Daniel’s Time of Distress – Jesus’ Great Tribulation?

We have spent much time in the book of Daniel, and yet there is so much more to say. He is the voice of eschatology. Yes, his ministry was nearly 600 years before the birth of our Lord, but Daniel is unlike most of the other prophets, who “only” warned of the judgments to come against Israel and Judah. That is not directed as a slight to those prophets. Instead, it is to point out the stark differences between them and Daniel.

Although his ministry began a dozen or so years before the overrun of Judah, he prophesied well past that destruction, and he witnessed firsthand, as a prisoner of the Babylonian exile, the overthrow of that kingdom. He prophesied well into the time of the Persian kingdom, also prophesying the rise of, and warfare with, the kingdom of Greece. Shortly after that came the declaration of the Roman Republic. That is the fourth kingdom of King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue in his dream. Thus, Daniel had a unique perspective!

One of the more critical passages in Daniel’s writings for our study is 12:1, which says, “Now at that time, Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.” That is an astounding statement, as we will soon see.

Of interest is the middle part of the passage, “And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time.” Is that different from Matthew 24:21, where Jesus says: “For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will.?”

Are Jesus and Daniel both talking about the same thing? Do not forget, Luke also characterized those days as a time of “great distress” (Luke 21:23), using the same terminology as Daniel. Moreover, Luke also called them “days of vengeance” (21:22). [It is recommended to those who wish to view Revelation as a prophecy that has its roots in the Old Testament to read an excellent commentary on the apocalypse by that name: Days of Vengeance, by David Chilton].

We may equate Daniel’s time of distress and Luke’s time of great distress with Jesus’ great tribulation as prophecies against first-century Judea. We must also note that there are other relational aspects of all four writings (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Daniel). First and foremost, the gospel writers, being companions and followers of Jesus and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were writing about and quoting what Jesus said. Daniel, on the other hand, was given a direct revelation, first by the angel Gabriel, then by another, possibly different, angelic or heavenly being. Either way, it all came from God.

At this point, we appeal to the rational side of the reader’s thought process. We ask the reader, once again, to put aside all that has been heard and read about the great tribulation and to listen to reason. God sought to give us the prophecy of a great tribulation in each of Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s gospels. Before that, there were Daniel’s prophecies of the same. We also previously mentioned Eusebius’ writings, Church Histories, aka Ecclesiastical Histories. He was a third to fourth-century (264-339AD) historian of the first-century church, which was when all of this rich history took place. His works, which are quoted extensively in The Harlot of Revelation, describe the persecution quite comprehensively, which continued until the year 313, when Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, formally ending it.

We also mentioned earlier that Christ, conceived of the Holy Spirit and arbitrarily born in the year 0, began His three-year ministry at about the age of thirty and died in 33 or 34. He had met anger and hostility from the people of Judea from the beginning, and they eventually had Him crucified. That means that for approximately 280 years, there was outright persecution against first Him, then His church. One needs only to read the story of the disciple Stephen and what happened to him (Acts 6:1-8:3) to see that the great persecution began then (8:1).

Now, there are many who say that all these things are somewhere still in our future, but the words of the Scriptures and the events of history say differently. The works of Eusebius are available online. Google his name or the name of his works. Download a PDF file, print it, or save it to a hard-drive. He documented the persecution under various Roman Emperors from Nero to Constantine, and he lived until 339, so he lived the persecution for approximately fifty years.  

He was also alive when the Edict was enacted, so he too has a unique perspective. He was a first-hand witness of the persecution right through to the end. It is fascinating reading. In addition to that, as one reads the book of Acts, make a mental note of the persecution that the apostle Paul went through in his travels. These are not isolated accounts. He was eventually arrested and sent to Rome, where he was executed by the beast Nero.

The thing about the Scriptures is that they are so packed with the inspired things of God that certain things can escape one’s attention. For instance, take scourging. Who would want to undergo one? And, at the hand of the Romans at that? After all, scourging was their specialty. They did it in what was known as “examining” someone they took into custody. They would whip him this side of death in order to get their suspect to say what they wanted to hear, or otherwise.

Yet, Jesus had to suffer through one. Whoever saw the movie The Passion of Christ has an idea of just how horrible scourging is. However, all four gospels give it just one verse! How quickly do we read it and move right-on-by? That is why one can gain new insight every time one reads the Scriptures. The point is that the information about the prophesied great tribulation/great persecution/time of distress is all there in the Scriptures. It is our job to uncover it.

An essential step in doing so is to make written or mental notes as one reads the Scriptures. Many markers are laid throughout, which makes piecing together the overall picture easier. The persecution, which began “innocently” enough with the harassment of Jesus and His disciples as recorded in the gospels, broke out into outright hostility at the feet of Saul (Paul).

After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples all feared the Jews (John 7:10-13, 19:38, 20:19). Subsequently, they were the ones who stoned Stephen to death. Ironically, the Scriptures TELL us that the great persecution began that day in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), and yet many dismiss it or ignore it outright. So, between what the Scriptures give us and then what Eusebius tells us, we have all the information we need to make the correct determination about the persecution. If one reads it in that light, a different picture emerges. It is up to each one of us.

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