Why Do We Keep Watching?

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For a moment, I actually thought the rapture was occurring. I heard a trumpet blaring and for a brief moment I felt as though something was pulling me upward.

This happened when I was in college, over 40 year ago, during a time when I had been reading extensively about the rapture. Late one warm afternoon, I fell asleep at my desk in my dorm room. Suddenly, the sound of a loud trumpet fanfare awoke me from a deep sleep and I thought “this is it; the Lord is returning!” After a few seconds, I realized it was the sound of a trumpet warming up for a nearby band rehearsal.

I tell this humorous experience to stress that I have been watching for the Lord’s return for a long time, although not always that intently. After so many decades I do sometimes wonder, “Why do I keep watching? Why do any of us keep looking for Jesus to come and take us home?

It’s the Signs

Unlike when I was in college, today we see signs of biblical prophecies escalating all around us. The countries of Iran, Russian, and Turkey all have troops in Syria just as Ezekiel 38-39 predicts about an alliance of these same nations in the last days. Just in the past few weeks the world learned the following:

  • Iran is building a military base just eight miles north of Damascus that will soon have missiles capable of striking anywhere in Israel
  • North Korea has shipped components for chemical weapons to Syria along with building materials for a facility to build these weapons
  • Russia said it would regard any nuclear attack on one of its allies as an attack on Russia (Could they be thinking that Israel might consider using such weapons against the Iranian base?)
  • Putin, the president of Russia, recently boasted of new nuclear capabilities on rockets that will travel several times the speed of sound rendering our defenses useless.
  • Russian has stationed super stealth jets in Syria, perhaps as an added deterrent to Israel attacking the Iranian base
  • A top military leader in Israel stated that a major war between Israel and Iran is likely in 2018.

What do all these things mean? When (not if) Israel attacks this Iranian base, the likelihood of it leading to major conflict appears almost certain.

Could this be the Gog-Magog War of Ezekiel 38-39? We cannot know for certain. Even if it is a lessor conflict than the one the prophet predicted long ago, will it not almost certainly lead to the bigger war of Ezekiel 38-39 as Iran regathers its strength to invade Israel?

Add this to the mix the recent Iranian Parliament request for a timetable of one or two years for pulling its troops out of Syria. Is it possible that Iran, along with Russia and Turkey will strike before then? I believe if Iran’s Parliament enacts such a deadline, it’s likely this coalition will attack before that time.

And now Turkey is talking about a huge Arab coalition attacking Israel with a massive army. The drumbeats of the Gog-Magog war are getting louder.

What Do These Signs Have to Do with the Rapture?

At this point, you may be wondering what these signs have to do with the rapture. Why does the nearness of the Gog-Magog War point to the Lord’s return for His church?

Such a war would signify that the tribulation period is extremely close. Some commentators believe this war happens just before the Great Tribulation while some hold that it might happen right at its beginning. Either way, the nearness of this war points to the closeness of the seven-year time of God’s wrath upon the earth.

If the tribulation is rapidly approaching, and many signs point to it, then the rapture must be even closer since it is prophesied to happen just before the start of the Great Tribulation.

The growing turmoil in Syria and Iran’s constant threats against Israel are just two of numerous signs that we are living in the days of human history as we know it. If there was ever a time in history when the rapture could happen at any moment, this is it!!

The Early Church Watched As Well

Long, long before my experience in college at John Brown University, the earliest followers of Jesus also watched intently for His appearing to take them home. We see it all through the New Testament as turning to Christ meant waiting eagerly for Him to come (1 Thess. 1:9-10; Phil. 3:20-21; Titus 2:11-13).

The Didache, which means “teaching” in the Greek, is a brief document from the early years of the church that provides valuable insight into the anticipation of early believers for the return of Jesus. This document summed up the teaching of the apostles at a time when copies of the New Testament were not available or scarce at best. It provides a summary of what the apostles taught.

Chapter 16 of The Didache says this, “Watch for your life’s sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord will come.”  These words indicate an immanency regarding the Lord’s appearing, such as would be the case for someone expecting Jesus’ return to occur at any moment. The early saints regarded Jesus’ command in Matthew 24:44 to mean they must watch for His appearing. They had the same expectancy as the New Testament saints.

