A Short History of Tribulation - Part 4
Purpose of Israeli State
Issue No. 151
Tribulation has come and will again come upon the city of Jerusalem. This is clearly prophesied in Scripture. In our previous bulletin we showed how God was to treat Jerusalem in the same manner as He did with Shiloh—the first place where God put His name. The first round of tribulation came when God raised up the Babylonians to burn the temple and destroy the city and its walls during the days of Jeremiah.
However, this did not completely fulfill the prophecy. After a 70-year captivity in Babylon, a remnant returned to rebuild the city under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This was certainly done with God’s blessing. However, once again the people turned away from God, and the cycle of tribulation occurred again.
It is NOT that the people began to turn to false gods. Rather, they became zealous in establishing forms and rituals, but did not know the heart of God. Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying of them in Mark 7:6-9,
6 And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 7 'But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' 8 Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." 9 He was also saying to them, "You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”
They studied God’s law and wrote commentaries on it, called the Talmud and other writings. Yet these became the “tradition of men” that set aside the law of God. Their interpretations of the divine law were according to the condition of their hearts. The law of God was not the problem, for David says it is “perfect” (Ps. 19:7). The problem was men’s carnal understanding of the law, which brought the law (and God Himself) into disrepute.
Because of this heart condition, the chief priests and influential men of the day disagreed violently with Jesus and His teachings, for He interpreted the law according to the mind and intent of the Father. Finally, they plotted to kill Him (Mark 11:18), not knowing that the law even prophesied His death at their hands, for the Lamb was to be sacrificed to God at the hands of the Aaronic priests.
Nonetheless, God soon raised up the Romans to destroy this second temple and the city of Jerusalem.
Events to the Destruction of the Temple
The war began in 66 A.D. with the oppressive tactics of Florus, the Roman procurator in Judea. Josephus, the Judean historian of that time, wrote in his Wars of the Jews, II, xiv, 3, 4,
“He, therefore, every day augmented their calamities in order to induce them to a rebellion. . . At the same time began the war in the twelfth year of the reign of Nero and the seventeeth of the reign of Agrippa in the month Artemisius or Jyar.”
In our modern way of reckoning, the beginning of the war occurred at Passover of 66 A.D. If we read history through the eyes of God, we see that God intended to judge Jerusalem and the people for their hypocritical religion (as Isaiah put it), which they had demonstrated fully by their rejection of Jesus Himself.
Their 40 years of grace (obtained by Ezekiel in Ez. 4:6) was coming to an end, and so God moved upon the heart of Rome to appoint Florus over Jerusalem, knowing that he would provoke the final judgment. Even Florus did not know that he was but a pawn in the hands of God, for he could not see the bigger picture. The same was true for the people of Judea.
Soon afterward, a band of Sicarii (Jewish “assassins”) were expelled from Jerusalem where they had caused much havoc. They managed to take the fortress of Masada by stealth and to kill the Roman soldiers who were there, after the Sicarii had promised to spare their lives if they would surrender. Josephus says, “and thus were all these men barbarously murdered, excepting Metilius,” who was spared only because he agreed to become a Jew.
At the same time the governor of the temple in Jerusalem began to refuse to make sacrifices for any foreigners, and they even rejected the customary sacrifice of Caesar. Josephus then tells us in Wars of the Jews, II, xvii, 2, “this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans.”
Within a few months, as the people were traveling to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, open hostilities broke out (Wars, II, xix, 1). Rome’s 12th Legion from Antioch was destroyed under the leadership of Cestius Gallus. 5,300 footmen and 380 horsemen were killed.
Rome was not pleased with this and prepared to send a greater army to put down the revolt. It became apparent at that point that Jesus’ words in Matthew 24:15-22 were about to be fulfilled when He advised people to flee into the mountains. Josephus says in Wars, II, xx, 1,
“After this calamity had befallen Cestius, many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink.”
The fourth-century Christian historian, Eusebius, who was the bishop of Caesarea, writes about this:
“Furthermore, the members of the Jerusalem church, by means of an oracle given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the City before the war began and settle in a town in Perea called Pella. To Pella, those who believed in Christ migrated from Jerusalem.” [Eccl. Hist., III, 5]
The Christians in Jerusalem moved to Pella, a city east of the Jordan river many miles north of the Dead Sea. In other words, the tribulation did not decimate the Church. God brought tribulation to judge those who remained in Judaism, those who supported the lawless, hypocritical religious system that had rejected Jesus as the Christ.
