Israel's Birth Pangs

Everyone knows that the tiny nation of Israel, with a population of only six million people, nevertheless receives enormous attention in the world's media, far beyond what its size would warrant. The only explanation for that extraordinary fact is that it indicates the central place that Israel has in the program of God. God will not let the world forget Israel!

In the Old Testament, of course, Israel is always center stage. Everything centers around this nation. God has recorded the history of the world only as it relates to Israel, the nation that came from the loins of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even when you come to the Gospels in the New Testament, Israel is still the focus of attention. Jesus insisted that "salvation is of the Jews," {John 4:22 KJV}. He corrected people when they misunderstood that principle. He sent his twelve disciples out and told them, "Go not to the Gentiles, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," {Matt 10:6, 15:24 KJV}. Even in the epistles of the New Testament, primarily written to the church, nevertheless the Apostle Paul in his great masterpiece, the letter to the Romans, devotes three chapters to Israel. He points out in Chapter 9 how God has dealt with them in the past, in Chapter 10 he states the present condition of Israel, existing in unbelief among the nations of the world, and in Chapter 11 he clearly foretells the time when God will restore Israel again to prominence among the nations of earth. God has a great future yet for the Israelis.

I find it very strange that many commentators on the book of Revelation and other passages of Scripture virtually ignore this remarkable future that God has predicted for his ancient people. Although God has saved these commentators by sheer grace, yet they refuse to believe that he will yet show equal grace to Israel. But God declares plainly that is what he intends to do. --Ray C. Stedman, Expository Sermons on the Book of the Revelation, (http://raystedman.org/revelation/4199.html).

 

The Symbolism of the Woman Israel

One of the most fascinating symbols of Israel found in the entire Bible is contained in the vision of the Apostle John recorded in the Book of the Revelation Chapter 12:

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. (Rev 12:1-6 NIV)

The imagery in this vision seen by John the Apostle takes us back to Genesis and Joseph's dream (Genesis 37). Israel is the woman clothed with the sun and with the moon under her feet (Note 1). Joseph lived about 4000 years ago, his time was as many years before the First Advent of Jesus as our day is afterward. (2) John's vision skips over Israel's long and turbulent history recorded in the Old Testament and mentions the birth of Jesus the Messiah as the first event of interest. The dragon (Satan) attempted to kill the newborn child at that time, but did not succeed. The life, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus follow in New Testament history, but the next event recorded by John is the Ascension of Jesus 40 days after His resurrection from the dead. Lastly, the vision jumps forward nearly 2000 years of history to the end of the age in which we now live. No event in the past history of Israel fits the phrase, "The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days." 1260 days is, however, 3.5 years, exactly half of the seven-year tribulation period described in Revelation, and foretold by the prophet Daniel.

Israel's Labor Pains come at the Second Advent

What is especially interesting in John's vision of Israel is that there are no labor pains described in connection with the birth of Israel's Messiah, what Christians call "the First Advent." The "birth pangs" (Greek: odino [3]) come at the time Second Advent! A prophecy in the last Chapter of Isaiah confirms this:

"Hear the word of the LORD, you who tremble at his word: "Your brethren who hate you and cast you [Israel] out for my name's sake have said, 'Let the LORD be glorified, that we may see your joy'; but it is they who shall be put to shame. "Hark, an uproar from the city! A voice from the [Third] temple! The voice of the LORD, rendering recompense to his enemies! "Before she [Israel] was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she was delivered of a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? [yet future] For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her sons. Shall I bring to the birth and not cause to bring forth? says the LORD; shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb? says your God.

[Then follows the Millennial kingdom:] "Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may suck and be satisfied with her consoling breasts; that you may drink deeply with delight from the abundance of her glory." For thus says the LORD: "Behold, I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall suck, you shall be carried upon her hip, and dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and it shall be known that the hand of the LORD is with his servants, and his indignation is against his enemies. "For behold, the LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the storm wind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the LORD execute judgment, and by his sword, upon all flesh; and those slain by the LORD shall be many." (Isaiah 66:5-16)

The context of this Scripture is the end of the age when God Himself will intervene in the world to judge Israel's enemies and to elevate Israel to first place among the nations. The pains of Israel's final trial will be new nation alive and responsive to her God. It is important to note that when the Bible speaks of Israel, the reference is to "believing Israel." Israel today is almost entirely a secular state and the many people in various religious groups do not necessarily know the God of Israel in a personal way. In Elijah's day, the prophet complained there no believers were left but himself. To this God replied, "I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal." (Romans 11:4 quoting 1 Kings 19:18). (4) Jeremiah spoke about the final time of Israel's testing when Messiah would come and rule. He called it "the time of Jacob's trouble." It is the season in history which lies just before us now. We call it "the great tribulation."

