 24:1-3
Jesus here predicted the actual fall of the physical temple.  The disciples wanted to know when the end (of that temple) will come.
Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:4-14
Jesus told them to "watch" for the serious tribulation that would come.
·         Deception.  Antichrists (“many”)
·         Wars
·         National conflicts
·         Famines
·         Earthquakes
·         Persecution
·         Loss of faith
In the context of what Jesus spoke about, he referenced the time frame leading up to the destruction of the temple.  For him, that was the tribulation – the devastating time that would change and impact Jerusalem, Judaism, believers and the nation of Israel.