By Prof. Johan Malan, University of Limpopo, South Africa
On 14th May 2005, modern Israel was 57 years old, and in August this year it will be 25 years since Jerusalem was declared to be the eternal capital of Israel. Why is the restoration of Israel and their capital city, Jerusalem, so important to us? The reason for this is because Israel is God's prophetic clock for end time events. He said that we must look at the fig tree (Israel; cf. Hos. 9:10) if we want to know when the summer of His promised kingdom is near (Luke 21:29-30). With Israel's restoration, the fig tree started budding but when the Messiah comes the whole remnant of Israel will be saved and bear fruit for the kingdom of God (Isa. 27:6; Zech 12:10).
The Bible clearly states that after a long time of dispersion Israel will be restored to their land (Ezek. 37:21). The Lord warned them that their return to the land will occur during a time of great hostility. The devil is still intent on resisting and destroying the works of God, and he knows that the Messiah will return to a restored Israel to destroy the kingdom of the Antichrist and institute His millennial reign. Satan wants to avoid the fulfilment of these prophecies and uses other nations in his continued efforts to destroy Israel.
The Lord will severely punish the nations who try to destroy Israel (Gen. 12:3). In Ezekiel 38 and 39, He tells Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal who resides in the far north (that is modern Russia) that he, as an outspoken enemy of God and His people Israel, will be drawn out of his land to invade the restored Israel together with his like-minded allies such as the Arab nations, so the Lord can judge these rebellious nations who fought against Israel:
"Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh Meshech and Tubal. I will lead you out with all your army" a great company, all of them handling swords. Persia (Iran), Ethiopia, and Libya" Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah (Turkey) from the far north and all its troops - many people are with you. In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains on Israel, which had long been desolate" You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It will be in the latter days" (Ezek. 38:3-8,16).
This is very clearly an end time situation. Take into account that it was not before the 20th century that Russia became a superpower that can play a leading role in a large military alliance, and that the restoration of the Jews from their international Diaspora to the mountains of Israel, as well as the hostility that this event caused among their neighbours and in other states, only occurred since the middle of the 20th century. The wealth of the Arab countries because of the discovery of oil, and the consequent enhancing of their political importance and military capabilities, are also 20th century developments.
Since Israel's restoration in 1948, they were engaged in several wars against their Islamic neighbours. During these wars, the Arabian Muslim states mainly used Russian weapons, but they were time and gain defeated and humiliated by Israel. All indications are that in a future, big war against Israel they will succeed in gaining the outright assistance of Russia as an ally and leader in the invasion. Without assistance of this nature they will not be able to defeat Israel.
The Last Generation
In Luke 21, the restoration of Israel and their capital city are linked to a last generation that will expire immediately prior to the Second Coming of Christ: "Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). At the end of the times of Gentiles, Israel and Jerusalem will be restored as a prelude to a world-wide period of tribulation which will culminate in the Second Coming of Christ: "And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the starts; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. And He spoke to them a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you, likewise, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things are fulfilled" (Luke 21:25:32).
In this part of the Olivet Discourse, the public coming of Christ in power and glory is described as the end of the last generation (v.27). As far as the starting-point for this generation is concerned, reference is both made to the restoration of Jerusalem as capital (v.24) and to the budding of the fig tree, which refers to Israel's revival as a nation (v.29-30).
A full generation represents a period of 70 years (Ps. 90:10). The beginning of the last full generation before the return of the Messiah to Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4-5) is the birth of the modern Jewish state in May 1948.
But the Lord mostly deals with Israel within the framework of generations of 40 years as He keeps the adult generation accountable for their actions. After their exodus from Egypt, the Lord made them wander in the wilderness 40 years until the adult generation that had done evil in His sight all perished (Num. 32:13). Full adulthood in Israel is attained at the age of 30 when men have come of age politically and religiously, and are therefore eligible to perform public duties in these spheres. For the same reason, Jesus could only commence His public ministry as teacher in Israel after having reached the age of 30.
