6. Israel During the Tribulation

Jerusalem restored

Many people make the mistake of failing to observe Israel in the apocalyptic events of Revelation. Because of this ignorance, much of the biblical perspective on the great tribulation is lost, as well as one of the most important prophetic signs of the end of the Church’s dispensation, namely the restoration of the people of Israel and their capital city, Jerusalem.

In connection with the return of Christ, Revelation 1:7 states that “every eye will see Him, and they also who pierced Him.” This verse has the express implication that Israel must be back in their land so that they can make a decision in respect of the crucified Messiah who was rejected by their forebears during His first coming.

The status of Jerusalem is the most important single sign that the Lord Jesus gave us regarding the end of the present dispensation and the start of the tribulation period. After He outlined the physical destruction of the city of Jerusalem in Luke 19:41-44 and 21:5-6, He mentioned the world-wide dispersion of the Jews as well as the fact that Jerusalem would, during that time, be trodden down by the non-Jewish nations:

“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 the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk. 21:23-24; emphasis added).

Paul refers to the time of Israel’s dispersion as a period of spiritual hardening, and to the concurring times of the Gentiles as the period of world evangelism: “...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” (Rom. 11:25-26).

The word until in Luke 21:24 does not only point to the time when Jerusalem will no longer be trodden down, but also to the end of the dispensation of the Church when the times of the nations will be fulfilled. It is expedient for us to take note of developments in and around Jerusalem in order that we may correctly interpret the signs of the times (Lk. 12:54-56).

Israel’s independence in 1948 was granted with only the new part of Jerusalem under Jewish control. This was an important indication that the prophesied time of the end was imminent. A very significant situation developed in June 1967 when the part of Jerusalem known as the Old City (Zion and the Temple Mount, that is “biblical Jerusalem”) as well as East Jerusalem, were conquered from Jordan in the Six-day War. By then, the physical restoration of Jerusalem was complete and would be followed by its political restoration as capital city. Keep in mind that the last time Jerusalem was an independent Jewish capital, was before the Babylonian captivity in the sixth century BC. During the time of Christ, the flag of the Roman Empire was flown in the city.

In August 1980, the Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, declared Jerusalem to be the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel, and moved his office from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. During the two years that followed, his entire cabinet was relocated to Jerusalem as office space became available. The political restoration of the city was then complete.

The spiritual restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple must yet occur. Religiously speaking, the city is still being trampled by the heathen as is evidenced by the three Muslim Mosques on the Temple Mount. A major religious development in Israel will be a revival early in the tribulation period, from which 144 000 Messianic Jews will emerge. The other religious development of great significance to the Jews will be the rebuilding of the temple. References to the reconstructed temple which will be desecrated during the middle of the tribulation, can be found in Daniel 9:27 and 11:31; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and Revelation 11:1-2. The prophecy of John in Revelation 11 was recorded in the year 95, more than two decades after the destruction of the previous temple in 70 AD, and can therefore only refer to a future, rebuilt temple.

The spiritual rebirth of the whole nation – the remnant of Israel at the end of the great tribulation – will occur when the Messiah appears on the Mount of Olives during His second coming:

“And on that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zech. 14:4).

Many people are looking forward to this great event. The former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, said that his task was the most difficult of any mayor in the world, namely to prepare the city for the coming of the Messiah.

A week of trial and tribulation

Modern Israel has reinstated its biblical chronology in terms of which years are counted in multiples of seven and called year-weeks. Every six years are followed by a Sabbatical year to complete the cycle, and after seven year-weeks (49 years) a jubilee year is celebrated as the feast of the 50th year (Lev. 25:1-10). Since the tribulation will cover a period of seven years, as indicated in Daniel 9:27, much interest is focused upon Israel’s year-week cycle.

The final year-week before the coming of the Messiah on the Mount of Olives, will be a time of testing and spiritual awakening for Israel. This nation is still spiritually blinded and faces a tough time of purification during the seven years of tribulation (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 9: 27; Ezek. 22:19-21; Zech. 13:8-9). After this purification a remnant of Israel will enter the rest of the Messianic kingdom and enjoy all the promises of blessing and perfection. Although the national conversion of Israel will only take place at the end of the seven years –also called the 70th week of Daniel – a great revival will occur at the beginning of the seven years.

