8 "Take heed that no man deceive you"
The beast — a false Christ
The warning comes from the Lord Jesus himself, and we do well to heed it. It concerns the coming of false christs and false prophets.
False christs and false prophets often work together. One function of a false prophet is to give publicity to a false christ: certainly this is the case when false christs and false prophets are mentioned in the same context.
The expression, the false prophet, occurs three times in the book of Revelation.1 The three references are to the same person or organisation. Because this false prophet has a confrontation with the Lord himself on the occasion of the Lord's return to the earth, it can be inferred that this is the last of the series of false prophets that were to arise.
Which prompts the question: who then is the false christ for whom the ultimate false prophet provides publicity?
There can be only one answer — the beast. See how a false christ/false prophet relationship is implied by the following words:
"And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image ..." (Revelation 19:20).
It has already been observed that the false prophet of Revelation is referred to by another name. He is the second beast of Revelation 13 — the two-horned beast that comes up out of the earth. There is a convincing similarity between the terms by which the false prophet and this two-horned beast are described; and they both have the same relationship to the beast.2
For a fuller account then of the work of the fuiai prophet and of the false christ for whom he works as a propaganda agent, the reader is referred back to Revelation 13.
A word here about the expression "false Christ". Christ means "anointed": it is the title of a king. A false christ would therefore be an impostor king who challenges the authority of the true king. This is certainly what the beast of Revelation does:
"And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. .. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings" (17:12,14).
The beast of Revelation is the ultimate false christ — we must come to terms with this appalling truth. Its implications are revolting and frightening.
Warnings and more warnings
So to the prophetic message that the Lord Jesus gave on the Mount of Olives. Each of the Gospel accounts of this prophecy contains warnings about false christs and false prophets. Matthew 24 contains warnings in two different parts of the same discourse,3 and this is also true of Mark 13.4
It is common knowledge that the Olivet prophecy relates both to the destruction of Jerusalem and the signs of the Lord's coming. It would be an over-simplification to divide Matthew 24 and Mark 13 in two, and relate the first half of each exclusively to Jerusalem's judgments, and the second half exclusively to the signs of the second coming. Nevertheless, the duplication of warnings leaves us in no doubt that false christs and false prophets are to be expected on both these occasions. But there is no need to stress the point that a latter-day 'false christ/false prophet' team is yet to be expected according to the Olivet prophecy. This has already been established by reference to Revelation.
What needs stressing now is that which the Lord himself stresses. The deceit of false christs and false prophets constitutes a serious threat to the people of God.
"Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together" (Matthew 24:23-28). This is very impressive. God's greatest prophet is able to
foresee and warn against the false prophets before they arrive — "Behold, I have told you before." The true prophet shows his superiority — but his servants need to be warned.
The Lord warns us, in fact, against two opposite dangers. The first danger is to imagine that the Lord has come when, instead, a false christ has appeared; the second danger is to imagine that the Lord's coming is remote at the very time when he appears — "in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" (Matthew 24:44).
Paul develops the theme of false christs. He speaks of the ultimate false christ in these terms:
"Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
Also both in Revelation 13 and 19 the deceitfulness of this power is emphasised. So deceitful is it that "all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (13: 8). An aura of power and mystery surrounds the beast, and wondering people exclaim: "Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?" (13:4).
But why are the people of God in such danger of being deceived? One would have thought that they, of all people, ought to be able to tell the difference between a true Christ and a false christ. The immediate reason is given: the signs and wonders of the false christs and false prophets are extraordinarily impressive. But still the question must be asked: why are the people of God in danger of being deceived by these signs?
One reason is because the ultimate false christ (the beast) is, like his predecessors, to be viewed in an Israelitish context. If one who claimed to be Christ were to emerge suddenly in Nepal or Honolulu, readers of the Bible would probably not be very impressed. But his appearance in or near the land of Israel could make a great difference. At the time when the saints are expecting the Lord's return to the Promised Land, a wonder-working power emerges in the same land. Time and place would seem to be right, and the signs would carry conviction. Unwary saints would be easy victims.