A great prophecy of Jeremiah covers the time frame of Israel's final restoration to the land until Messiah comes. Again the figure of labor-pains is used:

"The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, says the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land which I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it." These are the words which the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah: "Thus says the LORD: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace. Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor? Why has every face turned pale? Alas! that day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it. "And it shall come to pass in that day, says the LORD of hosts, that I will break the yoke from off their neck, and I will burst their bonds, and strangers shall no more make servants of them. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

"Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, says the LORD, nor be dismayed, O Israel; for lo, I will save you from afar, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with you to save you, says the LORD; I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you [Israel] I will not make a full end. I will chasten you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

"For thus says the LORD: Your hurt is incurable, and your wound is grievous. There is none to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you; they care nothing for you; for I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant. Why do you cry out over your hurt? Your pain is incurable. Because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant, I have done these things to you. Therefore all who devour you shall be devoured, and all your foes, every one of them, shall go into captivity; those who despoil you shall become a spoil, and all who prey on you I will make a prey. For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the LORD, because they have called you an outcast: 'It is Zion, for whom no one cares!'

"Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob, and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt upon its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be. Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who make merry. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small. Their children shall be as they were of old, and their congregation shall be established before me; and I will punish all who oppress them. Their prince shall be one of themselves, their ruler shall come forth from their midst; I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me, for who would dare of himself to approach me? says the LORD. And you shall be my people, and I will be your God." Behold the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intents of his mind. In the latter days you will understand this. (Jeremiah 30)

The prophet Micah confirms this final time of suffering followed by the rebirth of the nation and her exaltation among the nations. Once again, Israel's labor pains are seen as associated with the Second Advent of Messiah, not the First of Messiah:

"It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever and ever.

In that day, says the LORD, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and those whom I have afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant; and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from this time forth and for evermore. And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem. Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you? Has your counselor perished, that pangs have seized you like a woman in travail? Writhe and groan, O daughter of Zion, like a woman in travail; for now you shall go forth from the city and dwell in the open country; you shall go to Babylon. There you shall be rescued, there the LORD will redeem you from the hand of your enemies. [i.e., the Babylonian captivity of Israel foreshadow Israel's final birth pangs in the end time].

Now [586 BC and again in the end time] many nations are assembled against you, saying, "Let her be profaned, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion." But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD, they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor. Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, for I will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples, and shall devote their gain to the LORD, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth.

"Now you are walled about with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike upon the cheek the ruler of Israel. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel. And he [Messiah] shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. Your hand shall be lifted up over your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off. And in that day, says the LORD, I will cut off your horses from among you and will destroy your chariots; and I will cut off the cities of your land and throw down all your strongholds; and I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more soothsayers; and I will cut off your images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands; and I will root out your Asherim from among you and destroy your cities. And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance upon the nations that did not obey. (Micah 4-5)


Israel's Approaching Birth Pangs are Confirmed by the Rabbis

Rosh HaShanah War/Commentary:


THE UNIVERSAL SIGNIFICANCE OF OUR STRUGGLE

by Yosef Ben Shlomo HaKohen
[chazon@netvision.net.il]

YERUSHALIYIM, D.C. (David's Capital), Yom Shlishi (Third Day -- "Tuesday"), 2 Cheshvan, 5761 (Gregorian Date: October 31, 2000) (Hijri Date: 3 Shabaan, 1421), Root & Branch: According to Jewish tradition, the Creator began the creation of the earth on Mount Moriah, the site of the future Temple. Our sages find a poetic reference to this tradition in the opening verses of Psalm 50:

"A Song of Assaf: Almighty G-d, HaShem, spoke, summoning the earth...out of Zion, consummation of beauty, G-d appeared." [Psalm 50:1,2]

The exact location on Mount Moriah where the creation began was known as "the Foundation Stone". It was found in the inner Temple chamber known as the "Holy of Holies." It was called "the Foundation Stone" because it was from this stone that the Creator expanded and enlarged the earth. (This tradition is discussed in the Midrash Tehilim, Midrash Yalkut Hamchiri, and the Targum to Psalm 50:2)

The sages also state that just as the Creator began the creation of the earth from Mount Moriah, so too the Creator will begin the renewal of the earth from Mount Moriah (Yalkut Shimoni to Psalm 50:2). They cite the following prophecy as a source for this idea:

"It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of HaShem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it." [Isaiah 2:2]

A related idea is found in another prophecy of Isaiah:

"They will neither injure nor destroy in all of My sacred mountain; for the earth will be filled with knowledge of HaShem as water covering the sea bed". [Isaiah 11:9]

The verse refers to "all of My sacred mountain." Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the famous 19th century Bible commentator, explains that the "sacred mountain" can also refer to Jerusalem, and in a wider sense, it can also refer to the entire Land of Israel. Rabbi Hirsch adds: "When all humankind will look to Zion as the lofty center of its sanctification, then all the earth will be known as His 'sacred mountain'". [Hirsch Commentary on Psalm 15:1]

"All of My sacred mountain" can therefore refer to the entire earth! The entire earth will be known as HaShem's sacred mountain, for the entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of HaShem - the Compassionate One.

In this spirit, I would like to share with you the following Midrash:"Rabbi Levi says that in the future the entire Land of Israel will be like Jerusalem, and the entire world will be like the Land of Israel". [Yalkut Shimoni 503, Isaiah]

The Midrash is indicating that in the Messianic Age, when the Jewish people will have returned to their home, the Land of Israel will have the sanctity of Jerusalem, and the entire world will have the sanctity of the Land of Israel.

The whole world will become HaShem's "sacred mountain."

