THE LAST SUMMER OF THE WORLD
A Matter of Life and Death
In truth God has placed the choice of life or death in front of every person from the beginning of time. Consider what He said to our ancestors. In the Garden of Eden there was the stark choice between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which brought death (Genesis 2:8-16). When the Lord spoke through Moses to explain His standards of righteousness to our fathers and mothers on the edge of the Promised Land, He said,
I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NKJV, emphasis added)
On another occasion, as the Lord used Babylon to bring judgment on the House of Judah, He presented the choice through Jeremiah:
I also spoke to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live! Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the Lord has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon? Therefore do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they prophesy a lie to you; for I have not sent them,” says the Lord, “yet they prophesy a lie in My name, that I may drive you out, and that you may perish, you and the prophets who prophesy to you.” (Jeremiah 27:12-15 NKJV, emphasis added)
Yeshua Himself outlined this simple choice when He spoke with Nicodemus, one of the greatest Torah teachers of His day:
No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:13-21 NKJV, emphasis added)
This same choice shall confront us all at the end of this age. The Lord will make it easy for us because He will clear away all the ambiguity and “gray areas” that have allowed us to hide from or put off the choice. This can mean outright rejection of the things of the Lord, but usually it means mixing God’s Truth with human error (pagan and other religious traditions and secular humanism are the biggest culprits). We are adept at giving lip service to God while all the time seeking our own way (Proverbs 14:12; Isaiah 29:13-14; Matthew 15:3-9). As this age winds to a close there will be no “wiggle room”; everyone will have to choose one of the alternatives. The choice will be very clear to everyone who is paying attention. But, tragically, the Scripture indicates that very few people will actually be paying attention and understanding the eternal consequences of their choice. The Babylonian system is what we have known all our lives. Many will choose to keep that system alive if for no other reason than because they fear the alternative of a world without Babylon. The Beast system is also familiar, but terrifying; it offers a chance at survival at least in the short term, but at the cost of all personal freedom. The third choice, the Way of the Lord, is also perilous. Those who choose it must expect hardship, persecution, and death, and yet believe that God Himself will somehow, even if by miraculous means, meet all needs in this life and come through with His promise of eternal life in the Kingdom (Matthew 5:1-12; Mark 10:29-31, 14:9-13; Revelation 14:13). Those with shallow faith likely will not choose wisely. As Yeshua told us in the Parable of the Sower, only those with deep roots in good soil can withstand the distractions and assaults of Satan, the persecutions and hardships that come with following Yeshua, and the cares of this world that draw us away (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15).
What Time Is It Really?
But are we actually at the end of this age? How are we to know? That is the same question Yeshua’s disciples asked Him. His answer is recorded in three of the four gospels: in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 17:20-37. Here is what He said according to Matthew:
Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. 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. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing. Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods. But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 24:1-51 NKJV)
Yeshua provides signs, or indications, of when the Great Tribulation marking the end of the age is coming. He then provides a lengthy discussion of what to do when it comes. He completes the instruction with a parable that explains what we are to do until the end of the age. The parable can be summarized quite easily: watch and pray. Yeshua wants us to be serious about this life in Him, which means studying and living out His Word (all of it, from Genesis to Revelation) rather than getting sidetracked in things that satisfy our fleshly desires (e.g., eating, drinking, building up bank accounts, or dropping everything to watch the World Cup final). The instructions of what to do when the end comes is also easy to summarize: move when the Lord tells you, and if you’re in the land of Israel pray you’re not moving during winter or Sabbath. There will be more to say about this later. For now, let us concentrate on the signs that the end is very near. They are:
Complete Destruction of the Temple (v. 2). This has already happened. The Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD during the great Jewish revolt of 66-70, and then razed Jerusalem during the Bar Kochba Revolt of AD 135. However, Israel will build another Temple which will factor into the signs of the end.
Many Saying Yeshua is Messiah (Christ) and Deceiving Many (vv. 4-5, 11). This, too, is already happening. Often this statement is interpreted as meaning that many will come claiming to be Messiah, which has indeed happened from time to time. However, even more have come claiming Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, but have taught false doctrines that have deceived many. One thinks immediately of those traditions labelled “cults”, such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Unification Church. However, the “mainstream” churches, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, are also filled with error that has led many astray from full obedience to the Word of God. The Hebrew Roots Movement is a response to this widespread, and largely unacknowledged, error of divorcing Messiah Yeshua from His Jewishness and from the Hebraic nature of His call to all His disciples.