I admit that after all these years it’s at times difficult to keep up a sense of watchfulness.

However, I then consider the signs and I also wonder about Israel’s upcoming seventieth anniversary, the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, and the new peace plan that is coming out soon from the United States.

As I hear about all these things added on to the events in Syria, my sense of eager watchfulness returns. It’s possible Jesus will return for us quite soon!

 

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem

 

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Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

 

On December 6, 2017 President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on behalf of the United States. In addition, he announced his intention to move our nation’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This all has huge prophetic significance.

We ARE living in the days leading up to the tribulation and thus to Jesus’ return for His church before the start of that time. So many things point to this. If there ever was a time to watch for our redemption (see Luke 21:28), it is now.

Since Jerusalem is so much in the news now, let me begin to explain why this is so based on a prophecy regarding this city.

The Prophecy

In Zechariah 12:2-3 the Lord said this, “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. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it.”

Through the prophet Zechariah, God prophesied some rather specific events that would occur in the last days. Here is a breakdown of what he predicted:

1. The nations of the world would become obsessed with Jerusalem. Do we see this today? Absolutely! Almost every world leader had something to say about the President’s recognition of Jerusalem; most condemned it. Turkey stated its intention to sever relations with Israel because of this (another prophetic sign of the end times to be discussed later.) Russia, Iran, and Turkey gathered their forces in Syria in order to support that nation and fight terrorism. Now, however, their focus is Jerusalem.

In anticipation of President Trump’s announcement, the UN general assembly voted overwhelmingly to dissociate Jerusalem from Israel. Jerusalem is the object of the world’s attention as no other city. Only a handful of nations recognize Jerusalem as belonging to Israel. The nations are indeed “staggering” as drunk people over Jerusalem just as Zechariah said they would do.

2. The nations will desire to move Jerusalem’s boundaries. When the Lord says he will made the city “a heavy stone for all the peoples,” He is referring to the intentions of the nations to move the boundaries of Jerusalem. In ancient times, people marked boundaries with large stones. Every peace plan put forward in the past several decades divides Jerusalem; they all move the boundaries of the city exactly as Zechariah said would happen in the last days.

Every peace plan put forward in the past several decades divides Jerusalem; they all move the boundaries of the city exactly as Zechariah said would happen in the last days.

3.  God will judge the nations who seek to divide Jerusalem. This Scripture further prophesies that the nations who seek to move the city’s boundary stones will be “severely hurt.” The King James Version says they will “be cut in pieces,” which gets to the heart of what God says He will do.

The United States has put forward several peace initiatives in the past several decades that all divide Jerusalem. Today, as a nation we are more divided both racially and politically than at any time in recent history. I have never seen such hostility between various groups in our nation; most everyone has felt this in some way or another.

Could the sharp divisions all around us be the fulfillment of what the prophet meant by “cut in pieces?” I believe it could very well be a part of it. It will be worse, however, should such a plan actually divide Jerusalem.

4. The Nations of the world will gather against Jerusalem. I believe this part of the prophecy refers to the battle of Armageddon at the end of the tribulation. With the intense focus of the world upon Jerusalem, it’s quite easy to envision this happening in the future. The nations of the world will eagerly join with the antichrist in seeking to destroy Israel and its capital, Jerusalem.

Why Jerusalem?

On the surface, all the fuss about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel seems absurd at best. David captured the city three thousand years ago and the Hebrews built the first two Jewish temples in Jerusalem. Archeology has confirmed Israel’s historic ties to Jerusalem again and again. The Old Testament Scriptures refer to the city over eight hundred times (including the mentions of Zion, a hill in the city). The Koran contains zero references to Jerusalem.

Why are Muslims rioting in response to President Trump’s announcement regarding Jerusalem? Why are so many nations in an uproar over it? What is the big deal about a country choosing its own capital? Every other nation on the earth has such a right.