Rome surrounded Jerusalem on the morning of Passover in 70 A.D. The siege lasted until August, when the temple was destroyed on Ab 10, the same day that the Babylonians had burnt the first temple in 586 B.C. Josephus again tells us in Wars, VI, iv, 5,
“So Titus [the Roman general] retired into the tower of Antonia and resolved to storm the temple the next morning with his whole army, and to encamp round about the holy house. But as for that house, God had for certain long ago doomed it to fire. And now that fatal day was come according to the revolution of ages; it was the tenth day of the month Lous, or Ab, upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon.”
The Iron Yoke Upon Jerusalem
In part one of our study of tribulation, we explained the difference between the wooden yoke and the iron yoke. It is clear from history that in 70 A.D. the Jews came under the iron yoke as defined in Deuteronomy 28,
48 Therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.
49 The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle swoops down, a nation whose language you shall not understand, 50 a nation of fierce countenance who shall have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.
Rome’s national symbol was the eagle. The Roman Empire was also the fourth beast kingdom in Daniel, which the prophet describes as having legs of IRON. So this prophecy of the iron yoke and an eagle nation seems particularly descriptive of Rome.
52 And it shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the LORD your God has given you.
The Roman army besieged Jerusalem and all the towns of Judea until it had subdued all of them, even as Moses specified.
62 Then you shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of heaven for multitude, because you did not obey the LORD your God. 63 And it shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you shall be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. 64 Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. 65 And among those nations you shall find no rest, and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.
Take note that Moses said this would happen to the people because of their disobedience to God. Those who do not believe the words of Moses may blame the Romans for the calamity in 70 A.D. Others will blame circumstances. Some Christians blame the devil. But Moses gives God the credit for bringing this tribulation.
The iron yoke as defined by Moses meant that the Judeans would be dispossessed from the land. Over a million Judeans were killed in this war. Many more were sold into slavery into other lands. Yet they were not yet fully dispossessed from the land. That is, they were not yet forbidden to set foot on that land. This order was given only after the Bar Chochba revolt from 132-135 A.D.
Jesus said of them in John 5:45-47,
45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?
In spite of all their protests to the contrary, they did not believe Moses any more than they believed Jesus. If they had believed Moses, they would have understood that it was not the Romans, but God who was bringing judgment and tribulation upon them. But their reaction to the Roman army was identical to their reaction to the army of Babylon many years earlier.
They did not understand that God was judging them. Instead, they continued to fight to the death, thinking that God would always be on their side. It seems to be a fact of history that those who are lawless are also blind to their own lawlessness. For this reason, they fight the ones that God raises up to judge the nation. They fight the stick, rather than repent before the One who wields it. Deut. 28:64 prophesies that they would serve other gods in their captivity in other lands. Judaism fulfills this prophecy.
And so Jewish history books are full of complaints about how other people have treated them badly. As Christians, let us not be among those who purposely mistreat anyone. And yet let us also recognize that God raised up people of ungodly character against them in order to judge them according to the law of Moses. God uses evil men for His purposes as much as He uses men of good character—but in different ways.
The Modern Israeli State
The establishment of the Israeli state in 1948 has caused many Christian Bible teachers to assume that God was once again beginning to bless the Jews. Many sermons have been preached, telling us that God is now reversing their judgment. Of course, the Jews generally bristle at this, because in their eyes, they did nothing wrong in the first place. They still do not believe Moses and remain as unrepentant as ever. In Leviticus 26, Moses wrote,
40 If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me -- 41 I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies -- or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.
Moses said specifically that God will NOT turn aside the captivity until they confess their sin and that of their ancestors, or make amends for their iniquity. I have yet to hear any such public confession coming from one in authority. No doubt many individual Jews have done this in their conversion to Christ. However, they act only as individuals. Unless they are in a position of leadership over the Jewish people themselves or over the Israeli state, they have no authority to speak for the Jewish people as a whole. This required repentance has not been done.
The Purpose of the Israeli State
God established the Israeli state, but the Israeli state was not established upon the God of the Bible—certainly not upon Jesus Christ. God’s purpose for the Israeli state is different from what is normally taught.
First of all, Jeremiah prophesied that Jerusalem would ultimately be destroyed and never be rebuilt. This final destruction of Jerusalem has yet to take place. In fact, I believe this will take place at the final tribulation that is yet to come upon that land.
Jeremiah 18:1-10 speaks of the tribulation and ultimate restoration of the house of Israel—that is, the northern ten tribes that were deported to the land of Assyria beginning in 745 B.C. Their capital city was Samaria, and their 2,520 years of captivity began to come to an end in 1776 A.D. with America’s Declaration of Independence.
