What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This is what must happen before the Second Exodus. Notice that it is called "Jacob's Trouble," not either "Israel's Trouble" or "Judah's Trouble." Both houses will experience it. God causes Jacob's descendants to be greatly troubled because of their sins. This time of unprecedented crisis—"none is like it"—corresponds to the time of "great tribulation" of which Jesus Christ warns:
"Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . . For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake those days will be shortened." (Matthew 24:15-16, 21-22; emphasis ours throughout)
Luke's version of the Olivet Prophecy uses different language to describe the same time and events:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. . . . For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24; see Revelation 11:2; emphasis ours)
Just as Christ reassures us in Matthew 24:22 that this will not be the complete end of mankind, Jeremiah promises that Jacob will be saved out of his trouble. Even though that "day" is great, and like nothing we have seen before, it will not be the end of Jacob.
Jeremiah 30:5-7 does not detail why that time is one of tribulation. The only clue we have in these verses is that God compares it, not just to a woman in labor, but to a man in labor. This is certainly an unusual symbol, but the picture of the sorrows and pains of labor and childbirth elsewhere helps us to understand what it portends. For example, Isaiah 13:6-8 prophesies:
Wail, for the day of the LORD is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will be limp, every man's heart will melt, and they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; they will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; they will be amazed at one another; their faces will be like flames.
A similar illustration appears in Isaiah 26:16-18:
LORD, in trouble they have visited You, they poured out a prayer when Your chastening was upon them. As a woman with child is in pain and cries out in her pangs, when she draws near the time of her delivery, so have we been in Your sight, O LORD. We have been with child, we have been in pain; we have, as it were, brought forth wind; we have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth, nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen.
Paul also uses this symbol in I Thessalonians 5:1-3:
But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. (see also Isaiah 66:6-24; Jeremiah 4:31; 13:20-27; Hosea 13:12-16; Micah 4:9-10.)
Overall, the symbol is one of anguish, sorrow, intensity, great discomfort, and pain. The prophets contain scores of examples of God's anger at the sins of His people. It is with good reason that the prophecies mention that only a "remnant" will return: Even though the descendants of Jacob will ultimately be saved, the percentage of the current hundreds of millions of Israelites and Jews who survive that trouble will probably be small (see Isaiah 10:20-21).
However, how this illustration is applied is interesting. When it applies to God's enemies, the emphasis is clearly on the pain, anguish, sorrow, and fear of what is ahead (Jeremiah 49:20-24). But when it refers to Israel, as in Jeremiah 30, there is always hope that the pain will be turned to joy, just as with a physical birth (Isaiah 66:8-9). It is painful, but a tremendous blessing is promised to come when it is over (compare Jesus' use of this metaphor in John 16:21).
A hint of this hope appears in Jeremiah 30:7: "But he [Jacob] shall be saved out of it." The pain and the anguish will not end in total annihilation. Certainly, a dear price will be paid in human lives, but the peoples of Jacob will survive and be blessed—both physically and spiritually
David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part One)
Protestants try to ascribe the covenant of verse 27 to the Antichrist because "he," they say, refers to "the prince who is to come." But this cannot be! Remember the poetic organization! The key is the word "many." It is literally "the many," and whenever it is used in the Old Testament, it refers to either the covenant people Israel or to the saints, that is, true believers. Jesus says in Matthew 26:28, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Christ makes the covenant, not Antichrist!
Confirm means "strengthen" or "make firm"—almost to the point of being unbreakable. This helps substantiate its reference to the New Covenant, an everlasting covenant that strengthened the basic requirements of the Old Covenant. Significantly, when Christ in the Olivet Prophecy gives His disciples the signs of the end, He does not mention a covenant or treaty to be enacted between the Antichrist and the Jews, Christians, saints, or anyone! He does mention both of the events Gabriel mentions here: the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24:2) and the abomination of desolation (verse 15).
What about the final three and a half years of the seventieth week? They have yet to be fulfilled, but Gabriel leaves us hanging regarding when they occur. He does not mention them. When could they be fulfilled?
- The seventieth week has been completely fulfilled by the three and a half year ministry of Christ. This seems to be the least likely of these options.
- Christ will complete His ministry in the first three and a half years after His return, before Satan is locked in the bottomless pit. But the Bible does not indicate that any time elapses between His return and Satan's binding in Revelation 19 and 20.