Wars and Rumors of Wars (vv. 6-7). When has this not been happening? Yeshua said nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, indicating a state of continuous conflict or threat thereof. Certainly human history has never been without conflict since the days of Cain and Abel, but there is something different about our current time. In this summer of 2014, the nations and kingdoms of the earth seem to be in a greater state of unrest than since World War II. As noted earlier, the conflicts associated with the rise of Russia, Persia, and the Caliphate, the isolation of Israel, and other changes in the map of the Middle East portend war as great or greater than the one that changed the world in 1914. And yet, Yeshua said these and the next series of signs are but the “beginning of sorrows”.
Famines, Pestilences, and Earthquakes in Various Places (v. 7). These things, also, are happening, and the earthquakes at least are coming with greater frequency and intensity. A simple review of the United States Geological Survey website will verify the increase of seismic activity in recent years. As for famine, there is no shortage of images of starvation in many places around the world, most recently South Sudan and North Korea. There is also a recurring theme of pestilence, or disease, most recently the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. The international media is able to report more such events, so we are learning now about things that in past years would have gone unnoticed. However, that in itself may be a part of the sign. After all, Daniel prophesied that travel and knowledge would increase greatly at the time of the end (Daniel 12:4).
Persecution and Hatred of Yeshua’s Disciples (v. 9). Yeshua’s followers have suffered persecution since His resurrection and ascension. Is it any different now? Yes, it seems so. Until recently, the Christian values of the Great Powers held persecution in check, but not anymore. Europe is a post-Christian civilization, Islamic persecution is increasing in frequency and violence in many places, and even in the United States, the champion of Christian freedom, there is tremendous bias against traditional values and even the name of Jesus Christ. When courts of law compel Christian business owners to serve same-sex couples in wedding ceremonies, even though such practices clearly violate the standards of righteousness God expressed throughout His Word, then something is seriously wrong. When those courts also negate amendments to state constitutions over the issue of same sex “marriage”, overriding the will of the people in the process, then we can expect even further erosion of freedom of religion. If the United States, arguably the world’s most Christian nation, is no longer willing to let Yeshua’s followers live according to their beliefs, then the time of great persecution is indeed upon us.
Lawlessness and Lovelessness Abound (vv. 10, 12). The fabric of society is coming apart. Every report of a school shooting or of a parent who has killed their child tells us that. The stark numbers of abortions in America and worldwide indicate that our love has grown cold. Our preference is to sacrifice our children on the altar of convenience rather than have them interrupt our self-indulgence. As the world’s societies have thrown out God’s Torah standards, the only remaining standard of conduct is that of the jungle. Since each one of us prefers to be the god of his or her own little world, offense, betrayal, and hatred become far more common than forgiveness, integrity, and selflessness. Scripture says it will only get worse.
The Gospel of the Kingdom Preached in All the World (v. 14). And yet even in the midst of growing darkness, the Word of the Lord will go out into all the earth. The angels themselves will preach it as the Tribulation progresses (Revelation 14:6-7). In the meantime, we have global media and the internet. Consider this blog, for example. In just seven months The Barking Fox has had views from people in 70 countries, and has regular views from the United States, South Africa, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and the Philippines. This is one small Hebrew Roots blog. Consider the impact of major Christian and Messianic ministries, working for decades through radio, television, print media, the internet, and many other means, especially sending people to the ends of the earth with the message of salvation in Yeshua. If the Gospel of the Kingdom is not yet preached in the all the world, then it cannot be long before it is.
