Few thoughtful people today would deny that the world is at a crossroads, and that the path straight ahead apparently leads steeply down to ruin. Recognising this is easy, but it is much more difficult to suggest which one of the alternative routes should be followed. It is probably true to say that most people look into the future with resigned foreboding rather than hope, realising that the problems facing mankind are too big to be tackled successfully.
Take for example the present state of affairs on the earth. In these days it is almost impossible to read a national newspaper without finding reports of disturbing trends in our modern world. Violence against people and property is commonplace, standards of morality are slipping, environmental pollution seems to have a stranglehold on our planet, millions starve whilst other millions are overfed, world resources are becoming depleted, the major world powers have enough lethal weapons to destroy the whole globe many times over, giving rise to the threat of an accidental or planned nuclear holocaust.
Indeed, the cynic could say with some justification that the world is already past the crossroads and is hurtling down the one-way-road to self-destruction!
But the cynic is unaware of the fact that God is in control, and that with His master touch the world's problems will be solved, though not without a traumatic time for mankind. The thrilling message of the Bible, which I have tried to explain in these pages, is that at this era of crisis for the world Jesus will return to set up the long-promised Kingdom of God.
THE RETURN OF JESUS
Talk to most people about the return of Jesus to the earth
and you will probably get a reaction something like
The return of Jesus! You don't believe that,
do you? It's nearly two thousand years now since he
went away, and I don't think he will ever come back.
There may be hope for a gradual improvement in
human affairs, but I would rule out a sudden and dramatic
change-let alone divine intervention.
By the power of inspiration the Apostle Peter foresaw that
this attitude would be prevalent in the days just prior
to Christ's return. He reminds us of the need to remember
words spoken before by the holy prophets
because some would deride the very idea of a second
this first, that there shall come in the last days
scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying,
Where is the promise of his coming? for since the
fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were
from the beginning of the creation(2 Peter
He goes on to say that God does not necessarily measure time in human terms and, despite the apparent delay, Christ will return, although to a world that is not expecting him:
beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one
day is with the Lord as a thousand years .... The
Lord is not slack concerning his promise .... But
the day of the Lord will come as a thief
in the night(2 Peter 3:8-10).
Carefully note the implication of these words. A period like a thousand years to us seems a long time, but to God is merely a single day. On this basis you are reading this page only two days after the disciples watched Jesus go into heaven. Looked at from God's viewpoint there has been no delay in sending Jesus back.
In previous chapters we have seen that the return of Jesus to the earth was clearly preached as the hope of first century Christianity. Now we turn to the Bible's description of the fulfilment of this hope, telling us when he will return, and some of the events that will usher in the Kingdom of God.
SIGNS OF CHRIST'S RETURN
The Bible describes the sort of world to which Jesus will return, and this description fits the world we all know today-a planet that desperately needs him, even if it does not expect him. It says that he will come to an earth full of violence and anxiety, to a world threatened by global conflict, to a society where material things are the centre of man's life, and to people who have a nominal adherence to religion yet in practice deny its power to influence their lives for good. The fact that these are the very conditions of the world today is an indication that the Kingdom of God will soon be set up on earth.
It has always been God's way to reveal when major developments of His purpose are impending. Long ago He said through the prophet Amos:
the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing
his plan to his servants the prophets(Amos
We have already seen that this was true of the first coming of Jesus. He was born at the time expected by those who had studied the prophecy of the seventy weeks. It could reasonably be expected therefore that the second coming of Jesus to inaugurate the final stages of God's plan for the earth would similarly be preceded by signs, telling those who were watching that the Kingdom of God was imminent. Certainly, Christ's disciples expected that there would be some such indications of his return. On the mount of Olives they once put a private question to him:
us, when shall these things be? and what shall be
the sign of thy coming?(Matthew
In reply Jesus spent some time telling them about the signs that would herald his return, and we will shortly examine this 'mount Olivet' prophecy.
Some people have used the Bible to attempt to predict the actual year or day of Christ's return, and even have publicised their expectations. When such advertised times came and went uneventfully the result was derision on themselves and on the general concept of the second coming. But the signs were not given to enable us to be so precise. In the 'mount Olivet prophecy' Jesus warns us not to try to pin-point the exact time of his return:
of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not
the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but
the Father(Mark 13:32).
So not even Jesus knew the date of his return. If he could not use his profound knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures to determine the exact date of his second coming, it must almost go without saying that we cannot do so. But although the actual date is hidden from us, the Bible contains many descriptions of the social, national and international conditions that will characterise the world to which he will return. These are the 'signs' to which he refers.
