Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (April 2011)
In His Olivet Discourse the Lord Jesus offers a very clear prophetic scenario in which He highlights the initiation as well as consummation of the world changing dispensation between His first and second comings. These periods of both judgement and grace are associated with two generations which are linked to important events in and around Jerusalem. The first generation was introduced by Jerusalem’s rejection and crucifixion of their Messiah, and concluded by the judgement and destruction of unbelieving Jerusalem. The last generation was introduced by the restoration of Jerusalem and will be concluded by the return of the Messiah to Jerusalem after the judgements of the day of the Lord. During the interim period between the two generations, Jerusalem was trampled by the Gentiles.
In order to gain greater clarity on the rest of the discussion we should first examine the reason for the different presentations of the Olivet Discourse by Matthew and Luke – Mark’s version of the Olivet Discourse being virtually the same as that of Matthew. Appreciation of these facts will keep one from trying to identify the prophetic future of the church in the typically Jewish scenario described by Matthew.
A study of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) reveals the fact that they have complementary theological perspectives. Although the basic message of salvation is described by all three of them, the Gospel of Matthew was written mainly for the Jews. It has a decidedly Jewish orientation in which preference is explicitly given to proclaiming the message of God’s kingdom to Israel.
References to the Old Testament abound in Matthew to demonstrate to a sceptical nation that the life and works of Jesus in minute detail fulfilled Old Testament prophecies on the coming of the Messiah. A Jewish genealogy is presented for Jesus, which is reckoned from Abraham, the founding father of Israel: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). His descent from the royal family of David is often mentioned and for this reason He is specifically described as the King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2; 12:23).
In the period before the national rejection of Jesus by the Jews, the disciples were ordered to focus all their attention on Israel and not to go to Gentiles such as the Samaritans: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6). Jesus also said of Himself: “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). The promise of the Messiah was initially only made to Israel, and to no other people.
It was only after Israel’s national rejection of the Messiah and His message of salvation that the command was given after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ to proclaim the gospel to all nations (Matt. 28:19). The Lord Jesus had previously warned Israel that their unbelief would lead to such a situation: “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness” (Matt. 8:11-12). In the light of this situation it is obvious that the people of Israel will have to pass through the tribulation because of their national unbelief.
In the presentation of prophecies, including the Olivet Discourse, the Jewish perspective is maintained by Matthew. The destruction of Jerusalem is clearly foretold, as well as the fact that the Jewish nation who rejected Jesus would be dispersed from their land and see Him no more until the time of His return when they will accept and bless Him in the Name of the Lord (Matt. 23:37-39). The hardships of the tribulation period, and also the desecration of the temple, are recorded by Matthew in chapter 24 since Israel, as a nation, will go through the tribulation period. In this Gospel, clear instructions are given to the Jews of Judea on their sudden flight to the mountains, on foot, during the middle of the coming tribulation period – directly prior to the “great tribulation”. In this description, typical Jewish terms such as “Sabbath” are used (Matt. 24:15-22). Biblical laws on the Sabbath have again been instituted in modern Jerusalem, and prohibit orthodox Jews from walking long distances on this day, or embarking on journeys.
A strikingly different perspective is offered in the Gospel according to Luke. This Gospel was written for non-Jewish believers and has a much more universal orientation in that the position of Christians as well as the unsaved Gentile nations is explicitly mentioned. The genealogy of Jesus is reckoned back to Adam (Luke 3:38), not only to Abraham, as Jesus has come for all the descendants of Adam “to seek and to save” lost sheep everywhere in the world (Luke 19:10). The Jewish disciples are rebuked for their intolerance towards the Samaritans (Luke 9:51-56), while the Jews are reproached by the Lord Jesus since only one of the ten lepers whom He had healed, a Samaritan, turned back to glorify God (Luke 17:11-19).
In his prophetic review, Luke not only discusses the fate of the unbelieving Jewish people but also records prophecies meant for Messianic believers, the non-Jewish Christians and the nations. The escape from the destruction of Jerusalem, which had been promised by Jesus to believers, is mentioned by Luke (Luke 21:20-22) but not by Matthew. Likewise, the promise of the rapture to Jewish as well as non-Jewish believers is made by Jesus in Luke (21:34-36) but not mentioned by Matthew.
