What Is Tribulation? Bible Meaning and Significance

What is the meaning and significance of tribulation in the Bible? Discover what we can learn from scripture about the trials and tribulations of this world.

Updated Oct 06, 2023
What Is Tribulation? Bible Meaning and Significance

The Bible often mentions tribulation, which holds great meaning and significance in Christian theology. It is important for believers to understand the roots and spiritual implications of tribulation in order to face life's challenges with faith and resilience. This article will delve into the concept of tribulation as presented in the Bible, its significance in Christian belief, and how it can provide guidance and comfort during difficult times.

Definition of Tribulation

The secular and biblical definitions of “tribulation” remain relatively synonymous, though used in different contexts. As listed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, tribulation means distress or suffering resulting from oppression or persecution. 

According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Tribulation is trouble or affliction of any kind (Deuteronomy 4:30; Matthew 13:21). In Romans 2:9, "tribulation and anguish" are the corrective sufferings that shall overtake the wicked. In Matthew 24:21 and Matthew 24:29, the word indicates the trials to accompany Jerusalem's destruction. 

Tribulation in the Bible

The term "tribulation" has its roots in the Latin word "tribulum." This was a tool used to separate the grains from the husks by crushing and threshing them. In the Bible, tribulation refers to the hardships, trials, and suffering that believers may encounter in their lives. It is a recurring theme in both the Old and New Testaments.

Old Testament References: Tribulation is often associated with the challenges faced by the people of Israel. In the book of Exodus, the Israelites endured tribulation under the oppressive rule of Pharaoh in Egypt before their liberation. Throughout the Old Testament, tribulation is depicted as a means of testing one's faith and devotion to God.

New Testament Teachings: The New Testament expands on the concept of tribulation, emphasizing its role in shaping the character of believers. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, tribulation is mentioned as a part of the Christian journey. In John 16:33, Jesus states, "In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." This verse assures believers that, despite life's trials, they can find peace and hope in Christ.

Examples of Tribulation

The Bible teaches that those who follow Christ and God's Word and who practice his commandments will face tribulation. 

Examples in the Old Testament include:

Abel, who offered a better sacrifice than Cain (Genesis 4:4-10); 

Lot, also a "righteous man who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men" (2 Peter 2:7) who rejected him and who "kept bringing pressure on [him] and moved forward to break down the door" of his house in Sodom (Genesis 19:9); 

Elijah, who spoke against the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:25-40) and the idolatry of Israel (1 Kings 18:16-21), and was persecuted by Jezebel for his godly stand (1 Kings 19:1-3); 

David, who conducted himself in a godly manner despite the machinations and pursuit of Saul ( 1 Sam 9-27); 

Jeremiah, who spoke God's message of condemnation against Judah for her sins and the coming judgment against her to be brought by the Babylonians (Jeremiah 9:11, Jeremiah 9:13-16), had his message rejected (Jeremiah 36-37), was beaten (Jeremiah 37:15), and finally dropped into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6-13). 

Examples of tribulation in the New Testament:

John the Baptist, who spoke out against the adultery of Herod Antipas and was beheaded (Mark 6:21-29); 

Stephen, the deacon, who, preached the gospel before the Sanhedrin and proclaimed God's judgment because of the sins of the people, was rejected and stoned (Acts 6:5; 7:1-60); 

Paul was persecuted, beaten, and imprisoned as he preached from place to place, and was finally killed in Rome ( 2 Tim 4:6-8 );

Jesus himself who preached God's grace and judgment (Matthew 4:17), was persecuted by his hearers (Luke 4:28-30), plotted against by his adversaries (Mark 3:6), rejected (Luke 13:34; John 6:66), tried (John 18:12-40), and finally crucified (John 19:16-37; Philippians 2:9). He was a perfect and God-honoring life and message, reflected in part by the Old Testament prophets whom, as Jesus reminds them, they had also persecuted and killed (Matt 23:29-36). 

All of this persecution of the godly came as the result of the sin and the animosity of sinners who rejected those who lived godly lives and also rejected their message that sinners must repent (Acts 2:38) and turn in faith to Jesus Christ for salvation (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). 

These examples of biblical tribulation are an excerpt from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary.

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Bible Verses about Tribulation

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be (Matthew 24:21).

Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth (Revelation 3:10).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5-6).

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

The Significance of Tribulation

Spiritual Growth: Tribulation is seen as a means of spiritual growth in Christianity. Just as gold is refined in fire, believers can grow in faith, patience, and perseverance through the trials they face. Romans 5:3-4 states, "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope."

Drawing Closer to God: In times of tribulation, many believers turn to God for strength and guidance. Tribulation can deepen one's relationship with God, fostering a greater sense of reliance on His grace and wisdom.

Preparation for Eternity: The Bible teaches that believers are being prepared for an eternal life with God. The trials and tribulations faced in this life serve as a preparation for the glory that awaits in the hereafter. 2 Corinthians 4:17 reminds us, "For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."

Facing Tribulation with Faith

Prayer and Trust: When faced with tribulation, prayer and trust in God are essential. Seeking His guidance, strength, and comfort through prayer can provide solace and perspective during difficult times.

Community and Support: Being part of a supportive Christian community can help individuals endure tribulation. Sharing experiences and finding support among fellow believers can be a source of encouragement.

Scriptural Guidance: The Bible offers a wealth of guidance and encouragement for those facing tribulation. Verses like Psalm 34:19 affirm, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all."

Prayers for Times of Tribulation

"Lord, we’re living in perilous times. The kingdoms are in an uproar. The nation of Israel sits at the hub of history, and the predictions of Your Word are unfolding like a scroll. Evil has never been stronger, and the end has never been closer. Our world is in the grip of the birth pangs of tribulation, the likes of which have never been seen before and will never be seen again. Lord, rejecting the spirit of fear, we ask for the Spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. Help us preach the gospel in these last days. Give us a sense of urgency, anticipation, and evangelism as we await the upward call. May we persevere as we listen for the shout, for the voice of the archangel, and for the trumpet call of God. Dear Lord, give us patience and give us power. Give us strength and sound minds, as we pray: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”  - Dr. David Jeremiah.

"Father, You go before us. You are the God of our past and our present. By Your hand we were all created for unique purpose to be realized in the days of our lives on this earth. Though we have no way of knowing what is coming our way, we are guaranteed that life this side of heaven will be hard. We know we have an enemy set to destroy us. Give us the boldness we need to operate in the power Your Holy Spirit, to discern the lies of the enemy and recall and remember the truths in Your Word. Jesus is the story of our salvation. There in the beginning with the Father, and now sit seated at His right hand. You pray for us, and never leave us. Jesus, empower us by Your grace to love the people in our lives well, even though the ways of the world are pushing against us. Our mistakes are rampant. We’re not getting it right all of the time. We’re succumbing to pride and discord, when You set an example of and commanded us to love above all else. Holy Spirit stir conviction in our souls like never before. Give us lessons in humility, coach us in encouragement, and mentor us in peaceably and gracefully asserting our faith into the brokenness of this world. Infuse a durability in us that is unworldly. Bless our lives to persevere, and run the race marked out for us with full steam to the very end. Until the tape breaks and we’re called home. In Jesus’ Name, Amen." - Meg Bucher 


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