TUESDAY is NEWSDAY: "One Tough Neighborhood" (feature story)

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One Tough Neighborhood

David Brog

By David Brog 
DavidBrog.com 



The Arab Revolt has spread to Syria. And Syria’s President – Bashar Assad — is proving himself to be an Arab dictator of the old school. Rather than give up power, he’s chosen to fire on his own people. So far, an estimated 400 Syrians have been shot and killed for the mere act of political protest.

Such brutal behavior has come as a surprise to many American policymakers who’ve had high hopes for Syria’s young president. You see Bashar Assad is a second-generation dictator. His father – Hafez Assad — was the one who seized power and had blood on his hands. Young Bashar, we were told, was a different sort. Breathless visitors came home from Damascus to report that Bashar was a cultivated, Western-oriented man who had lived in London and spoke fluent English and French. What’s more, he was an eye doctor – a man of medicine – who would seek to heal the Middle East as he would a pair of ailing eyes.

Now we see Bashar Assad for the power hungry monster that he’s always been. His years of support for Hamas and his steady supply of missiles to Hezbollah were not harmless political games. By backing these terrorist groups he helped to scuttle peace and spill blood. And now we see that his disregard for human life extends beyond Israelis to any of his own citizens who would dare to demand democracy.

Only when we compare him to others in this truly ugly neighborhood do Bashar’s fangs begin to fade. Indeed, young Bashar is far less brutal than his father. Here’s how daddy handled political unrest. In the late 1970’s, Sunni Muslims launched a revolt from their base of support in the Syrian city of Hama. In 1982, Hafez Assad put down the revolt by destroying the city. According to the lowest estimates, Assad killed 10,000 people in Hama. Syrian human rights activists have put the death toll closer to 40,000. The vast majority of these victims were innocent civilians.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the neighborhood, the democratic forces recently unleashed in Egypt are beginning to show their true colors. In a poll released yesterday by the Pew Research Center, a whopping 54% of Egyptians stated that they’d like to annul Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Only 36% of Egyptians support honoring this treaty. And the poll also showed that the Muslim Brotherhood is viewed even more favorably than the forces that led the recent democracy protests.

Finally, even closer to Israel, blood has once again been spilled on the West Bank. Over the weekend, a group of Israelis visited the Palestinian-controlled town of Nablus. Unlike Palestinian infiltrators into Israel, their goal was not to murder civilians. The goal of these “infiltrators” was to pray. You see, Nablus was built on the site of the Biblical city of Shechem, where the bones of Joseph – “which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt” — were buried.

Most visits to Joseph’s Tomb are coordinated in advance with Palestinian Security Forces. This visit was not. Yet rather than question the unexpected pilgrims, or detain them, the Palestinian Security Forces opened fire on them. One Israeli was killed, and four others were wounded.

Israelis often like to remind us Americans that their country is located in the Middle East, not the Mid West. And their point is well taken. Israel is indeed in a tough neighborhood. And the nature of her neighbors must impact the risks that Israel takes in her search for peace. In a region where human life is too often cheap, and where generations have been educated to hate Israel and Jews, the line between trust and fantasy quickly thins.

Ronald Regan taught us to trust but verify. Israel must demand more. Israel must be in a position to trust but repel. The day that Israel loses the ability to repel aggression from the likes of Assad, Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood will be her last. There goes the neighborhood.

  
 
   


 

 

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Prophecy Article Today: "Pre-Pretribulation Rapture: Part 2" - Gary Stearman

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Pre-Pretribulation Rapture: Part 2

By Gary Stearman on March 5, 2011

In the September, 2009, issue of this magazine, we began a study dealing with the question of the time interval between the departure of the church and the beginning of the Tribulation. We began on the basis that the Tribulation is initiated by the antichrist’s ratification of the seven-year covenant, not the rapture of the church.

The context of Daniel’s prophecy tells us that this covenant is made with the leaders of Israel. It apparently bequeaths upon Israel the right to maintain a working Temple, with its schedule of sacrifices, tithes and gifts. At the midpoint of the seven years, that right is abruptly withdrawn:

“And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate” (Dan. 9:27).

