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The New Testament’s Olivet Discourse holds a very special place in the hearts of Christians everywhere. Its setting on the Mount of Olives places a dramatic vista in the mind of the reader, as Jesus answered His disciples’ questions about the future. They were seated across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount complex … considered to be a world-class architectural triumph. In Matthew 23, Jesus had lamented the grief that would befall His own generation. Of His own people, He had said, “Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:36). He made it clear to His disciples that their beautiful Jerusalem was about to be destroyed. They knew that He had come to bring about the Kingdom, and they now had learned that this event was to be delayed. This raised two major questions in their minds: 1. “When will these things be?” 2. “What is the sign of Your coming and the end of the age?”
He answered, telling them of future global wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes. These, He called the “beginning of birth pangs.” He told them of the Great Tribulation, and of His Second Coming. Finally, he spoke of the Fig Tree, sprouting forth as a sign that all these things were about to come to pass. He referred to it as a “generation.” He went on to say that the conditions experienced by this generation would be similar to those witnessed by Noah and his family, when the whole earth was immersed in divine judgment.
As He spoke, He concluded with a remark that has stimulated a number of conjectures over the years. He said, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34).
His proclamation refers to what has been called “the last generation.” The context of His prophecy is critically important. He is speaking to a Jewish audience, addressing His remarks to members of the “fig tree” nation. These would be Jews of the generation that witnesses events leading up to the Great Tribulation, then moving forward to actually experience it.
Are the Jews of our generation the people that Jesus spoke of? To answer this question, we shall examine several biblical expressions that actually use the term, “generation.”
There is a Hebrew expression found in the Old Testament that is usually translated as, “the generation to come.” This idiom is taken from some form of HaDor HaAcharon. The most direct translation of this phrase is, “the last generation.”
As we shall see, the meaning of Jesus’ prophecy is greatly clarified by an understanding of this phrase and its common use in the Old Testament. A bit later, we will return to this expression to show how it points forward to the period of the latter days.
As He spoke to His disciples, Jesus was well aware that the meaning of a “generation” would be something of a mystery to his hearers. But He spoke in a context that had meaning to them. One imagines them seated in the shade of an ancient olive tree, as they gazed across the Kidron Valley toward the magnificent complex of concourses, stairways, porticos, palaces and courtyards. The centerpiece of their attention was the Temple, itself.
Construction on this huge project – considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – had begun some fifty years earlier! At the time Jesus spoke, it would still be almost twenty years before the completion of the whole Temple complex. Tragically, the completed development would last only about a year before being completely destroyed by the Roman forces of Titus and Vespasian in A.D. 70.
As Jesus addressed the inner circle of His followers, He spoke of future world wars, famines and diseases. In this context, He mentioned the latter-day rebirth of Israel, something the disciples could not have understood at the time. He commented upon Daniel’s prophecy of the antichrist in the Temple. He used the term, “great Tribulation,” to describe the events surrounding Israel’s regathering. He even spoke of His Second Coming in the clouds of glory.
It was at this point, that He spoke one of his most famous parables:
“32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:32-35.)
It’s safe to say that from the day He made this pronouncement, right down to the present day, men have not ceased trying to understand precisely what He was saying.
Today, some (preterists) are convinced that He was referring to the generation then alive. The longest-lived among His disciples was John, who died at the end of the first century. Under this premise, one could stretch Jesus’ prophetic words to this particular event. So the wars, abomination, famine, earthquakes and great Tribulation all took place in that time period. Instead of interpreting His prophecy as a global phenomenon, they make all His prophecies into the local setting of first-century Jerusalem.
It is true that Israel is the centerpiece of the prophecy, but its context must agree with all other New Testament prophecy, the book of Revelation in particular. There, the prophecy is clearly global in scope.
Nevertheless, His reference to the key prophetic generation of the entire Bible is given in the image of a fig tree. This tree is depicted “putting forth leaves,” as it would in the spring, when getting ready to bear fruit. The point is that the prophetic tree is growing, not diminishing.
So, “this generation,” is the “fig tree” generation, and often goes by that name. The fig tree is the symbol of National Israel. A key prophecy given by Jeremiah makes this crystal clear:
“5 Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel; Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. 6 For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down; and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. 7 And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:5-7).
Here, the good figs are the leaders of Israel. Their wholehearted return to the land of Israel is not the near fulfillment witnessed in the Israelite return from Babylonian captivity. This Scripture predicts their final return, when they shall receive a new heart and revival in the Spirit of the Lord. Jeremiah says that they will be planted and not pulled down. They were, in fact, pulled down in A.D. 70, and again in A.D. 135, following the revolt led by Simeon Bar Kochba. In the final regathering, they will be permanently replanted. And what do you get when you plant a fig? You get a fig tree! That’s Israel!
This is the generation to which Jesus undoubtedly referred.
The dark years following Israel’s first-century diaspora really began to brighten in the year 1878, when a few Russian Jews pioneered efforts to “make aliya” (go up to the Land), and establish settlements in the stark deserts and swamps of a then-desolate Israel. Their efforts, and the work of those who followed them, raised the consciousness of world Jewry. In 1897, the first World Zionist Congress was held in Basle, Switzerland.” Plans were laid out to win back Israel, then held by the Ottoman Turks.
World War One brought Israel into the sights of British politicians and generals. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised Israel access to their Land. But before that could happen, Jews of the diaspora were forced to bear the insults of World War Two, the Holocaust and the ravages of international anti-Semitism.
Following the United Nations Mandate of 1947, Israel declared statehood on May 14, 1948.
Metaphorically speaking, Jeremiah’s description of the planting of figs corresponds with Israel’s laborious restoration of the Land. Through many difficulties, wars, pogroms and the enormous obstacles of weather, drought and financial need, the Jews converted the barren Land to remarkable fertility. The first half of the twentieth century saw the first planting of Jesus’ prophecy come to fruition. By the year 1948, the leaves of the tree began to shoot forth. Expressed differently, the tree of national Israel had grown to the point that it was recognized as viable and strong. Israel is placed in an international context in Luke’s account of the Olivet Discourse:
“29 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. 31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. 32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (Luke 21:29-32).
Here, the text adds an additional note of clarification. Not only are we to watch the “fig tree” (national Israel), but we are to watch other trees, as well. If Israel is represented by the fig tree, the other trees would be the nations that rise up at roughly the same time Israel became a nation.
Recent history reveals precisely this kind of development. At the midpoint of the twentieth century, most of the current “nations” were third-world enclaves of tribal illiteracy. In the last fifty years or so, they have rapidly grown (both in numbers and capability) to become important players on the world scene. The following brief look at the U.N. membership roster shows just how rapidly their numbers have grown.
On April 25, 1945, representatives from 50 nations met in San Francisco at “The United Nations Conference on International Organization.” They agreed upon a charter, which was signed on the 25th of June of that year.
By 1948, membership had grown to 58. The following year, Israel became a member, bringing the total number of represented nations to 59. By 1960, membership had grown to 99. Growth continued at a rapid rate. By 1970, 127 nations were included. In 1980 the number had risen to 154. In 1990, the number was 159. The year 2000 saw 189 nations in the roster.
Currently – and remaining more or less stable – U. N. membership now encompasses 193 nations.
Their rapid growth meets the biblical prediction that they would “shoot forth.” Trees that had languished under the long winter of the dark ages, feudalism and colonialism are now realizing modernization through international banking and high-tech telecommunications. Real-time satellite transmission and the Internet have brought them into the cultural medium of the twenty-first century. As the angel told the prophet Daniel, “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4).
Just as Luke’s Olivet text predicted, we have now seen the latter-day multiplication of nations erupting with unprecedented speed. He added that when this phenomenon was observed, “summer is now nigh at hand.” Summer, of course, is the time of harvesting the fruit of the trees. And Jesus, Himself, said, “… the harvest is the end of the world.” Here, He refers to the completion of the “age,” from the Greek word aion. In context, He is speaking of the grain harvest as a metaphor of the final judgment. It should be remembered that summer is the season when both grain and fruit are harvested:
“38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; 39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. 40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world” (Matthew 13:38-40).
There are many expressions of the harvest as judgment in the Day of the Lord. One of the clearest is found in Micah, Chapter 7:
“1 Woe is me! For I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grapegleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the firstripe fruit” (Micah 7:1).
Here, Micah expresses the same thought as did Jesus in His famous discourse. He speaks as the plaintive voice of national Israel at the time of judgment, when the tiny nation faces the persecution of a massive world system during the Great Tribulation. When the nations spring forth as trees, the harvest judgment is near. This is the generation of which Jesus spoke.
This brings us back to the Hebrew expression we mentioned at the beginning of this article. It is ha dor ha acharon. It is first found in the book of Deuteronomy, in a prophecy that foretells the dispersion of the Jews, as they are scattered to the four corners of the world. This phrase is found in the following passage, where it is translated, “the generation to come,”
“21 And the LORD shall separate him unto evil out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law: 22 So that the generation to come of your children that shall rise up after you, and the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the LORD hath laid upon it; 23 And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath: 24 Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? 25 Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt: 26 For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them: 27 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book: 28 And the LORD rooted them out of their land in anger, and in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day. 29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:21-29).
This is the prophecy of Israel’s complete dispersion. After years of disobedience, their covenant with the Lord through Abraham finally catches up with them. The generation addressed here is the one that we are most familiar with. It began with the diaspora of AD 135 and two millennia of desolation. The land of Israel became a treeless, swampy, drought-ridden desert. It was a testimony of Jewish disobedience. Many thought that they were through forever … set aside to see others take charge of the ancient Kingdom promises made to the twelve tribes. It was generally believed that their forsaking of that covenant meant permanent exile.
Here, we have a prophecy of latter-day Israel, ravaged by sin and time, its people dispersed and despised. The generation mentioned here is the generation that is now in the process of returning to restore the Land. As we have seen, the first stage of this regathering has already begun. This passage clearly refers to what it calls “the generation to come.” At first glance, it seems to be speaking of some indeterminate future generation. In fact, it clearly refers to the final generation.
It is most important to understand that ha dor ha acharon can just as easily be translated as, “the last generation,” since the word acharon means, “hindmost, last in order, last of a series” or simply, “last.” It is clear that this prophecy is referring to the last generation – the one that comes back to prepare Israel to bring in the Kingdom Age.
Other variations of this expression are also found within the framework of Israel’s latter-day regathering. Psalm 48 offers an excellent example of the placement of the “last generation” into a prophetic context. This Psalm is focused upon Mount Zion, the Temple Mount. It opens upon a chorus of praise for Jerusalem and the Holy Mountain:
“1 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. 2 Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. 3 God is known in her palaces for a refuge. 4 For, lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. 5 They saw it, and so they marvelled; they were troubled, and hasted away. 6 Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail. 7 Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. 8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever. Selah. 9 We have thought of thy lovingkindness, O God, in the midst of thy temple. 10 According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness. 11 Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments. 12 Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. 13 Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. 14 For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:1-14).
In these words, there can be no doubt that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are the focus of the Lord’s long-term redemptive plan. This Psalm opens with praise for the City of God, then closes with a command to Israel: Spread the news of Israel’s regathering to the whole world. It uses a variation of the “generation to come” phrase found in Deuteronomy 29. In verse seven we find a prophecy about the “ships of Tarshish.” They are the merchant traders of the Western world. In a monumental stroke of diplomatic perfidy, they attempted to blockade the ships of Jews returning to Israel after World War Two and the Holocaust. But they were defeated.
Here, Israel’s leaders are urged to survey the Holy Mountain, called “Zion,” marking its chief features and foundations. This is exactly what modern Israelis have done, since the earliest days that Israel was replanted in the Land. But note the closing reference, which we have highlighted above.
Here, the phrase, “to the generation following” is a translation of the Hebrew l’dor acharon. Again, we find the term acharon, meaning “last of an order,” or simply, “last.” This is a reference to the generation that would return to Israel, there to be charged with the responsibility of surveying and restoring the ancient Temple Mount. It is the “last generation.”
The political obstacles to their task are formidable, yet they have made slow but significant progress toward the establishment of the Temple. In June 2005, the newly-restored Sanhedrin even called for the preparation of a prefabricated Temple that could be quickly assembled on the Mount.
Psalm 78 offers another reference to the last generation. Here, it is given in the context of Israel’s latter-day spiritual condition. The Spirit of the Lord is shown giving them guidance, in spite of their continued unbelief:
“1 Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: 3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. 5 For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: 6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: 7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: 8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God. (Psa. 78:1-8).
In the verses above, we have highlighted two occurrences of the phrase, “the generation to come.” In Hebrew, these two phrases are identical. They are again translated from l’dor acharon. We have identified this phrase, as referring to “the last generation.” Note that the Lord is making an impassioned appeal to this last generation. He asks them to listen and understand the ancient words of Scripture. There, they will find “dark sayings.” That is, they are to search the Scriptures for the hidden, inner meanings that will illuminate God’s plan for them. Chiefly, these would be Messianic prophecies, which have been hidden to Israel for many generations.
Now, in this “last generation,” they are urged to look deeply, so that they will be prepared for that which, from their perspective, is shortly to come.
There is yet another reference to the last generation, using the same Hebrew term. It is found in Psalm 102. And again, this Psalm refers to the restoration of Zion. Note that it speaks of the very building blocks (“stones”) in the ancient architecture of Zion. In fact, the rebuilding of Zion is the heart of this prophecy. It begins as the prayer of a saint, overwhelmed by seemingly unconquerable difficulties. Its title says exactly that:
“ A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD.”
Then it begins in earnest:
1 Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee. 2 Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily. 3 For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth. 4 My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread. 5 By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin. 6 I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert. 7 I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. 8 Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me. 9 For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, 10 Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down. 11 My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass. 12 But thou, O LORD, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations. 13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come. 14 For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. 15 So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory. 16 When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. 17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. 18 This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD” (Psalm 102:1-18)
It would be hard to find a prophecy as distinct and specific as this one. The rebuilding of Zion is the destiny set out “for the generation to come,” in other words, the last generation. Once again, we find the familiar Hebrew phrase, l’dor acharon. When Jesus told His disciples, “This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be fulfilled,” He was speaking of the generation of the “fig tree,” and “all the trees.” And the “set time” has come!
There’s another reference to the last generation that seems to refer to the Antichrist, placing a curse upon him:
1 Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise; 2 For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue. 3 They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause. 4 For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer. 5 And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love. 6 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. 7 When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. 8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office. 9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. 10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. 11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour. 12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children. 13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
The prophecy against this “wicked man” is clearly directed toward the latter days and the House of David, which is here accused of being God’s adversaries despite His love for them. Virtually every prophecy of the Antichrist shows him being empowered by Satan, and certainly, that is the case here. This prophecy also agrees with many others, showing that he will be completely defeated. But here, even his posterity is accursed. Their names will be removed from the Book of Life “in the generation following.” Once again, the Hebrew source of this phrase indicates that it is the last generation that is intended.
The six occurrences of the Hebrew phrase meaning the “last generation” tell a specific story, in the order of their appearance:
FIRST – Found in Deuteronomy 29:22. In this context, it tells the future story of Israel returning to a land ravaged by “plagues, sicknesses, brimstone, salt and burning.” This is exactly what the Jews found when they returned to the land
in the 19th century.
SECOND – Describes the activities of Psalm 48:13, where Israel is seen surveying the ancient roads and ruins of Israel, and probing the buried archaeological treasures that tell the story of their ancient history.
THIRD – The phrase is found twice in Psalm 78. The first time, in Psalm 78:4, it speaks of the new generation of returned Israelis, who are learning the ancient Scriptures. (In the twentieth century, Hebrew began to be the spoken language of Israel).
FOURTH – In Psalm 78:6, this amazing phrase depicts a generation who have arisen to defend the land and declare their hope in God.
FIFTH – In Psalm 102:18, we find that the last generation encounters great difficulty: “For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones burned as an hearth.” Latter-day Israel has, of course, been plagued with wars and opposition, which will continue into the days of the Antichrist.
SIXTH – Last, we find the Antichrist: “Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand” (Ps. 109:6). About whom, we read: “Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.”
There is no doubt that this is an extended prophecy of events to be experienced by the “last generation” of which Jesus spoke as He sat with His disciples on the Mount of Olives:
• Deuteronomy 29:21 – Israel returns to a barren land … [Yes!] • Psalm 48:14 – Israel rebuilds the land … [Yes!]
• Psalm 78:4 – Israel recognizes prophetic Scripture … [Yes!] • Psalm 78:6 – Israel begins spiritual revival … [Yes!]
• Psalm 102:18 – The Tribulation begins … [Not yet.]
• Psalm 109:13 – The Antichrist arises … [Not yet.]
If the leaves of the fig tree can be said to have sprung forth with Israeli statehood in 1948, then this particular generation is now seventy years old. Of course, no one can be certain about the actual birth date of the last generation, but Israel has aptly been called “God’s timepiece.” This is true for a reason. Because, when Israel is in her own Holy Land, miraculous things begin to happen. Years of drought have now given way to fruition. Israel is the California of the Middle East, with fruit and vegetable exports that keep Europe fed. Israeli technology and invention leads the world. Sadly, Scripture predicts a coming series of wars there, followed by the rise of the Antichrist. On the bright side, through the prophecies of the Bible, we can now view Israel’s march toward the establishment of the Kingdom.
There is hardly any doubt that we are witnessing the conditions surrounding the initial restoration of Zion. We must, therefore, be living in the last generation. Yet to come are Israel’s decisive latter-day wars (Ezekiel 38, in particular) and the revealing of the Antichrist.
Looking back at the sixfold sequence of events, it stands to reason that Israel has already fulfilled all but the last two. And before that happens, the Church will be caught up in the rapture, which could come at any time.
Virtually the entire world knows the Christmas story. In one form or another, it has been told a million times. Having so often been featured in church services, novels, histories, motion pictures, television, radio and theatrical performances, it is the most iconic of all narratives. Recited millions of times in thousands of cultures, it tells of the Mother, Father and Child, angels, shepherds, Bethlehem, the stable, cattle, sheep and shepherds, all overseen by a wondrous star that brought the Magi from afar.
And in a most amazing way, God became a human being in order to bring salvation to the world. It is the story of the greatest gift ever given, remembered in the annual giving of gifts.
Even those who don’t believe in the deity of Jesus know the story. Read its words once again, and take special note of its historical, geographical, political and prophetic aspects. But in the process, don’t fail to enjoy its majestic prose. What we have here is the story of all time.
It involves a young Jewish couple who, at a time of socio-economic unrest are following the mandates of a census being taken by the leaders of the Roman Empire. It is perhaps the original tale of two cities: Nazareth and Bethlehem. The former, a village in northern Israel, reminds us of the seclusion and close family relationship Jesus experienced as he grew to manhood. The latter, a site at the focus of numerous prophetic events, is connected with the “lineage of David.”
“1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:1-7).
The New Testament opens with the book of Matthew, and the royal lineage of David. It lists the genealogy from Adam to Christ in three groups of 14 – a total of 42 generations, as indicated by the superscripted numbers, which have been added to the following passage, which is the seventeen opening verses from the Gospel of Matthew. For clarity, each verse is separately listed. This genealogy is straightforward, but it does contain two remarkable features that illustrate the miraculous nature of Christ’s birth:
Note that two names – Jechonias and Mary – have been boldfaced above.
An astonishing historical anomaly is to be found in this genealogy. In Matthew 1:11, Jechoniah (called “Jechonias,” above) is born of Josiah (Josias), fulfilling the second group of fourteen generations. Historically, Jechoniah is remembered as carrying a curse that cut off his offspring from the line of Judah … forever! Because of his great sin, the royal lineage is cursed … cut off! None of his offspring would be eligible for the throne … forever! Yet thanks to God’s grace, the genealogy continued.
In the following verse from Jeremiah, Jechoniah’s name is changed to the epithet, “Coniah,” which is achieved by the removal of the “Je” prefix attached to his name. “Je” means “Jehovah” – the name of God – which the Lord summarily removed, along with His blessing on the lineage of Judah. Coniah is likened to a signet ring – the mark of royalty – on the hand of God, which is removed and thrown away:
“24 As I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence; 25 And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans” (Jer. 22:24,25).
Prophetically speaking, there is a remarkable truth connected with this event. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus comes through King David, down through Solomon and Jechoniah to Joseph. This gave to Jesus the royal title to the throne. But as we have seen, Coniah’s curse rendered all future offspring ineligible for that throne. However, in a unique way, the curse was broken. Though Joseph was in the royal line, he was not Jesus’ father. A careful look at the genealogy above reveals that Joseph was the twelfth of fourteen generations. Mary is listed as the thirteenth, and Jesus is the fourteenth. In actuality, this makes God the Father, who supernaturally initiated Mary’s pregnancy, the thirteenth generation. Thus, the Messianic bloodline was purified, the curse of Coniah was lifted and Christ’s virgin birth is clearly displayed. Without this cleansing act, the Davidic Throne would have been forever rendered null and void.
This, the most amazing and miraculous birth of all time, was heralded by angels, who spoke to a select group of men who provided sacrifical lambs for the Temple sacrifices. Little did they know that they were being told that the One just born was THE Lamb of God!
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Lk. 2:1-18).
Why had the angels come to this particular group of shepherds? Because, these shepherds near Bethlehem were quite special. They were tending the lambs destined for Temple sacrifice. As we shall see, the location of these shepherds is quite near the place where Christ was born. It also marks the site of an ancient prophecy – the amazing prophecy of Christmas.
Why had Joseph and Mary come all this way from their hometown when she was in the late stages of pregnancy? Because, their registration was decreed by the bureaucrats of the Roman Empire. Their genealogies were both out of the line of Judah. Joseph’s ancestry – the royal genealogy of Jesus in Matthew – came through King David, himself. Bethlehem, the city of David, was the place where Roman magistrates had located themselves to receive those who were of the tribe of Judah.
It was David who established the Kingdom that will eventually be given to the risen Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah:
“4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah” (II Sam. 5:4,5).
Mary’s genealogy – the legal genealogy of Jesus in Luke – presented His official right to rule over the House of David. The mandate of Caesar Augustus was a declaration that the entire Empire be forced to register at designated locations, which had less to do with taxation than identification. Concerning the word “taxed” in verse 1 of Luke’s account, above, W. E. Vine (in An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) explains that it is translated from the Greek word apographo, meaning “to write out, enroll, inscribe, as in register.” He writes:
“Confirmation that this census (not taxation) was taken in the dominions of the Roman Empire is given by the historians Tacitus and Suetonius. Augustus himself drew up a sort of Roman Doomsday Book, a Rationarium, afterwards epitomized into a Brevarium, to include the allied kingdoms, appointing twenty commissioners to draw up the lists” (pp. 32, 33).
In other words, this census was Caesar’s way of insuring that no pretender to any local throne would pop up, claim a following among the Jews (who were in rebellion against Rome), and be raised to claim regal authority against Rome. In the eyes of the Romans, such an act would deserve immediate execution.
In The Star that Astonished the World, Ernest L. Martin acknowledges a reference made by Josephus, the famous first-century Jewish historian: “The oath of loyalty mentioned by Josephus is what brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem …, then it makes sense why Mary had to accompany Joseph. In a regular census Mary would not have needed to go with Joseph, nor would Joseph have needed to travel so far. Some have suspected that [since] both Joseph and Mary were descendants of David, and were legitimate claimants to the throne of Israel (had such a throne existed). It could easily be seen why Mary, as well as Joseph, was expected to sign the oath of loyalty to Augustus. All “royal claimants” would have especially been singled out to give the oath of allegiance” (pp. 186, 187).
Martin rightly points out that in Jewish reckoning, even Mary, a descendant of David, had the right of primogeniture and kingship for her offspring. Luke’s account (in verse 4), says this very thing. The young couple came to the City of David, Bethlehem, to register as members of the royal tribe of Judah.
Certainly, taxation was on the Roman agenda, but control of the Empire was its chief concern.
Now, let us depart for a moment from Luke’s well-known narrative of Christ’s birth. We go back in time to the most famous prophecy of His coming birth. It comes to us through Micah, who wrote at least seven hundred years before Christ was born.
“2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).
Ephratah, an ancient city originally located on the outskirts of Bethlehem, was associated with the death of Rachel and the amazing prophecy that accompanied her burial. The name of this city denotes “fruitfulness.” To this day, her tomb is still known and honored in this region. A bit later, we’ll look at this important, ancient incident.
First, we must connect the verse above with some verses that precede it, beginning in Micah chapter Four, verse One. Speaking in the same context, the prophet Micah lays out the distant future in a prophecy of the coming Kingdom. He refers to that time period as “the last days.” Then, he goes on to say the following:
“6 In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; 7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. 8 And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem” (Mic. 4:6-8).
Here, we have a prophecy that describes a mysterious location, and a strange edifice – a watchtower – that is presented as the key to understanding the birth of the Messiah. Micah wrote these words in the 8th century, B.C., long before Israel’s captivity in Babylon, which he also describes in the following verses:
“9 Now why dost thou cry out aloud? is there no king in thee? is thy counsellor perished? for pangs have taken thee as a woman in travail. 10 Be in pain, and labour to bring forth, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail: for now shalt thou go forth out of the city, and thou shalt dwell in the field, and thou shalt go even to Babylon; there shalt thou be delivered; there the LORD shall redeem thee from the hand of thine enemies. 11 Now also many nations are gathered against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion. 12 But they know not the thoughts of the LORD, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor. 13 Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the LORD, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth” (Mic. 4:9-13).
Notice that Micah’s prophecy goes on beyond the Babylonian captivity, into the far future, describing Israel as being regathered and fully established as a people invincible against all the people who are gathered against her.
Thus, we discover that the strange watchtower over the flock is the centerpiece of an ancient drama – the downfall and rising again of the Kingdom of Israel. From the days of Jacob – father of the twelve tribes – to the present, God’s will has traced out an immense plan. It is centered upon Jesus Christ, the most important person in all history.
In Genesis 35, God instructed Jacob to rise up and take his entire family to Bethel. Arriving there, he purified himself and erected an altar to God. After this, God appeared to him and pronounced that his name would be changed from Jacob to Israel:
“10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. 11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; 12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land” (Gen. 35:10-12).
Shortly after this, they travelled southward to the place that has been known ever since as Bethlehem, the Hebrew word that translates as “House of Bread.” This was the place where Christ was to be born about eighteen centuries later:
16 And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. 17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. 18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin. 19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. 20 And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day. 21 And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar (Gen. 35:16-21).
Is it not amazing how the location mentioned here was marked out for the future fulfillment of prophecy? In Hebrew, the term “tower of Edar” is migdal eder. Its literal meaning of this title is “tower of the flock.” It is the place where Christ was born, as described by Luke’s Christmas story.
In his classic text, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim wrote, “That the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem was a settled conviction. Equally so was the belief that He was to be revealed from Migdal Eder, ‘the tower of the flock.’ This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to nearby Jerusalem.
A passage in the Mishnah leads to the conclusion that the flocks which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices, and, accordingly, that the shepherds who watched over them were not ordinary shepherds. The latter were under the ban of Rabbinism, on account of their necessary isolation from the religious ordinances, and their manner of life, which rendered strict legal observance unlikely, if not absolutely impossible …”
Edersheim is quick to point out that the mysterious prophecy of the watchtower, though known by Jewish teachers, was not understood by them:
“Thus Jewish tradition in some dim manner apprehended the first revelation of the Messiah from that Migdal Eder, where shepherds watched the Temple-flocks all the year round. Of the deep symbolic significance of such a coincidence, it is needless to speak” (pp. 186, 187).
As lambs destined for Temple sacrifice were born in these special flocks, they were inspected to make sure that they were perfect, not having any defect, so that they were suitable for sacrifice by the priests at the Temple. The Apostle Peter refers to Christ in precisely this way:
“18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20 Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (I Pet. 1:18-20).
Some sources have declared that the “swaddling clothes” mentioned in Luke 2:7 were the pieces of woven material that the Temple shepherds used to wipe off the newborn lambs prior to their inspection. And Thus we have the Christmas prophecy of a very special flock, and a very special watchtower. With the Lord, nothing happens by accident.
Later, as Jesus began His public ministry, he came to John the Baptist who rightly discerned His historical role and destiny: “And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn. 1:36).
How amazing that in John’s Gospel, He also referred to Himself as the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:48).
At a precise moment in the timeline of human history, in the City of David, the Lamb of God came to the House of Bread at the Tower of the Flock!
There is an important ongoing discussion in prophetic circles today. It is preoccupied with the length of the period named by Jesus, Himself, in Matthew 24:21 as the “great tribulation.”
Does the Tribulation have a seven-year duration, or does it last only three and a half years? It is often argued that the numerous references in Daniel and Revelation, to “a time, times and a half,” “a thousand, two hundred and sixty days,” “forty-two months,” will only support a three-and-a-half-year Tribulation. These, they say, constitute proof that this period is only half of the traditionally-reckoned seven years.
For several reasons, we still hold to the traditional teaching that the actual Tribulation is a full seven years in length.
Furthermore, reliable expositors agree that it must be preceded by a transitional period that follows the catching-away of the church. This time could be as long as three years, bringing the world a ten-year period of spiritual debauchery and mental agitation, followed by unprecedented physical catastrophe.
A study of the pertinent Scriptures
This is true of the period prior to the Tribulation, as well as the Antichrist’s revelation and rise to power. After the removal of the Church and God’s Holy Spirit from His current position of influence, these key elements can begin to fall into place.
Then, and only then, certain factors will precipitate the final disposition of the prophesied global government and its key players – number one being the Antichrist, himself.
WHY MUST THERE BE A TRIBULATION?
An oft-repeated truism is that the Tribulation is to be distinguished from tribulation, in general.
In the book of Job, we find a man suffering such tribulation, accompanied by his friends. Together, they wrestle with the solution to his problem. Eliphaz, one of Job’s counselors, says, “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). In this haunting image, he paints
As recorded in John 16:33, Jesus told His disciples virtually the same thing: “33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
His words are intended to comfort those whom He has chosen, but they also state a very real consequence of man’s life on Earth. He is born to experience tribulation.
Having noted this, it is important to draw a distinct line between general tribulation and the specifically prophesied period of time that is intended for the House of David and the twelve tribes of Israel. Remember, Israel is the spiritual name that God gave to the father of the twelve tribes.
“And 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” (Genesis 32:28).
The occasion for this statement was Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with the angel of the Lord, who gave him a new regal title, and a special promise. From this time forward, Israel and his progeny were to have a special power and calling.
They also had God’s backing, so that no matter how deeply they were persecuted, they were always guaranteed the promise of restoration.
In a strong sense, this is the reason for the coming Tribulation. The thirtieth chapter of Jeremiah speaks eloquently about the final restoration of Israel and Judah to the Promised Land.