The above teachings seem to indicate that the rebirth of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel is to eventually lead to the rebirth of all the peoples of the earth. The struggle or "birth pangs" that we are now experiencing in this sacred land are therefore relevant not only to the Jewish people, but to all the peoples. The Prophets of Israel speak of the severe birth pangs before the Messianic Age, as it is written:

"Like a pregnant woman close to giving birth, she is in travail, she screams in her pangs..." [Isaiah 26:17]

The famous Bible commentator, Rashi, explains that just as the birth pangs of a pregnant woman are a sign of the impending birth, so too the severe troubles that we will endure will be a sign of the approaching redemption.

What are we do to do during these severe birth pangs?

The Prophet Isaiah provides us with one answer:

"Go, my people, enter into your chambers and close the door behind you; hide for a brief moment until the wrath has passed". [Isaiah 26:20]

According to tradition, this is a call for us to turn inward and to engage in spiritual renewal. For example, Rashi cites an ancient interpretation that the phrase "enter into your chambers" is referring to the "houses of prayer and study". Through prayer and study, we are to rededicate our hearts and minds to the purpose for which we were created.

In this spirit, Rashi cites a second interpretation that "enter into your chambers" is also referring to "the chambers of your heart" where we are to "reflect on our deeds." These teachings serve as a crucial reminder that the ultimate strength of the Jewish people is the spirit within. There are those who wonder whether our people, weary after so many years of struggle to survive in this land, can withstand the fierce hatred and passions of millions of Arabs, especially since many of their religious leaders have declared a "jihad" ("holy war") against the Jews.

Some argue that the way to regain our emotional strength and fortitude is to match Arab hatred and anger with hatred and anger of our own. Although we have to do whatever is necessary to defend our people, the path to regaining our fortitude and inner strength is not through emulating the emotions of our enemies. As the Prophet proclaimed:

"Not by might and not through strength, but through My spirit, said HaShem, G-d of all the hosts of creation". [Zechariah 4:6]

We therefore need to return to the One Who placed us in this land and to rededicate ourselves to our spiritual and universal purpose in being here. In this way, we can hopefully ease the severe pangs and hasten the birth of the ultimate redemption of Israel and all humanity. As great as the pain is, my dear brothers and sisters, we need to remember that the "baby" will be born. This is not my promise. It is the Divine promise, as it is written:

"'Shall I bring a woman to the birth stool and not have her give birth?' says HaShem. 'Shall I, Who causes birth, hold it back?' says HaShem your G-d. Be glad with Jerusalem and rejoice in her, all you who love her. Exult with her in exultation, all you who mourned for her; so that you may nurse and be sated from the breast of her consolations; so that you may suck and delight from the glow of her glory. For thus said HaShem: 'Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river...Like a person whose mother comforts him, so will I comfort you, and in Jerusalem, you will be comforted'." [Isaiah 66:9-13]

Shalom from Yerushaliyim,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen

[chazon@netvision.net.il]
http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/publicat/hazon/

NOTE: Much of what is happening here is not being reported in your local media. Much of what is being reported in your local media is very distorted and biased. I therefore recommend the following websites for the latest news from Israel: www.jpost.com and www.israelwire.com. There is also an interesting website whose editor is Joseph Farah, an Arab-American journalist, who is friendly to the Jewish people and Israel: www.worldnetdaily.com

Reprinted by permission from the Root & Branch Information Services
http://www.rb.org.il

rb@rb.org.il


All of God's people--and the Nations--will Travail with Israel

Israel was created by God to be the chief of the nations. Peace can not come to the nations of the world until Israel's "final redemption" has been accomplished." Israel is to suffer birth pangs (3) at the end of this age when her Messiah returns. However, the church is identified with Israel in her labor pains. Paul wrote,

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation groans together (sunstenazo) and travails together (synodino = "to travail with") until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan (stenazo) inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:14-23)

Christians now alive, and those who have lived in previous generations, have always longed for the Second Coming of the Lord and the resurrection of dead loved-ones. The rapture of the church (the parousia) and second advent (the epiphaneia) are thus linked closely to Israel's birth pangs.

Closing his arguments for a definite future for Israel as a nation, apart from the church, (4) Paul concludes in Romans 11:

"So I ask, have they [the people of Israel] stumbled so as to fall? [i.e., fall away permanently] By no means! But through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion [back into God's plan] mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their [Israel's] [temporary] rejection [by God, for a mere 2000 years] means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance [back] mean but life [resurrection] from the dead?" (Romans 11:11-15) (For commentary see http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/romans2/3527.html)

The same theme of labor pains at the end of the age we now live in is found in Paul's letters to the Thessalonians. This time the inescapable travail will be that of the unbelievers of the entire world:

But as to the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail (odin) comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3) [For comments by Ray Stedman see (Note 5)]

Just as world history began in the Middle East, so also it will be consummated there. After the Flood of Noah, our planet was rapidly repopulated by the three believing sons of Noah and their wives. But with a generation or two only very few retained a relationship with the one true, living God. About 2200 BC God called Abraham to the center stage of history to be a clear example of what it means to live by faith in the personal God of the Bible. Abraham was told by God to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees (now part of Iraq). He was, at the time, not a believer, though he was a descendant of Shem in the line of God's promise of a Messiah. God promised Abraham a plot of land (now Israel) and a unique seed, Jesus, who would be the Savior of mankind.

"Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many; but, referring to one, "And to your offspring," which is Christ." (Galatians 3:16)

The current conflicts in the Middle East are more than four thousand years. A study of Genesis will show their roots in various individuals (6) and family groups.

God's call and selection of Abraham by a covenant was confirmed to the Patriarch eight times during his life, and then separately affirmed to Abraham's son Isaac, and Isaac's son Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. The Old Testament records the history of the sons of the man Israel--always with a view that one day a Messiah would come to Israel who would reconcile all men to God. Additional covenants followed. The law of Moses was given to the Jews at Mt. Sinai just after their Exodus from Egypt and at the same time a Tabernacle, a system of sacrifices for the covering of sin, and a priesthood were established. Forty years later just before the Jews entered the promised land, God set limits on Israel's right to live in the land given to them through Abraham. They were free to live there as long as they were obedient. (See http://ldolphin.org/Covn.html and http://ldolphin.org/Maincov.html).

Twice in Israel's history the Jews have been sent our of their land for disobedience. The first occasion was the Babylonian captivity.

"Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, says the LORD, and for Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these nations round about; I will utterly destroy them, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting reproach. Moreover, I will banish from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the grinding of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall [eventually] become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the LORD, making the land an everlasting waste. (Jeremiah 25:8-12)

True to His word, God brought the Jews back to their land and a Second Temple was placed into service in 515 BC.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John announce the arrival in Israel of her promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. At first popular with the crowds, Jesus did not overthrow the harsh Roman rule of that day, but instead called for spiritual rebirth, for repentance and for lives of self-sacrifice and self-giving service. He grew increasingly unpopular and finally put to death the very week He came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey as the legitimate king and heir of the throne of his father, King David. Ever after His death, burial and resurrection Jesus was rejected by His own countryman. Likewise, after His ascension, His disciples were able to bring only a few thousand Jews into a relationship with Jesus before intense persecution from the religious leaders in Jerusalem drove them out. It was because of their rejection of their legitimate Messiah and King that God sent the Jewish people out of their land in the great diaspora-this time for almost 2000 years.

History books tells us that the Middle East slumbered and slept until the end of the 1800s when the Zionist movement in Europe sought a national homeland for the Jews. Small numbers came back in waves. By means of a series of remarkable events the Jews have come back to their national homeland and regained their position as a sovereign nation. At the same time Israel's ancient neighbors have sprung back onto the world stage in preparation for the events of the end of the age which is fast approaching.

"The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their doings; their conduct before me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood which they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries; in accordance with their conduct and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that men said of them, `These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.' But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel caused to be profaned among the nations to which they came.

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses; and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.

"Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, `This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now inhabited and fortified.' Then the nations that are left round about you shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate; I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will do it.

"Thus says the Lord GOD: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their men like a flock. Like the flock for sacrifices, like the flock at Jerusalem during her appointed feasts, so shall the waste cities be filled with flocks of men. Then they will know that I am the LORD." (Ezekiel 36:16ff)

The Truth is what Matters

Since most Jews and most Arabs living in the Middle East do not profess a personal knowledge of God through Jesus the Messiah, many Christians are hesitant to take sides in the current Middle East turmoil. After all, God is not a respecter of persons and Jesus is as much the Savior of Arabs peoples as He is of Jews. Therefore the main issues for Christians when talking to individuals everywhere has to do with the gospel and whether all men have been accurately informed as to their individual need to know Jesus as Lord.

Islam claims to have replaced both Judaism and Christianity and given the world a better book and a later prophet. But this is not true. The god of Islam, Allah, has very different attributes than Yahweh, the God of Abraham, and Allah is a recent newcomer on the stage of history.

Many Jews believe their Messiah has yet to appear the first time, and most are adamant that that Messiah could not under circumstances be Jesus of Nazareth. But this is also not true.

Many others, most of the world, is simply ignoring God altogether these days, as usual, and these millions remain "without God and without hope in this world." Only if they turn to Jesus for help will they be saved.

The Bible is a gift to the world from the Jews, and "salvation is of the Jews." God has elected Israel to remain His chosen people. This choice is entirely by God's grace. God will save Israel by grace in the same manner He has always saved individuals. God's program for our beleaguered world is right on schedule. The birth pangs of the end of the age have begun. The end result is known. Psalm 2 views the turmoil of the centuries from God's view point in eternity. It is He who has appointed Messiah to rule over the nations from Jerusalem:

 

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
"Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us."
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision.
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,
and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (Psalm 2 KJV)


Notes:

1. For the benefit of those who may not have studied this part of the Bible, the following comments by Ray C. Stedman set the stage for our study:

"The question that leaps at us from these verses is, "What is meant by these great signs? What or whom do they symbolize?" Two of them are relatively easy to identify, and once we find who those two are the third one will be unmistakable. The dragon is the easiest to identify, because later, in Verse 9, we are told exactly who he is. The verse says, "The great dragon was hurled down -- that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray." Here, then, is the devil, appearing as a great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns upon his heads. We are also told that he is the ancient serpent, the very one who appeared in the Garden of Eden to Eve, deceived her, and introduced sin into the human race. He appears here as a dragon, which is simply a super-serpent and a symbol of satanic worship in many countries of the world yet today. His work is described also in Verse 9: The entire career of the devil is engaged in deceiving the whole inhabited earth, i.e. lying to the human race. We will see much more of this as we go on in this book.

