The Preacher Says....  
  Waiting for the consolation of Israel  
  In a recent book called American Theocracy, author Kevin Phillips deals with the subject of our theological concepts and where they lead. Three things, he said, have the potential for America’s ruin: Dependence on oil-- Check. Deficit spending—how we live on borrowed money-- Check. And end times fundamentalism, worst of the three. Really? Why? Because some 40,000,000 fundamentalists view the end times as the Great Tribulation described first in Matthew 24. 4 – 8 (NIV), where Jesus said,

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is yet to come. Nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginnings of birth pains.

then, Mark 13. 19, 20 –

Those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom He has chosen, He has shortened them.

Finally, in Luke 21. 34, 35 – Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.

Fundamentalists believe end times will bring to a final conclusion the age old conflict between Arab and Jew—the crux of what we know as the ‘controversy of Zion’. Are they right? Travelers to the Middle East have confessed they don’t see any end to the conflict between Arab and Jew. Even moderate Muslims oppose Israel. Does this age old quarrel lead up to the events described in Zechariah 12 and 14 where Jerusalem is called a ‘burdensome stone’ , and all nations are gathered against her to battle before the return of the Lord? How can this be in the face of the statement, Behold, I come as a thief (Rev 16. 15) , which embodies the element of surprise, along with other scriptures that support the same idea? The inference is that he will not find faith. We might make an educated guess and agree it is doubtful. In the history of the world 40,000,000 is a drop in the bucket. Zechariah continues:

When it shall come to pass that I will seek to destroy all the nations That come against Jerusalem. I will pour upon the house of David, and and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications; and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced. (Zech 12. 9. 10)

Not a ruinous end, but a powerful resolution in the last days by the return to earth of Israel’s longed for Messiah, after which Jerusalem will be safely inhabited (Zech 14. 11). Zechariah’s prophecy finds fulfillment in that of Isaiah on the fate of Jerusalem (Ariel), written some 700 years before Christ.

Your many enemies will become like fine dust, ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come With thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm, And tempest and flames of a devouring fire. Then the hordes of all the nations that fight against Ariel, that attack her and her fortress, and besiege her, will be as it is with a dream, with a vision in the night . . . So will it be with the hordes of all the nations that fight against Mt Zion. (Is 29. 5 – 8 NIV).

In researching end times prophecies, it’s interesting to note that many believe that the ‘ latter day’ prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39 –the invasion by Gog—is the same assault as that in Zechariah, the enemy roundabout, both making a push at Israel at the time of the end. Do they have a point? Well, one important consideration is that Ezekiel does not describe the Gog invasion taking place at the ‘end times’, as does Zechariah. ‘In the latter days’, not “last days”, is Ezekiel’s phrase, implying a distinctive time differential between the two, which could make a huge difference in interpretation. The Gog invasion could well come later on. More of this later. A second distinction between the two invasions is noticeable in the cast of characters. In Zechariah, Israel’s constant enemy is the Arab—the people roundabout the land—with whom there has existed a perpetual hatred since the calling out of Abraham by God.; in Ezekiel, however, it is the Muslim, emanating from the north who is the enemy.

First let’s look at Ezekiel 38 and 39, where Gog and all the nations come against Israel. They are diverse from Israel’s common enemy here—no Semites. Meshech, Tubal, Togormah, et al are Muslim powers—not Arabs-- who emanate largely from the area we know as Turkey and Assyria. These enemies descend from the area of ancient Scythia. Magog is situated north of the Black Sea and the general area now occupied by a number of Muslim Republics. You will recall that the Soviet Union is made up of how many republics? Fifteen, I think, a half dozen of them Muslim, which remain in a state of revolt; there are varying degrees of Muslim fanaticism. It’s instructive, maybe, to think of these countries as they existed at the time that Ezekiel wrote. The Muslims are descendants of Japheth, except for Cush and Phut, translated elsewhere as Libya and Ethiopia, descendants of Ham. The prophecy of Ezekiel looks to be a Muslim invasion taking place when the kingdom is established and peace reigns.

