What did Jeremiah mean by the time of Jacob’s trouble? How does this unequaled time of trouble for Israel’s descendants relate to the Great Tribulation?
Under the inspiration of God, the ancient prophet Jeremiah spoke of “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). Many have asked what this trouble for Jacob’s descendants is and when it occurs. For an explanation showing that the descendants of Jacob are primarily the English-speaking nations and other nations of northwestern Europe in our modern world, see our articles “12 Tribes of Israel Today: Who Are They?” and another about “Who Are the United States and Britain in Prophecy?”
This prophecy of unprecedented difficulty for Jacob’s descendants will be fulfilled just before the return of Jesus Christ. The reason for God’s punishment is found in His instructions to their ancestors millennia ago.
The reason for punishment
Recognizing the ancient Israelites’ hostility toward Him and His commands, God told Moses: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods” (Deuteronomy 31:16-18).
Repeating what God had revealed to him, Moses told the people: “For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands” (verse 29).
God punished Israel in the eighth century B.C. when its citizens were taken captive by the Assyrians. Judah was punished in the sixth century B.C. at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the nation of Babylon. Disobedience to God’s commandments will once again bring about the downfall of the descendants of the ancient Israelites prior to Christ’s return to earth to establish the Kingdom of God.
While all the nations of Israel will experience the tribulation of “Jacob’s trouble,” Genesis 48:16 reveals that Jacob explicitly placed his name on Ephraim and Manasseh. Hence their descendants (primarily the United States and Great Britain—along with Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) will bear the brunt of this difficult time.
Daniel spoke of this latter fulfillment, saying, “At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:1-2).
The time of the end
In addition to the troubles coming to Jacob’s descendants, Jesus also spoke of an unprecedented time of difficulty that would threaten all nations just before His return. Describing this period of time, Jesus said, “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22).
This Great Tribulation leads up to the time called the Day of the Lord. To learn more about the dire conditions that will exist in the world just before Christ’s return, read our article “What Is the Day of the Lord?”
Even though the descendants of Jacob—including the English-speaking peoples of today—are going to face severe punishment for their disobedience to God, He promises: “‘I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the LORD. ‘And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it’” (Jeremiah 30:3).
Describing this time of restoration, God continues: “‘For it shall come to pass in that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘that I will break his yoke from your neck, and will burst your bonds; foreigners shall no more enslave them. But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
“‘Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,’ says the LORD, ‘nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,’ says the LORD, ‘to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished’” (verses 8-11).
Even though Jacob’s descendants will face severe punishment in “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” they will eventually repent and be restored. For more on this, see “America in Prophecy.”
For assistance in fulfilling Christ’s command to “watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36), subscribe to the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter, which contains our World Watch Weekly section. It’s free and comes directly to your email inbox each week.