Jeremiah 30:3 says, “For, lo, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the LORD: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.”
The same chapter goes on to say the conditions of their return. Jeremiah paints a fearsome picture, that coins a phrase that has come to represent the Tribulation in a special way.
“6 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? 7 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. 8 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: 9 But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Jeremiah 30:6-9)
Here we see all the classic images of the Tribulation. Jeremiah speaks of the birth pangs that will accompany Israel’s rebirth in the Land. We also see the “day” mentioned. This is “the day of the Lord,” which will release Israel from the Gentile bonds under which she has labored for centuries. Finally, Jeremiah foresees the restoration of the Davidic throne, upon which Jesus will be seated.
This is specifically a prophecy of the latter days, during which the Lord will redeem Jacob – Israel – and make with Him a new covenant, written not upon stone tablets, but upon the hearts of His people.
Thus, the major outcome of the Tribulation is the restoration of Israel to the Land. It is the time of “Jacob’s trouble,” not the “Gentiles” trouble.
In Daniel’s great prophecy of the seventy weeks, we see another view of this same revelation:
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy” (Daniel 9:24).
About this statement, it is important to see that it is intended for Israel. The seventy weeks (or seventy sevens) are directed specifically at, “thy people,” in other words, Israel, and “thy holy city,” or Jerusalem. This is a timed prophecy whose major consequence is concerned only with Israel, not the Gentiles.
The verse above mentions six specific objectives, which the “seventy weeks” period will bring to Israel.
First, Israel’s “transgression” will be brought to a close. Her failure to keep God’s covenant over the centuries will, at last, be brought to a gracious end by the Lord. His arrival at the end of the final week will bring the great Atonement to His people, Israel.
Second, “sins” will cease. The centuries of Israel’s sins will be erased, at last.
Third, the “iniquity” that Israel has demonstrated since its beginning, in a failure to keep the Law of Moses, is reconciled.
Fourth,“everlasting righteousness” will come. Of course, this is the promise of the Messianic Kingdom.
Fifth, Daniel’s “vision and prophecy” will finally be realized, and sealed once and for all. The statements of the prophets will become reality, at last.
Sixth, the “most Holy” will be brought into powerful reality, as Christ and His Temple form the basis for a thousand-year Kingdom. In the end, there must be a literal, physical Temple.
The first sixty-nine of these weeks mark the time from the decree to restore Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, to the crucifixion of Christ. After they have been accomplished, Daniel’s people are seen entering into an indeterminate period of persecution. Today, we refer to it as the “Diaspora.”
“25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. 26 And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined” (Daniel 9:25,26).
Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in A.D. 70, Israel was wracked with one catastrophe after another, until they were finally driven abroad, seeking survival in many countries. The “people of the prince that shall come” – the Romans – made certain that Israel and Judah were hounded to the ends of the Earth. But the end of the prophecy concerns a coming prince who is a genetic offspring of the Romans, specifically of the royal house of Titus and Vespasian, the destroyers of the Temple. He is the Antichrist.
Elsewhere, we have described how the Seleucid dynasty that included Antiochus IV Epiphanes intermarried with these royal Roman houses. Antiochus, a type of the Antichrist, established the very bloodline that will bring forth the Antichrist of the latter days. Today, this Roman lineage has spread to cover the entire world. No one can know his precise point of origin. But the bloodline of the evil prince awaits its moment in history.
THE SEVENTIETH WEEK
It will be a simple thing to discern the beginning of Daniel’s seventieth week. It is marked by the moment that the coming prince (the Antichrist) stands in support of God’s ancient covenant with Israel. It will include the covenant of the Land, made to Abraham:
“27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the
Again, we see that this seventieth “seven” (called a “week”) is directed specifically toward the fulfillment of prophecy in Israel. It involves Temple sacrifice, tainted by the evil and occultic abominations that are clarified in other passages that concern the Antichrist.
Most importantly, however, we find that the act that opens the week is the Antichrist’s confirmation of the covenant. Up to the time that he commits this act, the entire week rests unfulfilled.
Some, arguing for a shortened Tribulation, have suggested that part of the week may have been consumed during the time of the Lord’s first coming, but that simply cannot be the case. If it were, then he couldn’t be said to confirm the covenant for one week.
For national Israel, it is the Lord’s desire that they completely rely upon His leading. In the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses explains to his people why they must keep His commandments. He prophesies that in the future, their failure to do this would result in their scattering among the nations of the world. This prophecy contains the following statement:
“30 When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice: 31 (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.” (Deuteronomy 4:30,31).
Here, the Tribulation Period is identified as the culmination of several millennia of disobedience. But Moses’ intent is to let his people know that even after all that time, God will not forget the covenant He made with them.
All He desires is their sincere and repentant acknowledgment of His power and sufficiency. In Daniel 12:7, which refers to the second half of the tribulation period, we see the same thought expressed:
“7 And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished” (Daniel 12:7).
Here, the “scattering” of the power of the “holy people” (Israel), tells us that this extended period of suffering under the Antichrist is a grim necessity. Only after the most grueling of tests will the remnant of Israel finally bow to their God and King.
Over the centuries, they have stubbornly clung to their own “strength,” relying upon their own talents and virtues, instead of God’s provision. As we shall see, Daniel’s prophecy unequivocally links the breaking of their self-reliance with the full development of a seven-year Tribulation.
There must be a Tribulation
OTHER REASONS FOR THE TRIBULATION
Throughout the Old
As we noted earlier, in reference to the time of Jacob’s Trouble, these prophecies always focus upon Israel. In Deuteronomy, there are references to Tribulation or Trouble. Isaiah and Jeremiah refer to birth pangs that bring forth a new Israel, which at last, comes into possession of the Abrahamic land grant.
Isaiah also calls it “the Day of the Lord,” and “the Day of Vengeance.” Elsewhere, it is referred to as a “Day of Distress, Desolation, Darkness and Wrath.” Without a doubt, its major consequence will be upon the nation through which it was revealed to the world, namely Israel.
In Luke 21:22-25, Jesus links the Tribulation Period with the end of the era of Gentile ascendancy, and rising again of Israel:
“22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people. 24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. 25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;”
At the same time, the Tribulation will end the long period of judicial blindness that has been placed upon Israel as punishment for its failure to keep the Mosaic Law and its rejection of Jesus, the Messiah. Romans 11:25 makes it plain that with the end of the Gentile economy, Israel’s blindness will cease:
“25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery est ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.”
The Tribulation will also bring an unprecedented period of Messianic anticipation, leading to a revival of magnificent proportions. The seventh chapter of Revelation tells of the sealing of a spiritual vanguard, drawn from the twelve tribes of Israel – the 144,000. They are shown in the context of a great revival that covers the entire world.
As Israel is raised to its prophesied dominance over the Gentile world, the Tribulation will also purge the earth of wicked men and the influence of wickedness, as seen in Isaiah 13:6-11:
“6 Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. 7 Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man’s heart shall melt: 8 And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames. 9 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. 10 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. 11 And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the
ONE SUPERMAN – SEVEN YEARS
We have already looked at the beginning of Daniel’s Seventieth Week as the time when the Antichrist stands in affirmation of Israel’s Covenant. It is worth repeating that since this act opens the week, it sets off a chain of events that will take seven years to complete.
As this is written, the week awaits fulfillment. Some have said that since this week of seven years is referenced only once in the entire Bible (in Daniel 9:27), it does not offer sufficient proof that the Tribulation really is a seven-year period. As noted above, they therefore argue in favor of a three-and-a-half-year period.
But Daniel’s full exposition of the Antichrist’s government is not given until chapter eleven. The 45 verses of this chapter are devoted to an account of the ruling powers who descended from Alexander the Great, following his death in 323 B.C. Alexander, the “mighty king” of Daniel 11:3, became the leader of a world-dominating army.
Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolomy and Seleucus, the four generals among whom his kingdom was subsequently divided, are chronicled by Daniel. But toward the middle of the chapter, only Ptolomy and Seleucus are mentioned. Near the chapter’s end, the focus is narrowed to Seleucus alone, followed by his dynasty. The most notorious member of this dynasty is Antiochus IV Epiphanes (called the “vile person” in Daniel 11:21), to whom is reserved a large descriptive passage.
Daniel 11:21 through 35 are devoted to one of Scripture’s most detailed profiles of the Antichrist. Antiochus typifies this evil man as totally enveloped in a consuming hatred of Israel. He even attempts to overthrow their “holy covenant” with God. But Antiochus is only the type of the grim reality who will arise in the days of the Tribulation.
Daniel 11:36-45 then brings us a look at that reality – the prophecy of the so-called “willful king.” Virtually all reliable expositors view this king as the Antichrist. He is the ultimate megalomaniac, who exalts himself even above God. Daniel’s prophecy reveals him as a strange man of bizarre power, who is given to dark practices and lustful appetites:
“36 And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. 37 Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. 38 But in his estate shall he honor the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honor with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. 3 Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain” (Daniel 11:36-39).
This prophecy shows the Antichrist in the developmental period of his reign. He is free to exercise his
He will stand as a singular and phenomenal man, whose power and purpose will finally be revealed as wholly Satanic. Without reliance upon family, or a traditional faith in God, he will stand as the ultimate arch-fiend, unencumbered by any responsibility.
No doubt, he will re-awaken the worship of the ancient pagan gods. More than that, the world will see him as empowered by intelligent alien forces, perhaps presenting themselves as the ancient creators of mankind, now returned to take stock of their work, and bring it to a new evolutionary level. In any case, the Antichrist will certainly play to the modern mythologies of mankind, including the widespread belief that occult alien intelligences are present and offer man the hope of new life.
Clearly, verses 36 through 39 speak of the progression of events that bring the Antichrist to his zenith, which Jesus called “the abomination of desolation,” in Matthew 24:15.
But Jesus places this event
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:21).
In other words, the worst part of the Tribulation comes after the Abomination of Desolation! The usual thought is that this title represents the judgments of the second half of the Tribulation. To place Antichrist’s rise to power, political consolidation in warfare against his opponents, economic development and claim to godhood – plus the Great Tribulation – within a cramped and limiting three-and-a-half-year period, simply does not allow enough time for all the prophesied events to happen.
Returning to the picture given by Daniel, we discover the same necessity for a seven-year period. Daniel 11:40 – 45 tell of the time period on or about the time when he first begins to declare his claim to godhood:
“40 And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. 41 He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. 42 He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. 43 But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. 44 But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many. 45 And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy
In these verses, it is made quite obvious that not everyone agrees with his claim to world leadership. Various powers – kings of the south, east and north – attempt to thwart his plans. He is also shown at war with several powers of the Middle East.
But note in particular verses 44 and 45, where his forces are sent out in power and destroy those enemies – “to make away many.” Here, the original language indicates that he “cuts them off” or “sweeps them away.”
Then, he set up his headquarters “between the seas,” that is, between the Mediterranean and Dead Seas. He resides in Jerusalem, “in the glorious holy mountain.” In other words, he reigns from Mount Zion. He is victorious.
All of this has taken place prior to his final declaration of godhood. How do we know this? Because the very next verse – Daniel 12:1 – is as clear a reference to the second half of the Tribulation as can be found anywhere in Scripture:
“1 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.” (Daniel 12:1).
Here, we must ask a question about the phrase “that time,” in the verse above. Very simply, we need to know what time is being referenced. And the time is plainly indicated by the context to which it refers, namely, the time of the Antichrist’s rise to power, his declaration of godhood and his successful campaign against his enemies. This is the time period outlined in the preceding verses – Daniel 11:36-45.
All of these details must be resolved before he can stand up as the infamous despot of Revelation 13. Here, we see “that time” as the opening of the most violent period – the second half of the seven years. And at “that time,” Michael, the archangel who fights for Israel on God’s behalf, is said to stand and begin his defense in earnest.
This corresponds exactly with Revelation 12:6-8, and the events which plainly mark the beginning of the second half of Daniel’s seventieth week:
“6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. 7 And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, 8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.” (Revelation 12:6-8)
Here, the 1,260 days (three-and-a-half years) correspond exactly with the period referenced by Daniel. It is the time of Jacob’s Trouble, when Israel goes into hiding. This could not have taken place during the Antichrist’s ascendancy, while he was preoccupied with securing his position and controlling the Gentile powers that sought to defeat him.
In fact, Daniel 12:5-7 refers to this three-and-a-half-year period as “a time, times, and a half.” In other words, from the time the Antichrist set up his headquarters on Mount Zion, until the end of the Tribulation will be three-and-a-half years:
“5 Then I Daniel looked, and, behold, there stood other two, the one on this side of the bank of the river, and the other on that side of the bank of the river. 6. And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders? 7 And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” (Daniel 12:5-7).
As mentioned earlier, this “scattering’ or breaking down the self-reliant arrogance of a prideful Israel takes place at the end of the Tribulation period, not the beginning. The question put forth here is “How long until the end?” It is perfectly obvious that the time in question is, “How long from the time the Antichrist sets up his palace between the seas until the end of the Tribulation period?”
The answer is three and a half years, with the stipulation that there will be an additional period at the end. To emphasize the point, Daniel 12:11 mentions the Abomination of Desolation once again:
“11 And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate
In the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, Jesus tells those in Judea to flee when they see this abomination. The points of comparison in Daniel, Matthew and Revelation establish beyond a doubt that the Antichrist requires a considerable amount of time – at least three-and-a-half years – to establish his power.
After that, Israel is persecuted for
“12 Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty
Daniel is told here that the closing three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation would have an addendum. First, in verse 11, we are told of an additional 30 days, bringing the total to 1,290 days. Then, in verse 12, we are informed that there will be a blessing beyond that, to those who wait for 1,335 days to elapse. This makes the second half of the Tribulation three-and-a-half years in length, with the addition of another two-and-a-half months. Most students agree that this brief period corresponds to the time of Christ’s coming at the end of the Tribulation.
And what is the blessing? Possibly, it is the time for the judgment and prosecution of the beast and false prophet, as given in Revelation 19. Whatever it is, it lies beyond the seven years of Daniel’s seventieth week.
THE FIRST HALF OF THE WEEK
Given that there is a prophetically-important period following the Tribulation, could there also be one before the seven years? With specific reference to the Antichrist, how much of his development occurs before the confirmation of the covenant with Israel (Daniel 9:27)? As the Lamb opens the first seal in sequence, the Antichrist rides forth as a conqueror:
“2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow
Here, the false messiah rides forth as a conqueror. This seal marks the initiation of his empire-building activities. But at this point, it cannot be said with certainty that he has confirmed the covenant with the leaders of Israel. The Antichrist’s white horse and the other three horses that accompany it seem to mark only the bare beginnings of his evil empire. Much time will be required for him to do battle with God’s two witnesses and the armies of the Gentile world, then to be supernaturally revealed as the incarnation of Satan.
Here, the words of Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, in The Footsteps of the Messiah, are most appropriate:
“So when the Antichrist signs a seven year covenant with Israel, the last week, or the last seven years of God’s prophetic time clock for Israel begins ticking away. This and only this is the starting point of the seven years of the tribulation. “In the light of this it should be very evident that it is not the Rapture which begins the tribulation. As has already been shown, the Rapture will occur sometime before the tribulation. It may come just before the tribulation, or it may come a number of years before the tribulation.”
Other well-known expositors hold this same view. If, for example, the Rapture were to occur two or three years before the Tribulation, then the global government of Mystery Babylon could begin a period of amalgamation that would see its conclusion well before the Antichrist’s confirmation of the covenant and the beginning of Daniel’s seventieth week.
Thus, when the Antichrist rides forth with the red horse of war, the black horse of economic collapse and the pale horse of death, it will be to demolish the existing geopolitical system. Later, he will replace the one he destroyed with his own – a diabolical system of identification marks and despotic control.
TEN YEARS PLUS?
From the moment of the Rapture, until the conclusion of Daniel’s 1,335 days could well comprise a period of over ten years in duration. It might be much less, but certain typological precedents indicate a longer, rather than shorter, period. One thing is certain, a global government cannot be established without a fight. Daniel’s prophecy points this out with great clarity!
Nor can it be established overnight. Consolidation of powers and treaties with powerful factions will take time. Only then will the Antichrist be in a position to promise anything.
Of course, his promise to Israel, and his confirmation of the covenant, is the factor that initiates the seventieth week. Finally, in Paul’s prophecy of the Antichrist, we see exactly this picture. His “man of sin” cannot be revealed until certain prerequisite events have taken place. His prophecy is quite unequivocal on this point:
“3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; 4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” (II Thessalonians 2:3,4).
Paul tells the Thessalonians that “that day” (the Day of the Lord) cannot come imminently, or without warning. He says that two things must happen first.
First, a “falling away” must come. Many discussions have arisen about what this means. Some have said that the term indicates a full-blown apostasy, or falling-away from the faith in God. Others have said that the Greek verb here may indicate a “departing,” or going-away. In so saying, they state a belief that it is the Rapture that is referred to here. In either case, an indeterminate time is said to elapse between this “falling away” and the Tribulation.
Second, the “man of sin” – Antichrist – must be revealed. And it must be acknowledged that this is merely the beginning of his revelation to the world. Following that, as we have pointed out, much time will be required for him to capture the power systems of the world and turn them to his own use. Then, he must confirm the covenant with Israel before the Day of the Lord (The Tribulation) can be initiated.
It is a certainty that Daniel’s seventieth week is a full seven years in length, plus some additional time at its beginning and after its end. It will be preceded by an undetermined length of time, possibly up to three years in length. And afterward, a “clean-up” period of two-and-a-half months duration follows the seven-year Tribulation. As a faithful believer in the Pretribulation Rapture of the church, be thankful that you will never personally suffer under the Antichrist. Long before he is known to the world – long before he confirms the covenant with Israel – you will be present with the Lord.
Neither will you experience the cataclysms of the Tribulation. You will be with Him, watching as He prepares planet Earth for the Kingdom Age.
As Christians, what are we to think, when governments around the world are beginning to publicly admit that they’ve been studying the phenomenon of UFOs and Space Aliens. And let’s face it, when we see television videos of lozenge-shaped vehicles from gun cameras aboard a Navy F-18, we have to take a second look. What’s more, these strange craft fly in ways impossible for our fighters. They are much faster and more maneuverable … clocked at several thousand miles per hour! They are able to dive into the ocean at top speed. That would, of course, reduce the average fighter plane to fragments in a millisecond. And then they pop up into the air, moving as fast as before!
The unspoken conclusion is that we’re being visited by beings from other planets, perhaps other galaxies.
Military and other Government Agency personnel have appeared on television programs, calmly announcing that yes, they’ve been studying these strange vehicles for years. Anyone who follows this subject knows that from Roswell to the present, hundreds of books and videos have screamed about the reality of the space visitors. Among other things, they’re called the “greys,” “reptilians,” “insectoids” and white-robed, blond “Nordics,” who represent multiple classes of aliens. They come in “UFOs.” They’re not space travelers, but the old gods in new costume.
Recently, the Chinese military has acknowledged that the strange flying machines and their occupants are real. Their statements reveal a general belief in visitors from other planets.
Add to this, the pop-culture movies and videos that depict mutants and super-human powers, and you have the basis for a new belief system: “The extraterrestrials are our gods, and they’re here to save us from ourselves during the dark years of a coming apocalypse!” All over the world, people are beginning to agree, “They’re real!” They usually follow such a declaration with a conclusion: If they’re real, they must be from other solar systems; perhaps other dimensions. This, in turn, spawns a variety of belief systems, none of which honor the Lord God, Creator of the heavens and the Earth. He is the single, omnipresent, omnipotent Ruler of the Universe. As Isaiah wrote, “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding” (Isa. 40:28).
And yet, the entire Solar System has been at war since the sons of God followed Satan’s corrupt leadership in a revolt against the Lord. Thus was created the model for what we now view as “normal.” History is marked off in a chain of conquerors and dictators who came to Earth and were regarded as “gods.”
A Past Invasion of Planet Earth
Global society is checkered with rebellion, invasion, wars and catastrophes. To pretend that Earth is a peaceful place overlooks countless local and global wars that are traceable back to the fallen angels and their humanoid offspring. (Remember those “sons of God” who “married” the “daughters of men?”)
Satan’s original revolt brought global catastrophe. He and his followers had already fallen and regrouped when God allowed him to tempt Eve in the restored Earth. Then came some sixteen centuries of sin and mankind’s interaction with the fallen ones — the Nephilim. That period was brought to an end by the great flood of Noah.
The Book of Enoch records their original act as committed by the followers of Azazel. Others came behind them … rebellious angels incarnated as giants.
The Jewish historian Josephus famously wrote, “… for many angels of God accompanied with women and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good on account of the confidence they had in their own strength for the tradition is that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants.” [Ant., I, iii, 1].
It is especially noteworthy that the word “giants” here comes from the Greek word, “Titans.” The Greeks regarded them as individual people: To name but a few, they were, Uranus, Gaia, Cronus, Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades, Athena, Apollo … and on and on. To the Romans, they were Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Ceres, Minerva, Apollo, Diana, Mars, and many, many more. They were all variations of the Ancient Sumerian, Babylonian and Phoenician gods, such as Anu, Enlil, Dagan and Baal Hamon.
The point: The “old gods” were never seen as “mythical.” The Bible, itself, provides the basis for asserting that they came to Earth from the heavens.
So, it may be said that Josephus’ Titans invaded planet Earth. History calls them “mythical.” They were not. They were real. Stories about them may have been embellished, but they were real.
Global tribal worship reflects the same theme: The old Dragon, so prominent in our Bible, is worshiped by the Chinese. In fact, he is always shown pursuing a flying disc. In our culture, that would be called a “flying saucer.” Oriental worshippers say that when he finally captures it, his old powers will return. He’s real!
Tribal worship in Africa, India and the far East, worships a host of “gods.” They are regarded as real. And so they are.
In the West, a new class of “gods” has reared its ugly head in the form of “UFO aliens,” seen by thousands, now including by their own testimony, our military. They are real, but they don’t come from other star systems or galaxies. They are the same old invaders, so well described in Scripture. “Extraterrestrials” are our new mythology.
The Hyperdimensional Bible
But don’t they come from other dimensions? The biblical answer is, “Yes.” Throughout the Bible, Satan and the demons are always depicted as living in a dimension just beyond our sight, yet nevertheless present. The “Old Serpent” controls the regions just above the Earth’s surface. His is a unique rule … a sort of continuous tour of the world, from the perspective of the atmospheric heavens. As Paul writes:
“Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph 2:2).
Paul knew all too well that the heavens conceal a myriad of dark and evil minions of Satan, who commands them to perform evil acts. They stimulate humankind at the spiritual level, to perform all kinds of evil acts. They are real, but beyond common human perception in another dimension.
It must be emphasized that after Paul met the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, he became more than familiar with the higher dimensions in which the Lord operates. In preparation for his ministry, he communed with the Lord for over three years. (See the first chapter of Galatians.) He came to understand that there, the visible world is connected with the heavens, and with God. In fact, he hints at this in a statement in Ephesians:
“17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;” (Eph. 3:17).
How many dimensions are there? According to Paul, there are four! The fourth word in this statement is the Greek, hupsos. It means “height,” “high place,” or it can even mean, “the ultimate height; the heavens.” Thus, Paul acknowledges that our conception of this world is incomplete without knowledge of the fourth dimension … the heavens!
In that dimension, the universe teems with life of all kinds… angels, seraphs, cherubs and others. They are the invisible ones. Yet they are able, when the occasion warrants it, to enter our dimension and become perfectly visible.
Again, Paul writes: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph 6:12).
To complete this point, Paul states it in plain language:
“2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities. 6 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me” (II Cor. 12:2-6).
His purpose here is not to revel in the experience, or even to boast that he’d seen heaven. It was to validate the supernatural (multi-dimensional) basis of Scripture, and to assure believers that it was their future, and the blessed hope of the Church.
Hell is Another Dimension
Sometimes, in dark, occultic narratives, or chance encounters with demonic phenomena, we experience a wave of fear that must be put into the perspective of God’s love. The non-spiritual usually snicker at the very idea of a world of demons, relegating them to the level of myth or fantasy. However, in our continuing discussion of biblical time-space, we must frankly address the pursuits and ultimate destiny of the demons. Jesus and the Apostles made it perfectly clear that we must not be naive about the world of darkness.
There is always a war going on. It is staged between this dimension and the one just beyond our sight. In the regions of earth, wars are accompanied by soldiers, spies, traitors, money, politics and all manner of treachery. And so it is in the spirit world.
As the Bible describes the great conflict, the legions of hell are bent upon covertly undermining and overtly raiding the dimension that we know as our daily reality. They are best described as trans-dimensional raiders. Because our world is populated with fallen creatures, these raiders regard us as fair game. Without the coverage of the Lord’s Holy Spirit, human beings are quite vulnerable to their ploys.
Demons aren’t stupid. They have many methods, schemes and tricks. Their modus operandi is to discern a point of weakness and enter there. Having gained access, they advance the cause of their lord, Satan. They are organized under his leadership, through a descending hierarchy of beings called in Anglicized Greek: Archons (principalties), Exousions (authorities), Kosmokrators (rulers) and Pneumatikons (dark spiritual warriors).
Their “Modus Operandi”
Their hierarchy is entirely devoted to thwarting the Lord’s redemptive plan. Their unseen dimension seems concentrated around planet earth, although it may extend to the distant reaches of the Solar system. Their leader operates on the assumption that he is lord of the planet. God seems to have granted him that mandate. Satan’s dealings with Job provide ample testimony that he has been granted an earthly domain. The Lord allowed him to torment Job, just short of taking his life:
“And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD” (Job 1:12).
Satan operates as a spiritual overlord. But the dark spirits who are his lackeys and underlings appear to function as a bureaucracy. Like most earthly bureaucracies, efficiency is sacrificed to slavish obedience. One gets the strong sense that the fallen of this world are not in any way happy or blessed. Rather, they function as automatons, going through the motions of obedience, at the same time, desperately seeking some resolution of their own miserable condition.
Their daily operation is the stuff of history: The Book of Enoch opens with the 200 rebelling angels led by Azazel. Graeco-Roman history is based upon the Titans and the Olympians, gods who savaged humankind, then disappeared from history. The gods of the Middle-East and Far East behaved in the same way, both pre- and post-flood.
At present … during the Age of the Church … the Spirit of the Lord keeps them in the background. But every once in a while, they emerge while on one of their diabolical missions. “Modern” sightings of their activities are usually attributed to “extraterrestrials.” But they aren’t that. They originated in the environment of planet Earth, and are bound here.
In the New Testament, we have an excellent example of their situation. There, we find an account that brings demons face-to-face with Jesus. In the process, we discover the way in which He views the problem of their existence:
“And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.
“And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?
“And there was a good way off from them an herd of many swine feeding.
“So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.
“And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold, the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea, and perished in the waters.
“And they that kept them fled, and went their ways into the city, and told every thing, and what was befallen to the possessed of the devils.
“And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts” (Matthew 8:28-32).
Demons Know the Time
This incident, recorded here by Matthew, and also by Mark and Luke, affords us a remarkable view of the relationship between the Lord of the universe and the hoards of corrupt evil spirits who haunt the world of men.
In all three accounts of the incident, it comes immediately after Jesus had preached in Galilee. He and his disciples entered a boat with the intention of crossing the Sea of Galilee. A storm arose and threatened to swamp their little craft, but Jesus stilled the winds. The sea calmed and they sailed to the east coast of the sea.
Arriving at a little seaside village called Gergesa (still there today as the town of Kursi), they encountered two demon-possessed men. These men are described as “exceedingly fierce,” from the Greek word, chalepos. It means “difficult to handle, or ragingly insane.” They are possessed with demons, spirits whose normal state is disembodiment, but who seek to inhabit the physical bodies of living creatures. In an episode we will later examine, Jesus describes them as wandering in a desert, in search of a home. We cannot know the exact nature of this “desert,” but one thing is certain. It is not a pleasant place. But as intolerable as it must be, it is still better than their ultimate destination in the lake of fire. The story of the men’s encounter with Jesus makes this abundantly clear.
The first and most amazing thing that we discover in the narrative is that the demons recognize Jesus. The people of Gergesa and Gadara certainly did not. Gadara, mentioned as a capital of the local people in Mark’s and Luke’s account of this episode, is about six miles east of the sea. This region, was called “The Decapolis.” Its Aramean population was composed of a multitudinous jumble of pagans who were the hapless inheritors of generations of Seleucid rule. Demonic power always rises to its greatest extent in such a culture. And in this simple encounter, we learn that in the dimension of the dark spirits, there is common knowledge of the spiritual battle that rages just beyond the visual range of ordinary human beings.
Think of it … the demons not only knew the real identity of Jesus, they acknowledged Him as the “Son of God.” Not even his closest disciples had come to realize that He was God incarnate. Though they had some dim recognition of His status, at this time, they were still thinking of him as the political “Messiah ben David,” who had come to restore David’s throne and defeat their Gentile oppressors.
Neither the Jews nor the Gentiles of the day had come to realize His true identity. In the entire Old Testament, the term is used only once, in the book of Daniel, where the three Hebrew men were bound and thrown into Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. There appeared with them a fourth man, whom Nebuchadnezzar, himself, described as having the form of the “Son of God.”
In the New Testament, this title is first used in the fourth chapter of Matthew, where Jesus is tempted by the devil. Twice, the old serpent calls Him the “Son of God.” These incidents tell us that from the top down, the demonic world knew the truth about Jesus. They knew that He had come to earth on a mission as the Son of God, to redeem this sinwracked place. And they knew that if He succeeded on this mission, they were doomed. As the angel Gabriel told Mary, this title would accompany His incarnation:
“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
The demons were obviously well informed about the implications of this event. In retrospect, it seems that they were remarkably well informed about both His identity and His power. For example, in the fifth chapter of John, we find a statement whose implications are often overlooked. Humanity has to ponder the extent of its meanings. The demons know it as a living, moment-by-moment reality:
“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
“That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
“For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
“And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
“And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:22-29).
This remarkable passage boldly proclaims the equality of the Son with the Father. But it begins with a statement that the demons know all too well. Namely, that the Father has placed all judgment under the jurisdiction of the Son. James, in his epistle, leaves no doubt that demons understand that the Righteous Judge will one day surely mete out the penalty that they deserve:
“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2:19).
And what, precisely, do they believe? From their outcry on the eastern shore of the sea, it is obvious that they know of God the Father and His Son. This means that they must also know that He is the Creator, and the Jehovah of the Old Testament. They knew of His incarnation, and must have wondered about all its ramifications. They probably didn’t know that He would allow Himself to be crucified on Passover, as “… the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
But they certainly knew that this world would never be the same, now that He had arrived.
