We are now ten weeks into this series, which means we are almost a third of the way done. And even though we haven’t even started with the juicy stuff, I’d think it’s safe to say it hasn’t been boring.
So far, we’ve encountered the Real Jesus in chapter 1. We’ve read his letters to us, the church, in chapters 2 & 3 – some powerful stuff in there. We talked about the Rapture, and last week we covered chapters 4 & 5, the throne room scene. And I made the argument that when Jesus, the “Lion of Judah”/”Lamb as if slain” took the title deed scroll from God the Father’s hand that it was the climax event in the history of time. Some serious mind-blowing stuff in that one. If you missed any of these, I encourage you to catch up.
Now, for the casual reader of Revelation, it is at this point – moving into chapter six – that most people get completely lost. Chapter six is the opening of the seven seals and chock full of all kinds of symbolism like the four horsemen and such. And as fascinating as it is – a casual reading will leave you hopelessly lost as to what in the world is going on. And it only gets worse as the chapters go on.
And the reason that is the case is not only because it’s a bunch of symbolism that must be interpreted into language. It’s also because this is the part of the book when you really need to have the background understanding of the rest of the story prior to this point to have any hope at all of understanding this last chapter in a very long novel.
As I’ve said before, that’s what Revelation is. It’s the last chapter in a good book, and like any other last chapter it assumes you have read and understand the rest of the story and that you’re keeping up with all the plot lines so that al it has to do is tie up the loose ends. If you don’t know the first 65 chapters of the story, then the last chapter has no hope of making any sense to you.
Which is why we are going to spend the next five weeks catching ourselves up on the pertinent background information we need before we start opening seals. Speaking in terms of the calendar, that means we won’t be talking about the seals and the four horsemen until January 8th – because December 25th and January 1st will not be normal Sundays as we have mentioned in announcements.
Now, with that said – let me assure you that you do not want to miss these next five weeks. They are absolutely essential to being able to properly understand Revelation. And to be honest, I personally think these next five weeks will be some of the best of the series. If your mind has been blown by anything in this series so far, these next few lessons will obliterate it and you will have a new appreciation for the complexity and cohesiveness of this thing we call the Bible.
To do this, we will be going back to significant sections of the Old Testament – which is why I’m calling these first three weeks a “miniseries” called “Back to the Future.” I think it fits. We have to go back in time to understand some things about the future. Plus I just love that movie trilogy.
After that, we will spend two weeks talking about the “Signs of the Times”, then a two week pause for Christmas and New Years, and January 8 we can finally open the first seal. Don’t miss a single one!
Now, before I dive in, let me give you another reason why the next few weeks are important to understanding the rest of Revelation. It’s because the next few weeks will answer a few important questions about the coming horrible period of time that comes next. And probably the most important of those questions is….WHY?
Why is it necessary to torture the earth for seven years after the rapture? Why not just end it right there? Why do a fly by and then a second coming? Why the thousand years? Why go through all of this?
It’s actually this question that I hope to answer today.
Other questions include – WHO? Who is this period actually for? It’s not for the church, since we are raptured out, so who IS it for?
And finally, WHEN? We can’t know the exact date of the start, but as you will see in the last two weeks of this set, we have been give specific signs that we can look for that these events are about to unfold.
We will also cover the dreams, interpretations, and historical fulfillments of the book of Daniel to help get us ready to interpret similar imagery in Revelation. And it’s just really cool stuff!
Now, before we get started – let’s pray.
Ok. Now that I have set the stage and the expectations, let’s go back in time. Or rather, let’s first zoom way out and look at all of time – past, present, and future (which is the story the Bible tells) so we can keep track of where we are in the bigger picture.
And for that I have a laser pointer and a timeline – try to keep up…
Before there was time, there was just God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He existed for eternity past, which is actually timeless. So thinking in terms of “how long” do not apply before time was created. Not a concept our finite brains can comprehend.
