Antiochus Epiphanes and the Great Tribulation?
At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book.
It is common among “higher critics” and theological “liberals” to say that in Daniel 12:1, when Daniel was given the prophecy of the coming Great Tribulation, that this was in fact a prediction of the impending horrific time of Antiochus Epiphanes (See John Collins, Daniel (Minneapolis, Fortress, 1999), 390+). Understand that Collins and most “higher critics” believe that Daniel was writing ex event, after the events that he wrote about. To give his writings more authority and credibility, he identified himself (falsely) as Daniel, and wrote of the past events as if they were still future (Many, if not most, “higher critics” do not believe in genuine inspired prophecy. Perhaps it should be noted that the “Antiochan” view was created by Porphyry, an anti-Christian “philosopher” to counter the Christian use of the book of Daniel. See Collins on this).
There are those, however, more “conservative” commentators, who believe that Daniel was a true prophet, and that he did predict beforehand, through the Spirit, the events of the second century BC. And so, they take Daniel 12:1 as a reference to the time of Antiochus, meaning that Daniel’s “great tribulation” was in the second century BC. Emphasis is put on “at that time” of 12:1, and it is insisted that the antecedent must refer to Antiochus. But this overlooks the fact, supported by many scholars, that in chapter 11, there is a shift in focus from Antiochus as the key player to Kittim – i.e. Rome. This brief article will not discuss this, but see my book: The Resurrection of Daniel 12:2: Fulfilled or Future? for an in-depth discussion. Even Collins notices the importance of the reference to the Romans in chapter 11.
This article is focused on the key question: Was the Tribulation that Daniel predicted fulfilled in the time of Antiochus the Great, in approximately BC 167? Before addressing that specific question let me take note of another view on the Tribulation and that is the view of former preterist Sam Frost.
Sam Frost, former preterist said (November, 2011) that Daniel 12:1 predicted a national resurrection of the righteous remnant in the time of Antiochus. He also denied that Daniel 12:2 was parallel to John 5:28-29. In other words, he denied that the deliverance and resurrection in Daniel 12:1-2 was the “end of time” resurrection. However, a year later he took the position that Daniel 12:2 predicts the end of time resurrection of the physically dead, while verse 1 foretold the troublesome time of Antiochus. Similar vacillation is present from Frost in regard to the Tribulation.
Then, Frost went on record with this:
//The angel spoke of a time when Michael would arise in the days of the King of the North (11.45), and there would be “great tribulation” for the people at that time, such as has not happened before. Jesus is trumping that time, saying that the coming desolation of the Temple in A.D. 70 will be worse, and he is using the language of Daniel. He is not, then, saying, “this is that”, but “this will be worse than that.” “Great tribulation” is a term, interestingly enough, that is related throughout Israel’s history. In Judges 2:15; 10:9; Nehemiah 9:37 we find the same phrase “great tribulation” or “great distress” in the Greek Septuagint. Jesus, then, is simply saying that another time of “great distress” is coming upon the temple and Israel, such that has happened before under the Babylonians, but this time will be far worse than that, even worse than the time of the Maccabeans.//
So, on the one hand, Frost tells us that tribulation has existed from Adam onward and will endure until the end of time. But in this citation, he admits that what Jesus was speaking about in Matthew 24:21 was that AD 70 would be worse than BC 167! But then, in his commentary on Daniel, he says the Tribulation – The greatest Tribulation ever since there was a nation, per Daniel– occurred in the days of Antiochus. Look again at the citation from Frost that I offered above: //Jesus, then, is simply saying that another time of “great distress” is coming upon the temple and Israel, such that has happened before under the Babylonians, but this time will be far worse than that, even worse than the time of the Maccabeans.//
The problem (among many) is that Frost’s proposal has Jesus saying that what was coming was worse than that of the days of Antiochus when he claims that Daniel 12 says that what was coming in the days of Antiochus was the worst that had ever been! This is sophistry and nothing else.