Before What Time?
Their question to Jesus (“Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?”) reveals that they knew that He would punish them at an established, future time. Actually, the word “time” here, is translated from the Greek kairos. This word is used to describe a due season, or a time period when an event or series of events is scheduled to come due. It speaks of something long-awaited and sure to happen. It does not speak of duration, but of expectation.
It is more than obvious that the demons expect to be judged at a certain future time. That is, they knew that His first coming was not in judgment. They expressed shock and surprise that Jesus had appeared in face-to-face opposition to men they had possessed.
Just what “time” were they speaking of? In other words, when will the Son of God advance in judgment? Obviously, it is the Day of the Lord, referred to by Jesus as the Great Tribulation, called, “the hour of his judgment” in Revelation 14:7.
Among the spirit beings of heaven, their “time” has been well-known for ages past. And on earth, from the dawn of the human race, it has been prophesied as the coming of the Lord. We call it “the Second Coming.” Since His first coming, we have a pretty good idea of how the events of the judgment will proceed. Most probably, the dark spirits did not know the details of His incarnation and resurrection. Nor did they know about the subsequent formation of His called-out body of believers, the church.
But they knew He was coming. And so did the earliest members of Adam’s family:
“And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints,
“To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14, 15).
The demons obviously know about this future time. And the demons who met Jesus that day were deeply fearful, begging Him not to cast them into a place from which they would not be able to return. Apparently, Jesus could have sent them to dark chambers of imprisonment and torment.
But they implored Him that when they were cast out, to be allowed to possess a nearby herd of swine. This He did, and when the demons inhabited those pigs, they stampeded madly down an embankment and into the sea. Apparently, they had committed suicide.
Why? Because no matter how uncomfortable their present situation as wandering spirits, it was still preferable to imprisonment … or worse. Actually, we don’t really know what Jesus had planned to do to them.
But much of His public ministry was devoted to casting out demons. In fact, the sages of ancient Israel had always taught that Messiah could be recognized by his ability to cast out the dumb demon. This dark spirit has the power to completely captivate a person, so that he is unable to speak. Jesus accomplished this feat, as recorded in Matthew 12:22:
“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.”
The crowd who watched this amazing event immediately demanded that Jesus be recognized as Messiah. The Pharisees, on the other hand, accused Jesus of calling upon Beelzebub to cast out the demons.
In the dialogue that followed, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who demanded that he perform a sign to validate His Messianic claim. In His criticism, He described the phenomenon of demon possession. He likened Israel to a man who had been cleansed of a demon, only to have it return to take up residence again. Being comfortable, this demon then invites his best friends to come and share his attractive abode!
The Israel of Jesus’ day had once again fallen into apostasy and idolatry. This rendered the nation vulnerable to demonic assault. In the past, there had been revivals, but the demons of satanic worship returned … first one, then many:
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
“Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
“Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43-45).
Demons seem to regard human habitation as a house, perhaps a home. Jesus refers to their natural place of habitation as “dry places.” One thinks of trackless deserts, where no comfort can be found. There is only stark discomfort, without amenities of any kind. Food, water, lodging and any sense of belonging are totally absent. Demons wander in a hostile land, the land of hell, or Hades.
We are immediately reminded of the rich man in Hades (Luke 16:19ff.), who was in torment, desiring even a drop of water to cool his tongue. Like the demons, the rich man was consigned to a place of homeless torment, awaiting the final judgment.
What is Hell?
As we have often noted, the underworld is a very real place. In the Old Testament, it is a place of waiting. Sheol is both the place of Abraham’s abode and the habitat of imprisoned spirits. It seems to be a parallel dimension that lies very close to the one we call reality. Between us and the region of the spirits, the veil is quite thin.
We have an excellent illustration of this in the life of Israel’s ancient king Saul. Because of his failure to execute the Lord’s command to destroy Amalek, he had been banished from the throne, to be replaced by David. From then on, he was obsessed by the consequences of his own failure, and Israel’s subsequent calamities. The prophet Samuel, upon whom he had deeply depended for advice and spiritual counsel, had recently died. Saul was inconsolable. Somehow, he knew he had to speak with Samuel.
In desperation, he visited a woman at Endor, who had a “familiar spirit.” In modern terms, we would call her a spirit medium. She was practicing the iniquitous art called “necromancy,” calling up the spirits of the departed. With the help of an intruding demon, she was able to communicate with the underworld. Saul, who had recently banned all necromancers from the land of Israel, knew very well that he was breaking God’s Law. Nevertheless, he instructed her to bring back the spirit of the departed Samuel:
“Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.
“And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
“And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
“And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.
“And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do” (1 Samuel 28:12-15).
The brazen and willful Saul had spawned a wicked act. Samuel had been rousted from his place of rest in sheol… Abraham’s bosom. This was not supposed to happen. Through his prophets, God had made it plain that the underworld was to remain inviolable.
But this remarkable incident shows us that, if one chooses to break God’s law, it is a simple thing to violate the barrier that stands between us and the world of the spirits. Saul, in disguise, had tricked the medium into calling up Samuel. When he arrived – to the shocked surprise of the woman – the chicanery was exposed, and an angered Samuel delivered the ex-king a horrible decree:
“Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 28:19).
The deposed Saul had received a death sentence. In his arrogant selfishness, he had gone too far. Even after death, Samuel spoke the prophetic word, that Saul and his sons would die. And that they did, in ignominious defeat at the hands of the Philistines. Deprived even of the death of a warrior hero, the wounded Saul fell upon his own sword.
The medium of Endor had opened a forbidden door to the spirit world. In a split second, the spirits instantly enabled her to discern Saul’s true identity. Having done so, she cried out in fright, because the monarch had lately banned all necromancers from the land. But he assured her that he was only interested in obtaining an audience with the dead prophet. He asked her what she saw, and she told him she “saw Gods ascending out of the earth.”
In Hebrew, she used the term for “gods” or “celestial beings” coming up from beneath the earth (that is, from sheol). She seems actually to have been shocked when Samuel arose, wearing his prophet’s mantel, the “miel,” that had been a badge of his earthly office.
She had prophesied by the “ob,” a familiar spirit who would do her bidding, but Samuel appeared in a powerful way that exercised authority over her accustomed spirit guide. Of course, Saul knew all too well that the Law of Moses strictly forbade his illicit activities:
“There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
“Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
“For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
Obtaining access to forbidden powers can be accomplished through a variety of occult practices. The black arts run the gamut from infant sacrifice, through astrology, drug-induced trances, dark invocations, mediumship and sorcery. The Lord has forbidden them all.
The reasons seem obvious. Sinful man desires power, and believes that he can manipulate the forces and beings of the other world to his own advantage. Actually, he is playing the fool. He is the one being manipulated … by beings with wicked experience that extends back into the distant past. It is for man’s own good, that he is warned away from contact with the dark spirits.
But why hasn’t the Lord simply made the veil so strong that it can’t be penetrated? The Bible’s answer is that Satan has some prescriptive right to this planet. He was allowed into the Garden of Eden to tempt the first couple. His fallen angels were allowed to enter this dimension and corrupt the human genome. They coupled with earth’s women, producing a strain of monsters, whose souls were beyond redemption.
After the Flood of Noah, he allowed the same spirits to influence the worship of the Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks and Romans. In fact, the native residents of all the world’s continents had systems of worship based upon the dragon, the serpent and the demons. In China, the dragon is still exalted. If you doubt it, visit the nearest Chinese restaurant. In the ancient Americas, the feathered serpent was honored as the source of all power.
Sorcerers and shamans have long practiced the art of penetrating the forbidden veil. Rather than closing it, the Lord gives His redeemed the choice of avoiding it … or not. In His grace, He extends to man, the honor of making the proper choice. Then, through His Spirit, He has given man the power to uphold that choice.
The spirit leaders of Hades apparently have the power to wage war, but the focal point of their assault is the body of the redeemed. Jesus once plainly told His disciples that these powers (He called them “gates”) would be a constant threat, but in the end, would be vanquished:
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
In the rules of warfare, He has forbidden any form of communication between this world and the underworld, that is, Hades.
The Waiting Place Emptied
Since the resurrection of Christ, the abode of Abraham and the departed faithful has been transferred to another region, leaving only the damned in Hades. When He arose, the veil of Herod’s Temple was torn in two. There was an earthquake, and “… many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
“And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many” (Matthew 27:52, 53).
There is the common belief that in the process of fulfilling all the aspects of His resurrection, Christ took the Old Testament saints from the abode of Abraham in their underworld paradise to the kingdom of heaven.
The redeemed of the Old Testament were taken up to await the general resurrection. From that time forward, the redeemed who pass from this world are immediately ushered into the presence of the Lord in heaven. The spiritual fulfillments of Christ’s sacrifice have made this possible.
As Paul puts it, Christ escorted captivity (the Old Testament saints) into their heavenly home, after first descending into the underworld to gather them. Even the fathers of the early church expressed the belief that Jesus had taken these saints to the throne of God:
“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
“(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
“He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:8-10).
During that descent into Hades, Jesus defeated the archons and their delegated authorities. Perhaps the dark spirits had believed that some day, even Abraham and the redeemed might fall into their hands. But when Jesus entered their domain, He took from them any hope of possessing the saints. He “spoiled” them … taking from them any hope of gain or treasure:
“And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:15).
In a triumphal parade, He led Paradise into the realms of heaven. Left in the ruined remains of the underworld, the spirits now languish, derelict in the midst of wreckage. They must be a depressed lot, since Jesus also chose the time of His momentous victory to announce His triumph. From that point forward, there could be no possible doubt among the damned, that their ultimate judgment was now a certainty:
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
“By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (1 Peter 3:18-20).
When Jesus descended into Hades, it was as a conquering hero. He proclaimed that His sacrifice upon the cross had sealed the rift caused by sin, both in heaven and upon earth.
We must wait to find out what he actually told them. Most probably, He explained to them that His sacrifice had pleased the Father in heaven. Beyond that, He must certainly have informed them that His right to the throne of planet earth was now secured. Satan, their leader, had been deposed by this action. All that remained was a “clean-up” period among the men on the surface of the earth.
Within the context of these verses, we also learn that the ring leaders of the underworld are imprisoned there because they tampered with the human race in the ancient antediluvean world. We have often recounted their crimes among the men of Noah’s day.
Their sentence is ruin, imprisonment and death. Their legacy is spiritual and physical degeneracy. The residue of their crimes rains down on earth like nuclear fallout. Storm clouds of swarming demonic spirits swirl overhead, raging with winds and lightning. Among men, waves of fog envelop the unsuspecting and the reprobate, who are quietly spirited away into the realms of death. Hades is around every street corner.
But the body of Christ is empowered to walk through fog and storm, secure in the knowledge that He has already won the victory. This “hell on earth” is manifested in the daily barrage of self-styled, arrogant, immoral frauds and criminals that parade through the daily news:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
“Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
“Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3:1).
Paul’s prophetic pronouncement to Timothy and to the faithful who live today, has a curious connection with the demonic world. Earlier in this article, we looked back at Jesus’ encounter with the demon-possessed men on the eastern shore of the See of Galilee. As earlier noted, they are described as “exceedingly fierce,” from the Greek word chalepos.
This Greek term is used only twice in the entire New Testament. The other place is here, in Paul’s letter to Timothy. When he uses the term “perilous” to describe the prophesied season of psycho-social chaos, it is translated from that same term, “chalepos.” In other words, the raging insanity of the demoniacs beside the sea will become the environmental norm for latter-day society. The demonic will become openly visible. This realization might cause our blood to run cold, if it weren’t for one fact. Jesus is as powerful and authoritative today as He was in that ancient seaside encounter. He does triumph.
The Death of Hades
Hades is still in operation today, but not for long. Its days are numbered. Once, Jesus warned His listeners that whoever would offend one of the little children (a metaphor for those who come to God through Christ as little children) would be thrown into the fire of hell.
He told them that if one’s hand, or foot, or eye were to be an offense, it would be better to remove them, than enter hell with the body intact. Of course, he was speaking metaphorically. The hand can represent either an act of charity or of theft. The foot can either carry the Gospel of peace, or the fire of war. The eye can oversee either love or hate; charity or covetousness.
But the fact remains, Jesus warned about hell:
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43,44).
Three times, Jesus repeats the warning about going into hell. Three times, He describes it with the powerful imagery of the immortal worm and the unquenchable fire. In fact, He is quoting from the Old Testament, and the final words of the prophet Isaiah:
“And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).
This is the last verse of Isaiah’s prophecy. It tells about the final disposition of the spirit world, the new heavens and earth, and the eternal state of the wicked.
When Jesus quotes Isaiah, He too, invokes the vision of the far future. In the passage recorded by Mark, Jesus uses the word “hell” three times. All three times, He uses the word “Gehenna.” He is not speaking of Hades, but of the final disposition of Hades. Gehenna, once the burning garbage pit outside Jerusalem’s walls, becomes the symbol of the eternal lake of fire.
At the final judgment, even Hades will be destroyed there. At the Great White Throne, Hades (mentioned in the following verses as “hell”) will, itself, be thrown into the ever-burning refuse pit, called “the lake of fire:”
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20: 13-15).
And so, just as Paradise was taken to Heaven, Hades will be taken to the Lake of Fire. It appears that an entire dimension will be forever taken out of the way. The base from which the trans-dimensional raiders we call “demons” stage their invasions will be no more.
When Jesus spoke of hell, He already knew of the final judgment, for He was already the final Judge. Let us be more and more aware of this, as Hades edges more and more deeply into our daily lives.
No, they’re not from another galaxy; they’re from the dark dimensions of hell. And through Christ’s finished work, we need have no fear of their assaults.
In the past, we’ve written about the mystifying “crop circle” phenomenon. By now, everyone is probably familiar with the strange occurrence of designs woven through standing grain crops in farmers’ fields the world over. Usually, they are simple circles of swirled plants. Sometimes, however, they assume amazingly complex geometric or pictorial patterns. The most complex of them seem to appear in southern England’s Wiltshire Country.
They are sworn to be real and authentic, laid down in a few minutes by supernatural, invisible forces. Sometimes, witnesses have seen (and even photographed) strange flying lights in fields where crop circles appeared at the light of the next dawn. Certainly, hoaxers have concocted some of these patterns. Years ago, the infamous “Dave and Doug” claimed to have made practically all the British crop circles with ropes, boards and sights attached to their baseball caps— working overnight! Yet some of the circles range from three to six hundred feet in diameter, in open terrain beside high-traffic roads. Typically, no one sees them under construction.
The debate over the supernatural versus natural explanation continues to rumble along, as it does in virtually every mysterious phenomenon of this world. But from the biblical point of view, there is a good reason to examine the supernatural veracity of the phenomenon. Both now and in recorded history, they are places where the dark world of demonic power opens from time to time. The Bible marks them as places of dark and occultic worship. It even has a name for them.
For those who watch, they are always popping up where least expected. Recently, the world of the paranormal was preoccupied for a few weeks by the appearance of a complex “crop circle” that appeared yet again, in Wiltshire County. Speculation about the supernatural and the extraterrestrial became intense for a while.
The circle was about 330 feet in diameter, and featured a three-leaf center surrounded by a complex design, and a circle of strange letters from some exotic alphabet that at first, was said to be either an ancient Middle-Eastern alphabet or an occultic epigram. The thrill that this event might be of extraterrestrial origin rose to high levels for a few days. It was said to have appeared during a four-hour period between midnight and dawn. But the story fell through. It was merely a fraud—a hoax.
The witnesses had lied to publicize the event. The design had actually been put in place from mid-July to early August, 2016. About eight workers had been paid to produce the hoax in silence with a purpose—the “ancient” design turned out to be a modified logo for Mothership Glass of Bellingham, Washington, (see top right). It was simply a commercial for an art-glass factory, widely known for making expensive paraphernalia, used in the smoking of marijuana and other drugs. Apparently, a very large amount of money was paid for this ruse, meant to appear as an “actual” crop circle, concocted by supernatural aliens of some sort, thus connecting the manufacturer with the mystical world of the occult and the extraterrestrial.
This strange event raises an important question: Why perpetrate this hoax? Why would a company making equipment dedicated to “getting high” pay to portray themselves in the appearance of the supernatural? The answer is self-evident, and the Bible makes the connection clear.
In Revelation 9, the society alive during the Tribulation is described as practicing the constant pursuit of evil:
“Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (Rev. 9:21).
They kill, steal, commit sins of the flesh and practice “sorceries.” Here, we find that this word is translated from the Greek, “pharmakeia,” (think of the word pharmacy) clearly denoting the use of drugs. Among other things, these substances open doors into the dark world of the demonological and supernatural. It is quite easy to see why a company dedicated to drug use would amalgamate its name with a phenomenon—crop circles—known for its connection with the supernatural unknown. Its design evoked a connection with dark powers from beyond.
In the modern era, crop circles go back to a famous and often-quoted story printed in 1678, in a pamphlet dedicated to “Strange News out of Hartford-shire.” It tells of a farmer who was outraged by the high price charged by a laborer to mow his grain field. He loudly declared that he would rather have the devil mow it. That night, accompanied by strange flames, the field was mowed in a way “that no mortal man was able to do the like.
Thus was born the story of the “mowing devil.” In the centuries that followed, locals always attributed the appearance of strange circles in their grain crops as “mowing devils.” To this day, that description seems quite appropriate. Some see them as signs of a coming revelation.
“SIGNS” AND THE BIBLE
Motion pictures have become this generation’s bellwether. They are the predictor of future reality worth watching. Increasingly, they are preoccupied with the demonic—the supernatural masquerading as science fiction.
Popular entertainment almost always reflects deep, dark, subliminal truth. These days, prophetic warnings of the end times are becoming ever more visible in the popular media. Aliens and demons (two aspects of the same, dark world) populate the mass media in profusion.
To those who understand the full spiritual depth of the Bible, their presence foreshadows the days of judgment, when the underworld will be unleashed upon a defenseless world. Today’s paganism is allowing the dark world to reassert itself.
A few years ago, a popular motion picture called, “Signs,” suggested that “they” (extraterrestrials) are coming in force … whoever “they” are. The “signs” that it used to build a narrative were crop circles in a cornfield. Its dramatic fiction featured dark and evil invaders, demonic in nature, whose crop circles were only a foreshadowing of their intention to take over the world.
In actuality, the primary feature of this movie—crop circles—are more in line with the lying power of ancient pagan idolatry.
When reading the Bible, there is a tendency for us to look at man’s early behaviors, and think of them as having been extinguished forever. Actually, it is a truism that history repeats itself. The old becomes the new, over and over again. It has been said that individuals may grow old and wise; society grows neither old nor wise, but always remains in its infancy.
This is particularly true of society’s level of spiritual maturity. Again and again, with each passing generation, a recycled version of the ancient idolatries emerges to plague humanity all over again.
Today’s “modern” man thinks of himself as far too civilized to allow himself to fall into the obsolete pagan practices of archaic man. The worship of pagan gods who once demanded the sacrifice of infants is regarded as hopelessly old-fashioned. But today, the worldwide infant death toll from the “abortion machine” eclipses the numbers of Canaanite infant sacrifices.
Pagan idolatry is at an all-time high. It includes shamanism, divination, and clairvoyance through “spirit masters,” who are sending mankind mysterious messages through crystals, mediums and designs laid down in cereal crops. The latter are thought to be centers of great force.
The visible presence of such spiritist “power centers” evokes the memory of a phenomenon commonly evoked in the Old Testament as the basis of God’s judgment. In the language of the New Age, it would be termed paying homage to a place of spiritual command. Today, there are many such locations, literally numbering in the thousands. They may be an awe-inspiring location like the mountains around Boulder, Colorado, or Mount Fuji in Japan. They may be places of surpassing, mystical beauty, like the rocky canyons around Sedona, Arizona. They may be silent grottos or ancient monuments like Stonehenge, in England. The Druids there believe that it is a place of incredible energy and spiritual intensity.
In terms of geography, there is something in the heart of man that tends to link the craggy, windswept heights with a sense of religious significance. Although true worship may focus upon such places—like Mt. Sinai or the New Testament Mount of Transfiguration—paganism is often seen to appropriate such places for its rituals. The attainment of height meant separation from the commonplace of everyday life. As one drew nearer to the sky, there was the feeling of proximity to the dwelling places of the gods.
More than that, certain elevated places whether natural or manmade, were deemed “power points”—places where the presence of the gods was especially favorable. In the ancient days, they were points of contact for the spiritually impoverished, who sought favor and blessing.
In the Old Testament, there are many references to pagan worship and its association with so-called “high places.” When castigating his people for their pagan degradation, Ezekiel described their odious form of worship:
“20 Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, 21 That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them?” (Ezek. 16:20, 21).
His scathing denunciation of their behavior is linked to the detestable high places, which scar the spiritual landscape of the early Israelites.
In the same chapter of his prophecy, Ezekiel describes the form that their worship took. It was a place that gave forth a spiritual aura, chosen not by the Lord, but by the fleshly worship of the Canaanite tribes. Had the Lord’s will been followed, it would have been wiped out in the days of Joshua.
The Israelites illicit adoration of Ashtoreth, Molech, Baal and others, took the form that had earlier been established by the pagan societies in the region. In the same chapter, Ezekiel describes the common practice:
“23 And it came to pass after all thy wickedness, (woe, woe unto thee! saith the Lord GOD;) 24 That thou hast also built unto thee an eminent place, and hast made thee an high place in every street. 25 Thou hast built thy high place at every head of the way, and hast made thy beauty to be abhorred, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms” (Ezek. 16:23-25).
The troubled prophet also mentions how remarkably common and pervasive the practice had become. His people had totally embraced the false forms of worship formerly reserved only for those who didn’t know the Lord:
“In that thou buildest thine eminent place in the head of every way, and makest thine high place in every street; and hast not been as an harlot, in that thou scornest hire” (Ezek. 16:31).
The result of their debauchery would come in the severe judgments of the Babylonian captivity:
“38 And I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy. 39 And I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thine eminent place, and shall break down thy high places: they shall strip thee also of thy clothes, and shall take thy fair jewels, and leave thee naked and bare” (Ezek. 16:38, 39).
In the above passages, Ezekiel uses the Hebrew word, ramah, [to be high] to describe the pagan practice of finding natural elevations for shrines and idols. But there was far more than physical elevation in their worship. In fact, the concept of height was more of a spiritual expression than anything else. In these high places, the people felt that they were drawing near the gods. To be “high” was their way of expressing closeness to the world of the gods.
In modern language, we would more likely say that they were attempting to penetrate the veil between this world and the world of the spirits.
The apostasy of ancient Israel was simply breathtaking in its brazen practices. Idolatry of all kinds was common. Ritual sexual practices were virtually universal. Child sacrifice was considered perfectly acceptable. In all these practices, it was common to call upon the names of many, many other gods. To make matters worse, they know the opening words of the ten commandments, the first two of which expressly forbid appealing to any false god:
1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:1-6).
In spite of this warning, Israel had eagerly adopted the practices that they were charged to eliminate. In the centuries between Joshua’s entrance into the Promised Land and the foundation of David’s kingdom, the practice of building landscaped shrines on high ground became thoroughly established.
The books of I & II Kings refer to the high places with the word bamah, meaning “elevation” or “ridge.” Of this word, the Hebrew dictionary states, “… high places, as places of worship, at first on hills and mountains, later on artificial mounds or platforms, under green trees, and in cities; still later for the chapels erected thereon, and once apparently for a portable sanctuary … the ancient worship of Israel was conducted on these high places. In the times of Samuel and David they ascended to them, descended from them and offered sacrifices on them.” [Hebrew and English Lexicon, Brown, Driver, Briggs, p. 119]
THE HEIGHTS BECOME THE DEPTHS
Sometimes, bamah may simply refer to a topographical height; sometimes it refers to a mountain or hill, upon which a site of religious veneration is located. Occasionally, it is a location used in the legitimate worship of the Lord. Of course, the ultimate mount of worship is Mount Zion, the Holy Temple Mount, itself. In the prophecy of Ezekiel, Israel’s latter-day enemies refer to it, and other locations, as they plan their victory:
“1 Also, thou son of man, prophesy unto the mountains of Israel, and say, Ye mountains of Israel, hear the word of the LORD: 2 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the enemy hath said against you, Aha, even the ancient high places are ours in possession” (Ezek. 36:1,2).
In its original sense, Mt. Moriah is a location chosen by the Lord as the most revered location on the face of the Earth. Had Israel remained faithful to Him, it would be the only “High Place” in existence. Ezekiel darkly states that the sinners of the latter days would turn it into a pagan high place.
Israel did not remain faithful; instead they fell into apostasy. Even their kings began to wander away from the true faith, bringing their offerings before the false gods of Babylon, Egypt and Assyria. Solomon himself, fell into this evil practice:
“And Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places” (1 Ki. 3:3).
As difficult as it is to believe, Solomon—the wisest man in the world—began to honor the ancient gods of wood, clay, stone and bronze. The practices of their worshippers were debased in the extreme. They involved ritual prostitution, infant sacrifice and vicious, brutal and sadistic perversions:
4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. 7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon” (I Ki. 11:4-7).
Ultimately, Solomon turned Israel’s best side into a mockery of its former grandeur. Throughout the days of the Davidic monarchy, Israel repeatedly cycled through a series of cleansings, each followed by yet another descent into abomination. He even turned the priesthood of Levi into a shadow of its former holiness:
“And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi” (I Ki. 12:31).
In the days following Solomon’s reign, the term “high place” came to refer to a man-made platform, dedicated to one or another false gods. Formerly, the term bamah meant a natural height; now it described a place of spiritual abomination. In height, it was perhaps three or four feet above the surrounding terrain. Its prominence was judged by its perceived spiritual power.
THE GROVES OF ASHERAH
Solomon’s enormous power and wealth translated into debauchery on a grand—and international—scale. He formed political alliances among the surrounding pagan tribes by marrying the daughters of their high leaders. In the process, he imported their idolatrous religions. The practice accelerated after his death, as can be seen in the following brief account:
“21 And Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the LORD did choose out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. And his mother’s name was Naamah an Ammonitess. 22 And Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. 23 For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree” (I Ki. 14:21-23).
In the concluding verse of this report, we get a glimpse of the scope and size of the merger of various pagan idolatries into one great idea: the worship of the fertility goddess and her consort: the lord Baal.
And here we encounter a term that evokes the most severe revulsion in the study of biblical history. It is the Hebrew word asherah, usually translated as “grove” in the King James Bible. A study of grove worship brings the pagan practices of the Israelites into full focus. Their high places were exalted meeting places, where one could interact with the gods.
Actually, the word “grove” is more of a physical description of the worship site than a description of the religious tradition it evokes. These were places, as we would say in our present parlance, landscaped and preened to produce the feeling of oneness with nature.
Beautiful locations were chosen, then elevated stone altars were built to receive ritual productions and sacrifices. Trees and ornamental shrubbery were planted. Often, water gardens or fountains were featured. The effect, when completed, was that of a beautiful shrine, dedicated to the fertility goddess.
She was Asherah, a pagan Canaanite deity. In the formal practices of her adherents, she was the close consort of Baal. It is known that the grove was built around a wooden totem, or “sacred pole,” which was a personal representation of the goddess. Little is known of its actual appearance, but it was a manufactured item, as can be seen from the following Scripture:
“For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger” (I Ki. 14:15).
In her purest form, Asherah was a tree, worshipped at the center of a grove of trees. Historically, she came from the false worship of Babylon. Various historical sources identify her as a sea goddess.
Asherah and Baal correspond to the god and goddess image first seen in Ishtar and Tammuz. They were the husband and wife who, after the death and resurrection of the husband (Tammuz), became the mother and child. Throughout the ancient Middle East, they were seen again and again in the cultures of various countries.
In Egypt, they were Isis and Osiris. In Rome, Fortuna and Jupiter the child. In Greece, she was the mother goddess Ceres, with child.
JEZEBEL, PRIESTESS OF BAAL
When the corrupted King Ahab became ruler of Israel, he brought the combined worship of Baal and Asherah to its highest level. His wife, Jezebel came from the house of the king of Tyre, where she had been raised from childhood as a priestess of Baal. Their kingdom was based upon the premise that the spiritual influence of Baal and Asherah would give them unassailable power.
But the Lord raised up the prophet Elijah, who went forth in the authority of the Lord. He challenged the evil king and queen, and they responded in the famous incident on Mt. Carmel, then a high place for the combined priesthood of the evil god-couple, Baal and Asherah:
“17 And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? 18 And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim. 19 Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table” (I Ki. 18:17-19).
Note the huge numbers of false priests. These corrupted men ate at the king’s table, and were the recipients of his protection. In turn, Ahab felt that they would provide the spiritual cover for his kingdom. But Elijah, giving them a dose of their own medicine, invited them to their own high place, Mount Carmel. This beautiful spot had become befouled as a meeting place for false gods.
As the narrative of this historic meeting runs its well-known course, Elijah publicly humiliates them. In fact, they are rounded up and executed. The rains, which had been withheld from the land, now came in profusion. Jezebel swore that her servants would kill Elijah, but in the end, she was the victim of her own devices.
THE QUEEN OF HEAVEN
The Babylonian fertility goddess, Ishtar, became know as the Sumerian Astarte. Among the Canaanites, she was known as Ashtoreth, and was closely associated with Asherah. In fact, some sources say that the identities of the two became intertwined.
Ashtoreth, the companion of Baal, and Asherah the sea goddess of mythology who was Baal’s progenitoress, were worshipped in a composite religion. Its chief attribute was the blessing of fertility in people, animals and crops.
For literally hundreds of years, Israel and Judah placed their faith in these false idols. Occasionally, a king would arise and condemn their false practices. But in a few years, they would arise again.
The ten northern tribes of Israel fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. A little over a hundred years later, in 606 B.C., the prophet Jeremiah warned Judah that God’s judgment was imminent. Even at this later hour, Jeremiah encouraged them to mend their ways. But he cautioned that if they didn’t give up the worship of strange gods, they would be crushed as a people. Through him, the voice of the Lord gave a specific warning about the source of His disfavor:
“17 Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger” (Jer. 7:17,18).
The “queen of heaven” mentioned here is none other than the Ishtar/Astarte/ Ashtoreth who had for centuries been worshipped in the groves. She is the fertility goddess and lady of the consort-god Baal. Together, they were the lord and lady of every local culture.
From the days of the ancient Canaanites through the monarchies of David and Solomon and centuries later, in the time of Jeremiah, the obscene worship continued. The Jews were continually tempted to promote the ritual worship, in ways that are too crude to mention.
The baking of cakes in the above passage may, in fact, refer to the clay figurines made as ritual fertility totems. They were primitive representations of the female body, displaying exaggerated feminine features. To this day, Israeli archaeologists dig them up by the hundreds. They were used in worship, along with the other ritual practices that were in full form a thousand years before Jeremiah’s denunciation.