- They are the years of the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, during which Christ will complete His ministry through the Two Witnesses and/or to the church in the Place of Safety. Again, this is only speculation—although Paul's training in Arabia may provide a precedent (Galatians 1:11-18).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Seventy Weeks Are Determined...'
Christ's mandate to us that we become "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" implies that we must develop discernment, the ability to detect motivation and the spirits that motivate. The gift of discerning the spirits will become increasingly important as we approach the end of this age because deception will be the hallmark of these extremely dangerous times.
In the Olivet Prophecy, the disciples ask Jesus to reveal the sign of His return. Jesus does not give one sign but several. At the top of the list, he warns the disciples of deception, and follows it up with warnings of false prophets, false miracles, and the warning not to be deceived (see Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 23-26).
We deduce from this last warning that false "Christian" ministers and ministries will have the capability of performing convincing lying wonders and signs. These false ministers will demonstrate power—occult power—for the specific purpose of leading all people astray, including the most sincere believer.
We have a clear warning from the apostle Paul that the battles we face on a daily basis cannot be won by conventional weapons that we can attain from the world. The weapons we must seek should be spiritual, having the power to destroy arguments and every false claim that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and God's Word (II Corinthians 10:3-5).
David F. Maas
The Gift of Discerning Spirits
If Jesus said this to imply something of worldwide importance—worldwide impact—it did not apply well to those people in Jesus' day because, to them, the world was limited to the Mediterranean area. They did not have radio, television, or telephones. Communication then compared to today was quite slow. What we are looking at here in Matthew 24 is primarily addressed to those who are living at the end-time, when there is radio, television, the Internet, and all kinds of means of rapid communication.
We cannot go through a day anymore without hearing of a war or some kind of armed fighting or conflict with people being killed somewhere on this earth, whether it is in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Iraq, in East Africa, in South America, or now even in the United States. It is happening all the time, and we are aware of it. We may not pay a great deal of attention, but it registers on our minds that it has occurred. It adds to the intensity of our stress and keeps us a little bit on edge. However, Jesus says that, despite hearing all these terrible things, the end is not yet.
All of the things He mentions from verse 4 to at least verse 12 is that none of them is absolutely a sign of the time of the end. This is not to say that they will not happen at the time of the end. They most certainly will happen at the time of the end, but none of these things of and by themselves, or even collectively, is a sign of the end time. These kinds of events can all occur at any time in history. Beginning at verse 12, though, things begin to get more serious for those of us who are living at the end time.
In terms of spiritual instruction to us, Jesus is warning us not to allow ourselves to get caught up in them because they can very easily become false signs that one can give far too much importance to.
These things are happening, and they are happening at both an increasing tempo and an increasing intensity. They are beginning to strike right in our very own lands. We need to keep an eye on them, but Jesus says, despite them, "The end is not yet."
John W. Ritenbaugh
Does Doctrine Really Matter? (Part 4)
Jesus' well-known Olivet Prophecy contains probably the most familiar description of Christ's return:
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)
Other passages describing this event echo a common element. While some of these verses also speak of “power” and “glory,” the common element in all these descriptions is the mention of clouds.
This detail at first may not seem relevant, but it shows up repeatedly. Why did God consistently inspire the Bible's writers to include that little detail? We know that He does not inspire empty or superfluous words; everything about His revelation is deliberate and meaningful. What meaning do the clouds hold in the Bible? Why are they significant to the return of our Savior to the earth?
Consider what a cloud is and does. By way of definition, a cloud is “a visible mass of droplets of water or frozen crystals, suspended in the atmosphere.” Sometimes clouds bring rain, which can be either a blessing or a curse depending on the circumstances, but other times they pass by without sharing a drop. Nevertheless, there is one thing a cloud will always do, if it has any size at all: It will impede light, such as the light of the sun or the moon. Since it is clothing Jesus Christ, this cloud filters some of His breathtaking glorious radiance.
This is not the only way the Bible uses clouds. It also uses them to represent multitudes of people (Isaiah 60:8; Hebrews 12:1), the sins of men (Isaiah 44:22), or the impermanence of the wealth of the wicked (Hosea 6:4; 13:3). They can represent the empty words of false teachers (Jude 12; II Peter 2:17), the unfulfilled promises of faithless men (Proverbs 25:14), and a number of other things. But when the clouds surround God Himself, they are a covering that mercifully impedes His full brilliance. They represent the unsearchableness of God, His mysterious depths, and how futile it is for carnal men to try to understand His ways (II Samuel 22:12; Psalm 97:2; Ezekiel 1:4).
