The Great Tribulation
By Tom HoltI can neveR Forget my first Sunday in America. It was a little over fifty years ago. I arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts from Shanghai early one September week. Because school had already started, I had to attend classes the very next morning. Finally, the weekend came. A classmate I had met was kind enough to drive me around town that Saturday. I planned to do some shopping the next day, Sunday, as I needed some basic things like underwear and pajamas.
But when Sunday came, I was in for a big surprise. Early in the morning, I was awaken by church bells ringing all over town. I turned on the radio and almost every station was playing Christian music or broadcasting a worship service from a church. I was not a Christian then, so I had no interest in them. My biggest surprise came when I went downtown. During the week, the streets had been bustling with people. But that Sunday morning, all the stores were closed and the streets were empty. I felt as though I was in a ghost town.
New Bedford was no different from any other communitiy in America. Fifty years ago, this whole nation observed the Lord's Day as a day of rest. Nor was America more religious then than it had been before. Throughout the 300 years after the pilgrims had first come to America, most people here called themselves Christians. Whether they were truly born again or not, at least their churches tried to obey the word of God.
Post-war boom. But after the Second World War, things started to change for the worse. It began with the U.S. experiencing two decades of unprecedented economic growth. It was making up for the Depression of the 1930s and the shortage of consumer goods during the war. Just as the Bible forewarns, rising prosperity caused the people of the land to become more materialistic and less spiritual. Church attendance began to drop.
Meanwhile, the introduction of modern appliances and other conveniences substantially lightened the workload of housewives and mothers. More and more women began to enter the labor force. It helped bolster the nation's economic output, but it also contributed to the breakdown of the family system and the marriage institution. Divorces mounted and single parents multiplied, all of which further lowered church attendance.
Accommodation. In an effort to bring people back, churches soon began to modify its teaching to accommodate the prevailing attitude of the world. Thus, one denomination after another started to allow members to divorce, and permit pastors to marry divorced people, practices that had been regarded as heretical by the true church for nineteen centuries.
Then, some congregations began to install women as elders and pastors, even though for more than 1900 years, the church had never dared to violate the line of authority set forth by God in I Corinthians 11. And that is: the head of the woman is man, the head of every man is Christ, and the head of Christ is God. More recently, some denominations have begun to allow same-sex marriages and to ordain homosexual priests and ministers. To be sure, engaging in homosexuality is not any worse than other sins. Gay people, like anyone else, can become saved by trusting in the Lord Jesus as Savior. But once a person becomes a child of God, he develops a heartfelt desire to do the will of God, instead of persisting in his sinful behavior and flaunting it.
Well prophesied. This backsliding trend of recent decades was actually prophesied in the Bible. Daniel 8 is one of the few places in which God talks about this abomination.
The chapter begins by telling us that Daniel saw a vision in the third year of King Belshazzar's reign. Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon, and Babylon was the most powerful empire of that day. The third year of Belshazzar's reign was 551 B.C. Verses 3?12 then describe what the prophet saw, and verses 20?25 present God's own interpretation of that vision.
Specifically, Daniel says in verses 3 and 4 that he first saw a ram with two horns. He was so powerful that no other animal could stand against him. This two-horned ram, God explains in verse 20, represented the kings of Media and Persia. Indeed, in 532 B.C. the Medes and Persians joined forces and destroyed Babylon. They went on to defeat other countries and became the Persian Empire.
King of Greece. Verses 5?8 then speak of a he goat with a notable horn. He killed the ram and became very great, but at the height of his power his great horn was broken off. In verse
21 God explains that this shaggy goat was the king of Greece, and the great horn between his eyes was the first king.
Greece was the country that conquered the Persian Empire in 331 B.C. and its first king was Alexander the Great. He was so called because he established the mighty Greek Empire when he was still in his 20's. Just as the great horn in the vision was broken off at the height of his power, he died when he was only 33 years old. After that, four Greek generals divided up the country.
If nothing else, that Daniel was able to record in the Bible events that would unfold in the ensuing 230 years shows how accurate the word of God is. But the Bible is not meant to be a history book of political developments. Rather, it is the means by which God reveals to mankind His salvation program. So, after having set up the stage to demonstrate the accuracy of His prophecies, God jumps from Greece to the end of time.
Universality. This is implicit in the second half of verse 8, which reads: "the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven."
The "four winds of heaven" is a phrase God uses to picture the entire world. Speaking to His elect, for example, God says in Zechariah 2:6: "Ho, ho, come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord: for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven." Likewise in Matthew 24:31, Jesus says that when He returns, He will send His angels to "gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."
There was never a time in history when four individual nations had occupied the entire world. So, the four Greek kingdoms that grew up in the wake of Alexander the Great toward the four winds of heaven had to be a figure that represents all the Gentile nations that have since existed. That's why we read in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free"; and in Colossians 3:11, "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision." Considering that the New Testament was written at a time when the Roman Empire was predominant, one would otherwise expect the Bible to say, "There is neither Jew nor Roman." But God insists that there is neither Jew nor Greek.
The appointed end. Furthermore, when God begins to explain the vision to Daniel, He says in verse 19, "I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be." In other words, He was telling the prophet certain events that would occur at the appointed end-time period.
