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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?
Many who present themselves as intellectuals are convinced that the ancient narratives of the Bible are nothing more than fictional stories concocted around ancient tribal campfires.
One of these is the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, said by some to be simply a mythical explanation of how mankind came to speak different languages. The scoffers say that early men could not possibly have built a tower that would reach to heaven … their declared intention as given in Scripture. Today, we have skyscrapers much higher than the original Tower of Babel. Furthermore, those on the upper floors of these modern megaliths do not suddenly experience having their common language compromised. Nor do they acquire an ability to commune with angels.
On the other hand, we believe the story of the ancient Tower is true, and that the men who built it had access to a type of knowledge that has since been lost. In fact, it seems to have been an arcane knowledge that God would not allow unregenerate man to possess.
The purpose of this study is to investigate the Babel debacle in an effort to understand what post-flood society was really doing. God, Himself, took special notice of their wicked work.
As an article of faith, we believe that Moses wrote the five books attributed to him. Though some may question his authorship, we are convinced that he gave an accurate account of those key historical events that occurred during the 2,500 years from the creation of Adam to his day.
Jesus, speaking to the leaders of Israel, dramatically affirmed that Moses wrote the books attributed to his name:
“45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. 46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me” (John 5:45,46).
He wrote the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They systematically delineate God’s Creation, man’s fall and the line of Messianic redemption that would emerge from the family lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Late in the 15th century B.C., his writings were compiled — probably by the Levites – priestly successors of Aaron. So, about five hundred years before the accession of David and the Kingdom period, these books had been copied into a single scroll, called the “Scroll of Moses.”
It is important to remember that under the leading of God’s Spirit, Moses collated and anthologized a number of histories, going all the way back to the creation of the world, and of Adam. Over the centuries, several Sumerian and Akkadian clay tablets have been found to include striking details of events that were apparently quoted (if inaccurately) from the five books of Moses!
Yet, from among these historical records, the Lord anointed Moses to record a true history of mankind. Doubtless, some details were omitted, and others added, as God gave him insight. One thing is certain: the historical documents the Lord gave to Moses are a pure distillation of human history.
Moreover, their point of view is specifically that of a world seen through God’s eyes. Mankind is critically appraised and found deficient. He is viewed with a brutal frankness that could never have come from a human oligarchy, which always tends to flatter itself.
One has only to look through the bulk of the ancient cuneiform writings of Sumer to see humanity in full self-adulation. At the same time, these early post-Flood societies are lost in the deep convolutions of idolatry.
LONGING FOR AN “ANCIENT WISDOM”
In secular accounts of man’s early history, there is always the distinct overtone of loss and separation. That is, early man viewed himself as having been cut off from a source of wisdom and power that he had once obtained from “the gods.”
In ancient Sumer (the Biblical Shinar, later to be known as Babylon), ancient scribes wrote fantastic accounts of gods who descended in their flying machines and taught men exotic skills and philosophies. Such trysts with the gods led to innumerable idolatries, such as the worship of Ishtar and Tammuz, Baal and Oannes, the talking fish-god who came forth from the great river to teach men the lost arts. He was said to emerge periodically, to speak his wise words to the leaders of mankind.
In one way or another, the men of this period were continually trying to reunite with the gods who had formerly been so close to them. Approximately fourteen to twenty centuries later, the Persians, Greeks and Romans launched their own versions of these fantastic histories. Their mythologies are full of stories about how the gods once walked among men, giving them the great knowledge of the gods that had since been lost. These were the so-called “Arcadian Myths.” They tell of a time when the gods capriciously appeared to bless or curse humanity. On the whole, however, this period was characterized by great tranquility and perfection, when man wanted for nothing, and was on the verge of achieving godhood, himself.
Of course, Genesis 6 gives God’s view of this era, when fallen angels corrupted mankind to the point that its destruction was the only alternative. Still, men longed (and still do) for a repetition of this condition. They believe it is their only salvation. In this generation, the flying gods of old have been renamed: They are the “ancient astronauts.” Once again, the old myths of the gods who created man are rising in the public consciousness.
Homer called one narrative of this ancient culture, “Atlantis,” recounting the myth of its destruction by a great flood. And though his account is garbled and mixed with fable, it surely recalls the event known in the Bible as the Great Flood of Noah.
Through the period of the Greeks and Romans — and all the way to the present — man has sought through his own efforts to regain this deeply buried pool of lost knowledge. He is, in short, trying to claw his way back up to the position that was lost when Adam sinned and became separated from God. And the condition prevailed after that, when the offspring of Cain became associated in a fast-and-loose illicit relationship with fallen angels.
Man still operates with a gnawing sense of loss. Even in the early twenty-first century, the new stratagems of science are considered to be humanity’s access to glorification … to self-redemption. Human genetic research, we are told, is on the verge of being able to create a “superman.” Trans-humanism is an increasing subject in scientific dialogue. Quantum physics is said to be near the point of allowing man to penetrate the dimensional barrier that prevents him from scaling the heights to the spirit world, and an empowered life of perfection and awareness.
The energies of the human psyche are now probing the barriers of time and space. What was once called “clairvoyance,” is now called “remote viewing,” a technique employed by our own intelligence community to mentally spy on military and industrial enemies. It is said by some that they are able to peer into the future!
With his particle accelerators, proton emission tomography scanners, with gas chromatographs and radiation sensors, man is once again building a virtual “tower” that will reach the heavens. Some speak of the gigantic particle accelerator in Switzerland – CERN – as an effort to open a “portal” into another dimension.
In today’s new physics, even the mathematical mumblings and meditations of theoreticians sound like the metaphysics of Zen Buddhism. The line between pure science and Eastern religion is being blurred.
Higher and higher is his goal; man wants to reach his ancient and arcane treasure house. He deeply desires to break through the barriers that are holding him back. As we shall see, his quest is not new; it is only a repetition of an ancient mystery religion.
THE REASON FOR THE FLOOD
Moses didn’t write simply to record history. There is reason and purpose behind every syllable — indeed, every letter — of his five books. The style is remarkably straightforward. To the seeker of God’s wisdom, it progressively opens layer after layer of meaning. Bit by bit, as man is capable of understanding, the books are opened and one discovers that … voilà! … they perfectly expound God’s plan for man.
They do so in a compact manner that humans, writing on their own behalf, never seem to master. For example, the reason for the Great Flood of Noah is given in only four verses:
“5 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8).
Without entering into the debate about the deeper theological meaning of “repented,” it is clear from this statement that God decided to destroy all but a tiny remnant of humanity.
This was radical action, indeed! And there is no need to ask why such an extreme step had to be taken. The “gods” of paganism not only walked among men, but were apparently free to teach their heresies, bestow mystical powers, and allow themselves to be worshipped.
“4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown” (Genesis 6:4).
The “giants” were the Nephilim, or “fallen ones.” They were the “angels” of Jude 6, who “… kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation….” Their wickedness was of such extreme depth that they are locked away for a special judgment at the throne of God.
They usurped the position reserved for God, alone. Posing as man’s creators and sustainers, they encouraged the worship of those whom they had duped. Ultimately, they corrupted the human ancestral lineage of man. Only Noah and his family retained their genetic purity.
In the ancient Book of Enoch, these fallen angels are said to have lusted after the beautiful daughters of men. Furthermore, they were well aware that they were sinning and agreed to commit their wicked acts as a group in order to evade possible punishment.
They taught the women “charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants.”
One, named Azazel, “taught men to make swords and knives and shields and breastplates and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets and ornaments and the use of antimony and the beautifying of the eyelids and all kinds of costly stones and all coloring tinctures.”
Another, named Semjaza, “taught enchantments.” Still another, called Baraqijal, “taught astrology.” Kokabel taught “the constellations;” Araqiel, “the signs of the earth;” Shamsiel, “the signs of the sun;” and Sariel, “the signs of the moon.”
Thus, were antediluvian men said to have received the knowledge of the biological and physical sciences, chemistry and the illegal metaphysical arts. No doubt, God had already given Adam and his lineage considerable knowledge. It was wisdom of the kind that would glorify Him.
But under the reign of fallen angels, forbidden knowledge entered the picture. Corrupt priesthoods flourished and illicit discernment grew, even as mankind plunged ahead on its suicidal course.
Following the Great Flood of Noah, mankind was given a restored covenant. Unfortunately, Noah’s offspring were not free from the temptations that had wiped out the men of their former civilization.
The ground had hardly dried when the sin of Ham once again introduced a dark side into the picture of human development. As Noah and his sons descended to the Mesopotamian plain, evil crept into their post-Flood society like leavening through a loaf of rising bread.
Again they longed for the support of the heavenly benefactors who had revealed arcane wisdom before the worldwide deluge. Having tasted of the power that accompanied the fallen angels, they began to glorify the experience. Remember, Genesis 6:4 refers to the days before the Flood, and says that the same situation also occurred “after that”:
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that …” (Genesis 6:4).
THE WAY UP FROM DOWN
Following the Flood, the sons of Shem, Ham and Japheth would logically have busied themselves with restoring normal life. They would have worked to set up enclaves and outposts across the landscape. Working in barren terrain, they literally had to reinvent their societies and cultures.
The lineage of Shem eventually populated the Middle East and Far East.
The descendants of Ham and his son, Canaan, produced the ancient civilizations between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers … the general area of the biblical land called Shinar. Later, they were to travel south and westward into Africa.
Japheth was the progenitor of the Eurasian and Greco-Roman Gentiles.
But before they became established in these far-flung locations, they were apparently drawn together in an instinctive drive for self-preservation.
The Bible gives a brief statement about the conditions of this period in two short sentences:
“1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there” (Genesis 11:1,2).
