Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (March 2012)
Daniel 5 describes the highly dramatic final hours before the fall of the once mighty Babylonian Empire. King Belshazzar gave a great banquet in his palace for 1 000 of his nobles, as well as his wives and concubines, to celebrate the greatness of Babylon. At this feast he acted disdainfully towards the God of Israel and arrogantly said that Israel’s God was unable to save them from the hands of the Babylonians. The king showed his contempt for the Jews and their God by having liquor served in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple in Jerusalem when the city was captured by his forces. In his megalomania, Belshazzar honoured the mighty gods of Babylon and gloried in the invincibility of his empire.
While this celebration was under way, the Persian army was already deployed outside the city for three months. However, Belshazzar was not concerned about them as Babylon was heavily fortified with an enclosed wall which was 26 metres wide and 106 metres high, with 250 watchtowers. The Euphrates River flowed right through the city, and large sluice-gates were constructed to prohibit entrance to the city by boat. Furthermore, the inhabitants had stored up enough food in the city for 20 years.
But the Persians had dug a channel to divert the flow of the water to a nearby lake. The moment when they succeed with this plan the way was open for their enemies to enter the city from the north and the south below the sluice-gates, under the cover of darkness. In the meantime, Belshazzar’s feast continued and his bravado had no limits.
Time had run out for the haughty king, and the Lord not only announced his own end but also that of the Babylonian Empire in which he gloried so much. Suddenly, a hand appeared on the plastered wall just opposite the lampstand where all could see it. The king was overcome with shock and fear, and intuitively knew that his party was over.
Confusion also reigned supreme among his counsellors and not one of them – including the most learned men in Babylon – could interpret the writing. It is significant that Daniel, who was a senior official, did not attend this pagan party. He was summoned and a great reward was offered to him, including promotion to third in rank in the empire, if he could interpret the handwriting.
Daniel reminded Belshazzar and his officials of the fact that Nebuchadnezzar was punished and humbled by the Lord because of his haughtiness. At the time, Daniel counselled Nebuchadnezzar to break with his sins and pursue righteousness (Daniel 4:27). But he did not heed this advice, and afterwards his royal authority was taken away from him; he also became insane and lived with wild animals for seven years. When he subsequently repented, his sanity was restored to him and he was reinstated on his royal throne. Nebuchadnezzar abandoned all idol worship and only praised and glorified the Lord as the King of heaven who has all power in heaven and among men.
Belshazzar, his wives and his nobles did not take the lessons of history to heart and exalted themselves. Daniel confronted him in the light of Nebuchadnezzar’s experience and said: “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this” (Dan. 5:22). Belshazzar reverted completely to idolatry and arrogantly scoffed at the God of Israel. But the time of grace soon expired for him, as is evident from Daniel’s interpretation of the handwriting: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end; tekel: you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; peres: your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
During that same night Babylon was conquered by their enemies and Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. This is a terrifying situation and it certainly has a message for us.
According to the Bible we know that the time of grace in the New Testament will also come to an end after the whole world will have had the opportunity of accepting the gospel message (Acts 17:30), and then the judgements of the Lord will suddenly be poured out upon unrepentant humanity during the tribulation period. Isaiah says the following on the coming day of the Lord:
“Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it. ... I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible” (Isa. 13:9, 11).
The God-rejecting world of the end-time is in the same situation as that of Belshazzar many centuries ago. They do not only reject the God of heaven of whom they know very little, but they also reject His Son who has come to the world, as well as His Word and the gospel message which was proclaimed to the world during the past 2000 years. The end-time judgements will therefore be more severe, since the Lord Jesus said that there will be a great tribulation as there has never been, and if those days were not shortened no flesh would be saved (Matt. 24:21).
We read about the great end-time rebellion against God and His Son in Psalm 2: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.” (Ps. 2:2-3). During the past few decades, most nations in the traditional Christian world have turned their backs upon the Bible as God’s Word by abrogating Christian constitutions, discontinuing Christian education, and rejecting Christian morality. Even many of the theologians also participated in this rebellion by questioning the authenticity of the Bible as God’s Word, denying the deity of the Lord Jesus, and relegating Him to the same level as the idols of the pagans.
