Tag Archives: rapture

The Face of the King

lion-in-the-stormThe sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations and no longer be divided into two kingdoms. They will no longer defile themselves with their idols, or with their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. And they will be My people, and I will be their God.

Ezekiel 37:20-23 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

This is a time yet to come. This is a time when God will restore all of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel as a single, united people. The kingdoms will not be divided as they were in days of old. One Israel under One God.

“My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.”’”

Ezekiel 37:24-28 (NASB)

More over, united Israel will be ruled by One King, King Messiah, Son of David. But look at this. Messiah, the King of Israel and Ruler of the World will be their prince forever.

That would be pretty hard to do if Messiah were merely mortal. Of course, in the Messianic age, many will be resurrected, never to die again, so we could say the same of Messiah. But as a Christian, I must believe that Messiah is more.

God also says that the people of Israel, the Jewish people, will “walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.” I know I recently wrote about all this, but I’m going through my notes on my recent reading of the latter portion of Ezekiel, so I thought this would be a good time to try to pull them together. I hope I can avoid repeating myself too much.

One puzzling thing I found was this:

Then I heard one speaking to me from the house, while a man was standing beside me. He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever.

Ezekiel 43:6-7 (NASB)

I checked a large number of translations of Ezekiel 43:7 and all except one said that the Divine Presence would inhabit Ezekiel’s Temple, the Temple of the Messianic Era, forever (Young’s Literal Translation says “to the age”). You can read the larger context of that chapter to confirm that God is speaking of inhabiting the Temple of Jerusalem in the Messianic age forever. Why is this such a big deal?

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

Revelation 21:22 (NASB)

This describes events after the arrival of the New Jerusalem, after the thousand-year reign of Messiah, after all that had to come to pass has come to past. Humanity is restored in the Garden as such, and God dwells with His people as He did in the beginning.

temple_jerusalemSo how can God dwell in Ezekiel’s temple forever if in the New Jerusalem there is no temple. More to the point, God and the Lamb are the temple. I’m not even sure what that means. I posed the question to a friend of mine and he suggested that as human history ends and we all move into eternity, maybe “forever” ends, too. After all, Messiah said that the Torah wouldn’t pass away until heaven and earth passed away (Matthew 5:18). At some point, heaven and earth, as we understand them, must pass away and something eternal must come in their stead.

Still, one of the things I’m trying to accomplish on this “mission” is to discover any dissonance between how the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament depict the Messiah and the age to come. The above definitely seems to qualify.

Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord,
For what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you?
It will be darkness and not light…

Amos 5:18 (NASB)

We all want the Messiah to come to rescue and repair our broken world, but we also forget that it won’t be *poof* Messiah comes and instantly everything is fixed. There is going to be terrible war against Israel’s enemies which probably will include everyone. It won’t be pretty. Good thing the Church will be raptured up to Heaven for those seven years (I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek).

Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “These who are clothed in the white robes, who are they, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Revelation 7:13-14 (NASB)

Wait a minute. Who is coming out of the tribulation?

Verse 14 doesn’t identify these people beyond saying that they are the ones who came out of the great tribulation, but they can’t be the Church, at least from a Christian point of view, since the last we see of the Church on earth is in Chapters 4 and 5. Everything in Chapters 6 through 19 is about the tribulation which the Church misses…

…or do they (we)?

It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him. All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear. If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (emph. mine)

Revelation 13:7-10 (NASB)

What are “saints” doing on earth during the tribulation and undergoing such harsh conditions for the perseverance of their faith? Of course, they could be people who came to faith after the Church was raptured, but would they be called “saints?” Usually people in the Church are called “saints.”

waiting-for-mannaThe doctrine of the Rapture didn’t come along until the 17th century, so it wasn’t as if the concept most Christians are pinning their hopes and dreams on has been around since the beginning. In fact, Googling “rapture doctrine” returns a series of links, many of which lead to web pages (of unverified validity) that criticize this very recent Church doctrine.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 speaks of apostasy or “falling away” of the faithful that will occur when many are deceived by the “man of lawlessness.” I can’t directly tie any “falling away” to Christians expecting a rapture to Heaven that never arrives, but I could very well believe that a lot of Christians will indeed fall away once the tribulation starts and they’re still here during the war between Messiah and Israel’s enemies. Why weren’t we given the break and free passage to Heaven we were promised from the pulpit?