As far as the tribulation period is concerned, Luke does not refer to the desecration of the temple by the false messiah, as does Matthew, but he does emphasise the distress of nations in the midst of worldwide disasters and virtually unbearable conditions that will prevail. It is also conspicuous that he clearly indicates the times of the Gentiles that would span the long period between the first and last generations (Luke 21:24). Mathew makes no mention of this period of Gentile domination, and describes first and last generation events as if they are seemingly continuous. This presentation is typical of prophecies which are written from the vantage point of Israel. Daniel also described the 70 year-weeks of Israel as if they constitute a continuous period, without referring to the gap between the 69th and 70th weeks, during which the times of the Gentiles [the entire church dispensation] would elapse (Dan. 9:24-27).
The concept “generation” (Gr. genea) needs to be properly defined in order to gain a better understanding of the Olivet Discourse. This word is sometimes used to only refer to a particular group of people (cf. Matt. 12:39), but more often it denotes a specific generation, or age-group, in the history of a nation or community. Older generations are succeeded by younger ones, and in this sense all of them have a starting-point and a terminal point. A total generation represents a period of 70 years, or even up to 80 (Ps. 90:10), while an adult generation (the period after a Jewish man had come of age at 30) has an average duration of 40 years (cf. Num. 32:13).
The first adult generation of the present dispensation started with the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus in 32 AD and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The last full generation started with the restoration of Israel in 1948, but the last adult generation began with the restoration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city in 1980 and will end with the appearing of Christ on the Mount of Olives.
In the Olivet Discourse, the Lord Jesus gave His disciples short-term signs pointing to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, as well as long-term signs related to His second coming:
“Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came to Him to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down. Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:1-3).
Two distinctly different questions were put to the Lord: (1) “When will the temple be destroyed?” and (2) “What is the sign of your coming and the end of this age?” In the subsequent discourse, various important events of contemporary significance to Jews of the first generation after the rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah were discussed, as well as events related to the last generation before the second coming of Jesus. In these prophecies, a clear distinction must be made between first generation events which relate to the first of the two questions the disciples asked Jesus, and last generation events which relate to the second question.
When referring to the immediate future of Jerusalem and its inhabitants of the early first century, the Lord Jesus addressed the sceptical Jewish leaders who rejected Him, just as their fathers had rejected and killed the prophets. They filled up the measure of their fathers’ guilt and would inevitably have to bear the consequences of their apostasy:
“Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; 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. 23:36-39).
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near… 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, 23-24).
When Jesus referred to the last generation, He did so in the context of a restored Jerusalem in the midst of the great tribulation with its unprecedented distress, wars and natural disasters that will culminate in His second coming. This generation would begin after the long period of the trampling of Jerusalem had come to an end. Events of this generation do not only refer to the Middle East but have a worldwide application to Israel and the nations:
“And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. And [after that] there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near… Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things are fulfilled” (Luke 21:25-32; see also Matt. 24:34).
The parameters of the first and last generations of the present age (the dispensation of the church) are clearly defined in the above quotations from Scripture. The first generation started when the inhabitants of Jerusalem rejected their Messiah-King and delivered Him to the Roman authorities to be crucified. The end of the first generation was marked by the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Diaspora.
The last adult generation was inaugurated with the restoration of Jerusalem to its former position of Israel’s capital city. During the rebirth of Israel as a nation in 1948, biblical Jerusalem (Mount Zion and the Temple Mount) was not under their control. They only recaptured the Old City during the Six Day War in June 1967, and fully restored the city’s political identity in August 1980, thereby ushering in the last adult generation. This generation will end when the inhabitants of Jerusalem receive and accept their Messiah-King when He suddenly appears on the Mount of Olives at the end of the tribulation period. They will look on Him whom they have pierced, and say: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39; see also Zech. 12:10; 14:4).
The last generation will end in a similar situation as the one which prevailed when the first generation started: The inhabitants of Jerusalem [the leaders of the nation] will again be granted the opportunity to accept Yeshua as their Messiah-King and to bow down before Him for salvation and cleansing from their sin (Zech. 13:1). On the first occasion they rejected Him, but on the second occasion they will fully accept Him.
A theme which is clearly discussed in the Olivet Discourse is the promise that true believers of the first generation would escape the divine judgements upon Jerusalem. The same biblical principle is also applied to the last generation as true believers would again be removed from the disaster area of divine judgements. This is a long-standing principle of God’s dealings with humans: He never pours out His wrath upon believers when He judges the wicked. Noah, Lot, and their families were also removed to places of safety before God judged the wicked people of their time.
The following promise was given to the believers of the first generation: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are days of vengeance, that all things that are written may be fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-22).