There is no want of evidence that the land of Israel is to be the centre of the beast's operations. There are indications that the invading army of the sixth trumpet (whose operations are described in the latter part of Revelation 9) descends upon Israel; that the two witnesses of Revelation 11 who prophesy in the same (sixth trumpet) period, make this land the centre of their witnessing activity, though it does extend beyond the land and the people of Israel. The fact that the beast is the enemy of the witnesses encourages us to look particularly to the land of Israel for 'beast' operations as well. Indeed, it is stated that the bodies of those witnesses who are slain by the beast lie "where also our Lord was crucified" (11:8). Later, it is recorded that three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouths of dragon, beast and false prophet and incite rebellion against the Lord. Observe that the people are gathered together into "a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon" (16:13-16). Again the location is the land of Israel.
The role of the false prophet
The false prophet is another name for the second beast of Revelation 13. This fact has already been noted. Deceit and treachery are implied by the comment that this second beast, though he has two horns like a lamb, speaks like a dragon.
The false prophet is an exceedingly clever and utterly ruthless promoter of beast worship. A great deceiver, "he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles. . ." (13:13,14).
It has also been remarked that, by his deceit, the false prophet produces signs that resemble the genuine miracles of the two witnesses, just as the magicians of Egypt imitated the miracles of Moses and Aaron. This means that the false prophet is the rival of the witnesses. When the one promotes the beast, the other preaches Christ.
There are therefore two mutually hostile movements:
The deceit of the beast/false prophet organisation is heightened by another factor, an exceedingly disturbing one. Not only does the false christ appear in the land of Israel: he seems to emanate from the people of Israel.
An Israeli beast! Inevitably one recoils from such a monstrous proposition. So offensive was this thought to the writer of this book that, whenever his studies seemed to lead him to this conclusion (and this happened several times over the years) he hurled it indignantly out of his mind. But it kept coming back!
And now, in conscience, he has to ask readers to examine the evidence presented and the relevant scriptures very carefully and to pray for guidance. He recognises that he could have taken a wrong turning somewhere, and he certainly does not want the responsibility of misleading students of prophecy on a matter of such importance. On the other hand, if this conclusion happens to be right after all, he does not want the responsibility of having kept silence when he should have spoken. If the Scriptures do indeed lead us to expect this hideous development, then we ought not to remain in ignorance of the fact. Ignorant people would more easily be deceived and unprepared when overtaken by the events.
Consider then the following points. This summary of evidence that the beast is Israelitish includes some matters that have already been mentioned. The chapter that follows (Seven Heads and Ten Horns) develops the theme and provides still further evidence.
1. The beast of Revelation is a false christ. Its association with the false prophet establishes this. A false christ is a rival of the true Christ. Because the true Christ is of Israelitish stock and works in an Israelitish context, one could reasonably expect the same to be true of the false christ.
2. It has already been noted that the centre of 'beast' operations is the land of Israel.
3. The sudden, dramatic emergence of Israel as a military power, contrary to all human expectations, satisfies the terms of the prophecies about the revival of the beast. This power emerges from a bottomless pit (Revelation 17:8). We have seen that this is another way of saying that the beast comes up out the sea.5 Indeed, its revival is expressed in these terms in Revelation 13: 1 — "And I... saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns." Remembering that the sea represents the
The beast or false christ
— supported by the two -horned beast out of the earth ; also called the false prophet
— supported by the two witnesses
nations, two points should be noted: 1) that a power which has ceased to exist emerges suddenly and unexpectedly; and 2) that it emerges out of the nations of the world amongst which its : people have been scattered and submerged. Here is something more remarkable than the recovery of an oppressed or devastated nation living in its own land. This prophecy concerns the recovery of a nation disintegrated and lost amongst the peoples of the world: a nation which is not even living in its own land. This is what is predicted in Revelation 13 and 17: and this extraordinary political development has happened to Israel in our time.
4. Excesses of wickedness — arrogance, blasphemy, persecution — are characteristics of the beast. This sort of vile behaviour is typical of people who, after being blessed by God, have turned their backs on Him. Examples are not wanting in the history of Israel. Remember the rebels in the wilderness in the days of Moses.6 Think not only of the ringleaders, like Korah, Dathan and Abiram, but also of the congregation who followed their lead. Despite the fact that God had given the clearest evidence of His opposition to the attitude of Korah, Dathan and Abiram by destroying them with dramatic suddenness, the whole congregation murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying: "Ye have killed the people of the Lord" (Numbers 16:41). Think also of the wickedness of the priests and the Pharisees in the time of our Lord; and of the mad fanaticism of the Jews when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D.70. The beast of the latter days is of this sort. It represents a nation that has turned its back on God — modern Israel.