All that now remains is that the judgements of the Lord will suddenly be poured out upon the wicked after the Lord has taken away His children who were not party to this rebellion. There are various signs of the times which are meant to be the writing on the wall to the whole world that the dispensation of grace will soon come to an end, and will immediately be followed by the time of judgements. In the Word of God we have a much clearer exposition of what the future holds for us and for the whole world, than was the case during Old Testament times.
Peter says: “We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as to a light that shines in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). The question is: Do we heed these prophecies or are we not concerned about the writing on the wall? Ignorance on end-time prophecies does not only cause the virgins in the kingdom of heaven to fall asleep during the midnight hour, but together with them the whole unsaved world is also in the grip of fatal ignorance.
Where are the men of God who should interpret the message on the coming judgements in such a way that all will be able to understand it? Every Spirit-filled child of God has the obligation to proclaim this message in a pure and correct way. Or did you neglect to make a full surrender to be filled with the Holy Spirit? If that is the case, you will also be unable to interpret the writing on the wall. The Lord Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth, and also tell us what is yet to come (John 16:13).
Fortunately, there are men who do not hesitate to proclaim the Lord’s message on the end-time to all people – including political leaders. One of them is the prominent Messianic Jew, Joel Rosenberg. He writes books, manages websites, addresses pastors’ conferences, visits Israel and conducts discussions with government officials, and visits various other countries in the Middle East to liaise with religious leaders and to organise and support gospel outreaches.
On 29th January 2012 Rosenberg addressed a pastors’ conference in Jacksonville, and he likened America with Belshazzar’s position of apostasy. He drew attention to the USA’s national debt of $15 trillion, while the Bible warns us not to go into debt. He also referred to the 53 million abortions in the US to date, to legalised homosexual marriage, and to a pornography industry that makes billions of dollars profit. He then asked the question:
“How much longer will the Lord wait before He lets us reap what we’ve sown? Is God going to give us another chance, or is He finished with us? Is America in a Nebuchadnezzar moment where we still have an opportunity to repent and be restored, or a Belshazzar moment where God removes His favour from us and turns out the lights? Honestly, I’m not certain.”
More or less the same can be said of all other countries in the world. The collapse of spiritual and moral values is worldwide, as is the current financial crisis due to overspending.
Joel Rosenberg’s latest book which will be released in June is titled, Implosion. In it he discusses the impending implosion of the world economy, which will happen suddenly and be much like the demolishing of an old building with explosives. Most of the big economies in the world are threatened by a major recession or by total bankruptcy. Shares and government bonds will lose most of their value, while currencies will also lose much of their buying power. The value of property will drastically decrease, and due to the widespread poverty there will be few buyers. All these factors suggest that, politically as well as economically, a new world order will have to be established in an effort to offer chances of survival to the seven billion inhabitants of planet earth.
There is a further correlation between the present situation and that of Babylon, and that refers to the Persians who played a big role in the fall of Belshazzar. In the end-time they will again play a major role since Persia, the present Iran, is busy developing nuclear weapons and they have repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel and wipe this country off the world map. The Iranian government also entertains a strong expectation that the Imam Mahdi – that is the Islamic Messiah – will appear shortly to subject the whole world under the authority of the Koran. They see it as their prophetic calling to cause chaos in the world, as the Mahdi will allegedly only come to establish peace during a time of great calamity.
Apart from Islam’s resistance against Judaism and Christianity, they also insist that all of Israel should be part of Palestine and under full control of the Palestinian people. Their final objective is to establish an Islamic world state with Jerusalem as its capital. Because of all these considerations they have often declared holy wars (jihads) against Israel and its allies. They also say that the last big war will break out when the Mahdi comes; it will be fought mainly in Israel and that Islam will be victorious.
However, their greatest stumbling-block is Israel, and this fact gives rise to the great emphasis on arming themselves in order to be able to wage a war of annihilation against Israel. Iran’s threats are clear, and taken seriously by most Western powers in the light of Iran’s nuclear development programme. Because of this threat, European countries have decided to stop buying crude oil from Iran as of July 2012. In reaction to this boycott action Iran is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, through which about a third of the world’s crude oil is transported. This blockade can potentially cause a crisis in which the world economy may grind to a halt. A number of American and British warships have already been deployed in the Persian Gulf to try and avert any crisis of this nature.