But even as Jeremiah reasoned with them, they rebuffed him. He continued to tell them that the Lord had come to the end of His patience, but they wouldn’t listen. In fact, they even argued that the blessings of the “queen of heaven” were superior to those that came from the lord Jehovah of their fathers:
“15 Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great multitude, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying, 16 As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. 17 But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. 18 But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine” (Jer. 44:15-18).
The incense and drink offerings that were poured out were identical to those of the grove worship in the days of Solomon. And here, the multitude were adamant in the face of Jeremiah’s condemnation. They were absolutely convinced that the fertility goddess would continue to bless them.
WHY DESTROY A PERFECTLY GOOD RELATIONSHIP?
And here, we ask a pressing question: After experiencing the blessing of the Most High God, why would Israel and Judah leave Him and go to other gods? The answer is obvious. They felt that the new gods could bestow power upon them. They had the power of fertility. The goddess queen gave them the false appearance of providing food and protection.
But most of all, they had the ritual sense of the supernatural. In the groves and high places, they felt the presence of the gods. Ancient historical texts speak volumes about the power and deceptive phenomena experienced by ancient pagans. Trances, clairvoyance, false visions and “magic” were only a few of the effects that were seen in demonic rituals. Grove worship was animistic at its heart. That is, it was believed that all nature was represented by gods … of the forest, the trees, the streams, the atmosphere, the clouds … even plants and stones. Spirits that the bible would clearly identify as demons were perceived to live in caves, rivers and the seashore.
The Gentile world had always worshipped such spirits, seeking their blessing and divine providence. It is indisputable that their psychic force was convincing to Israelites who gave up the worship of Jehovah, which required faith; the false gods apparently gave immediate gratification—satisfaction of the flesh.
As time passed, and Gentile rule over Israel shifted to the Persians, Greeks and Romans, grove worship mutated into the cult of the goddess Ashtoreth. She became personified as protector and provider. She is the fertility goddess whom Jeremiah called “the queen of heaven.”
Even during the height of pharisaical Judaism in the days of Herod’s Temple, her cult continued to be an influence among the Jews. In fact, before finally being covered in the dust of history, it survived well into the first centuries of the Christian Era.
Centuries passed, and the Church passed through wave after wave of cultic error, denominational feuding and the excesses of the Holy Roman Empire. Under the medieval papacy, the church ruled the world with an iron hand. Its powers were finally focused into a burgeoning, inclusive ecumenism. Within the last two centuries, the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception became institutionalized, worshiping her birth, not Jesus’. Then she began to be worshipped as the “queen of the nations,” and finally as she is today, “the queen of heaven.”
GROVES AND GROTTOS: MODERN HIGH PLACES
And now, we come to the present day. The worship of the goddess has been set aside for about the past eighteen hundred years. Or has it? In the contemporary world, we discover a modern phenomenon that bears a remarkable resemblance to the paranormal phenomena experienced at the ancient high places.
The first significant modern appearance of the long-suppressed “queen” took place in 1858, as a young girl named Bernadette Soubirous experienced eighteen trance-visions of the “Blessed Virgin Mary.” Her experiences shook France, then Europe and finally, the whole world.
They took place in the secluded and evocative Grotto of Massabielle, near the town of Lourdes. Bernadette reported that a divine lady appeared to her eighteen times. Each appearance, or “apparition,” as it came to be called, was accompanied by a supernatural prophetic message. When combined, the messages purported to tell the story of the end of the world.
Furthermore, pilgrims to the site discovered that, on occasion, they would experience miraculous healings and personal blessings. The bishop of Lourdes headed a commission of enquiry. His convocation ruled that the lady was ordained of God: “There is thus a direct link between the cures and the Apparitions, the Apparitions are of divine origin, since the cures carry a divine stamp. As a result, the Apparition that Bernadette saw and heard, calling herself the Immaculate Conception, is the Most Holy Virgin Mary! Thus we write: the finger of God is here.”
The lady of Lourdes paved the way for other apparitions. Some were minor and little noted; others were spectacular.
Perhaps the most noteworthy of them all took place at Fatima, Portugal in 1917. In another secluded grotto called Charneca de Fatima, three children— Lucia, 10, Francisco, 9, and Jacinta, 7— began to be visited by the divine lady.
Like Bernadette, they began to receive prophetic messages, which the lady urged them to carry to the leaders of their city. But no one else saw the apparition, and they were accused of concocting a fantastic story. The lady told them not to worry, that she would show proof of her reality to all who came on a certain date.
That date, September 13th, brought the miracle of the midday, dancing Sun. It had rained all day, and the thousands who came to see the sign were soaked to the skin. At three in the afternoon, the Sun began to spin and change color while lowering itself toward the crowd. Wet clothing was said to have suddenly become dry. It became a shining disc that came down to the ground. Might one speculate that witnesses identified this place as a circular site of power?
The crowd of thousands fell into ecstatic shock. The masses, both at the site and in the countries beyond, became instant believers in the virgin “queen of the nations.” Little Lucia received a lengthy set of messages from her. Purportedly, they told of the end of the world in specific detail.
These “prophecies” eventually made their way to the Vatican, where they were sealed. There have been promises to reveal them all at the proper time, but apparently, that time has never come.
In countries all over the world, such apparitions appear, usually to small children, although adult men and woman also report them. It is common for supplicants in the thousands to flock to the latest reported sites, possibly to receive their own personal miracles.
But in every case, the effect of these apparitions is to strengthen the cult of “the queen of heaven.” Those who have studied the phenomenon say that over the last century, the number of such appearances is approaching five hundred!
A couple of decades ago, before the war with Bosnia in the territory of Yugoslavia, it is estimated that over 30 million people visited the little town of Medjugorje to witness the phenomenon of the miraculous lady. There, three young children (this time, Yugoslavian) would regularly fall into a trance state, staring into open space, at what they said was the divine virgin. She gave them prophetic messages, which they relayed to the waiting crowds. The locations of these apparitions are frequently turned into instant shrines, where the faithful report divine manifestations, sightings, healings and revelations. Offerings are left in profusion. Sacrificial gifts of worship are common.
Though they have not yet achieved the full acceptance of ancient high places, they resemble them in virtually every way. The precedents have been set.
All that remains is the formalization of worship. But the groves of the ancient world are presently being reborn in the grottos of the modern era. It is as though the leaders of the dark world sense the arrival of the end of days. They know that their time is coming, and that evil is rising on a grand scale for only a very short time.
SEATS OF SUPERNATURAL POWER
All over the ancient world, there are circular mazes, altars and mounds. In the Golan Heights, there is an ancient stone circle that archeologists say must be at least four thousand years old. In Hebrew, It is called Gilgal Rephaim, “the Circle of the Giants.” The circle is huge— over five-hundred feet in diameter, and formed of four concentric rings of stones. (see diagram below)
These rings surround a circular stone altar. Originally, it must have been elevated at some height above ground level. It is estimated that over 37,000 tons of stones went into its construction! Why would the ancients have gone to the enormous lengths required to build such a center? Archaeologists haven’t a clue as to its use. The only conceivable answer is that they were paying homage to a god or gods, whom they deemed powerful and worthy.
In the Americas, mounds, stone circles and even pyramids were the high places of pagan worship. American Indians built hundreds of “medicine wheels,” stone circles associated with the zodiac, deemed as places where one could commune with the great spirit.
All over the world, we see hundreds of examples that show the length to which ancient men would go, in order to build shrines to their gods. Were they motivated by mere superstition, or did they receive visible proof that these gods were present?
The answer to this question is central to understanding the nature of idolatry. The bottom line is this: Men will do anything to cultivate power. And power is exactly the lure behind the mystique of the high place.
Proof of this simple fact can be found at today’s most active “power center.” It is the Avebury Neolithic Complex, which lies in the Wiltshire district of southern England. Its ancient high places are legendary. More than that, they are the focus of a phenomenon that has captured the world’s imagination.
The Avebury Circle is really a complex association of circles. The largest is made of standing stones. Its diameter is slightly over fourteen-hundred feet! Outside this large circle is a continuous ditch about twenty feet deep! In its construction, over 40 tons of stones were moved, along with millions of cubic feet of earth.
Inside the outer circle are two smaller circles, situated side by side. Not far from the Avebury Circle is Windmill Hill, site of a smaller worship circle. All of these are the remains of ancient high places in Britain. They predate history, but are known to be centers of veneration.
Not far away from Avebury is the intriguing monument, well-known as Stonehenge. It, too, is in Wiltshire. Its outer earthwork is a circle of about 330 feet in diameter. Another smaller circle of chalk-filled holes is concentric with the outer one. Near the center is another circle of blue stones.
But it is at the very center that one finds the famous Sarsen Circle. About 108 feet in diameter, it consists of vertical stones, capped by stone lintels that are 13 feet above the ground. In its original condition, it was a complete, paved, circular wall of massive stones. Though archaeologists have tried to depict it as ancient man’s astronomical observatory, it is really a worship center. In fact, it was the ultimate classic high place.
To emphasize this fact, England’s modern pagans, the Druids, have appropriated Stonehenge and its nearby ancient monuments, in the belief that they are centers of mystical power. On their so-called “holy” days, they flock to these spots to enact the centuries-old rituals of their pre-Christian forefathers.
For the last two-and-a-half centuries, various pagan groups, including the Druids, have risen to prominence in England, even as Christianity has waned. Some time ago, even the leader of the Church of England has been inducted into their ranks!
Dr. Rowan Williams, (above) the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, is regarded as radical and notoriously liberal, even by other liberals. With full knowledge of the facts, he ordained a homosexual priest. He openly challenged the historical restraints that the church has placed upon various practices deemed immoral. In the first week of August, 2002, he was inducted as a Druid in the “Gorsedd of the Bards.” He comes from Wales, not far from the site of numerous ancient monuments.
Much in the manner of the ancient Israelites, modern man systematically departs from the worship of the Lord, drifting slowly into another zone of power—the gods of forest and fen, brook and mountain.
Near Stonehenge is another circle. It is called Woodhenge, and seems to have served the same religious function as its larger neighbor. But in today’s post-Christian England, all the sites are receiving a new energy.
CIRCLES OF POWER
It is important to note that the circles, altars, and mounds in the Wiltshire region are closely connected with a phenomenon that has gained international attention since the mid- 1990s. Crop circles by the hundreds appear in grain fields that lie between Avebury and Silbury in the north, and Stonehenge and Woodhenge in the south. There is hardly a human being alive who isn’t aware of the crop circle debate. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, motion picture producers regard the phenomenon as genuine.
Farmers began to notice the circles in the early 1990s. Near harvest time, stalks of grain were bent to the ground without being broken. Evidence of heating was seen at the bends in the stalks. But even though flattened, the crops continued to grow. Witnesses marveled at the sweeping vortices of grain within the circles.
Some hoaxers, like Dave and Doug, constantly claim that they’ve done the mischievous work. Others said that the beautiful and geometrically-perfect designs were beyond human capability.
The famous “Windmill Hill” formation was a miracle of art and engineering. Examination and inquiries established that it must have been executed within about a two-hour period. It was over 900 feet in diameter!
In 1997, a mathematical and geometric marvel of overlaid triangles appeared in a field at the foot of Silbury Hill. It was 350 feet in diameter, outlined by a border of 126 small, perfect circles. Silbury has been the site of many formations … complicated combinations of circles and glyphs that many interpret as an arcane communication from aliens. Of course, they think of “space aliens.” But biblical aliens—the fallen angels—are capable of this work, and of posing as demigods.
Still, men reason that aliens from an outer-somewhere-else in the galaxy are now visiting Earth. Rather than create global hysteria by suddenly revealing themselves, they are slowly acclimatizing mankind to their presence. They are doing this by gradually increasing the size and complexity of their bizarre circular constructions.
We would urge a single question: Are these “space aliens,” or are they the old gods who, in the absence of the Lord’s blessing are reasserting themselves? Fallen angels and demons offer the best explanation of the current crop of paranormal phenomena. Lights in the sky, abductions, energy fields and psychological distortions are all symptomatic of the dark world.
For decades, cults of “believers” congregate at new crop formations. Crop circle analysts, terming themselves “cerealologists,” regularly study the phenomenon, documenting the newest developments, and reporting them to the faithful.
Visitors to freshly-made sites report feelings of electricity, tingling, strange noises, ringing—even the sound of a distant choir! Some claim to have experienced visions while standing at the center of the circles.
One might argue that it is too much to make a connection between the ancient stone circles and the new crop circles. Quite the contrary, it is easy to see the ancients, memorializing sites of frequent crop activity by setting them in stone.
The ways of the demonic world have a remarkably consistent appearance. Their contemporary ways are the same as their ancient ones. The only thing they change is the external appearance they use to fool the gullible.
To the ancients, they took the acceptable form of the old gods: Baal, Ashtoreth, Diana, Isis and others. To the modern “scientific” thinkers, they present themselves as super-scientific aliens, able to travel from one star system to another.
To the religious, they may present themselves as the virgin “queen of heaven.” To neopagans, they are the ascended masters of a higher dimension.
In any case, they invite the worship of the faithful, some of whom are convinced that the world is about to be destroyed by an environmental crisis, a nuclear war or a wayward asteroid.
But to Christians, the mysterious entities are the enemy, a distraction from the true faith. Through study and spiritual preparedness, we know that regardless of their appearance, they are always the same:
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).
With a few cosmetic alterations, the new high places are the same as the old. The real truth is this: They tell us that judgment is near at hand.
As we study prophecy, we attempt to familiarize ourselves with trends and historical markers. Arbiters of biblical interpretation often remind us that we must be cautious about reading too much into current events. They tell us that the timing of the Church Age is not connected in Scripture to any specific event of future history.
And although the Seven Churches of Revelation do, to some degree, lay out a historical pattern, they don’t reveal events that can be used to time the arrival of future events.
Over the years, we have noted in various ways, that while Israel is connected to geography and politics, the Christian Church is not. In a profound way, it operates independent of the pre-ordained steps that Israel is taking toward the millennial Kingdom.
Nevertheless, the Apostles wrote that toward its end, the Church would sink into apostasy and worldliness:
“3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (II Pet. 3:3,4).
These “scoffers” are the legions of latter-day atheists, agnostics and humanists, who absolutely deny any such thing as the “word of God.” In their view, the Bible is a concoction of human tales and speculations. Faithful believers, however, know that God’s absolute power over His creation is well documented, and His word can unleash the fire of judgment. It has in the past, and is prophesied to come forth again:
“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (II Pet. 2:9).
A NEW “RELIGION”
On this note, it is interesting that for almost a century, the world has witnessed the rapid growth of a new belief system that conceives itself as the successor to Christianity. It calls itself a religion! Its leaders would like to take upon themselves the mantle traditionally reserved for the church. Its rapid growth may provide a valuable clue in the discernment of end-time prophecy.
In their epistles, Paul and the other Apostles presented the body of Christ as a great mystery to the intelligentsia of the world. Secular historians and humanist philosophers view it in terms of political and economic theories. Certainly, liberal humanists do not understand its nature. They fail to comprehend that it is a Spirit-led movement.
Nevertheless, for their own purposes, they seek to imitate its outward appearance. Some have labeled this new religion, “secular fundamentalism.” Its emergence presents us with a significant sign that we live in the end times.
To the greatest degree possible, we watch for developments that would suggest that His day is approaching, and that soon, He will catch away the living remnant of the church. One of the signs of the end is given as growing apostasy. It is not foolish to watch these signs. In fact, the Apostles urged watchfulness:
“12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12,13).
Paul’s letter to Titus was written about seven years before the destruction of the Herodian Temple. Nevertheless, he includes the above exhortation to look for the coming of Jesus and the rapture of the church. Centuries ago, he defined the theological posture of the redeemed, as they await His coming. But in those long-ago days, only the Lord knew that the dark ages, reformation, machine age, missionary movements and world wars would pass before Israel’s latter-day regathering. We view this tiny country as God’s timepiece. We now know that the reestablished state of Israel warns of the near approach of the Lord’s judgment. The Apostles knew only that the redeemed were to remain watchful in the general sense.
In the context of the Great Tribulation, Luke records Jesus’ Olivet discourse, placing special emphasis upon awareness. Though His exhortation is directed toward a Jewish audience, Christians also watch and pray as we look forward to the“blessed hope.”
“34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. 35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34-36).
From this and other prophecies about the Day of the Lord, we know that it will come with frightful suddenness. There will be no time to prepare, either physically or spiritually. The wise will be ready.
THE TERMINAL CHURCH
As we have often stated, the greatest of all end-time signs is the existence of the modern state of Israel. It is one of two central features of Old Testament prophecy: They are the Messiah and Israel. His first and second coming are intimately attached to Israel’s possession of the Land. But of the church, it is stated that there are no real prophetic guideposts along the prophetic timeline. While Israel’s apostasies, captivities, dispersions and victories have clear connections with world history, there are no similar markers for the true church.
It is never predicted to acquire designated land holdings or political power. It is never related to geography, or to events of the calendar. Its holidays are not legal proscriptions, as are the Jewish festivals. Its two main OBSERVANCES – Easter and Christmas – are held at different times, depending upon a variety of traditions. Nor are they mandatory observations … just TRADITIONAL.
In Revelation, the description of the church of Laodicea reveals the declining state of the Church, just before the rapture:
“14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. 21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. 22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches” (Rev. 3:14-22).
This is the end-time church of self-sufficiency. It is characterized as wealthy, indifferent to doctrine and unable to see the truth. Of course, types of all seven churches will exist in the last days, but it seems accurate to say that the Laodicean belief system will dominate.
If the church can be said to have a calculable duration on earth, it is only by inference from prophecies specifically spoken about the Jews and Israel. One good example is found in Hosea, where a time period of “two days” is mentioned in connection with Messiah’s return:
“5 I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early. 1 Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight” (Hosea 5:15-6:2).
In Hosea’s forecast, the Lord is prophesied to revive Israel after two days. From the perspective of the “millennial-day” theory, this span of time is commonly thought to be a figure of speech that represents two thousand years.
Thus it is inferred that the length of the church age will be around two thousand years, plus or minus some unknown length of time. But once again we see that this timeline is attached to Israel, and only indirectly applies to the church. The “us” represented in Hosea 6:1 is Israel.
But with regard to prophecy describing the church, there is really no specific event to watch for, and that would seem to be the end of the matter. We are left with no way to positively and accurately tell the prophetic time in the body of Christ. With nothing to watch for, is watching a waste of time? Absolutely not, since the doctrine of Christ’s imminent return strongly urges us to be alert to the possibility of His arrival. We therefore watch, in the same sense that the followers of the Apostles watched in the first century. Paul addressed the Thessalonians, complimenting them on their indefatigable witness for Christ. In the following verses, he praises them for the quality of their converts:
“9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9,10).
Notice that in addition to approving their zeal, he also mentions the other outcome of faith … the patient and watchful observance of Christ’s anticipated return … prior to the time of God’s wrath. Thus, their faith has an external (evangelistic) and an internal (conviction) result.
Even in the first century, they were watching. They are given to us as a model of faith and observant patience. But there were darkening clouds on their horizon. The idolatry of the Roman state and the insidious diluting effect of Greek philosophy rose as obstacles to the faith.
A WORSENING PREDICAMENT
We must stress that we don’t view their watchfulness as futile, even though they didn’t see Christ’s return. Instead, we see it as the purifying focus of their faith. Furthermore, our grasp of history and prophecy dwarfs their parochial view. From our perspective, Israel has been scattered over the face of the earth, and regathered. Both ends of this action were actualized by the bellicose march of Gentile nations. The Caesars of the first century and the Kaisers of the twentieth were instruments of God’s will.
Today, we have literacy, history and media on our side. As the prophet Daniel predicted for “the time of the end” (12:4), knowledge has increased mightily. His prophecy foresaw the massive, exponential growth of technology and communications. It includes billions of unbelievers.
Even though no specific signs are given for the close of the church age, we are not totally without a prophetic compass where it is concerned. We know that over its prophesied lifetime, certain key developments are delineated. Among these, is the rise of secular power.
In fact, there may be one set of signs which, when carefully observed, yields a fairly accurate view of the church’s closing days. The Apostles wrote concerning the spiritual quality of the end-time church. Their observations are complex, but show a discernible pattern that seems tied to our times.
THE LONG DECLINE
They painted a word picture of a church that would grow more and more corrupt as time went by, finally culminating in a more or less complete apostasy. Thus, those watching the progressive decay of the church, now do so on the basis of two thousand years of history. From our current perspective, we can discern the degree to which the church has fallen away from the Apostles’ doctrine and order.
We look back upon the history of collapsing Apostolic zeal that characterized the second century. In the third and fourth centuries, church fathers wrestled with bizarre allegorical interpretations of Scripture, Gnostic heresies, fraudulent insertions of forged pseudo-scripture, and a variety of opinions about what should be considered the canon of the New Testament.
Then came the state church, aligned with the kings of the “Holy Roman Empire.” It devised a system of works in which one’s status before king and church became entangled in a convoluted assortment of rules and laws and rigorous strictures. They kept the serfs in bondage and the church in wealth.
In his pastoral epistles, Paul plainly predicted this descent into state-run despotism. He foresaw that the church would fall under the oppressive pall of politics and strange prohibitions. In his first letter to Timothy, he wrote the following words about A.D. 51. Four hundred years later, the church of the so-called Holy Roman Empire had been seduced into accepting all of the following heresies:
“1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:1-4).
DEFINING THE “LAST DAYS”
Augustine of Hippo, the theological doctor of the Roman church, was a religious eclectic. He incorporated aspects of Persian Manichaeanism (worship of angelic spirits), Buddhism (asceticism and universal consciousness) and neoplatonism (the spiritualization of Christ) into the formal church. He redefined salvation, not as relationship with God through Christ, but as conformity to the rule of the church—global and local. He set the stage for monasticism and its accompanying variations on asceticism and celibacy.
A new priesthood inserted itself between God and man. The hapless and illiterate plowman of the time believed what he was told, with virtually no access to Latin Scriptures, which were tightly closed to all but the literati.
And so, the descent into the Dark Ages saw the complete fulfillment of Paul’s words. His term, “latter times,” might well have been stated as, “the centuries immediately following the death of the Apostles.” In other words, they were fulfilled long before the end of the church age. From the days of Paul to the present time, the normal behavior in the age of the church has been a steady drift in the direction of false doctrine.
Often, watchful Christians speak of the “last days” as perhaps the closing days of the church age. But this definition attaches a specific definition to a term that is more general. The following verse provides a good example of this idea:
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1).
Here, the word “perilous” is a translation of the Greek, chalepos, meaning ragingly insane, or characterized by intense violence. Given the history of the political and social church, this condition has occurred many times, right from its beginning. The gardens of Nero were lit by Christians, burned as garden torches. They were fed to beasts and martyred in every conceivable manner. Such bitter treatment included even the Apostles, so soon after Christ’s death and resurrection. Evil persecutions continued down through the Middle Ages, the Reformation and beyond. In every way, their persecutors were possessed of a violent insanity – the same kind of insanity that took Christ to Golgotha.
Clearly, the “last days” are all the days of the church age. Just prior to the destruction of the Temple, the writer to the Hebrews even made a point of introducing his epistle with a statement of the times. He referred to this period with the familiar term:
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
“Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1,2).
If the “last days” are to be considered a norm for the entire age of the church, then how are we to discern developments pertinent to its closing days? It is perfectly obvious that virtually every type of apostasy has been manifested in the last twenty centuries. But a careful scrutiny of history reveals one interesting fact. The greatest of all apostasies did not rise to prominence until well into the twentieth century. If we can identify it in Scripture, then we have a marker attached to the end-time church. It will help us see just how close we are to Christ’s coming.
AN END-TIME BELIEF SYSTEM
The era of the church has encompassed a variety of false beliefs, coupled with numerous attempts to dilute or subvert its key doctrines. Even while the Apostles were alive, they battled a variety of heresies, ranging from the cult of the Caesars and the Babylonian Mystery religions, to bizarre offshoots of Judaism.
Gnosticism, allegorical mythology, fraudulent “gospels,” spiritualism, corrupt priesthoods, cults, and false theologies have raged on since the Apostolic age. They all depended upon different interpretations of God. None of those denied His very existence … that is, until technology and science produced the belief that the universe started itself, and that man evolved from a broth of available earthly chemicals.
This doctrine—originally called humanism—is the ultimate apostasy. It became codified in the period between World Wars I and II. Its declarations appear in the Humanist Manifestos I and II, and first appeared in The New Humanist, May/June 1933 (Vol. VI. No. 3). The following quote is from its introduction, written by Paul Kurtz:
“In 1933 a group of thirty-four liberal humanists in the United States defined and enunciated the philosophical and religious principles that seemed to them fundamental [boldface added]. They drafted Humanist Manifesto I, which for its time was a radical document. It was concerned with expressing a general religious and philosophical outlook that rejected orthodox and dogmatic positions and provided meaning and direction, unity and purpose to human life. It was committed to reason, science, and democracy.”
It is fascinating that humanism is here said to have come into its own around a core belief system of fundamental elements. In the years since, humanists have often uttered their scorn for Christian fundamentalism. Yet, ironically, their own system began as a fundamentalist movement. Perhaps atheists are the real fundamentalists!
THE NEW RELIGION
The opening paragraph of the first Humanist Manifesto presents itself as a signal moment in history. According to its view, as expressed in the preamble, Christianity has failed:
“The time has come for widespread recognition of the radical changes in religious beliefs throughout the modern world. The time is past for mere revision of traditional attitudes. Science and economic change have disrupted the old beliefs. Religions around the world labor with the task of coming to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience. In every field of human activity, the vital movement is now in the direction of a candid and explicit humanism. In order that religious humanism may be better understood we, the undersigned, desire to make certain affirmations which we believe the facts of our contemporary life demonstrate.”
Here the humanist—vintage 1933—declares that traditional, orthodox religions are now insufficient to deal with modern challenges. He asserts that knowledge has increased to the point that traditional religions are insufficient to deal with modern problems.
Humanism grew out of the twentieth-century revolution in Western civilization. It is a noxious weed that sprouted from the influence of relativistic science, socialist economics and the cynicism of liberal Christianity. Implicit in its statement is the thought that modern man is more intelligent than the tribal ancients who confabulated their village tales, finally codifying them as Holy Writ. It rejects their God as whimsical, arbitrary and capricious.
In short, the humanist asserts that the “old beliefs” are outmoded. Modern man must create his own religion. This is overtly stated as the introductory remarks continue:
“There is a great danger of a final, and we believe fatal, identification of the word religion with doctrines and methods which have lost their significance and which are powerless to solve the problem of human living in the Twentieth Century.”
Then comes the conclusion:
“Today, man’s larger understanding of the universe, his scientific achievements, and his deeper appreciation of brotherhood, have created a situation which requires a new statement of the means and purposes of religion. Such a vital, fearless, and frank religion capable of furnishing adequate social goals and personal satisfaction may appear to many people as a complete break with the past. While this age does owe a vast debt to traditional religions, it is none the less obvious that any religion that can hope to be a synthesizing and dynamic force for today must be shaped for the needs of this age. To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present. It is a responsibility which rests upon this generation. We therefore affirm the following:”
At this point, the Manifesto presents a list of fifteen principles for the new humanist, the first of which is an overt rejection of Genesis. The following are only a few selections from among its published principles:
“First: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”
Its second principle denies that man was created by God:
“Second: Humanism believes that man is a part of nature, and that he has emerged as the result of a continuous process.”
Here of course, is tacit approval of the Darwinian hypothesis that man evolved from a lower-order being to a higher order. God had no part in the “process.” Going along with this philosophical stance, the third principle denies man’s soul and spirit:
“Third: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.”
In other words, a human being is a physical creature who evolved through natural processes, and whose consciousness is derived from a physical brain and nervous system. This results in the conclusion that this physical life is all there is. Principle number eight actually states this premise:
“Eighth: Religious humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now. This is the explanation of the humanist’s social passion.”
Taken together, the fifteen principles of Humanist Manifesto I deny God, deny man’s spiritual nature, exalt science and secular thought, ridicule prayer and any supernatural phenomenon. Its principles call for the dismantling of religious orders, yet curiously, it labels itself as a religion! They substitute an economic order as the answer to man’s problems. This is stated in the fourteenth principle.
“Fourteenth: The humanists are firmly convinced that existing acquisitive and profit-motivated society has shown itself to be inadequate and that a radical change in methods, controls, and motives must be instituted. A socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible. The goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good. Humanists demand a shared life in a shared world.” The ancient Greek idea of a Utopian society rises again.
PAUL COMMENTS ON GENTILE IDOLATRY
Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with a powerful assertion of Gentile guilt. Recounting their idolatry, he recites a litany of offenses that had, up to his time, been committed by the Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks and Romans. They had all shared a basic perversion, based upon the worship of idols:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23).
Paul begins with the premise that humankind is deserving of judgment, then proceeds to offer a beautifully concise description of the manner in which they fell from the knowledge of God. In the beginning, God revealed Himself to them. Following that, Paul relates the obvious fact that the creation, itself, is a clear witness of God’s power and authority.
Their failure was simple. They refused to glorify God. Because of man’s basic nature, this resulted in what is termed “vain imagination,” the substitution of human hypotheses about God’s creation. In the case of the Mesopotamian and Graeco-Roman cultures, this meant the glorification of ancient antediluvean demigods and their lesser companions.
According to their own histories (Hesiod and others), the Greeks and Romans even believed that the demons were their friends! On his missionary journeys, Paul decried Greek philosophy, goddess worship and even confronted the worship of Caesar, who was declared to be a god. But in all their idolatry, even the Romans never fell to the worship of humanity, itself. That descent awaited the contemptuous pessimism of the twentieth century.
Paul wrote the introduction of his letter to the Romans on the basis of past idolatry. But his condemnation cuts through the center of today’s new humanism. In particular, when he wrote that fallen man worships, “… an image made like to corruptible man …,” he precisely targeted humanism’s central premise.
PAUL’S CHARGE TO TIMOTHY
It was Paul’s deepest desire that the leadership of the church be built upon the centerpiece of sound doctrine. It was his passion, and he viewed this as the only defense against the encroachment of various idolatries.
When he wrote to Timothy, he charged the young pastor to teach in the context of Christ’s coming, and to watch Him, rather than the world:
“That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:14-21).
Carefully notice that Paul contrasts the light of God with the wealth of this world. In particular, he focuses on the
By their own words and behaviors, they expose themselves as the ones called “scoffers” in Peter’s second epistle:
“This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance:
“That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour:
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, “And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
“For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
“Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
“But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:1-8).
