Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Israel: The Super Sign of the End-Times, Parts 2 & 3
By Dr. Todd Baker
Secular historians generally write history from an anthropocentric view; that is, how it relates and centers on Man and his development and various achievements in a closed universe. But the Bible concentrates on the historical fulfillment of God's covenantal relationship with the nation of Israel leading up to the first coming of the Messiah and His second coming to Israel in a supernatural fashion whereby God freely and arbitrarily intervenes in the affairs of man. In fact, the Bible says God determines the national boundaries and demographic habitations of humanity with the intent that the children of Israel could live in the land of Canaan in an area that would perfectly accommodate their numbers and allow for this. For Deuteronomy 32:8 says: "When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel." And all that the Bible has predicted about Israel's divine history thus far has literally come to pass.
So then it is only reasonable and natural to conclude that the prophecies about Israel's future will also literally be fulfilled. Bible Prophecy predicted as a super sign and precondition for the return of Christ the regathering of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland as the nation of Israel. That took place on May 14, 1948. The rest of this article will explore and explain how the modern nation of Israel is fulfilling this role as the super-sign to indicate the coming of Christ is close at hand and could very well happen in our generation.
The Bible predicts in Deuteronomy 30:1-3 that the return of the Lord Jesus Christ will occur sometime after the regathering and return of the Jews from world wide dispersion into the land of Israel. God gave this prophecy through Moses and the Jews just before God brought them into the land of Canaan. The Authorized Version of these verses is most telling:
"And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey His voice. According to all that I commanded thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul; That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee."
Notice the chronology or sequence of prophetic events here:
(1) God will bring the Jews back to the land of Israel from the nations of the world where they were scattered abroad by Him for their disobedience.
(2) During this regathering the Lord Himself "will return" and complete the restoration of all Israel back into the land.
In others words, when God begins to bring the Jews back into their land He gave them, Christ will return! The phrase "will return" is omitted from most modern translations of the Bible since the Masoretic text (upon which the majority of modern translations of the Old Testament are based upon) and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) do not include it. But the Dead Sea Scrolls copied some 150 years before the birth of Christ and over 1,000 years older than any previously discovered manuscript of the Bible includes this very phrase! The passage reads as follows: "Then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will return and gather you from the peoples, [from] where the Lord your God has scattered you." (Martin Abegg, Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, p. 187). Thus, the phrase has good precedent for being included as from the original. And the prophecy given in Deuteronomy 30:3 foretells that when the Jews return to their ancient homeland from the Diaspora (the scattering of the Jews to all Gentile nations of the world after the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.), the Lord Jesus Christ will return. If we just had this prophecy alone in Scripture concerning the return of the Jews to Israel and the return of the Lord following it, this would be adequate alone to believe in His word that He would regather the Jews back to Israel and subsequently return at the second Coming. This unquestionably means in the words of author Homer Duncan that:
"For centuries, the prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel lay dormant in the Word of God. There was no outward indication that they would be fulfilled, but they are now being fulfilled before our eyes, and this can mean but one thing: THE COMING OF THE LORD DRAWS NEAR." (Homer Duncan, Israel: Past, Present, Future, p. 16)
There have been two dispersions in Israel’s history collectively referred to as the Diaspora. The first dispersion of Jews from the land of Israel began in 721 B.C. when the Assyrians invaded the Northern kingdom of Israel and led them away into captivity for their gross idolatry and disobedience to the Law of Moses (Isaiah 10:5-7; 2 Kings 17:5-23). The last stage of this dispersion occurred in 586 B.C. At that time the Babylonians armies led by King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege against Jerusalem at conquered the Southern Kingdom and took the Jews of Judea and Jerusalem captive into Babylon for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:4-12; Daniel 9:1-2; 2 Chronicles 36:14-20). In 539 B.C. the Persian king Cyrus issued a decree allowing 50,000 Jews to return to the land of Israel under the leadership of Ezra, Zerubbabel, and Nehemiah (Ezra 1:1-6:22; Nehemiah 11:1-13:31). Both the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions are considered a single dispersion instead of two since half of the nation went into exile in 721 B.C. and the other half going into exile in 586 B.C. But before God scattered them in the first dispersion He gave them warning after warning to forsake their disobedient and wicked ways through His servants the prophets. Israel did not heed their warnings of divine judgment and calls for repentance. Because He knew they were reprobate and unwilling to return Him, the Lord displaced and scattered them from the Land (Jeremiah 5-6; 8:7-17; 2 Chronicles 36:14-17).