The Jewish tradition of year-weeks enables us to understand why the coming tribulation will be a period of exactly seven prophetic years. In a prophetic time-scale, every month is 30 days in length. Daniel 9:27 refers to this coming year-week of the false messiah’s reign, and his desecration of the temple in the middle of the week. This final year-week is therefore divided into two halves of 3˝ years (42 months or 1 260 days) each. It is only against this background that we can understand the following statements in Revelation:

·       Two special witnesses will minister for 1 260 days in the tribulation period (Rev. 11:3).

·       The rebuilt temple in Jerusalem will be desecrated for 42 months (Rev. 11:2).

·       The woman (the people of Israel) will flee to the desert where she will be sustained by God  for 1 260 days (Rev. 12:6).

·       The Antichrist will have absolute authority in the world as a military dictator for 42 months (Rev. 13:5).

The sealed 144 000

A very important event at the beginning of the tribulation period is a spiritual revival among the Jewish people. Revelation 7:4 clearly states that there will be 144 000 servants of God from Israel who will be sealed on their foreheads: “And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.”

There is nothing vague about this statement and it is completely unjustified to attribute the revival of Revelation 7:1-8 to the Church, or to any other group. It applies emphatically to Israel. By that time the Lord will have removed the true believers from the planet earth. He will then spiritually revive 144 000 Jews from among the restored people of Israel to be His special witnesses. Revelation 7 ties up with an extensive series of prophecies in the Bible in which the guarantee is given that the Lord will not only restore Israel physically to their land, but that they will in the latter days also experience a spiritual revival:

“Therefore say to the house of Israel... I will take you from among the nations... Then will I sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean.... I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements, and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezek. 36:22-28).

Today there are many thousands of Jews who have been exposed to the New Testament facts about the messiahship of Jesus, but most of them are deferring a final decision because of uncertainty, or because of the threat of persecution. A decision will only be taken after the rapture has occurred and all the Messianic Jews (those who have previously accepted Jesus as their Messiah) have been taken away with the Church of Christ. A thorough reappraisal of the facts relating to the Messiah will then have to be made by those left behind.

Because of these dramatic events a large group of Jews all over the world will, in deep repentance under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, accept Yeshua Ha Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah) as their Saviour. From this revival, according to Revelation 7:3, the Lord will have 144 000 of his servants sealed early in the tribulation and appoint them to a special evangelistic ministry. As happened with Daniel’s three friends they will, as chosen witnesses, be kept safely in the fire of tribulation during this particularly trying time.

The great deceiver strikes

While the scene is set for Israel’s spiritual recovery, the Devil will not let the opportunity go by to produce a false messiah. Immediately after the rapture, great fear and anxiety will prevail in Israel. The situation will be aggravated by an allied Russo-Arab attack which will enfold them from every side (Ezek. 38 and 39). In a most dramatic and unexpected way, God will intervene and save Israel supernaturally by destroying their enemies.

At the same time a dynamic, miracle-working man of Jewish descent will suddenly appear on the scene. Credit for the victory will wrongly be given to this extraordinary man who seemingly came to their rescue at a very critical moment. He will present himself as Israel’s redeemer and promised Messiah. After brief consultations, the national leaders will accept him as such. The Lord Jesus referred to this tragic decision when He said:

“I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive Me; If another comes in his own name, him you will receive” (Jn. 5:43).

This deceiver, who will imitate the true Messiah and attempt to take His place, is the rider on the white horse – the Antichrist. He won’t delay efforts to consolidate his position, and will give his consent to Israel to rebuild the temple. He will discredit the spiritual revival from which the 144 000 witnesses will have come forth, as a perfidious movement outside the will of God. In opposition to the Messianic revival he will channel all religious initiatives into an orthodox course, that will include the rebuilding of the temple and the reinstitution of sacrificial services.

For obvious reasons, there will be a tremendous polarisation between the Messianic Jews on one hand, and the orthodox Jews under the guidance of the false messiah on the other hand. The latter group will be in the majority and pledge unanimous support to their long-awaited messiah. Even when he moves out to the other nations and religions and presents himself as their messiah, and thereby draws Israel into an alliance with other religions, the majority will still be blind to his deceit and support him unconditionally.