I’m not saying all this to be mean-spirited but as a cautionary tale. What if Amos 5:18 is talking to believers, explaining to us that we shouldn’t be so quick to desire the coming of Messiah because it will be “the great and terrible day of the Lord.”

“I kept looking in the night visions,
And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
“And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.”

Daniel 7:13-14 (NASB)

This is obviously a vision of Messiah’s coming, but I’ve always wondered why Daniel phrased it “one like the Son of Man?” Here we have a description of the Son of Man’s Kingdom never being destroyed, we have a vision of him coming on clouds of heaven (as opposed to just being born and being a great but totally human Jewish leader as most of Judaism believes of the Moshiach), and we get the sense that he is more than human.

Renowned Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin wrote a book called The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ, which I reviewed on more than one occasion. Boyarin, who is Jewish and not a believer, makes a credible case for why a large number of first century Jews in Israel and the diaspora came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. Part of his evidence for why Yeshua would be seen as a legitimate candidate for Messiah comes from Daniel 7.

This classic and mysterious Jewish text by a well-known but possibly not a well understood prophet may be one of the keys to unlocking the identity of Moshiach. I sometimes receive criticism from Jewish people for my continuing faith, but somewhere between traditional Christian evangelism and Jewish anti-missionaries, may be an unbiased truth in the reading of the Bible. We must seek it out in order to escape our “religious blinders” about Messiah, so that we can see him as he truly is, not as how one doctrine or another imagines him to be.

And the children of Zion, rejoice and jubilate with the Lord your God, for He gave you the teacher for justification, and He brought down for you rain, the early rain and the late rain in the first month.

Joel 2:23

the-teacher2I had to go to Chabad.org to find a translation that describes Messiah as a teacher. Most Christian Bible translations render “He gave you the teacher” as something like “He has given you the early rain…” (NASB translation).

The Douay-Rheims Bible says “he hath given you a teacher of justice,” and Young’s Literal Translation says “He hath given you the Teacher for righteousness.”

The Jewish understanding of Messiah is that, among other things, he will come to teach us what we need to know of his ways and how we should serve him. Christianity expects a warrior, a priest, and a King, but we miss how he will teach us the Torah of justice and righteousness, tzedakah if you will (see my review of the FFOZ TV episode Seek First the Kingdom for a more detailed description of the relationship between tzedakah [charity] and justice and righteousness).

So what can we conclude from my brief (and hardly comprehensive) review of Messianic prophesy?

  • Messiah will come as the One and eternal King of Israel, return the exiled Jews to their Land, the Land of Israel, and unite them as a one people in one Kingdom ruled by one King Messiah forever.
  • The “law of the land” (Israel) will be Torah, and the Jewish people will walk in God’s statues and ordinances as in days of old, but with the Torah written on their hearts rather than on scrolls.
  • The Divine Presence will once again inhabit the third and final Temple in Jerusalem forever (though we have difficulty reconciling this with Rev. 21).
  • There will be “saints” going through the tribulation who suffer and who are killed for the sake of their faith, drawing into sharp dispute the accuracy of the modern doctrine of “the Rapture,” which states “the Church” will be literally removed from earth and into Heaven for the entire length of those troubled days.
  • The Messiah is the Son of Man and the Prince, who seems to be more than a man, who will reign eternally, who will come on the clouds of heaven, possibly in direct contradiction of modern Jewish religious thought (for the most part) which states Messiah will be completely human with no supernatural (and certainly no Divine) nature.
  • Of his many roles in the age to come, Messiah will be a teacher of justice and righteousness.

Who is the King in the age to come? Who is Messiah, Son of David, Son of God?

Christians know him as Jesus Christ. Most religious Jews see him as King Messiah. Any similarity between the two is faint at best and at worst, nonexistent.