The second dispersion of the nation came in 70 A.D. when Titus and his Roman legions burned and razed Jerusalem and razed the Temple literally not leaving one stone upon another, thus fulfilling the prophecies of Micah and Jesus found in Micah 3:12 and Matthew 24:2. In fact in the early 1990’s archaeologists doing excavations along the southern part of the Western Wall unearthed a pile of those original Temple stones that were dismantled stone by massive stone in 70 A.D.—an ancient testament to the veracity of Jesus’ prophecy and the historical accuracy of the New Testament. The Bible not only predicted the fact of Israel’s dispersion but also the condition the Jews would be in during it. The Jews would not have a king to sit on David’s throne, nor would they have a Temple in Jerusalem or priesthood to offer sacrifices; and finally they would no longer worship idols. Hosea foresaw this dispersed state after 70 A.D. and predicted this to be Israel’s scattered condition “for many days.” Hosea 3:4-5 reads: “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim.” In this prophecy as with several others found in the Old Testament, Israel’s state and condition is accurately described during the long world-wide dispersion of their nation that has existed between the First and Second Advent of the Messiah Jesus! A closer look at the text in Hosea 3 provides a very detailed corroboration of how this prophecy is being fulfilled from the time off the first century A.D. until now. This period of Jewish history, (which has already lasted for almost two thousand years) has been formally called by Jewish and secular historians “the Diaspora”; and it was foretold in the prophetic word in Hosea some 750 years before Christ!
In this dispersed state Israel would no longer have a “prince or king.” The throne of David has been vacant of a lineal successor (a prince) and broken down since 586 B.C. to this very day. This will remain so until the return of Jesus the Son of David who will sit on the Davidic throne after a long period of absence (see Ezekiel 21:25-27; Luke 1:32-33; Acts 15:14-17). With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. and the subsequent dissolution of the Levitical priesthood Israel was left without the appropriate animal sacrifices or a Temple to sacrifice them in. They would no longer worship false gods in temples built with “Sacred Pillar” commonly used to worship the false gods of Canaan (Ex 34:13-14; Deut. 7:5). The “Ephod” was a part of the special dress the High Priest of Israel wore and also gave divine guidance and direction (Lev. 8:7; 1 Sam. 23:9-11; 30:7-8). Thus Israel would be scattered throughout the world without centralized spiritual leadership and guidance the High Priest provided for the nation. In addition to that the Jews would be free from idolatry and the worship of idols or the “Teraphim.” while in a scattered state. The teraphim images in ancient Israel were household idols used for objects of worship and the forbidden practice of divination (see Genesis. 31:19, 30, 32; Judges. 18:17, 24; 1 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings. 23:24). When one closely examines the Prophecy of Hosea about the condition of Israel’s dispersion in their past, present and future, one cannot help but agree with the comments of C. I. Scofield on this same passage of prophetic Scripture:
“This prediction has been remarkably fulfilled in the condition of Israel since the time of Christ. Scattered, without political entity under a king or a prince, and performing no sacrifices since the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, they have yet retained their identity and avoided idolatrous worship of sacred stones or idols. Chapter 3 is one of the classic O.T. passages describing Israel’s past, present, and future.” (The New Scofield Study Bible, p. 894).
Israel: The Super Sign of the End-Times, (Part 3)
The scattering of the Jewish people from the land of Israel throughout the nations of the world was a result of their disobedience to God’s law and their rejection of the Messiah. The first dispersion as mentioned in a prior article was the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity (721 and 586 B.C., respectively). The reason for this as unanimously witnessed by both the pre-exilic and exilic prophets was Israel’s gross idolatry and apostasy from the Lord (Jeremiah 7, 9; Isaiah 1-6; Ezekiel 8-11, et al.). The second dispersion occurred for Israel rejection and mistreatment of the Messiah who came to redeem them and offer the Messianic kingdom (Luke 19:41-44). But in the beginning of their national history God foretold all these things would happen as a warning to the nation through Moses right before the people of Israel were to enter the Promised Land. In Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-32 Israel’s covenantal obligations as the Chosen Nation of God are spelled out by the Lord. The blessings that would accrue to their obedience are given and conversely the curses that would fall on them if they chose to walk contrary to the Lord and not obey him were clearly spelled out to the nation. A cursory reading of these pivotal chapters at once reveals a precise and accurate prophetic portrait of the history of the Jewish people that has been fulfilled to the letter for the last 3,500 years! “I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you” (Leviticus 26:33-39; Deuteronomy 28:64-67). This scattering of Israel to all the Gentile nations of the world would serve as a sign for all to see God’s reproach and displeasure for their disobedience to Him. “And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever” (Deut. 28:46).