The male child that is born to the woman is the next easiest to identify because we are told in Verse 5 that he is the one "who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter," or "a rod of iron." Many of you will recognize that the latter phrase is taken from the Second Psalm, which is quoted or referred to four different times in Revelation. In some ways Psalm 2 is the basic Scripture out of which the whole book is expanded and grows. The psalm speaks of God establishing his kingdom on his holy hill of Zion: "I will set my King on my holy hill of Zion" (Psalm 2:6), and "he will rule the nations with a rod of iron." Clearly that is a reference to our Lord Jesus.

The reference to a rod of iron always indicates a millennial scene, the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. He reigns with a rod of iron (with strict justice), because, though it is a time of worldwide blessing and prosperity and the curse is at least partially removed from nature, it is also a time when sin is still manifest to some degree. Righteousness reigns in the earth, but it has to be enforced. We will see more of that too as we go on in this book. When we come to the new heavens and the new earth, which John will be shown in the closing two chapters of this book, then Christ no longer reigns with a rod of iron because sin has been fully dealt with; nothing evil will enter that scene at all. There he appears as a tender, loving Shepherd, ministering to his people personally and showing great kindness to them.

This brings us to the identity of the woman. Who is this strange woman who appears clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet and twelve stars in a crown around her head?

The Roman Catholics say it is Mary, since she was the mother of Jesus, as this account shows the symbolic woman to be. But the problem with that theory is that there is no way you can fit Mary into Verse 6! There we learn that "the woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days." That never happened to Mary, and it never will. This is not a picture of an individual but rather of a group of people.

Some commentators say she symbolizes the church. The church is pictured at the close of Revelation as the bride of Christ, i.e. as a woman. But it is impossible for this woman to represent the church because the church did not produce Jesus. It is quite the other way around. It was the Lord who produced the church -- the church is born out of the wounded side of Jesus. Therefore that symbolism does not fit the picture here.

We must, therefore, look at the clues that are given us to know the identity of this woman. She is clothed with the sun, the moon is under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars around her head. The only other place where those three symbols are used together in this way is in Genesis 37, the story of Joseph as a young boy who has a dream. He dreamt one night that the sun, the moon and 11 stars came and bowed down before him. He made the mistake of telling his dream to his father and mother and his brothers, and they were very upset by it. His father rightly interpreted it to mean that Joseph was to be exalted in some way, and the whole family would come and bow down before him. We know from subsequent history that this actually did happen. Joseph became the second ruler of Egypt and his father and mother and his 11 brothers all came and bowed down before him.

It is clearly then a description of the nation of Israel. (Joseph would make the twelfth of the stars.) The Apostle Paul says of the Jews in Romans 9:5: "To them is traced the human ancestry of Christ." It was Israel that humanly brought forth the Christ. That is why Jesus told the woman at the well of Samaria, "Salvation is from the Jews," (John 4:22 KJV). It comes to Gentiles by that route. So the woman here is Israel, brought to prominence again. As one commentator well describes it, "Thus she is seen clothed with the glory of the sun -- that is of Christ himself as He will presently appear in supreme power as the Son of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2); for the sun is the ruler of the day. As a consequence, her glory of old before the day -- dawn, the reflected light of her typical system, is like the moon under her feet. Upon her head the crown of 12 stars speaks naturally of her twelve tribes, planets now around the central sun."

In order to understand this chapter we must remember that we are being shown earthly scenes from heaven's point of view. In Chapter 4 John was caught up to heaven and shown all the things that follow in Chapters 4 to 19. And when you look at earthly events from heaven's standpoint, time is never a factor; it is not a question of sequence or chronology but simply of occurrence. In this chapter there is a telescoping together of events that were widely separated in time. From heaven's point of view we are shown what happens, not when it happens. If you will remember that, this chapter will make sense.

Along with the woman and her son is the great red dragon, this fantastic, fire-breathing serpent who has seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns.I am not going to interpret those seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns at this point. It is enough at this point to see this great dragon crouched, watching Israel intently and ready to devour her long-promised Son when he makes his appearance on earth.

In point of time, this takes us back to the birth of Jesus, to the days of the Roman Empire and its subjugation of Israel, and to the time of King Herod the Great and his enmity against this predicted birth. We can easily see that the events of that time are symbolized here for us. The dragon of world power of that day, the Roman Empire, waits to destroy the Son through its puppet king, Herod the Great, when the child is born. We know how God prevented that from happening. Historically, Joseph and Mary took Jesus on a secret flight to Egypt and thus evaded the enmity of Herod. Here it is reported that the child was "snatched up to God and to his throne." The symbol jumps from the birth of Jesus to his ascension some 30 years later, skipping over his life and ministry, his death and resurrection. John is shown the birth of our Lord and his ascension into heaven, the beginning and ending of his earthly ministry.

But there arises a problem here in understanding this because the ascension of Jesus, as recorded at the end of the Gospels and in the opening of Acts, was not in order that he might escape harm from his enemies on earth. The resurrected Lord was far beyond his enemies' reach by that time -- they could do him no harm. So there is no need for Jesus to ascend into heaven in order to escape the wrath of the dragon.

