Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Feast of Pentecost-God's Timeout?

I don't think it would be a stretch to assume that most, if not all of us are familiar with what a "timeout" call is. In most sporting events, the ability to stop or freeze the clock for a period of time is called a "timeout". Of course, it follows that when the timeout is over and the clock starts again, it starts exactly where it stopped when the timeout was called. So what does this have to do with a study in eschatology? Well, most Bible scholars agree that Israel could be called God's clock, since God did in fact tell Israel through the prophet Daniel that they had only a specific period of time for their history to unfold. This is what is known as the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks of Daniel. It is also acknowledged that God's clock stopped at the end of sixty-nine weeks to allow the beginning of what is known as the Church Age, or the period in history where believers in Jesus as the Messiah would build His church, and end with an event known as the rapture. So the question is, exactly when did that happen, and does it have any significance in our study of the end times according to the scriptures?

This weekend is when the Feast of Pentecost takes place, and there are many reasons why this particular feast is considered to be very important to believers today. First of all, if you read about the birth of the church in the book of Acts, chapter two, you find that it occurred on the Feast of Pentecost, exactly fifty days after the Feast of Firstfruits when Jesus rose from the dead. So it is, in fact, the birthday of the Church as we know it. This was the day that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell those who chose to believe in Jesus, providing believers with "power" as described by Jesus himself in Acts 1:8. This is also the day, according to most all biblical scholars, that God's clock with Israel stopped, or for the sake of this blog, He called a timeout. Is this important? Maybe we can answer that with an examination of some of the events, and traditions, associated with the Feast of Pentecost.

One of the greatest love stories to be found in the Bible is the Book of Ruth. It is a story of how a gentile, (non-Jew), was "redeemed", or bought with a price, by a "kinsman" or relative (who was a Jew) according to Jewish law, and then becomes the bride of her redeemer. This story takes place in Bethlehem, (curious), the events transpire during the fifty days between the barley and wheat harvest, (interesting), and the redeemer takes his bride at the end of that time, or at the Feast of Pentecost. (coincidence?) It is the tradition of the Jews to read the book of Ruth on Pentecost every year, much as we read about Jesus birth at Christmas, and His resurrection at Easter.

Another rabbinical tradition is that Enoch was born on Pentecost, or the 6th of Sivan as it occurs on the Jewish calendar. Enoch is an interesting individual considering that he was the first prophet in the Bible, and his first prophecy was of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Jude 14-15). Even more interesting is that the Bible tells us he did not die, but was "taken" by God (raptured) (Genesis 5:24). Also intriguing is the fact that it is a Jewish tradition that he was taken on his birthday, or Pentecost.

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4 verse 16, the apostle Paul tells us that the "trump of God" will sound at the rapture of the Church. This term "trump of God" only appears twice in the Bible; at the rapture and in the book of Exodus, chapter 19, verse 13, where God gives the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. By now it should come as no surprise that if you read from the beginning of the chapter you find the events at Mt. Sinai also occurred during Pentecost.

Now strange as it may sound, I'm going to venture away from the Bible for my last point, and share something with you written by Josephus, who many of you may recognize as a person who lived at the time of Christ, and was commissioned by the Romans to write a history of the Jews. His works have long been acknowledged to be not only very complete, but proven time and again to be historically accurate.
The following quotation is from one of his works and refers to something that was reported to have occurred during the Feast of Pentecost.

Josephus, "Wars of the Jews" VI. V. 3 (emphasis mine)

Thus there was a star (20) resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year. Thus also before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war, when the people were come in great crowds to the feast of unleavened bread, on the eighth day of the month Xanthicus, (21) [Nisan,] and at the ninth hour of the night, so great a light shone round the altar and the holy house, that it appeared to be bright day time; which lasted for half an hour.

"This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes, as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it. At the same festival also, a heifer, as she was led by the high priest to be sacrificed, brought forth a lamb in the midst of the temple. Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner (22) [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men, and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone, was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night (i.e., MIDNIGHT). Now those that kept watch in the temple came hereupon running to the captain of the temple, and told him of it; who then came up thither, and not without great difficulty was able to shut the gate again. This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them.

"Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call PENTECOST, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, THEY FELT A QUAKING, AND HEARD A GREAT NOISE, AND AFTER THAT THEY HEARD A SOUND AS OF A GREAT MULTITUDE, SAYING, "LET US REMOVE HENCE." (end quote)

Many believe that God's clock with Israel is going to start exactly where it left off, on the Feast of Pentecost. As we have seen, there are more than a few references to a "rapture" type event associated with the Feast of Pentecost. Will the Church be raptured on it's birthday? Of course, I can't say. But I hope I'm not the only one who finds it more than curious that there seem to be so many events common to this particular day of the year. Jesus commanded us to watch for His return, and I for one think it very important to take Him at His word. I'm watching every day, and I hope the words I share with you in these pages encourage you to watch as well.

Is today the day?