The fact that these Flood survivors are said to have “journeyed from the east,” tells us that they must have first come down from the mountains of Ararat toward the southeast. There, in the region south of the Caspian Sea, they established their initial encampment.
This was the region of the ancient Median Kingdom (later to become the land of Medo-Persia), where they congregated to assess their lot.
Apparently, after two or three generations, they began to migrate westward to the fertile and pleasant lowlands of Mesopotamia. Perhaps led by a few scouts, they went there to establish themselves.
One can only attempt to understand their plight. These three men, sons of Noah, could well remember the unimaginably blissful environment that characterized the pre-Flood world. The weather and growing conditions had once been perfect. Nutrition and atmospheric conditions afforded agricultural success, peace and longevity that were totally absent in this post-Flood world.
Now, they coped with a thin atmosphere and fickle weather. Dealing with seasonal changes in a scratch-and-grovel agriculture, these men must have doubted their very survival. They were searching for something better in a broken world.
Speaking a unified language, they assessed their situation, then migrated westward to the land of Shinar, which would later be known as the land of Babylon. Here, they consolidated under the leadership of Nimrod:
“8 And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD. 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Genesis 10:8-10).
Alexander Hislop, quoting various historical authorities, identifies a certain “Bel,” founder of Babylon as none other than Cush. His son, Ninus, known in the text of the Bible as Nimrod, was the first ruler of Babylon. He was said to be a giant of a man, who claimed some connection with the power of giants (Nephilim) who had corrupted mankind before the Flood. His promise was the restoration of the world’s former greatness. That which the Lord saw as corruption in Genesis 6, was viewed by Nimrod and his followers as greatness.
Nimrod was a rebel who allowed himself to be worshipped as a god. After the Flood, his rebellion became the foundation of mankind’s greatest religious apostasy. Down through the generations, this system of false worship became known simply as the “Babylonian Mystery Religion.”
Its basis is quite clear. It attempts to channel the power of the ancient gods through the figure of one, powerful man. Nimrod became that god, later worshipped as the mythical Tammuz, whose wife, Semiramis, became the Goddess/Mother of humanity. She is the model for all the ancient fertility goddesses — Ishtar, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Artemis, Isis and Diana.
With exhaustive scholarship, Hislop documents these goddesses as so-called “tower goddesses.” Their ancient effigies wear a distinctive towered headdress, which conjure up the great power of the ancient tower-builders.
Under the leadership of Nimrod, the early post-Flood societies were obviously attempting to reunite with the fallen spirit-beings, who were within their recent historical memory.
The unbearable punishment of living in a world of chaos, disease, unpredictable weather and destructive earthquakes drove them to seek an accursed liaison with the very spirit-beings who had corrupted their peers in the days before the Flood.
“3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:3,4).
Since Moses recorded this event in the context immediately following the post-Flood genealogies of Shem, Ham and Japheth, it must be one of the major events of human history.
From our perspective in the twentieth century, we look back at various ancient cultures and see these “towers” all over the world. Virtually every major culture on Earth involved itself in some form of tower building. Many ancient civilizations from China to the pre-Columbian territories of Central and South America built the monuments that we call pyramids. Silbury Hill in England is a good example. This would seem to make tower-building a common phenomenon. What, then, makes the Tower of Babel so special?
There is the common thought that this Tower was merely a monument to pride. That is, it held no real mystical power, but was simply a device to focus the superstitions of the crowd upon a common goal.
The Bible, itself, dispels this notion. It provides the Lord’s own view of the developing situation. As He observes the activities of the tower builders, we read this profound statement:
“5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. 6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:5-7).
Certainly, God did not view their activities as simply a work of superstitious delusion. Rather, His statement reveals a concern that they were on the verge of achieving their primary goal — not just to build a tower, but to break through a barrier to the realm of heaven, itself. They were apparently about to realize some success in penetrating the dimensional veil that separates some aspect of heaven from the earth!
This “tower” would enable men to realize their darkest imaginings. And what had they imagined to do? Simply to renew their contact with the “sons of God,” as their predecessors had done before the Flood.
This is the only apparent way to explain the observations of the Lord as He watched their work. The Flood had presented mankind with a crushing defeat. Now they were simply trying to regain their lost wisdom and power. They had been knocked down; now they were trying to get back up. And they were breaking the laws of heaven and Earth to do it.
THE ANCIENT WISDOM
But there was something more. The actions of the tower builders reflected the misdeeds of men before the Flood. Jewish history recalls that two “towers” were built before the Flood. Doubtless, the busy tower-builders on the plain of Shinar remembered that fact. They knew that — properly executed — a tower of certain specifications could penetrate the dimensional barrier and capture the powers of the very heavens, themselves.
Josephus writes about the pre-Flood sons of Seth. Like their father, they were known for their virtue. They also had enough foresight to know that the world would one day be judged. The sons of Seth were possessors of great knowledge, which they wished to pass on to those who would survive the destruction of the world.
Of them, Josephus writes, “They also were the inventors of that peculiar sort of wisdom which is concerned with the heavenly bodies, and their order. And that their inventions might not be lost before they were sufficiently known, upon Adam’s prediction that the world was to be destroyed at one time by the force of fire, and at another time by the violence and quantity of water, they made two pillars; the one of brick, the other of stone: they inscribed their discoveries on them both, that in case the pillar of brick should be destroyed by the flood, the pillar of stone might remain, and exhibit those discoveries to mankind; and also inform them that there was another pillar of brick erected by them. Now this remains in the land of Siriad to this day.”
Josephus wrote his histories at the same time the Apostles were alive and building the early Church. He specifically names the children of Seth, son of Adam, as the keepers of mathematical and astronomical knowledge. Apparently, this was common knowledge among the Jews.
This being the case, it is obvious that this information was handed down from the time of the earliest post-Flood cultures in the land of Shinar. Realizing that their pre-Flood predecessors had built the two towers, they now sought to duplicate this feat. They knew it had been done before the Flood in two different places. Now, possibly on the very spot that the first brick tower had been built, they were on the verge of doing it again.
“So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.
“Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:8,9).
With this terse statement, the incident of the Tower is brought to a close. This narrative is significantly sandwiched between the genealogy of Noah’s son and the genealogy of Abraham. When the evil work of Nimrod’s followers is thwarted in linguistic confusion, God’s redemptive work upon the human landscape immediately begins in earnest. The Lord appears to Abram and initiates the Covenant of Promise.
THE PUSH TOWARD THE HEAVENS
All this happened about four thousand years ago. During these last four millennia, mankind has marched through a succession of despotic Gentile rulerships. The redemptive lineage of Abraham included the Law of Moses, the establishment and disintegration of the Davidic Kingdom, the northern and southern captivities of Israel and Judah, the coming of Christ, the Diaspora and the Church Age. All the while, corrupt priesthoods have flourished, carrying with them the shadow of Nimrod and his ancient mysteries. Their inner secrets have been known by various names, including alchemy, magic, sorcery, conjuring, soothsaying and so forth.
The innermost order of magician-priests has quietly gone about the consolidation of its powers, waiting for the prophesied day when it would rise once again. This movement will result in the reign of the Antichrist.
Though deeply hidden, the ancient dream of mystical power has retained its identity and its goal of seeking to bring the ancient powers of heaven to mankind. It has subverted many monetary, political and religious movements, including some so-called “Christian” denominations. Arcane and occultist priestly orders have lurked in the shadows of the halls of power.
In the twentieth century, the cults of theosophy and mind-science have progressively emerged to join with Eastern religions. The leaders of Eastern mysticism have the same goals, namely, that of seeking the “wisdom of the ancients.”
Mankind without Christ is drawn to the lure of power like the moth to the flame. But, as witnessed by the incident of Genesis 11, the Lord knows that man in his present degenerate condition would only use that power to destroy himself.
The sons of Seth had access to a pool of knowledge that has been lost. But we must remember that according to Josephus, one of their two “pillars” or towers survived the Flood. It exists to this day in Egypt as a repository of ancient knowledge.
Only in the comparatively recent past has a technology existed that could measure the Great Pyramid on the same scale of accuracy as its original builders.
With optical accuracy, this Pyramid lays out longitude, latitude, solar and sidereal time, the sun-earth distance, the relationship between Earth’s equator and its poles and many other units of measurement too numerous to mention. Furthermore, it was erected in some way that defies modern technology. Engineers have stated that it could not be built today, even with our heavy lifting equipment.
Within the last half-century, some of its proponents say that its very shape in some way captures and redistributes energy on a level that defies understanding. So-called “pyramid power” has been claimed to do everything from preserving food to sharpening blades, if they are left overnight in a pyramid-shaped enclosure.
In this ancient “tower,” one finds that the sciences of astronomy, geography and physics merge with the occult metaphysics that transcend time, space, matter, energy and motion.
In the halls of modern science, it is a curious truth that one finds the same merger going on. It is as though mankind has gone full circle, with modern science painstakingly having arrived at long-forgotten truths.
THE DAYS OF NOAH
The Stone Edition of The Chumash — the annotated Books of Moses — makes the following comment about the circumstances surrounding the Tower of Babel narrative:
“The year of the … narrative is 1996 from Creation, 340 years after the Flood. Noah and his children were still alive at the time, and Abraham 48 years old, had already recognized his Creator. All the national families were concentrated in present day Iraq [kcc, Babel] and they all spoke one language, the Holy Tongue, the language with which the world was created.
“All the ingredients for greatness were there: The nations were united, they were in a central location, they spoke the Holy Tongue, and — if they desired guidance in achieving holiness — they had Noah, Shem, and Abraham among them.”
Sadly, these men chose to follow Nimrod in religious rebellion and turn themselves against the very God of Heaven, Himself. Noah was alive as the Tower of Babel was being built! How sad he must have been to see men once again turning to the same false worship that had produced such corruption before the Flood.