But -- and here is where it gets a bit tricky -- there is an aspect of our Lord which found deliverance from danger by being snatched away into heaven. How many of you have guessed what it is? It is the church, of course. All through the New Testament the church and the Lord are regarded as one. Remember when Saul was converted on the Damascus Road Jesus appeared and said to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9:4). Paul was actually persecuting the church, but Jesus said, "That is me!" In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, "The body of Christ is a unit. It is made up of many parts but it is one body" And then he added this significant phrase: "so also is Christ.". The church and the Lord are together the body of Christ. So the whole history of the church is involved here, including the rapture

Verse 6 carries us forward to this time. There is an eclipse of centuries here covering the whole church age. The woman, we are told, fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days, which places this at the beginning of the great tribulation. Suddenly the scene changes. We are led to look away from earth to heaven, to a scene of conflict, invisible to earth but taking place in heaven.

And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down -- that ancient serpent called the devil [the accuser] or Satan, [the adversary] who leads the whole world astray. (Rev 12:7-9)

This is the first reference to Michael in this book. Who is this Michael? We can tell by what he is doing. He is not rowing his boat ashore but he is fighting against the great red dragon. The prophet Daniel was told, "Michael is the great prince who stands for your people Israel," (Daniel 12:1). Unmistakably, Israel is in the forefront here, symbolized by the woman -- the believing remnant of Israel.

From this scene we can draw the conclusion that up to these last days of history Satan has access to heaven. In the book of Job he appears before God and requests permission to assault the body of Job. In the book of Zechariah he is also seen accusing the saints of God before God, in heaven. And Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that we believers today "do not wrestle against flesh and blood" (Eph. 6:12), i.e. other people are not really our problem. It is what the devil is doing to people that makes them oppose us; it is through wicked spirits which he calls "spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places," (Eph. 6b). So throughout this present age Satan still has access to heaven. But at this point of Daniel's seventieth week, God has had enough of the presence of the devil in heaven. He sends Michael, the great archangel, with his angels, and together they force the devil and his angels out of heaven and hurl him to the earth. Other accounts of this fall of Satan are to be found in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14.

In the next verses the reaction of heaven to this casting out of the devil is recounted.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
"Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They overcame him 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.
[That is a rather awkward translation. It should say, "They did not love their lives unto death."]
Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." (Revelation 12:10-12)

This loud voice that the apostle hears seems to come from the martyrs of Chapter 6 who were given white robes, and who are seen under the altar crying out to God, "How long, O Lord, before you avenge our blood upon the earth?" (Rev 6:10 NIV). They are the ones who now rejoice that the devil has been cast out of heaven. They speak of the "accuser of our brothers who accuses them before our God day and night." The "brothers" here would be the believing Jews, the remnant of Israel, who are yet on earth during those days. The white-robed saints in heaven announce that the time has come for the Lord to reign over the kingdom long ago promised to Israel.

Now that causes great rejoicing in heaven, as these words reveal -- but increased pressure for those left on earth! The devil is enraged by this resistance. He realizes that his time is short. In just 3-1/2 years he is going to be bound and thrown into a bottomless pit. So he moves quickly and the final events follow immediately. When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time (one year, plus two years, plus half a year = 3-1/2 years), out of the serpent's reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring -- those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

We must realize that this woman does not represent the whole nation of Israel -- all the Jews on the earth -- but she is really a representation of the remnant, the believing part of Israel in those days. Already there have been judgments upon the Jews, as promised in the prophets. This is "the time of Jacob's trouble," and the apostates have been eliminated; only the remnant escapes here. Many think they will flee to the city of Petra, south of the Dead Sea, that strange, rock-hewn city that some of you have visited. Perhaps that may be the place. I am not sure.

But the point made here is the care of God over this believing remnant. They are "borne on eagle's wings." That is the very phrase God employs when the nation, led by Moses, comes out of Egypt. God says, "Have I not borne you on eagle's wings and taken care of you in the wilderness?" So it is a picture of God's loving protection and care of the remnant of his people in that day.

A "river of water" is very likely a symbol for the huge host of soldiers that were sent by the Antichrist after Israel. We have seen that symbolism before. But the very earth protects her. It is probably a reference to the natural disasters that occur during these days -- earthquakes, a hailstorm, and such, that we have seen several times before in the book of Revelation. They divert the attention of Satan so that he cannot pursue this woman to destroy her, but instead he turns his attention to what are called here "the rest of her offspring."

That would mean they are also Jews, and are identified as those who "obey God's commandments and hold fast the testimony of Jesus." I believe that to be a reference to the special band of 144,000 Jews that we first met in Chapter 7, and will meet again in Chapter 14. "Christ's commandos" we called them, who move throughout the earth, preaching the gospel of the Kingdom to all the nations. The devil gives his final attention to this group because of their witness to the world..."
http://raystedman.org/revelation/4204.html

2. Israel became a nation at the time of the Exodus under Moses: "I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:1-4) Secular Bible scholars have been dating the Exodus much later in history than the traditional 1400 BC. Barry Setterfield prefers an earlier date, about 1585 BC, and Alan Montgomery has arrived at 1591 BC. See their separate articles on my web site. Brad Sparks suggests 1500 BC ± 50 years.

