The rebirth of Israel is affecting our theology and particularly our eschatology (study of last things). There is no question that eschatology has come into great prominence in the last few years. An evidence of this is that eschatology is at the heart of many modern books, movies and television programs, even some secular ones. The Antichrist and the tribulation are oft-featured subjects of these modern works.
We have many additional evidences indicating we are moving into the last times. Paul tells us that in these times many will abandon the faith, and wicked, lawless people will be everywhere (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1). This seems to be happening. Daniel 12:4 tells us that in the last days, knowledge will be increased. Today, due to computer advances and the Internet, some large fields of knowledge like astronomy are rapidly increasing. In recent decades the number of scientific papers published has been doubling every three years. There is one last sign that we are approaching the end days. Israel is largely restored as a nation and many countries where Jews have lived for thousands of years are virtually empty of their Jewish populations. Obviously, Israel had to be restored before the Messiah could return and be welcomed by the Jews (Matt. 23:39).
When we look at the last days, the Book of Revelation has much to tell us, although we have lost many of the keys to this work. It seems that there is only one theme in this book and it keeps recurring and being developed. So whether we are seeing horses, trumpets, or bowls of wrath, we are always seeing the same thing, even if it is from different perspectives. The theme of Revelation is the Day of Lord, a very Hebrew idea that is made up of two things, the Great Tribulation and the coming Kingdom of God. It is made plain in Acts 14:22, that through much tribulation we inherit the Kingdom.
When we study Revelation we realize that we are approaching a very Jewish book. In this book, Israel is center stage and triumphant Christians are seen as part of Israel. In Revelation 1:12-13, we see Jesus dressed very similar to Israel’s High Priest, plus we see Jewish menorot (candlesticks), said to represent the churches.
It has been implied in the Gentile church that Jesus is coming solely for the benefit of Gentile Christians. We happily assign the Jews to the flames of Antichrist while we fly away to glory. This whole concept sounds a little far fetched and even anti-Semitic.
HOW WILL THE END-DAY REALLY PLAY OUT?
When we carefully consider Revelation and the rest of the Bible there are some things that fall into place concerning the end-day.
First there are birth pains and plenty of them as we see in Matthew 24:8. We have already experienced enough of these pains to realize that Christians are not excluded. According to Jesus, these birth pains include war, possible terrorism, plague, famine and death. These pains are much like those of a woman in travail. They increase in frequency and intensity until they end in the Great Tribulation and birth of the kingdom.
Second, terrible tribulation is pictured. We see this “hour of trial” very clearly in Revelation 3:10. We learn that fiery tribulation is God’s means of judging evil people and evil nations. In this coming Great Tribulation it has been estimated conservatively that a third to half the world’s population will die. It could be much worse than this.
One very prominent thing about the last days is the fire of God. We see this in 1 Peter 3:7: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” In our postmodern era we have almost stopped teaching and preaching about fire, but the Bible still has a lot to say about it. It is clear that this fiery judgment is part of a coming age of terror. The world will literally be destroyed with the righteous still in it, just as it was in the days of Noah and during the great plagues upon Egypt, when Israel was protected in Goshen. It will be much like home canning. The heat and pressure that destroys the microbes seals the fruit.
Near the end of this awful period the Beast and False Prophet will arise for three and one half years, bringing great persecution and tribulation. It appears that the rise of this Beast is a sort of rerun of Daniel’s beast in chapters 7, 8 and 11. We note in Matthew 24:22, that for the elect’s sake these dreadful days will be shortened. Nevertheless during this time of great testing, many will be purified and made spotless (Dan. 12:10; Eph. 5:27).
It is interesting that several of the church fathers commented on this time. Hermas (c.AD 150) says: “Happy are you who endure the great tribulation that is coming.” Irenaeus (c. AD 180) says: “For this is the last contest of the righteous, in which they are crowned with incorruption – when they overcome.” Hippolytus (c. AD 200) speaks of a tyrant who will “…reign and persecute the church, which flees from city to city.”
Finally the world will be led to the great battle of Armageddon. Revelation 16:13 makes plain that foul spirits arising out of the Middle East will draw the whole world into this disastrous battle. Zechariah 14:1-5 tells us that the Lord Jesus will then appear. We must note that he is coming first of all to rescue Israel from the rage of the nations.
GOD’S KINGDOM WILL THEN BE ESTABLISHED
After this great confrontation, God’s kingdom will be established on earth. The earth will move into the Millennial Age and everything promised to Israel will become reality.
In this respect it should not surprise us that the Book of Revelation begins with the Kingdom of God (1:5-6) and ends with the Kingdom of God (Rev. 22:5). This final book of the New Testament is very true to the teaching of Jesus and his disciples, for this was the heart of their message. Somehow we seem to have lost the kingdom message in recent generations. Jesus promises us in Matthew 24:14, that this important message apparently will be rediscovered and preached world-wide as the last days approach.
