Does Israel Still Have to Face Another “Great Tribulation”?
This is important for you to know!
There are many Christians who believe that, after the Jewish people have been gathered back into their Land, a final, most terrible period of tribulation will come upon them, when all the nations, in a horrifying Armageddon, rise up against the Jewish state.
This idea is widespread and has caused many Christians who do subscribe to the biblical understanding concerning the return of the Jews to their land, to have a rather fatalistic and sometimes pious attitude towards Israel’s future.
After all, only when they have been surrounded by this terrifying onslaught of the nations will they cry out to the Lord and be saved. And so, the thinking goes, let us not stand in God’s way of fighting too much for Israel and thereby prevent this salvation from happening.
In the end, even among those Christians who do believe in Israel’s establishment in her land as the fulfilment of prophecy, there is a reluctance, a holding back, because of the notion that too positive an involvement with the woes and difficulties of Israel now would act against this scenario that God needs to bring His people to Himself.
In this article, I want to re-examine these beliefs in light of what the Bible teaches about the future of Israel.
I believe it will be an interesting study that will show yet again that widely held man’s opinions and traditions are not necessarily the word of God – even when people quote certain misinterpreted scriptures to sustain those views.
First let us look at a certain passage which is often taken to mean that after the Jews return to their land, two-thirds will again be cut off. This belief is based on the book of Zechariah when the prophet says:
“And it shall come to pass in all the land,” says the LORD, “That two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one third shall be left in it: I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; and each one will say, ‘The LORD is my God.'”Zechariah 13:8-9.
Now Jesus said that the fulfilment of this passage belonged to the period that began with the betrayal and rejection of Him – the Shepherd and Shield of His people, (Matthew 26:31) – and that the sword would go through the land and cut off two-thirds, which it did.
“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Companion,” says the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered; then I will turn My hand against the little ones,” Zechariah 13:7.
After the rejection of the Shepherd, the sword went through the land, first by Titus around AD70, when over one million Jews were killed. Then afterwards, in AD135, the Roman sword again went through the land.
Writes W Hull in “The Fall and Rise of Israel“:
“Five hundred and eighty thousand Jews were said to have been killed in battle and the slave markets were glutted with Jewish captives, Judea was not all but empty of Jews,” (The Fall and Rise of Israel. W. Hull, p33)
In his book, “The Death and Resurrection of Israel”, another historian, Arthur W Kac, writes:
“In AD66, the Jews in Palestine rose in revolt against Rome in an effort to free their homeland from Roman rule. Jerusalem fell and the Temple was destroyed in AD71, but it took two more years of mopping-up operations.
With the capture of the fortress at Masada in AD73, the war against Rome came to an end. The total number of killed in that war is estimated to have reached 1,356 460, and the number of prisoners taken was 101,700.
When Emperor Hadrian published, in AD132, new restrictive laws against the Jewish religion, decided build a new city on the ruins of Jerusalem, and built a pagan temple on the site of the destroyed Jewish Temple, the Jews in Palestine rebelled once again under the leadership of Ban Kochba.
It took three years before the Romans succeeded in putting down this bloody uprising. Don Cassius states that about 580,000 Jews fell by the sword, not counting those who perished from starvation, disease, and other related causes. Many others were sold as staves.
Hadrian now carried out his plans in the belief that it would put an end to all Jewish hopes of the restoration of a national homeland forever.
A new city was built on the ruins of Jerusalem and called Aelia Capitolina – peopled by foreigners, and a pagan temple was built on the site where the Temple once stood.
An edict was issued prohibiting on pain of death any Jew from entering or even approaching the vicinity of the new city. The name of the province of Judea was changed to Syria Palestina.
Thus the name Palestine was given to the Land of Israel following the failure of the Bar Kochba rebellion,” (The Death and Resurrection of Israel, Arthur W Kac)
And so the words of Jesus came to pass. After His appearance, the Romans came and did not leave one stone of the Temple building upon the other.
