ISRAEL IN THE TRIBULATION
Prophecy Studies - No. 9
Israel in the Tribulation experiences the loving chastisement of God. The presence of Israel in the Tribulation is established by Jeremiah (Jer. 30:5-7) and confirmed by Daniel (Dan. 9:24-27, where the prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” is “for your people and for your holy city”). In Matthew 24-25, Jesus also deals with the Jews who will face this terrible trial. However, we begin our study in the book of Revelation, Chapter 12.
INSIGHT: Concerning the SEVEN-SEALED SCROLL. In the book of Revelation, John describes a scroll in the right hand of God the Father, sealed with seven seals (5:1). The scroll is almost certainly the title deed to the earth. (This use of a sealed scroll to certify property ownership is found elsewhere in Scripture, Jer. 32:6-15). Hebrew title deeds required a minimum of three seals, placed there by three separate witnesses. The more important the deed, the more witness seals were required. Since seven, in Scripture, is the number of completeness, this scroll is represented as fully witnessed.
Could it be that the witness comes from the seven-fold Spirit before the throne (1:4; 3:1; 4:5--a depiction of the Holy Spirit in all His fullness)? (This way of describing the Spirit of God may be related to His seven titles in the book of Isaiah, Isa. 11:2.) His role as the Witness in this case would be in keeping with His ministry elsewhere as the One who testifies to the truth (cf. Jn. 15:26). This would mean the full triune Godhead is involved in this transaction, since the Father hands the scroll to the Son (vs. 5-7).
As each of the seals on this scroll is broken by the Son of God, judgment is poured out on the earth. In fact, all of the earthly judgments of the book of Revelation are released in this way, since the seventh seal incorporates the seven trumpet judgments (8:1-2), and the seventh trumpet announcing Christ’s coming earthly reign (11:15) introduces the seven bowl judgments which follow in rapid succession to complete the full measure of God’s wrath (15:1; 16:1).
The judgments on earthly powers are logically connected to the meaning of the scroll. If it represents Christ’s ownership and Lordship over all the earth, the unbelieving earth is rightly condemned because of its rejection of that Lordship. In this judgment the church has no part (since our salvation itself requires at least a basic acceptance of His Lordship, Rom. 10:9; I Cor. 12:3). But as a nation that also rejected Christ, Israel certainly does have a place in the Tribulation.
1) What visionary sign does John see (Rev. 12:1)?
2) What notable thing does this person do (Rev. 12:5)?
3) Based on what we know from other Scriptures, what is the identity of the Child (Ps. 2:7-9; Rev. 19:11-16)?
INSIGHT: Some commentators have suggested that the “woman” is therefore Mary. However, the experiences described in Rev. 12:6 and following are certainly never recorded of Mary.
4) In a broader sense, whom does the Bible say produced the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 9:4-5)?
INSIGHT: This identification of the “woman” as Israel is confirmed by other things. For example: the use of the sun, moon and stars to symbolize the sons of Jacob (Gen. 37:9); the use of the number twelve which corresponds to Israel’s twelve tribes; God’s protection of Israel in the “wilderness” (Rev. 12:6, 14) paralleling her Old Testament experience; and the repeated use of the word “woman” in the Old Testament to refer to Israel (Isa. 54:5-6; Jer. 4:31; Mic. 4:9-10, etc.). Though the church is to be the bride of Christ, she is never specifically called a “woman.” Added to that, it is not the church which produced Christ (as in Rev. 12:5), but Christ who produced the church!
5) In John’s vision, who opposes Israel? And what does he hope to do with the Child that comes forth from her (Rev. 12:3-4, 9)?
INSIGHT: Some suggest that “a third of the stars of heaven” (Rev. 12:4) perhaps represents the number of angels who originally rebelled with Lucifer (the devil).
6) What will happen to Israel in the latter half of the Tribulation (Rev. 12:6, 13-14)?
INSIGHT: In Edom, the fortress city of Petra (Sela, in Hebrew) is carved out of solid rock, and is almost inaccessible. Some prophetic scholars to think it will be the place God sends the believing remnant of Israel to protect her from Satan and the Antichrist (who will fail to conquer Edom, Dan. 11:41). Jesus Himself urges this flight of the Jews in Matthew 24:16. As God provided water and manna for Israel in the wilderness long before, and protected her from her enemies, so He will care for the believing remnant of Israel in this terrible time.
