Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
by Gerald R. Thompson
Luke 21:7-28 / Matthew 24:3-31 (“Signs of His coming”) (summary):
Phase 1– First Indications (that the time of the Second Coming is near)
v. 3-8 False Christs; wars and rumors of wars; famines and earthquakes.
Phase 2 – Persecution
v. 9-14 Worldwide persecution of Christians; false prophets; betrayal and apostasy
Phase 3 – Tribulation
v. 15-28 Abomination of desolation; great loss of life; false Christs and prophets performing great signs and wonders
Phase 4 – Second Coming
v. 29-31 Heavens shaken; sign of the Son of Man; Second Coming; gathering of saints
Matthew 24, together with other scriptures, lays out a basic sequence of events that will take place in the end times. The basic chronology is this –
- PRESENT AGE
NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH
Revelation chapters 6-18 basically describe events during the Tribulation. Rev. 19 describes Armageddon and the Second Coming. Revelation chapters 20-22 describe the Millennium, final judgment and new heaven and new earth. The sequence of Mat. 24 is the same, without the last three items, but these are variously described in other New Testament (N.T.) texts besides Revelation. No contrary sequence is anywhere suggested in the Bible.
As to Mat. 24, we seem to be well into Phase 1. All these events are occurring with increasing frequency and severity, namely, false Christs; wars and rumors of wars; famines and earthquakes.
We are likely at the beginning of Phase 2. Certainly the global persecution of Christians is on the rise, and even in the U.S. you can see signs the religious toleration climate is changing. Academia, in particular, is openly hostile to Christians. Up to this point, law and government have been semi-friendly to religious liberty, though public support for religion has decreased dramatically ever since 1963 and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the school prayer case. It is still too early to tell for sure as I write this, but I believe years from now people will look back to mid-2015 and the high court’s decision regarding same-sex marriage as the time when overt persecution of Christians in America began in earnest. Soon, I believe, Christians opposing homosexuality are likely to be purged from government service and official hostility towards Christianity will settle in.
Note the progression in Mat 24:9-14: Christians will be martyred in some cases (we’re already seeing this in the Middle East), but they will be hated “by all nations.” “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” (v. 10.) As persecution steps up, many (if not most) church members – who are Christian in name only and not true believers – will leave the faith to avoid persecution. These, and former friends and relatives of Christians, will inform public officials who the true believers are and sell them out. Eventually, it will become popular to hate Christians as the ones who want to hold society back from its accelerating slide into debauchery.
No, Mat 24:9-14 is not primarily directed to Jews rather than Christians. Why? Because the hatred of the nations will arise on account of “my name’s sake,” meaning the name of Christ. There is simply no way the nation of Israel is ever going to be identified with the name of Christ prior to the Second Coming. Yes, the nations of the world hate Israel, even its very existence, but that hatred goes back to Ishmael – it has nothing to do with Jesus.
Many false prophets will arise if for no other reason than to fill the vacuum created by people leaving Christianity who still want a form of religion, as long as it doesn’t brand them as someone to be persecuted. In other words, the former nominal Christians will look for new religions to identify with as long as they are not perceived as Christian. Meanwhile, the culture will slide into further lawlessness as the Christian influence in public policy is first minimized, then eliminated. It is a logical progression.
Finally (v. 14), “this gospel of the kingdom” will be proclaimed worldwide just prior to the arrival of the Tribulation. Not just the gospel of salvation, but the good news of the coming kingdom of Christ. Again, this is not a Jewish Gospel thing, but rather a proclamation that a new world order is coming – a message which many people will finally be ready to hear. This is the transition before the main transition which is the Tribulation. The Tribulation is the period of God’s wrath which transitions the world from the old world order (rule by the kingdoms of Satan) to the new world order (rule by the kingdom of Christ).
Phase 2 is when the world will be inundated with the knowledge that God’s wrath is coming, but something better will follow it. Not exactly standard sermon fare up to this point. However, I believe the time for the gospel of the kingdom to be preached is now upon us.
I take the difference between “false Christs” in Phase 1 and “false Christs and false prophets” in Phase 3 to be this: Phase 1 refers to people claiming to have a false key to salvation (e.g., “collective salvation” or liberation theology), or falsely claiming to be sent by God (“I am the Messiah”). In Phase 3, “false Christs and false prophets” is probably a direct reference to the Antichrist and the False Prophet of Revelation, because they are associated with great signs and wonders and the Antichrist will be viewed as a Messiah (i.e., Christ) by his followers. Religious pretenders and false views of salvation are already plentiful, but the Antichrist and his chief assistant the False Prophet have not arrived on the scene yet.
However, Preterists (postmills) generally believe the Abomination of Desolation already occurred centuries ago, and commonly interpret the other events in Phase 3 so that they have already been fulfilled. In other words, they do not take “false Christs and false prophets” to refer to a future Antichrist and False Prophet.
