Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (January 2014)
Pertinent date-setting for the second coming of Christ should not be done, even though there may be clear signs of the times which imply its nearness. All efforts towards setting a specific date are at variance with Scripture (Matt. 24:42; 25:13). The reason for this is not to discourage a strong expectation on the second coming, as it is the will of the Lord that all Christians in the church dispensation should regard His second coming as imminent. We should actively believe this promise (John 14:1-3), look forward to its fulfilment (Rev. 22:20), and be spiritually prepared to appear before the judgement seat of Christ where we will have to give account of our lives to Him (Rom. 14:10-12).
Our future with Jesus Christ emphasises the temporality of our earthly existence, as well as the importance to make preparations for eternal life. That calls for the practical expression of heavenly principles while living in a sinful, materialistic world, as well as promoting the interests of God’s kingdom. The possibility of Christ’s sudden coming should therefore motivate us to live holy lives, develop perspectives which reach beyond the secular world, and to give priority towards doing things which have value for eternity. This disposition applies equally to believers in the early Christian church, to those in medieval times, and also to us in the end-time.
People who do not expect the second coming and order their lives accordingly, are inclined to only live for secular things, and to become very important in their own eyes. They even live morally licentious lives as they do not have a strong sense of accountability to the Lord for their actions and life-styles as witnesses for Christ: “But if that evil servant says in his heart, My master is delaying his coming, and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites” (Matt. 24:48-51). Such people deliberately avoid the subject of the second coming as they wish to be in full control of their own lives. They conveniently hide behind the excuse that nobody knows the time of the Lord’s coming, and effectively plan their lives around their own interests.
We should know where we stand in God’s plan for humanity. The statement that we do not know the day or hour when Christ comes does not mean that the identification of chronological structures in the Bible is discouraged and should remain a complete mystery. To the contrary – it is very important to discern between different dispensations in humanity’s history of salvation, so as to be able to identify the signs which indicate to the approaching end of the present dispensation and the beginning of the new one. We are presently in a situation in which, according to end-time prophecies, Israel is restored to the land of their fathers in preparation for the second coming of the Messiah. That confirms the fact that the church dispensation is approaching its end, and that Christ can come at any time to catch away His bridal congregation (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Subsequently, the Antichrist will be revealed and the seven-year period of the tribulation will be introduced (2 Thess. 2:6-12).
We should definitely heed the signs of the times if we wish to have a better perspective on the time in which we live. In His Olivet Discourse, the Lord Jesus referred to different signs of the times and added: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. ... So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place” (Luke 21:28, 31-32). Christ does not only refer to general signs but even to a single generation in which end-time events will lead up to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth. It is imperative to gain greater clarity on these matters.
We will review chronological structures in Israel’s end-time restoration from the viewpoint of different scriptures, as this nation’s revival is the single most important sign on the approaching end of the church dispensation and the establishment of the global Messianic kingdom. The Bible indicates the exact duration of Christ’s reign of peace on earth, i.e. one thousand years (Rev. 20:4-6), and also of the preceding reign of the Antichrist during the seven years referred to as Daniel’s 70th year-week (Dan. 9:27). We should determine how far Israel’s restoration has progressed, and study the Bible to see what will happen next. That will give us an indication of the nearness of the heavenly Bridegroom’s coming without arriving at a specific date (day, month or year). The advanced stage of the final generation does, however, give us an approximate indication on where we now stand on the prophetic calendar of the Bible. Because of the fulfilment of biblical prophecies we are privileged to have more light on these matters than the people of former generations.
Very early in the history of Israel the Lord impressed it upon their hearts that their relationship with Him would determine whether they would enjoy a blessed and uninterrupted stay in their land, or whether they would be surrendered to their enemies because of persistent unbelief and sinning (Lev. 26; Deut. 28). Apostatising often caused them to forfeit the blessings of the Lord and to be conquered by their enemies. Foreign domination lasted for shorter or longer periods until they were again delivered by the Lord and restored to their land. The length of their Babylonian captivity was 70 years (Jer. 25:11). However, this exile was limited in terms of its duration and because of the fact that the Jews were only taken captive to one country.
The initial warning was that, because of extreme apostatising, Israel would be dispersed among all nations for a very long time: “Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other” (Deut. 28:64; cf. Lev. 26:33). This would indeed happen, but only during New Testament times after Israel would also have rejected their promised Messiah. He explained the consequences of His rejection to them: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. ... For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. ... 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 Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24).
