Before the coming of the Messiah, the earth will go through a time of trouble, tribulation, and calamity that can be compared to the labor pains of a woman about to give birth.
Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel died in childbirth while giving birth to Benjamin. This was the time of our father Jacob’s trouble. Along similar lines, the prophet Jeremiah predicted a coming tribulation he called “the time Jacob’s distress.” The sages referred to the days of tribulation before the coming of the Messiah as the birth pains of the Messiah (Chevlei Mashiach).
I have heard a sound of terror, of dread, and there is no peace. Ask now, and see if a male can give birth. Why do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in childbirth? And why have all faces turned pale? Alas! for that day is great, there is none like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s distress, but he will be saved from it. (Jeremiah 30:5-7)
Jeremiah’s prophecy may have been alluding back to our Torah portion. “The time of Jacob’s distress” that came “as a woman in childbirth” seems reminiscent of the travail and death of Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel. In that sense, Rachel’s travail alludes to the calamitous days of the birth pains of the Messiah which Jeremiah calls the time of Jacob’s distress.
Yeshua told His disciples to expect wars, famines, and earthquakes during the beginnings of the messianic birth pangs. The time of trouble that Yeshua predicted descended upon the Jewish people a generation later. The destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem came after His death, resurrection, and ascension. One might say that the first coming of the Messiah can be compared to a mother who gave birth to a baby before she suffered through the pain of childbirth. The birth pangs came after the coming of Messiah: “Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she gave birth to a boy” (Isaiah 66:7).
The visions in the book of Revelation symbolize Israel as a woman “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). This woman alludes to Rachel. The woman cried out, “being in labor and in pain to give birth” (Revelation 12:2). She gave birth to the Messiah. He was taken from her up to heaven, and the dragon (Satan) made war against her. This vision points toward the travails that came upon Israel in the generation after the ascension of our Master. Rome made war on Judea and Jerusalem. They destroyed the holy Temple and sent the people of Jerusalem into exile. The great travail came after the birth of the child.
The rabbis anticipate a future time of testing and tribulation just before the advent of the Messiah:
Rabbi Yochanon said, “In the generation of the coming of the Son of David, disciples of the sages will be few in number, and as for the others, they will see sorrow and grief. Many troubles and evil laws will be made, each new evil quickly coming before the other has ended.” (b.Sanhedrin 97a)
Before the Messiah returns, a second period of great travail will anticipate His second coming. The joy of His appearing will erase the memory of those dark days of trouble:
Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. (John 16:21)