5/30/09 PS So I have had a few questions as to exactly when God called His timeout with Israel. If we read Acts 2 we see there are only clues as to the exact time. In verse one it says that when Pentecost had "fully" come. This is simply a reference to having to wait the entire 50 days from the Feast of Firstfruits. The only other reference is found in Peter's defense/explanation of the filling of the Holy Spirit in verse 15 where he states it is only the "third" hour of the day. This would equate to 9:00 in the morning, so the best we can do is figure it occurred "around" that time. If you want to know what time that would be in your time zone, Jerusalem is 10 hours ahead in the Pacific Zone, 9 Mountain, 8 Eastern, so you can do the math yourself to see what that would be where you live. Keep watching!

Friday, May 22, 2009

What if?

Yes, it's been my habit to publish once a week, but something very unusual is happening and I feel it's best if I get this written as soon as I can. In the past couple of weeks there have been a series of events, which, if taken together seem to be painting a picture of biblical importance.

Most believers are familiar with the scenario detailed in the Bible concerning the beginning of the period of time called the tribulation. It lasts for 7 years and is divided into two equal periods of 3 1/2 years; the first called the Tribulation, and the second called the Great Tribulation. The Tribulation period begins with an event described by the prophet Daniel as being a "confirmation" of an existing peace agreement between Israel and it's enemies declared by the individual known as the antichrist. The second period of time, or the Great Tribulation occurs when the antichrist breaks the covenant and declares war on Israel 3 1/2 years later.

Of importance to believers as well is the fact that an event called the rapture takes place before the tribulation begins. This is when Jesus returns, not to the earth but in the clouds, to take His believing Church to heaven with Him as a reward for their faithfullness. Jesus told us many times that it is important for us as believers to watch for the signs of His return, as He intends to give us plenty of warning that the time of the rapture is near. So what events in the past couple of weeks am I concerned with?

First of all, the prime minister of Israel has visited with President Obama at the White House just this past week to discuss the peace process in the Middle East. It has been reliably reported that while cordial, the two leaders did not agree on many issues in regards to moving ahead with the existing plans for peace. Second, President Obama has scheduled a visit to the Middle East for the first week in June. It has been reported that on June 4, while in Cairo Egypt, the president plans on giving a speech regarding the peace process. Reports are that he intends to unveil a new peace initiative based on the existing plans with a time line of implementation lasting 4 years. It has also been revealed that a part of this plan includes the division of Jerusalem so that it can serve as the capitol of both Israel and the new Palestinian state.

It was reported today that yesterday in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech in which he stated emphatically that Jerusalem will never be divided, so it becomes obvious that a conflict is going to occur between Israel and the nations that support the agreement President Obama will propose. The article in the Jerusalem Post which describes the coming announcement by President Obama includes one very interesting paragraph at the end. It states that it is entirely possible that President Obama knows that Israel will not agree to the provisions and is including them on purpose with the intent to cast blame on Israel for it's failure at some point in the next 4 years.

Why am I concerned? Let's see here. A world leader is set to make an announcement confirming the existing peace process between Israel and it's enemies in just 2 weeks. Since it includes terms we know Israel will not agree to, it is doomed to failure. With a time line of only four years, at what point will the negotiations collapse? Maybe 3 1/2 years? Is it possible that these are the events described in the book of Daniel as the beginning of the tribulation?

I don't know, but if they are, that leaves only two more weeks for the event we believers have been watching and praying for to occur; the rapture of the Church. Also interesting is the fact that the birthday of the Church, known as Pentecost, will occur at the end of this month. What a birthday present that would be!

Shall we watch together?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Choosing Death

How's that for a title of a blog? Unfortunately, as you will see, it is soon to become the harshest reality ever faced in all believers lives. You will recall, I hope, the subject we have spoken of often in the past which concerns those believers who for one reason or another are reluctant to embrace the life God has chosen for them. These are the believers known as "Closet Christians", or those who wish to believe, but remain anonymous to the world by choosing to live as the world lives and not let their "light" shine as God desires. There is a time coming, however, where God has said that there will be nowhere to hide for those who truly believe.

Many are familiar with what is known as the "Mark of the Beast", or otherwise identified as the number "666". We are introduced to this mark in the book of Revelation where we are given a description of the beast, told of some of his powers, and also shown the plan he has for the world.

He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666. (Revelation 13:16-18 NIV)

What we are told here is that at the mid-point of the 7 year tribulation period, the man of sin, or the anti-christ if you prefer, will institute a law which says that no one will be able to buy or sell without having this mark on their hand or forehead. Now at first glance, this may not seem to be all that "intrusive" considering what the world will be like at that time. There is, however, much more to it than that. The Greek word for "mark" here is "charagma" which literally means a brand or a seal (of ownership) You see, people are forced to choose to be "owned" in a way by taking the name of the anti-christ (666) on their bodies. In a sense, those who choose to take the mark will be pledging their allegiance to the anti-christ. This obviously is no small decision because although some believers might be tempted to take the mark just to survive, and not really "believe" in him, that decision is not, I repeat not an option. Lets look at another passage from the book of Revelation.