Throughout the Bible are found such phrases as
the last days,
latter years, the
time of the
end, and the
day of the Lord(Isaiah
2:2; 2 Timothy 3:1; Ezekiel 38:8; Daniel 11:40; Joel
3:14; 2 Peter 3:10). An examination of the context of
these phrases almost invariably shows that they describe
the events associated with the return of Jesus. So we
can use such passages to build up a picture of the sort
of world to which Jesus will return. Our first example
is found in the predictions of the Apostle Paul.
DESCRIPTION OF THE
We have already seen that the establishment of the Kingdom of God at the return of Jesus was the hope of the Apostle Paul. This is expressed in his letter to Timothy where he writes of Jesus as the one who:
judge the quick (i.e.the living) and the dead at
his appearing and his kingdom(2
Earlier in the letter he refers to the distinctive world conditions
last dayswhich herald the return
of Christ. He told his readers that those days would
be characterised by a widespread decline in moral standards:
mark this: There will be terrible times in the last
days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers
of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to
their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving,
slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers
of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers
of pleasure rather than lovers of God-having a form
of godliness but denying its power(2 Timothy
Look at any national newspaper and you will find that this
ugly list could be applied generally in almost every
country today. Indeed it could be truly said that a
lack of moral restraint such as Paul predicted is the
predominant feature of late twentieth century society.
Particularly significant is his insight into the reason
for such moral decline:
having a form of
godliness but denying its power.This is the
key to the present situation. A nominal assent is given
to the principles of religious behaviour but when it
comes to applying these principles in daily
life it is a different story. As Paul predicted,
today's 'godliness' more often than not has no 'power'
to change a person's behaviour, or even to attempt to
control the evil inherent in human nature. So, for example,
whilst fornication, adultery, violence and greed are
all recognised by the Church to be sin, it stands by
speechless in a world where these evils are increasing.
Speaking of the problem of teenage pregnancies a one
newspaper columnist a few years ago high-lighted the
effect of a 'form of godliness' that has no 'power'
to influence how people behave:
here is an obvious instance where the Churches, and
the bishops in particular, ought to be exerting all
their energies and eloquence to hammer home Christian
teaching, which is directly relevant to this problem.
After all, the avoidance of sexual sin, the centrality
and sanctity of Christian marriage, are basic to the
moral theology of all our Churches. Yet oddly enough
it is a long time since I have heard any clergyman,
let alone a bishop, preach a sermon on the evils of
fornication. You can listen to them denouncing the
sins of Mr. Reagan in Latin America any Sunday. But
the more elementary and deadly sins of the flesh nearer
home remain uncastigated(Paul Johnson: Daily
Yes, modern Christendom is a toothless tiger when it comes to attacks on sin.
Another significant pointer to the present time is the Apostle
Paul's comment that people would be
of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
This is certainly true, at least as far as the Western
world is concerned. Most people fill their spare time
with the things they want to do, whether it is
sport, recreation, hobbies or personal enjoyment, and
there is little room for religion. Anyone in England
who has been forced to make a summer Sunday journey
involving roads to the coast or other beauty spots will
agree that pleasure is worshipped rather than the One
who has created the things we enjoy; and this is true
of many other countries.
All this, says the Apostle Paul, will be a characteristic of the world to which Jesus will return.
DESCRIPTION OF THE
As I have already hinted, Jesus had a lot to say about the timing of his return and the sort of world to which he will come back. He said his coming will be a complete surprise to most people, but at the same time he gave signs to his followers so that, although not knowing the precise time, they would be able to obey his command to 'watch' for his return (Luke 12:37).
Of the many signs which Jesus said would exist in the earth just prior to his return we will look at two: the condition of the world at large, and the position of the nation of Israel.
What did Jesus say about the first of these?
AS IT WAS IN THE DAYS OF NOAH
One of the most dramatic records of the Old Testament concerns the great Flood that destroyed nearly all mankind because of the evil life they were leading. Water engulfed the world, and only righteous Noah and his family escaped by means of the Ark. From the descendants of Noah all the earth was re-populated. It is interesting to note in passing that ethnic groups throughout the whole world preserve in their folklore a dim memory of that far off event of the Deluge, indicating that it did take place.
Some time later there was another case of direct intervention by God to destroy incorrigibly wicked men. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, at the lower end of the Jordan valley, were destroyed by fire, and only Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and his two daughters escaped (Genesis 19).
Jesus uses each of these events as an analogy of his second coming:
as it was in the days of Noe (the N.T. name for Noah),
so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.
They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they
were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered
into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them
Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed(Luke 17:26- 30).
The first thing apparent from these words of the Master is the unexpectedness and suddenness of his return. People will be busy about their normal activities until all is suspended abruptly by the coming of Jesus. In other passages Jesus likens his return to the stealthy intrusion of a thief into a sleeping household:
I come as a thief(Revelation 16:15).