Based upon Daniel’s prophecy, as well as dozens of other prophecies, the Tribulation is directed toward the Jews and Israel. In the end, it judges the wicked, advances the cause of the righteous and brings national Israel to a state of brokenness, in preparation for Christ’s Second Coming.

For the Tribulation to be made manifest, certain requisite preconditions must be in place. First and foremost, national Israel must be present in the Holy Land. From A.D. 135 until 1948, this was not the case. For 18 centuries, Israel was dispersed throughout the world.

During that time, the prophecies pertaining to Israel’s rise among the nations were put on hold. The period also witnessed the phenomenon of the institutional church appropriating unto itself the prophetic blessings promised to Israel. For centuries, the ruling church taught that it would bring in the thousand-year Kingdom, welcoming Jesus as King in the Second Coming.

Along with the Jewish national hope of a Millennial Kingdom, it buried the idea of a Tribulation. It was obscured, either in a fog of allegory or presented as something in the past. State churches interpreted prophecy in such a way that the Tribulation became a first-century event, fulfilled when the Romans invaded Jerusalem. Of course, that is nonsense. Israel is once again a nation, and now yearns for the reinstitution of Temple worship, which prophecy connects with the coming antichrist. It is set for the fulfillment of latter-day prophecy.

To prepare the way for the realization of prophecies concerning the antichrist, there must also be a functioning Temple. As Daniel and Revelation tell us, his evil acts will be projected from this holy site. In John’s Gospel, Jesus also alludes to the wicked one, who seduces Israel into accepting him: “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive” (John 5:43).

Jesus spoke these words to the ruling authorities of the Temple. To these men, He prophesied that something about the antichrist’s name, or his credentials, will persuade a future Israel to accept him as their messiah. The Apostle Paul clearly states that when the antichrist declares himself as a god, he will use the Temple as his podium:

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;

“Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God”(2 Th. 2:3,4).

Daniel’s prophecy is perfectly aligned with this picture, as his prophecy shows that the antichrist makes this proclamation in the context of national Israel, presenting himself as the highest manifestation of God:

“Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all” (Dan. 11:37).

Daniel even gives the geographic location of the antichrist’s seat of power:

“And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” (Dan. 11:45).

This location, of course, is the Temple Mount, variously called Mount Zion or Mount Moriah. Today, it is highly contested by the forces of Islam, who insist that Mohammed once staked his claim there. It must always be remembered that even though the antichrist is a world ruler, his power base resides in Israel, just as Daniel writes.

Imminency

Having established this, we find a principle that is often overlooked. The church’s doctrine of Christ’s imminent return depends upon Israel’s presence in the Land. As we mentioned in Part One of this study, this doctrine completely disappeared during Israel’s diaspora. Only when Israel stirred from its long slumber in the nineteenth century did the rapture become a vibrant, living hope.

In a strange turn of history, that movement coincided with the rise of John Nelson Darby and a small congregation meeting in Plymouth, England. They began the movement that led to the systematic teaching of dispensationalism. This signal event directly led to the First Zionist Congress in 1897. In the very year of Darby’s death in 1882, the first small Jewish settlement, Rishon le-Zion (The First in Zion) was founded by a group of fourteen young Jews from the Russian city of Kharkov.

The great missionary movements of the nineteenth century, the Zionist cause, the Balfour Declaration and Dispensational teaching all coincided with Israel’s return. In a sense, God has chosen Israel to drive world history toward a goal. In the end, this world’s kingdoms will be overthrown in the very Tribulation that centers upon national Israel, its territory and its people.

The body of Christ – the church – has been promised deliverance from the horrors that will unfold during this catastrophic period. The idea of the “rapture of the church” is now thoroughly ingrained into virtually every stratum of society. Some smile at its seemingly naïve and quaint origins. Intellectuals make fun of it. Some ridicule it as “pie in the sky, by and by.” The institutional, postmillennial or amillennial church still believes that it is a grossly mistaken interpretation of Bible prophecy.

But to believers, it is still the “blessed hope,” just as it was in Paul’s day. Some think of it as a new doctrine. It is far from that – believed widely in the first century, then abandoned when Israel left the Land. But as we have seen, it was revived with Israel’s return.