The modern Jewish state came of age politically in 1978 when it was 30 years old. Shortly afterwards, in 1980, Jerusalem was declared to be the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel. This event ushered in the last adult generation of 40 years, which forms part of the same full generation that started in 1948. Take into consideration that the tribulation period of seven years forms part of the last generation before the Second Coming (Matt. 24:29-30) as well as the fact that this generation will not pass away till all things are fulfilled (Matt. 24:34; Luke 21:32).
The First Generation
That there will be a last generation before the Second Coming, is just as sure as there was a first generation after the first coming of Jesus Christ. We only have to be very sure about the starting point and end of these two generations. By way of comparison, we may shortly review the first generation.
In the year 32 the Lord Jesus addressed members of the adult generation, i.e. persons of 30 years and older, and told them that within their generation (of 40 years) Jerusalem would be destroyed and Israel's dispersion among the nations would already have begun (Matt. 23:32-38). He thereby literally implied that by the year 72 AD these prophecies would be fulfilled. It is a historically known fact that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and all the surviving Jews were taken away as captives of war (Luke 21:20-24).
The first coming of Christ therefore ushered in a full generation of 70 which expired in the year 72 AD. In the year 32 AD, when this generation had come of age spiritually and politically, Israel had to decide whether they would accept Jesus as King and Messiah. Because they refused to do it, members of that adult generation had to bear the consequences of the unbelief and apostasy (Matt. 23:37-38). That generation did not pass away till all prophecies were fulfilled.
The last generation of 70 years that started in 1948, came of age 30 years later and in 1980 declared Jerusalem as capital city without giving any recognition to the Messiah. Israel is now in the 40 years of accountability because of their continued rejection of the Messiah. As a result, they will conclude a covenant with the false messiah, which will be the formal starting point of the 70th year-week of Daniel (the tribulation of seven years). Before this seven year period begins the Lord Jesus will snatch away the true believers (Luke 21:36; John 14:2-3; 1Thess. 4:16-18).
The parameters of the first and last adult generations of the present age between the first and second comings of Christ are clearly defined in Scripture. The first generation started when Jesus offered Himself as Messiah-King to the Jews, only to be rejected and crucified by them. The end of the first generation was marked by the destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Diaspora.
The last generation commenced with the restoration of Jerusalem to its former position of Israel's capital city. This generation will end in the same situation where the first one began: The inhabitants of Jerusalem will again be given the opportunity to accept Yeshua as their Messiah-King and to bow down before Him for salvation and cleansing from their sin (Zech. 13:1). At the first occasion they rejected Him, but at the second occasion they will fully accept Him. They will look on Him whom they have pierced, and say: "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Mt. 23:39; also see Zech. 14:4; 12:10).
A very conspicuous characteristic of the inaugurating and concluding generations of the church dispensation is the coexistence of Israel and the church. During the first generation, the church was gradually phased in while Israel was on a course to be phased out as a nation by way of the Diaspora. During the last generation, modern Israel is gradually phased back into their land and into world affairs, while the true church must prepare itself to be phased out by way of the rapture.
The Signs of the Times
As far as the true Christians are concerned, we will be delivered from the dark days of the seven year tribulation period by way of the rapture. We will, therefore, not be on earth for the full duration of the last generation before the Second Coming as we will be with the Bridegroom in heaven for the last seven years. In the traditional Jewish marriage the bridegroom secretly took his bride away, after which she spent seven days with him before she was revealed at the wedding feast to all the guests. This week prophetically refers to the year-week (seven-year period) between the rapture and the public appearance of Christ and His bride. This week will be a particularly dark time on earth as the unsaved Israel as well as the unsaved nations will have tribulation under the false messiah's reign of terror, while also being judged by God (Matt. 24:21).
There are various signs of the times that have a bearing on this awesome time of tribulation, so the people of that time should know that God judges them because of their sin and unbelief, but also that Christ will return to earth to destroy the powers of darkness. God wants them to fully realise the seriousness of their situation, to reject the Antichrist and his number, and to turn to God the Father through Jesus Christ. However, most of them will be spiritually so hardened that they will not repent (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9,11,21).