Is it not because Jerusalem belongs to Israel? The rampant anti-Semitism that increases worldwide each week feeds into this frenzy. It’s also the place God chose for His dwelling place. Psalm 87:1-2 boldly proclaims, “On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.” No other city on earth is as dear to the heart of the Lord as Jerusalem. All of Psalms 87 proclaims the Lord’s great love for Jerusalem.

Second Chronicles 6:6 says, “But I have chosen Jerusalem that my name may be there . . . .” This is not only the city that the Lord loves, but the one He had chosen. Is it any wonder that the devil wants to take it away from His people?

The Jewish people, however, believe President Trump’s declaration is a sign that the building of the third temple is near. That is the opinion of Yehuda Glick, a prominent politian in Israel and member of the Temple Mount movement. He said, “The prophets’ words of prophecy are coming forth from the Bible and becoming facts right before our eyes.” He further compared President Trump to King Cyrus stating that his recognition of Jerusalem prepared the way for the third temple.

In my next article, we will examine why we believe there must be a third temple by the midpoint of the tribulation and how this also points to the nearing tribulation.

We cannot know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return for us. We can, however, recognize the signs of the time and realize this is the season; we are living in the last days of human history.

 

 

Paris Peace Conference Update

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A couple weeks back, I wrote about the fulfillment of prophecy before our eyes as it related to UN resolution 2334 and the expected January 15, 2017 peace conference in Paris. The world seemed intent on finally establishing a Palestinian state at the expense of Israel’s security.

Last Sunday, January 15, I watched for news on the Paris Peace conference. I expected a big splash announcing the outcome, but saw only scant references to it. At first, I thought the leaders of the nations were purposely downplaying the result of the conference only to surprise the world with a stunning resolution at the UN Security Council Meeting on January 17.

However, such was not the case.

The Peace Conference Flopped

Once the Paris peace conference started, there was much disunity, particularly from Britain and some of the Balkan countries who objected to the harsh language of the proposed statement.  In short, the conference flopped.

The conference’s final statement did not go beyond anything that was already stated in the December 23, 2016 resolution of the UN Security Council.  The final statement added nothing new to the discussion. The heralded meeting of nations failed to live up to all expectations. Discord rather than unity prevailed at the forum of nations.

According to Amir Tsarfati, the European Union could not even agree to support the weakened statement that did come out of the conference as Britain and some of the Balkan countries refused to vote for it.

What Happened?

God’s people prayed.

Between the December 23 UN resolution and the Paris meeting of nations, calls went out for believers to pray. Many Christian leaders sent out urgent appeals for prayer regarding the conference and the future of Israel.

James 5:15 states that ”the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” As Christians prayed, God thwarted the intentions of nations in Paris. Instead of recognizing Palestine as a nation and giving them old Jerusalem as well as Judea and Samaria, they failed to agree on anything substantial.

However, some might ask, “Weren’t you praying against what Scripture says will happen? Prophecy seems clear that the nations will divide Israel and that Jerusalem will be the focus of the nations at the end of the age.”

Indeed, as I mentioned in my previous post, the prophet Zechariah clearly spoke of a time when the world would be obsessed with Jerusalem (12:1-3). We clearly see this in all that has happened. In spite of all the atrocities happening in nearby Syria and the battle for Mosul, the nations are almost exclusively focused on Israel.

Yes, I agree that as Joel 3:2 indicates, the nations of the world will eventually succeed in dividing up Israel and will someday come against it in force to demand that Israel comply with their demands.

However, before this happens, the Bible says that something is also currently at work in the world holding back the evil planned against Jerusalem.

The Restrainer

Amir Tsarfati,* in his prophecy update after the Paris conference, pointed to the work of the Holy Spirit as the restraining force at work in France as a result of the prayers of believers all around the world.

I believe that 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 speaks of the restraining intervention of the Spirit during the last days. Paul recognized that “the mystery of lawlessness” was “already at work” (v. 7). The apostle went on to say that “he who now restrains it [the mystery of lawlessness] will do so until he is out of the way.”

Paul recognized, as did the apostle John (1 John 4:1-3), that the spirit of the antichrist was already at work even as he wrote. However, the person of the antichrist will not be revealed until the restrainer, the Holy Spirit, is taken out of the way (2 Thess. 4:7-8).