At the turn of the twentieth century, dispensationalism was widely taught. It was formalized for the man on the street by C. I. Scofield, with the publication of his reference Bible in 1909. For the last hundred years, it has stood as a monument to the teaching of dispensationalism, the belief that God has redeemed man in seven distinct periods from Creation to Kingdom.

At the heart of pretribulationism is the teaching of imminency, the view that the Lord might come at any moment for His church, without any preceding sign or event. The doctrine of imminency is not a new teaching. As we have shown, it is simply the revival of an old, first-century Apostolic doctrine. Without arguing the case, Scripture plainly teaches that the Day of the Lord … the Time of Jacob’s Trouble … is, in fact, Jacob’s Trouble, not the church’s trouble. Jacob is simply another name for Israel.

When interpreted properly, the removal of the body of Christ from the earth at some time prior to this event is taught with crystal clarity. Furthermore, with Israel in place as a nation once again, the hope of the church for a rapture, assumed a new vitality and passion. For the past few years, particularly since Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, pastors across America have been declaring, “Jesus is coming soon!”

Israel’s crucial presence in the Holy Land as a nation is the basis for the conviction and passion of modern dispensationalists. Many Jews in modern Israel have come to realize that their most powerful allies in the West are those Bible-believing Christians, who wish to be a blessing to regathered Israel. They are especially motivated to do so because of their firm belief that modern Israel is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.

The Disappearance

Soon, a day will dawn, when Israel will come to realize a horrifying truth: Their staunchest supporters are somehow missing. Faithful Christians, who are friends of Zion, will have disappeared! We don’t know just how it will appear to them, but the Bible has many strong suggestions that disruptions of various kinds will occur with rising intensity, as Jesus said when He used the phrase, “…and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matt. 24:7).

There is a prophecy in the little book of Micah that depicts this experience with emotional pathos and a sense of desperation. Written from Israel’s perspective, it was originally penned in the era of the Assyrian captivity in the eighth century, B.C. But as a metaphor, it reaches into the far future, and the days of Israel’s plight following the removal of the church, but before the beginning of the Tribulation.

It begins with a cry of dismay, and a sense that something has gone terribly wrong:

“Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grapegleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the firstripe fruit.

“The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood; they hunt every man his brother with a net.

“That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap it up.

“The best of them is as a brier: the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge: the day of thy watchmen and thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity.

“Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom.

“For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house” (Mic. 7:1-6).

The scene is the summer harvest, which Jesus later characterized as symbolic of the end of the age. In Revelation, the harvest of the grapes is symbolic of the Tribulation:

“And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe” (Rev. 14:18).

Speaking for Israel, Micah notes with dismay that the “good man has perished out of the earth.” Here, the Hebrew word translated “perish” is avad [sct], meaning “to disappear,” or more specifically, “to vanish.”

What a perfect description of the post-rapture world in which the “good man” – the pious or righteous man – is nowhere to be found. He has suddenly vanished! Devoid of Spirit-led morality and ethics, this age will be characterized by brutish and inhuman impulses.

Indeed, this is exactly what Micah has to say about that world, in which his contemporaries will be like briars and thorns. No one is to be trusted. Even the closest friend or relative is likely to sell you out for advantage. Families are internally at war; houses are wracked with strife.

Micah’s view of the post-rapture world is followed by imagery that is specifically Tribulational. In other words he, too, shows a schedule of events that begins prior to the rise of the antichrist, but then shifts to the Tribulation:

“According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things.

“The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf.

“They shall lick the dust like a serpent, they shall move out of their holes like worms of the earth: they shall be afraid of the LORD our God, and shall fear because of thee. (Mic. 7:15-17).

The miracles of Egypt, the confounding of the nations and the spectacle of men living under the earth to escape the horrors of the Tribulation are all fully described in the book of Revelation.

Micah shows that the world before the Tribulation will be characterized by unbridled wickedness; the world after the signing of the seven-year covenant will be wracked by geophysical, political and military upheavals.

