The simple answer is when Jesus returns. But when does Jesus return? “When the Great Tribulation ends” is really a more complex question than most think.
The Great Tribulation
The Great Tribulation is first mentioned by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse:
For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. (Matt. 24:21)
Let’s examine this verse a little closer. First, the Greek words for Great Tribulation are thlipsis megale which are best translated “widespread persecution.” This is a concept most have not considered. Many consider it “Great” in terms being worse. It is very hard to consider a worse situation than what Christians faced at the hands of ISIS, but it’s easy to consider it more widespread.
Second, although the indefinite article is found in NASB translation above, it is not found in the Greek. Jesus simply said, “For then there will be widespread persecution.”
When Jesus made this statement, he was quoting the prophet Daniel.
Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time. (Dan. 12:1)
From this we learn that the “time of distress” mentioned by Daniel is the Great Tribulation. And it begins when the archangel Michael arises. We’ll remember that for later.
Daniel also tells us three things happen “at that time” or surrounding the time of the Great Tribulation.
At that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Dan. 12:2-3)
These three things are:
- Everyone written in the Book of Life will be rescued (Rapture)
- The Resurrection will take place
- The righteous will take on “resurrection bodies” and shine
The Start of the Great Tribulation
If we’re going to figure out when the Great Tribulation ends, we need to figure out when it starts. We have several clues as to when this widespread persecution will begin. Jesus specifically mentions an event known as the Abomination of Desolation that must take place prior to the Great Tribulation. We learn the timing of this event in 70 Weeks Prophecy (also from Daniel).
And one week shall establish the covenant with many: and in the midst of the week my sacrifice and drink-offering shall be taken away: and on the temple shall be the abomination of desolation; and at the end of time an end shall be put to the desolation. (Dan. 9:27 LXX)
The Septuagint translation clearly shows the Abomination of Desolation happens after the mid-point of the 70th Week of Daniel, in the last half. Now many are insistent that the widespread persecution (the Great Tribulation) begins exactly at the midpoint, but that is not what the scriptures say. Rather we know it is at or a little bit after the midpoint.
By quoting Daniel 12, Jesus also tied the Great Tribulation to the archangel Michael arising. Revelation seems to indicate this time as well:
Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days. And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down. (Rev. 12:6-9)
And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. But the two wings of the great eagle were given to the woman, so that she could fly into the wilderness to her place, where she was nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent. (Rev. 12:13-14)
Michael’s arising is most likely the war in heaven with Satan. Most scholars attribute the time of 1260 days (time, times, and half a time) to the persecution of the Holy people (Jews and Christians) that will take place at this point. “Time, times, and half a time” is a quote from earlier in Daniel about persecution as well:
He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. (Dan. 9:25)
So the total time of persecution seems to be 1260 days or approximately 3 ½ years.
Calculating Potential Starting Dates
But the final half of the 70th Week of Daniel may be slightly longer than this. The following calculations are an ESTIMATE. In this calculation, I assume that the time that the Jewish remnant is protected and nourished ends upon the physical return of Jesus to fight Armageddon. This is just an assumption on my part. If that is true, however, this is probably a pretty good estimate.
Jewish years are either twelve months long or “leap years” of 13 months. Months are either 29 or 30 days (29.5 day average). We can assume the Abomination of Desolation happens in the spring – around Passover (SEE THIS ARTICLE), and any “leap year” extra months would have already happened in that year. So the first half a year of the 3 ½ years would be six months ( 6 x 29.5) or 177 days.
Twelve month Hebraic years are 354 days long and 13-month years are either 383 or 384 days long. The “leap month” is Adar Sheni (Adar II). These months occur every second or third year on average, so it is almost assured that two of the final three years will be 354-day years and one 383 (or 384) day years.