Our part of the story begins at the creation of the heavens and the earth and time. God created everything in six days, including human beings. Then we screwed it up, otherwise knowns as the fall, Noah and the flood, God calls and makes a covenant with Abraham and his descendants, Isaac, Jacob -> Israel, 12 sons, Story of Joseph which leads to Israel being slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God brings them out of slavery in dramatic fashion using Moses. God gives them his law and makes a covenant with them so they will be his people and he will be their God. They immediately disobey and mistrust, so they wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that whole generation dies, Moses dies after giving the new generation the law. Joshua takes over, they move into the promised land and mostly defeat it. Joshua dies and the time of the Judges sees Israel spiral into practical madness until God gives them a king – Saul, who goes bad, and so God makes David king, promising the future Messiah would be one of his descendants. His son Solomon is super wise and builds the first temple. Solomon’s son is stupid and causes the kingdom to split into Judah and Israel. After a series of bad kings and continued disobedience, God causes first Israel and then Judah to be taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. They stay in captivity for 70 years, and are finally released by King Cyrus of Persia who had conquered Babylon. They eventually rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem, but they are still vassals of Persia. That’s where the OT ends. In the 400 years before the NT. Persia is conquered by Alexander the Great and Greece takes up control of Israel. There’s a brief uprising known as the Maccabean revolt where Israel was independent for a short time. Then they are conquered by the Romans who also take control of Israel. Jesus is born, dies, and is resurrected. The Holy Spirit descends on 120 of his followers on Pentecost and the church is born. The church goes through seven phases as spelled out by the letters of Revelation 2 & 3 and is raptured. Around the same time the 7 years of tribulation will start, culminating with the second coming of Christ. He rules for a thousand years, at the end of which there is a final rebellion that is conquered in dramatic fashion. The final judgment takes place, where Satan, his angels, and all the people he deceived are thrown into the lake of fire. The old heavens and earth pass away and a new heavens and earth are revealed. God comes to earth to live with his people forever.
It would seem that time actually continues at this point as the tree of life in the new earth produces different fruit each month implying that time still passes forever rather than being in a timeless eternity. We’ll get to that in the Spring.
So, that’s the big picture. And in order to understand some of the things that happen at the end of the story, we need to understand a few important things that happened in the earlier part of the story – and I’m specifically talking about the covenants that God made with mankind.
It turns out that God made covenants with or through six different people, all of which effect all of humanity or at least the nation of Israel. Those people are Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. If you do some looking among scholars and commentators, you will see these covenants split into as many as 12 different actual “covenants”. The most common ordering is seven (since that’s our favorite symbolic number), by either attributing two to Adam or a seventh covenant that is shared between Abraham and Moses. But six is also symbolic. It’s the number of man. So either way, it’s ok if there are six or seven covenants between God and man.
What I’m going to share with you today is just listing the details of the covenants with each person. You can do your own research on how to split them up. In the end, I think you’ll see it doesn’t really matter that much how we split it up.
The scriptures where you can find these covenants are listed in your bulletin, but I will not be reading all of them right now for the sake of time. I do encourage you to look them up yourself to verify what I’m teaching you.
Some of these covenants are unconditional, meaning that they do not require participation on the part of the human party. And some of them are conditional, meaning the outcome depends on how well the human recipients obey the terms of the covenant. Not unlike in parenting. We feed and clothe our kids despite how they behave – that would be an unconditional covenant. But what kind of extra privileges they get or discipline we dole out depends entirely upon their behavior. And a good parent keeps their promises regarding both.
Well, in the case of these covenants. God is the parent, and we are the children.
I’ll give you a heads up. We really suck at keeping up our end. And it began with the very first covenant.
The first covenant was with Adam (Genesis 2 & 3) and it was conditional.
God put him and Eve in the Garden of Eden and gave them one rule, promising they would die if they broke it. They did, and so God cursed the serpent and the earth and punished Adam and Eve. And they did eventually die. Another important part of this covenant for our purposes today is part of the curse God put on the serpent (which was really Satan).
