Wednesday, March 4, 2015
"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation,' spoken of through the prophet Daniel - let the reader understand - then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains … For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equaled again. … … Immediately after the distress of those days 'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' AT THAT TIME the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (Matthew 24:15-16,21,29-31).
There is only one "Judea," as there is only one Jerusalem and one geographic area that God promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah. The present state of Israel possesses part of the land God promised would be theirs. They will eventually possess the rest. Our present generation is the first to see the possibility of the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy as it is recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. In His prophecy Jesus ties coming events in Judea (Israel) to His return in power and glory at the end of the age. As events unfold, it becomes clearer and clearer that we are approaching the time foretold throughout the Bible, when Jesus will return to reign as King upon the earth for a thousand years.
This is "the story behind the story" this week, as Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu addressed the members of the U.S. Congress (at least most of them). While much of the world sees only nations battling for supremacy or, in Israel's case, their mere existence as a nation, there is more going on than meets the eye. The Prime Minister declared that if Israel needs to stand alone, they will still stand. They will do what they need to do to defend themselves. I admire his tenacity and his willingness to declare to the world that the Jewish people will not be passive as their enemies threaten to destroy them. When those with whom we negotiate call the United States "the Great Satan" and state that all the Jews can return to Israel, thus eliminating the need to "hunt them down," one would think that reasonable people would understand why Prime Minister Netanyahu wanted to address the leaders of our nation … yes, we have more than one leader!!
God declared in Genesis 12:3, as He made His covenant with Abraham (then Abram), "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." In our day, while some might say that the existence of Israel has been and perhaps still is dependent on the United States, the truth is: the continued existence of the United States is quite possibly dependent on our support for Israel!! Surely, we are a nation under God's judgment in many ways because of our great sins against God as a people. Should we in any way "turn our backs" on Israel God's greater judgment will not be far behind. What that will look like only God Himself knows. Though most in Congress and in the general population of the United States are utterly and totally ignorant of Biblical truth and prophecy, "religion" has everything to do with what is going on in our world today. It always has and it always will. But it's not what many, even in the church, think.
Judaism, as a religion, is fulfilled in Jesus, the Christ, the Jewish Messiah. God's plan to establish His kingdom on the earth was revealed through the prophets and Jesus came the first time … the eternal Son of God taking upon Himself human flesh in order to be the perfect sacrifice for sin in His death on the cross … He came the first time to die on the cross, to rise again and to ascend into heaven, pouring out His Holy Spirit and calling some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue to follow Him, to build His Church (literally, "the called-out ones"), in order to gather for Himself a people who would live with Him forever in a new heaven and earth, His eternal kingdom. We are in the age of salvation, the time when through faith in Jesus Christ people who are born again by His Spirit and who repent and believe are SAVED from God's coming wrath and judgment. This age will end … but how … and when?
As someone explained in the midst of a discussion about these things on a television news program, Iran and ISIS may appear to be enemies, but Prime Minister Netanyahu was correct when he said that "the enemy of your enemy is your enemy." Some may have thought he misspoke, and he may not have grasped the depth of the truth he was speaking, but the fact that Iran is fighting "with" us and others to defeat ISIS does NOT mean we are on the same side. In one way we are actually helping Iran by fighting against ISIS because Iran wants to be the chief representative of Islam. THAT's why they do not want ISIS to succeed. This IS a conflict about religion and it is a conflict within Islam. Indeed, the entire area is involved, just as God said it would be, just as it has been since God made His covenant with Abraham through Isaac more than 4,000 years ago. Saying this has nothing to do with religion is foolish. Iran knows it's about religion; ISIS knows it's about religion. We who believe the Bible know it's about religion! Satan continues to war against the one true God and it is Islam that is one of his instruments, still seeking to destroy the people whom God Himself has chosen and to wipe Israel off the map. Prime Minister Netanyahu mentioned Purim and the biblical book of Esther. Those who come against Israel will, in the end, suffer the same fate as those who have come against her in previous centuries. Islam teaches cataclysmic events will bring about the end of this age, but their end is much different than what the Bible predicts.
Sadly, many within the Christian church do not understand what God says about the present and the future. Believing that the Church has somehow replaced Israel (the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah), most believe that the world will just somehow go on until Jesus comes. Others in the visible church believe Israel has something to do with the future, but they don't know what the Bible says about it and are "blissfully ignorant" of what the Bible says about these days in which we are living and what is yet to come. Even though Scripture is filled with specific prophecies such as the verses above, they choose to ignore these things and go on about their business, often playing religion, believing that God exists to give them what they want, rather than existing to declare His kingdom, His reign and the coming return of Jesus. Where is the passion for His return, the urgency to proclaim the Gospel and to stand firm in the faith? Instead there is confusion, division and complacency, along with an intermingling of religions that leaves people in the darkness when it comes to the significance of the events going on around us in the world.