Revelation 12:15-16 speaks of Satan attacking this Jewish remnant with something “like a flood” and God again protecting them. Some take this to be a literal flood of water, but the word “like” allows for it to be a symbolic flood, perhaps an attack by the Antichrist’s forces.
INSIGHT: The Tribulation will be a time of spiritual repentance and revival for Israel as a nation. At the present time, in the Church Age, individual Jews are saved through faith in Christ, and become a part of the body of Christ (Gal. 3:26-28). But Israel as a nation is blind to the claims of Christ. This blindness, in part, is a judgment of God upon her unbelief (Isa. 6:9-11), and has been used by God in this age for the salvation of the Gentiles (Acts 28:25-28; Rom. 11:25). After the church is caught up to be with Christ, God will return again to His plans for Israel as a nation. He promises her restoration in the last days (Deut. 4:30-31; Rom. 11:26-29).
7) What will be the response of Israel at this time (Zech. 12:9-10)?
INSIGHT: During the Tribulation, God will use a large number of believing Jews as His servants, protecting them so that they can carry on a ministry in spite of danger from the earthly judgments and from satanic attack. Two particular individuals are mentioned separately in Revelation Chapter 11.
8) How long will these two men testify Rev. 11:3)?
9) What happens to those who try to oppose their “testimony” during this time (Rev. 11:5-6)?
10) What finally happens to the two witnesses (Rev. 11:7)?
INSIGHT: Some believe the time period in vs. 3 refers to the first half of the seven year Tribulation period, rather than the latter half. Their deaths would thus correspond to the beginning of the latter three and a half years, and may be the first brutal act of the Antichrist when he breaks his covenant with Israel.
11) Where has all of this apparently taken place (Rev. 11:8)?
12) What effect will the death of the two witnesses have on the people of the earth?
12b) In what way will they commemorate the event (Rev. 11:9-10)?
INSIGHT: Various attempts have been made to identify these two men. Some say they are Enoch and Elijah come back to earth, since both ascended to heaven without dying. Others see them as Moses and Elijah, because of the similarity to the miracles worked by these men. The Bible does promise that Elijah’s ministry will precede the coming of Christ (Mal. 4:4-6), but this can apparently be fulfilled if one comes “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (as was said of John the Baptist, Lk. 1:17)--which to two certainly do. The bottom line is the identity of the two witnesses is uncertain.
INSIGHT: This local ministry is to be augmented by the conscription of 144,000 Jewish believers, 12,000 from each tribe (Rev. 11:1-14).
13) What does God do for these Jews (Rev. 7:3)?
INSIGHT: This seal seems to protect them in some way from the judgments to come (Rev. 9:4), and from Satan and the Antichrist. Their work, carried on in the latter part of the Tribulation, when the seven trumpet judgments and the seven bowl judgments occur, seems to be similar to that of the seventy witnesses Jesus sent out during His time on earth (Lk. 10:1). (Interestingly, some ancient texts of the New Testament give this latter number as 72, rather than 70. And 72 x 2,000 = 144,000.) In the ministry of the seventy: 1) They are sent out in pairs (Lk.10:1) as at least two are required by Jewish law to confirm the truth of a witness (Deut. 19:15); 2) Satan’s power is overcome by them (Lk. 10:18-19); 3) The witnesses are given miraculous protection (Lk. 10:19); 4) They are to announce “the kingdom of God has come near” (Lk. 10:9). This is “the gospel [good news] of the kingdom” which will be proclaimed during the Tribulation (Matt. 24:14), likely by the 144,000. Their success is indicated by the multitudes who are saved, not only of Jews, but of every nation (Rev. 7:9-10, 13-14). The 144,000 will be rewarded for their faithfulness when Christ returns to reign from Mount Zion (Rev. 14:1-5).
INSIGHT: Those who are saved in the Tribulation will be saved “by grace through faith,” just as we are today (Eph. 2:8-9)--and as all are, at any time in history, for that matter. They will be saved on the basis of the shed blood of Christ (Rev. 7:14; 12:11), and by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (because no one will see God’s kingdom apart from the new birth, Jn. 3:3). The Spirit’s “restraining” of evil through the church (II Thess. 2:6-7) will end when the church is raptured, but this does not mean the Holy Spirit is no longer present or at work in the Tribulation. He will convict Israel of her rejection of Christ (Zech. 12:10; 13:1), and regenerate all who believe.