Both Orthodox and Messianic Jews are strongly convinced that, after their extended dispersion among the nations, Israel will eventually be fully restored to their land again. Since the earliest times, warnings about Israel’s Diaspora were given along with promises on their ultimate restoration. The Lord said to Moses: “Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them” (Lev. 26:44; cf. Deut. 30:1-3). Jews regard their present (partial) restoration as tangible proof that God has indeed not abandoned Israel as His Chosen People.
Many centuries after Moses there were various prophets who reiterated the early promises on Israel’s restoration from the Diaspora: “Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel” (Ezek. 11:17; cf. 37:21; Isa. 11:11-12). All these promises gave rise to the establishment of a modern Zionistic movement in 1897, after the publication in 1896 of Theodor Herzl’s book, Der Judenstaat (“The Jewish State”). Dispersed Jews again became conscious of their God-given land from which they were driven almost two millennia ago. Since the early 20th century, small groups of Jews immigrated to the traditional land of Israel – which was renamed as “Palestine” by foreign invaders – and bought land from the Arabs. After World War II their numbers have grown to the extent that the modern Jewish state was established on 14th May, 1948. Since then, Jewish immigration continued unabated, and at present (2014), about half of the 13 million Jews in the world have returned to their ancestral land.
The future expectation among the majority of the Orthodox Jews is that the Law of Moses (the Torah) will again be fully observed, but that will only happen after the temple has been rebuilt in Jerusalem so that sacrifices of atonement for sin may be offered to God. They associate the coming of the Messiah with a resounding victory over their enemies, the right to rebuild the temple, as well as the reinstitution of their monarchy which demands the restoration of the fallen throne of David in Jerusalem. In October 2004, a modern Sanhedrin was instituted in Israel to devote attention to the promotion of these ideals. This Council is composed of 71 rabbis and other scholars who have knowledge on Israel’s history and religious traditions.
In an effort to honour the demands of the Torah the Sanhedrin, in collaboration with the Temple Institute, has written letters to various governments early in 2007, impressing it upon them that the world is on a disastrous course. In terms of Isaiah 2:2-4 they proposed that the temple be rebuilt in Jerusalem in order to again experience the presence of God in the pursuance of peace on earth. They also quote the Lord’s words in Isaiah 56:7: “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This statement is wrongly interpreted in a multireligious way in order to also give recognition to the Gentile religions. A Jewish website, www.godsholymountain.org/ promotes the idea of “God’s Holy Mountain” as being open to all faiths.
In 2010, a new altar for burnt sacrifices was built, and a large number of priests have already been trained to conduct the temple service. Jews with the surname of Cohen are descended from the first priest, Aaron, and may be trained as priests. Everything is ready for the building and dedication of the new temple in the shortest possible time.
Israel still do not recognise Jesus as their Messiah, and are expecting another Messiah. According to the Bible he will be the false messiah (Antichrist), and Jesus warned them against this imposter: “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” (John 5:43).
Apart from relatively small groups of Messianic Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah, Israel is being restored to their land in a spiritually unsaved state. Here, they will experience great distress which will eventually lead to the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah. During His first coming He referred to this blessed reunion between them (Matt. 23:39).
But first Israel will have to pass through the tribulation period, when they will fully realise their dire spiritual need. Jeremiah describes the coming tribulation as “the time of Jacob’s trouble”, but gives hope that they will be saved from it (Jer. 30:7; cf. Ezek. 22:18-22). The Lord says: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. ... 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. 36:25-28).
Paul also draws attention to the fact that Israel’s spiritual hardening is only in part, and that all Israel will be saved after the conclusion of the church dispensation: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:25-26).
We are in a very decisive period of the world’s history of salvation. Israel’s dispersion and spiritual hardening is rapidly approaching its end, and in the light of this development we should be able to conclude without any doubt that the church dispensation is nearing its conclusion. We only need to look at Israel if we wish to know where we stand in God’s programme for humanity. Remember that He said to His disciples that Jerusalem would be trampled throughout the church dispensation while a harvest is being gathered for His kingdom among the Gentiles (Luke 21:24; Rom. 11:25).