3. BIRTH-PANGS [Gk. odin] (Mk. 13:8 par. Mt. 24:8); AV SORROWS; earlier SUFFERINGS. Literally the physical pain accompanying childbirth. Strict literal usage of Gk. odin and its cognates odino and synodino is not found in the NT; rather the terms have symbolic meanings or appear in figurative expressions, e.g., the pains of the symbolic apocalyptic woman in Rev. 12:2, and Paul's application of Isaiah's metaphor of the barren woman who bore children without labor pains (Isa. 54: 1) to the Gentiles who have become true Israelites (Gal. 4:27). Elsewhere, odin (and cognates) is to be understood figuratively of pain or anguish that is related to some anticipated or hoped-for event. The pain of childbirth was apparently among the more dreaded experiences in the ancient world; hence, to the claim that women's life is free from danger, Euripides has Medea respond that she would rather go to war three times than bear a child once (Medea 248-25 1). Elsewhere the point seems implicit that the "birth-pangs" are worth enduring because of the result: so (figuratively) Socrates serves as midwife for a student who agonizes (odino) his way from ignorance to knowledge (Plato Theaetetus 148e, 151a, 210b). A similar notion is found in Gal. 4:19, but here Paul himself undergoes the agony (odino) on behalf of the Galatian Christians in whom he wishes to see "Christ formed."

In several passages the birth-pangs result in the new situation brought about by Christ's return, and the pangs themselves correspond to the sufferings or tribulation expected to precede that event (Mk. 13:8 par.). The whole creation is already involved in this agony (synodino, Rom. 8:22). And for those who find "peace and safety" in the empire, the return of Christ will mean sudden judgment, as labor pains come suddenly to an expectant mother (I Thess. 5:3). These eschatological birth-pangs are determined by the resurrection of Christ, whose death as inevitably led to resurrection as birth-pangs signal that a child is on the way (Acts 2:24; cf. TDNT, IX, s.v. (odino [Bertram]; cf. 4 Ezra 4:42 for a similar emphasis on the immediateness of birth after the beginning of labor. in an eschatological context). (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

4. We know from Ezekiel 37 (The vision of the Valley of Dry Bones), that God would said He bring Israel back into the land in a state of unbelief, [which He has been doing for more than a hundred years now]. He would then convert them, as it were, from the outside in, in the time of their greatest need and final distress. The prophet Zechariah assures us that the final count will be a full one-third of the nation brought into a relationship with the living God. (The remaining 2/3rds will be cut off. See Zechariah 13:8). With the present population of Israel numbering about 6 million Jews plus over one million non-Jews, the final remnant of believers entering the kingdom age could be well over 2 million. In contrast the average number of true Christians in other nations of the world today is probably not greater than 10%, and 5% may be more realistic. Concluding his discussion on the future of Israel (Romans 9-11) after the completion of the church, Paul says, "For if their [temporary] rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, {gentile believers] a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree. Lest you [Christians] be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all [of true] Israel will be saved; as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen."

5. Ray Stedman comments as follows:

The phrase "the times and the seasons" indicates that the apostle is coming to grips with the question of the time of the Lord's return. All of us seem to want a date to circle in the calendar, but Paul had taught the Thessalonians that they would not know that date precisely. But he says to them, "concerning the time you have no need to have anything written to you." That is because they had been reading in the Old Testament about the day of the Lord and the description and characteristics of that day were familiar to them.

This is the first mention in the letter of the phrase "the day of the Lord." As we have already seen, it is very important to understand that it is not just a single 24-hour day. Rather it is an extended length of time, covering a number of events over a period of probably seven years, the whole period being called the parousia or the "presence" of Christ. When Christ returns he will remain on earth for this lengthy period. Thus, the "day of the Lord" is a series of events, perhaps even extending into the millennium, the thousand-year reign of Christ that follows. Actually the phrase, "day of the Lord" refers to any period of time when God acts directly and unmistakably in human affairs. It may be in blessing, as in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, or it may be in judgment. It may be that the same event will be a judgment to some people and a blessing to others.

In this case, says Paul, "You do not need to have anyone tell you about the times and the seasons." That is also what Jesus had said. In that mysterious period of time when he was risen from the dead and appearing with his disciples on occasion and then disappearing again, during one of these appearances they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). They were asking, "Is this the time when you will fulfill the predictions of the prophets that Israel will be the chief of the nations and the Messiah will reign personally upon the earth?" Here is the Lord's remarkable answer to their question: "It is not for you to know times or seasons [the same phrase as here] which the Father has fixed by his own authority," (Acts 1:7). In other words, only the Father knew the answer to their question. Then Jesus went on to outline to them the program that would affect them: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth," (Acts 1:8).

We must understand that though we cannot name the precise date when the Lord will appear and begin the "day of the Lord," there are three characteristics of that day that we can look for and understand. The first characteristic of the "day of the Lord," says Paul, is that it will come stealthily. It will come like a thief in the night. The Lord will come stealthily, says Paul, at a time when "peace and security" seem to prevail, when nothing out of the ordinary is expected. That is how the "day of the Lord" begins.