The Holy Spirit, residing in the members of the body of Christ, the church, is effectively thwarting the full measure of the “mystery of lawlessness” until the time is right for the unveiling of the antichrist and his treacherous plans for the world. I believe that when Jesus comes for His church, the restraint holding back the full designs of Satan will be lifted.

In the past several weeks, I believe we have seen this in operation. The “mystery of lawlessness” was at work in the passing of UN Resolution 2334 removing Israel’s legal right to east Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. However, God spread discord at the meeting of nations in Paris preventing further action, at least for the foreseeable future.

What will happen between now and when Jesus comes for us? I am not sure. We definitely see the rise of wickedness and violence in the world. Sometimes it seems as though the restraint of wickedness has already been lifted to some degree. It’s possible we may see further action taken against Israel before the rapture.

Pray and Wait

While we cannot know what might happen next or when Jesus will suddenly appear, in the meantime we wait for His return with much prayer.

We know God has a sovereign plan and prophecy will be fulfilled exactly as stated in His Word. We also know that prayer changes the outcomes of what happens around us. James said that our prayers matter, they “avail much.”

I believe Jesus is coming soon. In the meantime, we pray knowing that our prayers along with the restraining work of the Holy Spirit will make a difference.  When this restraining influence is out of the way, the world will, as Jesus said experience “great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never shall be” (Matt. 24:21).

Prayer changes things. From our vantage point, it can change the course of history. From God’s perspective, He enjoys working through the prayers of His people to bring about His sovereign and preplanned purposes.

I believe this is what we are seeing today.

Jesus will return for us at precisely the right time. In the meantime, let’s keep praying, waiting, and watching, of course.

 

*Note: Amir Tsarfati is a former office in the Israeli army who speaks around the world on the subject of prophecy

Prophecy Comes Alive Before our Eyes

 

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Jerusalem as seen from the Mount of Olives

 

When writers like myself talk about the nearness of the Lord’s return, I’m sure for some it brings up an image of a scruffy old man draped with a sandwich sign with the words “The End is Near!” printed in bold letters on both sides.

After two thousand years of waiting, I know many dear believers have difficulty wrapping their minds around the nearness of the Lord’s return, and understandably so.

Could Jesus really come for His church in our lifetime? Could the tribulation actually start in the coming years? Why do some believe that the end of human history is at hand?

Prophecy. With so many events aligning so closely with what Scripture predicts about the last days, it’s difficult for me to imagine that we are not getting to close to the time of the tribulation and hence to Jesus’ return for His church.

So while we do not limit God’s patience or foolishly set dates, I believe Jesus would have us be wise in discerning the signs of the times in which we live. The Lord chided the Pharisees and Sadducees for not recognizing the signs of His first appearing (Matt. 16:3). Would He not also expect us to recognize the signs of the tribulation or of His return?

So while we do not limit God’s patience or foolishly set dates, I believe Jesus would have us be wise in discerning the signs of the times in which we live.

For example . . . in just the past couple weeks the dispute over old Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria has reached a fever pitch with highly significant prophetic implications that leap out at us from the pages of Scripture.

The Prophecies Regarding Jerusalem

The prophet Zechariah, writing 2,600 years ago, said this regarding the behavior of the world toward Jerusalem in the last days:

“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.  On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it” (12:2-3).

Zechariah long ago prophesied a future worldwide preoccupation of the nations with Jerusalem to the extent that the leaders of the world would literally become intoxicated with it and eventually injure themselves coming against it. The “heavy stone” signifies a boundary stone thus indicating a fixation on the boundaries of Jerusalem.

Does this not describe what is happening today? Isn’t it bizarre that with all the terrorism and violence taking place in the Middle East, the atrocities in Aleppo, the world remains almost solely focused on Jerusalem? One agency estimates that 90,000 Christians were martyred for their faith in 2016 and yet Jerusalem consumes all the attention of the nations, just as the prophets said would happen in the last days.

The prophet Joel, who likely wrote before the time of Zechariah, said this about Jerusalem and Judah:

“For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land“ (3:1-2).

The first part of this prophecy has come true; the Lord has restored “the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem.”

