Bible prophecy is confusing. It’s full of metaphors, symbols, unclear time periods, literal impossibilities and conflicting information. So it’s understandable if someone has a question on the end times or the Great Tribulation. It’s a fascinating question, but if there’s one thing Pat Robertson gets right on The 700 Club, it’s the idea to be careful that we don’t get fixated on a hypothetical end of the world, and keep our focus on the present that we’re living in. Click here for the question, which begins at 4:05. The answer begins below.
Will women be able to get pregnant during the 7-year tribulation period? I would think God would make all women barren during that horrible time. – Steven
What you’re asking is mostly academic, but it’s definitely worth getting into to discuss the variety of beliefs around this. You clearly believe one thing and Pat Robertson is dismissive of your inquiry because he believes another, but there’s no certainty or consensus about what the Bible says or means on this.
When asking this question about the Great Tribulation, it sounds like you’re a futurist. We know that Robertson certainly is, though, as he said, he doesn’t believe the Great Tribulation will last 7 years. The question is, are you a futurist because that’s what you believe based on your knowledge or because you don’t know there are differing interpretations of the Olivet Discourse?
The Olivet Discourse or Olivet Prophecy is the prophecy of the “Little Apocalypse” found in the Synoptic Gospels — mainly in the nearly identical Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21, along with a bit in the parables in Matthew 25. Combined with the passages from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation, we get a group of prophetic writings that are sometimes interpreted as all referring to the end time.
Futurists believe that the events described in the Discourse refer to, as you’d probably guess, future events that have yet to come and herald the end times. Preterists believe that a number of the things prophesied have already come to pass with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and have nothing to do with the Second Coming. That was when the Romans finished quashing the First Jewish Revolt after having captured Jerusalem 7 years earlier in 63 CE.
After laying siege to Jerusalem, the Romans razed the city, destroying the Temple, throwing down its stones and brutally punishing the Jewish people for their revolt. According to the contemporary historian Flavius Josephus (though his numbers should be taken with a grain of salt) in Book Six, Chapter 9 of his War Of The Jews, 97,000 people were taken as slaves and 1.1 million were killed, the majority of whom were Jewish as there was an influx of visitors trapped in the city during the time of the Passover.
Destruction, slaughter, slavery, the throwing down of the Temple — it certainly sounds a lot like what Jesus describes in the Olivet Discourse, urging the people of Judea to flee to the mountains and saying in Matthew 24:21 “For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now–and never to be equaled again.”
While the Gospel of Matthew refers to Daniel (we’ll get to the Book of Daniel in a bit) and the “abomination of desolation” as the sign to flee Jerusalem, Mark 13:14 just makes reference to the abomination without referring back to Daniel, and Luke 21:20 says to flee when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies — like that of the Romans.
For preterists, the beast that is mentioned in the Book of Revelation was not the Antichrist, but the Roman Empire and, more specifically, the emperor Nero. He ruled over Rome when the Jewish Revolt began and sent his eventual successor, Vespasian to put the revolt down. There are a number of reasons for this thought (If you want to get into all of them, check out Beliefnet), such as the mention in Revelation 17:10 of the Beast’s seven heads, “They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while.”
Nero would then be the king that “is”, as there were five emperors who had come before him in the first Roman imperial dynasty started by Augustus, and Revelation was believed to have been written shortly after Nero’s reign, with a possible first draft being put to pen during that reign.
For futurists, though, which you seem to be, all of this is yet to come and these prophecies will all be fulfilled in the time of the Great Tribulation before the Second Coming. You might be saying that the preterists take too much liberty with metaphors and guesses behind meaning — but futurists do the same.
You mention the 7-year tribulation, for instance, but the Bible never makes mention of this. Instead, it’s based on the Prophecy Of Seven Weeks in the Daniel 9, one of the most confusing and difficult passages of the Bible. And the way futurists get to 7 years is equally as confusing and difficult.
The idea is that the 70 weeks (or “sevens” in some translations) mentioned in Daniel are actually a reference to years. Each day of the week is meant to represent a single year and 69 weeks (according to Daniel 9:25, 7 weeks and 62 weeks) have been accounted for before the break of indeterminate time, with the remaining week — or seven years — still to come. If you want to get a more detailed explanation of the numerology, this page explains the interpretation.
At this point, according do Daniel 9:27, the Messiah “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 at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him.”
Here you get even more variation in futurists, with midtribulationists and pretribulationists and posttribulationists and on and on. And the timing? The passage above suggests a break halfway through the 7 year period, which would be at 3.5 years — which is what other futurists believe will be the length of the Great Tribulation. They point to passages such as Daniel 12:17, which makes mention of 1,290 days, or Revelation 13:5, which says the beast will exercise his authority for 42 months to support this interpretation.
So does the Scripture actually say that there’s going to be a 7-year tribulation period? That’s not clear. It’s also not clear that these prophecies are meant to be taken literally at all, or are symbolic apocalyptic literature.
We know for a fact that they can’t be completely literal writings — the stars, for instance, can not fall “to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind,” as Revelation 6:13 claims. Stars are massive balls of gas, many dwarfing the sun in size. So if we clearly aren’t meant to take everything as literal, how are we to determine what should or shouldn’t be?
That doesn’t have an easy answer, but these are questions that we should all be aware of and should all be asked.
Now, with all of that said, Robertson gives you a perfunctory answer without really saying — Hey, the Bible does actually address this very thing. So I will say it. While what you ask is hypothetical, Matthew 24: 19 (and Mark 13: 17 and Luke 21: 23) reads, “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!” So, there you go.
But whether that’s part of figurative literature, records of something that has already come to pass during the Siege of Jerusalem, or refers to an event that is yet to come in the Great Tribulation, well, that’s why it’s important to more fully understand what you’re asking to better help you decide.