The Arabs are descendants of the Moabites and Edomites, first cousins to the Jews—not the descendants of Shem, as was Abraham, the father of Isaac and Ishmael. They are the people that now occupy Syria and Jordan, both of which immediately surround Israel. In Zechariah the Arab nations lay siege to Judah and Jerusalem, a cup of trembling to all the people round about (Zech 12. 2)--the city is taken—houses rifled—women ravished—captivity. The Lord returns to save. Significant here is that Christ’s second coming will be in like manner as his ascension into heaven; he will return to the same place, the Mt of Olives, just outside Jerusalem. (Acts 1. 11) The great earthquake occurs (Zech 14. 4, 5) before, or simultaneously, at the Lord’s return. Although Judah and Jerusalem is saved, it comes after much tribulation; and only a remnant is saved. The roundabout nations that engulf Israel at the time of the end can be no other than the surrounding nations—all ultimately doomed to destruction by the hand of God in Christ.

Moab shall be as Sodom, And the children of Ammon as Gomorrah . . . This shall they have for their pride, Because they have reproached and magnified themselves, Against the people of the Lord of Hosts. (Zeph 2. 9, 10).

Way back in the beginning God chose Israel—that all people on earth would be blessed through them. God said that all who blessed them, He would bless, and whoever curses them, He would curse. (Gen 12. 3) Only God can punish Israel, not man-- we disdain God’s people at our peril. Israel’s enemies are identified:

With one mind they plot together; They form an alliance against you— The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Of Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, Philistia with the people of Tyre Even Assyria has joined them to lend Strength to the descendants of Lot. (Psalm 83. 5 – 8 NIV). . . With cunning they conspire against your people; They plot against those You (God) cherish. “Come, they say, let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more” (v 3, 4 NIV).

Here noted with modern day equivalents,

Tyre, Phoenicia, Gebal – Lebanon
Damascus, Aram – Syria
Edom, Ammon, Moab – Jordan
Philistia – Gaza
Assur, Assyria – Iraq
Ishmaelites – Arabia (Saudi Arabia, Gulf states, perhaps)

These nations are doomed to perish. (See Ps 83, Obadiah, Isaiah 11, Ezekiel 35, Amos 1 & 2).

Psalm 83 (above) are words hardly descriptive of the Gog invasion, when Christ is present in the land and Israel is at peace, it’s impossible to summon any similarity between Zechariah and Ezekiel. Gog is described as coming up against a land of unwalled villages, is compared to the Garden of Eden, the wasted, desolate cities now inhabited. (Ezek 36. 35). Gog and all his bands come ostensibly to take a spoil; but actually are an instrument of God whereby He magnifies Himself in the eyes of all the nations. The invaders approach Israel from the north—to a narrow stretch of land, protected by mountains: Mt Lebanon, Mt Hermon, and the Golan Heights. They never reach Israel proper. No mention is made of Israel and Jerusalem under siege, as described in Zechariah 14. We read of no suffering, no tribulation for Israel and Jerusalem when Gog invades in the latter days. Furthermore, if we view this prophecy chronologically, there is no way Ezekiel 38 and 39 can follow after Ezekiel 36, where the land has been cleansed--like Eden—and a people in a kingdom with Christ as king. What does happen?

I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel—strike your bow from your left hand, and make your arrows drop from your right. On the mountains of Israel you will fall – (Ezek 39. 2 – 4).

A miraculous event, so it would seem, yet one that does not appear to be done in a vacuum. The invader is challenged by Shebah and Dedan (Saudi Arabia, perhaps?), the Merchants of Tarshish (Gt Britain?), and young lions (U.S. and others?, some scholars say) . (Ezek 38. 13). If true, Kevin Phillips is wrong about the U.S. being weak at the time of the end. All that remains is for the Israelis to clean up the mess and to burn all the weapons, a task taking 7 years, and bury the dead (7 months).

If we concede that Ezekiel 38 occurs after Christ’s return, how long after? Well, we can’t know the answer to that question. We can’t know the exact length of time it would take to re-build the land of Israel after the siege, or solve the various dire situations that will arise in the land during this time. Only God knows. But consider this. What if Ezekiel 38 comes later—in ‘the latter days’—at a time following the ‘end times’? Could it possibly be the same invasion as the one described in Revelation 20. 7 – 9, where sin is loosed for a little season?