He destroyed the city and the inhabitants – first of Jerusalem and then of all Israel – leaving a remnant, just as Zechariah said, to be scattered and refined all over the world.
It was this remnant of the Jews who, in the end, would come back to their land. It took nearly 2,000 years of dispersion and the terrible Holocaust to bring the nation to a point where it recognised that the only solution to its plight was a return to Zion.
Thus has this passage out of Zechariah been fulfilled to the letter.
Generally speaking, the defeat and dispersion of the people of Israel always signified God’s displeasure, as is seen in the numerous passages from Israel’s prophets.
At the same time, the physical regathering of the Jews and restoration to their land has always signified, again in the light of scripture, God’s favour and mercy towards them.
It has to be said, in the full light of scripture, that God is not, after this terrible time of suffering, defeat and dispersion, gathering His people unto destruction, but unto life and glory.
This is the unmistakable, clear message of all the prophets – albeit that it is not shared by some of today’s Christian interpreters.
The fact that God has allowed His scattered people to once again come home to their God-given land, (the second time, see Isaiah 11:11) is, in itself, a powerful sign that God has, in favour and mercy, returned to His people as the Bible repeatedly says.
One of the clearest scriptures in this respect is found in Jeremiah 30. Here an awful, Holocaust-like experience termed “the day of Jacob’s trouble” is seen by the prophet to precede the return of God’s people to their land in mercy and comfort.
This is so different from the often-held opinion that the day of Jacob’s trouble for the Jewish people would come after their return.
This passage is so clear and important that I want to quote it in full:
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, “Thus speaks the LORD God of Israel, saying: ‘Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, the days are coming,’ says the LORD, ”that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,’ says the LORD. ‘And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.'”
Now these are the words that the LORD spoke concerning Israel and Judah. “For thus says the LORD: ‘We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, whether a man is ever in labour with child? So why do I see every man with his hands on his loins like a woman in labor, and all faces turned pale? Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it.
“‘For it shall come to pass in that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘That I will break his yoke from your neck, and will burst your bonds; foreigners shall no more enslave them. But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.
“‘Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,’ says the LORD, ‘Nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,’ says the LORD, ‘to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.'” Jeremiah 30:1-11.
“For I will restore health to you and heal you of your wounds,” says the LORD, “Because they called you an outcast saying: ‘This is Zion; no one seeks her.'” Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will bring back the captivity of Jacob’s tents, and have mercy on his dwelling places; the city shall be built upon its own mound, and the palace shall remain according to its own plan. Then out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of those who make merry; I will multiply them, and they shall not diminish; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small. Their children also shall be as before, and their congregation shall be established before Me; and I will punish all who oppress them. Their nobles shall be from among them, and their governor shall come from their midst; then I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach Me; for who is this who pledged his heart to approach Me?” says the LORD. “You shall be My people, and I will be your God.” (Jeremiah 30:17-22).
“For thus says the LORD: “Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘O LORD, save Your people, the remnant of Israel!’ Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the ends of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and the one who labours with child, together; a great throng shall return there. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble; for I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn. Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.'” Jeremiah 31:7-10.
“Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.” For thus says the LORD: “Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them,” Jeremiah 32:37-42.
These are only a few passages from one prophet which clearly spell out that, after the suffering and dispersion would come a time of favour and comfort for God’s people – not more Holocaust.
This is also so clearly stated in passages by Isaiah, Amos, Joel and Ezekiel that it is strange how many Christians have missed this central truth: God is not bringing Israel back to her land for a horrible hour of judgement and confrontation, but for a glorious hour of restoration and fullfilment.
Here are some of these scriptures from other places in the Bible, all expressing the same general and clear truth – that the purpose for which God promises to bring His people back to their land is for good, and not for evil.
“On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing. “Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God,” Amos 9:11-15.
“Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth – Everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him,” Isaiah 43:5-7.
