Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Season To Watch

"Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. "So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors! "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. "It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— "lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"
Mark 13:28-37 NKJV

I find it surprising when so many ask me why I choose to study and teach on prophecy when there are so many portions of scripture like this one from Mark that make it clear what Jesus expects from us. I try to explain to those who question that this is not merely a suggestion from God, but a command repeated over and over again. As such, I try to get the point across that if God commands us to watch, it is because He intends to show us signs that we will recognize as harbingers of the end of this age. One of the points I have often contemplated concerning this passage is if it is possible God is giving us a clue as to when the rapture would occur when He chooses to use the season of summer as an illustrative tool.

The term “dog days of summer” is probably familiar to most, yet many are probably not aware of what it means or of its origin. Actually, the answer to that question is hazy and debatable, while some believe it may date back as far as the Roman Empire. As to what it might mean, let me make a suggestion based solely on my own observations and educational experiences. One, like most people I have a dog. I also live in a part of the country which experiences summers which tend to occasionally receive triple digit heat late in the season. Just like people, I have noticed my dog gets just a little testy during these days of excessive heat, exhibiting a marked lack of patience and a tendency to growl and lash out when disturbed.

As I considered that, I also was reminded of something I realized back in the day when I was a history major in college. Do you know the vast majority of conflicts in the history of the world have started during the summer months? My point? I just wonder if the conflict that God reveals in His Word concerning the future of Israel and the world, taken along with His command to watch with a reference to the season of summer, should be a major clue to those of us who choose to obey the command to watch?
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to [those who are] bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,
Isaiah 61:1-2 NKJV

While many are familiar with the seven Feasts of Israel, which were celebrations appointed by God and revealed to Moses during the Exodus, not as many are familiar with the Fasts of Mourning which are days which commemorate a tragic event or events that have occurred in Israel's history. While these days of remembrance were not instituted by God, He does mention them when He reveals to the prophet Zechariah that the time will come when they will be turned into days of celebration after the tribulation ends and the Messiah begins His reign on the earth.

"Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'The fast of the fourth [month], The fast of the fifth, The fast of the seventh, And the fast of the tenth, Shall be joy and gladness and cheerful feasts For the house of Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.'
Zechariah 8:19 NKJV

This past Tuesday was the seventeenth of Tammuz, which is the first fast day, or the fast of the fourth month referred to by Zechariah in the passage above. This day begins a period of three weeks of national mourning in Israel that lead up to Tisha B' Av, or the ninth of Av which is the fast of the fifth month. When discussing this first fast day in his book “Armageddon: Appointment With Destiny”, the late Grant Jeffrey says that the events which have occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz serve to show the nation of Israel that God's favor had been withdrawn from them because of their sin as a nation. It also served as a sign that God's judgment was soon to follow, which throughout history has certainly occurred on the ninth of Av.

I have always believed that if God goes to the trouble of telling us a specific day or time that something has happened, there is probably a very good reason for it. The first passage we looked at this morning comes from the book of Isaiah, and is noteworthy because it was also quoted by Jesus during His ministry here on earth. If you look in the fourth chapter of Luke you find this account;

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
Luke 4:16-17 NKJV

Jesus then reads the passage from Isaiah 61 but does an interesting thing; He stops reading in the middle of verse two where it begins to talk about the day of vengeance. Then Jesus explains to the people;

And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Luke 4:21 NKJV

Almost every commentator I have read agrees that this is because the day of vengeance that Jesus does not talk about is the future tribulation period that will come upon Israel because of their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. It is during this time of tribulation that the rest of verse two comes into play because what it describes is that period of time which the passage from Isaiah calls “the day of vengeance of our God“. If you are at all familiar with the events described in the book of Revelation concerning this coming time of judgment you might think that there will be plenty of reasons to mourn, yet the Bible makes it clear that God intends for the world and the nation of Israel to know the real reason to mourn;

"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.
Matthew 24:30 NKJV

"And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for [his] only [son], and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.
Zechariah 12:10 NKJV

We as believers understand that the next time Jesus returns will be the rapture when He comes in the clouds to take His bride the Church, made up of all who believe in Him, back to Heaven. Now if this were to occur in the month of Av, you would think that this would be a cause for celebration and not a time to mourn, yet the thought that immediately crossed my mind when I read this was one which applies to everyone and not just Israel. You see, while it will be a time of celebration for those who go, don't you think it will be a reason to mourn for those who don't? Of all the events which have occurred throughout history during the three weeks of mourning in Israel, they would all pale in comparison to being left behind when the rapture happens.

Consider all the things that are happening in the world right now. We have the signs of a potential war in the Middle East which could occur at any time, floods in other parts of the world while half of the United States is experiencing record heat. Earthquakes occurring, volcanoes erupting, wildfires burning, and most of all a government in this country which now seems intent to turn its back on God and the commandments He has given us to follow. With all these things in mind, not to mention the fact that we have just entered the period of time where God has historically demonstrated His displeasure with His children’s disobedience, I would certainly conclude this is an especially important season to be watching. As such, I think it seems even more important than ever for all of us to consider our eternal destiny and make sure we know we will accompany our Lord when He returns for His bride.

If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I urge you to do it right now. Simply admit to God that you need His forgiveness because you are a sinner,  be willing to turn away from your sins, believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and invite Him to come in and control  your life through the Holy Spirit by praying a simple prayer like this;

Jesus I know I am a sinner in need of salvation. I believe you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin, and I ask you now to forgive me of my sins. I want to receive your gift of salvation so please come into my heart and help me to live and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus' name, Amen.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
John 1:12 NKJV

If you have prayed that prayer, or one like it, you can rejoice that you will spend eternity with God. If not, I'm sorry to say that very soon you might just have a reason to mourn.

Keep watching.