5. Following this up, the beast in its final phase — the 'eighth head' phase of Revelation 17, or the 'little horn' phase of Daniel 7 — is depicted in Daniel 7 as standing before the judgment seat, where it is condemned with frightening severity for its loud-mouthed blasphemy:
"I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit... A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame" (Daniel 7:9-11). The strangeness of this scene is often missed. Here is a political power, the little horn, standing before the judgment seat. We know that God judges nations, but does He usually judge them in this way? The occasion of the judgment of the little horn is the same as that described in Revelation 20:11-15. The expression "the books were opened", common to both passages, establishes this fact. This occasion (according to Revelation 20) is the time when the dead are judged, and it comes as a surprise to read of the judgment of a political power (the little horn) in these terms and in this context. It seems out of place until one appreciates that this is the judgment of the militant, rebellious element in latter-day Israel — a people that should have known better. Here is an application of the principle: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2).
6. We have seen that the beast of Revelation is the same as "the man of sin, the son of perdition" of 2 Thessalonians 2. The expression "son of perdition" is only used in one other place — John 17:12 — where it is applied to Judas Iscariot. The beast is therefore a latter-day Judas! This implies treachery and heavy responsibility, and could be appropriately applied to Israel.
7. Think now of the famous 'enmity' passage of Genesis 3:15: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."
The obvious order of fulfilment is: first, the bruising of the heel of the seed of the woman by the serpent; then the bruising of the head of the serpent by the seed of the woman. The principles underlying this edict can be worked out in various ways in various contexts. There was a dramatic fulfilment of the first phase of the enmity when a Jewish serpent bruised the heel of the seed of the woman — when the Lord Jesus was crucified by the Jews, but not destroyed. It is fitting therefore that the seed of the woman should inflict a death wound on a Jewish serpent in the next confrontation. The fact that the Scriptures invite us to think of the beast as a latter-day Judas adds weight to this idea. Remember too that the Jewish nation has never officially repudiated the crime of murdering the man whom they called Jesus of Nazareth. And to this day they reject him. Another confrontation is coming.
The 'enmity' principle also finds expression in another 'little horn' prophecy — that of Daniel 8. In the next chapter reasons are given for believing that the little horn of Daniel 8 is the same as that of Daniel 7. Whether at this stage this proposition carries conviction or not, it is evident that there are two distinct phases to the conflict between the little horn of Daniel 8 and the "Prince of princes". In the first confrontation, the little horn appears to get the advantage; in the second confrontation, however, the little horn is destroyed. The power that made Christ suffer and tried to destroy him is the power that will be destroyed by Christ — militant, antichristian Jewry. Two phases of the hostility between the people of Israel and their divinely appointed king are also implied by the words of the Lord Jesus to his enemies — to his Jewish enemies: "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matthew 21:44). These words, which could well be based on the prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar's image, were a warning to hostile Jews. Hostile Jews did fall on "the stone" and after a short time they were broken; and it will not be long before "the stone" will fall on another generation of hostile Jews and grind them to powder. The anti-christian, political element in modern Israel will be destroyed with the Gentile kingdoms (for at heart they are Gentiles and not Jews "inwardly") when the stone smites the image on its feet.
8. The emergence of the latter-day State of Israel as an independent political power before the Lord's return, has been a great surprise even to those who had been expecting the restoration of Israel. From their reading of passages like Jeremiah 30:10,11, Jeremiah 31:10, Ezekiel 37:1-14 many had rightly expected the return of the people of Israel to their ancient land, but they had no idea that an independent state would be born. Most of us have to admit frankly that this momentous political development, involving the people of the Bible and the land of the Bible, simply was not taken into account in our interpretation of prophecy. The position is more serious than this. The new State of Israel has been in existence since 1948: yet still those who were expecting the return of the people of Israel to their land have not succeeded in relating this highly significant political development concerning the people of the Bible and the land of the Bible to Bible prophecy. Does anyone really suppose that Bible prophecy is silent concerning recent events in Israel? Do not forget that "the Lord will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7); and "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psalm 25:14).
A serious problem this — unless modern Israel is the beast.
Incidentally, all this helps to explain the immense importance of the beast in latter-day prophecy. Daniel 7, Daniel 8, 2 Thessalonians 2 and all those references in Revelation — it could be thought that this theme was receiving too much attention by those who had not grasped the appalling fact that this is a Jewish beast.7 The tendency hitherto has been to leave Israel out of the book of Revelation. Here the balance is redressed.
