We have not reached this point in the fulfillment of these prophecies, but the evidence from our culture shows that we are on their cusp. Enough is happening for us to know that we are beyond this tribulation's preliminary stages. The times are becoming increasingly dangerous, and not just to one's physical life.
The English word translated as "tribulation" comes from the Greek thlipsis. It means "a pressing pressure." We might compare it simply to "stress," but what it really describes is a stressful stress. In other words, it is not ordinary but something exceeding the ordinary. It is a stress more intense than run-of-the-mill everyday stress. In this context, even the ordinary, everyday stress is very intense, even to where life itself may hang in the balance.
Because Jesus also mentions enduring in context with a spiritual love (Matthew 24:12-13), we must also consider spiritual stress due to distraction, luring one away from the Kingdom of God and God's purpose, and to strong challenges to break from the love of God as part of the tribulation. This is already occurring through the easy availability of entertainment. Now it comes right into our homes by way of television and the Internet, besides the glittering, eye-catching, desire-producing inducements to shop for goods so readily available. These things can easily lure us into time-wasting, spiritual lethargy.
All of this is taking place within a framework of constant, wearying news events of fearful violence, terrible accidents, political corruption, natural disasters, disease, and economic problems that may eventually affect every one of us. Constant bad news, with little hope of relief, is an intense, wearying stress. Much of the stress of these times is being generated by information overload.
Life has always been difficult for most people who have ever lived, but nobody in all of history has had to live virtually an entire lifetime under the constant intense pressures of the end time. We are living in a period unique in the history of man, according to Jeremiah 30:7, ramping up to "the time of Jacob's trouble"—a time so intensely stressful that the world has never seen its like. Jesus compared the time of the end to the time of Noah, but even here, the intense pressures will be greater than they were during Noah's day. Noah's time is just the best example of what it will be like, but Jacob's Trouble will be even worse.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Does Doctrine Really Matter? (Part Four)
The tribulation at the end—what we have traditionally called the Great Tribulation—will be the worst the world has ever seen. It will be far worse than the fall of Jerusalem; the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Holocaust; the World War II bombings of Dresden, Hamburg, London, and Tokyo; the famines in East Africa and elsewhere; the Spanish flu—perhaps all of them put together! The world has never seen anything like this.
However, the terrors of the Great Tribulation are possible now, and they could happen soon. But, as Jesus said, the end is not yet. Humanity could erase itself from the planet—kill off all life through its technology and weaponry—so we are near, but other things must happen first.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The End Is Not Yet
How will the days be shortened? Is God going to lessen time than would normally come? That is a part of the explanation. The implication, though, within the context, is that God will stop short what is occurring lest everybody be killed. If He allowed the events that were taking place to continue, everyone would die. When He stops the event, time in a sense stops—at least as far as this event is concerned.
To whom are the pronouns referring here? Verse 15, "Therefore when you." Verse 16, "Then let those." Verse 17, "Let him."Verse 18, "Let him." Verse 19, "But woe to you." These pronouns refer to those who understand the prophecies and are alive at the time these things are taking place. How many people are involved? It is unspecified.
One thing is clear. There is no doubt that, in this prophecy, deliverance involves flight (at least to those who are around Jerusalem during this unprecedented distress). In this case, to flee in no way implies flying. The verb here is phuego, and it means to flee, to escape danger. It indicates nothing other than escaping by running—shoe-leather express.
The context of the chapter is "literal and physical." It is not "figurative and spiritual." It involves physical survival worldwide, though the prophecy itself focuses on Jerusalem. It is worldwide because verses 21-22 make it clear "that no one would be saved alive." He means no one on earth, not just that no one around Jerusalem would be saved alive. This time is so bad that even the elect would die, except for God's intervention. Notice that God, through His servant Jesus Christ, says, "Don't stay in the midst of the trouble—get out."
Considering the timeframe, Psalm 91 would have to be modified to apply it directly to us, because our understanding from other portions of God's Word is that He expects us to get out, to flee to some designated place called "your chamber" or "her place." It involves segregating ourselves away from something. We can also understand that we will have help from God in segregating ourselves, as I Corinthians 10:13 indicates. He makes a way of escape that His people can take, just as He did for Israel. He opened up the Red Sea so that they could escape. They walked to safety, fleeing from the Egyptian army. Nevertheless, God intervened.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 1)
This verse provides the most provable of the signs that we are living in the last days. It is instructive to see the clause, "no flesh would be saved," in other translations:
James Moffatt: "not a soul would be saved alive."
The Four Gospels by E.V. Rieu: "no living thing would have escaped."
Amplified Bible: "no human being would endure and survive."
Revised English Bible: "no living thing could survive."
The New Testament by Kenneth Wuest: "all flesh would not be saved from destruction."
We can infer a concrete meaning from this verse: The last days will be marked by mankind's ability to annihilate every living thing from the face of planet earth! If God does not step in, if He does not intervene in world affairs, the nations will fight until all life perishes!
Is this possible today? The U.S. and Soviet Union just fought a 45-year Cold War during which both sides stockpiled enough nuclear weapons to erase life from earth 50 times over. That is overkill! Though the nations have reduced nuclear stockpiles in recent years, the current overkill factor is still more than enough to kill all flesh. Statistics from 1995 show that 40,640 nuclear weapons are still available to the five major nuclear powers: the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China. Several other nations are known or thought to have nuclear capabilities: Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, South Africa, Iran, Ukraine, and others.
Today, the nations do not have just nuclear weapons at their disposal. Now they have chemical weapons, biological weapons, neutron bombs, and who knows how many secret weapons systems still yet unearthed by the media.
Are we living in the last days? Yes, indeed! This one sign proves it conclusively, for at no other time in history has this been possible! Only since the advent of the atomic bomb in 1945 or the hydrogen bomb in 1952 has man had the knowledge and ability to wipe himself out!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are These the Last Days? (Part 1)