INSIGHT: Why is only Israel involved in this witness? Long ago, Jehovah God designed that the Jews be His witnesses to the nations of the world (Isa. 44:6-8). Though they failed in this responsibility before, the believing remnant will courageously stand for the truth in the Tribulation. That this task is given to Israel, and that Satan’s assault is upon Israel (Rev. 12:13), is a further evidence that the church is not present.
As a final passage, please turn to Matthew 25. The position taken in this study is that the Olivet Discourse (Chapters 24 and 25) concerns what will happen to Israel in the Tribulation. Thus Jesus is teaching His people what they can expect on earth, after the church is raptured. Many signs will indicate the soon return of the Messiah. And special danger awaits the Jews when the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel and demands the worship of his image, set up in the holy place of the rebuilt temple (Matt. 24:15). The 24th chapter describes the return of Christ (vs. 30), and encourages the Jews to be watching for this great event (vs. 42, 44). The parable of the ten virgins (Matt. 25:1-13) speaks to this same issue.
14) For what event are the ten virgins to be prepared (Matt. 25:1)?
INSIGHT: “The kingdom of heaven” is not a reference to heaven, but to heaven’s (or God’s) rule over the earth. It includes both believers and unbelievers (Matt. 13:47-50), since God is sovereign over all.
15) In the prophetic picture described in a previous lesson, who is the Bridegroom, and who is His bride (Rev. 19:7)?
INSIGHT: This indicates that the marriage supper (the celebration) will take place on the earth, in the Millennial Kingdom, after Christ returns to reign, with His church.
16) Why are five of the young women described as “foolish” (Matt. 25:3)?
17) And what happens to the foolish ones when the Bridegroom suddenly appears (Matt. 25:8)?
INSIGHT: The ten virgins (representing Israel) are among “those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9)--that is, they are invited guests. When dealing with a parable, it is not always the case that every detail has some specific meaning. (Some details are simply needed to make a coherent story.) But it is possible the oil in the lamps of the virgins is a picture of the Holy Spirit. Anointing with oil us used in Scripture as a symbol of the sanctifying and empowering presence of the Spirit (I Sam. 16:13; Isa. 61:1; I Jn. 2:20, 27, etc.). If this is a correct interpretation, it is one more indication of the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Tribulation.
18) What response does the Bridegroom make to those without the “oil” (Matt. 25:12)?
19) What is the meaning of this statement (Jn. 10:27-28; II Tim. 2:19)?
20) What is the moral of this story for the Jewish people (Matt. 25:13)?
INSIGHT: While the parable of the ten virgins speaks of Israel’s spiritual preparedness for Christ’s coming, the following parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) has a slightly different focus. Those who are truly looking for the Lord’s coming will also be active in serving Him. Of course this applies to Christians in the Church Age, but in the context it is again an exhortation to Israel and perhaps including others who will put their faith in Christ during the Tribulation.
21) In the story, when the master is about to go on a journey (vs. 14), what does he do with his three servants (Matt. 25:15)?
INSIGHT: A talent in this case does not mean a special skill. It is a unit of weight, weighing between 58 and 80 pounds. And the word “money” in Matt. 25:18 means literally “silver money.” Thus a considerable fortune was involved.
22) When the master returns (vs. 19), what kind of conduct meets with his approval (Matt. 25:20-23)?
23) What behaviour causes the master to respond in anger (Matt. 25:24-30)?
INSIGHT: This parable is not teaching that it is possible to be saved by works. But it is an indication that works reveal the state of one’s heart. As Jesus says, “by their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:20). The master describes the third servant as “wicked” (Matt. 25:26). Perhaps he even doubted whether the master would return at all. To invest the money or place it in a bank would likely require that he identify it as belonging to his master, and being invested on his behalf. By simply burying the money, he may have hoped to keep it for himself if the master failed to come back.
INSIGHT: Even when a passage has a primary application to some specific group other than ourselves, it always contains principles and lessons that we can take as our own. (This is true of all Scripture.)
24) What does Matthew 25:20 and 22 suggest about what God expects of different individuals in our service for Christ until He comes again?