9. There are several other prophecies concerning the ungodliness of the Jews who would live in the Land in the latter days. In Ezekiel 34, for example, before describing the blessing that "David", the divinely appointed shepherd, will bring in, there is a strong condemnation of the wicked shepherds. This is the burden of the chapter. Israel will be impoverished and led astray by unworthy leaders. Hence the strong words of condemnation against Israel at the time of the latter-day restoration, spoken of in Ezekiel 36:
"Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went" (verse 22). And:
"Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall lothe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations. Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you: be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel" (verses 31,32).
According to Zechariah, two thirds of the people of Israel who occupy the Land in the latter days will be destroyed, and the rest will be refined. What a commentary on their wickedness!
"And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God" (Zechariah 13:8,9).
10. Only the emergence of an Israelitish beast can adequately explain why the people of God are so repeatedly and insistently warned that they could easily be deceived.
The reader is asked prayerfully to ponder this last point. It is right that our eyes should be constantly on Israel, watching the outworking of God's purpose through this nation. We are positively encouraged to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.8 The return of the people of Israel and the birth of the State of Israel out of such adverse circumstances has a truly miraculous element about it, and understandably our imagination is stirred.
Yet for all this, it is possible for our attitude to this unbelieving people to be unhealthy. It is surely unseemly for those who claim to be followers of the Prince of Peace to stand on the touchline, so to speak, and cheer when Israel makes fools of her enemies. Although we can see God at work in Israel, this reflects no credit on the people themselves — "I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name's sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went" (Ezekiel 36:22). The weapons of Israel's warfare are carnal, and her motivation is of the flesh.
Remember: as a nation Israel still rejects the Lord Jesus Christ. Never has she repudiated the crime of her fathers. And she rarely acknowledges God in her spectacular victories. If the rejection of God's Son was offensive to God in the first century, it is also offensive in the twentieth century. If dependence upon human power was vain and foolish in Old Testament times, it is just as vain and foolish today. Because God has evidently been helping Israel, and because recent events relating to Israel are a notable sign that God's purpose is working out, we should not be blinded to the perversity and wickedness of this nation. There are two classes of people in the world — those in Adam and those in Christ. The people of Israel do not constitute a third class. They are in Adam, and there is less excuse for them than for most of the Gentiles.
Here is another matter for reflection. The mark of the beast should be thought of as a sign that contrasts with the seal of the Living God. See how the two marks are set in juxtaposition to advertise the contrast. The mark of the beast is referred to at the end of Revelation 13, and the seal of God at the beginning of Revelation 14.
Later, reasons will be presented for believing that the 144,000 who are sealed in their foreheads are saints of Israelitish stock.9 If this is true — and the reader is invited to weigh the evidence — then, to say the least, serious consideration should be given to the thought that the distinguishing mark of those branded for perdition is likewise to be viewed in an Israelitish context.
The Old Testament events relating to Elijah and Ahab can be thought of as a prototype of those relating to the witnesses and the beast. Elijah, who withheld rain and also, on several occasions, called down fire from heaven, corresponds to the latter-day witnesses; and Ahab, the infamous king of Israel who promoted Baal worship, corresponds to the beast. Life was difficult in those days for those who refused to bow the knee to Baal; and life will likewise be difficult for those who refuse to worship the beast and his image, and who do not receive his mark on forehead or hand (14: 9). They, will not be allowed to buy or sell (13:17). They will be denied the means to maintain themselves in life.
But remember how God made provision in the dark days of Ahab. Elijah was supplied with food by ravens10 (the most unlikely creatures, proverbial for their raven-ous appetites), and afterwards by the widow of Sarepta;11 and the sons of the prophets were provided for by Obadiah, Ahab's God-fearing servant.12 We may be sure that God will also make provision for His servants when the beast oppresses them and tries to make life impossible for them.
A question of credibility
Some might find it hard to accept the proposition that Israel is the beast of Revelation because Israel just doesn't seem big enough to fulfil this role. On the other hand, the growth of communism is such an important factor in the modern world that — it could be argued — it would be more appropriate to regard the beast as a symbol of Soviet Communism. And the additional point could be made that an exposition of latter-day prophecy which does not take into account the growth of communism is hardly worthy of serious consideration.