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
This was God promising that a human being would ultimately defeat Satan, but he would at least hurt the human that does so. This was the first prophecy about Jesus.
So, the first covenant out of the gate we broke and received the promised consequence.
The second covenant was with Noah (Genesis 9) and was unconditional.
While the covenant was with Noah, it was really with all humanity.
I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
The specification of “with water” does not prevent God from destroying all life again with something else. And it turns out, that something else is fire, based on several Old Testament prophecies, and also the words of Peter.
2 Peter 3
5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s wordthe heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
The third covenant was with Abraham (Genesis 12 – 15) and was also unconditional.
God promised him several things including that his descendants would be numerous and that all people of earth would be blessed through one of his descendants – a prophecy about the Messiah: Jesus. He was also promised the land God had brought Him to, which would eventually become Israel.
14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
So far, that part of the covenant has not been completely fulfilled. More on that later.
The fourth covenant was with the nation of Israel through Moses (Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy) after rescuing them from their slavery in Egypt and was conditional.
This is otherwise known as the Law of Moses or the Mosaic Covenant. It is this covenant that is being referenced as the Old Covenant (or Testament) in contrast to the New Covenant (or Testament).
This covenant laid out the 600 laws the Israelites were to live by and detailed specific blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. In this covenant, the land promise made to Abraham is reiterated and expanded upon, which is why some separate that part as a seventh covenant. According to the terms of this covenant, if the people disobeyed, God would cause them to be scattered around the world (Deuteronomy 30:3-4), but He would eventually restore the nation (verse 5). When the nation is restored, then they will obey Him perfectly (verse 8), and God will cause them to prosper (verse 9).
The fifth covenant was with King David (2 Samuel 7) and was unconditional.
God promised that David’s lineage would last forever and that his kingdom would never pass away permanently. Obviously, the Davidic throne has not been in place at all times. There will be a time, however, when someone from the line of David will again sit on the throne and rule as king. This future king is Jesus. Hence the messianic title, Son of David, or Root of Jesse who was David’s father.
The sixth and final covenant is the New Covenant through Jesus Christ (New Testament) and is conditional.
Jesus named it at the last supper.
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
The New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant (the Mosaic Covenant) as the means of salvation and the forgiveness of sins and extends that salvation to the gentiles as well as the Jews, but it does not cancel the fulfillment of that covenant’s promises of blessings and curses for Israel. (Jeremy 31:31-34, Luke 22)
Being the church and the recipients of the New Covenant, most Christians are quite familiar with the New Covenant. The promise of salvation, forgiveness of sins, and eternity in heaven for making Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior. And the promise of eternity separated from God because of your sins if you don’t.
And since that is the covenant that we are under, it makes sense that we focus more on that one.
But one thing we modern gentile Christians may not realize is that all of the covenants God made with man are still in play, and all will be completely and totally fulfilled before all is said and done.
Because God keeps his promises – all of them – even the ones we don’t like. In fact every word that God says will accomplish its intended purpose.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
And Jesus said…
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
And so, not only is the Word of God the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There is also not a single wasted word from God’s mouth. Everything will be accomplished just as He says. Whether we like it or not.
And it is that fact that is the cause of the time of tribulation between the rapture and the second coming and everything else that happens at the end of the world.
And specifically, it is the consequences of the Mosaic Covenant that brings all of that about.
It’s all spelled out in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30.
Let’s take a look at Leviticus first, since this was the original recording of the law God gave Moses. This part comes at the end of a long list of rules or decrees that God spelled out for them…now comes the terms of this contract.
3 “‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, 4 I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. 5 Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.
6 “‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove wild beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country. 7 You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you. 8 Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.
9 “‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers,and I will keep my covenant with you. 10 You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new. 11 I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you. 12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. 13 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.
Basically, God is saying that if they obey, then everything will go well for them and they will never have to worry about anything.
Then He tells them what will happen if they don’t obey, and it’s a much longer list.