The unexpectedness of Christ's return was also stressed by Paul when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica:
know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh
as a thief in the night. For when they shall
say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh
But he goes on to say to the believers:
ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should
overtake you as a thief(1 Thessalonians
Thus on New Testament authority we are told that the return of Christ to set up the Kingdom of God will take the world at large by surprise, but true Christians, because of the 'signs', should be expecting him.
But is there more in Christ's allusion to Noah and Lot than
just the suddenness of his coming? If not his
message could be applied to any historical age. A study
of the various references Jesus made from the Old Testament
show clearly that usually it was not just a superficial
meaning that was intended, and this is true in the case
of his allusions to the Flood. Jesus not only implied
that those at the time of the Flood and those at his
second coming would be unprepared for the event,
but another similarity would be the need for punishment
of both groups-the
that Paul mentioned to the Thessalonians.
Jesus is therefore telling us that the moral condition of the world at his return and that of the world destroyed by the Flood will be similar. Also the state of affairs in Sodom will find a parallel with the world to which Jesus comes back.
THE WORLD OF THE UNGODLY
This is how Peter describes the world that perished in the Flood (2 Peter 2:5), and looking back to the record in Genesis we can see that it is no overstatement. The condition of man in God's sight was appalling, both in thought and action:
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.
earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was
filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth,
and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted
his way upon the earth(Genesis 6:5, 11-12).
In this debased state mankind refused any allegiance to God and even denied His power to intervene. The book of Job alludes to these evil men and describes their attitude to God:
were carried off before their time, their foundations
washed away by a flood. They said to God, 'Leave us
alone! What can the Almighty do to us?'(Job
Combining these references we learn that at the time of the Flood the population of the earth was wicked in God's sight, and this showed itself in minds dedicated to evil and corrupt thoughts. Furthermore the earth was filled with violence, and men wanted nothing to do with God and even denied He had the power to intervene.
With this in mind we see further meaning in the words of Jesus:
thus shall it be in the day when the Son of
man is revealed(Luke 17:30).
WORLD OF THE UNGODLY
Does our modern world match this description of the days of Noah?
Take the matter of
evil thoughts. In many countries
of the world catering for evil thoughts is a multi-million
dollar industry. Sexual titillation of the mind is glamourised,
even in 'family' newspapers: risque' jokes abound in
broadcasts, not to speak of hard pornography in books,
films and videos that perverts both minds and bodies.
So-called 'sex shops' flaunt their corrupting wares
in our city streets. Society is now reaping its reward
for such indulgence in the form of horrifying increases
in rape and sexual harassment that have been directly
attributed to the availability of such disgusting material.
This is obviously not the only aspect of evil thinking in the world today, but merely one example of the plummeting standards in modern society that justifies its comparison with the situation before the Flood. And this is a recent development-a trend that has accelerated over the last twenty or so years.
And Jesus foretold that it would be just like this at the time of his return.
Jesus also selected the days of Lot and the destruction of
Sodom to be another example of conditions in the world
at his return. In Genesis we read that the sin of Sodom
and Gomorrah was
very grievous. The ensuing
record demonstrates that this consisted of the sexual
perversion of their inhabitants (Genesis 19:4-9). Of
recent years our society has given such behaviour a
veneer of respectability, permitted and sometimes even
encouraged by official organisations, including the
Jesus says this is a sign of his return:
was in the days of Lot .... even thus shall it be in
the day when the Son of man is revealed.
A WORLD OF VIOLENCE
Another aspect of Noah's day that Jesus said would find a parallel
in the days of his return was an earth
with violence. Violence is such a feature of the
closing years of the 20th century that we
almost take it for granted! But if one stands back and
views the world scene the amount of violence or potential
violence is horrific.
In most countries the incidence of violent crime is showing a dramatic increase. People cannot walk the streets at night, or even in daylight in some places, for fear of being 'mugged' or savagely attacked. Murder is so commonplace that it rarely attracts more than a passing reference. Violence at sporting occasions is now an international problem, and mindless vandalism causes inestimable damage to life and property. Society is fed on a diet of violent television programmes, and even news coverage sometimes seems to go out of its way to portray the more brutal aspects. The world has become used to scenes of terrorist attacks, hijackings, assassination attempts, taking of hostages, and bloody sectarian warfare. In very many spheres of life there is an almost immediate recourse to violent measures if initial demands are not granted.
This century has so far been one of bloodshed for the whole world, with hundreds of millions killed in two major wars and in purges and pogroms. In Europe they like to think that the last 50 years have been ones of peace, but this is only true of that part of the world. Since the end of the second world war there have been well over 40 major conflicts that have devastated large areas of the globe, and brought misery to millions. And in addition there is a continual undercurrent of civil wars, or conflicts arising from religious or ethnic differences which occasionally erupt violently into bloodshed and desolation. Even under stable and peaceful regimes the security and quietness is often brought about by iron fisted repression, with severe penalties for those that dare step out of line.