The new part of Jerusalem was incorporated into the modern Jewish state in May 1948. The old part of the city (Biblical Jerusalem) was captured from Jordan during the Six Day War in June 1967. In August 1980, Jerusalem was declared to be the eternal indivisible capital of Israel, and the prime minister immediately moved his office from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. At present only the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is still being trampled by Gentiles, since control of this area was transferred to a Muslim committee in 1967. The end of Jerusalem’s trampling, and the full restoration of the city under the rule of the Messiah, is imminent.
The Bible makes even more specific statements with regard to the last days when Israel will be progressively restored, while the church dispensation will approach the moment when it will be concluded by way of the rapture. The Lord Jesus elaborates further on this subject: “Then He spoke to them a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place” (Luke 21:29-32).
The point of departure for the last generation is the budding of the fig tree, and its conclusion the full spiritual and political restoration of Israel when this nation will be reconciled with God through the Messiah, and Jesus will reign from the restored throne of David in Jerusalem. The fig tree is a well-known biblical symbol of the people of Israel (cf. Hos. 9:10; Jer. 24:5).
There are different definitions of the concept “generation”, depending on the context in which the Bible uses the term. In the original languages the word “generation” often refers to a group of people – a kinship group, a tribe, or various other groups with specific characteristics, e.g. an “evil generation” (Luke 11:29). However, in most cases “generation” refers to an age group within a particular society, tribe or nation. In this application of the term there is a chronology of generations as younger ones succeed the older ones. It is in this context that Matthew 1:17 says: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations … .”
A generation is not a fixed period of time as some generations are shorter or longer than others. Nevertheless, it is a reasonably well defined period which cannot be stretched beyond its extreme parameters. When the total span of a generation since its beginning, or birth, is considered an average of 70 years is implied, but it may even be extended up to 80: “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years” (Ps. 90:10). An adult generation usually refers to a period of about 40 years, or at the most 50 years, from the age of 30. The Levitical priests could only assume office at the age of 30 (Num. 4:3), as well as the rabbis of later times. Hence Jesus, as a Jewish male, began His teaching ministry after reaching the age of 30 years (Luke 3:23).
It was common practice in biblical times that the adult generation was held accountable by the Lord for its sin, often leading to judgements upon its members, e.g. during Israel’s exodus from Egypt: “So the Lord’s anger was aroused against Israel, and He made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone” (Num. 32:13). The young generation (those who were still minors during Israel’s exodus) did not perish in the wilderness and survived the judgements to inherit the Promised Land.
An adult generation also elapsed between the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus in 32 AD and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This generation were warned about their apostasy and spiritual blindness but failed to heed the warnings (Matt. 23:32-38). At the end of this generation the Romans subjected the Jews and utterly destroyed Jerusalem, and this was followed by the international dispersion of Israel.
In May 1948 the last full generation before the coming of the Messiah and the final restoration of Israel started. We do not know how far this generation will run its course before everything which is destined for the period before the second coming of Christ will have taken place, including the seven years of tribulation. However, we do know that this generation will not extend beyond its maximum limit of 80 years, and that point will be reached in 2028.
In August 1980, Jerusalem was restored as Israel’s capital city, which alludes to the fact that modern Israel has politically come to age after 32 years since its inception. At this point we entered the adult part of the last generation.
A further important matter regarding Israel’s chronology is the reintroduction of their year-weeks. These are periods of seven years, in which the seventh year is a sabbatical year (Lev. 25:3-4). The year-weeks are reckoned according to Israel’s civil calendar, in which every year starts on Rosh Hashanah in the month of Tishri – usually in September on the Gregorian calendar. Israel has a lunar calendar.
Daniel 9:24-27 contains a very significant prophecy on 70 year-weeks that will elapse between Israel’s restoration from their Babylonian exile until the beginning of the Messiah’s reign of peace when Israel will be fully reconciled with Him. However, Daniel makes it very clear that the Messiah would be cut off (rejected and crucified) after 69 year-weeks. That would inevitably cause an interruption in the sequence of the 70 year-weeks in Israel’s history of salvation. The final seven years will only be fulfilled during Israel’s end-time restoration.
Jesus clearly warned the leaders of Israel that, because of rejecting Him as Messiah, Jerusalem would be destroyed and its inhabitants scattered among the nations (Matt. 23:37–24:2; Luke 19:41-44; 21:24). This state of affairs would continue until the moment when Israel will fully embrace Jesus Christ at His second coming: “For I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39).