14 “‘But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, 15 and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.
18 “‘If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. 19 I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. 20 Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of your land yield their fruit.
21 “‘If you remain hostile toward me and refuse to listen to me, I will multiply your afflictions seven times over, as your sins deserve. 22 I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.
23 “‘If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, 24 I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over. 25 And I will bring the sword on you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands. 26 When I cut off your supply of bread, ten women will be able to bake your bread in one oven, and they will dole out the bread by weight. You will eat, but you will not be satisfied.
27 “‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. 31 I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. 32 I myself will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. 33 I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. 34 Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. 35 All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it.
36 “‘As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a windblown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no one is pursuing them. 37 They will stumble over one another as though fleeing from the sword, even though no one is pursuing them. So you will not be able to stand before your enemies. 38 You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will devour you. 39 Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their ancestors’ sins they will waste away.
Talk about harsh! Basically God is saying, if you obey me then life will be heaven on earth for you. If you don’t, it will be hell on earth. Take your pick.
Well, we know from history that they chose poorly. And many of these curses have already played out in history. And there are also many still to come.
But the next few verses offer a way out…a “loophole” per say…
40 “‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42 I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. 43 For the land will be deserted by them and will enjoy its sabbaths while it lies desolate without them. They will pay for their sins because they rejected my laws and abhorred my decrees. 44 Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the Lord their God. 45 But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the Lord.’”
What God is saying here is that, one – He already knows they are going to screw this up. He’s predicting that they will fail at keeping his laws and decrees and especially the land sabbaths (I’ll explain that in a sec) and will thus be exiled to the land of their enemies while the land enjoys its sabbaths and they pay for their sin. That’s exactly what the babylonian exile was all about. But at the same time He also promises that He will not destroy them completely because of the covenant He made with Abraham. This will be important in a minute.
Let’s talk about the land sabbath since God specifically mentions that law from among the hundreds as the cause for the exile.
A land sabbath was one of the laws that required them to let the land rest from farming every seventh year.
1 The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.
So, kind of like the weekly day of rest – the land was also to have a seventh year of rest. But the cool part about this requirement is that it also came with an amazing promise. A few verses later in the same chapter…
18 “‘Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. 19 Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. 20 You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” 21 I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. 22 While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.
So, God promises that if they let the land rest on the seventh year, they will harvest three years worth of crops in the sixth year, which actually results in 8 years worth of crops in 7 years. If they refuse to let it rest on the seventh year, then they will only get 7 years of crops in 7 years and eventually be taken captive by foreign nations for doing so. It really makes you wonder why they wouldn’t do this.
But if you really think about it, don’t we do the same thing? – The same kind of promises of blessings and abundance and provision accompany the tithe – giving 10% of your income to God, of honoring God with your wealth because you trust Him at his unfailing Word, but most people just won’t do it. It’s the age old story – God promises all kinds of blessings if we obey him and curses if we don’t, and we choose the curses. Crazy isn’t it?
Anyway, back to Leviticus 26, God is predicting they are going to choose the curses. But along with that, He also offers this “loophole”.
40 “‘But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, 41 which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, 42 I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.
He’s saying that if there ever comes a time when the nation as a whole confesses their sins and the sins of their ancestors and humbles themselves before Him, then he will remember (or fulfill) the covenant He had with Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob by proxy) – that the promised land will be theirs. In other words, if this ever happens, then Israel will finally be it’s own nation again and not be under any foreign rule or even have to share their land with other nations like they currently do. They will inhabit and control the whole land that God promised to Abraham.
Clearly that hasn’t happened yet…so it must be something that happens in our future since all of God’s promises will come true. And it turns out that that this one will…at the end of the tribulation.
How do we know that? From a few places, one being the second reading of the law in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy covers what Moses said to the generation that survived the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness before they entered the promised land. He repeats the law to them and then repeats the terms, but he adds some prophecy to it.