This thought causes us to turn once again to the amazing prophetic statement made by Jesus, as He taught before the Pharisees about His Second Coming. In Luke 17:30, He says, “Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.”
This declaration is preceded by a reference to Noah, the man who bridged the gap between the old world and the new:
“26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. 27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17:26,27).
This prophetic truth is repeated in Matthew’s twenty-fourth chapter, called the “Olivet Discourse.” In both cases, it predicts the corrupted spiritual condition of mankind at Christ’s Second Coming.
At this point, we hardly need point out that the “days of Noah” were characterized by religious rebellion. On the other side of the Flood, the rebellion came as a result of dark and iniquitous interaction between fallen angels and the daughters of men. Josephus says that their union produced the Grecian demigods, called “Titans.” Some men thought of their presence as a blessing. God called it a curse.
On this side of the Flood, Noah witnessed the attempt to renew that illicit relationship. His days didn’t end with the waters that covered the earth. He lived to see the rebellion of Nimrod.
THE OLD GODS MEET THE NEW PHYSICS
And so it is today. Man has turned against God in favor of religious rebellion. It is built upon the theory of evolution, which worships the created world instead of the One Who created it.
Today, the laboratories of intelligentsia are deeply preoccupied with scaling the dimensional wall, once again. They are on the verge of penetrating the veil that lies between the earth and the invisible heavens.
There is now a “science” that envisions the day when it can create worlds of its own. In this century, Newtonian physics was overturned by Albert Einstein, whose desire to learn the secrets of light led him into a quest to understand the nature of matter and the dimensions.
In 1925, physicists like Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrodinger and others, questioned the very nature of matter and the material universe. Their new pursuit, dubbed quantum mechanics, was a comprehensive system that chipped away at the secrets of the atom.
The subatomic world, they discovered, is bizarre, indeed. In this world, forces are expressed as tiny packages of energy, called quanta. These quanta, depending upon their descriptions, create different forces.
Their velocity and position determine the exact nature of the force. However, Heisenberg mathematically proved that one could never know both the velocity and position of an energy packet at the same time. This “uncertainty principle,” as it was called, means that the description of matter and energy must be expressed as a probability!
Simple creation along an understandable timeline is done away with in the stroke of a mathematical pen. Certainty gives way to probability along an unlimited series of timelines.
Used in conjunction with these theories, “atom smashers” systematically confirmed the existence of tiny particles. Among many others, they were dubbed “electrons,” “neutrinos,” “muons,” “quarks,” and so on.
But that was only the beginning. Quantum mechanics also told of a series of multiple universes, lying just beyond the veil of human vision. Theoretically, there are at least ten of them, just waiting to be reached by men with the right combination of skill and the ability to harness the huge amount of energy necessary for the climb.
The repercussions of this theory have already revolutionized our technology. But surprisingly, they have also revolutionized our view of the very world in which we live. Now, science sees a multi-dimensional universe. Most of it is beyond our vision. But if they have their way, it won’t be for long.
The mathematician, Dr. Michio Kaku, has written a book called, Hyperspace — A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the 10th Dimension. As the title suggests, the current view of reality is now seen by science as only a thin illusion that masks an upside-down and backward world in which the dimensional veil can be penetrated.
The intricacies of these new theories have caused men to question Creation, itself. The traditional ideas of a “prime mover” and “first cause,” are supposedly outmoded by the view of a multi-tiered universe where probability reigns, and where the last may paradoxically come before the first.
Concerning the effect of quantum mechanics, he writes, “Similarly, quantum theory gave birth to the science of subatomic particles and helped fuel the current revolution in electronics. The transistor — the linchpin of modern society — is a purely quantum-mechanical device. Equally profound was the impact that the Heisenberg ‘Uncertainty Principle’ has had on the debate over free will and determinism, affecting religious dogma on the role of sin and redemption for the Church. Both the Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church, with a large ideological stake in the outcome of this controversy over predestination, have been affected by this debate over quantum mechanics. Although the implications of the ten-dimensional theory are still unclear, we ultimately expect that the revolution now germinating in the world of physics will have a similar far-reaching impact once the theory becomes accessible to the average person.”
Because the new science sees the world as a series of probabilities and paradoxes, Kaku says that some see a “new theology based upon mathematics.” In it, “The faith in an all-powerful God is now replaced by faith in quantum theory and general relativity.” To these new mathematicians, the universe is without cause, endlessly cycling like a loop of movie film playing over and over again. One can almost feel the hopelessness, which results from open-ended discoveries like these. On the one hand, they provide high-tech advancements that mark our modern society. However, on the other hand, they create a senseless and causeless universe, in which nothing conforms to common sense. Their remedy is to persevere, as if by climbing higher on the theoretical ladder, they will be able to see something that gives them hope.
In this dark picture lies a real truth: There is, indeed, a multiplicity of dimensions, but only the Lord can make sense of them. The Apostle Paul wrote that our real adversaries are invisible, though quite real.
They are the “principalities … powers, … rulers of darkness of this world,” mentioned in Ephesians 6:12. They are as real as you or me, but concealed beyond a time/space veil.
In the biblical sense, the transition through this dimensional wall is quite real. For example, when Stephen preached to a synagogue, which opposed him, he so enraged the crowd, that they could not restrain themselves. They rushed upon him, dragged him outside the gate of the city and stoned him to death. As Stephen stood before his enemies, he suddenly revealed a startling truth about the nearness of the Kingdom of Heaven:
“54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:54-56).
For Stephen, heaven was not a faraway place. He was able to see — as through a window — a view of heaven and the throne of God. Was this just a “vision,” in the classic sense? Was it a “real” view, or an “imagined” view? Since he was about to go there, it would seem that like so many dying people, the restriction upon his vision was lifted, and he was able to see heaven. Distance was not the issue. Rather, it was a question of clarity. Heaven was nearby, as we gauge distance.
There is another case in which the dimensional veil is temporarily lifted. It involves the story in which the king of Syria laid siege to Israel. In this event, Elisha and his servant found themselves surrounded by an enormous armed cavalry:
“15 And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? 16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. 17 And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (II Kings 6:15-17).
Here, Elisha’s servant had his eyes opened in a magnificent way. Suddenly — through the power of the Lord — he was able to see through some sort of dimensional barrier. There, he saw an angelic host surrounding them. This was no vision in the classic sense. Rather, it was the lifting of a dimensional veil that prevents human eyes from seeing the other side.
It is this veil that men of science wish to penetrate today. If it is done in the power of the Lord, all is well. God has often allowed His prophets and servants to see past the barrier of time and space. However, if it is done in cooperation with dark forces, as in the days of Noah, it is unlawful and will result in corruption and idolatry, at the very least. Today, theoreticians are attempting to scale the dimensional wall that separates them from the other side. There, they believe they will find the power to elevate themselves to a new level of civilization. But as we have already seen, what they will find there will destroy them, just as it did before.
DARK FORCES FROM THE OTHER SIDE
But there is another side to this story. As we have seen in other studies, the fallen angels and their demonic cohorts are making their own efforts to penetrate the veil that separates this world from the unseen spirit world.
Throughout the history of mankind, there are records of demonic appearances. Sometimes they appear as shadowy figures. At other times, they arrive in bizarre flying ships. The ancients called them “flying shields,” or “flying globes.” Sometimes, they were referred to as “fiery chariots,” or other language that would have personal meaning to the culture of the day. A hundred years ago, they appeared as “airships,” evocative of early aerial experiments of the day. In the late forties, they began to be seen in their modern form, the infamous “flying saucers.” Their forms can vary. Sometimes, they are cigar-shaped or triangular; sometimes, they appear as globes or clusters of light. But thousands of observers agree on one fact: these “machines” are capable of appearing and disappearing in the twinkling of an eye. Sometimes, they fade gradually, then fade back in again in another location.
In a few words, they appear to have mastered interdimensional travel. This is exactly what today’s scientists are attempting, and may already have accomplished. In other words, the illegal concourse between the heavenly dimension and this earthly world is being scaled by evil forces from both sides. The evil men of this world are making it a top priority to crack the hyperdimensional code. They characterize this effort as a matter of summoning up enough energy to break through to the other side.
However, there is much evidence in the form of written records that since the infamous “Roswell Incident” of July 1947, top government officials have been in contact with so-called “extraterrestrials.” Curiously, although they are called extraterrestrials, they exhibit the same characteristics as the demons of ancient lore.
The Greeks, who called them “daimonia,” from which we get our term, “demon,” regarded them as an immaterial race of people who lived just beyond the reach of man’s vision. However, upon occasion they could make themselves palpable, walking among men until they had completed their business. They were regarded as friends, who could actually bring blessings to mankind.
The Bible names them as the degenerate offspring of some ancient iniquity. They are loyal to their dark masters, the “principalities,” and the “powers” that lay beyond the veil. Traffic with them is strictly forbidden, as given in Deuteronomy 18:9-12, in which the Lord instructed the Israelites to avoid any contact with those dark forces that lay beyond the dimensional barrier:
“9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. 10 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, 11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12 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” (De. 18:9-12).
This restriction clearly states that dealings with powers beyond the pale are strictly forbidden. This restriction is still in force. But modern science, under the auspices of certain political forces and the military, are deeply engaged in forging lines of communication in this forbidden area.
Their dealings with “extraterrestrials” (the “X-men”) may well be better characterized as dealing with “ultraterrestrials.” Rather than coming from some other place in the galaxy, they come from right here, on another dimensional plane.
Both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Apostles believed in spirit beings, both good and evil. The power of Heaven must be approached carefully: through the Lord Jesus Christ, or not at all.
Jesus said that in the days of His Coming to judge the world, it would be as in the days of Noah. And so it is. If one has eyes to see it, this metaphoric “Tower” is being built again, with all possible haste.