In November and December, 66 AD, this promise was literally fulfilled to Messianic believers in Israel. The occasion was the siege of Jerusalem by the forces of the Roman governor of Syria, Cestius Gallus. After realising that he was not well enough prepared for a long siege of the strongly fortified city, he withdrew to Syria. The Jewish leaders wrongly concluded that God was giving the enemy into their hands, and pursued them. In their pursuit the Jewish forces killed 5300 of the retreating Roman soldiers, while sustaining virtually no losses themselves.
During that time, Messianic believers did not share the false hopes of their orthodox compatriots but rather acted on the warning of Yeshua and fled the city in a north-easterly direction. They crossed the Jordan River and took refuge in Decapolis, in the city of Pella, where they were safe from the impending doom of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
At this time Nero, one of the greatest tyrants in history, was the emperor in Rome. He was outraged when he learned about the humiliating defeat of his Syrian army at the hands of the Jews. He ordered one of his best generals, Vespasian, to subdue the Jews by brutal force. The climax of Vespasian’s bloody campaign was the siege of Jerusalem that started on May 10, in 70 AD. His son, Titus, joined him with soldiers who were stationed in Alexandria. When Vespasian was called to Rome to succeed as the new emperor, Titus took command of the forces in Judea. Contrary to the clear instructions which Jesus gave to His disciples in Luke 21:20-24, great numbers of Jews flocked to Jerusalem after various Jewish towns and cities were captured and ravaged by the Romans. The refugees thought they would be safe in Jerusalem, but Jesus warned them against a contrary scenario:
“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).
During the siege of Jerusalem, 1,1 million people perished – half of them died of starvation, while the rest fell by the edge of the sword. The temple was set alight and subsequently all its walls broken down to the rock foundation to retrieve the molten gold that had seeped into the cracks in the floor. All the buildings in the city were burned and razed to the ground. On 26 September in AD 70, the once famous City of David had died. Only one wall, the present Western Wall on the Temple Mount, was left standing to serve as a shelter to Roman soldiers who remained behind to ensure that the Jews did not rebuild the city. The 97 000 surviving Jews were taken away as captives of war. Many of them were sold on slave markets in other provinces of the Roman Empire.
The long period of Israel’s exile from the land, their global dispersion, and the trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles started in 70 AD. The subsequent period is described as “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) when the whole world was to be evangelised. It was not until late in the 20th century that Jerusalem would again be under Jewish control, thereby ushering in a last generation before the coming of the Messiah.
The end of the physical and political trampling of Jerusalem occurred in the period after modern Israel was restored in 1948. In 1967, the Old City was recaptured by Israel and in August 1980 it was restored as their capital. That was the starting point for the last adult generation. There are striking similarities between conditions that prevailed in Israel and Jerusalem during the first and last generations respectively, despite the fact that almost two millennia have elapsed between them:
· The great majority of the Jews still reject Jesus as Messiah, as did their counterparts in the first century.
· Messianic Jews are a small minority group who are resisted, despised and even persecuted in various ways by orthodox Jews if they preach salvation in the Name of Yeshua.
· The nation is expecting a Messiah who will liberate them from their enemies, guarantee a peaceful future for Israel, and allow them to reinstate and continue the temple service. Jesus warned them against accepting a false Messiah (John 5:43) who will pose as a religious and political leader and will arise from a desert area in the Middle East (Matt. 24:26).
· The rejection of Jesus in the first century led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora of the Jews. The renewed rejection of Jesus by members of the last generation will give rise to the time of Jacob’s trouble in the tribulation period (Jer. 30:7), during which the false messiah will severely persecute them (Dan. 7:25; Rev. 12:13). Jerusalem will again be besieged.
· An escape route was promised to first generation believers from God’s judgements which would be poured out upon the apostate majority (Luke 21:20-21), while last generation believers are also promised an escape from the judgements of God in the tribulation period (Luke 21:36).
· The devil deceived Jews of the first generation into rebelling against God by rejecting His Son as Saviour and King, as a result of which they forfeited God’s favour and were driven from their city and their land. The same spiritual blindness also induces last generation Jews to rebel against God by their continued rejecting of Jesus and His disciples. They will come very close to being driven from their city and their land (Zech. 14:2), at which point Jesus will come back to save the remnant (Zech. 14:3-5) and conclude a new covenant with them (Jer. 31:7,31).