This covering is critical because the undimmed brightness of a God-being is lethal to mankind. Moses had to be hidden from the full glory of God in the cleft of a rock, or he would have died (Exodus 33:19-23). After that, the Israelites could not stand to look at Moses' face, and he had to use a veil—a cloud made of cloth, if you will—because even when the glory of God was reflected and vastly dimmed, it was too much to take (Exodus 34:29-35).
As already mentioned, Jesus Christ will be returning in glory, and that awesome glory has a terrible, lethal effect on sinful flesh. In particular, II Thessalonians 2:8 foretells that “the lawless one” will be “consume[d] with the breath of His mouth and destroy[ed] with the brightness of His coming.” Apparently, Christ will not always remain behind a cloud but will allow His full glory to show for the purpose of destroying unholy men.
We can thus see why being surrounded by clouds is an act of mercy on God's part: Mere men cannot abide the sight of One so pure and holy.
David C. Grabbe
'Behold, He is Coming with Clouds'
A parable is a story drawn from human experience that has a higher spiritual meaning. This is its principal purpose, just as a psalm is primarily intended to praise God. This does not exclude its use for other ends. God creates most things with multiple functions, and the various parts of His Word are not exceptions.
The Parable of the Fig Tree is a good example. It both teaches a universal principle and prophesies of the coming Kingdom of God. As further proof of this parable's prophetic nature, Jesus gives it in the midst of the Olivet Prophecy! He has just listed several signs of His second coming, and He presents this parable to key us in on their time element. Notice He says, "when they are already budding," meaning that the events that signal His return will be happening—in motion—before we realize how close we are to the end!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables and Prophecy
The apostles were curious and excited about this kind of thing, just as we are today, and their question was not even specifically about a certain day, because they were hopeful that the time had already arrived. Christ was every bit as general in His answer as they were with their question. Again, though, they are very clearly told they were not going to know. This statement coordinates with what Jesus said in the Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24:36), but He expands the thought from day and hour to time and season, which are even more general. He told the apostles they were not even going to know the time or the season.
The word time here means "the duration of a period of time." An hour would be a very short duration. A day would be a bit longer, but the implication from the word "time" is of a period much more expansive than that.
The word "season" means a length of time characterized by certain events, like the Christmas Season. Even in our culture, the Christmas Season seems to extend now from Thanksgiving, (and even before Thanksgiving in some cases), all the way into January a week or so. So even the common usage here in the United States, a season would be somewhere between two and three months.
Jesus' response to them was more general than the day nor the hour. He also says something very pointed here: "It's not for you to know." What He was doing was counseling them to avoid probing into these things. He was in a sense saying, "It's a waste of time. You have more important things to do than to be thinking about this." In short, the disciples were not even to know the general period of time of the establishment of God's Kingdom.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 3)
When Christ says, "He who has an ear to hear let him hear what the spirit says to the churches," that is what the Greek literally says. But what it most closely approximates in the English is, "Now, think through what I have said."
This phrase only appears a couple of other times in the Bible—three times in Mark and once in Luke. But it appears almost twice that many times in just two chapters of the book of Revelation. If God says something once, we need to pay attention to it. If He repeats it even one or two times more, then what He has to say, He is drawing attention to, and it is very important! But, if He says it seven times in the course of two chapters, then He is intensifying what He says considerably.
Revelation 2 and 3, when combined with Christ's discourses in the Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21) shows Christ's concern regarding what His people should be focusing on just prior to the end. His vision of the times we live in was clear enough to foresee that we would have more distractions to grab our attention than at any other time in the history of man. He could see that the ease and rapidity of communication would attract our senses, and it would be difficult for us to keep ourselves focused on our prime concern.
Not that it would be difficult for us to keep focused on the outworking of prophecy. The book of Revelation is devoted to prophecy, and just about every Christian seems to be concerned with it, as everybody wants to have insight into what is going to happen. We want to have advanced news because it piques our interest. Perhaps some vanity is involved because we want to know before somebody else does so that we might have the privilege of telling them what we understand about prophecy.
But this, giving us insight into the future, was probably not Christ's primary reason for inspiring the book of Revelation. Something else is exceedingly more important, and most of it is contained in chapters 2 and 3, right at the beginning of the book. The most important part of Christ's revelation is contained in the letters to the seven churches.