Bible-believing Christians are more and more interested in the signs that tell us our Lord’s coming is soon, or “more likely than not.” Everyone is asking, in the words of Revelation 6:10, “How long, Oh Lord?” Actually, as the faithful of the Church, we’re watching for indicators that tell us His imminent coming is more probable, since we know He is returning before the Tribulation.
We are told in Matthew 24:42, to “Watch, therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.” Here, the context is the coming of the Great Tribulation. As Christians who believe in the “blessed hope” of the pretribulation rapture, we’re not watching for that horrific event with any foreboding that we’ll be plunged into it. Christians want to know: When is Jesus coming, or what signs tell us that His coming is “more likely?”
As we study prophecy, we attempt to familiarize ourselves with trends and historical markers. But our tradition of biblical interpretation often reminds us that we must be cautious about reading too much into current events. It tells us that the timing of the Church Age is not connected in Scripture to any specific event of future history.
Nevertheless, the Bible gives us a myriad of societal indicators, by which we will be able to discern the last days. For us, as members of the body of Christ, the current shocking departure from decent and civilized behavior is a major warning that the world is about to plummet into the oblivion of social collapse and international war. Indecency, vulgarity and obscenity have infiltrated all levels of society, accompanied by a variety of revolutionary causes. Even while “at church,” we hear language that wouldn’t have been uttered in polite society only a few decades ago.
We recall the social collapse of Europe and Russia in the era of World Wars One and Two, when the indecent, the risqué and the sensual characterized that region. It was accompanied by a Marxist revolution and wars that ultimately wiped out a hundred million souls.
So one might argue that since this has already happened, and we came through those catastrophes without seeing the realization of the “blessed hope,” there’s no reason to be any more expectant now. But those wars were far less developed than the prophesied great wars yet to come. Global collapse to the degree necessary to enable the rise of the Antichrist requires an escalation to levels never before witnessed in the post-flood world. Not only will there be mega-wars, but also the destabilization of Earth’s systems: plate tectonics, atmospheric upheavals, volcanoes and earthquakes will exceed anything ever recorded.
Furthermore, the major twentieth century wars came and went before the existence of national Israel. The next series of international wars will be specifically tailored to raise Israel to the level of international sovereignty, not to improving the lot of the Church.
The Church Departs : Israel Arrives
In a past article we detailed the pretribulational coming of Elijah, we pointed this fact out in some detail. We noted that while Israel is connected with specific geography and global politics, the Church is not; its influence is weakening. In a profound way, even though the Church is Israel’s greatest friend, it operates independently of the ordained steps Israel is taking toward the millennial Kingdom.
The Apostles wrote that the Church of the end time would sink into apostasy and worldliness. Given its often garish and tawdry history over the last couple of millennia, one could say that it would be nearly impossible to discriminate between what’s prophesied and what’s already happened. But if we think about the last hundred years, with the rise of communism, fascism, secular humanism and a myriad of sexual and behavioral perversions, something large and revolutionary has to happen soon.
Two or three decades ago, apostasy in the Church had certainly become a major factor. Its liberal factions had reduced the idea of the Divine authorship of the Bible to shreds. But it had not yet been captured (as it is now) by the social doctrines so liberal that they threaten to overthrow the very core of stabilizing theology.
And whatever else Paul may have intended, his words to the Thessalonians make it certain that we should keep a sharp eye on society: “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” (II Thess. 2:3). Some have suggested (and I concur) that “falling away” may be a reference to the rapture, but it is also commonly interpreted as an idiom for rebellion or apostasy, and the two ideas are not contradictory. After the Church has departed, apostasy will rule. In other epistles, Paul clearly declares that there will be marked social degeneration in the latter days.
On this note, it is interesting that the last half-century has witnessed the rapid growth of a new secular humanism that views 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 present 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 organism.
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 His close approach to 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:
“Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; “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. Still, he includes this exhortation to look for the coming of Jesus and the rapture of the Church. Centuries ago, he defined the theological posture of the redeemed. At that time, 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 await 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.
Only One Major Sign for the Church
As we have often observed, the greatest of all end-time signs is the existence of the state of Israel. It is one of two central features of Old Testament prophecy: They are the comings of the Messiah and the events in the life of national Israel. His first and second coming are intimately attached to Israel’s possession of the Land.
But of the Church, there are no real prophetic guideposts; nor is there a prophetic timeline. Israel’s apostasies, captivities, dispersions and victories have clear connections with world history. It’s destiny parallels the four great Gentile empires, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. That final empire will rise to global power, as wars rage around modern Israel. Conquerors like Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Cyrus, Alexander, Caesar Augustus, Vespasian and Hadrian place check marks on the fulfillment of Israel in prophecy. Soon, the ten horns of Gentile power will arise from the Roman Empire, led by the Antichrist.
There are no similar markers for the true Church, except for its layer upon layer of apostasy and alternating cycles of faith and unbelief. The seven churches of Revelation, Chapters 2 and 3 show this clearly. It has practiced paganism… marriage to the world system …idolatry … spiritual death … and revival. It has a finite conclusion at the rapture. And as that day draws near, it falls to a final, uncontrolled apostasy. Laodicea sees itself as “a church,” but has no real conviction – no faith.
Unlike Israel, the true Church is never predicted to acquire designated land holdings or political power. It is never related to any specific geography, or to events of the calendar. Its holidays are not legal commandments, as are the Jewish festivals. Its two major festivals – Easter and Christmas – are held at different times, depending upon a variety of world traditions. Nor are they mandatory observations.
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:
“5:15 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.
“6:1 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 view of the future, 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. We are now witnessing the beginning stages of Israel’s later-day revival.
Regarding prophecy and 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 tell the prophetic time in the body of Christ. Question: 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, our faith has an external (evangelistic) and an internal (watchful) 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 experience 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 wide-angle 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, literacy, mass communications, artificial intelligence and genetic manipulation. 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 them, is the rise of secular domination.
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 discernable pattern that seems tied to our times.
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 organization.
We look back upon the history of collapsing Apostolic zeal that characterized the second century. In the third and fourth centuries, Church fathers concocted 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 the king and the national church became entangled in a convoluted assortment of rules and laws. This kept the serfs in bondage and the state church in wealth.
In his pastoral epistles, Paul plainly predicted this descent into state-run despotism. He foresaw that much of 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 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).
Augustine of Hippo, regarded as 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 (spiritualization of Christ) into the formal state church. He redefined salvation, not as relationship with God through Christ, but as conformity to the rule of the local assembly of Christians. 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 believed what he was told, with virtually no access to Latin Scriptures, which were locked to all but the privileged 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 intensely and violently insane, or characterized by intense aggression. Given the history of the Church, this condition has occurred many times, right from the beginning. The gardens of Nero were illuminated 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 Jesus 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:
“1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 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
The Church era 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 known as 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, [Prometheus Books, 1973, 1979] 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.” [p. 3]
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.
The New Religion
The opening paragraph of the first Humanist Manifesto presents itself as a signal moment in history. According to its view, 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 the world over are under the necessity 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.” [p. 7]
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 grew 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.” [p. 7]
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:” [p. 8]
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.” [pp. 8, 9]
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.” [p. 10]
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:
“18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 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: 21 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. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 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, 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 declared himself a god, and was worshipped. But in all their idolatry, even the Romans never fell to the worship of humanity, itself. This final and hideous 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:
“14 That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: 15 Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; 16 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. 17 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; 18 That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; 19 Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. 20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: 21 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 false idea that riches ensure social security. We recall that the fourteenth principle in Humanist Manifesto I calls for a “… socialized and cooperative economic order.” It presents this as the answer to the common human problems of fear, greed and insecurity. Centuries ago, Paul anticipated the latter-day rise of the socialist schemes that rose from the academics like Marx and Engels, or dictators like Lenin and Stalin.
Paul called these things “profane” and “vain.” The Greek word for “profane” is bebelos, meaning “common” or “mundane.” The modern word, “secular” would perfectly fit this definition. It is the exact opposite of that which is holy or godly.
“Vain,” comes from the Greek, kenos, meaning “empty,” devoid of any value or worthwhile meaning. “Babbling” is an expression of the Greek kenophonia, a word that denotes worthless or trivial discussion.
Finally, Paul notes the opposition to the Gospel that would come from, “science falsely so called.” These, we currently witness in daily displays of secular hypotheses … everything from the big bang, to the current creation theories of quantum physics, to the latest “proof” of evolutionary theory. At the same time, the concept of “intelligent design” is contemptuously rejected.
The New Religion Evolves
Forty years after the 1933 publication of Humanist Manifesto I, the leaders of the movement felt that it was time to update its original statement of principles. In 1973 they announced the publication of Humanist Manifesto II, containing a new set of seventeen principles.
In the interim, the world had witnessed a variety of atrocities, promulgated by Nazis, Russian and Chinese Communists, third-world dictatorships and the Cold War. Its preface, authored by Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson, is centered upon the following thoughts:
“As we approach the twenty-first century … an affirmative and hopeful vision is needed. Faith, commensurate with advancing knowledge, is also necessary. In the choice between despair and hope, humanists respond in this Humanist Manifesto II with a positive declaration for times of uncertainty.
“As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to love and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.” [p. 13]
Here, we find a blatant rejection of Christian salvation, which the manifesto brands as harmful. We recall Peter’s words to the Sadducees, first-century religious liberals who also denied the truth of Christ’s resurrection:
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Interestingly, the Sadducees were preoccupied with wealth and its proper distribution among the people, as the answer to social ills. Among the revised principles of Humanist Manifesto II, one finds such statements as the following:
“We find insufficient evidence for belief in the existence of the supernatural.”
“Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful.”