But if you believe in a Messiah at all as either Christian or Jew, you have a duty to set aside your preconceptions and what you have been taught (and what has been assumed by your religious stream for hundreds of years) and investigate for yourself what the scriptures say. In my case, this is paying close attention to any dissonance that may occur between the Old and New Testaments. Messiah is an objective being, apart from our need to paint his portrait one way or the other. Instead of seeking his portrait, I need to see his face.

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A Quick View of Revelation Through a Christian Lens

trumpets-on-the-lords-dayI was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet, saying, “Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.

Revelation 1:10-16 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

The previous entry is Trouble Breaking into Church with Messianic Prophesy.

Last Wednesday, Pastor and I talked about (among other things) a summary of his understanding of the Book of Revelation, that really confusing, mystic experience of the apostle John, the vision he experienced during his exile on Patmos.

In one of my previous blog posts, I had tried to sketch out my understanding of Pastor’s conceptualization of Revelation but missed the mark. This is my attempt to correct my mistake, but it’s also part of my investigation into “the end times,” that part of Christian/Hebrew Roots/Messianic Jewish doctrine I’ve been avoiding for so very long.

The following (and this time, I took notes) is my summary of Pastor’s summary of Revelation. Basically, I’m just laying a little groundwork for what follows. No conclusions, just the fundamentalist Christian mapping to the return of Jesus, the rapture, the tribulation, and the Messianic Era.

Here goes.

According to Pastor, in Revelation 1, we see the resurrected Jesus. As you might imagine, he’s not quite the way John remembered him during their time together in Israel.

In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, we see the churches, but according to Pastor, after this point in the book, the Church (big C), the entire body of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus Christ everywhere, disappears, to be taken up to Heaven with Jesus for the seven years of tribulation. For those seven years, there are no Christians on Earth at all.

Chapters 4 and 5 show us the Church in Heaven.

Chapters 6 through 19 show us the tribulation period, God’s judgment and wrath on the unsaved of the Earth. Since there is no mention of the Church in these chapters, Pastor believes the “argument by silence” here supports the Church being absent from the Earth during this time. Those people who come to faith in Jesus during the tribulation are saved, but they are not part of the Church. Those ancient Israelites who lived and died before Jesus are resurrected (Pastor says he’s not quite sure on the timing of this event) and are saved, but they too are not part of the Church.

Chapter 19 says something important.

And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.

Revelation 19:14 (NASB)

Depending on which Bible translation you use, the phrase could be rendered “armies in heaven” or “armies of heaven.” If it’s of heaven, then it’s most likely talking about angels. But according to Pastor, if it’s in heaven, then it’s likely talking about the Church, the group of Jewish and Gentile believers who were raptured up to Heaven with Jesus but who now follows Jesus back down to Earth. Their being “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” indicates their righteousness and purity. There’s a further implication that in Jesus striking “down the nations,” that as his army, the Church, will also “strike” (Pastor didn’t mention that last part, but seems to make sense, given the context).

Chapter 20 of Revelation is the Messianic reign. I mentioned to Pastor that one chapter being devoted to such an important time period seemed a little skimpy, but he reminded me that there are many prophesies in the Old Testament (Tanakh) that speak at length about the Messianic reign. I can’t wait to map them to the fundamentalist Christian interpretation of events to see how (or if) it all connects.

final_battleRevelation chapters 21-22 are the final battle, the new Heaven and new Earth and progressing into Eternity.

We spent some time covering a little theoretical ground on the rapture before tribulation (which is Pastor’s viewpoint), rapture after tribulation (which Pastor says most churches go with), and rapture in the middle of the tribulation. Pastor believes the following is the critical portion of scripture that supports his perspective and that all other perspectives must somehow explain it in order to be considered valid.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NASB)

Pastor also mentioned there are differences of opinion about when the Messianic Era will occur, but my current opinion is that the wars (all but the final one) must all occur and all of Israel’s enemies must be defeated before we experience a thousand years (or a long but undefined period of time) of peace under the reign of the King.