The Kingdom is not just a theological concept, for we must live it daily “in Christ” (Rom. 5:17). The Book of Revelation is filled with this kingdom concept. The book makes plain that everything lost in Adam will be regained in the New Adam, Jesus Christ. Through Christ, the saints of God will begin to rule and exercise authority as they are able to share his throne (Eph. 2:6). The book makes plain that the saints of God will overcome and eventually rule on this earth with a rod of iron (Rev. 2:26-27). Perhaps this is the fulfillment of a prophetic vision that Paul once had in Romans 16:20. He said to those early Christians: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” All this is reminiscent of the joy Jesus once had as he welcomed his returning disciples after their successful mission trip: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Lk. 10:18-19).
As Revelation unfolds we see evidence of these victorious saints. It is said of them: “They overcame him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” We later see these victorious ones reigning forever with Christ (Rev. 22:5). Daniel long ago prophesied this (Dan. 7:27): “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.”
THE URGENT NEED FOR CHRISTIANS TO PREPARE
The Risen Christ gives us an urgent message in the Book of Revelation. It is a warning for Christians and churches to get ready for the last days. It is surprising for us to see that five out of seven of the churches are unprepared, in that they have serious spiritual problems. Even great Ephesus has lost her first love, indicating that this very thing would be a great problem for end-day churches. Without exception every church is warned by the Master to be prepared and to overcome. Eight times in Revelation the Master says “He who has an ear, let him hear.” This expression assures us that it really is the Master speaking, for he used these words often in his earthly ministry.
Today many Christians and churches have ceased overcoming and are being overcome by the world and by the devil’s deceit. In Genesis, God ordered man to rule over the earth but today we see the earth ruling over man on many occasions. Let us think of some very simple examples of this. God made man to rule over the plants of the field and his assignment was to cultivate them. Today we see the grape and its byproduct, wine, ruling over man. We see the tobacco plant, the marijuana plant and the poppy plant all ruling over man as many millions are in bondage to their addictive byproducts.
We simply must start living today as overcomers through Christ. The Master assures us that he has overcome this world, and we through him can do likewise. In 1 John 5:4 we read: “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” God has done everything possible to make us overcomers. He has saved us by the blood of the Lamb and placed his Holy Spirit within us. We must be careful to obey his Spirit as the scripture says in Ephesians 4:30: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We must remember that Noah survived the world-destroying flood because his ark was sealed with pitch both without and within (Gen. 6:14).
We must let the name of God be in our foreheads (Rev. 14:1) just as the priesthood of old had that name upon their foreheads. The engraving read “Holy to the Lord” (Exo. 28:36-38). God says of such as these in Psalm 91:14 “…I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.”
It is amazing to see people in the last days overcoming Satan by the blood of the Lamb and word of their testimony (Rev. 12:11). These saints will drive Satan mad with their exploits. The first century believers did likewise and wrote the book of Acts by their bravery and dedication. Today if the modern church had to write a book it would likely be called “the Book of Reacts.” We spend our time reacting to what Satan is doing.
These model saints follow the Lamb wherever he goes (Rev. 14:4). They do some other things that might surprise us. In Revelation 12:17, we see these saints described as those “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” We see this again as Revelation 14:12 where it speaks of the “saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” What can we make of this? It is clear that these triumphant last-day saints are not only believing in Jesus but obeying all his commands. Grace and law are at last working together in beautiful harmony.
What we seem to have here is the best of Judaism and the best of Gentile Christianity combined. It appears that these 144,000 triumphant saints picture for us the rise of the New Man or New Israel as seen in Ephesians 2:14-16 and in Ephesians 3:6.
THE END DAYS ARE VERY JEWISH LOOKING
Whether we are reading in Daniel, Zechariah or Revelation it is amazing how “Jewish” the last days appear. We see the Lamb and his overcomers standing on Mount Zion. We see the Antichrist appearing in the new temple at Jerusalem and all the nations of earth surrounding that city to conquer it. Then we see Jesus coming to deliver Israel and Jerusalem from the rage of all the nations. The awful judgment we see in Matthew 25:31 ff. is apparently based upon how nations have treated the Jewish brothers of Jesus.
After the great Battle of Armageddon we see a very Jewish-looking Millennial Age with the New Jerusalem coming down to earth; with the names of Jewish disciples written upon its foundations (21:14) and with Jewish tribes written on its gates. Let us just imagine seeing names like Ya-a-kov ben Zav-da-i (James, son of Zebedee), and Ya-a-kov ben Hal-fi-e (James son of Alphaeus) written on the city’s foundations!
We see that the occupants of this city are singing the song of Moses, probably taken from Exodus 15 or Deuteronomy 32. In both these passages the song is about Israel. Obviously, it may be a bit difficult for some Christians to get in tune* with this song.
Publication date, 2004.
*Dr. Goran Larsson, “The Jews Your Majesty” (The Jerusalem Center For Biblical Research, 1989), p. 37.