“Surely these shall come from afar; look! Those from the north and the west, and these from the land of Sinim.” Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the LORD has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you……”
……. Then you will say in your heart, ‘Who has begotten these for me, since I have lost my children and am desolate, a captive, and wandering to and fro? And who has brought these up? There I was, left alone; but these, where were they?'” Isaiah 49:12-15,21.
“Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,” says the LORD.'”Ezekiel 37:11-14.
“For behold, in those days and at that time, when I bring back the captives of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgement with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; they have also divided up My land…….
…….. The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will diminish their brightness. The LORD also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; the heavens and earth will shake; but the LORD will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel,” Joel 3:1-2, 15-16.
In Amos, there is the clear promise of restoration to their land and the assurance “that they shall no longer be pulled up out of their land”.
In Isaiah, God promises to bring them back from the four corners of the world to show forth His glory in the sight of the nations, even though Zion herself thinks, as many Jews do today, “the LORD has forsaken me and my LORD has forgotten me”.
In Ezekiel, the same thought is expressed as the prophet sees the restoration of the bones of the people of Israel against the background of a terrible catastrophe – which precedes that restoration – when he hears the Jewish people groan exactly as they did during the Holocaust.
“Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts.” It is to these people that God promises the return to the land.
“Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel … I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live.”
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you,” Ezekiel 36:26-29.
Thus we see that God’s promises overall concerning the regathering and restoration of Israel are positive.
And this time it is the nations that are singled out for judgement, God says through Joel that at the time of the restoration of Israel, there will be a time that He will gather the nations in the valley of Jehoshaphat for judgement. And Israel will be His threshing sledge and His battle axe.
At the same time, as God says through Jeremiah, Israel will not go unpunished, but will be punished in measure. And indeed, as we can see, there is still much suffering in Israel today.
But there will be no holocaust. Israel has won, and will win, every war. She will never again be plucked up out of her land, and no-one – not even Gog and Magog, or Armageddon – will make her afraid.
God will make her victorious throughout it all, as Jeremiah clearly states:
“Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,” says the LORD, “Nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,” says the LORD, “to save you; though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished,” Jeremiah 30:10-11.
Therefore, the notion that Israel will only come to salvation and faith in the Lord though another terrible Holocaust after they have been restored to their land is not the general emphasis of scripture.
God will restore this nation through His sovereign mercy, not through judgement – otherwise Auschwitz, Bergen Belsen or Matthausen would have done the job.
No, God will first restore them to their land in unbelief, and then He will pour out His Spirit of grace and supplication on them.
“Behold, I will gather them out of all countries where I have driven them in My anger, in My fury, and in great wrath; I will bring them back to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.”Jeremiah 32:37-41.
Then they will see. He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob and He will show them mercy – not judgement – through those gentile believers who themselves have received mercy.
This is how Paul puts it in his epistle to the Romans:
“For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all,” Romans 11:25-32.
This same mercy runs through the words with which the prophet Hosea ends his book:
“O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to the LORD. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses, nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods’. For in You the fatherless finds mercy. I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon,”” Hosea 14:1-5.
It is when this Spirit of grace and supplication has fallen upon God’s people that they will experience the grace and status promised to them by God through Jeremiah, when He will be their God and they His people.
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them,” says the LORD. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD’, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them”, says the LORD. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more,” Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The living God of Israel will show His favour to His people by restoring them to their land, by making them win over every enemy that comes against them, even against the multitude of Gog and Magog, and so be known to Israel and the nations.
At the same time He will do a deep inner work within His people’s hearts and circumcise their hearts and pour out His Spirit on them so that they will again be His covenant people, and that He will have His sanctuary built once more and dwell in their midst forever.
What a wonderful prospect of which to be part. For what shall the fullness of Israel be but life from the dead?
~ Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Director
International Christian Zionist Center
Newsletter of June 7, 2018.
Republished with the kind permission of Author Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Director of International Christian Zionist Center.
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