Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 3 – The Restoration of Israel
by Gerald R. Thompson
From our discussion of Rom. 11 (the root and the graft), you should have picked up on the idea that God singled out Israel among all the nations of the world for His special pleasure. This was first disclosed to Abram in Gen. 12:2-3. “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This promise was reiterated to Jacob in Gen. 27:29 and Gen. 28:13-14. But of course, when these promises were made to Abram and Jacob, no nation of Israel yet existed. But upon its exodus from slavery in Egypt, the nation of Israel was birthed into existence, and God finally revealed His full intention for the nation. “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Exo. 19:5-6.
This meant that of all the nations, Israel was singled out for special blessings if it obeyed God, and special curses if it disobeyed. See, Deut. 28:1-68. In a very real sense, Israel’s history is just one big example of to whom much is given, much shall be required. Cf., Luk. 12:48; 1Co. 10:11.
We need not recount here all the various struggles of Israel as a nation with idolatry and other sins. Suffice it say that the destruction of the nation in the event of its disobedience (and what we generally refer to as the diaspora) was foretold long in advance. “And the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other. … And among these nations you shall find no respite, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot.” Deut. 28:64-65.
So too was the eventual restoration of Israel as a nation foretold right from the very beginning. “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, … then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. … And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. Deut 30:1-5.
Notwithstanding the glowing terms in which the restoration of Israel is described in scripture, the transition from Israel’s current status of being scattered among the nations to the ultimate goal of ushering in the Messianic Era (a/k/a the Millennium) will not be an easy one. The scripture also indicates in several places that the transition will be costly in human lives and be a great distress or travail for the survivors. Commonly this period of time is referred to as Jacob’s trouble (referring to Jer. 30:7 in the KJV) because it speaks of a time of unusual distress in the future history of Israel.
One of the things that makes Israel first among the nations of the world is it has long been foretold that one day “all Israel will be saved.” Rom. 11:26. Such a prophecy has never been uttered with respect to any other nation.
Jer. 31:31-34 – “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt …. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.”
This text is quoted in Heb. 8:8-12. Many commentators take Hebrews to mean that the Jeremiah text was fulfilled by the covenant in Christ. But this is not what the Hebrews text says. Hebrews cites Jeremiah solely for the proposition that the Mosaic covenant had faults, and needed to be replaced. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” Heb. 8:7. Hebrews does not say that Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled, and how could it? I must conclude that Jeremiah’s prophecy has not been fulfilled.
Besides, what evidence can anyone produce to show that “they shall all know Me” is a present reality? Knowing what we know about Israel and the Church, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, etc., can anyone really say that either Christians or Jews, as a group, have an intimate knowledge of the law of God within them? That all people are right now so familiar with God that no one needs to be taught about Him? Are theologians looking at a world other than the one I’m looking at?
Similarly, in Jer. 32:36-41, after promising to regather the Jews, after which Jehovah will be their God, and they will be His people, God says, “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” Has any of that happened yet? Really? Where is the evidence?
Or what about Ezek. 34:25-28?
“I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. … And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid.”
Tell me please, exactly when this scripture was fulfilled. I’m sure the Jews are just dying to find out that they have no security concerns whatsoever concerning other nations from here on out. Of course Ezekiel has not been fulfilled! It is still in the future. So what do we take from this? The scripture plainly indicates there is yet to be another divine covenant which will do things the prior divine covenants have not done, namely, to provide for the spiritual rebirth of the nation of Israel. Not the nations of the world, but only Israel as first among the nations.
Isa. 66:7-9 – “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the Lord; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God.
Recall from our earlier discussion that Jesus said wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famine, were all “but the beginning of the birth pains.” Mat. 24:8. Up to this point, we have not really considered what it is that will be birthed. This is perhaps best explained in Rev. 12:5, a text we will consider in more detail later, which is a symbolic picture of the nation of Israel giving birth to Jesus, who will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Given the context of events yet future, it is an obvious reference to the Second Coming, not the First Advent. Yet, Jesus will not again undergo a human birthing process as a baby.
Rather, I take Rev. 12:5 to mean that Israel will give birth to the Millennial kingdom of Christ – a physical kingdom which will start with the core constituency of a spiritually reborn nation of Israel. Isa. 66 then, is a description of the rebirth of Israel, namely, that a nation of believers (all Israel which remains after the Tribulation) will be born in a single day. The Second Coming will be so evident, so obvious, that none can deny it, and all surviving Jews will recognize and accept Jesus as their Messiah in an instant. Thus will Isa. 66:7-9, Rev. 12:5 and Rom. 11:26 all be fulfilled together.