This all leads back to who and what is the church, the fate of ethnic Israel (Romans 11:26), and what I consider the “splitting” of “saved Israel” (the righteous Israelites such as Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and so forth) vs. the Jewish people who believed in Jesus and are part of the Church. It still bothers me that Israel has two separate expressions in the Millennial Kingdom, one as saved Israel and one as Israel in the Church (occupying the body of Messiah with the Gentile Christians).

The prophesies in the Tanakh don’t presuppose a divided Jewish people unless you consider those that mention Israel and Judah, such as the following:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 31:31-32 (NASB)

I don’t want to go too far down that road right now. Like I said, I’m just laying the groundwork for what follows, but if you have any ideas about how the Christian and Jewish points of view about the coming (or return) of Messiah are supposed to fit together, let me know.

FFOZ TV Review: Ingathering of Israel

tv_ffoz7_1

Episode 07: The shofar (ram’s horn) is probably the most intriguing and accessible of all Jewish ritual elements. Episode seven will show viewers that it is this great trumpet that will sound when Jesus finally returns to earth. The ram’s horn call will announce the ingathering of Israel, the return of the Jewish people back to their land. But this event, the ingathering of exiles, has significance not only for the Jewish people but for all non-Jewish believers in Messiah as well. We will all be raptured to Jerusalem.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 7: Ingathering of Israel

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Ingathering of the Elect

This episode looks at two related events: the second coming of Messiah and the ingathering of Israel. The episode is too short to really do justice to this topic. Whole books have been written on the second coming and all that it means. Thus, episode seven focuses on just a few key ideas within this vast area of information about the end times.

The first topic is the idea that a trumpet will be blown to herald the return of Messiah.

Then the sign of the son of man will appear in heaven, and all the families of the earth will mourn, and they will see the son of man coming with the clouds of heaven in power and great glory. He will send forth his angels with the sound of the shofar; they will gather his chosen ones from the four winds, and from one end of heaven to the other.

Matthew 24:30-31 (DHE Gospels)

FFOZ teacher Toby Janicki originally read these verses from the ESV Bible and in choosing to use the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, I’m tipping his hand a bit, but not too much.

In those verses, Toby tells us that Jesus actually was stringing together a number of different Old Testament (Tanakh) prophesies, which was a common way of teaching in the late Second Temple period. For the purposes of this episode, Toby focuses on verse 31, though I hope future episodes flesh out the other prophesies mentioned:

And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. (emph. mine)

Matthew 24:31 (ESV Bible)

Since these episodes are dedicated to viewing New Testament concepts through a Jewish lens and the original Jewish context of the Biblical prophecies, we focus on the trumpet as something that many Christians may not understand. Pursuing the first clue, Toby takes us to 1 Thessalonians 4:16:

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

Again, this trumpet is mentioned, but what is the trumpet and where did Jesus and Paul get the idea that a trumpet would be blown at the second coming of Messiah? Did they just make it up? Was it a new revelation?

Not at all.

It will come about also in that day that a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were perishing in the land of Assyria and who were scattered in the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord in the holy mountain at Jerusalem.

Isaiah 27:13 (NASB)

Here we have the trumpet again, The prophet Isaiah is associating its being sounded with the coming of Messiah and the ingathering of those who were scattered in the land of Egypt. And this provides our first clue.

Clue 1: Jesus’s words about a trumpet blast and gathering of the elect are from Old Testament prophecies.

For our next clue and to discover more about the trumpet, the scene shifts to Israel and FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby. Aaron shows the audience a shofar or a ram’s horn, which today, is a common item that is sold in many tourist shops in Israel. Most Christians are at least somewhat familiar with the shofar, but for those who aren’t, Aaron describes its origins.

tv_ffoz7_aaronHowever, it’s not a horn in the classic sense. It’s used for signaling, not music. The ram and ram’s horn first appear in Genesis 22 at the Akedah or the Binding of Issac. Aaron tells us that we also see it (or hear it) in Exodus 19:16 during the giving of Torah at Sinai, in Leviticus 22:24 when describing the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, which is a “holiday of remembering” and a “time of (shofar) blasting,” and in Leviticus 25 in recounting the details of the Jubilee Year.