“Modern science discredits such historic concepts as the ‘ghost in the machine’ and the ‘separable soul.”
“Humane societies should evaluate economic systems not by rhetoric or ideology, but by whether or not they increase economic well being for all individuals and groups, minimize poverty and hardship, increase the sum of human satisfaction, and enhance the quality of life.” [pp. 16, 17]
All of these statements are straightforward and easy to understand. There can be no mistake, either as to their motives, or their goals. If there is no hope in the heavens, one has to manufacture it on earth. This is the bottom-line truth of secular humanism. It is compelled to create a utopia on earth — by whatever means possible.
Principles twelve through seventeen illustrate humanism’s missionary zeal. It is bent upon the creation of a global society, and is built upon statements like those that follow. Even a cursory reading of them reveals a revolutionary social plan:
“We deplore the division of humankind on nationalist grounds. We have reached a turning point in human history where the best option is to transcend the limits of national sovereignty and to move toward the building of a world community in which all sectors of the human family can participate.”
“The problems of economic growth and development can no longer be resolved by one nation alone; they are worldwide in scope. It is the moral obligation of the developed nations to provide – through an international authority that safeguards human rights – massive technical, agricultural, medical, and economic assistance including birth control techniques, to the developing portions of the globe. World poverty must cease. Hence extreme disproportions in wealth, income, and economic growth should be reduced on a worldwide basis.” [p. 21]
Their constant complaint against Christian fundamentalism is that it attempts to “impose itself upon the world.” Hence, these “great thinkers” have ruled that it must be removed – to the greatest extent possible – from the public discourse. This, of course, includes the public school system, the workplace and the forums of politics. In the United States, the great cry has been, “Separation of Church and State.” By the testimony of their own words, secular fundamentalists are incredibly hostile to religion … especially Christianity. To a great extent, secular social planners have succeeded in accomplishing this, though God’s grace still extends across our great land, and the voices of evangelism have not yet been silenced.
Four Stages of Intrusion
Secular fundamentalists deny biblical history. They deny Christ’s coming. They deny salvation as the hope of the world. From God’s first judgment in the Flood of Noah to His second in the fire of the Great Tribulation, these thinkers sense nothing but the works of their own hands. Meanwhile, they label their own manifesto as a religion!
By their own words and behaviors, they expose themselves as men called “scoffers” in Peter’s second epistle:
“1 This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance 2 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: 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. 5 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: 6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: 7 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. 8 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 tend to be 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 its progress by 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 think they 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. No doubt, he’s waiting in the wings. Many of these humanists attend prominent “churches,” (secular assemblies with ecclesiastical titles) where they maintain a public image of spirituality in edifices that have nothing to do with true belief. They are the Laodiceans, and their active presence tells us that we are very close to the end of the Church Age. They have departed from the faith; soon the Church will depart from them.
I would like your Biblical advice on how you would handle your son if he in his early 20’s got the big earrings and started tattooing his arms. This is where I am with my son and at this point, he has the earrings and a large tattoo on his upper arm that travels a little past his elbow and recently got more on his forearm. He was raised in a Christian home, asked Christ in his heart at the age of 6. He says I cannot give him any [Bible] verses that support my belief that what he is doing is wrong. My argument is that he is ruining his testimony and that he is destroying his body … made in God’s image.
I agree with you. The answer to this question is relatively straightforward. Your son is wrong about the existence of a Bible verse that supports your opinion that what he’s doing is wrong. And here it is: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:28).
This chapter in Leviticus is devoted to a series of warnings against false worship. In the pagan nations of Moses’ day, there were many false gods and goddesses. It was also common for idol worshippers of that day to paint or tattoo designs devoted to their gods or identify them with tribal cultic functions.
Thus, one could be readily identified and accepted by other members of the tribe. Sadly, we find that contemporary society is reverting to superstitious tribalism. Bodily cuttings, gauge rings and tattoo markings or designs, label one as acceptable. Today, it is called “being cool.”
As children of God, we are not identified with tribal markings, nor do we need to broadcast Him with external designs. We are members of His family by faith through the Holy Spirit of God, Himself. Our identification is spiritual, not physical. Your son can easily reject this advice. He wants to look “cool” among his friends. Remind him that God’s call operates at a much higher level, and that later in life, impressing his friends will rapidly diminish in importance.
The first Passover is detailed in the twelfth chapter of Exodus. Its history goes back nearly 3,500 years, and its rituals are freighted with spiritual and prophetic meaning. It came on the fourteenth day of the first month – Nisan – and has been observed ever since. It features two primary aspects: First, it is referred to as “feasting for freedom.” It marks Israel’s liberation from Egypt, a type of the world system. Second, it is a prophecy, reenacted annually to preserve the hope that Israel will one day witness the establishment of the Kingdom in Israel, coming on a wave of fulfilled Bible prophecy. Each year, it concludes with a victory cry: “Next year in Jerusalem!”
But its centerpiece is perhaps the greatest archetype in Scripture: the lamb. The lamb, sacrificed and roasted in the fire during the night, foreshadows Jesus’ own arrest and illegal midnight trial, culminating in His sacrifice the next day. His function was the same as that first Passover lamb in Egypt, to bring liberation and redemption, first to Israel, then to the whole world. It represents “… the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
It is introduced in the dramatic narrative of Exodus:
“5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6 And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. 10 And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. 11 And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’S passover. (Ex. 12:5-11).
That momentous night, when the blood of the lamb was applied to the doorposts of Israel, another tradition was established. The lamb’s blood was commemorated in the fruit of the vine, and the four cups of Passover. Taken in order, they symbolize: 1. Sanctification 2. Liberation 3. Redemption 4. Completion.
The commemoration of Passover is structured around the consumption of these four cups of the fruit of the vine, which is itself a symbol of our Lord: John 15:5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Passover … feasting for freedom … liberation from Egypt … establishing the Kingdom … all of these are witnessed in “The Four Cups.”
“But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29). This will be the final Cup: Completion.
One day, all the created beings in the heavens will watch as the Lamb of God steps forward to open a seven-sealed scroll. When He does, He will be acting as the Divine Judge, who takes in His hands a sealed indictment – that sealed scroll. What is written upon it no man knows. But it must certainly include a list of charges accrued across the ages by a depraved humanity. In the opening of its seals, the Lamb will right the wrongs of six millennia and establish peace and justice.
But why does Jesus appear in heaven as a lamb? In his work as Judge of the world, He would seem to be more accurately acting the part of the lion. And indeed, at His appearance, He is recognized by that title:
“And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (Rev. 5:5).
But when He actually receives the scroll, He appears as a Lamb, not a lion: “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6). The Lion of the tribe of Judah is one of the most ancient of all biblical figures, going all the way back to Jacob’s prophetic blessing of his sons. He said, “Judah is a lion’s whelp …” (Gen. 49:9). Why did the Lion become the Lamb? The Bible provides an answer to this question, in the process, giving us an inside look, not only at the true meaning of sacrifice but at God’s very nature.
The Lamb is not a mere figurehead… a stiff and lifeless symbol. He loves, feels pain, longs for a relationship and expresses Himself in emotional language. What must He be thinking as He comes forward to take that fateful scroll? Surprisingly, His motives and goals are not concealed. He has, in fact, gone out of His way to make sure that humanity knows the thoughts of His very heart in detail. A bit later, we shall examine some of them. First, however, let’s look at the historical figure of the Lamb.
The symbol of the sacrificial lamb goes back to the very beginning of humanity, in the recounting of the acceptable sacrifice. Apparently, after Adam’s fall, the Lord had instructed him about what constituted an acceptable sacrifice for sin. We know this because his son Abel brought the proper sacrifice, prepared in a specific way, as described in the following Scripture:
“1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. 2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering” 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:1-5).
The rest of the story is well known, as Cain’s jealousy grew to violent anger that led to the murder of Abel. This event might well be described as the first war in history, with Abel being recorded as the first casualty. From that time to the present, mankind has been engaged in an unending war for supremacy, or for acceptance in the sphere of power. War is man’s primary institution.
Almost forgotten in the conflict between Cain and Abel is the lamb. Its role as the atoning sacrifice is central to humanity’s survival … a prophetic archetype that runs through the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Scripture progressively reveals the submissive lamb as the way to victory over sin and evil. In fact, the lamb represents the absolute opposite of taking power and possessions by force. It is the very emblem of selfless sacrifice.
At key points in biblical history, the lamb emerges again and again as the key to the Lord’s plan of redemption. The “sacrificial lamb” has become a universal cliché. But biblically, the lamb appears at historically significant moments, to certify the relationship between God and man.
It is next seen, for example, in the covenantal transaction between the Lord and Abraham on Mount Moriah:
“7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold there and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? 8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together” (Gen. 22:7,8).
In the heart of Abraham, the sacrifice had already been accomplished. Never did Abraham tell Isaac that he was to be the sacrifice. Rather, he told his beloved son that God would provide “a lamb.”
All this happened on the mountain known as “Moriah,” which means, “appearing of Jehovah.” Thus, the Bible recognizes this as the mountain where Jehovah appeared to Abraham, and would appear again in the days of David and Solomon. This is where the Temple would be built.
The sacrifice provided by the Lord was not merely a lamb, it was a ram, trapped by its horns in thick underbrush. Abraham took it and laid it upon the altar. To him, it must have seemed a greater and fuller sacrifice than a mere lamb. In fact, it was only a foreshadowing of the greater sacrifice to come.
From this scene on Mount Moriah, we leap forward half a millennium to about 1450 B.C., and the period of the Exodus. This wonderful event centers about the blood of the lamb, which is painted upon every Israelite doorpost. This crucial identification spared Israel from the visiting angel of death. He passed over their houses, instead, inflicting death upon Egyptian homes.