But to the Preterists, I say this: When Jesus spoke of the Great Tribulation in Mat. 24:21, He said it would be “such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” If the Tribulation has already occurred, please tell me when in history there was a time of unparalleled trouble that will never be equaled. Really – nothing that will ever happen in the future can possibly match the horrors of the past? The worst time in all of human history is already over? What evidence supports such a claim? What world are you living in?
Phase 4 (Second Coming) has definitely not happened yet. And that’s about the only thing all Christians agree on.
In Mat. 24:26, Jesus says, in reference to false messiahs and false prophets, “So, if they say to you, Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” I used to take wilderness and inner rooms to be general references to a variety of possible places where false religious leaders could hang out. More recently I viewed wilderness in a kind of John the Baptist sense (i.e., “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”), that is, as a possible reference to Judea.
But now I am convinced that in prophecy, wilderness (or desert) is most usually a reference to the Arabian peninsula specifically. Further, an inner prayer room is a standard architectural feature of Islamic structures. When you put these two things together, they have relevance when we begin to look at the Antichrist later.
All time periods given in connection with end times prophecy are as yet somewhat of a mystery, because they are in many cases ambiguous, and because I believe few, if any, refer to past events. Biblical prophecies refer to 70 weeks, 3½ times, 1260 days, 1290 days, 1335 days, 2300 days, and 42 months. All of these time periods require some careful examination.
Common sense dictates that the closer we get to the events prophesied, the clearer we will be able to see what the prophecies all mean. Events have sufficiently progressed so that we can now speak with some confidence as to the nature of the beast kingdom and where the Antichrist is likely to come from. But prophetic time periods and exact sequences are still very difficult to pin down.
Part of the problem is a result of the difficulty inherent in reconciling the time periods scripture provides with each other with any degree of exactness. For example, Rev. 12 twice refers to Israel being nourished in the wilderness, once as a period of 1,260 days (v. 6), and once as a period of 3½ times (v.14). Ostensibly, these two verses are part of a single narrative describing a single event.
A quick fix solution used by most commentators is to treat the time periods in scripture as rounded off, or approximate. For example, you often see people treating 1260 days, 42 months, and 3½ times (i.e., 3½ years) as all being equivalent. Thus, you will see statements to the effect that “a prophetic year has 360 days,” or that “a prophetic month has 30 days,” etc. Of course, the Bible never once actually says either of these. It is an assumption people make because it is convenient and it avoids having to do the difficult work of reconciling time periods. To me, this assumes God is either incapable of being exact, or that He actually wants to confuse us, both of which assumptions I reject. However, I do accept the assumption that God keeps some things hidden until He is ready to reveal them, which is what controls the understanding of time periods for now.
For comparison, 42 months on the Hebrew calendar is about 1240 days ± 1 day. Thus, 42 months on the Hebrew calendar is always less than 1260 days (a month always being either 29 or 30 days long). A normal Jewish year is 353, 354 or 355 days long, and a leap year (13 month year) is usually 383, 384 or 385 days long.
Since there are some years in the Hebrew calendar with 13 months, 3½ years is not always easy to determine, but is always longer than 42 months. And whether a half year falls at the end of the sixth month, or in the middle of the seventh month, depends on whether that particular year has 12 or 13 months in it. So there is no real way to correlate 3½ years, 42 months, and 1260 days with each other in the Hebrew Calendar.
On the other hand, 42 months on the Gregorian (modern Western) calendar always equals 3½ years and is 1278 days ± 2 days. That is, anywhere from 1276-1280 days, depending on what date you start on and whether a leap year day is included or not. Which means that under that calendar, 1,260 days is always shorter than both 42 months and 3½ years. So, how do we correlate 42 months with 1,260 days and/or 3½ years?
Similarly, many people understand Daniel’s 70th week as referring to a period of seven years, so if the sacrifices are stopped in the middle, that would be a stoppage of 3½ years. But Dan. 12:11 says sacrifices will be stopped for at least 1,290 days, which is always longer than 3½ years under both the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. How are these to be reconciled? One way to reconcile them is to abandon the seven-year theory, which I will explain later.
Another problem is that the scripture text is actually uncertain in one instance – the several references to 3½ times. I do not believe the scripture is inherently ambiguous when it says days, weeks, months, or years. I take these all literally. But for most commentators, 3½ times is accepted as 3½ years, when the word for year is never actually used in that phrase. The actual Hebrew phrase is “time, times and a time divided”, and the Greek phrase is “time, times, and half a time”. In other words, 1 + 2 + ½ = 3½. Times is not the normal Hebrew or Greek word for year, which leaves me to conclude its meaning is uncertain.
