The Time of Trouble

Text: Daniel 12:1-3

In our Scripture reading we hear of one of the climactic events of earth’s history—a time of trouble such as never was. It begins with the standing up of Michael—and ends with the resurrection of the dead.

As we continue this series on last day events, we turn to the event that some refer to as the Tribulation. I did a quick search on Amazon.com and got 4,728 results. Many of the top results were books by Tim LaHaye, from his “Left Behind” series. He’s sold 11,000,000 books, to evangelical readers who accept his premise that the church will not go through the tribulation. That the church will disappear, it will be “raptured,” and the last seven years of earth’s history will involve only the Jews. The idea originated with John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren in the early 19th century, and spread among American evangelicals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A basic premise of dispensationalism, as this theology is called, is that God will take the church away so it won’t suffer. Problem is, much of the church is suffering. Christians are suffering, even dying for their faith in Africa, in Asia. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists in these countries don’t buy into dispensationalism. They think only a pampered church could possibly belief that God won’t let the church suffer. They know different.

Jesus said the church will suffer. He told the disciples in John 16:33, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” He said in Matthew 24,

“Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.” Further on in Matthew 24 he said, “then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.” And, still further, he said that after the tribulation, “he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Obviously the elect are still there during it.

In John 15, he said, starting with verse 18,

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

And this has been true through all of history. Some of what Jesus says applies to the first decades of the church’s history. Some applied in particular to the crisis at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Some applies to that great period of apostasy that lasted for 1260 years. Even now, the church suffers in many parts of the world. But Jesus speaks of a final persecution that will take place at the very end, and this is what Daniel describes as the “time of trouble.”

We looked at some of the events that lead up to it last time. The gospel goes to all the world, and all will have a chance to accept Jesus or reject him. Then, probation closes. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Jesus ends his high priestly ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, and, in the prophetic language of Isaiah 59, puts on his “garments of vengeance.” Up to that point, Christ’s intercession does not merely benefit those who seek him—his intercession benefits the whole world. His intercession for the world means that God’s wrath is held back, to give time for all to repent. Revelation 7 and 8 speak of angels holding back the winds of destruction. But when he ceases to plead for the world, those angels release those winds, and the seven last plagues are poured out.

The “Standing up of Michael” in Daniel 12 refers to that moment when Jesus ends his mediatorial role and assumes his role of vengeance. We Seventh-day Adventists believe that the references to Michael in the Old Testament are references to Jesus, the Son of God, prior to the incarnation. The name means, “Who is like God”—and no one is like God but his only begotten son. But be careful. We have to be very careful when we identify Michael with Jesus. Because the Jehovah’s Witnesses also make the connection. But they mean something else entirely. They believe Jesus is a created being, an angel. So when they identify Jesus with Michael they say Jesus is an angel that became man. We do not believe that. Jesus is the eternal Son of God. But he had a role in heaven before he took our human flesh—he was the commander of the heavenly hosts. He was the protector of God’s people. And Daniel refers to him as “Michael,” we believe. But he is not a creature. He is not a created being. Be very clear to underscore that point.

That said, let’s focus on what Daniel 12 says,

And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.

Again, we’ve understood this “standing up of Michael” to refer to that time spoken of in Isaiah 59 when the Lord ceases his intercession for the world and puts on his “garments of vengeance.” Probation closes, and the seven last plagues are poured out upon the world.

This is the time when the full wrath of Satan and his followers is turned against those who are faithful to God, they blame them for the judgments they are suffering, and they go after the church with unabated fury.

But note Daniel’s promise: “and at that time thy people shall be delivered.” That’s the promise—not that we will be kept from the time of trouble, but we shall be delivered from the hands of our enemies. Christ returns to complete his judgment upon evil and to deliver his people.

What’s the experience of God’s people going to be like in that time? They watch as the world suffers the seven last plagues, as we read in Revelation 16. Sores break out on those who reject God. The sea turns to blood and all life in it dies. The rivers and lakes likewise turn to blood. And the earth is scorched with great heat. And there is darkness. And lying spirits go out to deceive the world. And finally, a great earthquake and hail. God’s people see these things happening, but they are protected just as Israel was protected when the plagues fell on Egypt.

But they are protected. It is at that time that Psalm 91 will be truly fulfilled,

I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. 3Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. 5Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; 6Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. 7A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. 8Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. 9Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; 10There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.
The saints have been sealed by God. They will not be touched. They are like Noah and his family in the ark, with the door sealed by God. They know what’s happening. They see and feel and hear the effects. But they are protected.

But remember what I wondered about last time? What was the mental state of Noah and his family? Did they fear? Did they doubt? Were they concerned? The Bible doesn’t say, but I bet they were.

And I think the saints will be suffering great anxiety during this period. Listen to this from Jeremiah 30. It was written to speak of Israel as they were to be delivered from their captivity, but I think—and we as a church have thought—that it speaks to the condition of God’s people in this last trial. Jeremiah 30, starting with verse 4:

And these [are] the words that the LORD spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah. For thus saith the LORD; We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day [is] great, so that none [is] like it: it [is] even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, [that] I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him.

What’s it called? “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” referring back to the experience that Jacob went through in Genesis 32. Jacob was afraid of the reception he might get from his brother Esau. And Jacob prayed, verse 9,

9And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: 10I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. 11Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. 12And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.

Jacob was afraid. And he approached Esau fearfully. He sent over presents. And then he sent over his family. And then he stayed alone and prayed. Genesis 32: 24

24And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. 25And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. 26And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. 27And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. 28And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. 29And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. 30And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

This is the image that Jeremiah used to speak of the anguish of God’s people before they are delivered. They remember God’s promises, but are still afraid. They peer into the darkness, but have no light. They think back on all that has happened to them, but they have no assurance.

And yet God says they are sealed. God says they are protected. God says his angels are with them. It goes to show that you can’t trust your feelings, and what you see, and what you think. We will have to live then, as we live now, by faith alone.

But let me reiterate the important point. And I conclude with this. God remains with them. God has not abandoned them. God’s shield is above them. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” The angels will care for them and protect them, according to the promise of the Psalm. Their enemies will not triumph over them. And then will come the great final act. Then Jesus will deliver his people, as we read in Daniel 12, he will deliver them from the hand of their persecutors. The light of his glory will pierce through the darkness and the clouds of gloom and destruction and of doubt. Then they will see what Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 4,

“16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

That promise is what will get us through those dark days. That promise can sustain us now. The world is growing darker. The storm is about to break. But the day is drawing near.