Along with the falling standards of morality, this increase in violence is a feature of recent times. In the days of Noah man had become so degraded and violent that God had to intervene. Jesus implies that for a similar reason intervention will be necessary again at the time when he returns to earth.
Thus Christ and Paul combine to draw a picture of the state of the world when Jesus will return. The present time fits this description as no preceding age has done. Modern materialism, godlessness and violence comprise one of the 'signs' that Jesus will soon be back in the earth to establish the long awaited Kingdom of God.
THE NATION OF ISRAEL
A few days before his crucifixion, as Jesus was talking to his disciples in the temple at Jerusalem-built on the huge stone platform known today as the Temple Mount-they pointed out to him the splendours of the building. From eyewitness descriptions that have been preserved we know that it was indeed a beautiful structure. Spacious colonnaded walkways surrounded a series of courtyards, and in the central area was a lofty and magnificent edifice which formed the actual shrine. Understandably the disciples were proud of their national seat of worship. But Christ's response to their enthusiasm was most unexpected:
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(Matthew 24:2).
Possibly too shocked for words at the thought of the utter destruction of such a building, the disciples said nothing in reply but pondered his words as their little party left the city and wended its way up the road over the mount of Olives on the east of Jerusalem. Near the summit they sat down and looked across the valley to the city bathed in the evening sun with the temple gleaming in the centre.
This seemed the appropriate moment to ask Jesus to expand his terse statement about the temple, and some of the disciples seized the opportunity:
us, when shall these things be? and what shall be
the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
Notice that there were two separate questions here. They wanted
first to know when
these thingswould be-that
is the things relating to the destruction of the temple;
but they were also asking about the signs of his
THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM AND THE TEMPLE
Christ's reply was a lengthy discourse, often called the 'Mount Olivet prophecy', which answers both these queries (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). First he predicted a time of increasing unrest for the Jewish nation, culminating in the siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and its temple:
when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies,
then know that the desolation thereof is nigh
This prophecy was fulfilled about 35 years later when the Roman Emperor, tired of continual Jewish insurrections, sent an army under the command of Titus to finally put down the rebellions. Titus laid siege to Jerusalem for about two years, during which time the inhabitants suffered terribly from internal quarrels, disease, and famine. (Incidentally all this had also been predicted 1500 years before by Moses, Deuteronomy 28:49-57). In A.D.70 the city finally succumbed, and although Titus gave specific instructions to spare the temple, the Roman soldiers were so incensed at the behaviour of the Jews that they defied his orders and burnt the sacred building to the ground. Later the Romans removed every stone of the Jewish temple to clear the ground for a temple to their god Jupiter.
In this way the predictions of Jesus about the destruction of the temple were exactly fulfilled.
TIMES OF THE GENTILES
But the prophecy of Jesus went further than predicting the destruction of Jerusalem. He spoke of the differing fates of the Jewish people and their capital city in the ages that would follow. After the accurate fulfilment of his prophecy about the temple we now read his words with added confidence:
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(Luke 21:24).
In these pages I have occasionally pointed out certain Bible passages as key references in understanding the plan of God to set up His Kingdom. This is another example. These few words of Jesus are packed with information about the timing of God's purpose. After answering the first question about the destruction of the temple, Jesus goes on to the second which concerned the 'signs' of his return. In this passage he told the disciples that after the Roman invasion three things would happen:
- The Jews would be dispersed throughout all nations.
- Jerusalem would come under Gentile (i.e. non-Jewish) control.
- The time would come when Gentile domination of Jerusalem would cease because the Gentiles' 'times' will have expired.
In the last of these we have similar teaching to the prophecy
of Daniel that we considered in chapter 1. You will
recall that the statue Nebuchadnezzar saw in his God-given
dream represented the Kingdom of Men under the successive
control of 4 Gentile empires followed by a fragmented
state of affairs. This Kingdom of Men was not to last
indefinitely, but the
time of the Gentiles
was to end when Jesus, represented by the little stone,
would come down to earth and set up the Kingdom of God
on the ruins of human rule.
In the mount Olivet prophecy Jesus speaks of the same event,
times of the Gentileswill come
to an end.
Untilthis time Jerusalem was
to be ruled by Gentile powers.
So in one sentence of the mount Olivet prophecy, and by that significant little word until, Jesus bridges the 1900 years or so between the fall of Jerusalem in A.D.70 and his return to set up the Kingdom of God with the restored Holy City as its capital. This inference is confirmed when we find that immediately he goes on to speak of his return:
then shall they see the Son of man coming in
a cloud with power and great glory(Luke 21:27).
Clearly the changing fortunes of the Jews, and the political status of Jerusalem, are in some way 'signs' of Christ's second coming.
What are the prophetical and historical facts?