Lest the reader think this too harsh the Kiddush (the standard daily prayer book used by religious Jews in synagogues all over the world) offers the following penitential prayer: “Cause us to return with perfect repentance to Thy presence. Pardon and forgive all our iniquities. Blot out and remove our transgressions and sins from Thy sight. Nullify the evil of the sentence decreed against us.” Now in our day with the recent partial restoration and regathering of the Jewish people back to Israel God is in the process of answering this very prayer. Throughout the long Diaspora God promised that He would preserve the Jewish people as a distinct people among the Gentile nations so that by and large they would not be assimilated or be expunged by them. “For I am with you says the Lord, to save you. Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished. Yet I will leave a remnant, so that you may have some who escape the sword among the nations, when you are scattered through the countries” (Jeremiah 30:11; Ezekiel 6:8). The Assyrians, Babylonians, and the Romans all invaded Israel and conquered the Jews and subsequently led them captive away from the land to be scattered throughout the nations. After the dispersion of 70 A.D. the Jewish people were to live without a homeland for almost 2,000 years. All throughout that time they only survived in small numbers in isolated scattered communities. Their numbers greatly dwindled when they were hunted down and killed by the scores during the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Russian Pogroms, and the greatest of all numbers killed in the horrific Holocaust. This is precisely why most Jewish people do not accept Jesus as the Messiah because those very people who claimed to follow Him instigated and carried out these violent campaigns and atrocities against the Chosen People. Sadly the tragic prophecy of Jesus in John 16:2 has been fulfilled in one way through the form of ‘Christian’ anti-Semitism when He foretold to His Jewish disciples: “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think he offers God’s service.” The enemies of the Jews slanderously did so in the name of Jesus Christ—a sin the Christian Church has all been too guilty of throughout the centuries. On this point Messianic Jewish author Barry Rubin explains what the Gentile name “Jesus Christ” means to the average Jew. “To a Jewish person, Christ conducted the Crusades, invoked the Inquisition, and prompted persecution of Jews over the last twenty centuries. To a Jewish person, Christ is the first part of the term used by those who accuse Jews of deicide: “Christ-killers” (“You Bring the Bagels, I’ll Bring the Gospel,” p. 94). This brings us to our next point that we will take up in the next issue: Universal Anti-Semitism as one of the signs of the End-Times and for the return of Jesus the Messiah.
Thus far, we have looked at prophecies dealing with Israel's history up to the nation's worldwide dispersion in unbelief. The whole history of the Jewish people was foretold beforehand to them through Moses, the prophets, and the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth. While in that dispersed state, the Jewish people would be without land, kingly ruler, free from the idolatry of the past, and wandering from place to place throughout the nations of the world. This last condition aforementioned was popularized in Europe by the pejorative term "the wandering Jew" in the thirteenth century. The ugly and brutal fact of Anti-Semitism is a darker side of Jewish history, and along with the doctrine of hell is one of the most somber and grave subjects of Bible prophecy. Nevertheless, the God of Israel did indeed predict from the outset of their national history that the Jewish people would be hated, harmed, and persecuted by the Gentile nations of the world during the long period of the Diaspora. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 outlines this terrible time. A simple comparison between this passage of Scripture and the history of the Jewish people for the last two thousand years will unquestionably verify these prophecies have been fulfilled as exactly foretold and that the Bible is indeed inspired by the Omniscient God who foretells history before it comes to pass. What we have described and predicted in the above passage in Deuteronomy and other related passages found throughout Scripture is the prediction of the rise of anti-Semitism. The term anti-Semitism was coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1878 who himself was a virulent anti-Semite. Anti-Semitism simply defined is the racial and religious hatred of the Jewish people. The ugly phenomenon of Anti-Semitism began the moment God chose Abraham to father a new people through which the redeemer of the world would come and was the response of Satan himself to destroy the means by which in the "seed of the woman" he would meet his final end and defeat (Genesis 3:15).