1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, 2 and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. 4 Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens,from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. 6 The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. 7 The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. 8 You will again obey the Lord and follow all his commands I am giving you today. 9 Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Notice he says “WHEN ALL these blessings and curses have come on you..” Two key words there…. “WHEN” – as opposed to “IF” and “ALL” as opposed to “SOME.” He is predicting that they WILL reap ALL of the blessings and ALL of the curses and THEN they will actually turn to God and obey him with their whole heart.
And that, my friends is the reason for the tribulation. If you know your bible, you know that the Israelites who were subject to this covenant definitely failed to keep up their required obedience. In fact, they failed over and over and over for generations. And because of that disobedience they reaped many of the curses including being exiled to foreign nations. But so far, they have yet to receive ALL of the promised curses AND they have yet to take advantage of the “loophole” and thus there are more curses still to come before what we just read in Deuteronomy comes to pass.
Remember all the “seven folds” we read in Leviticus 26? When we actually do get to the seven seals, and seven trumpets, and seven bowls in Revelation, I’ll make sure to point out the parallels, because all of that judgment we see during the tribulation is simply God keeping his promises to Israel.
Deuteronomy is not the only place we see this. Another key place is Jeremiah 30.
Jeremiah was a prophet who was active in the time just before Israel went into exile in Babylon.
4 These are the words the Lord spoke concerning Israel and Judah: 5 “This is what the Lord says:
“‘Cries of fear are heard—
terror, not peace.
6 Ask and see:
Can a man bear children?
Then why do I see every strong man
with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor,
every face turned deathly pale?
7 How awful that day will be!
No other will be like it.
It will be a time of trouble for Jacob,
but he will be saved out of it.
8 “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty,
‘I will break the yoke off their necks
and will tear off their bonds;
no longer will foreigners enslave them.
9 Instead, they will serve the Lord their God
and David their king,
whom I will raise up for them.
10 “‘So do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
do not be dismayed, Israel,’
declares the Lord.
‘I will surely save you out of a distant place,
your descendants from the land of their exile.
Jacob will again have peace and security,
and no one will make him afraid.
11 I am with you and will save you,’
declares the Lord.
‘Though I completely destroy all the nations
among which I scatter you,
I will not completely destroy you.
I will discipline you but only in due measure;
I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’
Here, God is promising to save and restore Israel, but not before they go through some “discipline in due measure.”
They key verse in this that answers two of our questions is
7 How awful that day will be!
No other will be like it.
It will be a time of trouble for Jacob,
but he will be saved out of it.
“How awful that day will be! No other will be like it.” Where have we seen that language before. Similar to the “Great Distress” Jesus talks about in Matthew 24. A time on earth like no other time has been or will be.
It will be a time of trouble for Jacob,
but he will be saved out of it.
Jacob is Israel. God changed his name. God is not referring to Jacob the man, but Jacob/Israel the nation. That is common in prophecy. And he’s saying that Jacob, or the nation of Israel will be saved out of this terrible time.
This tells us two important things.
1 – It tells us specifically who this trouble or tribulation is for – it’s for Israel, but all nations will be effected.
2 – It tells us its purpose – the purpose is to bring about the ultimate salvation of Israel, or at least the remnant that survives.
The Apostle Paul referred to this in Romans when he declared that “all of Israel will be saved.”
25 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a partial hardening until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved.
Paul knew the old covenants very well. He had been a star pupil of the greatest rabbi of his time. That, and he had direct revelation of the details of the end times straight from the risen Jesus Himself. So, he knows what he’s talking about and he tells us two very important things.
One, he confirms what I’ve already shown from Jeremiah, that Israel will eventually be saved. And WHEN that happens, which we also know from Jeremiah, is at the end of “Jacob’s trouble” or as we know it, the tribulation. I will be covering that in detail when we get there.
But there is another thing Paul says here that is important to the historical big-picture background I’m showing you today.
He says that “Israel has experienced a partial hardening until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” What does that mean?