The shofar is used on special occasions to signal fasting and repentance, to sound a warning, to indicate that an extremely important event is about to take place. In Exodus, Israel heard the sound of a loud shofar as the Divine Presence descended on Sinai in fire and great power. We see both in 1 Corinthians 15:51 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16 that the shofar will also be sounded at the return of Messiah, and will signal the raising of those who died in Christ.

We return to Toby now and the second clue.

Clue 2: The great trumpet is the shofar used in the Bible to announce important events.

From here, we move on to the second topic of interest: the identity of the exiles and the elect who will be ingathered. Who are they? Are they Christians? Jews? Both? Most believers think that it is anyone who is a Christian, and that we’ll all fly up to meet Jesus in the air, and then be raptured into Heaven.

But let’s look at what the Bible has to say:

“Ho there! Flee from the land of the north,” declares the Lord, “for I have dispersed you as the four winds of the heavens,” declares the Lord. “Ho, Zion! Escape, you who are living with the daughter of Babylon.” For thus says the Lord of hosts, “After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye. For behold, I will wave My hand over them so that they will be plunder for their slaves. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me. Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the Lord.

Zechariah 2:6-10 (NASB)

The identity of the exiles and the elect is in verse ten, “Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion…” This can only be the Jewish people. The four winds of the heavens, according to Toby, is a poetic way of saying “from the four corners of the Earth,” indicating that the exiled Jewish people will return to Israel from all the places on the planet to which they had been exiled. This will be accomplished by angels, according to the prophecy, so when Messiah returns, he sends out his messengers to finish the return of the exiles to their Land, the return of all the Jewish people everywhere to Israel.

I think Toby’s right when he says that the first fruits of the ingathering began with modern Zionism and the creation of the modern state of Israel. For over sixty years, Jews from every nation on Earth have been making aliyah and returning to their rightful homeland. However, the return of the exiles will not be complete until all the Jewish people are returned to Israel to live in peace.

Since this television show is produced primarily for a Christian audience, Toby asks the question most viewers will be asking themselves at this point: What about us? What about the Christians?

“Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you. The Lord will possess Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.”

Zechariah 2:11-12 (NASB)

So along with the Jewish people, the faithful Christian Gentiles will also have a role in the ingathering. Toby said something like “we’ll be along for the ride,” and described how we will all be caught up in the air with Messiah and that we, along with all who had died in Messiah and the Jewish people, will be raptured to…Israel.

ffoz_7_toby1No, not to Heaven at all, but to the Land of Israel, where we’ll celebrate the Return of our King.

I’m sure this part of the program will raise more than a few eyebrows of the many Christian viewers since it gives quite a different interpretation of a popular Christian teaching. The idea is that when Jesus returns, we get to escape the worst of the bad times by going to Heaven, leaving behind those who are unsaved.

Toby doesn’t address this at all, and the absence of any mention of not being raptured to Heaven makes me believe that more on the second coming and the end times will be covered in future episodes of this series. When this episode first aired, I can only imagine that FFOZ received many emails, letters, and phone calls asking why they are teaching about the rapture this way.

And we have the third and final clue:

Clue 3: The elect are the Jewish people and Gentile believers will also be gathered to Jerusalem by Messiah.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve never been comfortable with the modern Christian doctrine of the rapture, so episode seven provided me with an alternate explanation that frankly, sounds a lot more reasonable than taking the escape hatch to Heaven while letting the rest of humanity suffer. Of course people who are very interested in the end times and the rapture are bound to have a lot of questions about all this, and as I mentioned before, the Christian audience is likely to be surprised and maybe even dismayed by Toby’s interpretation of events. For me, I’d rather be partying in Jerusalem with the King.

But I also wonder exactly what role the Gentile Christians will play in returning the Jewish exiles to Israel. To me, it’s clear that all the Jewish people will live in the Land and regularly make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to pay homage to the King. But after the initial celebration is over, where do the Gentiles go? Back to our homes in the lands where we live? That seems reasonable, but then, why are we “raptured” to Jerusalem in the first place?