Notwithstanding the glowing terms in which the rebirth of Israel is described in scripture, the transition from Israel’s current status of being scattered among the nations to the ultimate goal of ushering in the Messianic Era (a/k/a the Millennium) will not be an easy one. The scripture also indicates in several places that the transition will be costly in human lives and be a great distress or travail for the survivors. Commonly this period of time is referred to as Jacob’s trouble (referring to Jer. 30:7 in the KJV) because it speaks of a time of unusual distress in the future history of Israel just prior to its rebirth.
The Time of Jacob’s Trouble
Jer. 30 (excerpt) – For behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the Lord, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it. … Thus says the Lord: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace. … Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it. … I will make a full end of all the nations among whom I scattered you, but of you I will not make a full end. I will discipline you in just measure, and I will by no means leave you unpunished. … I have dealt you the blow of an enemy, the punishment of a merciless foe, because your guilt is great, because your sins are flagrant. … The fierce anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intentions of his mind. In the latter days you will understand this.
Jer. 31 (excerpt) – Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” … For thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’” I have heard Ephraim grieving, “You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the Lord my God.”
Zech. 12:2, 7-8 – “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. … And the Lord will give salvation to the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may not surpass that of Judah. On that day the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem… .”
Zech 13:7-9 – “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; I will turn my hand against the little ones. In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”
Zech 14:2-3 – For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle.
Mat. 24:15-21 – “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.”
Rev. 12:13-17 – And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
The context of all of these scriptures quoted above makes clear that each of them refers to the great day of the Lord (the Second Coming) and the days immediately preceding it, but with special reference to what Israel will go through as a nation in that time, that is, Jacob’s trouble.
Jer. 30 establishes the foundational concepts: God will make a full end, or complete destruction of the nations gathered for battle against Jerusalem. God will not utterly destroy Israel, however. For them, God will execute punishment in just measure, implying that a remnant will be spared. This punishment will be inflicted because of Israel’s great guilt and flagrant sins. Jer. 31 makes explicit what the prior chapter only implies: that there will be a remnant of the nation of Israel, and that they will find grace and rest in the wilderness. This wilderness is likely to be an area south or southeast of modern Israel. Whether it will be in modern Jordan or Saudi Arabia is impossible to say.
Zech 12 elaborates further that Jerusalem will be besieged, but God will give protection to the house of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem (which is on the northern border of historical Judah). Zech. 13 indicates that the remnant of Israel will be a third of the people and the rest will perish. Those who survive will be tested by fire. These are the Jews who will survive the Tribulation, enter into the Millennial kingdom, and then become believers in Christ. Zech 14 indicates that half of the residents of Jerusalem will be forced into exile – presumably in the wilderness referred to in Jer. 31. The other half will enjoy God’s protection in the city as per Zech 12.
Mat. 24 pinpoints the timing of the Jewish exile for us, marking the abomination of desolation as both the beginning of the exile and the beginning of the Tribulation. This text also dispels the notion that the group of exiles will consist of the 144,000 of Israel. As we will see later on, the 144,000 consist 100% of virgin males, whereas the group described in Mat. 24 includes pregnant women and nursing mothers. So, the exiles and the 144,000 are two completely separate groups of people.
For this reason also we may conclude that the Jews in exile will be non-believers in Christ. That is, the exile occurs during the Tribulation, but will not consist of the 144,000 people who will be the only Jews to become believers during that time. The rest of the Jews will not become believers until after the Second Coming. Consequently, the Jews in exile will be non-believers.
Rev. 12 describes the exile of the remnant of Israel in symbolic terms, and having them find shelter and protection in the wilderness for 3½ times (ostensibly, 3½ years). The serpent (Satan) is described as pursuing the woman (Israel) with a flood (possibly referring to an army), but the earth swallows the flood and Israel is spared. Then, Satan turns to make war with the rest of her offspring who hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Curiously, the offspring of the woman, who is undoubtedly national Israel, are described as Christians. Could the woman symbolically refer to only believing Jews? Not likely, since Israel will not acknowledge Jesus until after the Second Coming. Could the offspring of the woman refer to the 144,000 of Israel, since they will come to Christ during the Tribulation? Possibly, but scripture nowhere says that the 144,000 will seek shelter together with the remnant of Israel.