Well, it means exactly what it says. There has been a partial hardening of the nation of Israel (the Jews) – as in a blocking of their ability to see and accept the truth – until the full number of Gentiles (non – Jews) has joined the faith. In other words, Israel will not be able to meet the requirements of the loophole – which is when they collectively confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors – until all of the Gentiles that God already knows are going to come to faith, do so. This is God’s sovereignty or control at work.
But notice it’s only a partial hardening. It’s not complete. That’s why some individual Jews are able to come to faith, but the nation as a whole has yet to recognize Jesus as their Messiah.
Now, I know this biblical truth is one that is hard for us to swallow because it messes with our fairness bone and leads into the whole discussion of free will versus election which I’m not going to get into right now other than to say it’s not an either-or, it’s a both-and. I’d be happy to discuss it with any of you that want to take me to lunch. My purpose today is to simply present the biblical facts, and this is one fact that we just have to accept as falling into that category of…
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Maybe when we get to heaven he’ll explain it to us. Until then, we will just have to trust him and be thankful for our own Gentile salvation by grace.
Anyway, speaking of Gentiles, this brings me to the final piece of the puzzle we will set today. The “Age of the Gentiles.” It’s not the same thing I was just talking about, but it’s related and a very important part of the picture I’m trying to paint today. If you’re having trouble keeping it all together, don’t worry I’m going to sum it all up at the end.
This “Age of the Gentiles” is something Jesus himself talked about. In Luke 21, which we will cover in detail in a few weeks, Jesus is talking about what’s going to happen when the temple is destroyed in AD 70.
20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
I’ll get to all the other stuff later, but right now we are focusing on this “times of the Gentiles” that Jesus speaks of. He says that “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Times is synonymous with age. It’s referring to an undefined period of time in which certain things are true. We are currently living in the “church age” as in the time when the church exists on earth. It began at Pentecost and will end at the Rapture.
But the Age of the Gentiles actually began before the church and will last until the end of the tribulation. It is defined by Jerusalem being trampled on by Gentiles, which first happened when they were conquered by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon around 600 B.C. and continues until this day. As I mentioned already, Israel has yet to have it’s own complete kingdom. They were under foreign rule from the time of Babylon until the temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 which caused them to scatter among the nations (just as the Mosaic covenant promised and predicted), then they didn’t exist as an official nation again until 1948, and even now they have to share their land with Gentiles. They can’t even rebuild the temple right now because there is a Muslim Mosque right where the Temple should be.
And what we see in Scripture is that this is all part of the plan. The Gentiles will continue to trample Jerusalem, until the end of the tribulation when Israel’s eyes are finally opened, they confess their sins and accept Jesus as their Messiah, then he will come down from heaven, defeat all their enemies and establish the promised Kingdom of Israel with himself or possibly the actual resurrected King David as their king for the thousand year reign.
Now, at this point I’m sure that most of your brains are hurting. We’ve covered a lot of ground, so let me summarize what we’ve learned and you can go back into my notes or listen again on video or podcast to remember the details.
My goal today was to give you a big picture historical explanation of why the tribulation must happen. What is it’s purpose and who is it for? Because God does not do things without purpose. He’s not just being mean. He’s actually just keeping His word.
And to do that, I basically had to give you the history of the world and the key agreements or covenants made between God and man through the ages that spell out the promises of God that will be fulfilled, whether we like it or not.
I showed you that in the Mosaic covenant, the terms were clearly defined with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. Israel disobeyed and thus they are due to experience ALL of the curses. But the purpose of the curses is not just to punish their sin, but to ultimately bring them to the point where they finally accept Jesus as their Messiah and are saved.
But before that happens, there is a finite number of Gentiles that are supposed to enter the fold. Until that happens, Israel will be partially hardened AND they will not have their promised glorious kingdom until the age of the Gentiles is done, which will coincide with their state of repentance and the second coming of Christ resulting in the Millennial Kingdom.
Maybe a picture will help.