Given the general precision with which God defines time periods – and given that He certainly knows what a year is – God could have used the word for year in the scripture text, but chose not to. Why? Could it be that this is a reference to a solar-based year, rather than a lunar cycle based year (such as the Hebrew calendar)? In other words, that He knew what man would do to the calendar, and in this one instance, chose to accommodate it? Or is there really such a thing as a “prophetic year”? I have my doubts, but interpreting “times” can be a challenge. For whatever the reason, God seems to be intentionally keeping the meaning hidden for now.[Postscript: After I wrote the above, I came across Dan. 4, verses 16, 23, 25 and 32, all of which contain the phrase “seven periods of time.” Dan. 4 is the chapter where Nebuchadnezzar has a dream which is subsequently fulfilled by him being made like a beast of the field for seven periods of time, after which his sanity is restored. I think it is safe to say biblical commentators who take this account as literal universally hold that Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment lasted seven years. In other words, in that context, time = year.
This text is interesting for another reason – it is contained within the part of the book of Daniel that is not written in Hebrew, but Aramaic. Thus, the word time is an Aramaic word, iddan. This may actually be a clue as to its meaning, i.e., the time reference may be something outside of the Hebrew calendar, such as a solar year. Thus, a time measurement that would be understood to the Babylonians but not necessarily correlate to Hebrew time measurement.
This Aramaic word, iddan, is the exact same word used in Dan. 7:25 – “He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” So, based on this usage, I think the most probable meaning of 3½ times is 3½ years – but not necessarily Hebrew calendar years.]
What Calendar Does God Use?
The reality is that man did not invent the calendar – God did. God defined a day as one complete cycle of evening and morning, i.e., from sunset to sunset. Gen. 1:5. God defined a week as seven days – six days of work followed by one day of rest. Gen. 1:31 – 2:3. God defined a month as one complete lunar cycle, that is, from one new moon to the next – always 29 or 30 days. Isaiah 66:23.
The Hebrew year has a whole number of months, either 12 or 13, depending on a specific rotation over a period of 19 years (235 months). The 13th month is an intercalary month (i.e., an additional month in only some years). Historically, the Jews have recognized two annual calendars. There is a religious year which begins on Nisan 1 (usually falling in March), and there is a civil year beginning on Tishrei 1, which usually falls in September.
Over time, mankind has gradually changed all of these basic definitions to suit our purposes. Instead of starting each day at sunset, we define it as beginning at midnight. God defined a week as having seven days with one day of rest (the Sabbath), from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset counting as the last day of the week. We define a week with two days of rest (a weekend), and what most Christians call the Sabbath is actually the first day of the week (Sunday), not the last.
Western civilization has completely divorced the concept of a month from the lunar cycle of new moons by introducing 28 day and 31 day months. And we base the year not on lunar cycles, but on solar cycles, having completely disposed of the concept of an intercalary month. Additionally, New Year’s day was changed to January 1from dates roughly correlating with the Hebrew calendar (usually September 1, but also sometimes March 1) as used by ancient calendars.
Thus, September, October, November and December are named as the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th months (check your Latin – sept = seven, oct = eight, etc.), but that only makes sense if New Year’s Day is/was March 1. However, those months are the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th months in the current western calendar. The Gregorian calendar that we now use, which incorporates all of these changes, was first introduced in Europe in 1582 and only became effective in Britain and America in 1752.
I point out these things not to give a complete history of the modern calendar, which history is actually far more complicated than I have indicated here, but merely to note that since God gave the Hebrews His calendar, mankind has redefined the calendar in almost every imaginable way. But just because mankind has done this, does not mean it is binding on God, or that the actions of mere men have changed the way God keeps time. Biblical prophecies of months and years cannot be read as conforming to a calendar which did not exist when they were first given.
Take, for example, Ex. 12:40-41: “The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.” Now, when God inspired the writing of Exodus, did He mean a 365¼ day solar year as Europeans defined it in 1582, or did He mean a lunar-based year as defined in the Pentateuch, so that the very same day meant the same day of the same lunar month on the Hebrew calendar? Obviously, I think, the statement had to make sense according to the calendar that existed when the statement was made.
It kind of gives a new meaning to Job 10:5, does it not? (“Are your days as the days of man, or your years as a man’s years?”) In other words, does God measure time the way men measure time? Or consider Rev. 9:15: “So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, were released to kill a third of mankind.” On whose calendar? The calendar John used when he received the revelation, the calendar in existence when the killing finally occurs, or on a heavenly calendar separate from these?
The question is, if God is so exact and precise when describing past events, would He abandon that method for a generalized and imprecise measurement of time for future events? Why would God do that? Will God forget exactly how long 42 lunar cycle months is, or be unable to project how long that is in days in the future? Since a lunar month always has either 29 or 30 days, will God forget that 42 lunar months will always be a few days short of 1260 days? Or will God abandon His calendar definitions and adopt the non-lunar-based definition of a month so as to conform to man’s definition in the 18th century? Which option is more likely?
In spite of these difficulties in interpretation, God knows how to tell time. God gave these prophetic time periods to us for a reason, and I don’t think it was to obscure things (he could have just left the time references out), so they must have the ability to convey some useful information. I tend to put more reliance on the numbers of days as being accurate, and the longer the time period, the more flexibility I see being indicated. So I will consistently take the number of prophetic days and weeks as literal. But I could be wrong. You know the problems involved – work it out and let me know!