It is fatally easy to forget that Bible prophecy is Israel-centric. Bible predictions are primarily concerned with the land of Israel, the people of Israel and the Zion-born Christian church; and secondarily with the nations and circumstances that closely affect the fortunes of Israel.
It would doubtless be interesting to find a place for the great United States of America in prophecy, but such attempts as have been made (by British Israelites and Mormons, for example) can be seen by diligent Bible students to be nothing but cunningly-devised fables. China is a mighty power, and those who have no knowledge of the Bible keep telling us about these mysterious prophecies concerning the ultimate dominance of the yellow races — but we are still waiting for the scriptural evidence.
It is tempting to look for a place for the Common Market in Bible prophecy, and those who do so come up with answers that seem attractive to some students. But are these answers solidly based on Scripture, and do they accord with the broad principles of Scripture?
As a community which has had a preponderance of British members, it is understandable that we should have had an inflated impression of the importance of Britain in Bible prophecy. And indeed world events at one time seemed to indicate that it was altogether reasonable to find a prominent place for Britain in prophecy, just as world events now seem to demand a big place for Soviet Communism. Britain was a power to be reckoned with, and the British Empire extended to the uttermost parts of the earth. Indeed, the sun never set on the British Empire. Nor was this all. Britain was very pro-Israel, and had actually been granted the mandate of Palestine by the League of Nations at the end of the first World War, for the express purpose of promoting in it colonisation by the Jews and establishing in Palestine a national home for the Jews.
Accordingly we found a worthy place for Britain in our prophetic programme. Despite the fact that the name "Tarshish" has wider connotations, and that, in Ezekiel 19, young lions represent princes of Israel, we convinced ourselves that these expressions in Ezekiel 38:13 denoted Britain and her colonies. On the basis of this interpretation we proclaimed publicly that Britain would not relinquish Palestine before the Lord's return. It was necessary, we argued, for her to be on the spot in order to say to Gog: "Art thou come to take a spoil?"
And we were wrong!
Immediately before the second world war Germany was a mighty military power. Moreover she was extremely hostile to Israel, and she occupied a northerly position. These facts were sufficient to convince some brethren that Germany was "the king of the north". But they were wrong!
Today Russia is powerful — even more powerful than Britain and Germany were in their time. And Russia is known to have designs on Israel. Yes, and she occupies a northerly position. But we must resist the temptation to which we have fallen so disastrously in the past — the temptation to be too much influenced by immediate appearances. Mighty powers can disappear as suddenly as Sennacherib's army.
Of course, in its own way Bible prophecy has taken into account this drift towards what is called communism. The prophecies of Daniel 2, Luke 21 and Matthew 24, for example, describe such processes of disintegration and godlessness as must inevitably take the world in this direction. And in keeping with this is the revelation that the philosophy of the beast is basically humanistic.
It is generally accepted amongst us that Russia is involved in the invasion of Ezekiel 38, and I see no reason to challenge this conclusion. However, reasons have been given for thinking that this will take place after the Lord returns and rules over Israel, whereas the confrontation with the beast occurs earlier.
And in any case, a number of reasons have already been presented for believing that the beast comes from Israel.
To those who think that Israel just isn't big enough to play the part described above, I would say this. Could anyone have guessed forty years ago that Israel would become the power that she is today? Could anyone have foreseen that men whose fathers died in their millions in the extermination camps of Europe would win a major war against much bigger and better equipped armies in just six days, increasing their territory fourfold in the process?
Or could anyone have foreseen even two years before it happened that there would be a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, with the initiative coming from Egypt? To have suggested it would have been an invitation to ridicule. By the way, the following words, by Isaiah, must have sounded even more absurd in tije days of Egypt's greatness:
"And the land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt, every one that maketh mention thereof shall be afraid in himself, because of the counsel of the Lord of hosts, which he hath determined against it" (Isaiah 19:17).
Have recent events been the fulfilment of Isaiah's (then) incredible prediction?
Bible prophecy is concerned with things that are humanly unlikely or impossible. Remember that the book of Revelation invites us to expect the unexpected.
Two utterly unexpected features of the beast — two, not one —' are highlighted:
1. The emergence of the beast in the latter days.
2. The healing of the beast's deadly wound.
Each of these events causes the world to wonder. It is after the healing of the deadly wound that this extraordinary power of the Middle East becomes a world power. The words of Micah probably refer to this phase:
"Now also many nations are gathered together against thee, that say, Let her be defiled, and let our eye look upon Zion. But they know not the thoughts of the Lord, neither understand they his counsel: for he shall gather them as the sheaves into the floor. Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the Lord, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth" (Micah 4:11-13).