The two witnesses

During this period of mass seduction the Lord will send two exceptional witnesses to proclaim to Israel that they should turn to the true God (Rev. 11:3-12). Indications in the Bible are that these two could be Moses and Elijah who appeared with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-3). They may, however, be two modern prophets who will act in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah. In the last two verses of the Old Testament, the following is said about the end-time ministry of Elijah:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6).

From prince of peace to tyrant

Halfway through the tribulation period, the covenant between the false messiah and Israel will be broken when he declares himself as God in the temple:

“...there will be a time of great rebellion against God, and then the man of rebellion will come – the son of hell. He will defy every god there is, and tear down every other object of adoration and worship. He will go in and sit as God in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God” (2 Thes. 2:4 LB).

With the assistance of the false prophet he will set up an image of himself in the Holy of Holies and force everyone to worship him. He will abandon all other forms of worship, including the sacrificial services in the temple. Of this wicked ruler, Daniel says:

“This king will make a seven-year treaty with the people, but after half that time, he will break his pledge and stop the Jews from all their sacrifices and their offerings; then, as a climax to all his terrible deeds, the Enemy shall utterly defile the sanctuary of God. But in God's time and plan, His judgement will be poured out upon this Evil One” (Dan. 9:27 LB).

Daniel therefore confirms that the Antichrist will abandon all other forms of worship, including the sacrifices in the temple, after the first 3˝ years of his reign.

A disillusioned Israel will refuse any continued allegiance to the counterfeit Messiah who will suddenly declare himself to be God. In so doing they will become the objects of his wrath. Now the false messiah will be the self-declared god of this world and assume the role of the rider on the red horse. He will go on the war-path and endeavour to eradicate Israel and all other dissident groups. He will kill the two witnesses who so adamantly warned the people against him (Rev. 11:7). He will also order the execution of all other people who believe in Christ. In no uncertain way, Jesus warned the Jewish people against this unprecedented persecution by the Antichrist:

“Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), 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... And pray that your flight may not be in the winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, never ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved” (Mt. 24:15-22).

In those days of tribulation many Jews will perish. Zechariah says:

“And it shall come to pass in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die; but one-third shall be left in it” (Zech. 13:8).

The remaining third will be purified in the crucible of tribulation until the time when Jesus returns, then they will be reconciled with Him (Zech. 13:9).

The flight to the desert

Revelation 12 describes the flight of the Israelites to the desert. It will take place shortly after the desecration of the temple and the rescission of the covenant between Israel and the false messiah, halfway through the tribulation.

In the scenario of Revelation 12 it is evident that the conflict between Israel and the Antichrist will not be an isolated phenomenon, but part of the age-old struggle between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. The background of events that will culminate in this confrontation, are mentioned by John:

“And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days” (Rev. 12:1-6 KJV).

Here Israel is likened to a married woman – not a betrothed virgin like the Church of Christ (compare Jer. 31:1-5; Is. 54:4-8 and Hos. 2:15 for Israel, and Mt. 25:1-13 and 2 Cor. 11:2 for the Church). The woman is also identified by the twelve stars upon her head that indicate the twelve tribes of Israel, as well as the sun and the moon that point to Jacob and Rachel as ancestor and ancestress of Israel. This symbolism is clear from Joseph’s dream:

“Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said: Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me. So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him: What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” (Gen. 37:9-10. See Jer. 31:11 and 15 where Jacob and Rachel are personified as Israel).

The pregnancy of the woman suggests the period of Christ’s birth. The dragon that draws a third of the angels with him from heaven and stands ready to destroy the child, is no other than the Devil himself. On this occasion the abettor was Herod. He demanded that the infants be murdered in an effort to take the life of Jesus. But the Lord Jesus came and fulfilled His task and He was taken back to heaven. The period when He will rule the nations with a rod of iron will commence after His second coming. According to Revelation 2:26-27, His faithful disciples will reign with Him.

Until Jesus comes again, the Devil is directing his efforts of opposing the kingdom of God against the true Church and Israel. As the spiritual restoration of Israel progresses, Satan will focus much more attention on them – first to deceive them and later to annihilate them – in order that God’s plan with His covenant people may be foiled. It is during this period that Israel is given the command to flee to a place in the wilderness, probably Petra, to survive the great tribulation. There the Lord will protect a remnant for 1 260 days – that is 3˝ years.