The Northern Invasion

Returning to Micah’s lament about the state of society, he does far more than paint a graphic picture of an atheist world gone mad. In the Israel of his day, morality had declined and society had become fat and lazy in an economy that had provided an opulent lifestyle. With sadness, he notes the decline of public morality and warns of coming judgment … both for his contemporaries and for the Israel of our day.

Perhaps his most telling phrase is, “the day of thy watchmen and thy visitation cometh.” This speaks of judgment day, or the Tribulation, and the visitation of the nations who come to take the spoils of Israel. It is our belief that the day of the Lord opens in the wake of the combined invasion of the northern armies, spoken of in Ezekiel 38, as “Gog, the land of Magog.”

In carefully constructed language, Micah’s prophecy tells us that the disappearance of the righteous from the earth comes before this invasion, which is actually the first of many battles to be fought in the Tribulation period.

Israel has repeatedly suffered assaults of the northern invader. In Micah’s day, it was Assyria, the first major invasion from the north. A century later, Jeremiah spoke of the coming Babylonian invasion:

“Set up the standard toward Zion: retire, stay not: for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction” (Jer. 4:6).

A bit later, speaking as a prophet of the Babylonian captivity, Ezekiel foretold another northern invasion, this one, from the well-known allied force of Gog:

“And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts, thou, and many people with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army”(Ezek. 38:15).

Another prophecy – this one from Isaiah – references the latter-day judgment of those who have tried to appropriate unto themselves the Land granted to Israel:

“Howl, O gate; cry, O city; thou, whole Palestina, art dissolved: for there shall come from the north a smoke, and none shall be alone in his appointed times”(Is. 14:31).

The pattern is seen many times. Ancient Israel experienced a spiritual collapse, and the Assyrian enemy came. Later, the Jews fell into idolatry and the Babylonians came. In the modern era, spiritual apostasy and the rapture of the church will result in the final judgment, preceded by another northern invasion, this time from Gog.

First comes the disappearance of the righteous, followed by the degeneration of society, and finally, the northern invasion, just prior to the actual seven years of the Tribulation. After that, Micah ends on a note of hope. After defeat, Israel will experience final salvation:

“Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.

“Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me” (Mic. 7:7,8).

Certainly, these words apply to the Israel of Micah’s own time. But they also reach forward into the days of the Apocalypse and Armageddon:

“According to the days of thy coming out of the land of Egypt will I shew unto him marvellous things.

“The nations shall see and be confounded at all their might: they shall lay their hand upon their mouth, their ears shall be deaf” (Mic. 7:15,16).

The final words of this prophecy are directed toward the nations of the latter days. As they gather from the north to conquer Jerusalem, they will be smashed into submission by an act of God, at Christ’s Second Coming.

“And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16).

Paul’s View

In the New Testament, this is exactly the situation presented by Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians. He speaks of a restraining force that will one day be swept aside. Many commentators have agreed that this is a picture of the world after the rapture of God’s people, in which the world undergoes a radical shift in values.

In all its fury, wickedness and the Lawless One, himself, is released, resulting in a society out of control, just as in the picture given by Micah. It will be a world of compromised morals, degenerate ethics and collapsed systems of law and justice. Treachery and intrigue will rule and life will be cheap.

“And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.

“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.

“And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:

“Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Th. 2:6-9).

In his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E. Vine comments upon the Greek word translated “withholdeth” and “letteth,” in the above passage. It comes from katecho, meaning “to hold fast or down.” He writes, “In ver. 6 lawlessness is spoken of as being restrained in its development; in ver. 7 ‘one that restraineth’ is lit., ‘the restrainer’ (the article with the present participle, ‘the restraining one’).” (p. 290)

This expression may apply to an individual, or to an individual leading a group, with a specific result. In short, Vine believes that the restraining influence is a person who acts as a guiding influence upon a group. In this case, the result is the preservation and purification of society. Paul’s intent is to describe the influence of the Holy Spirit and the church as the chief restrainer of lawlessness.

To the objective contemporary observer, it is obvious that for the last century or so, the despots and revolutionaries of this world have failed in their desire to achieve global rule precisely because of the spread of Christianity. The Germans, Italians, Japanese, Russians and Chinese did not commit their evil acts as acts of Christian charity. In fact, they were attempting to found various fascist and/or communist societies.