Secular fundamentalists are activists, constantly seeking ways to suppress orthodox Christian beliefs. They advocate the use of state power to accomplish this. Not only do they deny the presence and purpose of God, they believe that they have a mandate to restructure the world in their own image.
Their fanaticism knows no bounds. Though they may not actually use the phrase, “New World Order,” it rings through all their documents. They are not at all shy about declaring that they intend to force their secular fundamentalist beliefs upon the entire world … whether it is wanted or not.
Their presence is now an international phenomenon. Their tentacles reach to the halls of power in every capital of the Western Alliance, and to Russia and China in the east. They measure their progress by the redistribution of the world’s wealth, rejecting the human need for spiritual salvation. They believe that Christian salvation is “harmful.” At this point, all they really need is to get the church out of the way. They may soon get their wish. And one thing more—they need a powerful man to unite the world around their principles. Their active presence tells us that we are very close to the end of the church age, and the belief system of the Laodiceans.
Each day brings us closer to the day of resurrection … the rapture of the Church. Certainly, there is nothing new about this, except for the accumulation of critical indicators. Mystery Babylon is poised to rise again, national Israel becomes daily more resolute and the Middle East is positioning itself along the lines of biblical prophecy. Russia and Iran (old Persia) are at the forefront of agitation. Most especially, the world is increasingly characterized by raging apostasy. Our reason for excitement is much greater than in past generations.
Since the days of the Apostles, Christians have watched for the return of the Lord with great expectancy. Paul even wrote to the Thessalonians, warning them against misguided agitators, who were spreading false information that God’s judgment (the Tribulation) had already begun! Essentially, these foolish “authorities” were throwing cold water on the greatest hope given to the Church.
And this was around AD 51! It would be well over ten years before Paul finished and circulated his complete teaching about the life and destiny of the Body of Christ, the Church. We should never forget that from the very beginning of the Church Age, believers have been frustrated, confused and puzzled about the order of prophetic events.
It is the business of Satan and his minions to sow the seeds of confusion. Furthermore, there are many “church authorities,” who present themselves as eschatological experts, and are quite bombastic about naming particular dates or windows of time for the rapture.
In the past, the subject of the rapture has waned almost to the level of being forgotten for a little while. Then, for a variety of reasons, interest in it rises again. Occasionally, it escalates to the point that it becomes a vital issue, with accompanying emotion and vitriolic disagreement. At each peak, several competing camps weigh in upon the matter, bombarding each other with proof texts and theoretical challenges.
We seem to have reached such a peak again, when many have established prophetic proofs, measured by a number of standards, which we shall discuss later in this article.
Something we often recall is the year 1988, when a variety of “proofs” were published. This was the year that brought us the ubiquitous little white booklet (3.2 million copies), with its distinctive red-letter title, offering “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.”
This particular year also happened to be a year of great excitement among Christians. About two decades before, in 1967, Israel had won a war that allowed them to reclaim the Temple Mount, if only briefly. Then, in 1973, fighting against astronomical odds, Israel had won the “Yom Kippur” war. To prophetic observers, it seemed that Israel was favored by the Lord, and poised to take charge and reclaim the land grant that God promised Abraham. The mechanism of this process is clearly described by the Old Testament prophets.
In 1988, excitement rose to fever pitch. It had been forty years since Israel’s statehood in 1948 – forty years, the number of testing! Many of the faithful expected the Lord’s return in that year … soon!
ARE WE THERE?
And here, a fine distinction must be made by those who expect the any-moment return of the Lord. There is a big difference between “soon” and “imminent.” The former means that something will come within the lifetime of the believer, sooner rather than later.
But the Bible speaks of Christ’s return for the Church as happening imminently – at any moment – without the necessity of any event coming to pass between the present time and His coming.
In the middle of the first century, the Apostle Paul taught his early followers that the Lord might return at any moment, perhaps in the next few seconds. No prophecy needed to be fulfilled before this coming. This is referred to as the doctrine of imminency.
For example, he writes in the present tense as he refers to faith of the believers in Thessalonica, assuring them:
“9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; 10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (I Th. 1:9,10).
The verb tense that Paul uses here intends the assurance of the continuous present, as spoken in modern English: “Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” In other words, he wants those then alive to be watching for the rapture, which he presents as imminent. Paul uses such language repeatedly. This is demonstrated again and again. Here is another quote that comes a little later in the same letter:
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?” (I Th. 2:19).
Here, Christ’s coming for the Church (the rapture) is a promise, which those then alive would take personally, as applying directly to them. Paul never spoke of the rapture as an event in the far future, but as a distinct and real possibility that might occur within the lifetime of any believer who read his letters.
Returning to the year 1988 and the word “soon,” most of us can clearly recall that around this time preachers around the world began to proclaim, “Jesus is coming soon!” Certainly, they also believed that He might come imminently. But, soon? That implied an arrival within the next few years. Certainly, there was nothing wrong with their level of expectation. Given world events and the prophetic truths of the end times such excitement was – and still is – perfectly justifiable.
(Incidently, this current year has witnessed the appearance of another little white booklet with a red-letter title: “17 REASONS Why the Rapture Will Be on September 22nd, 2017.” This date happens to fall on the second day of Rosh HaShanah, at the beginning of the Jewish New Year, 5778).
But to say that He is coming soon is far different from saying that His coming is imminent. Why were they making this proclamation? Clearly, they had picked up on clues that linked developments in Israel with the teachings of the prophets. Then and now, prophesied events in the Land of the Bible are developing on a daily basis.
The Middle East is a boiling pot of conflict, and the nations at the center of the action are all mentioned in prophecy. Iran (Persia), Iraq (old Babylon), Kuwait, Saudi Arabia (Sheba and Dedan), Syria (Damascus), Egypt, Libya, Ethiopia and others are all prominently mentioned in Scripture. And they are all falling under the control of the master plan that has long been the dream of the Islamic Brotherhood, that is, the destruction of Israel.
Most of all, Russia is moving southwest, to Crimea and Ukraine. Moreover, governments throughout the region have been contacted by this great power to the north. Russia has offered them “aid” as it wraps its tentacles around their oil wealth and strategic locations. Of course, that “aid” includes military pacts and armaments that will fuel the great wars predicted by several Old Testament prophets.
Will the Church go through these wars? It may or may not see their opening phases, but will most likely not see their full advance; their most extreme horror is reserved for the Apocalypse, when the church will be absent from this Earth. With believers’ global influence gone, secular powers can be brought to their fullness. All of this is perfectly in keeping with the idea that the Church might be caught away at any moment.
FORTY, THE NUMBER OF TESTING
The 1988 rapture theory offered many hopeful scenarios – mathematical, calendrical or Scriptural – that made the rapture a sure thing in that year. But at their core, each of these systems were driven by the fact that modern Israel, founded on May 14th, 1948, had arrived at its fortieth birthday. Israel, God’s timepiece, had gone through its modern “wilderness march,” and would now arrive at the promised Land, meaning that it was highly probable that the Church would be taken out of the way so that the events of the end times could come to culmination. Scriptures like the following were referenced: “After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise” (Num. 14:34).
All the mathematics and biblical proofs for the 1988 rapture were driven by this simple Scriptural truth … and they were wrong. But there is nothing wrong with being watchful. In fact it is encouraged. In Paul’s own reassuring words:
“4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 5:4-9).
The rapture discussion has been hotly argued for over a century now. It began in earnest in the 1870s, when the land of Israel began to be repopulated with Jews. The revivals and missionary movements of that time brought the First Zionist Congress of 1897. Foreseeing the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, Jews and Christians worked together. As Israel returned to the Land, the rapture began to loom large as a real possibility.
The idea of a pretribulation rapture began to be taught in earnest. Others (preterists) rose to say that it would be impossible, because the Tribulation has already taken place … long ago, in the first century. Still others (posttribulationists) taught that yes, the Tribulation lies ahead, but the Church is scheduled to pass through it, enduring its rigors to the end … its entire seven years. Others (midtribulationists) say that no, the Church will only go through the first three-and-a-half years of this horrific period, not the violent wracking tortures of the second half. And the discussion will no doubt continue, with varying degrees of passion.
Following the 1988 disappointment, a new group (pre-wrath) arose to say that the Church would experience everything but the last year or two of the Tribulation … missing only God’s full wrath, which they reckon to be limited to that short time.
Why is there such disagreement upon a subject that seems so clearly laid out? Paul writes, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Th. 5:9). The “salvation” mentioned here is not the initial receiving of Christ by the believer, but the act of being removed from the earth before the Tribulation. Still, there is a great misunderstanding of the rapture. And His wrath begins with the opening of the first seal.
At this point, we’re going to ask a question that’s not often discussed.
WHY IS THERE A RAPTURE AT ALL?
Why has God planned a removal of the Church from the Earth? If the Lord is coming back to set up His Kingdom (which He certainly is), why doesn’t He simply return, resurrect the righteous dead and proceed with it from that point? Why would He bring the righteous – both living and dead – upward into the air at the rapture, when all He would have to do is resurrect believers at His Second Coming?
This raises still another question. At the Second Coming, who will serve at His throne as His earthly representatives? Those steeped in “supercessionism” – that is, replacement theology – say it will be the Church, which has superseded Israel.
In that case, what happens to the twelve tribes of Israel, and all the prophecy that speaks of their priesthood, rising to service again in the end times? And what are we to do with the Antichrist’s temple, mentioned by Daniel, Jesus and Paul? It must be administered by an Israelite priesthood, not the Church. The evil one is able to convince the Jews that He is their Messiah. Where would Christians fit in this scheme? Answer: They would not fit at all.
Do the passages that speak of the rapture (I Thessalonians, Chapter 4) also speak of Jesus establishing His throne at the Second Coming? They do not. Actually, they speak of a coming judgment, coming just after the rapture. But why is there a rapture
Many deride the rapture as a “great escape,” and claim that it misleads Christians, who should be preparing for toughening times, but instead, are living in the vain hope that before times get really horrible, they will be taken from this earth. These critics teach that the concept of the pretribulational rapture was invented out of whole cloth in the nineteenth century, never having been taught before that. They are partly correct; the rapture was taught in the early Church, but the rapture was not taught while Israel was in exile. Once the Jews returned, the rapture question began to be emphasized once again.
Still, they scoff at Christians whom they perceive as naively believing in such an escape. For them, the rapture is a denial of the Lord’s ability to take the well-prepared Christian through the perilous times that lie just ahead.
2. Is the rapture holding off until the last sinner to be saved, has been added to the Church?
Some teach that the rapture operates on some kind of “quota system.” They believe that the timing of the rapture is dependant upon a certain number of saints, predestined to salvation, who must be saved before the Church can be taken out of the world. When that number is reached, the Lord will give the word. Then, the rapture will take place. These people can be heard to say, “When the last saint is saved, the Church will be taken home.”
This idea makes the rapture completely dependent upon the Church. It says, in effect, that there is no real reason for the rapture, and it makes the timing of the Tribulation rely upon the development of the Church. Under this thinking, one might even come to believe that the faster we get Christians saved, the sooner the rapture will come. But certainly, the rapture is never pictured as being linked to the success of the Church. On the contrary, the latter-day Church exists within the deteriorating environment that is described as coming just before the rapture.
3. Is the rapture an escape from the trials of the Tribulation period?
Critics of the pretribulational rapture often criticize it as a desire to flee the rigors of the coming Tribulation. They teach that the Church must, in some way, prepare for the coming of the Kingdom, by participating in it. Perhaps, they say, we will be God’s representatives during the great judgments to come. But the Church is never seen in this role. Quite the opposite, it is well out of the way before those judgments take place. As we shall discuss later, the Church is simply not seen in Scripture that describes the events of the Tribulation.
An objective study quickly and emphatically reveals a basic truth: The reason for the rapture is quite clear. It will come specifically to make way for the rise of Israel as prophesied in the Old Testament. With the Church in its present position, Israel cannot rise to its prophesied destiny.
ISRAEL’S CONTROVERSIAL RETURN
From its very beginning in the first century, the era of the Church has been marked by a central dispute, involving the prophetic destinies of Israel and the Church. Within the institutionalized church, there has been fundamental disagreement about the centrality of Israel in the plan of God. Early in the 5th century, AD, the major theologian of the Roman church, Augustine, established their basic theological position regarding Israel.
His doctrine was amillennial. That is, he regarded the present age as the prophesied Millennium; it was not a thousand-year period in the future. Taking this position, he reasoned that since the Tribulation comes before the Millennium, it must already be past. He and others were predisposed to connect it with the defeat of Israel in the years between 70 and 135 AD. Israel was regarded in the past tense; the Church would then rise as the world’s leader. It would progressively purify the world until Christ returned again in the Second Coming.
To a greater or lesser degree, Augustinian eschatology came to dominate the Roman Catholic church, and the state churches of Europe and America in the centuries following the Reformation. In short, the reformers threw off the constraints of Roman Catholic legalisms, but retained its view of the last days.
To this day, in fact, they have set Israel aside in the plan of God, bringing monumental consequences to the interpretation of Bible prophecy. A major theology, stating that the church has replaced Israel, has grown to such proportions that it sets the standard for organized Christianity.
But with the return of Israel to the promised Land, a dramatic situation has developed, in which Israel is the world’s pariah. The tiny new nation is considered by the world at large as a presumptuous upstart, without any real reason for existence, except for their collective suffering in the Holocaust era of World Wars I and II. Their great despair at the end of this period provided the momentum for their return to the land of Israel. Today, those memories have faded, and the Gentile world has an increasing tendency to scoff at their right to exist as a nation.
This growing problem now threatens to bring a major war to the Middle East. Israel’s legitimacy is being seriously questioned by the nations, as they meet in infamous concord in the same U.N. building where members awarded justice to the Jews in 1947.
MYSTERY OF TWO HOUSES
In parallel with these developments, a very small wing of the Church began to grow in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It taught that the classic disagreement between the Church and Israel as claimants to the Kingdom could be resolved. It contended that the Lord works through successive periods of time, called “dispensations.” Today, in the dispensation of the Church, individual salvation is at the center of God’s plan; after that, in the dispensation of the Kingdom, Israel will reign. The transition between these two time periods will be marked by catastrophic convulsions that will bring the collapse of the Gentile power that now controls the world.
Dispensationalism revived the Apostolic teaching that there are two houses of faith in the plan of God … that the age of the Church is finite, and will come to an end, dictated by God’s timing. At that point, Israel will rise to predominance again, amidst the tumult and chaos of the Tribulation. Out of that upheaval will come a renewed Israel, a new Temple and a thousand-year Kingdom ruled by Christ on Earth.
Paul, writing to the Church in Rome, lamented the fact that national Israel had rejected its Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. But he never went so far as to condemn Israel to a spiritual death. Quite the contrary. In Romans, Chapter 11, he asks a rhetorical question that resounds through the centuries:
“1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew …” (Rom. 11:1, 2).
Here, Paul’s question is asked and answered in no uncertain terms. His rhetoric begins with the certainty that Israel had denied its Messiah and received the consequences of that act. But he quickly follows that observation by saying that God has not irrevocably cast them off.
He goes on to say that in the plan of God, Israel is to play an ongoing role, because it has among its numbers an elect lineage:
“5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. 7 What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded 8 (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear); unto this day” (Rom. 11:5-8).
It is extremely important that today’s Christians understand that what Paul refers to as the “present time” extends all the way to our day. It is his way of stating truth about the current dispensation. In effect, he is saying that “under the present conditions,” Israel is still under God’s grace. The nation has not been cast aside, nor will it be. It now operates under the conditions of “the election of grace.” Nothing could be clearer.
Paul also asks another question that brings forth an amazing truth that is generally overlooked. Certainly, it is not usually used to support the idea of a Pretribulation rapture. Yet it is one of the greatest proof texts in the entire Bible. It makes a statement that can’t be ignored. Israel’s fall brought salvation to the Gentiles. In other words, the cataclysmic defeat of first-century Israel had a purpose. This is simply another way of saying that the fall of Israel brought a new dispensation:
“11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. 12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? (Rom. 11:11,12).
This is an astounding statement! Israel’s fall brought with it a blessing to the entire world system. It is perfectly logical, then, to conclude that when Israel once again rises to power (“their fullness”), the world of the Gentiles will fall. This is, in fact, the major theme of the book of Revelation, which details the collapse of Gentile world power and the reinstatement of Israel.
At one point, he even describes the age of the Church by using the word, “dispensation”:
“If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward” (Eph. 3:2).
This simple fact is made so utterly clear that it can’t be misunderstood, except by those who are driven by an agenda that is unalterably biased in favor of a continuing dominant and unbreakable Gentile world power. In the following passage, Paul concludes his dissertation, stating that the mystery of the two houses will conclude with the collapse of Gentile domination and the subsequent salvation of national Israel.
Paul earnestly pleads that the Church keep Israel’s prophesied future in the center of its thinking. Otherwise, there is the tendency to believe that Israel has forever lost its Scriptural promise … the promise that it would return in power. You can hear the passion in his words.
“25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. 28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. 29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. 30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: 31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. 33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! 34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counseller? 35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? 36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Rom. 11:25-36).
Romans 11, which begins with Paul’s sorrow over his people’s spiritual failure, ends on this high note of glory. Paul wonders aloud at the astonishing truth that Israel’s great diaspora fulfills a major part of God’s plan for the ages. He foresees the regathering and rising again of Zion and the redemption of national Israel.
Israel, in Paul’s time, was the enemy of the Gospel, yet it remained the beloved of God, because of the promises He made to their forefathers. Not only that, the Old Testament contains a profusion of prophetic references to the coming change from Gentile to Jewish world power. Interestingly, they are all focused upon the Day of the Lord.
WHAT IS THE DAY OF THE LORD?
Properly viewed, the phrase, “Day of the Lord,” is, first of all, a phrase that marks the great transition from the age of the Church to the Age of the Kingdom. It appears under this title 25 times in Scripture. Under other names, such as “The Tribulation,” “The Day of Israel’s Calamity,” or “The Wrath of God,” it is found in over 40 additional biblical passages.
Every biblical reference to it presents it as a time of unprecedented anguish, both in scope and scale. It will be the worst catastrophe to hit this planet since mankind began to walk upon its surface. Its judgments are aimed first at national Israel in the rise of the Antichrist, then at the wicked world system of Mystery Babylon.
The prophet Isaiah notes that one of its purposes is to purge the Land of Israel of the sinners within it:
“Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it” (Isa. 13:9).
Jesus, Himself, said that it would become the most horrific series of events in the history of the world:
“For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Mt. 24:21).
This time of unprecedented calamity will also bring perhaps the greatest revival in the history of the world as 144,000 representatives from the twelve tribes of Israel (not the Church) are sealed, and go forth to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to the entire world.
Finally (and still centered upon Israel and the Jewish people) the Day of the Lord will bring down the pride of the twelve tribes. Characteristically, the Jews are quite proud of their ability to survive, no matter what befalls them. They have 2,000 years of history in this position. Since their return to the Land, they have won a series of wars, often against overwhelming odds. As a result, their self-sufficient pride is one of their chief cultural characteristics.
The prophet Ezekiel makes it more than clear that the Day of the Lord will at last bring Israel to her knees. Hearkening back to the wilderness march of the Exodus, God speaks through Ezekiel, telling His people that they will undergo yet another wilderness experience, just like the one they endured after their ancient departure from Egypt.
In the end, they will repent and turn again to the Lord:
“33 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you: 34 And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. 35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. 36 Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD. 37 And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: 38 And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezek. 20:33-38).
No matter what biblical reference you study, you will find that the Day of the Lord is not only centered upon Israel, but extreme in its effects. Often it has been held up as a kind of day of salvation for Israel. And those in the Church who are convinced that they will go through the Tribulation, think that they will be able to survive, and even thrive. But there are many warnings about the severity of this day.
AMOS AND JOEL
The prophet Amos sounds a special warning about the day, noting that its intended recipient is Israel. In the context of the rapture, this is most important, since the church is never intended to experience the Tribulation:
“Hear ye this word which I take up against you, even a lamentation, O house of Israel” (Amos 5:1).
In verse 18 of this chapter, Amos specifically warns Israel about the severity of that day:
“Woe unto you that desire the day of the LORD! to what end is it for you? the day of the LORD is darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18).
And in verse 20 of the same chapter, Amos puts a note of finality on the matter:
“Shall not the day of the LORD be darkness, and not light? even very dark, and no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:20).
The message: Don’t wish for the Day of the Lord, and don’t desire to go through it. Many in the Church today are preparing for exactly that!
Speaking generally, those who follow the dispensational model of redemptive history interpret the Day of the Lord as the millennial kingdom, including its opening seven years of judgment, called the Tribulation. But again, it must be emphasized that this initial period of severe judgment is intended for Israel.
As the following Scripture from Jeremiah tells us, the Day of the Lord is directly centered upon Israel, so much so that it has Jacob’s name attached to it. Furthermore, the Lord has the purpose of releasing Israel from the bondage of the world system, just as He freed them from Egyptian bondage in the days of the Exodus: “6 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? 7 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. 8 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: 9 But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them” (Jer. 30:6-9).
Here, Israel is depicted as experiencing birth pangs, even as Jesus said in the Olivet discourse, when He spoke of Israel during the Tribulation, describing their pain as, “… the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:8). In the Greek language of the New Testament, “sorrows” is hodin, or “birth pangs.” Of course, the metaphor wouldn’t be complete without saying that the birth in question is that of national Israel, being born as a new, cleansed, and redeemed nation in the Kingdom Age.
From Jeremiah to Matthew and onward into the epistles, we encounter the same language. There can be no doubt that the Millennial Day of the Lord is initiated by a well-defined upheaval that lasts seven years and constitutes the birth of a new Israel.
Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians is the definitive exposition of the rapture. When the blessed hope of the Church is mentioned, it is the passage we turn to first. But it must be stated that its context places the rapture at the beginning of an ordered series of events. Chapter 4, verse 17 speaks of the Church being, “… caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
This statement leads directly into Chapter 5, directly addressing the subject of the Day of the Lord. This sequence is perfectly in keeping with the dozens of Old Testament passages that feature Israel as the key player. But in this case, modern Israel, experiencing the Tribulation, is referred to simply as “they,” while those whom Paul addresses in the Church are called, “you,” “ye,” “yourselves,” and “we.”
Those left behind to experience the Day of the Lord are called, “they.” They are seen calling for “peace and safety,” which has long been a slogan in modern Israeli politics. Even as we see Israel doing today, idealistically offering peace while encircled by nations that openly call for their complete annihilation. “They” are modern Israel.
“1 But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (I Thess. 5:1-5).
The woman in childbirth is, of course, Israel. And “we,” members of the Church (the body of Christ) are not in darkness. We understand the fine distinctions of grace, which would never put the redeemed of the present age under divine judgment.
Yes, there are those who say that the Church can go through the Tribulation without being touched by God’s wrath … sealed, as it were, against any difficulty that might come their way. But they should look again at the Day of the Lord. There is nothing in Scripture that says a small, select group will escape the ravages of that terrible Day.
Isaiah’s so-called “Little Apocalypse” sets the scene of the Tribulation. Note that it makes the point of saying that everyone is affected. We know from the figures given in Revelation that literally billions will die:
“1 Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. 2 And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. 3 The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the LORD hath spoken this word” (Isa. 24:1-3).
Geologists tell us that in the past the earth has wobbled from time to time. They always add that if it happens again, the surface plates on the planet will slide, producing titanic earthquakes and volcanoes. Isaiah describes exactly that:
“19 The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly. 20 The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again. 21 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the LORD shall punish the host of the high ones that are on high, and the kings of the earth upon the earth” (Isa. 24:19-21).
Isaiah also paints a picture of the horrific weather disruptions that will be witnessed in the Tribulation:
“And the LORD shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and shall shew the lighting down of his arm, with the indignation of his anger, and with the flame of a devouring fire, with scattering, and tempest, and hailstones” (Isa. 30:30).
Revelation speaks of hailstones almost a hundred pounds in weight! Certainly, the Tribulation will feature the greatest display of breakaway plate tectonics ever witnessed by man. Imagine the following horrifying vision from Revelation 6:14:
“And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.” Later in Revelation, the same theme is repeated: “And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (Rev. 16:20).
And we must also mention the “great mountain burning with fire” that falls into the sea, as well as the infamous star called “Wormwood,” which also falls from the heavens and poisons the waters, bringing death to many.
Add to these the unprecedented famines and plagues that wrack the entire globe, and you have some idea of the Day of the Lord. The Church will be taken out of the way precisely because it is the Spirit-filled body of Christ, and must be removed in order that the program of God can proceed as prophesied. That program will establish Israel – not the Church – as head of the nations. And that is the clear and unequivocal reason for the rapture!
This article is being printed from May 2018
In Hebrew, the word Pentecost is “Shavuot,” which means “weeks.” In the Jewish calendar, the Feast of Weeks is the festival of the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel, which is always a metaphor of souls saved being brought into the household of God.
“9 Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn. 10 And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the LORD thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the LORD thy God, according as the LORD thy God hath blessed thee” (Deut. 16:9, 10).
As first given in Leviticus, it is seen as the culmination of seven weeks, plus one day … the day after the Sabbath. These fifty days are mentioned in the New Testament as Pentecost, the Greek word for “fifty.”
Of all the observances of the Jewish Festival Calendar, The Feast of Weeks is the most mysterious. In modern Judaism, Pentecost is always observed on two days, a mystery in itself. Because it floats on their calendar, it is called, “the festival without a date.”
When most Christians think of Pentecost, they don’t think of Jewish holidays at all. Quite naturally, their first thought is the Book of Acts. This book – the history of apostolic activity in the formative days of the Church – is founded upon the dispensation of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church on Pentecost morning. By itself, it is one of the most amazing events in the history of the world.
The Book of Acts opens near the end of the fifty-day period that began to be counted after the Feast of Firstfruits – the day that marks the resurrection of our Lord. Luke opens his narrative in Acts by referring back to his Gospel, calling it “the former treatise.” At the end of that “former treatise” – The Gospel of Luke – Jesus ascends into the heavens after meeting with many people. He ended his appearances by saying “And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49).
Then, in Acts, after a 40-day gap, Luke writes:
“1 The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, 2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen. 3 To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God: 4 And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. 5 For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence 6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the Earth. 9 And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts1:1-11).
Jesus rose before their wondering eyes, received into a “cloud.” Many believe that this event foreshadows the moment when Christians shall be caught up to be with Him. During the following ten days, they gathered and prayed until Pentecost:
“1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4).
FESTIVAL OF THE HARVEST
From its earliest days, Pentecost was known as a festival of the harvest. Long ago, the Omer was offered by the high priest, who stood before the Tabernacle, or later, the Temple. It was the token of the Festival of Firstfruits. In Leviticus 23:11, it is called, “the sheaf.” In its most common sense, an omer was a dry measure that amounted to a little over two quarts. The offering of the Omer marked the first day of a fifty-day countdown to Pentecost:
“15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf [omer] of the wave offering; seven sabbaths shall be complete: 16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh sabbath shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall offer a new meat offering unto the Lord. 17 Ye shall bring out of your habitations two wave loaves of two tenth deals: they shall be of fine flour; they shall be baken with leaven; they are the firstfruits unto the Lord” (Leviticus 23:15-17).
The counting of fifty days from Firstfruits to Pentecost is typical of redemption in general. For the Jew, in the observance of the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot), it has always represented the maturing relationship between God and Israel.
Think for a moment about the traditions that originated in the first years of the church. Its central doctrines were handed down through men brought up in the traditions of Jewish history and prophecy. Their lives had literally revolved around the keeping of the festival calendar. They had heard the teachings of Christ. Some, no doubt, had heard in person. They had listened to His parable of the harvest, when the good wheat and the tares, which had grown up together would be separated. They knew about the Festival of Harvest (Pentecost).
When Peter preached that historic sermon on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted the prophet Joel, whose entire book is centered around the harvest cycle.
When Joel wrote the prophecy, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,” he set the theme of the harvest. Joel said, “The field is wasted, the land mourneth” (Joel 1:10). He said, “That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten” (Joel 1:4). That was a prediction of Israel’s exile. The Jews must be scattered from their land, to suffer among the nations.
But that’s not all. Joel also spoke of Israel’s restoration and linked it to the time of the spring harvest.
“23 Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for he hath given you the former rain and the latter rain in the first month. 24 And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. 25 And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten” (Joel 2:23-25).
This is a prophecy that began to be fulfilled in 1948. Furthermore, Israel was restored on May 14th of that year, during the season of the harvest cycle. This date, the 5th of Iyar in the Jewish calendar, was the 20th day in the counting of the Omer.
In Matthew 13:39, Jesus said, “The harvest is the end of the world.” He indicated that end-time events would culminate in a great harvest of souls. Pentecost, the day following the seventh sabbath, marked the end of the grain harvest, at which time two loaves baked with leavening were brought to the Temple and held aloft by the High Priest. These two loaves symbolize the completed bodies of the redeemed. It seems quite reasonable that one is emblematic of spiritual Israel, while the other represents the church.
EARLY AND LATTER RAINS
Once the Holy Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, the prophecy of the “early rain” was fulfilled. Some day, the Holy Spirit will be poured out again in Jerusalem. It should be a fulfillment of the promise of a “latter rain.” Will it also occur on Pentecost? In Peter’s second sermon, he spoke of the ultimate fulfillment of the festival cycle. In Acts 3:19-21, he said:
“19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; 20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: 21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21).
The prophetic implications of the festival cycle lie in God’s promise to restore the Earth to the state of glory that He originally intended. So that His people would always remember what He has in mind, He planted this prophetic scenario in their culture. At some future time known only to Him, the story will become a reality. The festival narrative is arranged around events in their calendar that foreshadow their future counterparts.
We find ourselves experiencing another wave of renewed excitement about the near possibility of the rapture of the church. Interest in the prophesied culmination of the church age has waxed and waned over the years, periodically rising to its present level when world developments seem to signal a radical change. At the moment, an imminent war in the Middle East, coupled with financial collapse on a global scale, have aroused the attention of Christians around the world.
Many years ago, we began to share our studies on the traditions of Pentecost, which demonstrated numerous remarkable connections with the prophetic conclusion of the church age. It is the fourth and central feast among the seven Feasts of Israel: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Tabernacles. The first three are spring festivals, representing the blood sacrifice and resurrection. The last three come in the fall, calling forth judgment and the establishment of the Kingdom. At the middle – in summer – is Pentecost. In the Bible, it is represented by two loaves of leavened bread, held aloft by the High Priest. Today’s Jews celebrate it in a ceremony called, “decorating the bride.” Most remarkably, it typifies the catching-away of the church.