In this confusing world, what is difficult is keeping our personal life focused, yet it is a responsibility each one of us has before God. No one else can do it for us. Individually, we must make the choices about what we will do with our time and energies. This is what Revelation 2 and 3 is concerned with.
This phrase is a solemn warning that what is addressed in one letter may also apply to the others in other congregations not affected by the attitude dominating their congregation. In other words, a person might have an Ephesian problem while attending a Sardis congregation.
In this way, each letter is written to each member of the body of Christ. And if the description fits, then we are to make the changes Christ commands.
What does Christ say in the letters? We also need to consider what He does not say because it is relevant to this period of time we live in. For instance, there is no mention, either positive or negative, of preaching the gospel. This omission can help us see its relevant importance compared to what Christ did say. Remember, these scriptures do not stand alone. Preaching the gospel is part of the church's responsibility, and it should not be minimized. However, it is not even directly implied in these two chapters.
Instead, Revelation 2 and 3 is a ringing call for things far more important to salvation, reward, witnessing effectively for Him, and making disciples.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
Scripture contains another sealed scroll that rarely receives a second glance, yet it more closely resembles the scroll John agonized over than the scrolls of Ezekiel and Zechariah.
In Jeremiah 32:6-15, just before the siege of Jerusalem, God instructs Jeremiah to perform an act as a sign that the Jews would return to the land. This passage is about inheritance and redemption of property, in which Jeremiah is the kinsman-redeemer, similar to Boaz (Ruth 4:1-11). At God's direction, Jeremiah pays the purchase price, signs and seals the deed, and performs it all in the presence of witnesses.
Verse 11 refers to the purchase deed in the singular but later describes it as “boththat which was sealed . . . and that which was open.” These title deeds consisted of duplicates. One copy was left open so the contents could be read by any interested party, while the second copy was sealed to ensure that no tampering could be done. When it was time to buy back the property, the sealed copy would be unsealed to verify the original agreement. The only person with authority to unseal the deed, however, was the rightful owner—the one redeeming the property.
Consider how this applies to the scroll of Revelation 5. In type, it is not merely a prophetic scroll of judgment but a sealed title deed! Its sealing is not due to its contents being truly secret since the majority of its contents can be found in other places. God's prophets warn about religious deception; wars; famines; pestilences and earthquakes; the deaths of God's servants; great signs in the heavens; and the future Kingdom. In other words, in the words of the prophets, we already have the open deed, though it is fragmented and not in time-sequence. The essence of what John sees as the seals are opened has not been completely hidden from human knowledge; the prophets have already, at least in part, spoken of each of them.
Also, we have Jesus' testimony in the Olivet Prophecy, of which the Revelation scroll is essentially an expansion, particularly regarding the Seventh Seal. The two prophecies describe the same judgment events in the same order. In type, then, the gospel of the Kingdom of God, including the Olivet Prophecy, is like the open deed that we can consult at any time.
Thus, the Revelation scroll remains sealed until the right time for a different purpose—not because of wholly secret contents, but because the seals denote that only the one claiming the property at issue is legally allowed to open the scroll. John sees the scroll in the Father's right hand because the time has come to release the seals. It is time for the property to be redeemed and the proper ownership to be legally determined. With the sealed scroll in the Eternal Judge's right hand, a strong angel—an officer of the court, so to speak—issues a challenge for the worthy party to step forward and claim what is his.
Understanding this scroll answers why John wept so much: He was looking at the title deed of all things! God is praised for creating “all things” (Revelation 4:11), and He has appointed the Son as heir of “all things” (Hebrews 1:2). However, the world and its inhabitants are presently in Satan's hand. He currently holds the property in question, having the whole world under his sway (I John 5:19).
Thus, the ownership of the creation and the whole purpose of Elohim in creating humanity in God's image are hanging in the balance—and nobody is found who could claim it. The weight of what it would mean for the deed to go unredeemed—for the world to continue with Satan as its ruler—must have overwhelmed John.
Having paid the ultimate purchase price for His property, the Lamb alone is worthy to open the sealed deed. The Lamb even provides His own witnesses to testify of His eligibility—His claim on His property—throughout His earthly ministry (John 1:6-8, 15); after His death (Acts 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39; 13:31; 14:17; 22:15; 23:11); in every martyr willing to die for his Kingdom and King (Revelation 6:9-11); and in two final witnesses of the Lamb's right to all things (Revelation 11:3-13).
David C. Grabbe
Worthy to Take the Scroll
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