· Both generations are described as transitional periods during which Israel and the church coexist. The first generation constituted a transition from Israel to the church. Shortly before 70 AD, Paul’s pioneering mission to establish the church among the Gentiles was completed and he died as a martyr in Rome. By 70 AD, Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel exiled. That was followed by the long period of the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24). The last generation saw the return of Israel to their land and ancient capital city, Jerusalem. But their spiritual restoration as a nation will only occur right at the end of this generation. During this generation, the church is concluding its mission to proclaim the gospel to all nations. Soon, the true church will be removed from the scene by way of the rapture in order to allow for the resumption of the times of Israel. At the beginning of the 70th year-week of Israel (the tribulation of 7 years), they will conclude a covenant with the false messiah (Dan. 9:27; John 5:43). This period is part of the terminal generation, but can only elapse after the consummation of the church age by way of the rapture (2 Thess. 2:6-8). Right at the end of the tribulation period, which will also mark the end of the last generation before the new dispensation of the Messianic kingdom, Christ will return and the remnant in Israel will be reconciled with Him (Matt. 37:39).
The phasing out of the church is a very prominent event of the last generation. The judgements and testing to which Israel and the Christ-rejecting nations will be subjected to before a remnant of them will be saved, are not meant for the true church: “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).
It is important to note that nominal believers will not be counted worthy to escape the coming tribulation period. True Christians are vigilant and praying witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ. The others only have a form of godliness but have no witness of being born again of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says: “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matt. 15:8).
After the rapture, the Antichrist will reveal himself and be accepted by Israel and all the other nations (John 5:43; Rev. 13:3). In the middle of the tribulation period he will enter the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, bring an end to the sacrificial service, declare himself to be God in the Holy of Holies, and institute the forced worship of an image of himself (Dan. 9:27; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:15). When the Jewish leaders refuse to accept and worship him in his new capacity as self-declared God, he will order genocide against the Jews. Jesus warned them against this very serious turn of events and advised them to flee from Jerusalem in great hurry when it happens:
“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place... then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those with nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:15-21).
This escape will occur 3½ years after the rapture, and will be aimed at preserving a remnant of the Jews during the dark days of the great tribulation, that they may live to see the coming of the true Messiah 3½ years later and be saved.
At the end of the seven-year tribulation period, the Lord Jesus will return from heaven. The surviving Jews will assemble at the Mount of Olives where He will set foot on the mountain: “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zech. 14:4). They will welcome Him with great joy, and shout: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39). The spiritual restoration of the remnant in Israel will conclude the events of the last generation of the present age (Zech. 12:10-12; 13:1). After the coming of the Messiah a dramatic Christian transformation will occur in Israel and all over the world (Matt. 24:30; Jer. 3:17).
In the light of the very clear prophecies of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse, it should be obvious to everyone that the last generation is in an advanced stage. The rapture of the church is very near, and will be followed by the revelation of the false messiah and the beginning of the tribulation period. The Lord Jesus warned against the serious deception that will attend the coming of the false messiah and his co-workers (Matt. 24:4-5,23-26).
In the Olivet Discourse it is clearly stated that during the Diaspora the position of Israel, their land and their city, Jerusalem, was never intended to be one of permanent rejection. The word “until” or “till” is used several times to underscore the fact that at some future time they would be restored. Likewise, the times of the Gentiles will not continue indefinitely. Christ will first come secretly for His church and then publicly for Israel and the whole world:
The trampling of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). In this verse the word “until” (Gr. achri) conveys the idea of a terminus. The situation described will, therefore, not continue indefinitely but come to a certain end. From the evidence of recent history we know that the physical and political trampling of Jerusalem by Gentile nations came to an end when Jerusalem was declared to be the eternal capital of Israel in 1980, after having been recaptured in June 1967. But the present restoration of Jerusalem is only partial. Before the Messiah comes, the city is destined to become a furnace and place of great distress to precipitate the spiritual purification of a remnant in Israel (Ezek. 22:18-22). The desecration and continued trampling of the Temple Mount by heathen nations continues throughout the last generation as the overt consequence of Israel’s spiritual blindness. Even the third temple that will be erected during the tribulation period will not change this situation. The false messiah will use this temple to draw Israel’s attention away from the once for all sacrifice of the Lamb of God, and also desecrate this temple by reducing it to a place of forced idol worship. Israel will only be restored spiritually when the Messiah comes at the end of this year-week. The entire city will be rebuilt after the disasters of the great tribulation (Jer. 31:38-40; Isa. 2:2-3; 52:1-2; 60:1-18). An important part of the final restoration of Jerusalem will be the rebuilding of the fallen throne of David and the construction of the fourth temple (Acts 15:16-17; Luke 1:32; Ezek. 40-48). We all need to earnestly pray for the realisation of the coming glory of Jerusalem (Isa. 62:6-7).