Thus, I conclude that what Rev. 12 indicates is the Antichrist will pursue the remnant of Israel until he is thwarted in that effort by God’s special protection, at which point the Antichrist will turn his attention to the Church instead. For his part, the Antichrist will know that both Jews and Christians are part of the chosen people of God, so he will ultimately pursue both with the same hatred. Although, since Israel will be as yet unsaved during the Tribulation, the Antichrist’s zeal will burn especially hot for Christians, notwithstanding the historical hatred of Israel.
I believe this explains why, in Islamist teachings, America is the Great Satan, and Israel is the Little Satan. In spite of America’s current state of spiritual decline and apostasy, to Islamists it represents Christianity, which is the greater threat to Islam and deserves the greater condemnation. These would likely be reversed, if Israel were all saved during the present age.
Notice that the flight of the remnant of Israel is described as being given two wings of the great eagle. This is a pretty direct allusion to Exo. 19:4, where God described Israel’s Exodus from Egypt as “I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself.” Given the parallels we have already seen between the Exodus plagues and the plagues of the Tribulation, this should be no surprise. For that precise reason, some see the description of the earth opening its mouth and swallowing the flood as another allusion to the Exodus account, namely, the crossing of the Red Sea.
However, in the crossing of the Red Sea the earth did not swallow the water, rather the water flooded the Egyptian army, so the allusion is less than obvious. It requires you to think of the Egyptian army as the flood and the Red Sea as the “earth” which swallowed the flood. Perhaps a better match would be Korah’s rebellion, where the earth opened up its mouth and swallowed 250 rebellious men who refused to enter the Promised land. Num. 16:32. This occurred just after the spies returned from their first look at Canaan, which is still in the general time of the Exodus.
In either event, the imagery used in Rev. 12 is suggestive of the Exodus and indicates that when the Tribulation comes, God will again use miracles and supernatural means to protect the people of Israel from their enemies in a time of great trial for the nation, just as He did at the time of the Exodus. However, given that only one-third of Israel is likely to survive the Tribulation, it is easy to see why this period of time will be called the time of Jacob’s trouble. Even as God will judge the Gentile nations, Israel will not be an innocent party in all of this. Israel has a national sin debt which must be paid, and the Tribulation is when God will collect on that debt.
The Time of the Gentiles
Luke 21: 24 – Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Rom. 11:25 – a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
Rev. 11:2 – the court outside the temple . . . is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.
We have seen how the grand plan of God for the nation of Israel is that it will enter the Tribulation unsaved and under attack. Many in Israel will be killed and Jerusalem will likely be destroyed at least in part, but a remnant of one-third of the nation will be sheltered and protected by God until the Tribulation ends. At that point, Jesus will return and all Israel (remaining at that time) will be saved and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of David. As we will see later on, the 144,000 of Israel will be the first among the nation of Israel to turn to Christ during the Tribulation itself, but the rest of the nation will not turn to Christ until He returns.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentile nations throughout the Tribulation for 42 months, the end of which logically will coincide with the fulfillment (or conclusion) of the time of the Gentiles and the time when “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” In other words, when the Tribulation ends and Jesus returns, the Jews will retake Jerusalem and the Gentiles will be booted out.
Which raises an interesting question: If the time of the Gentiles will end with the Second Coming, when will (or did) it begin?
Don’t jump to any hasty conclusions. Don’t assume the time of the Gentiles will start when the Tribulation starts. Just because the Gentiles will trample underfoot the city of Jerusalem for 42 months, does not mean that is when the time of the Gentiles begins. In fact, I suggest it began much farther back in history.
Consider the history of nations for all of human history. From the creation until the tower of Babel (a space of about 1750 years) there were no nations at all. For another 800 years roughly, all the nations were equal before God. True, God promised to make Abraham’s descendants a special nation around 1975 B.C. or so, but Israel wasn’t really birthed as a nation – in a political sense, anyway – until the Exodus from Egypt around 1450 B.C. I would also argue that Israel did not actually become a special nation chosen by God until God announced His intention in that regard in Exo. 19:5-6 (which was the time of the Exodus).
From the point of the Exodus (or if you prefer, the giving of the Mosaic law) Israel became truly special and all nations were not equal before God. That special status lasted roughly 1500 years until Jesus came and grafted in the Gentiles to be among the elect of God by His death and resurrection in 30 A.D. When the temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 A.D., it completed the process of removing the last vestiges of the special status of Israel as a nation under the Mosaic law.
