“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
On the basis of the year-day principle of reckoning prophetic time periods according to Ezekiel 4:6 and Numbers 14:34, the ten days has been interpreted as a period of ten literal years and applied to the period of the most severe imperial persecution (a.d. 303–313), begun by Diocletian and continued by his associate and successor Galerius. This was an attempt to wipe out Christianity by burning the Scriptures, destroying church buildings, and imprisoning the leaders.
These rulers believed that the church had grown to such dimensions of strength and popularity in the empire that unless Christianity should be promptly stamped out the traditional Roman way of life would cease to exist and the empire itself would disintegrate. Consequently they inaugurated a policy designed to exterminate the church. Diocletian’s first decree against Christians was issued in the year 303, banning the practice of Christianity throughout the empire.
Persecution began in the army and spread throughout the empire. The Roman authorities concentrated their terrors on the Christian clergy, in the belief that if the shepherds were removed, the flock would scatter. The horrors of this persecution are vividly described by the church historian Theodore (Ecclesiastical History i. 6), who describes the gathering of the bishops of the church to the Council of Nicaea some years after the end of the persecution (a.d. 325). Some came without eyes, others with their bodies horribly maimed in different ways. Many, of course, did not survive this time of trouble.
In 313, ten years after the beginning of these persecutions, Constantine and his colleague Licinius issued an edict that granted Christians (and all others) liberty to practice their religion.
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