The devil's simple strategy was thus: "Destroy the Jewish people and there will be no Savior to defeat me." After the first advent, his strategy is still in place as he has sought throughout the centuries following Christ to do the same so that this same Messiah will not come back to a restored Israel and fulfill those promises made to Israel that still await fulfillment at the Second Advent. Furthermore, God made a promise and oath in Jeremiah 31:35-37 that the Jewish people would continue as a nation in perpetuity - that is, forever. Satan's strategy for creating the inimical reality of anti-Semitism is nothing less than the complete annihilation and obliteration of the Jewish people so that this divine eternal promise of their permanent existence as the distinct chosen nation are nullified and God's integrity and Word are proven unreliable, false, and wrong. Indeed, when Yahweh chose Israel as the human channel for the Savior to come into the world and redeem humanity from sin and death, Satan targeted and chose them also for destruction knowing that they would be God's instrumental means by which he was to suffer ultimate defeat.
Revelation 12 uses symbolic images of a woman clothed with the son (Israel) and the fiery red dragon (Satan) to prophetically narrate the conflict between Satan has with Israel and how it will come to a head in the future seven-year tribulation period. Scripture explains that the ultimate cause and origin for anti-Semitism is supernatural and found in the perfidious design and person of Satan. Men like Haman, Hitler, and Pharaoh are human pawns to carry out "the final solution" against the Jewish people. But in the end, all people who attempt to harm and destroy the Chosen People, God will curse and overthrow with damnation in the end according to the solemn and eternal oath He swore to Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, in Genesis 12:3; "I will curse those who curse you."
In spite of all the terrible atrocities the Jewish people have suffered for the last 2,000 years, the God of Israel has kept them distinct and preserved as a separate people (for a chronological listing of Anti-Semitism attitudes and practices from 70 A.D. to 1970, see the book The Causes and Effects of Anti-Semitism by Paul E. Grosser and Edwin G. Halperin). One with a discerning mind can even see the subtle side of anti-Semitism by the condescending and accusatory manner in which Modern Israel is constantly spoken of by the news media (which in itself is a considerable subject to document and rightly comment upon; but presently, our study will stay within the perimeters of the Scripture and those Bible prophecies dealing with the Jewish people).
God foretold that during the long period of dispersion, the Jewish people would have no rest from the Gentile nations. They would be maligned, persecuted, and killed in large numbers wherever they sojourned due to the pervasive and perennial presence of anti-Semitism (see the prophecy of Leviticus 26:36-39). But in spite of this, the Lord has triumphantly preserved them and brought them back to their ancient homeland against all adverse odds. History has indisputably confirmed the aforementioned prophecy given some 3,400 years ago true and fulfilled in the history of the Jewish people, so much so that the summative observation from Paul Grosser and Edwin Halperin definitely applies here and underscores what God foretold would be their condition in the Diaspora:
"No people in history has been hated, maligned and persecuted so continuously and systematically as the Jews. In light of the history of anti-Semitism, the continued survival of the Jews and Judaism is a major historical triumph.... The continuity and persistence of anti-Semitism over the past nineteen centuries indicated that it is an integral part of Western culture. It has existed in slave, feudal, capitalist and socialist economic systems. It has existed in monarchies, aristocracies, theocracies, democracies, dictatorships, police states, and authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. It has existed in religious, secular, and atheistic societies. It has existed in rural and urban populations, in small towns and suburbs. It has existed even in places where there were no Jews. No matter what the Jews did, there has been no sure escape (The Causes and Effects of Anti-Semitism, pp. 339, 353)."
The Lord Jesus predicted that one of the signs indicating the end of this inter-advent age (i.e., the present time between the first and Second Advent of Jesus Christ) would be the universal hatred of the Jewish people by the Gentile nations on account of Him. "You shall be hated of all nations for My name's sake" (Matthew 24:9). World-wide anti-Semitism is thus a sign for Israel and the world that we are living near the period of the Messiah's return as foretold by Jesus almost 2,000 years ago in Matthew 24.
Monday, February 22, 2010
By: Bill Muehlenberg
Most cultures and religious traditions have as part of their beliefs and overall worldview the idea that the current world will in one fashion or another come to an end. There are various apocalyptic scenarios out there, some more negative than others, and some more alarmist than others.
If the world is indeed going to wind down or come to some cataclysmic end, the interesting question is how do people respond to this realization? How do people cope if they are convinced that life as we know it may not last much longer? I saw just recently one way in which people might respond.
The ads during the American Super Bowl are often just as amazing and entertaining as the game itself. They have to be, given that the screening of just one 30 second ad can cost up to a cool $3 million. Thus some of the most remarkable ads ever seen usually come out during this three hour extravaganza.
