The phrase the time of Jacob’s trouble comes from Jeremiah 30:7, which says, “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (KJV). It is our view that the time of Jacob’s trouble corresponds to the seven-year tribulation of the end times.
In the previous verses of Jeremiah 30, the Lord is speaking to Jeremiah the prophet about Judah and Israel (Jeremiah 30:3–4). In verse 3, the Lord promises that, one day in the future, He will bring both Judah and Israel back to the land He had promised their forefathers. But their return will involve many distresses: “How awful that day will be!” (Jeremiah 30:7). It will be “the time of Jacob’s trouble”—Jacob being a synecdoche for all the nation of Israel. Verse 5 describes Jacob’s trouble as a time of great fear and trembling. Verse 6 describes it in terms of the pains of childbirth, indicating a time of agony. But there is hope for the people of Israel, for the Lord promises He will save them. Even though this is “the time of Jacob’s distress” (NASB), and even though “in all history there has never been such a time of terror” (Jeremiah 30:7, NLT), God will deliver His people.
In Jeremiah 30:10–11 the Lord references the blessings that will come after the time of Jacob’s trouble: “‘I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid. I am with you and will save you,’ declares the Lord.”
As part of the deliverance He provides from the time of Jacob’s trouble, the Lord says He will destroy the nations who held Judah and Israel in captivity, and He will never again allow Jacob to be completely destroyed. The Lord also describes this as a time of discipline for His people. He says of Jacob, “Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.”
Jeremiah 30:7 says, “That day is great, so that none is like it.” The only time period that fits this description is the end-times tribulation. This time is unparalleled in history.
Like Jeremiah, Jesus described the tribulation as a unique time of suffering, speaking of “great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again” (Matthew 24:21). The Lord also used some of the same imagery as Jeremiah. In Matthew 24:6–8, He said the appearance of false christs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes are “the beginning of birth pains.”
Paul, too, described the tribulation using the simile of birth pains. First Thessalonians 5:3 says, “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” This event follows the rapture and the removal of the church in 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18.
These “birth pains” are described in detail in Revelation 6—12. One purpose of the tribulation—“the time of Jacob’s trouble”—is to bring Israel back to the Lord (see Jeremiah 30:22; Hosea 6:1–2; Zechariah 12:10).
The time of Jacob’s trouble demonstrates that God keeps His promises, judges sin, and saves those who trust in Christ. In the end times, God will pour His judgment on a wicked world, and this seven-year tribulation, from Israel’s point of view, is the time of Jacob’s trouble. In this time, God purges His chosen people of the wicked and unbelieving, but “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:32; cf. Romans 10:13). After that time of Jacob’s trouble is a time of peace, as the Lord Himself sets up His kingdom on earth for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1–6; cf. Isaiah 11).