Every year, we are reminded afresh of Pentecost’s enormous significance in the panorama of biblical prophecy. Many years ago, we first brought you its amazing prophetic truths. Better than any other ancient festival, it embodies the elements that we associate with the catching-away, or rapture, of the church. We repeat them here to refresh your memory concerning the joys of this season and to remind you that the Lord is near, even at the door. Our studies have made it increasingly obvious that the Lord—specifically for latter-day understanding—has inculcated specific memorial elements into the Jewish traditions surrounding Pentecost. As we continue to investigate this important subject, we are repeatedly impressed by the strong connections between Pentecost and the coming change of dispensation that will move the world into the age of the Kingdom.
Watching this festival, we constantly stress the fact that it is the most mysterious of all the Jewish festivals. First called the “Feast of Weeks,” it is the major harvest festival. But its associated symbols and metaphors invoke meanings far beyond the mere harvesting of grain.
Among the Jews, this is the festival that celebrates the giving of the Torah, or Law. This was the time, they say, when Jews gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, they heard the actual voice of God, as He spoke the commandments. The Bible does not seem, at first glance, to make a clear connection between Sinai and Pentecost. Nevertheless, the link is there, if we take the time to look.
Furthermore, this festival presents the ceremony of the marriage between God and Israel. In this context, Passover (which precedes Pentecost by seven weeks) becomes the period of God’s courtship of His wife. The spiritual picture that emerges is the establishment of a faithful and holy household. A bit later, we’ll examine it in greater depth.
JUDGMENT OF THE FRUIT OF TREES
Traditional Jewish belief holds that Pentecost is the day when the fruit of trees is judged in heaven. Christians throughout the Church Age have believed that the fruit of one’s life will be judged following the rapture. This, of course, is the picture given by the apostle Paul to the church at Corinth in II Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
The resurrection of Jesus as the Omer or offering of Firstfruits began a countdown to the completion of the body of Christ. The good fruit of the righteous will be reviewed, then will come the judgment of the depraved world.
But there is more to add to this picture. Jewish families observe Pentecost by wearing bright and festive clothing. Homes are decorated with green plants and celebrative foods are prepared.
According to Hayyim Schauss, writing in The Jewish Festivals:
“The custom of decorating the homes and synagogues with green plants is variously explained. One theory is that the day is marked in heaven as the day of judgment for the fruit of the trees.” Here is the theme of fruit-bearing, which points to the Judgment Seat of Christ following the rapture and resurrection. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus likened true versus false teaching to the fruit of trees:
“15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Mt. 7:15-20).
Jesus teaches that false prophets can be known by their “fruits.” The righteous will bring forth “good fruit.” This “good fruit” is the “fruit of the Spirit,” spoken of in Galatians 5:22, 23:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
Pentecost, associated with the giving of the Law, is a time for reviewing one’s “fruit.” To the Jews, the Law is seen as the way toward such “good fruit.” But the apostle Paul wrote that only through the resurrection of Christ can we bring forth “fruit” unto God.
“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4).
By His resurrection, Christ became our “firstfruits.” He laid the “foundation” that made it possible for the church to bring forth more “fruit.” This principle is clearly stated in I Corinthians:
“11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Cor 3:11-13).
The judgment of the fruit of trees corresponds to the reward of the believer in heaven, here likened to a building. The good fruit of the believer’s life will be judged for its final worth. This is exactly the theme seen in the Jewish festival of Pentecost.
PENTECOST: FESTIVAL WITHOUT A DATE
Remember, Pentecost is called Shavuot (or Weeks), in the Hebrew. It is so named to reflect the nature of its dating. It always falls seven weeks plus one day after the offering of the Omer.
Since it is based on counting the seven weeks following the Feast of Firstfruits, the date of Pentecost is fluid. Thus, when the Jewish calendar was still based upon visually marking the appearance of the new moon, Pentecost could fall on the fifth, sixth or seventh of Sivan. The final determination of the date would depend upon whether or not the months of Nisan and Iyar were full thirty-day months.
To this day, if one calculates the date of Pentecost as actually instructed in the Bible, its precise timing is always something of a mystery. Symbolically then, it becomes a perfect model for the rapture, since its date is also beyond reckoning.
According to Hayyim Schauss, the date for Pentecost cannot be fixed. He calls it the “only Jewish festival for which there is no fixed date.” The Books of Moses do not state on which day of the month Pentecost is to be observed. It says only that it is to be celebrated fifty days after the offering of the Omer [Firstfruits], the first sheaf of the grain harvest, which was to be offered on “the morrow after the Sabbath,” as we have already seen in Leviticus 23:15-17, making it a Sunday.
Following the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70, it became physically impossible to commemorate either the Festival of Firstfruits or the waving of the loaves at Pentecost. The calendar date for Pentecost then became fixed at the sixth of Sivan … the date upon which it is remembered to this day.
THE TRUMPET AND THE BRIDE
Around the same time, Jews adopted Pentecost as the time to commemorate the giving of the Law. The 19th chapter of Exodus relates that the giving of the Law at Sinai came in the third month on the third day of the month. This places the event at the time of Pentecost. They call it, “the revelation at Sinai.” This revelation and the symbols of harvest are intertwined to give full significance to the observance of Pentecost.
In the festival, they also commemorate the symbolism of the marriage between God, the Groom, and Israel, the bride. They view Mt. Sinai as an enormous ketubah, or wedding canopy. The two tablets of the Law that Moses brought down from the mountain represent the marriage contract.
As mentioned earlier, this image is developed at Passover, which becomes the time of God’s courtship with Israel, and Pentecost comes to represent the marriage itself. In its traditional aspects, Pentecost pictures the catching away of the bride more clearly than any other festival.
We have noted before that the blowing of the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah has been suggested as representing the final trumpet of resurrection. But does it really? Is it possible that the trumpet blast on Rosh Hashanah represents instead, a “memorial” of the heavenly Pentecost trumpet?
“In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:24).
Let us review the part Pentecost has played at the beginning of two dispensations – Law and Grace. The rabbis say that the Dispensation of Law began on Pentecost. On that day, a heavenly trumpet was heard at Mount Sinai. The Jews remember this as a time when their national identity took a new direction.
“And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by a voice” (Exodus 19:19).
Many Jews say that this, the first mention of a trumpet blast in Exodus was regarded by the spiritual leaders of Israel as having occurred on Pentecost. Exodus 19:1 tells us that this event came about in Sivan, the third month.
Furthermore, the trumpet was blown, not by man, but by a heavenly being. It was God’s own voice! Moses and the Chosen People had gathered at Mt. Sinai, on the third day of preparation, wherein they washed themselves, cleaned their clothes, and were forbidden to touch the mountain. When God came down, a trumpet sounded long and loud, filling the people with awe and terror. On that occasion, the fire of God’s glory descended and God gave the Ten Commandments. Here, we find the only heavenly trumpet recorded in the Old Testament. The next such trumpet should sound on the day of rapture and resurrection, making the day of Pentecost an interesting possibility for that event:
“For 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” (I Thess. 4:16).
THE ORDER OF THE RESURRECTIONS
For the Gentile, Pentecost represents the relationship between Christ, the Bridegroom and His bride, the church. As mentioned earlier, the resurrection of Jesus was a literal Firstfruits offering that looked forward to the resurrection of all the faithful:
“20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (I Cor 15:20-24).
Here, Paul writes about Christ’s resurrection in a specific way. Let’s consider that word, “order.” There is a specific order in the Jewish festival cycle and there is a well-defined order of resurrections. Paul, an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, had been schooled in the Scriptures at the feet of Gamaliel. Without a doubt, he was intimately aware of the tiniest details of the Jewish calendar. Therefore, when he speaks of Christ as the “firstfruits” in the context of an order of events, he knows that the next event in that order is Pentecost.
But of course, this was not the Pentecost at which the Holy Spirit was given to the infant church. No, that signal event had already taken place over twenty-five years before Paul wrote these words. He must, then, be referring to a future Pentecost which would conclude the harvest – Christ’s resurrection being the “firstfruits,” and our resurrection coming at the end of the harvest. Might this possibly occur on a future Pentecost? Might this be the time when Christ will come to take home His followers? Remember, Pentecost is the formal conclusion of the grain harvest.
It seems that when Paul used the word, “order,” he intended the reader to see the order of the Jewish festival cycle. It is at least possible he was suggesting that the resurrection could take place on a future Pentecost.
Apparently the early church thought so. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible offers the following comment:
“The Church Fathers highly regarded Pentecost. Easter was always on Sunday, so Pentecost was also. Between Easter and Pentecost, there was to be no fasting. Praying was done standing, rather than kneeling. During this time, catechumens [new converts] were baptized. Many expected, because the Ascension had taken place near Pentecost, that Christ would return in the same season.”
Pentecost was a time of expectation for the early Church. They felt that Christ might come for His own during this period. Why did they believe this? Was it because of its closeness to the time of the Ascension, or was it because of something else they had been taught? Remember, Christ’s actual Ascension took place forty days after His resurrection. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit empowered the church for its future role in the harvest of souls … the fifty days till Pentecost.
PROPHECIES OF SUMMER
Biblically, the spring harvest is often seen to typify the “harvest” or catching-away of the church. As we have seen, this is the season when grain and fruit crops come to maturity. Fruit is judged and stored. Wheat is now safe in the graneries of the land. At Pentecost, a small sample is taken, ground into flour and baked into two loaves. They are the leavened “test loaves” of the new harvest. As already stated, they typify the two bodies of the redeemed at the end of the age: Israel and the church.
Bread and fruit are the perfect picture of redemption, blessing and bounty. But to Israel, at the time of Jacob’s trouble, the harvest will not bring satisfaction. Instead, there will be the realization that something drastic has happened. The prophet Micah graphically describes this, as we see in Micah 7:1-6:
“1 Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grapegleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the firstripe fruit. 2 The good man is perished out of the Earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net. 3 That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up. 4 The best of them is as a brier: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge: the day of thy watchmen and thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity. 5 Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. 6 For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Mic. 7:1-6).
Here, the prophet Micah speaks as the voice of Israel in the latter days. The time is set at the end of fruit harvest – late April through early June – the season that begins with Passover and ends with Pentecost.
The summer fruits have been “gathered,” or harvested. The Hebrew term asaph, means “to remove, or take away.” But one of its major meanings is, “to be gathered to one’s fathers at death.” This translation easily fits in the context of these verses. The good fruit of the righteous has been harvested and taken for inspection and storage. From Micah’s point of view, the friends of Israel have gone away.
As we continue, Micah’s distress becomes more clear. He has a deep desire for the fruit that has been removed. And what is this fruit? Verse 2, tells us that it is the “good man,” who has “perished” from the Earth. This fits perfectly with the idea of the judgment of the fruit of trees.
“Perish” is represented by the Hebrew verb avad, meaning, “to cause to vanish!” As the picture develops, it is easy to see that Micah’s vision perfectly describes the conditions that will prevail when righteous mankind is instantly transported from the Earth at the catching-away of the church.
The unredeemed remainder of humanity left on Earth is devoid of morals, scruples or ethics. Lust and extortion become the basis of human behavior. There are no trustworthy friends; even family members can’t be trusted without a suitable bribe.
The rapture has come. It is an event associated with early summer. And immediately afterward comes a horror that Israel has long dreaded. Verse 4 says, “… the day of thy watchmen and thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity.” What is this visitation?
Jewish translations of this verse often say, “The day of your visitation from the north has come.” The Jerusalem Bible translates it as, “Today will come their ordeal from the North, now is the time for their confusion.”
Because of this fact, some ancient Jewish expositions of this passage link it with Ezekiel’s prophecy of Gog’s invasion of Israel.
This interpretation stems from the fact that the word “watchman” in Hebrew contains the root word for “north” or “northern.” Thus, “watchman,” is built around a word which carries the meaning of both “watch” and “north.” Hence, ancient expositors see in this verse an invasion from the north. One of the most graphic of all latter-day prophecies is Ezekiel’s narrative of Gog’s invasion of Israel. It comes from the north:
“And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts, thou, and many people with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army” (Ezek. 38:15).
What makes Micah’s prophecy most interesting, of course, is that it links the rapture of the church with Ezekiel’s prophecy of the northern invasion.
First, there is the gathering up of the fruitful righteous. They are “made to vanish” from the face of the Earth. Then comes a time of horror, when Israel realizes that she is without friends upon Earth. Israel’s difficulties begin in earnest, as society becomes totally degenerate.
Apparently, shortly thereafter, the prophesied invasion takes place.
But the sequence begins at the summer harvest. Without a doubt, this is the picture meant to come to our minds when we think of the rapture. Jesus prophesied His own coming for the church in this way:
“28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. 29 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; 30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. 31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. 32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (Luke 21:28- 32).
What Jesus is talking about here is the very beginning of a long procession of events that will bring the Kingdom to planet Earth at last. Preparation is being made for the judgment of the fruit of trees, here, a metaphor of Israel and all the nations in the latter days. This metaphor applies to the change of dispensation that will come with the spring festival calendar.
THE BRIDEGROOM AND HIS BRIDE
Another well-known example of this thought is the coming of the Bridegroom for the bride in the Song of Solomon. He comes for His bride at the time when spring is fully come and the fruit is almost ripe:
“8 The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. 9 My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, showing himself through the lattice. 10 My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. 11 For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; 12 The flowers appear on the Earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; 13 The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away” (Song of Solomon 2:8-13).
Once again, in another notable rapture passage, we see that the season is spring. Here, the coming of Solomon for his Shulamite bride is an obvious type of the Lord and His relationship with the church – the Bridegroom coming for His bride.
In this picture, the figs and grapes will soon be ready for harvest. The beloved is depicted as skimming across the mountain tops. In other words, he is near, but has not quite yet arrived. The season is late spring. Soon, the fruit will be gathered. This passage implies that the church will be taken home. The season is that of Pentecost.
Then, according to the prophet Micah, Israel will realize that her best and closest friend has vanished from the Earth.
A CHOSEN BRIDE FROM MOAB
As earlier noted, grain harvest comes in late spring. It was in this season that Ruth became the wife of Boaz.
Trees are laden with fresh foliage. Flowers are in bloom. The heart of humanity is light and optimistic. Jewish homes are decorated with fresh greenery and floral decoration. Hayyim Schauss says:
“Even in school the instruction is festive and breathes the spirit of the holiday. The children are taught the book of Ruth. So clear is the imagery thereof that they are carried back to the days of old, when Jews reaped the harvest of the fields of their own land.
“The older children sit around a long table with the teacher and study the Book of Ruth. But their thoughts are not on their studies; they are thinking of Bethlehem, the town where David was born and spent his childhood. They imagine they are standing at harvest time in the fields that surround the town. Gentle breezes blow from the hills of Judah. The fields are filled with freshly-cut sheaves. They hear the whir of the reaping scythe, and the song of the workers in the fields. And everywhere is the pleasing aroma of the newly-fallen gleanings which Ruth is gathering in the field.
“Their thoughts are carried still farther afield when the teacher recites, or rather sings, as he interprets “Akdomus.” [This is an eleventh-century poem.] King David is descended from Ruth and Boaz, and from David’s seed, it is believed, will come the Messiah. In ‘Akdomus’ is presented vividly a picture of the day when the Messiah will have arrived, the time of eternal bliss on Earth.”
Many have said that the book of Ruth is the most beautiful narrative in the entire Bible. Ruth was a Gentile woman of Moab, who married into a Hebrew family. At that time, there was a famine in Israel, which the family hoped to escape by emigrating from Bethlehem to Moab. These events took place during the period of time in which the judges ruled the land after the death of Joshua. It was a time of deep moral and spiritual decline.
The husband and both sons died in Moab, widowing Ruth, her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her sister-in-law, Orpah, who soon departed. Naomi elected to return to her home in Bethlehem, urging Ruth to stay with her own people, as Orpah had done. But Ruth faithfully determined to go with her and remain by her side until death separated them.
They arrived in Bethlehem at harvest time. As was the right of the poor, Ruth gleaned in the fields for their food. As a poor foreigner, she had nothing to expect but a future of perpetual widowhood. Yet she found favor in the sight of Boaz, a wealthy landowner. He allowed her to glean even among the sheaves of the field. At Naomi’s instruction, Ruth went to the threshing floor and laid down at the feet of Boaz on the night of Pentecost, the festival of harvest. That night, he claimed her and redeemed her as a near kinsman had the right to do. After securing the legal right to marry her, they were united in marriage, and she bore him a son. That son was Obed, the grandfather of David the king.
This is the story of a Gentile bride in a strange land, who started out with only her faith. She provides a prophetic picture of the Gentile bride of Christ – the Church. On the very night of Pentecost, Ruth came to lie at the feet of Boaz.
At midnight, startled, he awoke to discover the woman of whom he had earlier taken note as she gleaned in his fields. His acceptance of her set in motion a series of legal steps, which he undertook promptly, in order that he might marry her. Ruth had remained completely faithful to Naomi. Boaz knew of her reputation as a virtuous woman. He completed her righteousness in their marriage, making her an heir to the Messianic promise. A poor woman of Moab was brought into the lineage of the throne of David, from which the Messiah would one day rule over the nations.
According to Michael Strassfeld, writing in The Jewish Holidays, a Guide and Commentary, rabbinical authority calls for the book of Ruth to be read at Pentecost, because:
[1 ] The story is set at the time of harvest, [2 ] Ruth’s conversion to Judaism is thought to bear a close resemblance to one’s voluntary acceptance of the Torah and God’s covenant at Sinai,  King David, according to tradition, was born and died on Shavuot [Pentecost]. The book of Ruth, of course, ends with a genealogy from Ruth down to King David. And,  Reading Ruth means that the totality of the Torah is celebrated on Shavuot, for Ruth is part of the … writings that together with the Torah and the prophets compose the whole Bible.
AN OVERNIGHT VIGIL FOR JEWS
At this point, it is of great interest to note another element of this Jewish festival: The Jews stay up all night in their synagogue’s house of study, poring over “tikkun.” This consists of little sections from each book of the Torah and the Talmud, representing all of the most important texts of Judaism. But even this act of staying up all night sets forth the theme of resurrection. Michael Strassfeld writes of this custom:
“A kabbalistic custom emanating from the mystics in Safed (sixteenth century) is to stay up the whole (first) night of Shavuot studying Torah. The tikkun – a set order of study – was composed of selections from the Bible, rabbinic literature, and even mystical literature such as the Zohar. In this fashion the kabbalists prepared for the momentous revelation of the following morning.
“This practice of staying up all night is in stark contrast to that of the Israelites at Sinai, who according to tradition slept late that morning and had to be awakened by Moses. In atonement for this, Jews nowadays stay awake all night. The sense of preparation for Sinai is heightened by a mystical tradition holding that the skies open up during this night for a brief instant. At that very moment, we are told, God will favorably answer any prayer. The kabbalists also regard Pentecost as the wedding of God and Israel. Therefore, we stay up all night to “decorate the bride.”
What an incredible picture of the rapture! The opening of the heavens “for a brief instant” corresponds with the message in I Corinthians 15:51:
“Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye …”
Here is the perfect picture of Christ coming to catch away His bride! And where does He take her? – to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb! This corresponds with Pentecost, when the Jews “stay up all night to decorate the bride.”
To an amazing degree, their activities remind us of the catching away of the church … the bride of Christ; Pentecost has many features that are suggestive of the rapture. It is associated with harvest, marriage and the taking of a Gentile bride. Its date is variable, picturing the unpredictability of Christ’s coming for His own.
Like all the Jewish festivals, it is made up of pictures and ideas that preserve God’s truth, even among those whose eyes may be temporarily blinded by unbelief, or the rote practices of tradition. Quite significantly, it marks the birth of the Church Age, and before that, the giving of the Law. Each of these events marks the turning to a different dispensation: first to Law, and then to Grace. In the eyes of God, therefore, Pentecost must be an important festival. To the Jew, it is a vital part of the festival calendar.
Today, observant Jews seek spiritual purification (called taharah) on Pentecost night. Their vigil of prayer and study is the culmination of a process that begins every year on Firstfruits, and continues through the counting of the Omer. It reaches a climax on this particular night.
From The Three Festivals by Josef Stern, we read, “During these days and weeks [between Passover and Pentecost], our personal efforts to cleanse ourselves of spiritual impurities are critical, as the Torah says … you shall count for yourselves. However, if we make sincere efforts during [the counting of the omer], we can be assured that Hashem [the Lord] will shower us with an outpouring of taharah on the night of Shavuos, as the Sages said, someone who comes to purify himself will receive Divine help.”
More than just a single night, the Pentecost vigil is said to set the tone for an entire year, if it is taken seriously:
“The Zohar also reminds us that the taharah that descends on those who immerse themselves in Torah study on this night is a fragile thing. Unless we take active steps to preserve it throughout the year we cannot be assured that it will remain with us.”
It is a day laden with rich spiritual types and symbols. Many Jews will stay up all night in the hope of catching that precise moment when the sky opens for an instant. They will read their Scriptures, pray and “decorate the bride.”
Will the church be called home on a night such as this? Although it is impossible to name this particular night as the time of the rapture, it is nevertheless a stimulating thought for these last days. What a picture of our blessed hope! There are many precedents for what will happen to all believers on that day. Paul was once taken to heaven:
“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth) such an one caught up to the third heaven” (II Corinthians 12:2).
To be “caught up” is the blessed hope of faithful Christians everywhere. Scripture makes it quite plain that this is our destiny. In some inexplicable way, the sky will open for a moment, and we shall be gone … vanished without a trace! The language of I Thessalonians 4:17 is very similar to the preceding passage:
“Then 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.”
This will be the biggest historical event since the Lord’s own ascension into the heavens. And it will certainly be the trigger that sets in motion an increasingly cataclysmic series of judgments. In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, the restraining force associated with the presence of the body of Christ is given as the key factor in the timing of latter-day events. Its removal will provide the environmental changes necessary for evil to advance toward the fulfillment of prophecy.
In other words, as long as we are present and active, the revelation of the wicked one, and wickedness in general, cannot manifest itself in full power. Pentecost, the festival that has traditionally marked the dispensational change from law to grace, seems ideally suited as the model for this event. Then, a rapid succession of biblical marvels will bring Messianic rule to the Earth.
“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
The biblical story of Israel spans centuries. It features dozens of landmark events, heroic narratives and spiritual events and a longstanding relationship with God. One of its key features is the life of a man, who is unlike any other. His life story cuts through the epochs of biblical history, tying them together in a way that clearly demonstrates the divine nature of Holy Scripture. He is the man called Elijah, whom God uses in a distinct and powerful way.
Often, we read the Bible piecemeal, a little here and a little there, dipping into favorite Scriptures and skipping others that present an interpretational challenge. Relying upon Scripture for help and guidance is central to the Christian faith, since it offers uplifting help, wisdom and inspiration.
But reading in this way often overlooks the big picture. The Bible has large-scale structure, expounding historic and prophetic themes that cut across many of its books and historical periods. Properly linked, they give perspective and meaning to the long view of history, linking past, present and future.
The man mentioned above perfectly plays out this role. The person, character and spiritual work of Elijah presents just such an epic vista. During three key historical periods, he appears as God’s representative, bearing a specific message. It is noteworthy that each of these periods is marked by Israel’s departure from true faith in their Lord.
He arrives on the scene in ninth century B.C., during the reign of the evil King Ahab. He performs his many appointed missions – including his defeat of Baal’s prophets and shutting off the rain for three-and-a-half years. Then, with Elisha as a witness, he is taken directly to heaven. At the end of the Old Testament, in one of the key Old Testament prophecies, his return is promised.
Elijah is seen again in the New Testament as a spiritual presence represented by John the Baptist, who announces the Messiah. Peter, James and John witnessed him at the Transfiguration, as a prophetic figure. James invokes his name in connection with a prophecy that foreshadows the Tribulation period.
Finally, he will return during the Tribulation. As in the days of King Ahab, he confronts an evil apostasy that threatens to overwhelm not only his own people, but the whole world. His presence is an essential part of Scripture. He is the Lord’s highly-favored messenger.
MALACHI: “MY MESSENGER”
The book of Malachi, whose name literally means “my messenger,” contains a key prophecy about Elijah. Significantly, it is central to the hope of every Jew who looks forward to the coming of the Davidic Kingdom.
This prophecy has been integrated into the Jewish Passover Seder as a Zionist hope, with the promise that Jerusalem will rise as Israel’s capital.
Written in the fifth century B.C., Malachi’s prophecy is directed toward a disillusioned people, a century after Haggai and Zechariah had urged the completion of the Second Temple. Those prophecies, though encouraging, were not yet fulfilled… indeed, they are not completely fulfilled to this day.
During that period, the Jews were discouraged. In their extreme doubt, they voiced the question that has been on the lips of the Jews in every generation: Does the Lord really love us? The opening words of Malachi’s prophecy directly address this question:
“1 The burden of the word of theLORD to Israel by Malachi. 2 I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, 3 And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. 4 Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. 5 And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel” (Mal. 1:1-5).
The Jews, persecuted and dispersed, have asked the question again and again: Do you love us? The Lord’s answer to their question is quite plain. He simply asks them to recall what happened to Esau, the man who sold his birthright, allowing Jacob to claim it. The blessing that came through Isaac to Jacob is still in effect. This is the message of Malachi to Israel. He pleads with them to consider this simple fact.
Malachi then proceeds to enumerate Israel’s continual lapses in faith. He reveals the corruption of the priesthood, rampant idolatry, epidemic divorce and remarriage and failure to fulfill the law of the tithe. Ultimately, says Malachi, Israel’s failure is wrapped up in their failure to trust the Lord.
Then comes Malachi’s conclusion. It predicts judgments of the Day of the Lord. Yet, the six concluding verses of his prophecy close the canon of the Old Testament with a promise that reaches into the far future:
“1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts. 4 Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. 5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:1-6).
That day is described in terms that are as easy to understand as they are foreboding. But Malachi’s proclamation is softened with two promises. First, the “Sun of righteousness” will rise on Israel’s behalf. This, of course, is a reference both to the person of the resurrected Christ and the coming time when He stands on Israel’s behalf. The day begins with sunrise.
Second, and of equal importance to the understanding of the prophecy, the prophet Elijah will return to Israel before the Tribulation, here called the “day of the LORD.” This pretribulation return of the prophet will be the signal that another era of miracles is underway. A natural question arises: Just how long before the Tribulation will Elijah appear? A bit later, we shall examine this question in the light of the New Testament.
In Israel’s history, the emergence of miracles has been the exception, rather than the rule. They arise during distinct periods, later chronicled with respect to the effects they produced. They are never seen without some connection to a major turn of history. In other words, great historical miracles – which represent a temporary suspension of natural law– come for a purpose during a specific period of time.
The first period was seen in the days of Moses, when the laws of nature were suspended during the Exodus and the giving of the Law at Mount Horeb. The second came in connection with the era of Elijah and Elisha. The third was seen in the first century, during the life of Christ and the founding of the church. They were administered by Jesus and the Apostles. The fourth will come during the Tribulation.
It is important to note that the first of these periods was brought through Moses. The next two came through Elijah. The final, future appearance of miraculous events will be overseen by the two witnesses. It is fitting that this culmination of Gentile history will be administered by both Moses and Elijah.
In a very major way, Elijah is the single sign to Israel that the coming of the Kingdom is near. It is no accident that their hope is placed in him. By the grace of God, he has been written into the most significant and commonly observed of their national festivals. Each year, during Passover, they watch for his appearance, just as they have for centuries.
The Seder, or order of the Passover has emerged in its present form through a series of editions over the centuries. At some point, its rituals began to include Elijah, no doubt as a recognition of Malachi’s prediction that he would return to rally Israel in the difficult times of the Day of the Lord.
The Passover Haggadah (“telling” or “recitation”) is traditionally set around a dinner table and encompasses the Passover meal. An acting out of the Exodus, it incorporates many symbols that recall Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Preparation for the event is a complex tradition that begins with a search for any uncleanness in a home … a ritual cleansing.
Then, the table is set with food items that symbolically recall the life under Egyptian slavery and the events of the plagues called down by Moses. Central to its observance is the presence of a goblet for each participant, into which will be poured four servings or cups that recall the four verbs of Exodus 6:6,7. Notice that they represent four stages in the redemption of Israel … thanksgiving, sanctification, redemption and relationship:
“6 Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: 7 And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (Ex. 6:6,7).
Since the days of the Talmud, approximately 25 centuries ago, Jews have taught that even the poorest man in Israel should take the four cups in remembrance of Messiah’s ultimate coming to establish the Kingdom. Israel’s progress from thanksgiving on through to an ultimate close relationship with the Lord is the hope of the chosen people.
Though it is set in the historical period of the Exodus, the true meaning of the Passover is seen in the future Exodus that will bring the elect of Israel back to Israel, the one described in the closing words of Malachi’s prophecy.
But in addition to the four cups taken by all, there is a fifth cup that is set upon the table, sometimes accompanied by an entire place setting which is left vacant throughout the meal. This is the cup of Elijah.
A Haggadah entitled, The Family Seder, by Rabbi Alfred J. Kolatch, describes it as follows:
“Elijah’s Cup. A special, decorative goblet is placed on the table, which is called the Cup of Elijah. It is filled with wine, along with all others, after the meal is over and the Grace has been recited. Elijah, the great prophet in Israel, who dominated the Palestinian scene 28 centuries ago, and was the conscience of Israel in the days of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, has become synonymous in Judaism with the Messianic Age. In his lifetime, Elijah fought the forces of paganism, and the Bible pictures his death in miraculous terms. He did not die, but ascended to heaven in a chariot, and vanished. His return was looked forward to, and was to mark the advent of an age of harmony, peace and understanding among all peoples, and all nations.” (p. 5)
At the pouring of the fourth Passover cup, custom bids the host to observe that someone should go to the door to see whether Elijah is there. It is left unlatched so that if he should appear, there would be no barrier to his entry. Another well-known Haggadah observes, “Whereas each participant in the Seder drinks from his own cup, the cup of Elijah is traditionally a large chalice, and many have the custom that it is shared by all. Once the cup of Elijah is filled to the brim, the door of the house is thrown open, perhaps to symbolize our inviting the spirit of the prophet who is to be the harbinger of the ultimate Redemption. Tradition has it that Elijah drinks from this cup, whose contents are then distributed among all Seder participants.”
The following recitation accompanies Elijah’s cup: “Pour Your wrath upon the nations that do not recognize You and upon the kingdoms that do not invoke Your Name. For they have devoured Yaakov [Jacob] and destroyed His habitation. Pour Your anger upon them and let Your fiery wrath overtake them. Pursue them with wrath and annihilate them from beneath the heavens of Hashem [the Lord].” (From Bondage to Freedom, Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.)