This is not just the Apostle Paul's idea. Jesus said the same thing in Luke 17:26, 27:

As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. [Is there something wrong about eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage? No, that is normal, everyday life. But, says Jesus, in the moment when everything seems to be proceeding normally, suddenly the destructive judgment of God will fall. And that judgment is introduced, as Jesus points out very clearly here, by the removal of the family of God from the earth:] until the day when Noah entered the ark, the flood came and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:26-27)

Jesus did not stop there. He went on to say,

Likewise as it was in the days of Lot -- they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built [normal, everyday life] but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and brimstone rained from heaven and destroyed them all -- so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed. (Luke 17:28-30)

Notice how clearly our Lord indicates in both of the examples he uses that there is a quiet disappearance of the family of God first. Like a thief at work, silently and stealthily, the treasure is taken away. Then the judgment comes. In Matthew 24, the famous Olivet Discourse, Jesus adds these words about that event.

Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. (Matt 24:40-41) The parallel passage in Luke reads:

Two men will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. (Luke 17:34)

The fact that two men are asleep means that it is night-time, and yet two women grinding at the mill do so in daylight. This indicates that this selective taking away happens all over the earth at once. When it is daytime at one place and night-time at another, one will be taken; others will be left. Jesus then adds these words:

Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming [here Jesus also calls this a thief-like coming] he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Matthew 24:42-44)

Scripture clearly teaches that the day of the Lord begins with the removal of God's people; then judgment breaks out on the earth.

Its second characteristic is that it is a terrible, destructive judgment. "Sudden destruction will come," says Paul. The Old Testament gives many warnings of this, as the Thessalonians had come to understand when they read descriptions of the day of the Lord. The prophecy of Joel, for instance, says this:

Alas for the day!
For the day of the Lord is near.
and as destruction from the Almighty it comes. (Joel 1:15)

a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness! (Joel 2:2a)

the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining. (Joel 2:10b)

For the day of the Lord is great and very terrible;
who can endure it? (Joel 2:11b)

Isaiah 2 says a word to the same effect:

For the Lord of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up and high. (Isaiah 2:12)

In that day men will cast forth
their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
which they made for themselves to worship,
to the moles and to the bats,
to enter the caverns of the rocks
and the clefts of the cliffs
from before the terror of the Lord,
and from the glory of His majesty,
when He rises to terrify the earth. (Isaiah 2:20-22)

And again in the prophecy of Zephaniah;

The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities and
against the lofty battlements. (Zephaniah 1:14-15)

All of this is summed up in the words which Jesus uttered on the Mount of Olives:

For then there will be great tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be, (Matthew 24:21)

And, as a third characteristic, it is inescapable, says the apostle: "They shall not escape." He likens it to a woman in travail, one whose time for giving birth has come.That is what the apostle is highlighting. The world cannot escape the terrible judgments of God. That is a most sobering thought. The only way we can handle it is to find the means of escape provided in Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this connection, the words of C. S. Lewis are particularly apt:

God is going to invade this earth in force, but what is the good of saying you are on his side then when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else, something it never entered your head to conceive, comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing. It will be the time when we discover which side we have really chosen whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.

It is very important that we understand that God's delay of this event is to give people a chance to see what is happening in their lives and to choose the redemption that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. After this terrible picture of gloom and darkness, Verse 4 turns another corner. It too begins with the word but.

But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-5)

Here the apostle is indicating that there will be some who will not go through this time of trouble. There is a way of escape: This is the good news for this hour. Here are reasons he gives why true believers will not go through the tribulation. Also Verses 9 and 10 add further light to this:

For God has not destined us for wrath [the time of wrath], but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)

The only hope for any individual is to turn to the Lord Jesus and rely upon the value of his death and resurrection. That is what Paul calls becoming a child of light and not of darkness: "For you are all sons of light and sons of the day." In Colossians 1:13 he says: "We [believers] have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God's beloved Son," Also we have been given knowledge and truth. The Word of God tells us exactly what will happen and confirms it by the prophecies which have been fulfilled through the centuries. In this connection I often think of that wonderful promise in the third chapter of Revelation, given to the church of Philadelphia:

Because you have kept my word of patient endurance [i.e. the word of God; you have begun to run your life according to my word], I will keep you from the hour of trial which is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell upon the earth. (Rev 3:10)

For this reason Paul can say here, "God has not destined us for wrath." If we trust in the Lord Jesus, if we have been born again by the Spirit, if we believe his word and are growing by it we are not destined for wrath but to escape this terrible time of judgment, just as Noah and Lot escaped the judgments which fell in their day.

The second reason the apostle gives is that "we might live with Him." That is how he puts it here. "Whether we wake or sleep we might live with him." Those are also the wonderful words with which he closed Chapter 4: "so we shall always be with the Lord," (1 Thessalonians 4:17b) From http://raystedman.org/thessalonians/4095.html

6. A well known passage in Deuteronomy is often quoted when speaking of Israel's appointed role:

"When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of men, he fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God." (Deuteronomy 32:8)

The number of nations is generally set at 70. 70 sons of Noah are recorded in Genesis 10-11, and "All the offspring of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt." (Exodus 1:5). Paul confirmed the limits of the nations when he spoke at Athens,

"And he [God] made from one [man] every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him." (Acts 17:26-27a)

Each of the "nations" of the world were originally descendants of a Patriarch and the personality traits of the founder have often carried over into the uniqueness of each nation. All men are brothers, but brothers who have a hard time getting along with one another.


Lambert Dolphin
lambert@ldolphin.org
Library
November 4, 2000