But on this night – the first Passover – the lamb is more than mere sacrifice. It becomes the symbol of relationship, the common experience of the Israelites, and remains so to this day. Let’s revisit the scene in which the flesh of the lamb was roasted and quickly eaten on the night of the fourteenth day of the first month:
“5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: 6. And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. 7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. 8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it” (Ex. 12:5-8).
From the first, Passover was a family institution, intended to bring Israel together around the promise of freedom in the Messianic Kingdom. To this day, its customs are annually repeated, but only the shank bone of the lamb is present on the Seder table. After the Romans razed the Temple, the sacrifice of the lamb abruptly came to a halt.
And of course, the reason for this is well known. The Lamb had offered Himself on that last Passover, taken with His disciples on the night of His arrest and trial. This act instituted the Lord’s Supper, in which the Lamb became the actual leader of the ancient tradition. But it must also be remembered that Jesus appeared at the beginning of His public ministry as the Lamb without blemish, just as He ended it as the Lamb sacrificed for sin.
His role is publicly announced by John the Baptist:
“26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; 27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. 28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:26-29).
Acting in the spirit of Elijah, John announced the appearance of the long-awaited Messiah. His public statement might have invoked many promises and historical references. But he didn’t. He simply introduced the Lamb. Priests and Levites had crossed the Jordan to question John. He denied being the great prophet promised by Moses. He also denied being either the Messiah or Elijah.
But truly, John was a prophet, who now prophesied the coming of the Messiah. He didn’t announce Jesus as King or prophet. Nor did he mention Jesus’ link to the royal tribe of Judah, dating back to the House of David. Instead, he simply called Him “the Lamb of God.”
Israel’s leaders had no way of mentally linking the Passover lamb to the Messiah. Even though the Old Testament symbol of the Lamb foreshadows Jesus’ finished work, the prophets had never referred to the coming Messiah as a lamb. The blood of the Lamb as a Messianic idea is clearly developed only in the New Testament.
Certainly, Isaiah referred to Him in this way, but never actually connected Him with the Passover or atonement:
“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” (Is. 53:7).
So, John’s announcement of the Lamb brings a new dimension to the mission of the Messiah. He comes as the personification of the atoning sacrifice, as the remedy for the sin which has crippled the world. From the very beginning, the Bible recognizes Him in this role. Now, John announces it publicly. But of course, no one understands what he is saying.
John’s prophecy at the Jordan River continues, adding a further note about the identity of the Messiah. John was born six months before Jesus, a fact probably known to Jerusalem authorities, and certainly to a number of faithful Jews. Yet he declares that Jesus came before him, adding that the Lamb is confirmed by the Holy Spirit of God, and is the very Son of God:
“30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:30-34). This is the clearest possible statement of His divinity.
Jesus’ first disciples were drawn by John’s repeated statement that this was the Lamb of God. They were spiritually drawn to a great new idea, which they had no way of understanding: “35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! 36 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 37 Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? 38 He saith unto them, Come and see. 39 They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” (John 1:35-40).
What must these two have thought as they heard John’s ecstatic words? Was this really the Messiah? But John didn’t call Him that. He didn’t say, “Behold your Messiah!” In fact, he withheld the full truth. Instead of the office of the Messiah, he emphasized the role of the Messiah in redemption. John prophesied the mission that Jesus would perform, and the way that He would perform it, as the Passover sacrifice.
The two disciples mentioned here are identified in the context of John’s declaration. It is most interesting to see that they had no difficulty in connecting the concept of the Lamb with that of the Messiah:
“40 One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:40,41).
Doubtless, they didn’t fully understand the connection. In fact, Scripture tells us that when Jesus later told them that He must die and depart from them, they refused to accept the idea. He openly told them that He must “… be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matt. 16:21). He sternly rebuked Peter, who resisted the simple truth that the Lamb must die to complete the sacrifice for sin.
But it must be remembered that for those alive at the time, Jesus’ mission was fraught with riddles.
In reviewing the biblical history of the Lamb, we find a surprising fact. The Old Testament often refers to the lamb of sacrifice. But in the New Testament, the sacrificial lamb is mentioned by name only four times outside the book of Revelation.
This title appears twice in the Gospel of John (both of which are quoted above). In these two cases, the word “Lamb” is capitalized. It is seen twice more after that, once in Acts 8:32, where Philip quotes from Isaiah 53:
“The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth.”
Again, we encounter it in 1 Peter 1:19, where Peter quotes from Exodus 12:5, naming the requirement for purity in the Passover lamb:
“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;
“But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:18,19).
In both of these cases, salvation is explained in the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb. Based upon the importance of this symbol, one would expect to see references to Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb mentioned over and over again. But they are completely absent from the epistles of Paul, James, John and Jude!
Furthermore, the letter to the Hebrews, devoted to explaining the superiority of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice to Jews still observing Temple worship, does not mention the Lamb at all! When speaking of Jesus, Hebrews typically refer to His sacrifice in statements like the following: “… but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place …” (Heb. 9:12). The Jews would have made an immediate connection with the idea of the Passover lamb, but His sacrifice is never detailed in this way.
Moreover, the first three Gospels never mention the Lamb by that name! Matthew, the Gospel that announces the King to Israel, is built around the theme of the presentation and rejection of the king.
Mark introduces Jesus as the servant. His style of factual immediacy presents the servant, who goes about His work with energy and total devotion. He is then rejected and suffers for those whom He has served.
And Luke documents Jesus’ role as Son of Man … human in every way, yet divinely incarnated. Luke emphasizes His compassion and His perfection as a human being. He is presented and rejected as the man who bore the sorrows of humanity. As one man to another, he entered the home of diminutive but wealthy Zacchaeus. Addressing this sinful tax collector at his own level, Jesus changed the way this man lived his life:
“8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:8-10).
As King, Servant and Son of Man, Jesus acts at the earthly level. While important, these roles do not address the spiritual and metaphysical truths that we see in John’s Gospel, which reveals Jesus as Deity.
It makes perfect sense, then, that since The Lamb is a spiritual sacrifice, transcending the boundaries of earth, and reaching all the way into heaven, John would introduce Him as the Lamb, “… which taketh away the sin of the world.”
This phrase, from John 1:29, emphasizes the fact that the Lamb’s sacrifice reaches all the way into the heavens. The word “world” is from the Greek kosmos, which means, “the order and arrangement of the world system.” To the Greeks, this word included all that could be observed or inferred from observation. The same concept in the mind of the modern man would most probably be “universe.”
But to the student of the Bible, the New Testament concept of the kosmos includes even those things not seen. As the Apostle Paul put it in Ephesians 6:11,12:
“11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against esh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:11,12).
The above four levels of authority arrayed against Christians, all operate beyond the range of human vision. Yet they radically affect the daily lives of humankind. Therefore, they must be included in the definition of kosmos. The dimensions of this universe are much greater than most will admit, yet biblically, the invisible aspects of the world system are as important – if not more so – than the visible ones.
The “principalities” mentioned by Paul are called archons in the Greek language. They would be the superhuman beings generally called angels, whether faithful or fallen. But in Paul’s epistle, the reference is to the first level of evil power, including Satan, and his delegated powers. They are trans-dimensional, operating outside the natural realm of human beings, yet deeply influential in the circles of world nance, politics and religion.
The “powers” that Paul mentions are called exousia in New Testament Greek. These are delegated authorities operating beneath the first level of power just described. Yet they are still able to act on their own, even though subject to their superiors. Elsewhere, Paul describes them as powers at the angelic level. Like the first group, they are able to affect both the unseen world and our own physical world.
The third level of power – “… rulers of the darkness of this world …” – are called kosmokrators, in the original language of the New Testament. In the literature of the ancient Greeks, these are high-level rulers, on the order of an emperor, a world-lord. Yet they, too, operate outside the influence of human perception. In the well-known passage from the book of Daniel, the heavenly visitor who came to him was delayed in conflict with just such a ruler:
“12 Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia” (Dan. 10:12,13).
If, as we believe, it was the Lord, Himself who came to Daniel, he was forced to take a circuitous route in recognition of an existing world boundary of some sort. Apparently, the Lord allows many such zones of rule in the cosmos.
But we must also note that the phrase, “darkness of this world,” uses a different word for “world.” Here it is a translation of the Greek aion, denoting an age or period of time, probably corresponding to the period of Gentile rule that began with Nebuchadnezzar, and comes to an end under the reign of the antichrist.
Finally, Paul describes the lowest and most widespread of the trans-dimensional powers. He refers to them in general as “spiritual wickedness in high places.” A literal reading of the Greek text tells us that these are spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. They come and go on errands of mischief and malevolence, following the dictates of the evil powers above them. Their chief work is to corrupt the progress of the Gospel, and to destroy the unity and saving grace of the body of Christ.
The submission of the Lamb to the cause of redemption (His willingness to sacrifice Himself) was the mechanism that signaled the end of their system. From the moment of His sacrifice, their days were numbered.
To us, operating on the time scale of planet earth, the time from then until now seems very long, indeed. From the Lamb’s perspective, there is no doubt that the scale of perception is quite different. Cause and effect can only truly be viewed from His throne.
We can gain some idea of this viewpoint by recalling Jesus’ moment of temptation. Just prior to His public ministry, and following John’s baptism of the Lamb, Satan took Him to a place where the power and glory of the kosmos could be viewed in a single, sweeping view:
“8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me” (Matt. 4:8,9).
Here, the Lamb is offered the kosmos, in all its glory. For Jesus to have witnessed every single kingdom and the glory of each one, it must have been necessary for Him to see past, present and future in a single glance. Furthermore, there is no location within this Earthly dimension that affords a view of the world like the one described above. Christ’s atonement was intended to reach all the way into this evil realm.