Rest assured, God is at work today preparing the world for the return of Jesus Christ to reign as King, just as He was at work preparing the world for Jesus' birth some 2,000 years ago. None of these events are happening by chance. There is a great "Director" who is orchestrating the current scenario to align all things with His plan. As I shared with the congregation last Sunday, the beauty of this truth is that the same God who is ordering the events of the nations around us is also ordering the events of our lives for His glory. Through faith in Jesus Christ YOU can know that God's purpose in YOUR life is that you would shine as a light for Him in this world. Whether in joy and prosperity or in pain, suffering and struggles, God is with those who come to Him through faith in Jesus, for it is His Spirit who planted that faith in our hearts and moved us to confess Jesus as Savior and Lord. God knows those who are His and will never abandon us … any more than He will abandon Israel, the Jews, His chosen people. It cannot and it will not happen.
So when Prime Minister Netanyahu says that Israel will stand, even if they have to stand alone, he is only partly right. Israel will stand, but only by the power of the God of Israel, the One true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It will, however, not be without pain and suffering. Jesus clearly predicts a time of great distress in Judea (Israel) just prior to His coming. The prophet Jeremiah writes, "How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:7). The prophet Zechariah reveals God's Word and His plan in Zechariah 14: "A day of the LORD is coming when your plunder will be divided among you. I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city" (Zechariah 14:1-2).
Fortunately, Zechariah's prophecy does not end there. He goes on to say, "Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem … the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him. … The LORD will be King over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and His Name the only Name" (Zechariah 14:3-5,8-9). The events of today are leading to the fulfillment of this and many other prophecies concerning the Jewish people and their land. Nothing is happening by chance. As God raised up other nations to come against His chosen people in the days of the prophets, prior to Jesus coming, in order to bring judgment upon them, so He will gather the nations against Israel one more time. But this time, He Himself will deliver them, defeating the Antichrist and his armies. The dividing line is Israel. Choosing sides in this battle is not only a national choice, but a personal choice.
Being a "Christian" used to mean believing that the Bible was true. Today it seems to mean that you believe Jesus was a good man, an historical figure who lived a long time ago and maybe who even did something on the cross that brings some benefit to you … but that's about it. GOD's definition of a followers of Jesus, the Christ, is one who believes that Jesus IS the eternal Son of God and that He is coming again to establish His kingdom for eternity. Being a Christian is not simply about going to heaven some day, it is about being part of God's eternal kingdom, now and in the future in the new heaven and the new earth. And first, Jesus will come to establish His reign on the earth and to display God's wisdom and power through the nation of Israel. Then all the world will know that the LORD, the great "I AM," Yahweh is GOD … not Allah or any other god. Then all the world will know that it is only through Jesus Christ and in HIS name that there is salvation … forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
What is going on in our world is all about religion … the one true religion versus all the false religions of man, including, but not exclusively, Islam. God has revealed Himself in His Word, the Bible. Those who say, "You can make the Bible say whatever you want it to say," reveal their ignorance and the fact that they have probably never read or studied God's Word. Others have taken bits and pieces from the Bible and twisted and distorted it to their own destruction and the destruction of those who listen to them. Unlike the Koran, the truth recorded in the Bible was revealed from the beginning through forty different authors over a span of many centuries, rather than to one man. The Bible records the history of mankind and God's plan from the beginning of creation to its end, and then the new beginning. Unlike the Koran, the Bible is filled with prophecies, some of which have been specifically fulfilled already, others that are being specifically fulfilled in our present day, and some which await their fulfillment in the near future. All true Christians must be extremely interested in what is happening and what will happen with Israel. Why? Because the time of the end is near and God has called us to be ambassadors of His kingdom, declaring the truth to others and offering them salvation through faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. He WILL reign over all the earth and we who believe will reign with Him from Jerusalem. That's where all of this is heading.
But first, as Jesus says in the verses above, there will be a time of great tribulation. Many in the church today believe that God will gather His people BEFORE this time of tribulation, but Jesus says, "Immediately AFTER the distress of those days … the Son of Man … will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (Matthew 24:29-31). In a verse that I would rather not read, the Apostle John writes in Revelation 20:4: "I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years."
As we watch Christians being beheaded by ISIS, God's Word has predicted such things and everything will be fulfilled precisely as God has said. Our hope rests in God's promises to those who place their trust in Him. These things must be of more than passing interest to those who follow Christ. Are we ready to stand firm in the face of persecution? Are we willing to pay the ultimate price for our testimony to the truth of the Gospel, to our Savior and Lord? If we cannot endure the struggles we face today, how will we stand as these things unfold? It is time for the true Church to rise up, to be done with lesser things, to focus on the Gospel and to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, the ONLY way to draw near to God.
Israel plays an even bigger part in God's plans than Prime Minister Netanyahu and many of the Jews who are returning to Israel possibly understand. As you and I live in this world we must read and study God's Word, seeking to understand all that He has revealed to us. Here is the ONLY place to find true HOPE … hope based not on what might happen or on what we ourselves will accomplish by our own efforts, but hope based on the very promises of the sovereign God who at this moment rules over all things and who guides even rulers and nations for His own purposes, for His glory, and for the welfare of all who trust in Him and who serve Him as we live life in this world by His power that is at work within us. May you have that hope today, knowing that our God reigns, that He is the God of salvation, and that through faith in Jesus Christ we need not fear because in the end victory over sin and death and the grave is ours!
Praise be to our God, the One true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God of creation, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. "To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen!!" (Jude 24-25).