The 2001 Commentaries

Time of Difficulty

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The Greek word thlipsis (pronounced: thel/eep/sees) is used several times in the Bible.
However, it is difficult to find an equivalent word in common American English to translate it. For it implies a painful, difficult time, and it was used to describe a woman’s childbirth labor.

Tribulation and travail are nice old English words that describe the meaning fairly accurately; But since they aren’t the types of words you would read in a newspaper today, we have tried to use more common words to translate it, depending on the context.

Notice how in Matthew’s Gospel, it quotes Jesus as using the Greek word thlipsis when he was describing the events that would lead up to the destruction of JeruSalem (at Matthew 24:21): ‘Then there will come a difficult time (thlipsis) such as hasn’t happened from the beginning of the arrangement until now, nor should ever happen again.’

From this choice of words, you can see that Jesus was quoting from a prophecy in the book of DaniEl when he spoke if this thlipsis, as he had just done previously in verse fifteen.

For at Daniel 12:1 we read:

‘And in that very same hour,
The Highest Messenger, MichaEl, will come (The one that keeps watch on the sons of your people),
And a difficult time (thlipsis) will arrive,
Such as has never happened before And will never happen again.’

So it is clear that both of these scriptures were truly fulfilled in the year 70 CE, when the Roman armies surrounded the city of JeruSalem and starved the people out.

However, many religions teach that there is yet to be a future and greater fulfillment to this prophesied ‘time of difficulty.’
And if so, what signs should Christians look for?

Well, notice that in ancient JeruSalem, this difficult time was to arrive immediately after this sign was observed (Matthew 24:15, 16): ‘When you see the disgusting destroyer standing in the Holy Place, then those in Judea should run to the mountains.’

When was the ‘disgusting destroyer’ found to be ‘standing in the Holy Place’ back in the First Century? It was clear to those early Jewish Christians that it happened when the armies of Rome first came and camped around JeruSalem’s walls. For historical accounts tell us that Christian Jews understood this to be the sign of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus (and Daniel). So, they thereafter fled JeruSalem during a brief period when the Roman armies lifted their siege…
Then the Romans returned and the ‘difficult time’ started for that city.

What happened that made life so difficult in JeruSalem that it deserved the prophetic words of DaniEl and Jesus? Well, the Roman armies built a fence of pointed stakes all around the city so that no one could leave, and this brought diseases and such great starvation that people even ate their own children. Then in the end, tens of thousands were slaughtered by swords, and the survivors were sold off as slaves throughout the Roman empire. Yes, it was truly a very traumatic time for those that thought of themselves as righteous and the people of God!

Then, does the Bible speak of some future parallel event that can be likened to the difficult time that came upon ancient JeruSalem in any other places?
Yes it does!
In Revelation the Eighteenth Chapter we read of something similar that was prophesied to happen.
For in that account, messengers from God showed the Apostle John a symbolic woman called ‘The Great Babylon.’
And there she is spoken of as being destroyed by worldly armies (as was JeruSalem).
So the destruction of The Great Babylon could be a modern parallel to what happened to the people of ancient JeruSalem, who, though they claimed to be in a covenant relationship with God, were unfaithful and blood-guilty.

But will this ‘difficult time’ be the same thing as ‘the Battle of Armageddon?’
No, for that battle appears to come against the worldly armies that attack ‘the Great Babylon’ after her time of great difficulty,
(Note the order of events that are described at Revelation 19:2 and at verse 19).

It would, of course, be presumptuous for us to try to dogmatically set out the order in which all these things will happen.
However, Jesus went on to say (at Matthew 24:29):
‘Then immediately after that difficult time;
The sun will grow dark,
The moon won’t give out its light,
The stars will fall from the skies,
And the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

And verse 30 continues:
‘Then the Son of Man’s sign will appear in the skies, and all the tribes of the earth will beat themselves in grief as they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in the sky with great glory and might.’

And finally;
Notice that (back at Revelation the Seventh Chapter) it speaks of a huge crowd of people that apparently survive this ‘great time of difficulty.’
For it says in verses 9, 10:
‘And after all that, I saw {Look!} a crowd so large that no one could count them.
They came from all countries, nationalities, ethnic groups, and languages, and they were standing within view (gr. enopion) of the Lamb and the throne. They were all wearing white robes and carrying palm branches in their hands, and they were shouting:
We owe our salvation to our God who is sitting on the throne and to the Lamb!

Then verse 14 goes on to tell us:

‘These are the ones that have come out of the great time of difficulty (gr. thlipsis).’

So according to these verses;
The faithful escape the ‘great time of difficulty’ by cleaning up their lives (it says that they were ‘wearing white robes’) and accepting the salvation of God and Jesus. It is apparently then (after the destruction of ‘the Great Babylon’ and the wedding of the Lamb) that the Battle of Armageddon against the kings of the earth and their armies begins. (For more detailed information, see the linked commentary, ‘The Great Tribulation.’)

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