The Abomination of Desolation Appearing in the Holy Place (15). Here is something that has not yet happened. Yeshua refers to a specific act of the Antimessiah: he puts an end to the daily sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem, and then goes into the Holy of Holies and proclaims himself to be god (Daniel 12:11-12; II Thessalonians 2:1-5). Something close to it has happened twice. The first time was in the days of the Maccabees, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes put an end to the sacrifices and banned Torah observance in the year 168 BC. The second time was when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD. Yet what we are looking for now is the great satanic world leader who will end the sacrifices and demand the world worship him. Before that can happen there must be a third Temple, or at least a functioning altar on the Temple Mount. Are we close to it? Yes, indeed. All it takes is a political decision by Israel to permit Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, even if that means dividing the Mount so that the Dome of the Rock and other Islamic holy sites remain undisturbed. In fact, that is precisely what the Apostle John foresaw:
Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.” (Revelation 11:1-2 NKJV, emphasis added)
As for construction of the Temple, or at least the altar for sacrifices, the Temple Institute has been preparing for decades. They have already assembled the materials and trained priests to restart Temple sacrificial worship as soon as there is unhindered access to the Temple Mount. That access may come at any time. Already Israel’s Knesset has debated a proposed measure that would open the Temple Mount to non-Muslims for prayer and worship. Perhaps the next major Arab-Israeli war would clear away any remaining restrictions. As for reinstating the sacrificial system, one element was missing: the red heifer. According to Numbers 19, the ashes of a red cow are necessary for preparing the water of purification for Temple ceremonies and other purposes of ritual cleansing. That requirement may have been satisfied with the birth of a red calf in the United States, as reported by the Temple Institute on June 12, 2014. If this animal is proven to satisfy the requirements when it reaches the right age (three years), then the last obstacle for Temple worship will have been removed. Once Temple sacrifices begin again we can expect great opposition to the practice worldwide, not only from the Muslim world which will consider the existence of the Temple an affront to Islam, but also from Christians who believe erroneously that the sacrificial system is somehow made irrelevant and abominable by the death and resurrection of Messiah. Consequently, when Antimessiah is ready to put an end to the sacrifices, he will find much public support.
Life Continues as in the Days of Noah (vv. 37-40). This sign is another that can only happen at the very end, once the Abomination of Desolation has signaled the beginning of the Tribulation. Although Yeshua, as well as the prophets and apostles, have given us many specific things to expect, even when all these things come about, and even after Antimessiah has put an end to the sacrifices and proclaimed himself as god, most of the people on this planet will have no clue what is happening. They will continue with their lives as if nothing were different. No doubt the wars, famines, pestilences, crime, and economic woes will impact their lives considerably, but they will make do the best they can in hope of better times around the corner. As in the days of Noah, they will miss the boat, thinking that everything continues as it has since our ancestors walked the earth.
The New Ark
As in the days of Noah, God will provide an “ark” for salvation of all who choose to get aboard. That ark is already visible: it is called Israel. Contrary to popular belief, the division of the peoples of the earth is not between Jew and Gentile, but between Israelite and Gentile. Jews are indeed the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and are very much Israelites. At the moment Jews are largely blinded to the identity of Messiah, but that blindness will be removed in time. For now Jews continue to be the keepers of the oracles of God – the Torah. And yet, the world’s Jews are only one part of the nation of Israel. The other part consists of millions of people from the nations of the earth who have a testimony of faith in Yeshua of Nazareth, some of whom may even be descendants of the “Ten Lost Tribes” of the northern kingdom of Israel. Whatever their ancestry, these people, commonly known as Christians, are grafted into the nation of Israel by virtue of the work of Messiah and their faith in Him (Romans 11:11-32; Ephesians 2:8-22). In time God will reunite and restore the entire nation of Israel to the land He promised to our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but for now it is essential that Christians come to understand their identity not as Gentiles, but as Israelites and fellow-citizens with Jews.