Samaria was destroyed in 721 B.C., and 2,520 years later Washington D.C. was built in the year 1800 A.D. This shows that America is one of the nations fulfilling the prophecies of the restoration of the house of Israel.
After Jeremiah finishes his prophecy regarding the restoration of the house of Israel, he then turns his attention to Jerusalem and the southern house of Judah. This prophecy extends from Jer. 18:11 through Jer. 19. In this prophecy to Judah we find no hope of restoration. The indictment of sin climaxes in Jer. 18:23, which says,
23 Yet Thou, O LORD, knowest all their deadly designs against me; do not forgive their iniquity or blot out their sin from Thy sight. But may they be overthrown before Thee; deal with them in the time of Thine anger!
Then immediately, the prophet is told to obtain an old earthen bottle, take it to the valley of the son of Hinnom, and smash the bottle in their sight with words of judgment. The judgment is addressed in verse 3 to the “kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.” God told the prophet in verses 10 to 12,
10 Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts, Just so shall I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter's vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. 12 This is how I shall treat this place and its inhabitants, declares the LORD, so as to make this city like Topheth.
Soon after this prophecy was given, Babylonian armies came and destroyed the city. However, 70 years later the city was repaired. Then in 70 A.D. the Romans came and destroyed the city again. But the emperor Hadrian later repaired the city beginning in 130 A.D., renaming it Aelia Capitolina.
Because the city was repaired and still stands today, it is plain that Jeremiah’s prophecy has not yet been finally fulfilled. There yet awaits another destruction of Jerusalem that will be final and decisive. It is yet future.
Topheth means “burning.” God says the city will be made like Topheth. Both the Babylonians and the Romans burnt the city and its temple. But after a normal fire it is possible to rebuild—and it was rebuilt. It is likely that the final burning will be nuclear, and the fallout may be God’s way of preventing men from rebuilding it.
The contrast between Israel and Judah in Jeremiah’s prophecy is absolute. The house of Israel was depicted as wet clay that could be remolded into another vessel after the defective jar was destroyed by the potter. But the old earthen bottle representing Jerusalem and Judah could not be remolded, for the clay was already hardened by fire.
The most common mistake that Bible teachers make today is to confuse Judah with Israel, not recognizing that the prophets give each very distinct prophecies. This mistake causes many to assume that the Jews are Israel, and the problem is compounded by their very clever move in 1948 to call their new nation “Israel.” Yet most Jews are well aware that they are not the descendants of the house of Israel. If anyone disagrees with me, ask any Jew.
The Fig Tree Nation Revives
In the New Testament the leaders of the nation and the chief priests rejected Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:11). This rejection did not take Jesus by surprise, for He was well aware of the prophecies He had to fulfill. It was all in the plan of God from the beginning. Even so, the last week leading up to the Passover of His crucifixion, Jesus spoke boldly in the temple at Jerusalem and forced the hand of His enemies. His words brought the conflict to a climactic head, so that they had no choice but either to proclaim Him as the Messiah or to crucify Him. His time had come.
Matthew 21 records one of those last days. Verse 19,
19 And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered.
Not more than a few days later, Jesus said in Matt. 24,
32 Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 even so you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.
In other words, Jesus said, when we see the cursed fig tree begin to bring forth more leaves, then we are to watch for the events which He then declares. Leaves are a sign of life. So it is not surprising that most Bible teachers agree that this is a prophecy about the Israeli state established in 1948. I agree with this belief.
On the other hand, I disagree when Bible teachers tell us that this revived fig tree (nation) will bring forth fruit. When Jesus cursed the fig tree, He did not prohibit it from coming back to life. He only prohibited it from bringing forth fruit. He did not prohibit it from sprouting leaves.
If the fig tree were to bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom, it would prove itself to be the beginning of the Kingdom of God upon the earth. This would then mean that God would spare that nation and Jerusalem from the destruction prophesied in Jeremiah 19.
In my opinion, neither Jeremiah nor Jesus had any words that would encourage us to believe that nation will repent and bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom. There are a few passages which may SEEM to teach this, but usually those passages deal with the house of Israel, not Judah.
There are also passages that seem to indicate that God will establish Jerusalem in the earth. These seem to contradict Jeremiah’s prophecy. The simple explanation of this is that such passages deal with the New Jerusalem, not with the old city. There are two Jerusalems. One will be established in the earth; the other “cast out” (Gal. 4:25-30) and destroyed (Jer. 19:11). God’s purpose for bringing the fig tree back to life was to fulfill these prophecies.