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The Great Tribulation: Local or Global?

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One of the arguments used by dispensationalists against a first-century fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24) is their claim that only a worldwide tribulation can give meaning to prophetic events. For example, Larry Spargimino argues that “preterists feel scripturally justified in concluding that nothing more than a first-century disaster upon Jerusalem is needed to satisfy the requirements of these predictions.”[1] Spargimino is assuming the validity of his futurist position and then using it as his interpretive paradigm.

Has Spargimino considered that Jesus’ first coming took place in the first century in the very small country of Israel? Jesus wasn’t even born in the nation’s capital but in the small town of Bethlehem (Matt. 2:6). Following Spargimino’s interpretive logic, Jesus should have been born in Rome, the center of the known world in the first century. Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension were local events. His birth was witnessed by some unnamed shepherds who happened to be in the fields that night (Luke 2:8). Only Simeon met Jesus and His parents in the temple and acknowledged Him as God's promised savior (2:25–32). After this, Jesus appears for a fleeting moment in the temple when He is twelve years old (2:41–52). We don’t see Him again until He’s about thirty (3:1–22). In terms of a world-wide audience, only a few people saw Jesus’ crucifixion. His own disciples deserted Him (Matt. 26:56). No human being witnessed His resurrection. The apostles, not a world-wide television audience, saw Jesus “lifted up” at His ascension (Acts 1:9). Even so, all of these local events had cosmic significance: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). A localized first-century event had world-wide implications. The local nature of an event does not obscure its importance. We know more about the destruction of Jerusalem in the works of Josephus than we do of Jesus.

Spargimino wants us to believe that only a world-wide conflagration, a global tribulation, satisfies the demands of the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) and Revelation. Nonsense. In fact, it makes more sense to believe, coupled with what we know about those first-century Jews who conspired to have Jesus put to death (Acts 2:23), that only a first-century, pre-A.D. 70, event is in view. Why punish the world for what only one generation of Jews did?

In my debate with Thomas Ice at American Vision’s Worldview Super Conference in May of 2006, he attempted the same type of logic in his closing statement. He tried to make the case that since the Great Tribulation is compared to the flood, and the flood is global, then the Tribulation must be global as well. First, the text of Matthew 24 tells us the event was local not global. It was confined to Judea (Matt. 24:16). The people could escape the conflagration by fleeing to the mountains on foot. This is hardly a description of a world-wide event. Second, there are a number of people who do not believe in a global flood but who hold to a future global Great Tribulation. Apparently they don’t see the logic of Tommy’s position. Third, the Bible compares a local fiery conflagration to the time of “the days of the Son of Man” (Luke 17:26), which I believe is a reference to the judgment coming of Jesus in the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

“And He said to the disciples, ‘The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, “Look there! Look here!” [Matt. 24:26]. Do not go away, and do not run after them. For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day [Matt. 24:27]. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation [Matt. 23:36; 24:34]. And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all [Matt. 24:37–39]. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back [Matt. 24:16–20]. Remember Lot’s wife’” (Luke 17:22–32).

The parallels with Matthew 24 are noted. Notice that two OT stories are used: Noah’s flood that “came and destroyed them all” 17:27) and the day that Lot went out from Sodom and “it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (17:29). The destruction of Sodom was local, and yet it is used to describe the Great Tribulation. Notice the comprehensive language: “and destroyed them all,” that is, all those in Sodom, not everyone in the world.


[1] Larry Spargimino, The Anti-Prophets: The Challenge of Preterism (Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, 2000), 126.

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