I’ll review the next episode very soon.

Prophesies of the Master

jewish-revolt-against-romeDo the prophesies of Jesus Christ about the final tribulation really mean what we think they mean?

By the time the Jewish revolt against Rome began, only a few of the Master’s original twelve disciples remained alive. Most had already fallen asleep in various places throughout the world. Thomas continued his work in India; tradition says he died in 70 CE. Simon the Zealot followed up on the work of Thaddeus in Armenia and Parthia, but according to “The Golden Legend,” he did not escape martyrdom, and he may have already been dead by the outbreak of the war with Rome. John continued his labors in Asia Minor where he kept a low profile through the years of the Jewish revolt. James the Less appears to have been still alive in Galilee near the end of the Jewish revolt.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“War in Perea and Judea,” pg 1037
Torah Club, Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

This is how Lancaster begins the study of the “Acts of the Apostles” for the week of Torah Portion Balak. This part of Volume 6 of the Torah Club covers the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome, which leads up to the siege of Jerusalem and culminates in the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of most of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel into the diaspora.

I thought it was appropriate, since we are currently in the three weeks of mourning between 17 Tammuz and Tish’a B’Av, that I cover a little bit of that “territory” in the history of the Jewish people.

Actually, what captured my interest in the Torah Club study, were the prophesies of the Master regarding this period in Israel’s history. Within this particular lesson, Lancaster recounts several prophesies of the Messiah that not only provide a direct revelation regarding this tragic time for the Jewish people, but which, in my opinion, tells us something new about the words of Christ. For the sake of length, I’m only going to comment on three of the prophesies.

“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

Matthew 23:35-36 (NASB)

The Zealous implemented a state of martial law in the city. They positioned guards at all the exits and allowed no one to leave as they rounded up men culpable in the uprising against them.

-Lancaster, pg 1041

Lancaster recounts the general circumstances in Jerusalem during the Shevet-Tevet, 68 CE time period as recorded by Josephus in Jewish War. In describing the events associated with the above-quoted prophesy of the Master, he relates how the original Sanhedrin was executed by the Zealots and an illegal court was created in its place. But at the “trial” of Zecharyah ben Baruch, a wealthy citizen in Jerusalem who was thought to be a Roman collaborator, Zecharyah’s defense was so convincing, that the Zealot’s puppet court found him innocent of the charges.

But the Zealots were not out for justice and their response fulfilled the Master’s prophetic words:

The Zealous rose up in fury. Two of the Zealot leaders unsheathed their swords and ran the plaintiff through. They said, “You also have our verdict. We acquit you too.” Then they dragged his body into Solomon’s Colonnade and threw it from that height into the valley below. The other Zealots struck the seventy legislators with the flats of their swords and drove them from the Temple. That was the last trial a Sanhedrin conducted in the city of Jerusalem.

The incident fulfills a word spoken by Yeshua in reference to the murder of Zecharhiah the son of Jehoiada in the Temple.

-ibid, pg 1042

The second of the prophesies of Jesus I’m citing here is even more illuminating and perhaps controversial.

I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. [Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.”] And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

Luke 34-37 (NASB)

nyc-sandy-aftermathMost Christians believe they have a complete understanding of the meaning of these verses, and it provides a great deal of theological comfort to them. But notice that the section in brackets is not contained in the oldest manuscripts, which may hint at something about the meaning of what Luke is trying to communicate.

The Zealots kept the city under their martial law. They punished all crimes with death, regardless of how serious the offense. They refused to allow anyone to leave lest he defect to the Romans. They struck down those they discovered escaping and left them unburied. Corpses lay along the roadways into the city. They refused to allow burial for any man they put to death.

To the people of Jerusalem, it seemed as if the Zealots had declared war against Rome and God both. They left the dead bodies to putrefy in the sun. They put to death anyone who dared to bury one of their victims. Josephus says, “He that granted the favor of the grave to another soon stood in need of a grave himself.” In those days, the words of the Master were fulfilled.