This Israelite identity is what helps us understand the true nature of the conflict in this world. If Babylon is the system of rebellion against God and His ways, then Israel is the system of obedience to God. The Babylonian system and all the nations that are part of it shall be destroyed completely. The only hope of salvation is by joining with Israel. That is why Satan has attempted to destroy Israel from the beginning. According to Jewish tradition that pattern began when old King Nimrod himself tried to kill young Abraham, knowing that God had a call on his life to bring down Nimrod’s kingdom. The Bible tells of many other efforts to destroy Israel, including the rebellion of 10 tribes against the House of David. Those tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel, known also as the House of Ephraim after the tribe that led the rebellion, and have been scattered throughout the nations since the Assyrian Empire conquered them in 720 BC. With those physical descendants of Israel dispersed and forgotten, presumably forever, Satan’s attention turned toward the House of Judah, the Jewish kingdom which constituted the remaining portion of Israel. The accounts of Jeremiah, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, and the Maccabees inform us of attempts to destroy the Jews, and of God’s salvation in each case. In later times we have seen many others try and fail, including Rome, the Christian states of Europe, the Muslim states of North Africa and the Middle East, and, worst of all, Nazi Germany. Through it all God has preserved a remnant of Jews to carry on the name of Israel, and has expanded the nation through Christian evangelism – albeit often in ignorance of true Israelite identity.
With this understanding we can take another look at the events of World War I and their parallels in 2014. If the prophecies of the end of this age focus on Israel, then the patterns up to that point should also focus on Israel. And indeed they do. Most of the attention given to World War I over the years has been to the Western Front in Europe, where millions died senselessly, or to the tumultuous Eastern Front, where Russia fell to pieces and reemerged as the Soviet Union. Yet in biblical terms the most significant front was the Middle East, where the seventh great empire to control Israel came crashing down.
That empire was the Ottoman Empire of Turkey. To understand where Turkey fits in the prophetic picture, we must take a quick survey of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and John. Daniel records several prophecies of the march of world empires, each having control over Jerusalem and the land of Israel. We can identify these empires easily enough:
- The Greek Empire of Alexander the Great.
- Ptolemaic Egypt, a successor to Alexander’s empire.
- The Seleucid Empire of Greco-Syria, another successor to Alexander’s empire.
- Rome and its successor European states, but especially the Byzantine Empire.
- The various Islamic caliphates, the last being the Ottoman Empire.
Daniel first presents these empires through Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the Golden Image in Daniel 2. The prophet himself saw other perspectives of these empires in his visions of the Four Beasts in Daniel 7, the Ram and Goat in Daniel 8, the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9, and the wars of the kings of the North and South in Daniel 10-12. What Daniel did not see clearly was the world after the fall of Rome. That is where John’s revelation picks up the tale. For his account we turn to Revelation 17:
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written:
MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT,
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS
OF THE EARTH.
I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement. But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns. The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is. Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits. There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time. The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition. The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:1-18 NKJV, emphasis added)
Our attention here is on the Beast, which is the engine of the world empires that have controlled Jerusalem. The Beast is also the transportation for the Harlot of Babylon, that great world system which has governed all these empires. In John’s time Rome, the sixth in the line, was the ruling empire. Although the last emperor in Rome was deposed in 476 AD, Rome actually continued in the form of the Byzantine Empire until 1453, when Ottoman Turks captured the city of Constantinople (Istanbul). Jerusalem and the Holy Land had fallen under the dominion of the Islamic realm long before then. It was the Caliph Omar, the second caliph after the death of Muhammad, who captured Jerusalem from the Byzantines in the year 637. Aside from a brief period of Crusader control from 1099-1187, Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands until 1917, when the British took it from the Ottoman Turks. It would appear, therefore, that this king who, in John’s time, had not yet come, is the Islamic caliphate, both in its Arab and Turkish manifestations. There is one school of thought which considers the Ottoman Empire as the seventh king of John’s vision, and Mecca as the city of the harlot of Babylon. I am inclined to agree, with one exception: the seventh king would not be the Ottoman Empire alone, but all the caliphates which controlled Jerusalem.
We should expect, therefore, that the “beast that was, and is not” is an Islamic empire as well. Whether it is the reborn Ottoman Empire, or the caliphate of the newly proclaimed Islamic State, or even the Shi’a empire of Iran, we shall see in time. What is certain is that the Islamic empire received a death blow to the head in 1924 when the last caliph was deposed. That beast may have climbed out of the bottomless pit even now, in this summer of 2014. We can be certain, nonetheless, that this beastly empire will be the instrument of Antimessiah through which Satan will exert his last strength in an attempt to blot out every vestige of Israel.
Part VI will conclude this series with one more look at the events of this summer of 2014 to see how they line up with the prophecies of the end of the age.