If you remember last week’s message, you should recall that I pointed out that it seems that when Jesus – the Lion of Judah, the lamb as if slain, took the title deed scroll from God the Father’s hand in the throne room scene of Revelation 5 that it was the climax of history. If you missed that talk, you really need to catch up.
Anyway, if we start there and look at human history on sort of a timeline that peaks at that event, we have a picture like this. The beginning of time on the left, and the end of time on the right. Please note that it is not drawn to scale as the timeline on the left is much longer than the one on the right. The purpose of this drawing is to simply illustrate the order of key events. And when I’m done…prepare to have your mind blown once again.
Now, I’m going to add the covenants that I’ve already covered to the left hand side in order with the pertinent part of that covenant that is still to be fulfilled.
Adam – defeat Satan
Noah – no flood
Abraham – The promised land
Moses – blessings and curses – both still yet to be fully fulfilled
David – the throne
Jesus – the new Covenant of salvation by faith in Him.
Before we move on, let me throw the Age of the Gentiles in there, which began between the David and Jesus Covenants. Look, you get to see where it ends!
The next thing to happen in history is the church age
Followed by the rapture
Which brings us to the throne room scene and our climax.
What follows is the tribulation and the second coming.
The second coming marks the fulfillment of the last covenant with Jesus. At that point, salvation by faith is completed, the full number of Gentiles are in, and Israel has finally come to their senses and the remnant is saved – just as was promised following Jacob’s trouble and the age of the Gentiles, which is also now over.
Now that Christ is back on earth, the millennial kingdom can begin. The MK fulfills the David covenant as his throne is restored. Also, the Moses covenant is fulfilled as the curses are complete and now they will reap the blessings, along with the promises of gathering them together again. And the Abraham covenant is fulfilled because the Millennial Kingdom is the fully realized Kingdom of Israel, not ruled by or shared with another nation.
All of those covenants are fulfilled at the beginning of that period, not spread out as my picture could imply.
When the thousand years are up, several key things happen in rapid successive order, so I’ll just read it to you and point them out.
7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. 9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
Let’s stop there. So, the next key event that relates to our covenants is that all ungodly life is destroyed, this time by fire from heaven. Thus, the Noah covenant still stands true. And Peter’s predictions also true.
10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
So, Satan, or the Devil is thrown into the lake of fire – thus completing the promise in Adam’s covenant that the serpent/Satan’s head would be crushed by a descendant of Adam – Jesus.
And now all covenants have been fulfilled exactly as was promised and even in a symmetrical way.
Certainly not the kind of story that could be made up by many different authors over the span of 4,000 years right?
Pretty cool so far, right…but wait, there’s more.
The next thing to happen is the final judgment. Let’s read it.
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
We will talk about that scene in detail sometime in May, but notice verse 14.
14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.
If you were here last week, this should ring a bell for you if your head is not too full from today. I’ll help you out.
Last week I told you how the whole point of all of this was because of a promise that God the Father made to God the Son. A promise, that really could be seen as a covenant – just not between God and Man, but between God and God.
Let’s look at that again.
7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron;
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
It has the same elements as a covenant, and a conditional one at that. And if you assume that the Son did ask, then the promise is binding because God’s word never fails. And if you assume this covenant was made before the creation of the world, which is quite probable as we’ll see later in Revelation – then this would actually be the first covenant.
And remember what title Jesus gave himself in the letter to the church of Smyrna? “I am the first and the last.”
And what did we see about the fulfillment of this promise last week?
1 Corinthians 15
24 Then the end will come, when he [Jesus] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
And what did we just read was the last enemy to be thrown into the lake of fire?
14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.
Covenant fulfilled. And it bookends the 6 man-covenants – making a total of 7 covenants. Completion. God is All in All.
At which point God will say
It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
He truly is.
The whole thing was planned out in perfect symmetry from before time began, and it WILL play out just as God has decreed that it would.
Just as Jesus himself said…
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets (i.e. The whole Old Testament with all covenants included); I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.