The physical absence of the Messiah: “You shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39). The word “till” (Gr. heos) may be rendered until, or even unto. The remnant of Israel will see Jesus when He comes again at the end of the last generation – which will also mark the end of the tribulation period – and bless Him in the name of the Lord. The Lord Jesus clearly linked His public appearance to the end of the tribulation period: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:29-30).
Coming of the Messiah after the time of judgement: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till (Gr. heos) all these things are fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34; see also Luke 21:32). The last generation of the present age will certainly reach its point of consummation, but not before the devastating and world-wide judgements of the day of the Lord have been poured out upon the earth. The Lord Jesus said: “Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And if those days had not been shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matt. 24:21-22). Only the true church of Christ will escape this time of judgement (Luke 21:36), but unbelieving Israel and the apostate nations will have to pass through it. On the last day of this apocalyptic year-week, Christ will return to bring an end to the tribulation, save the remnant of Israel and the nations, and usher in a new dispensation of peace on earth.
There are also other prophecies in the Bible on the future of Israel and the Gentile nations in which the word “until” is used in the same way as in the Olivet Discourse, thereby confirming the wonderful divine intervention for which we are hoping. Paul said: “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that hardening 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; for this is My covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Rom. 11:25-27).
The national conversion of the remnant of Israel will occur right at the end of the last generation, which will also be the end of the great tribulation. By that time, the spiritual after-crop among the Gentiles will also have been gathered during the preceding tribulation period; and then “all Israel” will be saved (Jer. 31:7,31,34; Rom. 11:26).
Through the prophet Hosea, the Lord rebukes Israel for their spiritual revolt against Him and indicates the implications of their consequent rejection of the Messiah:
“For I [the Messiah] will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away [the ascension of Jesus after He announced the destruction of Jerusalem and the international dispersion of the Jews]... I will return again to My place [heaven] till they [the people of Israel] acknowledge their offence. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction [in the great tribulation] they will diligently seek Me. Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days [of one thousand years each – cf. 2 Pet. 3:8] He will revive us; on the third day [in the third millennium after His first coming] He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight” (Hos. 5:14–6:2).
The time will certainly come when Israel experiences great distress because the nation has rejected their Messiah during His first coming. However, the full realisation of their national rejection of the Messiah will only take place after “two days”. These prophetic days of a thousand years each (2 Pet. 3:8) are the same as those used by the Lord Jesus when He referred to His own ministry: “I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected” (Luke 13:32). After the “two days” (2000 years) of the ministry of Jesus to save people from the bondage of Satan and healing their spiritual wounds, He will reign as King in the third millennium (also referred to as “the day of the Lord” – Zech. 14:8-9). These three “days” began with the coming of Jesus to the world two thousand years ago, which was the beginning of the Messiah’s earthly ministry, and will extend to the end of Christ’s millennial reign.
From this prophetic context it is clear that two millennia after the first coming of the Messiah, a time of great affliction and distress will dawn for Jacob, i.e. Israel (Jer. 30:7). As indicated by the Lord Jesus in His Olivet Discourse, Israel, as a people, will first worship the false messiah. After he has set up his image in the temple and declared himself to be God (Dan 9:27, 11:31,36; 12:11; Matt. 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:3-4), Israel will realise that he is a false messiah and revoke their covenant with him. This action will greatly infuriate the false messiah and induce him to try and annihilate the Jewish people. That will be a time of great distress, when Israel will realise their past sin of having rejected Yeshua ha Mashiach. Their meeting with Him at the Mount of Olives will lead to their national conversion (Zech. 12:10–13:1; Jer. 31:34).
After the false messiah has set up his image in the temple during the middle of the tribulation period, the remnant of Israel will seriously study Messianic prophecies and discover that great distress awaits them, but that it will not be long before the true Messiah comes: “…there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered… And from the time that the daily sacrifice is taken away, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there shall be 1290 days” (Dan. 12:1,11).
The last 42 months of the tribulation period, referred to as the “great tribulation” by Jesus (Matt. 24:21; cf. Rev. 11:2; 13:5), will elapse between the self-deification of the false messiah in the temple and the coming of the true Messiah on the Mount of Olives. That will be followed by a month of mourning by the Jews while they are reconciled with Yeshua ha Mashiach (Zech. 12:10-14; cf. their mourning for Moses in Deut. 34:8). By then, 43 prophetic months of 30 days each (1290 days) will have passed since the day on which the false messiah desecrated the temple and forced people to worship him as God.
In His Olivet Discourse the Lord Jesus refers to both the first and last generations of the church dispensation, as well as the interim “times of the Gentiles”. We are certainly very close to the rapture and the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period within this last generation.
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