Even this brief glimpse of the Passover ceremony emphatically demonstrates that the Jews view Elijah as the bearer of the news that they have awaited for centuries, namely the Lord’s coming to deliver them. Jews have never forgotten that at the outset of the Tribulation, Elijah brings the message that their redemption is about to enter its final stage.
AHAB AND JEZEBEL
One of the most interesting aspects of the Tribulation is that one of the two witnesses has the power to withhold rainfall. This takes us back to the first appearance of Elijah, in which he is specifically empowered to do exactly this.
“30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him. 31 And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. 32 And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. 33 And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:30-33).
Ahab came to power as king of Israel in a period of divisive political competition. Following Solomon’s death, the kingdom had split, and now, many were searching for ways to bring Israel’s warring factions together.
Ahab echoed the behavior of Solomon, who took many foreign wives as a method of cementing relations with alien kings and tribes.Ethbaal was a high priest of Sidon, a man of great power and wealth. Flavius Josephus, in describing the history of Baal-Astarte (Ishtar) worship, gives the genealogies of Phoenician kings descended from Hiram. Of one of the kings, he writes, “… he was slain by Ithobalus (Ethbaal), the priest of Astarte, who reigned thirty-two years and lived sixty-eight years.” (Against Apion, I, 18). In other words, during his lifetime, this man was a ruthless dictator and a leading figure in the promotion of Baal worship.
In his wholesale promotion of Baal and Ishtar, Ahab felt that he was securing political and economic stability for Israel. He had linked his fortunes with evil power. Josephus writes, “Now Ahab, the king of Israel, dwelt in Samaria, and held the government for twenty-two years; and made no alteration in the conduct of the kings that were his predecessors, but only in such things as were of his own invention for the worse, and in his most gross wickedness. He imitated them in their wicked courses, and in their injurious behavior towards God; and more especially he imitated the transgression of Jereboam; for he worshipped the heifers that he had made; and he contrived other absurd objects of worship beside those heifers; he also took to wife the daugher of Ethbaal, king of the Tyrians and Sidonians, whose name was Jezebel, of whom he learned to worship her own gods. This woman was active and bold, and fell into so great a degree of impurity and wickedness, that she built a temple to the god of the Tyrians, which they called Belus and planted a grove of all sorts of trees; she also appointed priests and false prophets to this god.” (Antiquities, VIII, Xiii, 1, 2)
It was at this apex of evil that Elijah walked upon the scene with a decree from the Lord:
“1 And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. 2 And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, 3 Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 4 And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. 5 So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. 7 And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land” (1 Ki. 17:1-7).
Here, without genealogy or credentials, one of the greatest of all biblical figures rose to prominence in an instant. Because Gilead is mentioned, he must have come from the hilly region east of the Jordan River. In English, the name Elijah translates to, “Yah (Jehovah) is my God.” His was the voice of doom before the wicked king. And as is often the case with absolute monarchs, the result of his declaration was no doubt interpreted as a threat against the kingdom. The death penalty would be the immediate result.
So the Lord told him to flee back to the east of the Jordan, to the brook Cherith. Soon, however, his prophecy began to be fulfilled, and the brook went dry and he fled northward to Zarephath, where a poor widow sustained him until it was time for his reappearance before Ahab.
Upon the occasion of His rejection at his own synagogue in Nazareth, our Lord once recalled this event:
“24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. 25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias [Elijah], when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; 26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow” (Luke 4:24-26).
Three and a half years had passed, and rain had not fallen. Israel was deep in sin and despair, with false leadership and a false religion. Jezebel had killed many of the prophets of God; the rest had gone into hiding. Now, the Lord had Ahab’s attention:
“1 And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth. 2 And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab. And there was a sore famine in Samaria” (1 Ki. 18:1,2).
Now, the stage was set for the famous contest between the prophet of the Lord and the prophets of Baal, to see who could bring back the blessing – and the rain – to Israel. Jezebel had gathered to herself many false prophets … eight hundred and fifty, to be exact! In the end, they could not entice their god to accept the sacrifice of a bullock laid out upon a bed of wood. But the Lord answered Elijah, accepting the sacrifice with fire, even after Elijah ordered it thoroughly soaked in water:
“38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God. 40 And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there” (1 Ki. 18:38-40).
The story of Elijah continues from this point. We are told that he fled from the wicked Jezebel, who had sworn upon her god that he should die. In fear, he fled to Mount Horeb. But he returned after forty days. The lives of Ahab and Jezebel were soon ended. Another prophet – Elisha – was called. Soon after that, Elijah was taken, alive and in his physical body, to heaven. It happened as he and Elisha walked:
“11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Ki. 2:11).
Why had Elijah come? Quite simply, he had entered the world when Israel, wracked by evil and led by a wicked dictator, was struggling to survive the deep wound of the divided kingdom. Israel and Judah were set to collide, both with each other and with external enemies … Assyria and Babylon.
But Elijah’s work had spared them for a time. He established himself as the archetype of what the Lord’s special messenger would look like. He was sent at a critical moment in history to remind his people that the Lord is both present and watchful. He would return again in the future at another critical juncture in history.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
The personal history of Elijah is somewhat clouded. We are not told much about him, his connections or his background. But we think of him as a solitary man who probably lived in the wilderness much of his life.
Following Ahab’s death, his son Ahaziah came to rule. After being seriously injured in a fall, he sent his messengers to plead before Baalzebub, god of Ekron, for a prophetic ruling upon his failing condition. Elijah was instructed to go before the king’s messengers, to inform them that because they had sought some sort of blessing from a pagan god, the king would die. They returned to Ahaziah with this report. He asked about Elijah:
“7 And he said unto them, What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words? 8 And they answered him, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite” (2 Ki. 1:7,8).
From this description, we think of Elijah as a man of sparse needs and simple tastes, dedicated to the Lord, rather than the niceties of life. In fact, his image strongly reminds us of another famous biblical personality. Rising, as if through the mists of time, we see him in the New Testament:
“1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias [Isaiah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, 6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:1-6).
John came down the Jordan River, traveling much of the same territory as Elijah. Dressed in simple garb, and eating only the necessary food to keep himself alive, he presented a dramatic figure. It is not difficult to see him as an extension of the ancient prophet. And indeed, he serves the same function, arriving as he does at a critical time in Israel’s history.
Much in the manner of Elijah, he greets the spiritual leaders of national Israel with unvarnished condemnation:
“7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7).
Notice that his rebuke is accompanied by a prophecy. Little did they know that they were about to enter into a forty-year period that would culminate in the destruction of their Temple. Furthermore, he presented them with a prophecy of Jesus’ Second Coming, unfulfilled to this day, but every bit as powerful as when it was first pronounced:
“11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: 12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:11,12).
This prophecy, immediately preceding his baptism of Jesus, gives John the distinction of announcing both Christ’s first and second comings. Truly, he fulfills the role of God’s messenger. Without a doubt, he perfectly conformed to the archetype of Elijah.
John was later imprisoned for having criticized Herod Antipas’ incestuous cohabitation with the woman called Herodias, pronouncing their union unlawful. For this pronouncement, and at the whim of her daughter, he was beheaded.
Not very long after that, Jesus, accompanied by Peter, James and John, ascended a mountaintop and assumed His glorified form. To the astonishment of the disciples, Moses and Elijah appeared and began to speak with Him. Jesus explained the amazing event to them:
“9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. 10 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? 11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. 12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. 13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist” (Matt. 17:9-13).
Without attempting to explain the meaning of Jesus’ words in depth, the New Testament order of events is unequivocal. John the Baptist came as the Lord’s messenger, to announce the arrival of the Messiah. He baptized Jesus. He was arrested, then killed. Next, the disciples experienced the presence of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration.
Taking Jesus own words as literal in intent, Elijah came first in the person of John, then after John’s death, he appeared to the disciples as himself.
In other words, he first announced the Messiah, then the coming Kingdom. As Jesus said just before His transfiguration, “28 Verily, I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28).
There, on the mountaintop, Elijah stood as though already in the Kingdom Age. The disciples had gazed at him as through a window in time, that allowed them to see into the future.
Elijah’s divinely-appointed role is consistent throughout Scripture. He is the one designated to address Israel at key points in history, so that they might take the appropriate action under his leadership.
In the future, when He arrives as prophesied (just before the Day of the Lord), Elijah will fulfill another three-and-ahalf-year period, just as he did in the days of Ahab. Only this time, he will be battling someone far more sinister: the antichrist. Elijah will arrive as the Temple of the Tribulation is being established. Notice in the following description, that Elijah wears crude sackcloth, just as in earlier appearances. And, as in the days of Ahab, he is able to stop rainfall, which he apparently does for forty-two months, or three and a half years:
“1 And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. 2 But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. 3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. 5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. 6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will” (Rev. 11:1-6).
WHEN DOES HE COME?
As mentioned earlier, when looking at the prophecies concerning Elijah, a natural question arises: Just how long before the Tribulation will he arrive? Malachi’s words make it clear that he does come before the Tribulation.
In the preceding Scripture, two witnesses, almost certainly Moses and Elijah, administer the will of the Lord in the days when the Tribulation Temple is built. The “forty and two months” are the dark days at the beginning of the Tribulation, when Gentiles dominate Jerusalem, and the antichrist rises to power. Rain is withheld during this period.
The church has long since been taken to heaven. Remember, Malachi clearly states that Elijah comes to Israel before the unfolding of this period, and Paul clearly states:
“1 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 2 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 3 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:2,3).
According to these words, the church departs before the Day of the Lord. In that case, it is possible that there could be a slight overlapping transition between the dispensation of the church and the dispensation of the Kingdom period.
If we are as close to the Tribulation as many think, Elijah could be here today. But he will certainly not reveal himself to the church. As Malachi wrote, he comes to his Jewish brethren, to bring spiritual revival. The rapture must come first, then he will reveal himself. Whether he’s already here or not is really a moot question. But even now, he could be hiking along the Jordan, occasionally watching as new Christians come to be baptized in the ancient river, just as Jesus was. Perhaps he’s one of the West Bank settlers, working at some craft or trade.
If the witness of history tells us anything, it tells us that when he does return, it will be in some humble form. He will appear as a man of genuine character and great strength, but modest in appearance, perhaps wearing clothes that give him an impoverished appearance—the attire of an outdoorsman.
Another Passover is coming. As this is published, it is only days away. Holding to a centuries-old custom, some blessed Jewish household will leave its door ajar, so that Elijah may come in and partake of the Passover. Perhaps this year, he will come and share their celebration. Keep watching!
The texts of secular history tell us of human failure, wars, natural disasters and a cataclysmic flood, described in the Bible as the Great Flood of Noah. The histories of early Europe, India and the Far East record this event in their own mythical ways. They also refer to the ancient days in which the “gods” descended from the heavens to walk among men. Virtually every ancient culture has its historical documents, chronicling fearful and erratic wars in the heavens, in which supernatural beings interposed their tyrannical rule upon mankind. Graeco-Roman demigods were regarded as real and present powers. Temples devoted to worshiping them were the wonders of the ancient world. Their ruins still fascinate us.
Yet none of these pagan systems of belief contained the slightest reference to a wonderful future event – the general resurrection of the righteous dead. Of course, the Apostle Paul calls it the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). It is one of the great reasons why we constantly search the Scriptures, eagerly studying them for further insights.
As we do so, we find that the resurrection of the Church is far more than an escape from planet earth. In fact, the rapture is part of a much larger panorama. This amazing event is an important part of the extended process of restoring God’s Creation, which long ago became corrupted in the wake of Satan’s rebellion.
“12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:12,13).
The resurrection is here likened to light, in a beautiful picture of righteousness. Clean and pure garments, particularly in the biblical image of white robes, give us a wonderful picture of the future of the Church. And this future prophecy is built upon past achievement. Perhaps surprisingly, the biblical view of the rapture shows that there is nothing at all new or novel about the idea of being caught up to heaven. It has already happened several times, and will happen again. As we shall see, Scripture shows at least seven of these events.
When Paul refers to the “day of Christ” three different times, he is referring to an all-encompassing paradigm change. The world, which has proceeded for a few thousand years on a relatively even keel, will suddenly be propelled into a rapid succession of massive geological, meteorological, political, and spiritual changes, designed to restore the earthly Kingdom to Israel, and environmental purity to our planet.
The fervent belief in environmental stability, sometimes called uniformitarianism, is the religion of our day. It is centered upon the belief that for millions of years, things have slowly progressed along a predictable pathway. It is popularly believed that this condition will prevail, allowing the cosmos to continue its evolution at the same slow rate that it has always exhibited, until humanity arrives at perfection. Its single unifying conviction is that man can progressively improve himself, and establish a utopia.
But in one, future, electrifying moment, this belief will be dashed to pieces, as a rapid change of scene sweeps across every inch of land and sea.
In the very first instant of this change, we – the body of Christ – will be taken from this earth, along with the saints of the ages, resurrected into glory to enjoy the Lord’s presence and to participate in the massive restoration event that the Bible calls, “The Day of the Lord.” It will bring not one, but a series of catastrophes to man and the world. Make no mistake, the entire judgment process will be initiated following the rapture. From this perspective, the catching-away cannot occur at any time during or after the catastrophes of the Tribulation. In point of fact, it must happen before the Tribulation – perhaps significantly in advance of the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” Since the antichrist rides forth on one of these horses after the rapture, his identity will not be revealed to the body of Christ. Scripture clearly reveals that the Tribulation is not set off by the rapture; its beginning is marked at the precise moment that “the prince that shall come” (Dan. 9:26) confirms a seven-year treaty with the leaders of Israel: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate” (Dan. 9:27).
As predicted from ages past by the prophets of God, the Tribulation will be an enormous cleansing process, directed by our Lord. Scripture clearly reveals its purposes:
FIRST: The Tribulation will destroy the world system of commerce and idolatry, seen in two-fold form in the book of Revelation. As commercial and religious Babylon, it will meet its final end. The Gentile grip on political and financial power will come to an end, as Israel rises to receive the Kingdom of the Messiah
SECOND: Israel will be forced to abandon its ages-long self-righteousness. Finally, Israel will be brought to the realization that they have sinned and can be redeemed only through faith in the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel writes of their moment of truth during the Tribulation:
“35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. 36 Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD. 37 And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: 38 And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezek. 20:35-38).
THIRD: The hundred and forty-four thousand Israelites, sealed from each of the twelve tribes, will lead a world-shaking global revival, leading millions to salvation during the first half of the Tribulation.
The cataclysms that accompany this period will not be experienced by the members of the body of Christ, which is to be spared from judgment. Some find this aspect of grace detestable, characterizing an escapist church fleeing the scene to let the rest of the world suffer. But true Christians never wish God’s wrath upon the unsaved. They have been taught to love even those that curse them, and to share the Gospel with everyone they meet.
As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).
Also, the Lord’s words to the faithful Philadelphian church reinforce this thought: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth” (Rev. 3:10).
ENOCH, THE FIRST RAPTURED
At the beginning of the Bible, mankind is created within the perfect environment. What followed, forever cancels the bogus argument that when you place a human in such surroundings, he will respond by growing toward peace and perfection. In the very presence of God, in a perfect climate, and with abundance on every hand, man was unable to resist temptation. The “Old Serpent” tempted the first couple, and they fell. Their son Cain, the firstborn, murdered his brother Abel.
From that point, Scripture divides mankind into two genetic lineages. Cain became the father of the ungodly. Adam’s third son Seth, became a replacement for Abel. So, Seth fathered the Godly:
“25 And Adam knew his wife again; and she bare a son, and called his name Seth: For God, said she, hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel, whom Cain slew. 26 And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD” (Gen. 4:25, 26).
Ancient Jewish commentary has long held that in the days of Enos, idolatry began in earnest. Some Jewish translations reflect this idea. A good example of this is found in the Stone Chumash, where the verse reads “Then to call in the Name of Hashem [the LORD] became profaned.” Its editor’s comment, “The generation of Enosh introduced idolatry, which was to become the blight of humanity for thousands of years. By ascribing God-like qualities to man and lifeless objects, they created the abominable situation in which to call in the Name of Hashem became profaned (Rashi)” (p. 23).
They cite the Hebrew language of verse 26, where the preposition may be translated “in,” rather than “on” or “upon.” In this case, the verse would read, “Men began to call in the name of the Lord.”
“Rambam (Hil. Avodas Kochavim 1:1-2) explains how the grievous misconception of idol worship began and developed. Very briefly, he says that it began when people felt that they should honor the heavenly bodies as God’s emissaries to the world, just as it is proper to honor the ministers of a ruler. Eventually, this trend spread and became more and more corrupted, until worshipers forgot about God and assumed that all powers were vested in whatever representation they chose to worship” (p. 23).
Whatever the case, idolatry began to grow, and was fully developed by the sixth generation after Seth, when Enoch was born into a world that had adopted various forms of idol worship. If we are to believe ancient reports, the heavenly bodies were only a small part of the false worship that had so quickly taken hold on the antediluvian culture. The Bible described his birth in the following context.
“18 And Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch: 19 And Jared lived after he begat Enoch eight hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 20 And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died. 21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: 22 And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: 24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him” (Gen. 5:18-24).
Enoch has long been thought of as perhaps the most Godly man (other than Christ) ever to walk upon the face of the earth. This fact is made most remarkable in the face of his environment. He lived in a world of open sin, among demonic forces.
Idolatry begins with a formal appeal to false gods. But it quickly rises to the level of welcoming those gods into the culture. Finally, it becomes enslaved to depraved practices, which will placate them. Once the false gods obtain a toehold by pretending to be servants of man, they quickly gain power and become his despotic oppressors.
According to various extra-biblical sources, Enoch’s world was dominated by fallen angels, who intermarried with human women to produce monstrous offspring. Flavius Josephus attributes the corruption of the early world and the flood of Noah to their evil activities.
The Book of Enoch gives details about the timing of their activities:
“And it came to pass when the children of man had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters.
“And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’
“And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them; ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’
“And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’
“Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it.
“And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it” (Enoch 6:1-6).
The sin of these angels was so great, that it imperiled all humanity. Among believers, it is common knowledge that the Lord looked down upon His corrupted creation and decided to destroy it. Only Noah and his family were considered pure enough to bring the Messianic line of Seth across the flood, to begin anew after the waters receded.
Into this tumult, or more importantly, at its very beginning, in the days of his father Jared, Enoch had been born into a world facing judgment. He thus serves as the perfect type of the righteous man, caught up into heaven before the horrors of a declining world were fully developed.
It was a time of doctrinal corruption, as well as physical insult. It must be remembered that the evil ones taught men things that were held to be forbidden knowledge. Jude, in fact, uses the example of the fallen angels to illustrate the evil effect of false teachers:
“And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).
Peter’s second epistle, written a few years earlier, probably provided the basis for Jude’s comment:
“4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:4, 5).
Like Enoch, Noah was saved by his faith.
The sin of these heavenly intruders was so great that God placed them into a special place of confinement – as we would say today, solitary confinement and maximum security.
It seems that God took Enoch to spare him from the coming judgment. His name, pronounced Chanokh in Hebrew, means “initiated,” or “dedicated,” the same word root as Chanukkah, the festival of dedication. Being set apart as an example of a man of great faith – complete dedication – Enoch was a living example of the word.
Jones Dictionary of Old Testament Names says this about him: “He was so eminent a man of faith that he walked with God, and with his spiritual eye saw eternal realities, God and heaven; and after a sojourn of 365 years in a deceitful and deceiving world, God took him. The Jews consider him as the inventor of letters, and assert that a book of visions and prophecies, written by him, was preserved by Noah in the ark. Hence the Arabians call him … Eldris, i.e. the learned. That he was a prophet is most certain from the book of Jude, and a book [quoted above] has been lately discovered bearing his name” (p. 115).
This observation is supported by the simple fact that Jude’s epistle quotes the Book of Enoch directly and without embellishment:
“14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14, 15).
Writing about 5,300 years ago, Enoch looked toward the day of the Lord’s judgment … just as we do. Here, Joel quotes his words, envisioning the future arrival of the Messiah as seen in Revelation 19, coming with the armies of heaven … the Second Coming. God took Enoch to heaven prior to the judgments of his own era, just as we will be taken out before the future judgment mentioned in Enoch’s own prophecy.
MOSES, THE SECOND RAPTURED
Moses, Israel’s great prophet and deliverer, presided over the Bible’s next great period of sin and idolatry. In a surprising way, he is also an example of rapture.
He entered into the Egyptian culture, with its hundreds of gods, goddesses, magic amulets and powerful occult priesthood. By the grace of God, Moses, a Hebrew, became the most gifted member of the house of Pharaoh.
He lived to be a hundred and twenty years of age, and his life was divided into thirds, each lasting forty years. First, he was a political and military leader in Egypt. During the next period, he lived in the deserts of Midian, as a shepherd. At the age of eighty, he was sent before Pharaoh to deliver his people. Forty difficult years followed, as he struggled to establish a spiritual Israel.
Egypt is a type of the world system, which, because of sin, is rooted in a structure of idolatry. In a way, the world that Moses confronted, closely resembled Enoch’s debased society. The Lord placed both men into the world during critical times in history.
And like Enoch, Moses’ last days on earth were highly unusual. In fact, one can make the case that he, too, was taken to heaven alive. Exodus 34 describes his death, following his blessing of the tribes. He ascended Mount Nebo, where he viewed the Promised Land:
“1 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the LORD shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, 2 And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, 3 And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar. 4 And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither” (Deut. 34:1-4).
The average body is quite worthless; mining its material wealth would produce only a few pennies’ worth of usable chemicals. Only the soul and spirit are of worth; they live on to be judged by the Lord.
This was not the case with Moses. His body was considered to be extremely valuable. Perhaps its value was far greater than anything we can imagine on earth. Scripture goes out of its way to make sure that we know this. An incident recorded in the epistle of Jude gives us certainty about this fact.
As he writes, detailing the nature of false teachers, he notes their tendency to disrespect spiritual authority. To illustrate this point, Jude recalls an apparently well-known occurrence that concerned the death of Moses. Jude brings forward the historical point that the devil had, at one point, attempted to make the case that Moses’ body belonged to him. An argument ensued, with the archangel Michael making an appeal to the Lord, rather than directly criticizing the person of the devil:
“8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. 9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. 10 But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves” (Jude 8-10).
The truth of the matter is plain: The protocols of heaven command a degree of respect, even for the fallen Satan! Until the final judgment, the Old Serpent has retained some sort of sovereignty over this planet. The fact that he desired the body of Moses makes it clear that he believed he had a legal claim. There are many lessons taught by this encounter. But for our current study, the main thing to observe is that Satan considered the body of Moses to be quite valuable!
Unlike normal bodies, Moses’ body had great worth; it appears that he was not “dead” in the usual sense of the word. Was he in some form of suspended animation, pending his latter-day reappearance? A brief passage from the history of Flavius Josephus reveals what the Jews actually thought about Moses’ “death:”
“Now as soon as they were come to the mountain called Abarim [Nebo], which is a very high mountain, situated over against Jericho, and one that affords, to such as are upon it, a prospect of the greatest part of the excellent land of Canaan, he dismissed the senate; and as he was going to embrace Eleazar and Joshua, and was still discoursing with them, a cloud stood over him on the sudden, and he disappeared in a certain valley, although he wrote in the holy books that he died, which was done out of fear, lest they should venture to say that, because of his extraordinary virtue, he went to God” (Antiquities, IV. viii. 48).
Here, Josephus gives us an apparent eyewitness account that shows Moses being lifted up into a cloud, the very same idea expressed by Paul in the New Testament, as he describes the rapture of the church! Did he leave his body behind, to be interred by the Lord in a place which no man knew? Or did his body rise to heaven, where it lay in a place designated by the Lord? Was it in that place that Satan attempted to take it?
This side of eternity, we can never know the answers to these questions. But we can say with certainty that Moses’ death was out of the ordinary. And later, in the days of Jesus, Moses appeared to Jesus, Peter, James and John on the Mount of the Transfiguration:
“1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him” (Matt. 17:1-3).
In this divine moment, Moses appeared with Elijah, who had also been taken to heaven alive. The strong suggestion is that somehow, Moses transcended the ordinary idea of death. Whether or not it is true that he was taken in a cloud, as mentioned by Josephus, is irrelevant. He didn’t die in the ordinary sense. He was caught up.
ELIJAH, THE THIRD RAPTURED
This brings us to the third, and quite clear, historical rapture of an important biblical personality. In a way similar to the lives of Enoch and Moses, the Lord brought Elijah into the center of a vortex of moral and spiritual depravity.
In the ninth century, B.C., he arrived on the scene without notice; suddenly he was there, in the presence of Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel, priestess of Baal. Israel had fallen into utter idolatry. Now, Elijah the prophet had come to declare judgment:
“And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1).
Having pronounced what turned out to be a three-and-a-half-year drought, Elijah followed the Lord’s instructions and fled for his life. Later, toward the end of the drought, he returned to challenge the prophets of Baal. In the well-known story, he arranged a public demonstraton, laying out a sacrifice to the Lord, who found it acceptable. The prophets of Baal, whose god remained silent, were slain. Again, Elijah fled for his life.
Upon his return, he found Elisha. Soon after that, he prophesied that both Ahab and Jezebel would die in disgrace, which, of course, happened.
Sadly, Ahab’s son, Ahaziah came to power with the same leanings as his father. He served Baal until he, too died, as prophesied by Elijah. Shortly thereafter, the Lord decided that it was time for Elijah to be called home. But his work was to be carried on by Elisha. One day, the two of them were walking by the Jordan River, near Jericho:
“11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. 13 He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; 14 And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over” (2 Kings 2:11-14).
In one dramatic moment, Elijah was gone, taken by a whirlwind that had the appearance of horses and a chariot. He had been raptured, if you will, taken in a cloudlike vehicle to heaven. We are reminded of Paul’s words, as he describes certain “clouds” that will take the raptured ones to heaven:
“16 For 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: 17 Then 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” (1 Th. 4:16,17).
Certainly, these are no ordinary cumulus clouds; they must be heavenly vehicles of some sort.
FOURTH: RESURRECTION AND RAPTURE OF JESUS CHRIST
The high point of history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the perfect fulfillment of a pattern which we have observed in the lives of Enoch, Moses and Elijah, Jesus came to a debased world that was dedicated to idolatry. The Graeco-Roman system of worship was nothing more than an adaptation of the same ancient Babylonian system that lifted up Baal and Ishtar. In the culture of the first century, the Babylonian Mystery religion and the cult of the Caesars thrived.
Corruption characterized Israel, too. The Idumean (Edomite) dynasty of pretenders to Israel’s throne were close conspirators with their Roman overlords. The priests and scribes of the Temple had developed a debased system of legalities based on Jewish Law. Under their tyrannical rule, ordinary Israelites were subjected to a soul-withering despotism. Jesus came upon this scene, precisely as prophesied by Daniel and other Old Testament prophets.
He offered Himself as the legitimate King of Israel and was rejected. He turned away from their false worship and began to teach about a new way of redemption, offering the Word, Bread, Water and vital, sinless Blood of the new birth.
Then he arose, in what might be called the grandest rapture of all time. We do not usually think of it as such, but really it is. As Paul said:
“20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (1 Cor. 15:20-24).
Those who are Christ’s at His coming are His members – the body of Christ – the church.
Paul presents Jesus as first of type. He is the model of that which will happen to all who believe in Him, at the rapture. Enoch, Moses and Elijah, as great as they were, only foreshadowed the ultimate work of Christ.
When He comes for the church, we shall be caught up in a resurrection that will closely resemble His own. As the Apostle John put it so elegantly, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn. 3:2).
As the fourth of seven raptures, Jesus fulfilled another type: He is the middle, or elevated Servant Lamp of the Temple Menorah’s seven lights! Across the span of redemptive history, He stands above, a ministering Spirit to a lost world. This is exactly the way he is pictured by John in the book of Revelation:
“And in the middle of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His breast with a golden girdle” (Rev. 1:13).
FIFTH: RAPTURE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS
The righteous of the Old Testament era had patiently awaited the coming of their King. Now, He had come and He had risen. After His resurrection, a miraculous sign appeared, a signal of things to come:
“51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many”(Matt. 27:51-53). This brief mention of the Old Testament saints calls to mind the Jewish concept of Abraham’s bosom, that place in sheol where the righteous awaited the arrival and finished work of the Messiah. Though there is much mystery about the precise disposition of this place, an account given by Jesus, shows the reality of the underworld, (O.T. sheol) and the place where Abraham waited. A righteous beggar and an unrighteous rich man died. Both went to a place of waiting:
“22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22,23).
Here, “hell” is the New Testament way of describing “sheol.” The question arises: What happened to those who waited in Abraham’s bosom at the resurrection of Christ?
The Scriptural answer is that they went with Christ to heaven. Many have commented upon this fact. Beginning with Paul’s account in Ephesians, they have concluded that Abraham and the righteous became a literal demonstration and exhibit to the citizens of heaven:
“7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things)” (Eph. 4:7-10).
Paul quotes a psalm of David, which prophesied that the Messiah would ascend to heaven with those faithful who, along with Abraham, had awaited His coming. From the cross, Jesus arose through the visible heavens, arriving at Heaven, itself, where He presented Himself as High Priest. He ascended through the territory of Satan, to God’s throne, where He presented the faithful before God.
This observation is affirmed in Colossians, where Paul, using slightly different language, tells us that Jesus led these faithful to heaven in a triumphal parade:
“14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:14,15).
Can the ascent of the Old Testament saints rightfully be called a rapture? Certainly, yes, since they were led in a triumphal parade to heaven. Their experience was the very essence of being “caught up,” in the same way that the dead in Christ shall rise first.
SIXTH: THE RAPTURE OF THE CHURCH
With the five preceding examples to draw upon, the church awaits its own rapture. Each of these events lends its own depth and dimension to the most grand and complete event of its type in the history of the world, when the church is caught up. With history as our witness, it is easy to believe that the promise of the rapture is perfectly within the realm of possibility. Once we know where to look, the phenomenon is repeated in Scripture over and over again.
Taking them as a composite picture, we recall that each of the preceding rapture experiences took place during a crucial period of sin and idolatry. Without going into detail, most agree that we are living through another such era at the present time. Just as in the days of Enoch, Moses, Elijah, Jesus and the Old Testament saints, judgment is coming:
“2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Th. 5:2-4).
The antediluvian world, Egypt, Israel and Judah, all suffered judgment. At the next rapture – that of the church – the whole world will be judged. Entire books are devoted to this idea, so we need not go into further detail. But there is one more stop on our biblical tour.
SEVENTH: THE RAPTURE OF THE TWO WITNESSES
During the Tribulation, two witnesses rise to world prominence. We believe them to be two men who had previously experienced rapture. That is, God personally took them both to heaven.