Christian martyrs

The Antichrist will likewise persecute the Christians of the tribulation period. They will reject him and, in contravention of his explicit orders, only worship the God of Israel through the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In this respect the Christians are close relatives of the woman, Israel (Rev. 12:17). In Romans 11:15-20, Paul says that Christians from the non-Jewish nations have been grafted into the Olive Tree (Israel) and are accordingly closely associated with them. This intimate bond is the source of our love for Israel. The sincere desire and prayer of our heart is that they, too, will recognise Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and enter into the new covenant with Him (Heb. 8:8-13).

True Christians (those who are saved shortly after the rapture) will from the onset recognise the Antichrist as a false leader. They will reject him, as well as the false universal Church. For them there will be, in the brief kingdom of the beast, only one course and that is persecution, martyrdom and death. About these martyrs, John says:

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying: How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9-10).

These martyrs include all those who will be converted during the tribulation period. Under the ministry of the 144 000 Jewish evangelists there will be many such converts. They will be committed to opposing the Antichrist as a counterfeit Christ and revealing the deception of his multi-faith approach.

Should you live during that time, you must keep in mind that your salvation cannot be effected merely by opposition to the Antichrist and the refusal of his mark, but only by conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. You must confess your sins, accept Him as your Redeemer and be cleansed by His blood. Only then will you be spiritually equipped to resist the Antichrist, even at the cost of your life. You must indeed be prepared to accept the inevitability of a martyr’s death, for Christians will not survive the great tribulation.

Spiritual victory and martyrdom will go hand in hand:

“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; and they did not love their lives to the death” (Rev. 12:11).

In heaven they will learn that all their fellow-brothers in Jesus will also have to suffer and die as martyrs:

“And a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed” (Rev. 6:11).

When all the martyrs have been gathered in heaven, they will receive resurrection bodies and greatly rejoice in the Lord. They will no longer remember all the grief and sorrow of persecution, hunger, martyrdom and the execution they suffered because of their faith. Of this vast gathering, John writes:

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes.... These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.... the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:9, 14, 17).

Meeting on the Mount of Olives

The sudden appearance of Christ on the world scene at His second coming is described in Revelation 19, and will take place on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. On that day the remnant of Israel will accept Him as Messiah and be saved:

“And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof towards the east and towards the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove towards the north, and half of it towards the south. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah: and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee” (Zech. 14:4-5 KJV).

The Lord Jesus will come, and with Him the holy ones who were caught up and united with Him seven years earlier. Now He comes to be reconciled with the remnant of Israel who, during the time of the great war of Armageddon, will take refuge in the rock-shelters in the Mount of Olives. Their meeting with Jesus will be for their salvation because, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1 KJV).

On the day of the Messiah’s crucifixion, the fountain was opened potentially for all Israel and the whole world. At the second coming of the Messiah, the fountain will be opened experientially for the Jewish nation. The spiritual cleansing of the nation is associated with Israel’s spiritual regeneration and the conclusion of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-37; Ezek. 36:25-32; Rom. 11:26-27). “The house of David” (political leaders) and “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” include all the people of the land who need the spiritual cleansing that only the Messiah, Jesus, can graciously bestow on them.

The surviving Jews will refer to the nail-marks in His hands, and ask: “What are these wounds in your hands? Then He will answer: Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends” (Zech. 13:6). It will be highly moving moments when the remnant of Israel will have great remorse because of their sins, and also because their forefathers rejected the Messiah during His first coming:

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; and they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadat Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo” (Zech. 12:10-11).

The great mourning of the last days, described by Zecharaiah, refers to the repentance of the Jewish people and their deep contrition in view of their past unbelief. Under conviction of the sin of rejecting the Messiah they shall look on Him whom they have pierced, and shall mourn, and find cleansing in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness. “And so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Blessed are those who mourn thus (Mt. 5:4) for they shall be comforted through the pardoning mercy of our God freely remitting all their sins, and imparting peace to their souls.

Jesus will be united with the purified, fugitive and sorrowing remnant of His people and comfort them with the words: “This is My people; and each one will say: The Lord is my God” (Zech. 13:9).