THE DISPERSION AND REGATHERING OF ISRAEL
When Jesus spoke of the dispersion of the Jews into all nations he was touching on a theme that the Old Testament prophets had already elaborated. Right from the beginning of their national history the Israelites were warned that if they failed to appreciate their position as God's people they would be scattered throughout the world, and their land left desolate:
if ye will not hearken unto me .... I will scatter
you among the heathen (i.e. nations), and will
draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be
desolate, and your cities waste(Leviticus 26:14,33).
the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from
the one end of the earth even unto the other ....
And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither
shall the sole of thy foot have rest(Deuteronomy
The Jews did forsake God, even to the extent of eventually crucifying His Son, and history records that these predictions of dispersion were accurately fulfilled. In the 7th century B.C. the major part of the nation was taken captive by the Assyrians, and the remainder by the Romans in the years after 70 A.D. From that day until comparatively recent times there have been very few Jews in their native land.
Thus Jesus and the prophets were in harmony in predicting the dispersion of the Jews.
But the remarkable thing is that although so widely dispersed the Jews never lost their national identity. This phenomenon was also predicted in God's Word:
I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee: though
I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered
thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee
This has come to pass. Over the intervening centuries, Jews have been found in almost every country of the world-except their own land. They have been despised, hated, persecuted and slaughtered in their thousands, yet still survive as a distinct and easily identifiable race. Their original captors, the Babylonians and Assyrians, have disappeared but the Jews remain. Why? Because they are vital to God's plan to set up His Kingdom.
THE PROMISE OF RESTORATION
In about 600 B.C. the prophet Ezekiel received a most striking revelation (Ezekiel 37). Under the power of God he saw a valley that was littered with old and dried human bones. As he watched, Ezekiel saw the bones grouping themselves together, and soon they had formed into complete skeletons. But the transformation did not stop there. Sinews and ligaments were seen to connect the bones, then flesh and skin covered them. Finally these resurrected bodies became alive, and stood up like a great army.
God told Ezekiel that the dried bones represented the nation of Israel in dispersion. Nationally the Jews were then dead, with no country, king, or government. But the time would come when there would be a national resurrection, and the Jews would return to their ancient homeland. This is what God said:
bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they
say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost ....
Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the
Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves,
and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring
you into the land of Israel(Ezekiel 37:11-12).
The message of the vision was then reinforced in plain language, with some added detail. Not only were the Jews to be regathered but they would again have their own king and be permanently reconciled to their God:
saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children
of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be
gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring
them into their own land. And I will make them
one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel;
and one king shall be king to them all .... so shall
they be my people, and I will be their God(Ezekiel
There are very many similar predictions scattered throughout
the prophetic writings (e.g. Ezekiel 36:24; Jeremiah
31:8-10; Zechariah 8:7-9). The consistent message of
them all is that at the time of the end the Jews will
be regathered to their old homeland, never to be removed
again. They will be ruled over by a righteous king,
and will be permanently reconciled to God. In other
words the return of the Jews will be the prelude
to the coming of Jesus to set up the long promised
Kingdom of God and to usher in all the blessings
of his perfect reign on earth. As Jesus said on
the mount of Olives, the Jews were to remain in captivity
and Jerusalem stay under Gentile control only
times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
THE MODERN MIRACLE
In the middle of the nineteenth century there were only a few hundred poor Jews in the land of Israel, then called Palestine. The rest of the nation was scattered throughout the countries of the world. By 1995 about 3-4 million Jews were living in their old homeland, having formed themselves into a democratic and efficient State. The way this national resurrection has come about is nothing less than a miracle. After the first proposal in 1897 for a national Jewish home in Palestine, the first trickle of immigrants arrived. This was boosted in 1917 by the British success in freeing the land from Turkish rule, and between the first and second world wars the Jews returned in steady (Drawing of Ezekiel's vision)
numbers from their world wide exile. The atrocities of the Nazi r�gime gave added impetus to the Jews' longing to return, and after the second world war the steady stream became a flood. In 1948 the immigrants proclaimed themselves the State of Israel. Although it was immediately attacked by its numerically superior Arab neighbours, the infant nation survived both these and later attacks and, whilst it is still beleaguered, continues to maintain its position and independence to this day.
The climax of the Jewish restoration came in 1967 when they captured the Old City of Jerusalem. For over 1900 years their ancient capital and city of David's throne had been under Gentile control, just as Jesus had predicted, but now it was under Jewish sovereignty once more.
Does this mean that the long ages of the
times of the
the Kingdom of Men represented by that multi-metal statue
is about to come crashing to the ground?
Certainly it means that this time of divine intervention is very near, although, as we will see from the next 'sign', the Jews may temporarily lose control of the city once more before they regain it permanently.