If we add all this together, we get 1268 or 1269 days in the second half of the 70th Week of Daniel. This would be true, if all the years of the second half of the 70th Week were “standard” Jewish years. However, they are not. We know that the 70th Week is a 7-year Shabua. Not only that, but the final year is a year before a Jubilee (the final return of Jesus and the saints to fight Armageddon will obviously be a Jubilee year if there ever was one). These years are 10 days longer than standard Jewish years (they start on Tishri 10 not Tishri 1). So the second half of Daniel’s 70th Shabua will be 10 days longer or about 1278 days long and the widespread persecution will actually start 18 to 19 days after the midpoint.
The renewed Jewish sacrifices will end at the midpoint as per Dan. 9:27. Sometime before the next 18 to 19 days elapse from that point, the Abomination of Desolation will be set up, and then on the 18th or 19th day, widespread persecution will begin. Graphically it would look like this.
If you were one of the vast majority who have believed the Great Tribulation is the entire second half of Daniel’s 70th Week and that it starts at the midpoint, hopefully you can mathematically see that that viewpoint is mistaken. Hopefully seeing that will prepare you for the second surprise.
When will the Great Tribulation end
We now have a starting point for the persecution and the total length of time God’s Holy people will be persecuted, 1260 days. So you would think that we have solved the problem. But we have not. This is what we would assume would happen if we only had the Old Testament to rely on. Jesus, however, gave us new information about the time that Christians would be persecuted. This was not revealed in the Old Testament because there were no Christians at that time.
For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matt. 24:21-22)
Jesus spoke of “those days.” By this he meant the 1260 days that the Holy people will be persecuted. He told us that the 1260 days will be cut short for a specific group of his Holy people, the “elect.” In the New Testament, the term “elect” refers to either Christians (primarily), angels, or Jesus himself. So because Jesus and the angels aren’t being persecuted, Jesus is telling us that the 1260 days will be cut short for Christians.
This word translated “cut short” is the Greek word koloboo which means “amputate” as in amputate a body part. This word is only found in this context in the New Testament. In the Septuagint Old Testament and in Greek Literature, it is found a couple times in terms of the cutting off of body parts. Nowhere in Greek literature does it have another meaning. So in this context, Jesus is using that word to demonstrate that Christians will not endure the full 1260 days of the Great Tribulation. The 1260 days will be amputated for the sake of the elect (Christians) and Christians only.
I can hear the arguments already, “God’s Word says the Holy people will be persecuted 1260 days (time, times, and half a time) in Dan. 7:25. How can you say that it will be less?” God’s people will be persecuted all 1260 days. God’s people include both the Christians and the Apostate Jews. These apostate Jews will endure the entire 1260 period of persecution. They won’t be raptured. In this way Dan. 7:25 and Matt. 24:22 will both be perfectly fulfilled. Apostate Jews will be persecuted the full length of the 1260 days and those days will be cut short for Christians.
Let’s add that new information to the graphic:
And now we see how those days are amputated or cut short. God comes and rescues his saints by means of the rapture. He resurrects the dead and transforms the both the living and the dead into resurrection bodies at this unknown point during the second half of the 70th Shabua of Daniel. All of this happens just as Dan. 12:1-3 predicts.
And the Great Tribulation ends when Jesus returns just as we predicted at the beginning of the article. But this return is sooner than almost everyone thinks. It occurs somewhere in the second half of Daniel’s 70th Shabua. And then a year or so later, Jesus returns with his saints to fight the battle of Armageddon.
So When does the Great Tribulation end?
The Great Tribulation ends when Jesus says it ends:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Matt. 24:29-31)
Jesus informs us the tribulation of those days ends prior to the sixth seal being opened (the sun and moon darkened and stars fall). Then he comes on the clouds and raptures his saints (gathers together the elect which are the Christians). All of this happens approximately one year prior to the end of the 70th Shabua of Daniel.
To all of this you may say, “yes, but what about this other proof …”
That’s why I wrote Rapture: Case Closed? It contains 147 proofs just like this one. It examines nearly every proof of every theory. If you still have questions, why not pick up a copy.