The 70th year-week of Daniel will formally be introduced when Israel conclude a covenant with the false messiah. However, after 3½ years he will desecrate the temple in Jerusalem, terminate the sacrificial service, and order all people to worship him as God (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:15). Because of the false messiah’s blasphemous acts, Israel will immediately revoke their covenant with him, thereby provoking his fierce anger against them. He will decree the genocide of Jews, and they will have to flee in great haste to a remote place in the wilderness (Matt. 24:15-22). At the end of this year-week the true Messiah will return and set His feet on the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4-5).
The last generation will therefore be concluded by a very significant and decisive year-week. This period will be characterised by the judgements of the day of the Lord (Isa. 13:9-13; Rev. 6:15-17), and for that reason Christians will be removed before the time. As in the days of Noah and Lot, believers are not destined for God’s judgements (Matt. 24:36-44; Luke 21:36). From Israel’s perspective, this year-week will include the following significant events:
· Right at the beginning of the year-week Israel will conclude a covenant with the false messiah, being deluded by him into thinking that he is the true Messiah (John 5:43). A jubilee-year will probably be declared as they will be convinced that their long-awaited Messiah had come to introduce the age of happiness and prosperity.
· Israel’s newly-found king will not only be a political leader but will also be recognised and honoured in a religious context as Messiah. He will grant Israel the right – possibly through mediation of the false prophet – to build the temple in Jerusalem. Due to extensive preparations by the Temple Institute, the new temple will be erected and put to use in a relatively short space of time. They only wait for a prophet, or even the “Messiah” himself, to indicate the exact spot for the temple, and to also authorise the building project.
· When the temple has been dedicated and the sacrificial service restored, Israel’s Zionist dream will be fully realised – the “Messiah” will have come, the temple will be rebuilt, atonement for the nation’s sin will have been done, and that will cause them to look forward to a time of great peace on earth. Israel will then be in full control of their land, their capital city and the Temple Mount. These things will all happen during the first half of their seven-year covenant with their “Messiah”.
· However, Israel’s “Messiah” and king will, right from the beginning of his reign, also conclude treaties with other nations and religions, thereby establishing himself as a multireligious world messiah. Apart from the realisation of their own dreams, Israel will also be subjected to the demands of political and religious globalism. Their newly-found sovereignty will therefore be short-lived, since both their form of government and their temple service will be globalised. Their formerly exclusive form of Zionism which suddenly flourished again, will soon have to yield to another form of worship. Pagan religions will be allowed into the expanded courtyard of Israel’s rebuilt temple, where they will worship “the universal God of all faiths”. They will trample the temple site and the holy city, thereby rendering it an interfaith mecca (Rev. 11:2).
· During the middle of the tribulation period Israel will be rudely disillusioned and shocked when their “Messiah” brings an end to the sacrificial service, and set up an abominable image of himself in the Most Holy Place (Dan. 9:27; 11:31; Matt. 24:15). He will deify himself and compel Israel as well as the other nations to worship him as God. Refusal to do so will be punishable by death (2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:15).
· Israel’s eyes will suddenly and in a most horrifying way be opened to the deceit of the false messiah. After abrogating their covenant with him they will quickly have to flee away from him to spend the remaining 3½ years of the tribulation period as exiles in the wilderness. At the end of this dramatic year-week they will return to the Mount of Olives to await the coming of the true Messiah. That will lead to the salvation of the entire remnant in Israel, and also to the establishment of the true Messianic reign of peace in which Israel will play a very significant part (Isa. 62:11-12; Ezek, 39:7; Zech. 12:10).
Divergent views are entertained on the time when this decisive year-week will commence. Some scholars of biblical prophecies are convinced that Israel’s covenant of seven years with the false messiah will coincide with one of their reintroduced year-weeks. But others maintain that this will not necessarily be the case. The present year-week in Israel elapses between September 2008 and Rosh Hashanah in September 2015. The next year-week, which starts in September 2015 on Israel’s lunar calendar, will extend to September 2022.
No final and irrefutable conclusion can be made on the starting-point of the last year-week before Christ’s second coming. But that this highly significant year-week will indeed be fulfilled is absolutely certain. At the same time, it will be the culmination and conclusion of the last generation before Christ’s coming on the Mount of Olives. He Himself has said: “... this generation will by no means pass away till all things are fulfilled” (Luke 21:32).