SUMMARY OF THE JEWISH
We have covered a lot of ground since we left Jesus talking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives about the signs of his return, so it might be a good thing to enumerate what we have learnt about the Jews and Jerusalem as portents of Christ's second coming.
1. Jerusalem was to be besieged and the temple destroyed.
Fulfilment: By the Romans in A.D. 70.
2. The Jews were to be scattered among all nations. The Old Testament prophets had also foretold this in the event of Israel's disobedience to their God.
Fulfilment: By the Assyrians and then by the Romans after A.D. 70.
3. Whilst the Jews were in exile Jerusalem would be ruled by Gentile powers.
Fulfilment: Jerusalem since A.D. 70 has been ruled by a succession of foreign nations, culminating in the Arab occupation up to 1967.
4. The Prophets foretold a time of national resurrection for the Jews, and a return to their original land.
Fulfilment: This return has taken place within the present century, resulting in the formation of the State of Israel in 1948.
Jesus said that when the city of Jerusalem was freed
from foreign control the
times of the Gentiles
would be fulfilled.
Fulfilment: Possibly after the capture of Jerusalem in 1967 by the Israelis. Or possibly after the 'sign' we shall consider next. In either case it refers to the days in which we now live.
6. The return of the Jews to their land will be a 'sign' that the return of Jesus is near.
Fulfilment: The Jews are back, so his coming will be soon!
When these things begin to come to pass,
then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption
draweth nigh(Luke 21:28).
Thus far we have seen two widely differing 'signs' of Christ's return to the earth to set up the Kingdom of God-the declining moral state of the world, and the establishment of the State of Israel. As both of these are recent developments it seems we are justified in believing that we are living at the approximate time when Jesus will come back. Are there any other 'signs' that confirm this conclusion?
Indeed there are, and I will conclude this chapter with another
striking prophecy about the
ISRAEL TO BE INVADED
The previous 'sign' has set the scene for this dramatic event. The military campaigns of the First World War freed the land of Palestine, enabling the Jews to return to their old homeland. They have reclaimed and made fruitful the hills and valleys that for so long had been desolate. This is the background to the remarkable prophecy contained in Ezekiel chapters 38-39.
In brief, this prophecy describes an invasion of the recently colonised land of Israel by a huge force composed of the army of a great power in alliance with several others. The dramatic sequel to the attack is closely connected with the return of Jesus.
Ezekiel gives two clear indications of the time to which the
prophecy refers. First of all, he repeatedly uses the
the latter yearsor
days, which in other places where it occurs in
the Bible almost invariably refers to the time of the
setting up of God's Kingdom (Ezekiel 38:8, 16).
The second clue is that the invasion occurs when the once desolate land of Israel is populated by returned exiles and is fertile again. The invader comes
the land that is restored from war, the land where
people were gathered from many nations upon the mountains
of Israel, which had been a continual waste; its people
were brought out from the nations and now dwell securely
(Ezekiel 38:8 RSV).
In stating the purpose of this invasion, Ezekiel again identifies the time of the attack:
seize spoil and carry off plunder; to assail the waste
places which are now inhabited, and the people
who were gathered from the nations(Ezekiel
Without a shadow of a doubt, this prophecy relates to the present era. Since the time the words were originally spoken 2500 years ago there has been no other time when the people of Israel have emigrated from many nations and returned to repopulate their previously desolate land.
WHO IS THE INVADER?
The first clue is in the direction from which the attack comes. Twice in the prophecy we are told that the invader will come from north of the land of Israel. In Bible times, because the land was bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the west and the Arabian desert on the east, the north was the usual route for any invasion of Israel; even if the country of origin of the invader was elsewhere. For example the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem of Jeremiah's time is described as coming from the north even though Babylon was actually situated due east of Zion:
Thus saith the LORD, Behold, a people cometh from the north country, and a great nation shall be raised from the sides of the earth. (Jeremiah 6:22)
So the future attack will be funnelled down through northern Israel, even though the invading nations may originate from elsewhere.
The second clue is the names of the countries the armies come from. Obviously the countries were called by the names they had in Ezekiel's day, about 600 B.C., but it is not difficult to find the modern equivalents. The leader of the invasion is called Gog, and is addressed in this way:
of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech
and Tubal(Ezekiel 38:2 RSV).
There is no doubt of the identity of Ezekiel's land of Magog. It was the territory of a nation known in ancient times as the Scythians. Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, says:
founded those that from him were named Magogites,
but who are by the Greeks called Scythians
(Wars of the Jews 6:1).