Suggestions concerning forthcoming events
Now let us make a humble attempt to set out a programme of forthcoming events in Israel. These are only suggestions, and they are made tentatively to stimulate thought.
Israel will be threatened by vastly superior forces. Isaiah (29:7), Joel (3:2) and Zechariah (14:1,2) speak of many nations making war on Israel. The very centre of this cataclysmic invasion will be Jerusalem. Because of recent economic and political developments in the Middle East, this invasion is not difficult to envisage. The excuse could be the "occupied territories" that Israel is not willing to give up; the real reason could be that the nations want to ensure a good supply of Arab oil.
From Zechariah 14:2 we learn that the people of Jerusalem will suffer grievously:
"For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city." Then the wrath of God will be turned against the enemies of Israel. First God will fight against those nations "as when he fought in the day of battle". That is to say, He will work through men — on this occasion men of Israel — using them to punish other nations.
Already Israel has performed exploits. After a seemingly devastating setback there will be more and greater wonders. A deadly wound will be healed. The Israeli beast will dominate the political scene and will prevail. Through the power of this Jewish organisation God will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem to battle (Zechariah 12:9). So dramatic will Israel's change of fortune be that unwary saints will suppose that the Lord Jesus is there in person. They will not have learned that the revelation of the man of sin comes before the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Then, like Elijah of old, the witnesses will speak forth, seeking to save a remnant. The hearts of some of the people of Israel will be touched when "the spirit of grace and of supplications" is poured upon them (Zechariah 12:10), and they will accept their Messiah. Others will be impressed by the propaganda of the false prophet, the threats and the promises, and will rally around the beast.
When the prescribed period of witnessing is completed the beast will be permitted to suppress the witnesses.
Not for long! The witnesses will be vindicated and the seventh trumpet will sound.
The Lord will be enthroned in Zion, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psalm 110:2).
After that the seven vials are poured out — these will be grievous visitations on the Israeli 'beast' organisation: but this power will not yet be destroyed. Next comes the destruction of the harlot organisation by the beast; and then the destruction of the beast by Christ. The Israeli beast movement will be annihilated, but those oppressed people of Israel who looked for the true Messiah will stand upon their feet and live — an exceeding great army (Ezekiel37:10).
When the air is full of rumours that Christ has come, do not respond.™ The man of sin must come first, and he will greatly deceive many people. The saints are repeatedly warned not to listen to men. What is more, they are assured that God's true servants will know when God's Son has come. Just as lightning announces its presence with vivid clarity, so the Lord will announce his presence to his people.14 Moreover, his people have comforting assurance that God will send His angels to gather the elect (Matthew 24:31).
Those who are wise will bide the coming of the angel.
If it were possible the very elect would be deceived. If it were possible! But the God who sends a strong delusion to the unworthy also makes it impossible for His true servants to be victims of this massive deceit. The Lord's urgent warnings are designed to prevent the very elect from being deceived.
Be warned! Take heed that no man deceive you!
Lest I be misunderstood . . .
Frankly, I find it distasteful to present Israel in such an unfavourable light. Let me therefore explain that I do not consider the people of Israel to be better or worse than other children of Adam. They are ordinary, sinful human beings who have been placed by God in extraordinary circumstances. They have been involved, and will yet be involved, in confrontations of flesh and Spirit. They have reacted, and will react, in an essentially human way. Their behaviour is an object lesson to other people, telling them how they would have acted in similar circumstances. Had God used any other nation in the same way, the result would have been the same. It is as simple as that.
References and Notes
1. Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10
2. See Part 1, chapter 5 — The false prophet
3. Matthew 24:4,5,11 and 23,24
4. Mark 13:5,6 and 21-23
5. See Part 1, chapter 5 — The beast from the bottomless pit
6. Numbers 16
7. It seems likely that Daniel 11:36-38 provides another picture of the beast, remarkably similar in some details to 2 Thessalonians 2:3,4. If this is true, there is special significance in the statement of Daniel 11:37: "Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers", when applied to Israel.
8. Psalm 122:6
9. See Part 2, chapter 13 — The Trumpet Judgments.
10. 1 Kings 17:4
11. 1 Kings 17:9
12. 1 Kings 18:4
13. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12
14. Matthew 24:23-27