Let’s be clear, Daniel did not say (was not told) that what was to happen was simply a continuation of what had always been. He was told precisely the opposite! What was coming was to be like nothing that had ever happened since there was a nation! That simple, undeniable fact, totally falsifies Frost’s claims. To say that Frost is “all over the map” is a huge understatement!
So, Frost has the Tribulation existing since creation. (He also believes that the Great Tribulation continues for the duration of the Christian Age!! Then, he says it was under Antiochus. Then he has the resurrection at the end of time. Then, he has the Abomination and the “time of the end” in the time of Antiochus as well. The problem is that in Daniel 12:6-7 Daniel overheard one angel tell the other that “all these things” (which grammatically must include the Tribulation, the resurrection, the end of the age, etc.) were to be fulfilled, “when the power of the holy people is completely shattered.” Frost turns the text upside down. He has the angel saying that SOME of the things foretold would be fulfilled in the time of Antiochus, but, SOME, would not be fulfilled at that time and would not be fulfilled until the end of time. Amazing.
But THEN, in yet another “about face,” Frost stated October 6, 2017, that Daniel’s reference to the “power of the holy people being shattered” was reference to the pogrom against the Jews under Antiochus. In other words, it was Israel’s power that was to be shattered. However! On 10-21-19– FaceBook page “Full Preterism: A Thing of the Past), Frost wrote that the statement “when the power of the holy people is completely shattered” has no reference to the crushing of Israel, but rather, the destruction of Antiochus! So, on the one hand, Frost says Daniel 12:7 referred to Antiochus destroying Israel (which he DID NOT DO!!) But then, he changed again and said that Daniel 12:7 was a prediction of the death of Antiochus. If you find Frost’s constant vacillations and ever shifting positions confusing, you are not alone!
But now, let’s focus our attention on the suggestion that the Great Tribulation of Daniel 12:1 was fulfilled in the time and events of Antiochus.
In BC 167, Antiochus’ forces captured Jerusalem, desecrated the temple and defiled the Altar. It was, to be sure, a horrific time in Israel’s history. But, those events did not hold a candle to the events of the Jewish War of 66-70 or for that matter, the events of BC 586! So, the question is, was that period of time what Daniel was predicting?
In fact, read what Daniel the prophet said of the Babylonian destruction. As he looked back on that event several decades before, he said:
Thus, He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem (Daniel 9:12).
Daniel described the events of BC 586 as the greatest national calamity under the whole heaven; nothing like it had ever happened! Are we supposed to believe that this same prophet then – a short time later – foretold the time of Antiochus and described it as the greatest national tribulation that would have ever occurred, when in fact he had already described the Babylonian destruction as the worst ever? Did the Lord tell him that the events of the time of Antiochus would be worse than that at the hands of the Babylonians, when the Lord knew there would literally be no comparison in the severity of the two events?
Why would Jesus use the Antiochan desecration of Jerusalem to warn his apostles of the coming tribulation, that was to be the “worst ever,” when that invasion paled in comparison to what Daniel said in Daniel 9? Frost claims that what Jesus was doing in Matthew 24:15 was essentially saying: “Remember the tribulation of Antiochus? What is coming will be far worse than that!” But this does not work.
Why use the comparatively lessor tribulation to tell the apostles that the greatest ever catastrophe was coming, when he actually had at hand, in Daniel 9, a direct and far more relevant comparative event? Why not simply tell the apostles that what was coming was going to be as bad – indeed, worse – than that event? Frost even admits that the Babylonian destruction was far greater than that which took place under Antiochus!
Here are a few facts:
In Daniel 9 the prophet looks back on the holocaust of BC 586 and calls it the worst that had ever happened.
In Daniel 12, although he was undeniably knowledgeable of BC 586, he was predicting another judgment on Jerusalem that was to be the greatest ever.
And, as stated, what is historically undeniable, the events under Antiochus never approached the horrific level of BC 586. Thus, Daniel could not have been predicting the events of Antiochus’ invasion and describing them as the worst tribulation – or the worst national disaster on Israel – that had ever been!