The Scythians were composed of restless tribes that seemed originally to have come from the southern steppes on the north of the Black Sea, and then expanded into the area immediately south of the Caucasus mountains, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It is fascinating that in Assyrian records dating from about the time of Ezekiel the land of Magog is mentioned as having a king named 'Gog'. Speaking of the area settled by the Scythians, one archaeologist says:
the Hebrews of that and later periods it was known
as Magog, and it was not one of the least surprises
we owe to Assyriology to find that the 'Gog, King
of Magog' of Ezekiel was originally a real and historic
person, no other in fact than the chief of the Scythians
in Asshurbanipal's time(Ragozin, Assyria
Ezekiel thus used the actual Gog of the land of Magog of his day as a model for the latter day Gog who would rule over the same area in the future.
Gog was also described as the ruling prince of Meshech and Tubal. These names also appear frequently in the Assyrian inscriptions as Mushki and Tabali, and were tribes whose territory lay south and east of the Black Sea. Herodotus, the 5th century B.C. 'Father of History', refers to them as the Moshkoi and the Tibarenoi.
THE INVADER'S ALLIES
Ezekiel describes several nations that will be confederate with Gog:
and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north
quarters, and all his bands: and many people with
Gomer was the tribe known to the ancients as the Cimmerians, whose locality is well known. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has the following comments:
in the table of nations, Gen.10, the eldest son of
Japheth, and in Ezekiel 38. 6 a part of Gog's army,
represents the people known to the Greeks as Cimmerians.
Their earliest known home is the district north of
the Black Sea(14th Edition, Art.
first historical name in Southern Russia is that of
the Cimmerians .... in Assyrian they are Gimirrai
and in Genesis Gomer(Ibid. Art. Europe).
There is an echo of this ancient name of the Cimmerians in the modern area known as the Crimea.
The Togarmah of Ezekiel was in the area known today as Armenia in the southern Caucasus region. Speaking of the early settlers in this region we read:
formed a small but warlike and enterprising people.
It is to this which chapter 10 of Genesis refers in
the Japhetic family as Togarmah, son of Gomer,
and to which the Hebrew prophets repeatedly refer
as Beth-Togarmah-'the House of Togarmah'
(Ragozin, Assyria p.368).
But this does yet complete the list of the invader's allies. The prophecy continues:
Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: (Ezekiel 38:5)
It is more easy to identify these since their names are familiar to us today. Persia is modern Iran; Ethiopia in Bible times was the land immediately south of Egypt, and Libya is still the country with that name on the southern shore of the Mediterranean sea.
THE MODERN ARMY OF GOG
Summarising these findings, the areas in Ezekiel's day that were to be the origins of Israel's latter day attackers under the leadership of 'Gog' are as follows:Magog North of Black Sea, and southern Caucasus Meshech, South and east of Black Sea Tubal Gomer Southern Russia Togarmah Armenia Persia Iran Ethiopia Southern Egypt and the Sudan Libya Modern Libya
(Map of Ez 38 nations today)
So we can see that although the attack on Israel will come from the north, it will be composed of nations that virtually surround Israel. From the southern states of the old Soviet Republic, round through Iran, then down to northern Africa armies will combine their forces to attack the young nation of Israel.
Who is the modern Gog, and the nations that will assist him in his attack on Israel? In reality only God knows, and until the invasion occurs we cannot be absolutely sure. The power and influence of nations rise and fall, sometimes quite suddenly. Because the invasion comes from the north, and because some areas mentioned by the Ezekiel were, until a few years ago, in Soviet territory, many Bible scholars have looked for a Russian led attack on Israel. I outlined this view when writing the first edition of this book. But the break-up of the USSR may suggest a revision of this view, and some have compared the Bible predictions with the current situation in the Middle East, seeing Islamic opposition to Israel as a major ingredient. The one common factor of all the nations listed above is either their complete adherence to the Moslem religion or that they contain a large number of its adherents. Few observers need to be reminded that the destruction of the State of Israel is the official policy of some militant Islamic organisations. This is the influence that could well unite all the nations that immediately surround Israel into attacking their young neighbour, as described in the Bible. But modern politics are notoriously volatile, and the situation could change overnight. No matter, whoever the invader is, the fact of the future invasion of Israel is indisputable Bible teaching.
When the future invasion eventually occurs, this is how the attack on the recolonised land of Israel is described by Ezekiel:
the latter years thou shalt come into the land that
is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out
of many people, against the mountains of Israel....
Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt
be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy
bands, and many people with thee. .... I will go up
.... to take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn
thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited,
and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations,
which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in
the midst of the land.
Thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts .... and thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days(Ezekiel 38:8-9, 11-12, 15-16).
THE SEQUEL TO THE INVASION
This invasion of Israel will usher in the final death throes of the Kingdom of Men. The patience of God will become exhausted and He will openly intervene in human affairs. The prophet Ezekiel describes the vehemence of God's reaction to this attack on His people and His land:
it shall come to pass at the same time that Gog shall
come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God,
that my fury shall come up in my face. For in my jealousy
and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, Surely
in that day there shall be a great shaking in the
land of Israel(Ezekiel 38:18-19).