The special status of Israel as a most favored nation was not completely obliterated at that point, but it was definitely kept in abeyance (or put on hold) until such time as Israel would be restored politically (a reestablishment of the throne of David), return to the land, and embrace Jesus as their Messiah in a spiritual rebirth. Thus, beginning with the Second Coming, Israel will return to a most favored nation status and become chief among the nations not only in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of the world. This status will continue until the end of history.
The intervening period between Israel’s demise under the Mosaic law and its future restoration, I suggest, is in its entirety the time of the Gentiles. In other words, the time of the Gentiles began with the crucifixion, and will end with the Second Coming. There frankly aren’t too many other choices left. If the time of the Gentiles is only 42 months, then whose time is the period in history from the cross to the Tribulation?
Oh wait, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this is the Church Age. You are aware that this phrase, Church Age, is nowhere used in the Bible, right? That it is just someone’s opinion as to how God has organized history? Although you’ve probably heard it all of your life, so you just accept it. But, let us rather see what the scripture says.
There is abundant evidence in the New Testament that the so-called Church Age is in fact the time of the Gentiles. Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus sent the twelve disciples out with this instruction: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Mat. 10:5-6. However, after the crucifixion, Jesus told the remaining eleven disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Mat. 28:19.
At His ascension, Jesus told the same group, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8. The gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek [i.e., Gentiles]. Rom 1:16. So, in a very real sense, what started out as a plan of redemption for Jews only was perfected and then expanded to all nations. And that is just a foretaste of the perfection and expansion of the theocratic laws of Israel yet to come. [See the discussion of the Seventh Divine Covenant later on.]
Although introduced (conceptually) at the cross, the transition of the plan for salvation from Israel only to all nations took some time. It was reinforced at the ascension. Word of the gospel gradually spread to the Gentiles. Acts 11:1; 15:23. Paul (a Jew) was eventually appointed a special apostle to the Gentiles. Rom. 11:13; 1Tim. 2:7. Eventually even Peter got with the program and realized the times of the Gentiles had been ushered in. Acts 10:34-35; 11:18.
But don’t take my word for it. There’s no reason to leave a matter such as this to mere implication when the scripture speaks plainly about it.
Heb. 9:1-9 [summary] – The Mosaic law had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. The tabernacle had a first section called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place. The priests go regularly into the first section, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year. “By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age).” Heb. 9:8-9.
In other words, according to Hebrews, the present age began at the crucifixion, or to be more precise, when the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, at the point when Jesus breathed His last on the cross. Mk. 15:37-38. By this event, the way into the Most Holy Place was opened literally. Symbolically, access to the presence of God was no longer limited solely to the high priest, via the Levitical priesthood, or limited to the nation of Israel. Access to the presence of God had been thrown open to all people. Thus, the crucifixion marks the end of the age of Israel as first among the nations, as it also marks the end of the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial rituals of the Mosaic law. Cf. Heb. 7:12.
According to Mat. 24:3, before Jesus was crucified, the disciples asked Him, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” But Jesus didn’t respond to the question by talking about His death or the Mosaic age. Instead, He talked about the next age to come (after His death) – the age we are now in. Jesus talked about birth pains, tribulation, the abomination of desolation, and after that, signs in the heavens. In other words, things which are still future.
He concluded His response to the initial question by saying, “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, 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 out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Mat. 24:30-31.
Hence, the answer to the question, “When will be the close of the age?” is the Second Coming. Not the beginning of the Tribulation, but the end of it. That Jesus is talking about the Second Coming and not any secret rapture event is made clear by His reference to the fact the entire world will see Him coming on clouds with power and great glory, and that is when the present age will close. [Which is also when the last trumpet sounds and Jesus gathers His saints. See, 1Cor. 15:52.]
But we already know that the Second Coming is when the times of the Gentiles will be concluded. Luk. 21:24. Ergo, the age which began with the crucifixion and will end with the Second Coming is in its entirety the time of the Gentiles. Scripture nowhere indicates there will be more than one age in the time between the crucifixion and the Second Coming.
Call it the Church Age if you want, but if you think the Church Age is going to end when the Tribulation begins, think again. When the Tribulation comes and you’re still here on planet earth, will you remain steadfast in your faith? It kind of gives a new meaning to Mat. 24:12-13, doesn’t it? “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
What comes after the time of the Gentiles, a/k/a the Church Age? Why, the age of the kingdom, of course. To Jews, it is the Messianic Era. To Christians, the Millennium.