The signs indicating the seven years of tribulation will already become evident before that time on a smaller scale, while increasing in intensity as the tribulation approaches. They will serve the purpose of a clarion call to the bride to prepare for the coming of the Bridegroom, and also to the unrepentant world not to continue shunning the grace of God (Heb. 2:3). When the signs that indicate the tribulation period only begin to become evident (Luke 21:28) we must lift up our heads because our redemption draws near. What are these final signs that indicate the nearness of the Second Coming at the end of the seven year-long tribulation, of which the early beginnings point to the nearness of our escape before the tribulation? Among them are the following:
We are living in the last half of the last generation " a generation of which the Lord Jesus Himself said that it will not pass away till all things leading up to His Second Coming are fulfilled. We have all reason to shortly expect the secret coming of the heavenly Bridegroom for His bride. The signs that are so evident in the world are like the shadows of night that convey the ominous message of the impending darkness of God's judgements that will soon be poured out upon a deceived, unrepentant world in which false religions are rife, while most of the believers in the traditional Christian world only have a form of godliness.
Natural disasters. There will be great earthquakes in various places (Matt. 24:7; Rev. 6:12; 16:18-20). The sea and waves will roar because of these earthquakes and cause severe panic among millions of people (Luke 21:25). There will also be cosmic signs and disasters that will strike the world from outer space. Among these will be meteor showers and asteroids that will cause devastation on earth (Rev. 6:13; 8:8-9). Furthermore, there will be unequalled heat waves and hailstorms (Rev. 16:8-9,21).
Wars. "And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars" For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (Matt. 24:6-7). The situation will aggravate until a time when armies from all nations will be mobilised in the Middle East for the great war of Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16; 19:19; Zech. 12:3; 14:12-13).
Famines, pestilences and polluted water. The Lord Jesus said: "And there will be famines and pestilences" (Matt. 24:7). People will need their entire income just to buy the basic foodstuffs that they need (Rev. 6:8). Serious disease epidemics will break out and water resources will be so polluted that many will die from drinking the water (Rev. 16:2-6).
Spiritual and ideological deception. Christ seriously warned against this: "Take heed that no one deceives you - For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders" (Matt. 24:4,24). After the rapture the whole deceived world will marvel and follow the Antichrist, and also worship him (Rev. 13:3-4). He will be the political and religious head of all nations (Rev. 13:7-8).
When these judgements are poured out and the whole world is delivered to the dictatorship of the Antichrist, all true believers must be away from planet earth: "For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Thess. 5:9). By way of the rapture, the Lord Jesus will deliver us from the wrath to come (1Thess. 1:10). But we must be made worthy for this escape by way of repentance and sanctification (Luke 21:36).
The last seven years of tribulation will be the dramatic climax of the last generation. These awesome days will be terminated by the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus (Rev. 19:19-21). He will come with His saints, who will be revealed to the rest of the world together with Him (Zech. 14:5; Col 3:4; Rev. 19:11-14) and reign with Him in His millennial kingdom (Rev. 5:9-10; 20:6). But we must be blameless in holiness to be presented to the Bridegroom in His ivory palace at the beginning of this seven-year period (1Thess. 3:13; 5:23-24; Heb. 12:14; 1John 3:3; Ps. 45:8-15).
The Lord did not reveal to us the day, hour, month or year of His secret coming but He did refer to the last generation within which it will occur. We know for sure that this generation will not pass away till all things have been fulfilled. We do not know which event will be the last clarion call before the coming of Christ (Matt. 25:6). It may be that a few hours or a few days before the time something special may happen to indicate the imminence of Christ's coming. It may even be the Russo-Arab invasion of Israel, from which the Antichrist could arise as a false prince of peace.
Whatever this cry may be, we do know it will be so close to the rapture that it will not allow the nominal and carnal believers enough time to prepare for the heavenly Bridegroom's coming (Matt. 25:8-10). We should live in a state of continued holiness for this wonderful meeting.