One can make a strong case that they were thwarted in their desires by the global foundation of Christianity, in its many forms and denominations. The missionary movements and revivals had created a Christian ethos that restrained the growth of atheistic and materialist philosophies, as they expressed themselves in fascist and communist governments. The various resistance movements, aid groups and medical missions around the world have most often been based upon Christianity.

One can only try to imagine the horrors of a world devoid of the example of Christ’s love, not as dead history, but as a living force in the various Christian charitable institutions moved by the Holy Spirit!

The Big Question

When Jesus spoke on the subject of the Tribulation, He clearly stated that there would be many disruptions on the face of the earth before the arrival of the Tribulation.

His famous discourse from the Mount of Olives is, no doubt, one of the most discussed of all prophecies. In it, He answers a question put to Him by the disciples. Basically, theirs is a question about the summation of prophetic events.

As we discuss the time interval between the rapture and the Tribulation, His dissertation to the His disciples gives us several critical pieces of information.

First, let us carefully analyze the context of the question they put to Him. It begins with His departure from the Temple Mount:

“And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.

“And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

“And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:1-3).

In this important moment, Matthew is careful to set the scene before the disciples ask their question. In the preceding chapter, Jesus delivers an impassioned speech to the people. As he does so, he is standing somewhere on the Temple Mount, no doubt from a highly visible spot within its ramparts. His declaration is worded as a parting statement to national Israel.

In it, He delivers eight woes to the Pharisees, who constitute the ruling body of the nation, sitting in the seat of Moses, as He puts it. He presents them as the ultimate example of hypocrisy. They pretend to be righteous, when in fact, they represent the exact opposite.

He concludes by laying upon them the cumulative responsibility for many generations of sin, namely, the blood of the innocent:

“That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

“Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35,36).

After placing this heavy judgment upon Israel, Jesus mourned over the catastrophe that was about to befall His people and of Jerusalem, itself. It was a dark day when Jesus finally washed His hands of the sinful city.

“The End … Not Yet”

It was in this context that the disciples put the question to Him. No doubt, they had taken it to heart when He pronounced His departure. They had hoped to see Him rise to power as Messiah and King. Now, He had effectively closed that door. Still, they knew that He was destined to rule over His people.

There is a curious note about the disciples’ behavior after Jesus left the Temple Mount. In the verses above, we see that they wanted to show Him the buildings of the Temple compound. What were they showing Him? Indeed, what could they show Him that He hadn’t already seen a thousand times?

From the context, it would appear that they felt an urgency to point out to Him the importance of this edifice. Based upon the sheer magnificence of all the beautiful buildings, they must have been saying, “Look, everything is in place. Can’t you rise to power now?” In short, they must have been begging Him to change His mind.

He responded by telling them in no uncertain terms that all this magnificent architecture (one of the wonders of the ancient world) would soon be reduced to rubble. They must have been stunned. They reacted as any of us would. Since it was an article of faith that He would rise to power at some point, they now asked the natural question, “When will you come to take power and end the current world order?”

The disciples were all too aware that Rome was in control, and would be, until the arrival of the Messianic Kingdom. He answered their question about the “end of the world” as openly and honestly as possible, given their level of understanding. Note in these verses, the words “beginning” and “end:”

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.

“For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.

“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.

“All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matt. 24:4-8).

They had asked Him about the end. He says it is “not yet.” In point of fact, He is saying that before the Tribulation (the end) comes, there will be a period of global wars, starvation, sickness and earthquakes. In a strong way, His answer correlates strongly with the testimonies of Joel, Zephaniah and Micah, all of whom describe upheavals prior to the seven years of Tribulation.

Then, as the Tribulation begins, Jesus says that “the end” is in sight.

“But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt 24:13).

Here, Jesus uses the words “the end” to describe the seven years of the Tribulation. Interpreted through other Scripture, we now know that He was referring to the seventh year of the Tribulation and His Second Coming.

Finally, He tells His disciples that the Gospel of the Kingdom will reach to the four corners of the earth … then “the end” will come. Unlike Jesus’ disciples at that time, we have the information given to us in the seventh chapter of Revelation. Through this, we know that twelve thousand from each of Israel’s twelve tribes will proclaim the gospel throughout the world, just as Jesus said:

“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt 24:14).

