Many people make the mistake of failing to identify Israel in the apocalyptic events of Revelation. Because of this ignorance, much of the biblical perspective on the great tribulation is lost, as well as one of the most important prophetic signs of the end of the church's dispensation, namely the restoration of the people of Israel and their capital city, Jerusalem.
In connection with the return of Christ, Revelation 1:7 states that "every eye shall see Him, even they who pierced Him". This verse has the express implication that Israel will be back in their land so that they can make a decision in respect of the crucified Messiah who was rejected by their forebears during His first coming.
The status of Jerusalem is the most important single sign that the Lord Jesus gave us regarding the end of the present dispensation and the start of the tribulation period. After He had outlined the physical destruction of the city of Jerusalem in Luke 19:41-44 and 21:5-6, He mentioned the world-wide dispersion of the Jews as well as the fact that Jerusalem would, during that time, be trodden down by the non-Jewish nations:
“For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk. 21:23-24).
The word until in Luke 21:24 does not only point to the time when Jerusalem will no longer be trampled, but also to the end of the dispensation of the church when the times of the nations will be fulfilled. It is expedient for us to take note of developments in and around Jerusalem in order that we may correctly interpret the signs of the times. About the ability to discern these signs, the Lord Jesus said:
“When you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, A shower is coming; and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, There will be hot weather; and there is. Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?” (Lk. 12:54-56).
The people were able weather-prophets, and when the clouds from the Mediterranean Sea rolled inland, they could tell that the rain was imminent. When the hot winds from the desert swept over the countryside, they could predict dry and warm conditions. Why then did they lack the ability to observe the signs of the times? These signs are just as obvious as those of nature, if one would just care to read the Bible and use the prophetic word as a frame of reference to interpret and anticipate world events. However, criticism can also be levelled against our generation on similar grounds. The glaring, end-time sign of Israel and the status of their capital city, Jerusalem, are grossly ignored by most Christians. What is the significance of the Jewish sign?
Israel's independence in 1948 was granted with only the new part of Jerusalem under Jewish control. This was an important indication that the prophesied time of the end was imminent. A very significant situation developed in June 1967 when the part of Jerusalem known as the Old City (Zion and the Temple Mount, i.e. the biblical Jerusalem) as well as East Jerusalem, was captured from Jordan in the Six-day War. By then, the physical restoration of Jerusalem was complete and would be followed by its political restoration as capital city. Keep in mind that the last time Jerusalem was an independent Jewish capital, was before the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century BC, that is almost 2600 years ago! During the time of Christ the flag of the Roman Empire was flown in the city.
In August 1980, the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, declared Jerusalem to be the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel, and moved his office from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. During the two years that followed, his entire cabinet was relocated to Jerusalem as office space became available. The political restoration of the city was then complete.
The spiritual restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple must yet come about. Religiously speaking, the city is still being trampled by the Gentiles as is evidenced by the two Muslim Mosques on the Temple Mount. At present, a third one is under construction. Israel’s national spiritual restoration will only occur after the church dispensation in the tribulation period, and be consummated on the last day of the tribulation when Jesus will appear on the Mount of Olives. Then He will save the entire remnant of Israel.
As the time for Israel's spiritual recovery draws near, the devil will seize the opportunity to offer a false messiah to them. He knows that faced by a massive military attack Israel can be plunged into great anxiety, at which time they will more eagerly look out for the promised Messiah to come and save them from their enemies. A situation of this nature will arise when an allied Russo-Arab attack will suddenly encircle them on every side, descending upon them like a dark cloud (Ezek. 38 and 39). In a most dramatic and unexpected way, God will intervene and save Israel supernaturally by destroying their enemies (Ezek. 39:1-6).
At the same time a dynamic, miracle-working man of Jewish descent will suddenly appear on the scene and claim the credit for the victory. With satanic powers he will cause fire to come down from heaven and make Israel believe that he was sent by God to rescue them. His great ally, the false prophet, will assist him in his deception and perform the miracle on his behalf. Of the false prophet, John says:
“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth… And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast… He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (Rev. 13:11-13).
The Antichrist will pose as Israel’s great Saviour, and also claim that he averted a threatening third world war. He will take this opportunity to present himself as Israel's redeemer and promised Messiah. After brief consultations, the Jewish national leaders will accept him as such. The Lord Jesus referred to this tragic mistake that the Jewish leaders will make, when He said:
“I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive Me; If another comes in his own name, him you will receive” (Jn. 5:43).