He then goes on to describe how that by fighting against each other, by bloodshed, disease, torrential rain, enormous hail-stones and fire the armies of Gog will be destroyed (Ezekiel 38:21-22 RSV).
As a result of this overwhelming defeat of the invader the world will come to know that there is a God in heaven:
I will show my greatness and my holiness and make
myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then
they will know that I am the Lord(Ezekiel
JESUS RETURNS AT THIS CRISIS
Although we cannot be sure of the exact sequence of events, it
is clear that the destruction of the invader of Israel
is connected with the return of Jesus to the earth.
The prophet Daniel also refers to this invasion of Israel
from the north at the
time of the end(Daniel
11:40-45). After describing how the invader will
to his end, and none shall help him, Daniel goes
on to speak of the arrival of Israel's Messiah under
the symbolic name of Michael ('One who is like God'),
and of the resurrection from the dead:
at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince
which standeth for the children of thy people: and
there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was
.... And many of them that sleep in the dust of the
earth shall awake, some to everlasting life
The work of Christ in reforming the world and setting up the Kingdom of God will be examined in more detail in the next chapter.
In other chapters we have seen that the return of Christ to the earth is the focal point of God's purpose to set up His Kingdom. In this chapter we have considered 'signs' that indicate that his return is very near.
Sign 1: Society
First we looked at the conditions of society. Paul predicted
that in the
last days, even among professing
believers, there would be lack of moral restraint. Adherence
to religion would be merely nominal, a
godlinesswith no power to control natural waywardness,
resulting in tolerance of a sinful way of life. Pleasure
and self-gratification would be the real god.
Jesus also spoke of the condition of the world at his return,
foretelling that he would return to a world like the
one that merited destruction by the Flood. We looked
at the Bible's description of those days and saw that
the Flood came because the earth was full of violence,
and was depraved and evil in its thoughts and behaviour.
Christ's comment was:
Even thus shall it be in
the day when the Son of man is revealed.
We then reviewed the world of our own day and found that the picture drawn by Jesus and Paul of the days of the second coming bears a very close resemblance to modern society, suggesting that the time is now ripe for Christ's return.
Sign 2: Israel
Our second 'sign' focussed attention on an entirely different
aspect of Bible prophecy: the national fortunes of the
Jewish people and the fate of Jerusalem their capital
city. Jesus said that after the capture of the city
by the Romans it would continually be ruled by Gentiles,
timesof the Gentiles are expired.
Meanwhile the Jews would be scattered throughout the
world, and become as disjointed and nationally lifeless
as the dry bones seen by the prophet Ezekiel. They would
however always retain their distinctive identity, and
at last would return to the land of their fathers and
experience a miraculous national resurrection. The sequel
to this return would be the freeing of Jerusalem from
Gentile rule and the eventual reign of their Messiah,
by whom they would become reconciled to God.
Turning from what was foretold to what actually happened, we found that the history of the Jews has followed exactly the course God outlined in His Word. Today the State of Israel is a living witness to God's controlling hand in world affairs, and an indication that Jesus will soon return.
Sign 3: Israel to be invaded
For our third 'sign' we turned to the Old Testament prophets who predicted that when Israel were back in their ancient homeland they would be invaded by a confederacy of nations coming into the north of the Holy Land. From the place names mentioned we identified the supporters of this power as being nations surrounding Israel-from the southern states within the old USSR, round through Armenia, Iran, Sudan, to North Africa. The prophets foretold that the attack would fail because God would openly intervene to defend His people and land, and that Jesus would return at about this time.
In the Middle East today we have exactly the situation described by the Bible. Israel has returned, and the nations surrounding her have risen to such a position of dominance as to readily be able to invade Israel. The uprise of the power of Islam and the return of the Jews to Israel dovetail together to give convincing evidence that the return of Jesus is near.
CHRIST'S ADVICE TO HIS FOLLOWERS
There is no doubt that in these closing years of the 20th century we are very near to the world shaking event of the return of Christ. All the Bible signs of his coming converge on the present situation. The moral state of the world, the return of the Jews and the situation of the nations surrounding Israel combine to pin-point our generation as the one to which Jesus will suddenly appear. Although the general epoch of his coming can thus be deduced, the actual moment will take all by surprise. One of the great themes of the New Testament is advice to Christians to make themselves ready for that meeting with their Lord and watch for his return, so that whenever he comes they may be ready to give him a joyous welcome.
Are you expecting him? Are you ready for him? To everyone comes the advice and warning of the Master at the close of the Olivet Prophecy in which he said so much about his return:
ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the
time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far
journey, who left his house, and gave authority to
his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded
the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know
not when the master of the house cometh, at even,
or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning:
lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.
And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch(Mark 13:33- 37).