The tribulation is a future seven-year period of time when God will finish His discipline of Israel and finalize His judgment of the unbelieving world. The church, made up of all who have trusted in the person and work of the Lord Jesus to save them from being punished for sin, will not be present during the tribulation. The church will be removed from the earth in an event known as the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53). The church is saved from the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 5:9). Throughout Scripture, the tribulation is referred to by other names such as the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 2:12; 13:6-9; Joel 1:15; 2:1-31; 3:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2); trouble or tribulation (Deuteronomy 4:30; Zephaniah 1:1); the great tribulation, which refers to the more intense second half of the seven-year period (Matthew 24:21); time or day of trouble (Daniel 12:1; Zephaniah 1:15); time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7).
Jesus physically comes back to set up the kingdom promised long ago by the prophets. Great earthly armies will have gathered together to destroy the people of Israel, and Christ will intervene to save them. “Then the Lord will go out to fight against those nations, as he has fought in times past. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And the Mount of Olives will split apart, making a wide valley running from east to west. Half the mountain will move toward the north and half toward the south.” (Zechariah 14:3-4) When that happens, Israel will realize that the One who has saved them from physical destruction is the same One who came to save them from spiritual destruction many years before—again, just as the prophets foretold. “Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.” (Zechariah 12:10)
“For the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has a day of reckoning. He will punish the proud and mighty and bring down everything that is exalted.” (Isaiah 2:12)
“The day of the Lord is near, the day when destruction comes from the Almighty. How terrible that day will be!” (Joel 1:15)
“In all history there has never been such a time of terror. It will be a time of trouble for my people Israel. Yet in the end they will be saved!” (Jeremiah 30:7)
Timeline: Rapture (Jesus retunes for His saints) – 7 years of Tribulation – Second coming of Jesus (Jesus returns with His saints)