Yet Jesus, in Matthew, cited Daniel 12 and said the Great Tribulation such as had never been was coming in his generation. Jesus knew of BC 586, did he not? He knew of the events under Antiochus, did he not? He knew that the time of Antiochus did not compare with either BC 586 – or with what he was predicting. He knew that what was coming on Jerusalem in his generation was exponentially worse than what happened under Antiochus.
Consider the testimony of Josephus, first century witness of the Jewish War. He said that Jerusalem had been captured five times, but desolated only twice:
And thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, on the eighth day of the month Gorpeius [Elul]. It had been taken five times before, though this was the second time of its desolation; for Shishak, the king of Egypt, and after him Antiochus, and after him Pompey, and after them Sosius and Herod, took the city, but still preserved it; but before all these, the king of Babylon conquered it, and made it desolate, one thousand four hundred and sixty-eight years and six months after it was built. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Bk. VI: chapter 10- all emphasis mine).
Josephus says, very clearly, that Antiochus had “taken the city.” Yet, he is emphatic that the city had been destroyed only twice: At the hands of the Babylonians and at the hands of the Romans. Under Antiochus, the city and the temple were desecrated and defiled, but, neither the city or the temple were completely destroyed as in the sixth century BC or AD 70. That is an undeniable fact of history. No amount of denial can change this. To reiterate: the awful events of the days of Antiochus do not compare to the Jewish War in any way! What Daniel 12 foretold was the ultimate Tribulation, the true end of the age (which did not come under Antiochus), the kingdom did not come at that time.
What we have seen then is that some commentators claim that the Great Tribulation of Daniel 12:1 referred to the time of Antiochus the Great, and his attacks on Jerusalem.
But, Daniel 12 says of the Great Tribulation in view: “And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time.”
The undeniable historical reality is that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in BC 586 was exponentially greater than Antiochus’ attacks.
Antiochus did not destroy the city – the Babylonians did.
Antiochus did not destroy the temple – the Babylonians did!
Antiochus did not deport thousands- perhaps tens of thousands – into captivity – Babylon did!
To force the text of Daniel to refer to the events of Antiochus is a denial of history and the facts.
There is a final, significant fact here- although many others could be given – and that is that the “power of the holy people,” i.e. her covenant relationship with YHVH, was not shattered in the days of Antiochus. In fact, due to the zeal of the Maccabeans, Torah observance experienced a resurgence under the Maccabean leadership. Remember how we demonstrated above that Frost has flip-flopped on this issue. He claimed initially that the coming destruction of “the power of the holy people” referred to the attacks on Israel under Antiochus, but then, changing his tune entirely, he claimed that it referred to the death of Antiochus. To be honest, I am not sure what he believes at the writing of this article.
This is critical. Israel’s covenant relationship with YHVH was her only power. It was not her military might. It was not her numbers. It was one thing: the fact that the Lord had chosen her and given her His covenant! But, just like Zechariah 11 shows, the time was coming – which is what Daniel 12:7 foretold – when God would break the covenant with both houses of Israel. That would be in the day when they would eat the flesh of their own children (Zechariah 11:9f) – which was fulfilled in AD 70.
Let me say again, for emphasis sake, that the events of the time of Antiochus Epiphanes were horrific. BUT they were in no way at all, “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time.” The time and events of Antiochus pale in significance when compared to the sixth century Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem. The city was not destroyed. The temple was not destroyed. Israel was not carried off into captivity. The power of Israel, Torah did not come to and end.
In consideration of all of this, and in light of Daniel 9, and Daniel’s assessment of the sixth century destruction of Jerusalem, to try to make Daniel 12 as prediction of the second century events under Antiochus– which, to repeat, pale in comparison with the Babylonian destruction – is unhistorical and violates the Biblical texts. The claim that the great tribulation of Daniel 12:1 referred to the time and events of Antiochus Epiphanes is untenable.