In their intertwined lives, we have seen prototypes of the great rapture and resurrection of the church. Though there is much discussion concerning their identities, we believe them to be Moses and Elijah (who also appeared to Peter, John and James on the mount of transfiguration). We come to this conclusion simply because they are both shown doing exactly what they did during their Old Testament ministries:
“4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. 5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. 6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will” (Rev. 11:4-6).
Moses turned the waters of Egypt to blood and Elijah withheld the rain from Israel for three and a half years … which just happens to be the length of the first half of the Tribulation. Each of them stands up to proclaim the Lord under horrible conditions of idolatry and depravity. They reprise the roles that they played earlier, this time in a larger and more dramatic way.
“11 And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. 12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them” (Rev. 11:11, 12).
What a rapture! And notice once again, that it is accompanied by a “cloud.” As we have said before, this is no ordinary cloud. When the Lord moves, it is always with those clouds. One day, we’ll see them with our own eyes. In fact, Jesus told the high priest about them during His trial:
“63 But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. 64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26:63,64).
And there we have it, seven key events, past and future. The rapture outlines history. Seven times, like the spiritual branches of the Menorah, it brings light to the dark world. Its center light, rising like a beacon, is none other than Jesus Christ!
Seven times, the Bible describes a rapture experience. Soon, those same clouds will come again — this time for us!
D. M. ASKS:
I am perplexed about I Cor. 15:51, 52 and John 14:1-3, as regards the rapture. Dr. Thomas ice [a recent guest on the television program] feels that Jn. 14:1-3 speaks of the rapture. Here is my confusion. Paul wrote:
“51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (I Cor. 15:51,52 KJV).
Our Lord [through Paul] specifically used the word “mystery” to defend the concept of the rapture. Doesn’t the word “mystery” in the Bible mean something that has never yet been revealed? If John 14:1-3 is the rapture, then Jesus was not accurate in telling Paul that He was disclosing a true secret. I believe this mystery reveals that when Jesus returns in His [Second Coming], He will gather his 12 disciples to be with Him in His temple – His Father’s house.
In general, it is held that when Jesus speaks to his disciples in John 14, His discourse at the last Passover with them constitutes a general statement to the Church, the Body of Christ, as a whole. That is, He was laying out His plan for this single body, including everyone from the first disciples to the last person saved. Christ spoke prior to the first Pentecost, the birth of the Church and the dispensation of the Holy Spirit later. In John 14:3, when He says, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself … ,” He isn’t speaking of His “Second Coming,” as expressed in Revelation 19, when He comes in vengeance with the armies of heaven, to smash the beast, the kings and their armies. Instead, He’s speaking words of comfort to them, and to the entire body of Christ.
The real “mystery” – the secret, as you put it – is that sometime before He comes in judgment, He will come for His body, the Church. The word “mystery” is used many times in the New Testament, and each time it is used, it describes something that was once a secret, but now, has been revealed through the leading of the Holy Spirit. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is speaking of the resurrection of the Church, not Jesus’ final, victorious coming.
In literature, the media, and motion pictures, a recurring theme has begun to dominate center stage. It has assumed the proportions of an obsession that overshadows humanity on a global basis. There is now a real and palpable fear that complete global collapse will soon plunge mankind into a stone-age hand-to-mouth existence.
It is the fear of an apocalypse! Its proportions are laid out along the lines of scientific (or pseudo-scientific) observations:
At present, we get anxious daily reports on “solar-terrestrial flux” – the energy flowing between Earth and Sun. Solar flares (CMEs, or coronal magnetic ejections), after centuries of continuous occurrence, are being fearfully studied. They are watched through the eyes of carefully-positioned satellites that stand guard, ready to warn us of high-energy bombardment (virtual space hurricanes). Generated by solar storms, those at the top end of the scale could collapse the world’s electrical power grids … or worse. Once unleashed, we are told, their energy could set in motion a chain of events that might wipe out life on Earth.
And what about the warning cries that atmospheric pollution might raise global temperatures? We are told that melting polar ice caps and a rising sea level could swamp continents and raise the level of the sea, submerging all the major seaports. The global economy would collapse. Blazing hot weather could destroy all agriculture, creating global famine. True or not, some call it the greatest danger faced by humanity.
They say that this “climate change could make the globe so inhospitable that all surviving life would live in a state of constant struggle. This is the long-vaunted internal threat: Man’s greedy exploitation of global resources would turn the “Big Blue Marble” into a brown ball of dust.
In the past, enormous meteorites have collided with our planet, wiping out life on a global scale and leaving hundred-mile craters on Earth’s surface. Today, astronomers keep track (as much as they are able) of similar wandering space rocks. If a big one loomed on a collision course with our planet, the very existence of human life could be threatened. Some come very close to Earth from time to time, perpetuating the fear of imminent doom.
Shifting tectonic plates constantly threaten large population centers with the Earthquake that they call, “the big one.” Millions could die. Even continents might shift. Super-volcanoes, such as the Yellowstone caldera might explode, wiping out entire continents.
Then there is the biblical “pestilence.” Today, man fears a natural global pandemic that might kill millions … or a genetically-modified “superbug,” created in some dark laboratory to reduce the numbers of the enemy, or of mankind in general. Today the Zika virus has us alarmed. Perhaps human genetic experimentation could go awry, causing massive, runaway genetic plagues of half-human monstrosities.
Virtually all scientists are now expressing a fear of artificial intelligence and robotic engineering. Could they develop self-awareness and the desire to control humanity? One famous movie has a computer system called “Skynet” doing just that.
Global war? Economic Collapse? Plagues? Runaway artificial intelligence? Man fears an apocalypse.
Over the past half-century, an astonishing number of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic motion pictures have been fed to an apprehensive public. Looming asteroids, alien invasions, worldwide pandemics (producing the living dead – zombies), ecological disaster, rampaging monsters (perhaps the progeny of genetic manipulation), Solar explosions, atomic wars, rampant overpopulation, technology run amok, perhaps instigated by self-aware cyber-organisms, out-of-control robots, and above all, World War III. The fear of global nuclear holocaust has hung over the heads of mankind since the end of World War II. Its mega-deaths and the Jewish Holocaust set the stage for the State of Israel, as well as the persistent march toward the coming great, final world war that is so often mentioned in Scripture. The Book of Revelation breathes awesome life into the writings of the Old Testament prophets.
REVELATION: THE ORIGIN OF THE APOCALYPSE
All of the above relate to biblical Scripture. The popular use of the word “apocalypse” comes straight from the Bible.
Do you believe that prophecy is being revealed for the latter days? In particular, do you believe that prophecy points to the near fulfillment of end-time events, including the rapture, Great Tribulation and Second Coming of Christ? If the answer to these questions is yes, you are fascinated by apocalypticism. In fact, you are an apocalypticist.
This uncommon noun comes from the Greek apokalupto [apokaluptv], “to reveal.” It consists of two word segments: apo, “away from,” and kalupto, to cover. Very simply, it means “to uncover,” or “reveal.” The same roots form the Greek name for the Bible’s final book: It is called The Apocalypse, from the Greek Apoklupsis [ApokaluyiV], or more simply, The Revelation. Sometimes, this monumental book is called, The Revelation of John, or in longer form, The Revelation of St. John the Divine.
In fact, this is the greatest prophetic unveiling in the Bible. All the threads of prophecy – from Genesis to Jude – come to convergence in twenty-two chapters of Revelation. Its Greek title has become an Anglicized word: Apocalypse. Though not everyone believes in the Bible, virtually the entire world fears a coming apocalypse of some sort.
In fact, this universal anxiety has even produced the term, “post-apocalyptic!” This is an imagined life after the destruction of the world. After the horror of global destruction has come and gone, a ragtag remnant of humanity struggles to exist. Such literary efforts deal with the question of man’s very survival … and of the existence of God.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY
The Apostle Paul uses the same word to send comfort to Christians who, during his lifetime, suffered terrible persecution, the trials and tribulations of life in the Roman Empire:
“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). Here, the word “revealed” is that same word, apokalupsis. If you love to contemplate His sudden appearance in the heavens, it is more than likely that you have repeatedly studied the Scriptures that give substance to the time and manner of His coming. You yearn for Scriptural revelation. Again, you are an apocalypticist.
On occasion, you have probably had to push back a feeling of guilt, for being so excited about the closeness of the rapture. You dilute your prophetic enthusiasm in polite society, for fear of being called a “prophecy nut.” Worse yet, you find yourself in trouble with other Christians for being too occupied with a “pie in the sky” theology, rather than concerning yourself with charity and evangelism. To no avail, you explain to them that one can be prophetically excited and a good steward at the same time.
Worst of all, you find that as an apocalypticist, you vacillate between absolute certainty and total doubt. You tell yourself that these must certainly be the end times, but you don’t want to lead astray those less convinced than yourself. You think about all those degreed theologians who totally deny the rapture as a legitimate concept.
Understanding Bible prophecy can become a passion, particularly after one has begun to view it as already fulfilled in part. The edifice of Christianity is strengthened by over 300 Old Testament references to the Messiah that were fulfilled in the New Testament by Christ, Jesus. Born of the seed of the woman, a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), He is the Son of God (Matthew 3:17). He is also the son of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah and David (Matthew 1 and Luke 3), who was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). We could continue in this way, examining each of the hundreds of fulfilled prophecies until several books were filled.
The effect of such study is the conviction that it is only a matter of time until other key elements click into place. Many past dates with destiny stand as markers, convincing us that similar indicators are now poised to drop into place. Modern Israel’s timetable of events strongly motivate us to search for repetitive patterns, many of which extend into the future.
We deeply desire the privilege of being witness to their fulfillment. Our constant temptation is to develop Scriptural connections that will allow us to construct a latticework of likely times for His arrival. We study and observe with great hope. Paul perfectly expressed our position when he wrote:
“Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
We watch for Christ’s appearance, optimistically believing that we’ll be alive to personally witness the actual moment when a cosmic key is turned, allowing a door to open into the new world that will be our eternal home. At that moment, everything will change. Judgment will come.
We shall be called home, and the world will be restructured, restored and reconstituted by the Righteous Judge. Since you are an apocalypticist, the blessed hope is real and revelation is not just the name of a book of the Bible.
PROPHECY: A PRACTICAL PARADOX
Apocalypticists are often the brunt of condescending jokes and cleverly dismissive remarks. You’re no doubt familiar with them. One that you’ve surely heard a dozen times goes like this: “Well, some people say they are Premillenial. Some say they are Postmillennial. Some are Amillennial. I don’t believe any of that stuff. Me … I’m a Panmillenialist. I figure it’s all gonna’ pan out somehow.” His superior snicker tells you that he views a study of the end times as a useless pursuit.
You get that sort of remark from your upstanding, church-attending Christian who just doesn’t want to be bothered by the finer details of God’s plan. And he won’t talk about “religion” or “politics” at the dinner table, either.
He often says, “Nobody can agree on prophecy and everybody who’s ever tried to set a date has been wrong. “ He has been heard to say, “The only folks who don’t argue about Christianity are the heathen.” By that, he means that the heathen are sure of what they believe. In so saying, he has relegated your detailed study of redemptive prophecy to the world of the unsaved and the ignorant.
Apocalypticists are often depicted as slightly daft. There are many reasons for this, but the primary one is that Jesus didn’t return to establish the Kingdom in the first century. Since then, believers have been divided between, “He’s coming back at some future time,” “He’s coming back, but nobody knows when,” “He could come at any moment,” and “He’s coming back soon … really soon.”
After the passing of the Apostles, with increasing Christian persecution and the diaspora of the Jews, the church settled into a waiting mode. Uncertainty about Christ’s return shifted the emphasis toward various forms of obedience to a state church which believed itself to be the agent of Christ’s return. For the most part, the theology of the Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages was built around the idea that the geopolitical state church would conquer the world for Christ. Only after the completion of their master developmental plan would He return to take His seat upon their throne.
By contrast, the Apostles had written to their followers from the perspective of Jesus’ imminent return. They never stated that any particular goal had to be met before He could return. To their followers, His coming was of a personal nature, not a political one. It was not directly connected to the fulfillment of any particular prophetic event. In his first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote:
“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? (I Thess. 2:19).
Any Christian reading these words in the first century could not be blamed for believing that Paul meant them to be personally included in the coming of Christ for the Church … while they were still alive. Pronouns like “our” and “ye” certainly refer to Paul’s followers in the first century. A little farther along in the epistle, when he describes the rapture of the church, Paul twice uses the pronoun “we,” which could certainly have included those then alive in Macedonia:
”Then 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” (I Thessalonians 4:17).
Of course, Paul had told his followers that the dead in Christ would be the first to experience resurrection. Then, living Christians would be caught up, (raptured). But even as he wrote this, he used the pronoun “we” to refer to the latter group. “We” would be the group then alive.
In his second epistle to the same church, Paul delivers words of comfort to a people living in a pagan Graeco- Roman society. The pronoun “you” would again seem to include the first-century members of this church in the rapture:
“And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels”(II Thessalonians 1:7).
Nor was Paul alone in this direct way of referring to his contemporaries. John wrote about the appearing of Jesus, again using the pronoun, “we,” saying, in effect, that Christians who were then his contemporaries were likely to witness His coming:
“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (I John 2:28).
Such language opens a wide door for scoffers who actually think it is an evil thing to search the Scriptures for reasons to believe that His coming is near. Often, they even quote the Bible to back up their criticism. Most often they use the words of Christ, Himself, as He spoke to the disciples on the Mount of Olives:
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only”(Matt. 24:36).
You’ve heard them quote some form of this verse to make the point that if only the Father in heaven knows the time of Christ’s coming, then it’s a worthless waste of time to study prophecy with any hope of understanding the day in which we live.
But among other things, they always fail to make a critical distinction. Namely, that the context of this Scripture is Christ’s Second Coming, which is distinctly different from the rapture. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus mentions both the “abomination of desolation,” and the “great tribulation,” which dispensational Christians believe will not happen until after the rapture of the Church. We won’t even be around to not know the day and hour.
Furthermore, in this discourse, He is speaking to Israel, not the church, even to the point that He mentions a geographical place name: “Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains” (Matthew 24:16).
The “day and hour” mentioned here is the coming of the Day of the Lord, culminated by the Second Coming of Christ. Before that time, much other Scripture tells us that the rapture will take place. Indirectly, then, the Olivet Discourse tells us that the rapture is imminent, but also that it comes in the context of the Great Tribulation.
Thus, by both time and place, the contemporary apocalypticist is separated from an event that doesn’t concern him anyway. (By the way, the apocalypticist doesn’t attempt to calculate the day and hour of the rapture. But the general time … and the season … yes).
The cold fact that Jesus is not referring to the rapture does not stop the scoffer. He will quickly add that even if you believe in the rapture (which he doesn’t), it’s a signless event. This being the case, why study prophetic Scripture with any hope of discovering significant clues?
The answer to this question goes to the very nature of God.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (II Timothy 4:7,8).
Here, near the end of Paul’s life, he reminds Timothy that there is to be a special reward for those who deeply love (and here, the word for “love” is agape) the idea of the Lord’s soon appearance. In other words, living in the constant hope of His return is central to the life of a faithful Christian. Put another way, those who really love the Lord, simply cannot refrain from thinking that He might appear at any moment.
To Paul, this truth lies at the very center of a righteous life. His promise to return is called the “blessed hope” of the church. We yearn for His revealing. The Bible views apocalypticists as righteous, not silly. Even so, the world regards those who long for the return of Jesus as hopeless idealists, at best.
In the last half of the twentieth century, excitement about the approaching rapture of the church rose to fever pitch. Following World War II, and the statehood of Israel, there was the growing conviction that something big had changed. During both World Wars, Postmillennialism had reigned supreme in the leading theological circles.
This is the belief that the institutional church would bring the world into a kind of new golden age, through the teaching of Christ. Postmillennialists believe that the current era is the millennium, though it is not necessarily to be regarded as a literal thousand-year period. After that, Christ will return to accept the Kingdom then already established by the church.
Through the first half of the twentieth century, the great powers of theology were dominant in propagating this belief, producing a formal church, rooted in a belief that its prime function was to perfect society. But in mid-century, a radical change uprooted this belief. Israel became a nation, fulfilling many Old Testament prophecies. One of them was often pointed out as a direct description of Israel’s new statehood:
“Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the Earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the birth, and not cause to bring forth? saith the LORD: shall I cause to bring forth, and shut the womb? saith thy God. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her” (Isaiah 66:8-10).
SINCE THE SIXTIES
Indeed, there was much rejoicing among certain Christian groups at the time of modern Israel’s birth. Surprisingly, however, Israel’s emergence didn’t immediately change the Postmillennial teaching that continued to dominate most church pulpits. This theological development would await a powerful event that took another twenty years.
The signal event to which we refer was in many ways, as important as Israeli statehood, itself. Since 1948, Israel had fought for its existence. Tensions had increased, and in 1956, Egypt had clashed with Israel in the Sinai Penninsula. Israel won a decisive victory, but the U.S. and other Western countries had insisted that Israel withdraw. This was accomplished in 1957, But for the next ten years, Egypt continued to build its war machine. Thus, in the name of peace, Western diplomacy had given Egypt a decade to rearm itself. This situation led directly to the 1967 war.
Egypt finally announced a blockade of the Gulf of Aqaba in June, 1967. On June 5th, the famous Six-Day War began, as Israel attacked Egypt’s airfields, as well as those of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. By June 10th, the war was over, with Israel in control of Judea and Samaria, Gaza, the Golan Heights and Sinai Penninsula.
Israel’s rapid victory was seen as a modern miracle. Out of the war came many stories of angelic appearances and impossible victories. There were dozens of stories that seemed to point to Divine intervention. Suddenly, in the lives of the world’s Christians, Israel’s very existence came to be viewed as a direct result of the Lord’s actions. In retrospect, even Israel’s statehood came to be viewed as a sign that God’s prophetic program was on the move into the final days.
Until that war, Israel was for the most part, seen as miraculous only by the Jews. They believed that their ancient destiny had been fulfilled at long last. Only a few Christians had been awakened to Israel’s role in fulfilled prophecy. Suddenly, the Land blossomed with fruits and flowers. Israeli horticulture was not just prophetic, but profitable.
Amazingly successful books were written, showing that modern Israel was a fulfillment of prophecy.
The Six-Day War vaulted Israel into international prominence. Prophecy was no longer a study of the past, but of the present … and the near future! Prophecy preaching began in earnest, leading first hundreds, then thousands of preachers to proclaim, “Jesus is coming soon!”
For centuries – literally, ever since the days of the Apostles – a tiny remnant of true believers had been saying, “Jesus could come at any moment.” But it’s quite a different thing to say, “Jesus is coming soon!” The word “soon” sets an outer limit on the time of anticipation. Soon means within a few years … a few decades at most. Apocalypticists knew that the clock was ticking.
THE GREAT BALANCE
In the study of eschatology, balance is everything. Eschatology comes from two Greek words, eschatos, meaning “last,” and logos, meaning “word, or discussion.” It is a discussion of last things, in other words, apocalypticism. It is the general discourse upon how and when Christ will be revealed … the “who, what, where, when and why” of His coming.
The proper study of eschatology is vital in the accurate understanding of Scripture as a whole. Christ’s coming touches upon every aspect of theology. The great subjects of sin, redemption, resurrection and judgment must all be understood in terms of prophecy, both in past fulfillment and future discovery. God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the inspiration of the Word, the Virgin Birth, Israel in History and Prophecy must all be fitted within the context of the ages.
Satan, the angels (both good and evil), the Body of Christ, stewardship, reward and service, sanctification, personal tribulation, international tribulation and ultimate glorification are parts of the eschatological picture.
A misunderstanding of prophecy invariably blanks out the perception of His overall plan. Sound doctrine depends upon sound prophetic interpretation. At least a third of Scripture is specifically tuned to people and events that were future at the time of the writing.
Liberal extremists will deny that any Scripture at all is prophetic. In fact, even some sound pastor-teachers will avoid the direct teaching of prophecy. First, they find it too difficult to interpret prophecy. And this is for good reason: prophecy often presents complex and thorny issues. Second, they find that it tends to split their congregations, since prophecy cuts into the heart of worldly belief systems that may have crept into the church.
In the end, there are two common extremes. On one side, there are sensationalists, with special revelations about the date of the rapture, or a new eye-opener proving that the church will go through the first half of the Tribulation. Grandstanding and self-promotion are not unheard of in the world of Bible teaching.
Conversely, there are those who have declared prophecy to be the purview of wild-eyed self-promoters. They react by throwing up their hands and declaring prophecy off-limits.
Neither extreme is correct. Balanced study of prophetic Scripture will include all aspects of systematic theology, from the sin of Satan to the Restoration of the cosmos, and from atonement to glory. Balance is everything. The true apocalypticist knows this.
THE APOCALYPTICIST AS WITNESS
For at least two reasons, a thorough knowledge of eschatology is absolutely necessary for a convincing presentation of the Gospel.
The first has to do with the inspiration of God’s Word. If it can be shown that Bible prophecy is inerrant, it can also be shown that the message of the Gospel is true and reliable.
Earlier, we mentioned that many Old Testament references to the Messiah were fulfilled in the New Testament. The presentation of ancient prophecy that has already seen fulfillment is surely one of the best tools we have for effectively bringing the Word to the unredeemed world. The prophet Isaiah, alone, has brought many to Christ:
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
The virgin birth – dating back to the “seed of the woman” prophecy in Genesis 3:15 – can be presented while witnessing for Christ. His miracle birth, death and resurrection set the terms of salvation. To be born again, is to experience the new birth in Christ.
The entire fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is a witness to the One who bore the sins of mankind. The fact that it has been entirely fulfilled is – in and of itself – a phenomenal witness for Christ:
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:3-6).
In fulfillment of the ancient prophecies, He came to provide redemption for all. Prophecy demonstrates God’s plan in a palpable way. And just as it convinces, it can also convict.
This brings us to the second aspect of eschatology in the presentation of the Gospel. The apocalypticist knows that no other device is quite as capable of sounding a warning to the unsaved and the ungodly. Prophecy, in both Old and New Testaments, is most often concerned with bringing stern warning to the wicked and immoral of the world. Those who have never been introduced to the Bible are often shocked to learn that many global events are being brought to the staging point right now. The world may soon radically change, and for the first time, they will be forced to face themselves.
Currently, there is a perfect example that fits this model. It is the 38th chapter of Ezekiel, in which a massive enemy alliance stages itself for an invasion of Israel. A number of current political analyses, articles and even novels have shown that Ezekiel’s scenario is currently having its final details set on the world stage.
Russia, mired in post-Communist degeneration, is looking for ways to regain her lost power. To the south, an array of sheikhdoms and Islamic dictatorships cry out for someone to bring them out of the continual chaos that plagues them. Meanwhile, Turkey and Europe are rapidly falling into the subtle clutches of radical Islamic jihadists who threaten to dominate their culture.
The apocalypticist has long since recognized that this is precisely the setting for Ezekiel’s prophecy:
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts o armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee. (Ezek. 38:1-6).
Magog (Russia), Persia (Iran), Ethiopia, Libya (Northeast Africa), Togarmah (Turkey) and Gomer (Germany and Eastern Europe), unite to invade Israel. Now, that’s apocalyptic! And it’s a warning to the ungodly that judgment is coming. Even the most secular mind must give pause in the face of the growing evidence that just such a scenario is building at fever pitch. It’s happening … right now!
At the same time, and in the same way, the ungodly can, through prophecy, be made to understand that the God of the Old Testament is Deity. It is no coincidence that these nations have come together since Israel became a nation once again.
The apocalypticist, well grounded in prophecy, can point this out in a powerful way.
Furthermore, Ezekiel’s prophecy tightly links God’s judgment to the outcome of the battle of “Gog, the land of Magog.” The enormous force that comes against Israel will be overthrown, and that action will precipitate the Day of the Lord:
“And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, that my fury shall come up in my face. For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the Earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the Earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground” (Ezek. 38:18-20).
In these verses, the apocalpyticist naturally sees the apocalypse! Far more than a mere military action, and far more than nuclear weapons, it will be a time of geological upheaval unlike anything ever witnessed by man. Massive shifts in the Earth’s crust will be accompanied by volcanism and meteorological upheavals. Fiery objects will fall from the heavens. Judgment will come upon all those left on Earth after the rapture.
Most interesting of all, “the great and the terrible day of the Lord”(Joel 2:31) will come “at the same time” as the defeat of Gog’s forces. The awesome power of the Lord will be revealed to all men.
Jesus rebuked the Jews of His day for failing to discern “the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). Prophetic awareness tells us that life on planet Earth is not going to get better and better. The apocalypticist watches in sadness as “Bible Belts” become casino carnivals, and thinks, “How many casinos did I drive past to get to church today?”
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come … But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (II Tim. 3:1,13).
CENTURY TWENTY-ONE PARADOX
This brings us to that perennially favorite debate question: “Are we living in the last days?” And here, we come to an interesting paradox. (As an apocalypticist, you will have noticed that prophetic study usually presents you with a paradox.) Christians are used to this: Did the Lord choose you from before the foundation of the world, or did you choose to follow Him? The answer is “yes” to both. But of course, that answer is impossible. Then again, nothing is impossible with God.
But, back to the question about the last days. When the Apostles use the term, they are referring to the closing days of the church age. In the broadest sense, however, they are describing the general deterioration that has characterized the entire church age. To the apocalypticist, the term “last days” holds no clue as to timing or dating. But it does indicate a trend, as when Peter wrote:
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the Earth standing out of the water and in the water” (II Pet. 3:3-5).
Clearly, Peter was writing about a time following his own. Today, in retrospect, we know that, through the leading of the Spirit, he was writing about the naturalistic philosophy called uniformitarianism. It declares that for millions of years, the Earth has slowly and uniformly formed itself into the environment we see today. Science now denies that God has any part in the natural world. They scoff at believers who want to describe nature’s intelligent design. Is this proof that we are living near the time of the rapture? No, but it gives you that certain “last days” feeling. And let’s not forget all those preachers, crying out, “Jesus is coming soon!” Don’t bother telling them that we are not at the end of the church age. All that may be said, is that we are – or we are not – living in the last days. A paradox, indeed. But apocalypticists are quite accustomed to living in such slippery environments.
And speaking of paradoxes, perhaps the greatest paradox of all is so obvious that it’s often overlooked. Namely, that we are living in the twenty-first century. At this writing, it has been about 2,022 years since Christ’s birth in 3 B.C. That’s two millennia, plus! We are now well into the third millennium since the coming of the Messiah.
And what it so important about this fact? Prophecy has long suggested that it would be about two thousand years between His first and second comings. And upon this point, we are reminded of a key Old Testament prophecy:
“For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him. I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early. Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the Earth” (Hosea 5:14-6:3).
Here, in one of the most wonderful prophecies of the entire Bible, written in the eighth century B.C., the Lord speaks to Israel and Judah through the prophet Hosea. He says that He will come to both the northern and southern Kingdoms as a rampant lion, then return to His place in heaven. Of course, this prophecy has long since been fulfilled.
Israel has been judged and scattered and repeatedly afflicted. They have earnestly sought Him for nearly two thousand years – represented by the “two days” mentioned in the above portion of Hosea. As of May 14th, 1948, they have been “revived.” They are now a secular state, regathered in unbelief. They have been revived, but not “raised up,” (a term referring to Israel’s spiritual rebirth).
This is prophesied to happen in the “third day.” If millennia are depicted in Scripture as days, we are now living in the third day. We can therefore expect Israel to be spiritually reborn, and very soon. The Bible is most emphatic about this event. It comes at the beginning of the Tribulation period, as shown in the seventh chapter of Revelation (The Apocalypse, for all you apocalypticists), where the 144,000 Jews are sealed and anointed by the Lord.
Repeating for emphasis – as apocalypticists often do – this is the time period in which we now live!
But just how can we say that we are now living in the third day? Well, according to the “millennial-day” theory, the seven days of creation foreshadow the seven millennia of human history, each “day” being a thousand years in length.
The Epistle of Barnabas was, at one point, considered for canonization in the New Testament. The great nineteenth-century scholar, J.B. Lightfoot, published a famous English translation, from which the following selection is taken. In condensed fashion, it presents a belief which is thought to have been common among the disciples of Jesus in the first century:
“Of the Sabbath He speaketh in the beginning of the creation; And God made the works of His hands in six days, and He ended on the seventh day, and rested on it, and He hallowed it. Give heed, children, what this meaneth; He ended in six days. He meaneth this, that in six thousand years the Lord shall bring all things to an end; for the day with Him signifyeth a thousand years; and this He himself beareth me witness, saying; Behold, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, everything shall come to an end. And He rested on the seventh day. this He meaneth; when His Son shall come, and shall abolish the time of the Lawless One, and shall judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun and the moon and the stars, then shall he truly rest on the seventh day” (Barnabas 15:3-5).
As an apocalypticist, this comes as no news to you. You have long since acknowledged with some exhilaration we are living at the very beginning of the seventh day since creation … the seventh millennium. This is the day in which Barnabas said the “Lawless One” would be defeated. For this to happen, he must be revealed. It is logical to assert that this event must happen in the near future. Not long ago, the media wondered aloud whether he might be alive today. Then, in a paroxysm of scorn, they tossed the idea into newsroom wastebaskets across the land. You, however, quietly retained your thoughts on the matter, and kept your eyes open.
Speaking of quiet thoughts, the apocalypticist may muse, “Since I’m already living in the seventh millennium, can I still be called a Premillennialist?” Without a doubt, that’s an interesting question.
Apocalypticists will not have missed late developments in the United Nations, where the corrupt meet to redistribute the world’s wealth to their sons and daughters. They also regard the United States as a huge pie, to be cut up and served to the “more deserving,” which will then be governed by their paid lackeys in a system that divides the world into ten zones of control. Hmmm … doesn’t the Bible say something about ten kings, one of whom will rise to power as the man of sin, the antichrist?
And apocalypticists must be watching the breathtaking rise of China as a world trader and manufacturing colossus. A generation ago, the Chinese couldn’t even own property. Now, China boasts dozens of nouveaux riche millionaires, who, in a rampant orgy of conspicuous consumption, say that they will become the world’s most powerful class. The “kings of the east,” are on the march.
And surely, apocalypticists will have noted that the most potent concentration of geopolitical power in the world is now squarely focused on old Persia (the new Iran), Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Arabia. One can almost feel the nuclear heat radiating from the area.
These are but a few examples of why the apocalypse must be very, very near. Allow me to say that it’s no accident that many preachers have risen to proclaim “Jesus is coming soon!” The Spirit of the Lord has moved them to speak these words. And soon…means soon! So, am I an apocalypticist? What do you think?