Jesus explicitly warned the people against this deceiver who will come in His Name when He said: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying: I am the Christ, and will deceive many” (Mt. 24:4-5). The false messiah is the rider on the white horse who goes out in Revelation 6 conquering and to conquer. He will waste no time in consolidating his position, and will muster great public support in Israel by allowing the nation to rebuild the temple. Part of his deceptive strategy will be to encourage Israel’s long-standing antagonism against the New Testament and Jesus Christ. His followers will therefore take no notice of the New Testament warnings of Jesus about the appearing of a false messiah, and consequently will be ignorant about the spiritual dangers and deception of that time:
“Then if anyone says to you: Look, here is the Messiah! Or: There! Do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand [PJM1] . Therefore if they say to you: Look, He is in the desert! Do not go out; or: Look, He is in the inner rooms! (on TV?) do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of man be” (Mt. 24:23-27).
The false messiah will exploit Israel’s spiritual ignorance by inducing them to enter into a covenant with himself. He will claim to have rescued the nation from the Russo-Arab siege and will allow them to rebuild their temple, thereby reviving the sacrificial service in the temple.
A very important event at the commencement of the tribulation period, just after the revelation of the Antichrist, is the conversion of 144 000 Jews and their dedication to the service of the Lord. The 144 000 is the first group which forms part of the spiritual restoration of Israel:
“And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed” (Rev. 7:4).
There is nothing vague about this statement and it is completely unjustifiable to identify the 144 000 Jewish evangelists as the church, or as any other group of people outside Israel. In this chapter, no use is made of symbolic language. The twelve tribes of Israel constitute a well-known historical nation; consequently, the term Israel is not a symbol or allegorical description of the church or any non-Jewish group. Likewise, the number 144 000 is not symbolic but literal. Its components are not 3 X 4 X 12 X 1000 as is sometimes alleged (3 referring to the Triune God, 4 referring to the four corners of the earth, 12 referring to the 12 apostles, and 1000 referring symbolically to any large group of people), but its components are 12 000 X 12: it is 12 000 people from each of the 12 tribes of the children of Israel. According to Ezekiel 48, the Promised Land – which is much bigger than the present Israel – will be subdivided and allocated to the twelve tribes during the millennial reign of the Messiah.
From a dispensational point of view it is quite obvious why the 144 000 Jews will be saved and dedicated to the service of the Lord. After the Lord Jesus removed His church, which He commissioned to be the light of the world during the present dispensation, He will then utilise the spiritual potential of Israel to make His light shine in the dark night of the tribulation period. When Elijah was caught up to heaven, his mantle and prophetic ministry fell on Elisha. Likewise, after the rapture of the church, the Lord will find a substitute in Messianic Jews to be witnesses for Him during the reign of the Antichrist.
Revelation 7 ties up with an extensive series of prophecies in the Bible in which the guarantee is given that the Lord will not only restore Israel physically to their land, but that they will in the latter days also experience a spiritual revival:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel... I will take you from among the nations... Then will I sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean.... I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements, and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezek. 36:22-28).
The prophet Jeremiah says:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:31-33).
Today there are many thousands of Jews who have been exposed to the New Testament facts about the Messiahship of Jesus, but most of them are deferring a final decision because of uncertainty, or because of the threat of persecution. A decision will only be taken after the rapture has occurred and all the Messianic Jews (those who have previously accepted Jesus as their Messiah) have been taken away at the rapture as part of the church of Christ. A thorough re-evaluation of the facts relating to the Messiah will then have to be made by those left behind. According to Zechariah 12:10, the Holy Spirit will powerfully work among them and many will accept Yeshua Ha Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah).
From this revival the Lord will have 144 000 of his servants sealed early in the tribulation and appoint them to a special evangelistic ministry (Mt. 24:14). As happened with Daniel's three friends, they will be kept safely in the fire of tribulation so that they can continue to fulfil their ministry in a particularly trying time.
The salvation of the 144 000 occurs after the church dispensation, as their religious position is clearly related to their national identity – also with regard to the tribe to which they belong. That is distinctly different to the situation that prevailed during their dispersion among the nations in the church age when national identity was not relevant to the salvation of people. Galatians 3:28 says that in Christ Jesus no distinction is made between Jew and Greek. However, after the church age, God will also deal with Israel as a nation that was called by Him. The physically and constitutionally restored Israel must also be spiritually restored.
The 12 tribes of Israel mentioned in Revelation 7 have a special composition and are also listed in an uncommon order. They are Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Of the two sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, who were according to Genesis 48:5 adopted by Jacob as his own, only Manasseh is mentioned. Joseph is mentioned in the place of Ephraim. Usually, Joseph does not feature among the 12 tribes when both his sons are mentioned, e.g. in Ezekiel 48. Levi is also not usually mentioned as the Levites do not inherit tribal land like the other tribes. As priests, God is their inheritance and they must settle on the Holy Land. However, in Revelation Levi is taken up in the list in the place of the tribe of Dan.
