Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Are We There Yet?

Who hasn't heard those words while travelling with small children? I remember trying unsuccessfully to teach my daughters how to recognize and read road signs when they were young so I wouldn't have to answer that question so often. There did come a day, though, when they learned not only how to read, but how to look for the signs in order to know how close we were to our destination. As often as I have had the opportunity to teach on the subject of what the Bible has to say about the end of this age, I often find myself in much the same predicament.

Many believers today simply have little or no knowledge about what the Bible teaches about the period of time immediately preceding the Second Coming. This might at first seem startling, unless you consider how rare it is to hear any sort of teaching of prophecy from the pulpits in our churches today. Last year I had the opportunity to watch a program on a national network where a well known columnist interviewed several pastors of some of the largest churches in America today. When the subject of the return of Christ came up I was dumbfounded to hear one of these pastors state emphatically that the church had no business teaching on that subject, and people should simply concentrate on how they are living their lives right now! Fortunately for equal time, another of those pastors spoke up quickly to say that it is the only thing we should be teaching! My thought is that if the Second Coming was the subject Jesus taught the most, it probably means it's important and we should be doing the same. After all, if we look at the context of Matthew 24 and 25 where Jesus talks about the signs of His return and the penalties for not watching, we would do well to remember in Matthew 23 Jesus totally ripped the religious leaders of that day for not recognizing the "time of their visitation"! He then goes on to tell us what to watch for, and what the signs would be of His return.

Of course, it's been my experience that one can't talk about the Second Coming for more than 30 seconds before someone quotes Matthew 24:36 where Jesus says that "no man knows the day or the hour" to justify their indifference, but allow me to point something out. Most scholars will agree that in this verse Jesus is referring to the rapture of the Church, and saying that it will take many by surprise. I am in total agreement with this position, but let me suggest that there is a common mistake many make, and that is the rapture should not be confused with the Second Coming of Christ. At the time of the rapture, the Bible teaches that when Jesus returns for His bride we will meet him in the clouds. It is at the end of the seven year tribulation that we see Jesus finally return to the earth. So although we may not know the day or the hour of the rapture, the second coming of Christ will be obvious to anyone who is willing to look for the signs that the Bible tells us will occur just before His return.

If we hold to the belief that the rapture of the church occurs before the beginning of the tribulation we can begin to answer the question "are we there yet" by simply looking at the prophecies concerning Israel to see how close they are to what the Bible calls the seventieth week of Daniel. Most believers recognize the names Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah as the names of books in the Old Testament, but unfortunately many are unclear as to who these men were and the role they played in the history of Israel. The short answer is all were men chosen by God to prophesy to Israel about their future, and Ezekiel and Daniel were both captives in Babylon at the same time. Probably the most significant thing about the three is that when we combine their individual accounts, we are left with a complete picture of what the future holds for the nation of Israel as well as a timeline for all of it to be accomplished. From the Babylonian Captivity to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, from the rejection of the Messiah to the diaspora, and from the regathering of the nation to the Second Coming of Jesus, their entire history is laid out in detail.

So where are we if we look at these prophecies, and how close are we to the advent of the tribulation period? I think we can have a pretty good idea if we but look for the road signs God has told us to watch for through the prophecies of these three men. First Ezekiel told us that Israel would one day be regathered into the land they had been dispersed from. We saw that occur in May of 1948 when Israel became a nation once again, and completed in the eyes of many in the summer of 1967 when Jerusalem became the undivided capitol. Second, Isaiah tells us that the next major event would be the destruction of Damascus, capitol city of Syria, by Israel. Since Damascus is still alive and well, and no such destruction has ever taken place in history, this must be in the near future. Why near? Remember, Jesus said that when we saw the fig tree put forth it's leaves, that generation would not pass away until "all these things" happen, so it must occur soon.

The result of this destruction by Israel is the gathering of an immense coalition of forces from many nations that is described by Ezekiel in the 38th chapter of his book. The attempted invasion by these forces is called the "Gog/Magog" war, and it is the point in time where God directly intervenes in order to show the world that Israel is in fact still under His divine protection. It is a result of this defeat that many believe an agreement is mediated between Israel and it's enemies by the man Daniel refers to as the "prince who is to come", otherwise known as "The Man of Sin" or "The Anti-Christ". The acceptance of this agreement begins the period of time known as the tribulation, so we are left with a series of three events, or roadsigns, that must occur in a very short time. The next, obviously, is the Destruction of Damascus referred to in Isaiah 17, so we need to ask ourselves if we can see anything going on in the world today that might lead us to believe that this conflict is imminent? It is the answer to that question that will give us the answer to our original question; "Are we there yet"?