The next event in this passage is the gathering of nations to fight against Israel with the Lord’s subsequent judgment on them. But notice the reason for His anger with the nations: it is because they have divided up His land, which is precisely what we see happening before our eyes today.

This undue preoccupation with Jerusalem and its boundaries is really no surprise. The ancient prophets said this would happen ahead of Jesus’ Second Coming.

These prophecies from Zechariah and Joel long ago predicted what is currently taking place at the UN. This undue preoccupation with Jerusalem and its boundaries is really no surprise. The ancient prophets said this would happen ahead of Jesus’ Second Coming.

UN Resolution 2334

On Friday, December 23, 2016 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334, which essentially divides up the land by making all Jewish settlements in old Judea and Samaria illegal. It gives all this land to the Palestinians. Land, by the way, that never belonged to the Palestinians in the past. Israel took that land from Jordan in the 1967 war and now has a peace treaty with that nation.

The resolution also gives the Palestinians control of all of east Jerusalem; something Israel will never accept. It’s now illegal, according to the UN, for Jews to go to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

As a follow up to this resolution, seventy nations will gather in Paris, France on January 15, 2017 with the stated goal “to promote a “two-state solution” as the way that lasting peace will be brought to the Middle East.”[i] Many believe the objective of the conference will be to draw up a UN resolution to this effect that will be presented to the UN Security Council before January 20, when Donald Trump becomes the president.

It’s the prophecies of Zechariah and Joel coming to life before our eyes.  Christian author and speaker David Hunt said this several years ago regarding the Zechariah 12:3-4 passage:

“Consider how remarkable even this one prophecy is. Who could have imagined when the Old Testament was written that all the nations of the world would be involved in deciding the fate of Israel? And this involvement of all nations in dividing Israel has occurred exactly as prophesied and is still in the process of being implemented.”

This fascination of the world is even greater now than when David Hunt wrote these words.

Author Michael Snyder wrote this regarding the tension building in Israel regarding what might happen in the January 17 meeting in Paris, “In Israel, there is a tremendous amount of concern that whatever is agreed upon at this conference will immediately be used as the basis for a UN Security Council resolution that would permanently divide the land of Israel and create a Palestinian state. “[ii]

What’s the Significance?

Why is the current activity regarding Jerusalem and Israel such a big deal?

It may very well be another issue that brings the nations of the world to Israel’s doorstep at the end of the tribulation. However, it’s rather easy to see how the current UN resolution as well as the result of the upcoming meeting in Paris on January 15th could become the impetus for military action against Jerusalem such as prophesied to take place just before the Lord’s return to earth.

Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly stated that Israel will never give up the old sector of Jerusalem. He clearly stated in his response to Resolution 2334 that Israel will not agree to its terms. If the world further seeks to impose a two-state solution upon Israel, it will be met with the same resistance.

Can you see why so many students of prophecy believe we are in the last days? We are already seeing events shape up in the world that could easily set the stage for the great battle at the end of the tribulation, which I believe is at least seven years away.

I pray that President Obama does not allow passage of any UN resolution forcing a two-state solution upon Israel. I very much believe this will lead to disastrous consequences for the United States as well as set the stage for the Great Tribulation. It will lead to greater violence, not peace, and possibly ignite a series of events leading up to the battle of Armageddon.

I also recognize that the refusal of the United States to block such action against Israel may be a part of the fulfillment of end time prophecies. Perhaps we might even expect it even though our hearts react strongly against such action by the UN.

If the UN votes to officially take land from Israel and give it to a newly formed Palestinian State, will it not be yet another bright flashing sign pointing to the nearness of the Lord’ return?

Is this not exactly what the prophets Zechariah and Joel said would happen in the last days?

I believe such a vote would signal the approaching of the tribulation and even sooner appearing of Jesus for His church.

Even if not, it certainly represents prophecy coming alive before our very eyes.

Maranatha!!

[i] Michael Snyder, Circle January 15th: 70 Nations Will Gather In Paris to Discuss the Creation of a Palestinian State, Online article from the Website, The Economic Collapse.

[ii] Ibid.