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Understanding the Great Tribulation

This article is based on Pastor Adrian Rogers' message, Waiting for Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 1:6‑10

This article is based on Pastor Adrian Rogers' message, Waiting for Jesus.

Paul once wrote to the Church in Thessalonica,

1 Thessalonians 1:8-10
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place….how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (Emphasis added)

When he says, “the wrath to come,” Paul is talking about the Great Tribulation period.

What is the Great Tribulation?

The Bible tells over and over again of dark days to come—days of the wrath of God, when Satan will rule on Earth. “…There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time” (Daniel 12:1b).

Jesus Christ said,

Matthew 24:21-22
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.

The Four Horsemen of the Great Tribulation

In his vision, the apostle John declared, “The great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:17) What caused him to say this? He saw the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who represent the coming judgment of the tribulation period.

The White Horse of the Antichrist

Revelation 6:1-2
Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.

In Biblical symbolism, a white horse speaks of victory. At Jesus’ return, He will come upon a white horse, with all the saints following Him. (Read Revelation 19:11-16.)

But this white horse in Revelation 6 is a picture of the Antichrist. He is mimicking the Second Coming of Christ. This Antichrist, whom the Bible also calls the Beast, will come as a worldwide leader.

The Red Horse of War

Revelation 6:4
Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As the Antichrist will be inflamed with hatred and sin, war will break out. Red is the color of blood. This world did not want the Prince of Peace, so He will stand aside and the streets will be filled with dead bodies. (Read Matthew 24:15-22.)

The Black Horse of Famine

Revelation 6:5b-6
Behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.”

After dominion comes destruction and then deprivation. A quart of wheat is hardly a meal. A denarius was the wage of a day’s labor. The scales in this rider’s hand represent food being carefully rationed out.

The Pale Horse of Death

Revelation 6:8
Behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

The Greek word here for “pale” is chloros. It means a ghastly green and speaks here of putrefaction and death. The Great Tribulation will be so horrible that men will want to die, calling death a welcome release—but it will not be, because after death comes judgment and Hell.

But notice the last phrase: he says they will be killed “by the beasts of the earth.” Is John talking about lions or tigers? No—this is highly symbolic language. Then what are these beasts?

The Beasts of Revelation 9

John wrote, “I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit” (Revelation 9:1). This “star” is Lucifer, and the bottomless pit is the penitentiary of demons—angels who fell with Satan.

In the Great Tribulation, Satan is given the key. “And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace.…Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power” (Revelation 9:2-3).

The Church and the End Times

Will the Church Go Through the Great Tribulation?

Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation,” (John 16:33b) but He was not talking about the Great Tribulation. God never pours out His wrath upon His children.

1 Thessalonians 5:2-4,9
For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, “Peace and safety!” then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief….For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Emphasis added)

Christ said to the faithful church, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10). Our Lord is going to take us out!

When Will Jesus Return?

If we had to go through the Great Tribulation, the return of Christ would be no surprise. But Scripture tells us,

Matthew 24:36, 38-39
Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only….For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.

How Should Christians Wait for the Second Coming of Christ?

We have talked about the impending wrath of God, and the wait for Jesus’ return, but the third thing to consider is the work to be done.

1 Thessalonians 1:6-7
You became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. (Emphasis added)

How do you wait for the return of Jesus? By studying Bible prophecy? That is not enough. The Bible says we are to serve God until He comes. How do you serve the true, living God? You turn from idols. (See 1 Thessalonians 1:9.) An idol is anything you love, trust, fear, or serve more than God.

It is one thing to expect the return of Christ; it is another thing to anticipate it. This Scripture says we are to be longing, looking, for His coming. We are waiting on our bridegroom. “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He [Christ] is pure” (1 John 3:3; word in brackets added).

List of Scriptures Referenced in this Article

1 Thessalonians 1:6‑10, 5:2-4,9; Daniel 12:1; Matthew 24:15-22,36,38-39; Revelation 3:10, 6:1-8,17, 9:1-3, 19:11-16; John 16:33; 1 John 3:3

More Bible Verses About the Great Tribulation

Matthew 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.
Revelation 7:9-10,13-14
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”…Then one of the elders answered, saying to me….“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.