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur [or brimstone] in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." (Revelation 14:9-11 NIV)

I don't believe it can be made any clearer than that. Anyone, anyone who chooses to receive that mark is condemned by God for eternity. So you see, although right now many believers think they can get by with going to church once in awhile, and never really changing the way they live their lives, a time is coming when no believer on earth will be able to hide. They will be forced into making the choice to be open about what they believe, and either taking or refusing the mark. How difficult will it be? Look now at the penalty for NOT taking the mark.

I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4 NIV)

So this then is the choice that soon will come to those on this earth who consider themselves to be Christians and believers in Jesus Christ. Their choice will be to publicly declare that they worship God and be beheaded, or worship the anti-christ and receive his mark which then will condemn them to Hell for all eternity. There will be nowhere to hide, no way to camouflage themselves, no way to escape declaring what they truly believe.

My prayer is that they choose life rather than choosing death.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

More of the Same

I'm on vacation this week, but not to disappoint, here is an article that showed up this week that says more than I could about something we discussed a few weeks ago.

Netanyahu Prepares for Obama: Israel to Be Left Alone in World?
Iyar 16, 5769, 10 May 09 03:33
by Hillel Fendel

( As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu prepares for his visit to the United States next week, warnings abound that the Obama Administration’s policies will leave Israel to face Iran and Hamas alone.

The warnings are summed up in recent articles by the West’s two main pro-Israel female commentators: Melanie Phillips and Caroline Glick. Writing in the Spectator (United Kingdom) last week, Philips warns that “Obama is attempting to throw Israel under the Islamist bus.” She cites the report that Obama’s National Security Adviser told a European foreign minister that Obama will be ‘forceful’ with Israel, and plans to impose, with the EU and moderate Arab states, "a satisfactory endgame solution" upon Israel.

PA State: Evil and Stupid
“This is all not only evil,” Phillips says, “but exceptionally stupid… The Arab states are beside themselves with anxiety about Iran. They want it to be attacked and its nuclear programme stopped. They are desperately fearful that the Obama administration might have decided that it can live with a nuclear Iran… A Palestine state will be Iran, in the sense that it will be run by Hamas as a proxy for the Islamic Republic. The idea that a Palestine state will not compromise Israel’s security is ludicrous.”

American Jewry: Spineless
After expressing incredulity at the American demands for further Israeli concessions in the light of the utter failure of the Disengagement, Phillips writes that U.S. Jews are reacting “with a total absence of spine… Almost eighty per cent of American Jews voted for Obama despite the clear and present danger he posed to Israel. They did so because their liberal self-image was and is more important to them than the Jewish state whose existence and security cannot be allowed to jeopardise their standing with America’s elite.”

Netanyahu must therefore take Israel’s message to “the ordinary American people,” she concludes: “They do value and support Israel. They do understand that if Israel is thrown under that bus, the west is next. And it is they to whom Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu must now appeal, over the heads of the politicians and the media and certainly America’s Jews and everyone else. He must tell the American people the terrible truth, that America is now run by a man who is intent on sacrificing Israel for a reckless and amoral political strategy which will put America and the rest of the free world at risk.”

Glick: Obama Forcing Israel into Corner
Caroline Glick, writing in The Jerusalem Post, states that ahead of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, “the Obama administration is ratcheting up its anti-Israel rhetoric and working feverishly to force Israel into a corner.”

She notes that quartet mediator Tony Blair has announced that within six weeks the US, EU, UN and Russia will unveil a new framework for establishing a Palestinian state, and that it is “being worked on at the highest level in the American administration."

Obama Humiliates Peres
Yet another milestone in the U.S. path towards abandoning Israel is the “humiliating reception” President Shimon Peres received from Obama. Visiting in Washington last week, “Peres was tasked with calming the waters ahead of Netanyahu's visit. It was hoped that he could introduce a more collegial tone to US-Israel relations.” However, the Obama government barred all media from covering the event, thus “transform[ing] what was supposed to be a friendly visit with a respected and friendly head of state into a back-door encounter with an unwanted guest, who was shooed in and shooed out of the White House without a sound.”

Abrogating 40 Years of Understanding
Another point raised by Glick and Eli Lake of The Washington Times: US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller told the UN that Israel and others must adhere to the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), thus effectively abrogating a 40-year-old US-Israeli understanding that the US would remain silent about Israel's nuclear program because it understood that it is defensive, not offensive in nature. The statement also erases “any distinction between nuclear weapons in the hands of US allies and democratic states and nuclear weapons in the hands of US enemies and terror states,” Glick wrote.

“The fact that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, all chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and the Arab world will disappear,” Glick continues, “is of no interest to Obama and his advisers. They do not care that the day after [Hamas said it was] suspending its attacks against Israel from Gaza, the Iranian-controlled terror regime took credit for several volleys of rockets shot against Israeli civilian targets from Gaza.”

“The operational significance of the administration's anti-Israel positions is that Israel will not be well served by adopting a more accommodating posture toward the Palestinians and Iran,” Glick concludes.
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Keep your eyes on the Middle East. Remember Israel is God's clock, and watching what goes on there tells us what time it is.