In the meantime, the threats between Israel and Iran continue and increase the tension between them considerably. The Washington Post recently published an article in which the US secretary for defence, Mr. Leon Panetta, expressed the fear that Israel may attack Iran sometime between April and June 2012. Israel’s minister of defence, Mr. Ehud Barak, said at a conference that those who say that the attack should be “later” may find that “later will be too late”. Israel will suffer greatly if they become involved with a war against Iran, but if they don’t attack it may ultimately lead to their end.
At a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at the beginning of March 2012, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, presented Barack Obama with a specially decorated scroll of the book of Esther. In this Bible book, a historical effort is described of genocide against the Jews in Persia, caused by an evil conspiracy against them. However, the Lord intervened and the Jews were granted the right of defending themselves.
During the presentation of the scroll Mr Netanyahu said: “Then, too, they wanted to wipe us out.” He reiterated that Israel will do everything possible to defend its people against tyrants who seek their destruction. President Obama asked Israel not to use military force right now since various diplomatic initiatives are under way to resolve the crisis. But Israel insist that they will make their own assessment of the situation and take a sovereign decision how best to defend themselves.
There is much speculation whether Israel will soon attack Iran. Some experts believe that they will do so within the next three or four months, while others are of the opinion that the big confrontation will only occur after another year or two. Nevertheless, such a war is regarded as unavoidable, and it is fully realised that its effects will be felt worldwide. Russia is a military ally of Iran, which means that a war against Iran may spark off a very big regional war – and even lead to the Russo-Arab invasion of Israel which is prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39. In that case, eschatological events will follow one another in quick succession.
What should we as Christians do in times like these? We must be able to discern the approaching footsteps of the Messiah in these events. In His Olivet Discourse He said: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28). The following command is added to this: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36).
True Christians do not have an Antichrist expectation but a Christ expectation. We are not appointed to the wrath of God during the coming day of the Lord but to obtain the salvation which the Lord Jesus has promised to His faithful disciples. In Egypt, Israel was also not destined for the plagues that came upon the unbelievers but they had to sprinkle their doorposts with the blood of the Pascal Lamb, while trusting fully in the saving grace of the Lord.
For the same reasons, Noah and his family were not destined for the Flood, neither were Lot and his family to suffer under the divine judgements that were poured out upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Only unbelievers and nominal believers who merely have an outward form of godliness will remain behind when the trumpet sounds, and they will then be faced with unprecedented tribulation. They will still be able to obtain salvation and their faith in the true Messiah will give them courage to deny the false messiah and his new world order, but that will lead to their death as martyrs (Rev. 6:9-11; 12:11).
Rather settle your case with the Lord now. When the trumpet sounds and the call is heard to go out and meet the Bridegroom it will be too late to quickly get the oil of the Holy Spirit, without which nobody is worthy to appear before the Messiah. He has done a complete work of redemption to prepare us for this meeting.
Paul says: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her ... that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27). After we were purged from our old sins we should be sanctified completely in our spirit, soul and body to be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23-24).
It is the responsibility of each of us to make very sure about our spiritual standing before the Lord. Some church members are unsaved and only have the name that they are Christians, but in reality they are spiritually dead (Rev. 3:1). Others are saved but they are fleshly and carnal, full of envy, strife, and divisions, and are consequently tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Eph. 4:14; Gal. 5:17). Only a relatively small group can testify about sanctification and victory in their spiritual lives. A characteristic of their lives is that they do works which are worthy of repentance – that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit which the Lord wishes to see in the lives of all His children. They are the ones who do not hide their talents but use them in the service of the Lord.
Dark clouds of wars and rumours of wars are gathering over the Middle East and the whole world, attended by spiritual and moral decline which is unprecedented in the entire history of humanity, as well as an economic crisis of apocalyptic proportions which is gaining a firm grip on all countries, the rich and the poor. In times like these we can expect the imminent appearing of the bright morning star above a dark horizon. Are you ready for this? During His secret coming before the tribulation period, He will only come for those who eagerly wait for Him (Heb. 9:28).