If Satan and his subjects held this kind of power, it is easy to see that no ordinary challenge could defeat them. It was necessary for the Lord to prepare a stunning offensive, with a single stroke of power that cut through the entire universe (or universes).
In effect, the Lamb’s blood sacrifice turned Satan’s own devices against him. Once dominant among heavenly creatures, He boasted of wisdom and beauty as the primary fruit of existence. But he rejected holiness, as well as the worship of God, Creator and King. It was holiness … dedication to God’s will … personified in the blood of the Lamb that overthrew him.
The world system is doomed to crash into ruins as the Lamb’s work is finally sanctified in the formality of a heavenly protocol that was devised for a signal moment in history.
As earlier noted, outside the Book of Revelation, the Lamb is mentioned only four times in the entire New Testament. But it is astonishing to see that in the pages of Revelation, itself, the capitalized proper noun, “Lamb,” is used twenty- six times!
This serves to emphasize a basic truth. Though consummated upon earth, the true extent of the Lamb’s sacrifice can only be perceived at the heavenly level. This brings us back to the question that we posed at the beginning of this study: Why does Jesus appear in heaven as a lamb? This question goes to the heart of the action we observe when, in Revelation, we hear a formal question voiced by an angel, who almost seems to be acting in the role of legal counsel:
“1 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? 3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. 4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. 5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne” (Rev. 5:1-7).
The question posed here by the “strong angel” is an unmistakable challenge that rings through the vaults and arches of heaven like a mighty blast. It is a call to attention, commanding every being in Creation to come to full attention. A monumental legal question like this one demands an answer.
Satan and his fallen ones must also hear the angel’s words. Surely, they hope that no one answers the call, since they must know that if the book is unsealed, it means certain doom for them.
The book is a scroll. John carefully describes its appearance. He sees it as covered with writing on both sides. Apparently, if completely unrolled, it would be full to capacity with a list of written charges. In other words, the charges against the world system are all-inclusive, absolute and comprehensive. The scroll is a legal indictment, without loopholes or escape clauses. It seems obvious that the charges were compiled by God, Himself.
But there is a catch … a legal requirement of the first magnitude. The inscribed charges must be executed by someone who is properly qualified. Hence the question: Who is worthy?
As the angel’s loud query echoed toward silence, John observed that no created being in all the heavens seemed capable of answering the call. Note that the question is heard “in heaven,” “in earth” and “under the earth.” In every dimension of Creation, the question rings forth. Archangels stand silent and angels watch, daring not to utter a single word. The rebellious followers of the Old Serpent, angels and demons wait trembling, as their fate hangs in the balance.
At this time, the church has already been caught up, even though the Tribulation period has not yet been initiated. So, the Lord’s own people must also be watching this unfolding drama from a heavenly point of view. Imagine their great curiosity, as the final act of the drama commences.
Those of the body of Christ who studied Scripture while on earth must certainly know in advance that the Lamb will come forth to take the scroll, but they dare not speak a word. They watch in respectful silence, awaiting the coming of the great Day of the Lord, in which the Righteous Judge will finally put down all wickedness and establish His Kingdom.
They remember the words He spoke to the Jewish leaders during His ministry on earth. After healing the paralyzed man who lay helpless at the pool called Bethesda, he instructed the man to pick up his bed and walk, a violation of carrying a burden on the Sabbath.
Rather than receiving Him as Messiah, the Pharisees charged Him with sinfully and willfully breaking the Law of Moses. He answered by declaring Himself equal with God the Father in power and authority. His resounding answer to them is a statement of absolute authority: “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22).
As the words of the strong angel fall to silence, John is struck down with the realization that no one has answered. He must be asking himself if the kingdoms of evil will win yet another battle. He begins to think that no one can answer the call. Imagine how you would feel if you thought that Satan and his followers would get o absolutely free on a legal technicality. You would be devastated. Surely, you would think to yourself, someone must be able to effectively lodge criminal charges against the followers of Satan … once and for all. Yet no one seems qualified.
Doubtless, John is waiting for someone to unseal the book and read the charges that will allow the execution of the final judgment. Apparently, some time elapses at this point. John believes that no one is qualified to do the work of judgment. He weeps bitterly at the realization that Satan’s crimes may go unpunished.
He suffers greatly until he is comforted by one of the elders who comes to inform him that the Lion of Judah has overcome the world system … the sin that has ravaged the kosmos. His action has qualified Him to receive and open the scroll.
And then, in what must be one of the greatest and most dramatic entrances of all time, the Lamb comes forth to receive the scroll from God the Father. It is true, just as Jesus told those Pharisees all those years ago, that the Father has given all power of judgment to the Son.
Thanks to John the Baptist, Christians who are alive today to read the words of Revelation will be aware of something that many of the citizens of heaven will not know at that time. We know in advance that the Lamb has done His work and will, at the proper time, step forward to open the sealed scroll. Why? Because He submitted Himself to death and purchased the freedom of those oppressed by Satan’s evil regime. He is the only One who could ever have qualified for this critical mission.
As the Lamb opens the scroll, the events of the Tribulation unfold in a series of unprecedented cataclysms. Israel is sealed in the power of the Spirit, only to be persecuted by the forces of the antichrist. Israel is forced to flee into the wilderness, then is rescued. The evil powers of the world, headed by the antichrist, are overthrown. Israel rises to receive the Kingdom. The King assumes His throne.
After the Lamb is introduced in the Revelation narrative, the Lamb is mentioned by name twenty- five more times before we arrive at the end of the book. It is not the purpose of this article to detail all His activities through the Tribulation. But we should always remember that Jesus will eternally carry the title, “Lamb.”
As we have seen, He rises up in the end times as Judge. But in the future era of the New Jerusalem, the Lamb is fully identified within the Godhead. In this context, it is exciting to contemplate our eternal home, which the Lamb promised to prepare for those who would follow Him.
In Revelation, His final appearances as Lamb are absolutely enthralling:
“22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. 23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof” (Rev. 21:22,23).
Imagine the pure light that illuminates the New Jerusalem. His living radiance transcends anything that man has seen, or can ever imagine. God’s own city will become the source of all that is pure and all that is everlasting.
“1 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life,which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations 3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him” (Rev. 22:1-3).
The Lord entered this world in Bethlehem as a being of flesh and blood, without spot or blemish. The in nite became nite. Before His arrival here, He had been many things, but never the Lamb! At that moment in time, the Lamb began to exist. The Lord took upon Himself a new identity, which He retains to this day.
He is the perfect model of eternal life. The little baby born among the shepherds was the perfect Lamb. Fragile, delicate and seemingly ephemeral, he defied death, inviting us to follow in His steps and bask in his glory … forever!
He entered the world not to partake of the Passover, but to become the Passover. At the moment of sacrifice, the Lamb leaped from the finite to the infinite. And He takes us with Him!
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.
It’s not often that one can point to a physical object at a specific geographical location in the contemporary world, and identify it as being the focus of a biblical prophecy that was written long before Christ. Yet, that is exactly what we can do in the case of a remarkable manmade edifice in Egypt that didn’t exist until 1970. It is a 230-foot tower, called the “Lotus Tower,” because it is topped by the five petals of the lotus blossom. The tower was designed as a token of Arab-Russian friendship, its five petals perhaps signifying the five pillars of the Islamic faith. It is only 49 years old, yet Ezekiel referred to it by name … twice.
In the 29th and 30th chapters of his prophecy, “the tower of Syene” is mentioned as a landmark that is specifically related to the fulfillment of latter-day prophecy. In fact, this prophecy is profoundly powerful, sounding the death knell of Egypt.
We have written about the current crisis in Egypt, which began with street riots in 2010, followed by Hosni Mubarak’s resignation early in 2011. This was followed by another coup, the assumption of power by the Muslim Brotherhood and more Islamic riots, finally resulting in the rise to power of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in June of 2014. Egypt, like other countries in the Mideast, continues to experience uprisings and internal dissent. As this is written, war clouds surround Egypt in every direction.
In this context, we have long studied a graphic prophecy in Ezekiel 29 and 30 that summons up the dark vision of Egypt’s future destruction by a great flood, which itself, is linked to a number of end-time prophecies.
A STAFF OF REED
That Egyptian prophecy directly addresses these developments. In it, Ezekiel states that because of its failure to support Israel, Egypt will at some future point, be grievously judged. That judgment will turn it into a wasteland. This is clearly stated in the opening words of the following prophecy:
“6 And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. 7 When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder: and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand. 8 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring a sword upon thee, and cut off man and beast out of thee. 9 And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the LORD: because he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it. 10 Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. 11 No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years. 12 And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries” (Ezek. 29:6-12).
THE DRAGON’S RIVER
For a time, Egypt joined the legions of Islamic terrorists bent upon the annihilation of Israel. Currently, Sisi’s administration has stabilized the situation. But in the days ahead, such militancy is bound to spread like wildfire, finally arriving at a critical mass, at which time the Brotherhood will believe that it has arrived at a historic moment. Then, it will launch its invasion against Israel.
Many object to interpreting the above passage in Ezekiel 29 as being an end-time prophecy. They say that the context of this chapter took place in the past, during the days of the Babylonian captivity. In fact, it may be partially interpreted in that way. But the very nature of Ezekiel’s words, places the final outcome of the Syene prophecy in the last days. Egypt has never been desolate and uninhabited for any 40-year period, as described above. Presenting its self-evident truth, this prophecy must be contemporary in nature, because when Ezekiel first wrote it, there was no “tower of Syene.” In fact, it didn’t even come into existence until 1970, at the dedication of the Aswan High Dam, spanning the Nile at the location of the first cataract, Egypt’s southern border. The proper noun “Syene,” from the Hebrew S’veneh [vbux], means “opening,” or “key.” This name is said to be the ancient designation for the opening to Egypt, as one approaches from the south, or from the direction of Ethiopia.