With that in mind, let's look more closely now at the second part of Daniel's vision. In verses 9 and 10, we read:And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.We learn from Revelation 20 that toward the end of time, Satan is loosed a little season to deceive the nations. So, when we see someone at
tacking the pleasant land and casting down the host and the stars of heaven to the ground, we know right away that God is talking about Satan attacking the church. He starts small but grows in power.
Satan is loosed. This is confirmed by verse 23, where God gives us His explanation:And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.God is saying here that toward the end of time, when the world will have become fully wicked, a king of fierce countenance shall stand up. The only other place in the Bible where the phrase "fierce countenance" appears is Deuteronomy 28. Moses was warning the Israelites what God would do to them if they disobey His commands. He says in verses 49 and 50:The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand; a nation of fierce countenance...As it turned out, the nation that ultimately destroyed Israel was Babylon, and Babylon, as God shows us in Revelation 17 and 18, typifies the kingdom of Satan. Thus, just as the nation of fierce countenance stands for the kingdom of Satan, this king of fierce countenance refers to Satan himself.
Here in Daniel 8:23, God says that this king understands dark sentences. This means that Satan understands the Bible very well, because in Psalms 49:4 and 78:2, God equates dark sayings to parables.
Self-magnification. What is Satan doing in this end-time period? Verse 11 reads:Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down.Satan considers himself to be as great as Christ. He wants people to worship him. Now, Satan is smart enough not to come and say to people, "Hey, I am the devil. Come and worship me." Rather, the Bible says in II Corinthians 11 that he masquerades as an angel of light and his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. In other words, Satan's workers look just like true believers and good Christian ministers.
It says here that the daily sacrifice is taken away by Satan. Since this vision is about the appointed time of the end, it cannot have anything to do with the Old Testament offerings. Rather, we believers are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. But now, Satan is taking people away from the church for himself. The victims think they are worshipping Christ, but they are actually offering themselves to serve the devil.
Normally, the sanctuary is where believers gather to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. Everything in a worship service should be centered on bringing honor and glory to Him. But the sanctuaries of many churches have been brought so low nowadays that they have become a place where people go to feel good. In some cases, they have even been degraded into a place of dancing.
Truths cast down. We see more details of this in verse 12:And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised, and prospered.Because so many in Christendom transgresses against God, God actually gives Satan a segment of it to fight against the saints. As a result, more and more congregations are controlled by unbelievers. God even lets them prosper in what they practice. That's why the fastest growing churches in recent decades are those engaging in tongues, signs and wonders. No wonder truths that had stood the test of time for more than 1900 years have now been cast down.
In verse 24, however, God gives us this assurance:And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.Though Satan has grown to become very strong, it is not by his own power. His success in destroying the church and undermining the true followers of Christ has been ordained by God Himself. It is all part of God's plan to prepare the church for judgment.
God goes on to tell us in verse 25 what He empowers Satan to do:And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.The end-time church is characterized by the exceptional effectiveness of Satan's craft. Remember how Satan deceived Eve? He said, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" Now, he goes around and says: Does God really forbid you to divorce your husband even if he is a drunkard and mistreats you badly? Does God really look down on women and say, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man"? Is God really so narrow-minded that He would not allow homosexuals to inherit the kingdom of God?
Thankfully, that is not the end of the story. The last statement in this verse says that he shall be broken without hand. Just when Satan thinks that he has taken over the church, Jesus will return and with His divine power destroy the devil.
Sign to watch for. Why is God telling all this to us? To help us recognize the time in which we are living. Our Lord alluded to this in Matthew 24, where he is telling the disciples what will be the sign of His return and of the end of the world. Note that Jesus says in verses 15 and 16:When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains.It was not easy for Christians of other generations to understand the things prophesied in Daniel 8. But having witnessed the worsening rebellion of the church over the past 40-50 years, we can now indeed see the abomination of desolation spoken of
by Daniel. We can now read and understand what God is talking about in that chapter.
It is frustrating to see the church progressively changing God's commands to conform to the corruption of the world. Paul once says, "If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Now, church leaders everywhere are doing all they can to please men. This is a terrible time for true believers also because it is heartbreaking to see their loved ones being deceived by false prophets. No wonder Jesus says in verse 21:For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.Spiritual trials. This, you see, is the great tribulation. It is not a period when Christians suffer physically. Rather, it is a time when believers suffer great spiritual distress because their church has been taken over by unbelievers. Hence, Jesus repeatedly warns us in Matthew 24 against being deceived. Specifically He says in verse 24, "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect."
Back to the Bible. How are we to avoid being deceived? Well, the Lord says, "Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains." Spiritually, the church is Judea, the place where we, the Jews of God, normally stay. But with Satan in control, we can no longer rely on the corporate church to teach us truths. So, God tells us to flee to the mountains, to Mount Zionin other words, to the Bible itself. So, don't trust blindly what you hear from anyone. Always look into the word of God yourself and check everything out.
This is a serious message because in these chapters God is talking about a serious condition in the end-time church. And our Lord has given us a serious warning when He says, "Take heed that no man deceive you." For the sake of our eternal soul, we must take this warning seriously.
On the other hand, this is also one of the most uplifting messages a child of God can hear. Jesus says in verse 33, "When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors." Having indeed seen the desolation spoken of by Daniel, we can know therefore that our Lord is right at the door. He is about to gather us from the four winds of heaven to the place that He has prepared for us. Oh, what a glorious day of rejoicing that will surely be! o
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