Gog and Magog compass the camp of the saints
And Jerusalem, the beloved city.
And fire came down out of heaven from God
And devoured them.

The only scriptural difference between the two invasions is their final destination: In Ezekiel Gog meets it’s end on the mountains of Israel, and in Revelation, in Jerusalem and the camp of the saints. Otherwise, the facts of the two invasions are alike, (1) they think an evil thought, (2) Descend on a land at peace, and (3) are miraculously destroyed. (Ezek 38. 10 – 12, 21 – 23; Rev 20. 8 – 9). If Jerusalem in Revelation is Israel the stronghold of Zion, this second invasion can be seen as a textual reinforcement of the first. Taken as fact, this notion is a strong support for the position that Jerusalem and the camp of the saints are indeed symbols, and the two invasions identical.

One important question that needs attention is the ‘millenium’, a word given to the period of time which begins at Christ’s return and ends after his reign of 1,000 years. After this time, according to scripture, John writes,

And he (the angel) laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, And bound him a thousand years. And cast him into the bottomless pit, And set a seal on him, That he should deceive the nations no more, Til the thousand years should be fulfilled; After that he must be loosed a little season. (Rev 20. 2, 3) When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations. Gog and Magog to gather them together for battle. (Rev 20. 7, 8).

This dictum appears only in the book of Revelation. This same period of time we’re talking about is described elsewhere by Paul , where Christ after his return must first put all enemies under his feet. But what do these words in Revelation mean? Are they literal or symbolic? When you think about it, every time period mentioned in Revelation is symbolic. We’re talking about a book of symbol. Can you explain why we single out this 1,000 year time period as literal and not symbolic, just as are interpreted all other time periods in the book? It’s hard to understand how, after 1,000 years, with Christ reigning as king, that Gog could assemble the arms and allies needed to lead an attack in such a venture—against the Kingdom of God, no less. However, if we were to tentatively re-evaluate Peter’s assertion that ‘a day with the Lord is as 1,000 years and 1,000 years as one day (2Pet 3. 8), we might be enlightened by a new perspective. If we reverse the ‘day for a year’ principle, and call it ‘a year for a day’, the time period between the second advent and the final destruction of sin and death is shortened considerably. When you divide 1,000 years by 365 (days-in-a-year), the time period is reduced to a little over three years which, interestingly enough, is close to the length of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Furthermore, a three year length of time for Gog and Magog to assemble themselves for battle seems more comprehensible to us mortals,

Our understanding is enhanced by Paul’s speech on the meaning of the resurrection:

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits, afterward They that are Christ’s at his coming. Then the end will come. When he hands over the kingdom to God the Father After he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power, for he must reign until he has put All enemies under his feet; The last enemy that is to be destroyed is death. He has put everything under His feet . . . So that God may be all in all. (1Cor 15. 22 – 28).

All enemies implies more than one adversary. There are other considerations with which Christ has to deal, i.e., the resurrection of the dead, repentant Israel, judgment of the nations—Armageddon, the apostasy. The end, however far in the future, will logically come with the destruction of Gog and his bands.

The foregoing conjectures about end times vs latter days, times of 1,000 year duration, and comparative scriptures all may be true , or then again, maybe not. Never mind. The duty of a faithful servant is but to watch, wait and occupy. Prophecy, the method God uses to declare the future, is always provocative. Prophecy is evasive, mysterious, and yes, exasperating—all of these—you can never be rock sure of the truth until the event comes to pass. Remember Simeon? A devout figure who appears unceremoniously in Luke’s story of the birth of Christ? He knew Christ had been long promised in ages past, but was now certain that the time was at hand. He had been watching and waiting his whole life for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2. 25); he had studied the holy scriptures, the words of God’s prophets-- Micah, the Psalms, Isaiah, Zechariah—all of them. He knew the time had come. Holding the child of promise in his arms, with heartfelt joy , his words spill forth:

Lord, now let Thy servant depart in peace, According to Thy word: For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which you have prepared before the face of all people. (Luke 2. 29 – 31).