From several sources, it is quite easy to confirm that the biblical Syene is really Aswan. One of these is the Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, first published in 1866. It affirms the connection, from the Greek Septuagint: “[Suhnh], Syene, in the inscriptions according to Brugsch [was] the most southerly border town of Egypt in the direction of Cush, i.e. Ethiopia, on the eastern bank of the Nile, some ruins of which are still to be seen in the modern Assuan (Aswan) …” (Vol. 9, Ezekiel 29-48, p. 8).
When Keil and Delitzsch wrote their commentary in 1866, there was not a trace of the prophesied tower at Aswan. And when Ezekiel wrote his prophecy around 570 B.C., there was no tower. In fact, until the huge hydroelectric project was completed there, by the Russians and Egyptians in 1970, there was no tower at Aswan. Today, this dam is the most imposing feature of the area, doomed by biblical prophecy to be wiped out at some point between now and the Tribulation.
Using Russian technology, the Egyptians completed the dam, effectively placing themselves in the position of being able to say, “The river is mine, and I have made it for my own use.”
“2 Son of man, set thy face against Pharaoh king of Egypt, and prophesy against him, and against all Egypt: 3 Speak, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers, which hath said, My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself. 4 But I will put hooks in thy jaws, and I will cause the fish of thy rivers to stick unto thy scales, and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers, and all the fish of thy rivers shall stick unto thy scales. 5 And I will leave thee thrown into the wilderness, thee and all the fish of thy rivers: thou shalt fall upon the open fields; thou shalt not be brought together, nor gathered: I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven” (Ezek. 29:2-5).
At first glance, this prophecy seems generically directed toward “Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” But upon further examination, its real target is, “… the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers.” This scaly creature seems to represent the remnant of Egypt’s power, lurking behind the scenes since the days of Moses. In Ezekiel 28, the chapter that immediately precedes this one, Satan, as the “anointed cherub,” is shown as defeated. This prophecy in Chapter 29, then, may possibly be taken as an extension of that preceding prophecy.
Here, the fish of the Nile River figuratively stick to the dragon’s scales, as all are hurled from the river onto its banks to rot and dry in the sun. His power is destroyed. The Nile, which annually flooded with clocklike predictability, has ceased its flooding since the construction of the High Dam at Aswan. Total destruction of this dam is the only way it could flood as catastrophically as described in Scripture.
THE RUSSIAN PROJECT
Interestingly, the huge dam is so massive that experts have pronounced it indestructible … except through the use of nuclear force. This fact alone makes it more than clear that this is a latter-day prophecy. With the foregoing in mind, it is interesting to examine two distinct biblical prophecies. As we shall see, they are related. But they evoke a mystery. They suggest that Egypt will soon experience a massive devastation that is unique to its geography. And apparently, for reasons that shall become clear, this event will predate Gog’s lightning assault upon Israel.
We have written at some length about the first of the two prophecies, found in Ezekiel 29. As it begins, it seems to be directed to a specific Pharaoh, perhaps the one on the throne at the time Ezekiel wrote his prophecy. But as one reads carefully, it becomes clear that “Pharoah” is really a literary title given to the evil spirit of Egypt in general. It is quite easy to see this, since this particular “Pharoah” is a dragon who lives in the Nile River. Taking an expanded look in the verses that follow, the dragon professes ownership of the Nile, even boasting that he has created it. His arrogance is about to be challenged:
“6 And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD, because they have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. 7 When they took hold of thee by thy hand, thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder: and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand. 8 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will bring a sword upon thee, and cut off man and beast out of thee. 9 And the land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste; and they shall know that I am the LORD: because he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it. 10 Behold, therefore I am against thee, and against thy rivers, and I will make the land of Egypt utterly waste and desolate, from the tower of Syene even unto the border of Ethiopia. 11 No foot of man shall pass through it, nor foot of beast shall pass through it, neither shall it be inhabited forty years. 12 And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities among the cities that are laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries” (Ezek. 29:6-12).
In the last few decades, this arrangement has radically changed. The Russian hydroelectric project was amazing in its scope. It is huge, measuring 360 feet in height, 10,200 feet (almost two miles!) long and 3,200 feet wide at the base. Backed up behind it is the vast Lake Nasser, and the waters of the Nile that pool all the way into Ethiopia. The dam’s dimensions are so massive that it is considered indestructible. Saboteurs using ordinary explosives wouldn’t make a dent. However, experts have said that one or two well-placed nuclear bombs could blow it wide open.
In Ezekiel’s day, Aswan (biblical Syene) was a small village, some 550 miles south of the Great Pyramid, on the bank of the first cataract of the Nile. It was considered the southernmost extent of Egypt. When Ezekiel wrote this prophecy, the entire area was geographically different. Of course, there was no “tower” there! Today, of course, there is the towering High Dam, which this prophecy indirectly names as the source of the great flood that will ravage Egypt.
Ezekiel wrote his prophecy about 2,500 years, before its targeted object even existed, saying that it will break, allowing flood waters to surge almost six hundred miles to the north, where they would empty into the Mediterranean Sea.
If nuclear weapons are used to accomplish this catastrophe, the floodwaters would cover all Egypt with nuclear waste. As we have mentioned in the past, this would account for the virtual abandonment of the country for the forty-year period mentioned by Ezekiel. This has never before happened.
ISRAEL’S EXPERT ASSESSMENT
In 2002, Israeli Knesset member (MK) Avigdor Lieberman, admittedly a man given to controversial statements, announced that Israel could defeat an invading Egypt by bombing the Aswan High Dam. He knew that this would require the use of nuclear force, since many experts have testified that the dam is too massive to fall to ordinary explosives. Lieberman, who served as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, and as Minister both of Foreign Affairs and Strategic Affairs, had obviously been briefed upon military alternatives. It appears that he wanted to give Egypt something to think about.
Nor was he alone in his opinion. MK Yigal Allon had publicly made the same statement during the early 1980s. A Labor Party representative, he too, had served as a government minister for seven years. These men were saying what others knew, but refused to speak about openly.
They were simply stating the obvious. If Israel’s existence were threatened by an Egyptian invasion, drastic measures would be brought into play, The Aswan Dam holds back the waters of the enormous Lake Nasser, 340 miles long and 22 miles wide at its widest. If the dam were breached by a nuclear blast, radioactive waters would cover Egypt from Ethiopia’s Blue Nile, through Sudan to the Mediterranean Sea.
Satellite photos reveal a staggering truth about Egypt. Virtually its entire population lives in close proximity to the Nile River, from Aswan all the way down to Cairo and the Mediterranean Sea. Night photos show the Nile as a narrow river of light that fans out at the Nile Delta. Egypt may be the only country on earth so vulnerable to total destruction.
FIRE FALLS UPON SYENE
Naturally, when we read about the horrific event mentioned above, our first question is: When does this prophecy take place? In the following chapter of his prophecy, Ezekiel answers this question, too.
The following verses link the Tribulation Period (Day of the Lord) and the coming of this dire event. Also, notice again that the “tower of Syene” is mentioned:
“The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying,
“Son of man, prophesy and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Howl ye, Woe worth the day,
“For the day is near, even the day of the LORD is near, a cloudy day; it shall be the time of the heathen.
“And the sword shall come upon Egypt, and great pain shall be in Ethiopia, when the slain shall fall in Egypt, and they shall take away her multitude, and her foundations shall be broken down.
“Ethiopia, and Libya, and Lydia, and all the mingled people, and Chub, and the men of the land that is in league, shall fall with them by the sword.
“Thus saith the LORD; They also that uphold Egypt shall fall; and the pride of her power shall come down: from the tower of Syene shall they fall in it by the sword, saith the Lord GOD.
“And they shall be desolate in the midst of the countries that are desolate, and her cities shall be in the midst of the cities that are wasted.
“And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I have set a fire in Egypt, and when all her helpers shall be destroyed” (Ezek. 30:1-8).
The language of this prophecy is unmistakable. A storm is gathering; the Day of the Lord is approaching. Note that not just Egypt, but all of northeast Africa is involved. Today, northeast Africa – Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Chad and Libya – constitute a seething cauldron of Islamic terrorism. These countries surround Egypt, which is, itself, a seat of Islamic power. In spite of an intervening peace treaty, it has never deviated from its desire to eradicate Israel.
In the prophecy above, Ezekiel states that all these countries will suffer judgment … including “Lydia,” representing modern Turkey. But the most devastating judgment of all is reserved for Egypt. Once again, the prophecy evokes the imagery of the “tower of Syene,” which we have pointed out as the Aswan High Dam. It seems to be central to all the judgments mentioned here. Egypt’s Islamic allies will also suffer greatly when the Lord sets His fire in the land of Egypt. It is clear that this fire is the instrument that will unleash the trillions of gallons of radioactive water that washes across Egypt.
Many students of Bible prophecy have asked why Egypt is not listed among the allies that come against Israel in the great invasion described in Ezekiel 38. Certainly, Russia is represented, along with Persia and some of the countries of north Africa. Nations from parts of Europe and Asia are also represented, but Egypt is not among them. Under today’s geopolitical circumstances, Egypt would be at the head of the line in support of such an invasion, as it has been in the past. We would conclude that by the time Gog launches his lightning invasion, Egypt has already been destroyed.
This would explain why Egypt is prophesied to be uninhabitable for a future period of forty years. This also explains why Egypt is missing in the prophesied attack on Israel by the allied forces of Gog, in Ezekiel 38.
Clean-up of the radioactive debris would be a staggering task. This massive project seems to extend into the early years of the Millennium. But somehow, it will be accomplished in the years following the Tribulation, probably supervised by the Lord and His followers.