Some of these ads were featured in yesterday’s Australian telecast of the event. One of the ads caught my eye. It featured a number of workers in an observatory. A scientist, peering through a telescope, looking at an incoming asteroid, proclaims that it’s going to destroy the earth.
The response? Six-packs of Bud Light beer are passed around as the men and women decide they will have a wild party while they await their doom. Well, that is one way to deal with the end of the world. And it is not a very novel approach. The saying, ‘Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die’ has been around for quite some time.
But that is not the only way to prepare for the end of the world. Jesus for example had much to say about the topic. Indeed, the Bible as a whole has plenty of discussion about this theme. There is far too much material to cover here, so let me focus on just two passages.
The third chapter of 2 Peter is all about the end of the world, or more accurately, the Day of the Lord. It specifically addresses those who question Christ’s return, and in fact mock the very notion. Says Peter, “in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation’” (vv. 3-4).
Here the idea is that the world will keep going, so why worry? Jesus had mentioned similar things in the Olivet Discourse when he said that when he returns, it will be just like in the days of Noah: people will be carrying on with their normal activities, and will be oblivious to what is about to occur (Matt. 24:36-39).
So too Peter states that most people will be just carrying on with business as usual. They not only do not believe in the Lord’s return, but scoff at the very notion of future judgment as well. But Peter argues quite the opposite: Christ certainly will come in his own time, and he will come as judge.
The fact that he has not yet returned is not an indication of his slowness in keeping his promises, but is in fact a period of grace, allowing more time for more people to repent (vv. 8-9). His advice is the opposite of that given in the Bud Light commercial. He says that given that Christ will one day certainly return, what sort of people ought we to be?
He encourages sober, holy living, in the light of the return of Christ (vv. 11-14). If the end is nigh, that is not a reason to party, but to get our act together, and be prepared to meet our coming Lord and judge. Instead of scoffing at the delay of his return, be grateful that he is allowing us more chance to get right with him.
The second passage is addressed more to believers than non-believers. But its message is desperately needed, because so many believers are in fact using the doctrine of Christ’s second coming as an excuse to opt out of, instead of into, the battles of the day.
That is, many believers are banking on things getting worse, and then Christ coming back, so let’s just forget all about any social or political obligations we might have. Let’s just pluck a few more souls from the fire, and get our bags packed for the Rapture.
The idea is you don’t polish brass on a sinking ship. You don’t rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. If everything is going down the tubes, then why get involved in trying to make this a better world?
Now this is quite a complex and hotly debate issue. I have partly discussed it elsewhere, so I will not repeat all my arguments here. See for example, here.
And Christians with strong biblical convictions can and do fall on different sides of the debate over eschatology. Some can be Pre-Mill and some can be Post-Mill and so on. If you don’t have a clue as to what I am referring to here, don’t worry. This just has to do with how we understand the millennium of Rev. 20 and other eschatological and theological issues.
But that big debate is really not what I am interested in here. And I do need to get back to my second passage. It is the Parable of the Ten Talents (Minas) as found in Luke 19:11-26. The relevant bit is the opening three verses:
“While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas, “Put this money to work,” he said, “until I come back”’.”
The KJV renders the last bit, “Occupy till I come”. The point of the parable is to use the gifts God has given us, and be faithful in our stewardship until the king (Christ) returns. As you will recall, the servants who used the money well and put it to good use were commended by their master. But the servant who hid his talents, burying them in the ground, was strongly rebuked.
Part of the message here is that God expects us to wisely use the gifts, talents and callings he has given us, and to use them right up until he returns. There is no thought here of packing our bags, putting up our feet, and waiting for Christ to return. We are to be busy with the work of the Kingdom. We are to be fully engaged in occupying till he comes.
Thus both these passages give us quite different instructions than does the Bud Light ad. Knowledge that this world is soon coming to an end is not to be an excuse for moral laxity and going on a bender with wild parties. Nor is it an excuse to sit back and do nothing.
The Lord’s return is meant to spur us on to both moral living as well as to dedicated activity for the kingdom. Peter wants to impress on us the need for holy living and serious discipleship as we await the Lord’s return. And Jesus reminds us that there is a lot of work to be done before he returns. We need to roll up our sleeves and get busy with the work God has assigned for us to do.
So while the Bud Light ad may have been quite funny (as have been so many of the other expensive Super Bowl ads), it is clearly amiss in terms of the message it is sending. It fits well into a hedonistic, secular and cynical culture. But it does not at all fit in with the real world, and the biblical worldview.