Why has Dan been omitted from the list in Revelation, compared to the one in Ezekiel 48? The reason is that Dan is probably the tribe from which the Antichrist will emerge. In Genesis 49:17, Jacob said about this tribe: “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that its rider shall fall backward.” For the rebellion that is associated with Dan there is no place in the restored Israel.
The tribal names in Revelation, as well as the order in which they appear, have a special significance. All the names have meanings and when the meanings are put together in the order the tribes are listed in Revelation 7 a significant statement is apparent. The introductory words are in Revelation 7:4: “144 000 of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” In conjunction with the subsequent tribal names and their meanings, the sentence could read as follows: “144 000 sealed Israelites who praise and honour God (Judah); because they see the Son (Reuben) they overcame (Gad) and are happy (Asher); their struggle (Naphtali) He made them to forget (Manasseh) by hearing them (Simeon); to him who adheres to God (Levi) there is reward (Issachar) and residence (Zebulun); may the Lord add to them (Joseph) through the Son of His right hand (Benjamin).
For obvious reasons, there will be tremendous polarisation and conflict between the followers of the true Messiah and those of the false messiah. The supporters of the false messiah will be the vast majority and stand firmly with their long-expected messiah. Even when he reaches out to other nations and religions to offer himself also to them as messiah, thereby drawing Israel into an alliance of world religions, his followers will remain blind to his deception. The Antichrist will oppose the true Messianic revival with all his might, as they will brand him as a false messiah and warn their fellow Jews, as well as other people, against him. They will be regarded as a great threat to his position in Israel and also to his world empire, which he will consolidate with great success.
A most violent persecution of Messianic Jews will be instituted. Like Nebuchadnezzar of old, the Antichrist will announce extreme punishments for those who refuse to join his state religion by honouring and worshipping him as Messiah. Like the three friends of Daniel, the 144 000 will resist all pressure which is applied against them, by absolutely refusing to bow the knee to the Antichrist. Daniel’s friends reacted as follows to the orders of the mighty king of their time:
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king: O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:16-18).
The Lord will strengthen and save his faithful witnesses in the hour of great peril, as He did with Daniel’s friends and also with Daniel himself in the lions’ den after he continued to worship the true God of heaven three times a day despite royal decrees to the contrary. The persecution will nevertheless continue and its level of violence will increase.
In Revelation 14:1-5 the 144 000 are seen surrounding the Lamb on Mount Zion. After their earthly ministry they will be united with Him and occupy a special place in His kingdom. It is said of them that they never defiled themselves with women as they walked pure before the Lamb from the beginning. What does that mean? In 2 Corinthians 11:2 the church of Christ is depicted as a chaste virgin. In Revelation 17:4-5 the false, unfaithful world church is referred to as “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots…” The apostate church will amalgamate with many false religions who are therefore portrayed as ‘harlots’ and the false church as the mother of them all.
The 144 000 are a group that never had anything to do with these religious harlots, these unclean women. They were not defiled by the false religions, neither do they originate from the degenerate and false Christian church of the end-time. Consequently, they do not entertain any distorted theological views. They are therefore a new undefiled ‘virgin’ group that is redeemed from Israel by the Lord Jesus. They will faithfully follow Him and refuse any association with the false world religions. As a result of their uncompromising attitude they will also be discredited and persecuted by the alliance of world religions that gave its full support to the Antichrist. John said of this treacherous and defiled bride of the Antichrist: "And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:6).
In the midst of the most terrible judgements that will be poured out over this world, grace will still be available to sinners. During the hour of darkness people can still be saved. Despite the wrath of God that will be visited upon the wicked, He will continue to have compassion upon those who realise their serious spiritual predicament and call on His Name for salvation.
Partly as a result of the preaching of the 144 000 Jewish evangelists, but also independent of it, a great multitude from all nations will repent during the tribulation period. By doing so, they will bring upon themselves the hatred and wrath of the Antichrist, the false prophet and the alliance of world religions. But they will be determined to follow the difficult course of rejection, persecution and martyrdom. They will, despite the consequences, resist and unconditionally reject the godless structures, ideologies and religions of their time. The persecution against them will begin immediately, but most of them will die as martyrs in the second half of the week, known as the great tribulation. About the aftermath of their martyrdom John said:
“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb! … Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from? And I said to him, Sir, you know. So he said to me, These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:9-17).
A great harvest will be gathered for the kingdom of God during the reign of the Antichrist – although under most difficult circumstances. Rather seek the Lord now, so that He can save your soul and make you worthy to escape the coming horrors of the Antichrist and the great tribulation.
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