A Question I Was Asked:

Can You Define 'The Great Tribulation' and Say Whether Catholics Too Will Be Persecuted?

My questions to you are two:
1. Will true, sincere Catholics also be persecuted and suffer alongside true Biblical converted Christians during the great tribulation?
2. As we know, the Muslims have burnt down Catholic and non-Catholic churches in the dangerous east. What is your insight about this situation?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, let us look at this.

First Question:
Firstly, I really need to tackle this 'great tribulation' thing.

The 'Great Tribulation,' as we are about to see, partly refers to the First Century rebellion of the Jews against the Romans, leading to the destruction of Jerusalem.

One should go through Matthew 24 very carefully. Note how the time period the disciples were asking Jesus about concerned when the temple would be destroyed:

1. Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 2. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." 3. 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).

As I have written many times, a 'coming' in judgement upon the Jews did indeed occur in AD70, that total period covering AD66-AD73, seven years, this was when the temple would be destroyed and this is what disciples were asking about. Even before this, a great persecution of Christians under Nero would occur around AD64 (when Nero blamed them for the burning of Rome), yet this was not the initial subject of the disciples enquiry. The disciples evidently knew - probably through Jesus' parables - that a great catastrophe was about to come upon the Jews and upon Jerusalem, the Jews would be replaced as God's people by the Church (spiritual Jews). Several parables of Jesus had clearly pictured this.

More Than One Event is Covered in Matthew 24

So there is no question that Matthew 24 is at least initially about the catastrophe which would soon come upon the Jews, but Jesus broadens this out to include the persecution upon Christians; so more than one event is under consideration in Matthew 24 (and also Mark 13 and Luke 21, of course). For instance, When Jesus stated,

15. "So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand 16. then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20. Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.

This very clearly was about war breaking out leading to the destruction of Jerusalem; it only concerned local events. 'The abomination that causes desolation' referred to Jerusalem being compassed with armies (Luke 21:20), that was the time to flee Jerusalem.

Likewise, this next section clearly refers to what occurred in Judea in the First Century:

Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:34).

That was undeniably a clear and precise reference to the judgement upon the Jews, since that occurred in AD70, a Jewish 'generation' from the time that Jesus uttered these words; so that is very clear. Could Jesus have made it any more clear?


But some other verses in this section of Scripture also concern Christians and the persecution which would come upon them very soon under Nero, and then continuing - on and off - until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, and even other persecutions going on beyond that. For example, these verses:

9. "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11. and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13. but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. (verses 9-13).

So we see that although the disciple's question initially concerned the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus soon broadens this out to include events which would affect true believers throughout the age.

But the question must be asked: Why did Jesus purposely leave some of these matters somewhat vague?

God Chooses Not to Tell Us Everything - All At Once...

The disciple's question was somewhat vague; they seemed to know that a judgement was soon to come upon the Jews and upon Jerusalem itself and probably assumed that the full parousia - Jesus returning in glory and power - would also occur at that time, yet Jesus had never stated this; here we see the power of human assumption. Our conclusion must be: this was simply not yet God's time to give fuller details of the timetable of future events, however, He said enough to warn both Jews and Christians that a time was very soon coming when Jerusalem would be destroyed and - when the warning signs appeared - they should be ready to get out of Jerusalem! We now know that God even allowed an audible voice to be heard in the temple in AD69, saying 'let us remove hence.' That was the time to get out of Jerusalem.

So Jesus allowed the disciples to remain partly in the dark about some future events yet gave sufficient warning on the divine judgement to occur in AD70. Therefore when reading Matthew 24 we have to be aware that the prophecy covers several times and events, including AD70, but also the Christian persecutions to come and with a few verses referring to the full parousia, that is, the day when Jesus returns in glory and power. Not understanding this, some have got into hopeless confusion when looking at this Olivet prophecy. The big mistake which these 'prophecy guros' have made (and, in some cases, continue to make), is to think that everything in Matthew 24 pertains to "the time of the end," which is seen as a single future event when the Second Coming in glory and power occurs (even though, according to the New Testament, the 'time of the end' commenced when Jesus came in the first century AD).

More Persecution to Come

Yes, there are strong indications that another great persecution upon Christians and Christianity will occur in the few years leading up to the full Second Coming of our Lord but the specific 'Great Tribulation' appears to refer rather more to events from the days of Jesus onwards, including the persecutions to come upon Christians. So we need to clear that up. Revelation 11 seems to be saying that Christ returns at that very point when Christianity is about to be completely destroyed on Earth. Even now Christianity is under attack right here in the West, especially from the liberal secularists and this seems likely to increase. Meanwhile in the Eastern world other religious groups, especially militant Islam, continue to increase their attacks upon Christians.

Catholic Part in Persecution

Then I am asked if Catholics share in such persecutions. If they have the Name of Christ (and Catholics do), then, yes, they have, and will continue to share in persecution upon Christians. Somebody who intends to attack a church because it worships Christ and has a large cross outside will not be concerned whether or not it is 'Catholic' or 'Protestant.'

Second question:
Then I am asked this,
'As we know, the Muslims have burnt down Catholic and non-Catholic churches in the dangerous east. What is your insight about this situation?'

In a sense I have already answered this; there is little to add. This is all part of the tribulation and persecution which was prophesied to come upon Christians. So 'The Great Tribulation' is not one period but is applicable to any time that Christians are suffering under persecution during this Church age, starting at the time of Nero in circa AD64. For a while this persecution lessened, but it is now increasing again. I can say no more, Scripture gives us many warnings about this, mainly in Revelation and in the Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24).

Robin A. Brace. November 28th, 2017.