-Lancaster, pg 1043

This is a very different interpretation of the Master’s prophesy I quoted above than what we are used to hearing. There is no relation to “the rapture” at all (and I know I’ll probably “get in trouble” for even quoting Lancaster’s interpretation). One is taken by the Zealots for various crimes, real or imagined, and the other, who is not a suspect, is left behind. And where the dead bodies are left in the street, there the vultures gather.

You may have heard stories of Hitler’s Gestapo kidnapping political enemies in the middle of the night from their homes and from their beds. Similar stories have been told of the KGB in the Soviet Union. Under any despotic rule, citizens can be taken away without due process, imprisoned, or killed. There is no justice and no mercy. Why then could this not be the fate of many in Jerusalem during the Roman siege against the city as the Zealots ruled inside the city’s walls with brutality and force?

For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

Matthew 24:21-22 (NASB)

This is another prophesy that is attributed, in Christian tradition, to “the rapture,” stating that “the elect” will be whisked into Heaven before things get too bad on earth in the last days before the Messiah’s return.

However, according to Lancaster’s commentary, this prophesy may well have been fulfilled during the Fall of Perea in the month of Adar, 68 CE. Again, Lancaster’s source is Josephus’ Jewish War.

As the springtime drew near, Vespasian commenced his campaign. The rebels in Perea held the city of Gadara (or Gedora), which Josephus called “the capital of Perea and a city of some strength.” The leading men of Gadara had sent ambassadors to Vespasian urging him to come and liberate their city from the rebels. Vespasian took the tenth legion from Scythopolis (Beth-shan) and marched them to Gadara. On the fourth day of Adar, the legion came within sight of the city. At the sight of the approaching legion, the rebels abandoned the city and fled. Gadara surrendered immediately.

Vespasian left his tribute Placidus and five hundred cavalry and three thousand footmen to pursue the fleeing rebels. He returned to Caesarea.

-Lancaster, pg 1043

Placidus pursued and harassed the rebels, killing them as they ran and eliminating the populations of any hapless villages the rebels happened to take refuge in. Finally the rebel forces were trapped, hemmed in between the rain-swollen Jordan river and Placidus and his men.

By the time it was all over, more than fifteen thousand corpses floated down the Jordan and washed into the Dead Sea. Placidus continued his assault all the way to the Dead Sea, taking all the villages and towns of Perea except the fortress Macherus.

This slaughter happened just south of Pella where the Jewish believers had taken refuge inside the walls of that city. From their perspective in the city, it seemed as if the Master’s words had come to pass.

They prayed ardently for the coming of the Son of Man to cut the days of tribulation short. They looked for a sign of the Son of Man in the sky, and they listened for the sound of His shofar, but He did not come.

-ibid, pp 1043-44

Broken FaithLancaster presents more prophesies of Jesus as applied to the says that preceded the fall of Jerusalem, verses that most Protestant churches attribute to a final tribulation in which the faithful will be taken up and those who are not chosen are “left behind.”

Can I say what these prophesies mean? No, of course not. I present this interpretation from the Torah Club for two reasons. The first I’ve already mentioned, to recount and commemorate these three weeks of mourning in solidarity with the Jewish people. The second is to illustrate that prophesy is one thing and theology and doctrine based on long-held Christian tradition is something else entirely.

I’ve often wondered what would happen in the final days of tribulation, before the return of Christ, if we all finally realized that there is no rapture…what would happen to us…what would happen to the faithful?

However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

Matthew 24:8 (NASB)

If there is no rapture, if terrible times arrive and we are not rescued, if like the believing Jews who sought refuge in Pella, we look to the sky and pray, if like those devout ones, we gaze up to in the air and the Master does not come in the clouds when we expect him to, what happens to us? What will become of our faith if we fail to hear the sound of his shofar? Then, when Messiah does come at the time appointed by the Father, will he find that we still have faith…or will it have fled along with our courage as our theological expectations and the traditions of the church turn to dust?