The disciples had asked Jesus a simple question about the timing of the end of the world system … Gentile world power. Jesus lays out the end times in three parts. First, He describes a series of pre-Tribulation upheavals. Next, the signing of the covenant by the antichrist initiates the opening days of the Tribulation, during which representatives of the Twelve Tribes preach the Gospel of the coming Kingdom to the whole world. Finally, there is the Abomination of Desolation at the mid-point of the Tribulation, opening the horrors of the second half of that seven years and culminating in His Second Coming.

Times of the Gentiles

In one sense, we are now living in the period “before the Tribulation, and have been for the eighteen centuries, since the Jewish diaspora. In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus spoke of His Second Coming, He foretold the upheavals of the end times, then He said this:

“And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

“And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;

“Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

“And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

“And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Lk. 21:24).

Jesus gave His disciples a view of history centering upon the premise that the world system must rise to its full power before His visible return to earth.

Of course, we know that the times of the Gentiles will rise to its full height under the antichrist’s reign during the Tribulation. But apparently, the rise of global government will be accompanied by signs in the heavens that develop prior to the Tribulation.

Once again, we recall the words of Joel:

“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come” (Joel 2:31).

From the perspective of the church age, this makes Jesus’ words come alive. If we take these words literally, we can expect to see various astronomical instabilities that cause great fear in the world. Already, there is consternation among astronomers concerning the changes they see in the Sun. Instead of continuing in the regular sunspot cycle, it has mysteriously gone quiet, bringing a whole new set of parameters to befuddled solar astronomers. Recently, they have expressed anxiety about what comes next.

Jesus also foretold unusual turmoil (“the sea and the waves roaring”) in the oceans of the world. We have also seen a growing contemporary fear of hurricanes, typhoons and rogue weather systems of all sorts. Significantly, there have been a number of episodes when undersea earthquakes caused tsunamis … giant waves that sweep ashore, obliterating everything in their paths.

Just as Jesus said, these things have begun, in a very subtle way, to happen. And yes, we are watching for His return. Before all these catastrophes reach their prophesied ferocity, the church will be on its way home.

In the period just before the Tribulation, Scripture predicts that two conditions will persist. Israel will continue in a state of blindness. This condition allows the rise of Gentile world power that leads to its ultimate judgment.

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25).

The Flood

In His answer to the disciples, Jesus also used the metaphor of the great flood of Noah. He says that when the flood (the Tribulation) comes, it will be sudden, without warning and without remedy.

In Noah’s world, civilization had been corrupted by fallen angels, who brought forbidden knowledge to mankind. Not only that, they had taken human women as wives, producing a hybrid offspring.

The result was an appalling destruction of civilization, which was finally turned over to utter degradation:

“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

The Bible is silent about the details of this period, but secular history records a rogues’ gallery of ancient sin. Gods, goddesses, demigods and idols abounded. Ancient mythology is a continual telling and retelling of narratives involving gods wickedly interacting with humans. Every sort of perversion was common.

Many imaginative narratives and movie scripts have attempted to retell the story of Noah and his sons building a huge ship in a land that had never known rain. They are always depicted as the object of ridicule and laughter.

Actually, Scripture says nothing at all about the reaction of Noah’s neighbors. It is as though they were totally unaware of what he was doing. He went about his business, and when it was time, the animals came aboard, two by two. Then came the flood.

The parallels with the latter days are obvious. Jesus, speaking of the Day of the Lord, says that like Noah’s neighbors, the people alive before the Tribulation will be taken completely by surprise.

“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

“But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

“For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,

“And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matt. 24:36-39).

They should have known, but they were blind to the truth. Note that Jesus speaks of a period of time before the Tribulation. Those with spiritual eyes to see, like Noah and his family, will know that the flood is coming. Those blinded by the thought that this world is the measure of all things, will be swept away.

When the rain began, Noah and his family were already sealed in the ark by the Lord. The point is, before the judgment came, they had been effectively removed from the scene. Thank the Lord, we have the “blessed hope!”

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