"You shall be about to be hearing battles, and tidings of battles. See that you are not alarmed, for it must be occurring, but not as yet is the consummation" (Matt. 24:6 CLNT). To some of our readers the last clause in this passage will be better known from the King James Version: "THE END IS NOT YET." It is the beginning of our Lord's answer to His disciples who had asked Him privately, "What is the sign of Thy presence and of the conclusion of the eon?"
Especially for the benefit of readers who perhaps only recently learned of this magazine we intend now to consider some major implications of the prophecy in Matthew 24 which otherwise are often overlooked. Since it closely resembles much which has occurred and reoccurred many times in the past, it has been frequently misunderstood and misapplied. Premature applications have led to many grievous disappointments, so until our understanding of the prophecy is placed in perspective according to Scripture, there are apt to be more of such disappointments. (NOTE: For much of what follows here we are largely indebted to the diligent labors of the late Commander J. G. H. Steedman of England.)
Today as in former generations there are many disturbing events which result in much fear, suffering, anxiety and distress. These like earlier events of the same kind are again easily mistaken for conditions our Lord foresaw and foretold to be signs of His presence near the conclusion of this eon, a time preceding His subsequent manifestation. Here we do not seek to discount any of the present causes for world-wide alarm and unrest; the dark specter of famine in many lands the ominous rise of terror, lawlessness and crime; the lingering peril of imminent nuclear destruction, the mortal fear that new wars could break out at any moment to take on global dimensions; even the increasing frequency of earthquakes which prophecy shows is yet to culminate in a seismic convulsion more terrible than anything previous in all human history. We are not unmindful that for many years powerful nations, fearing each other, have channeled much of their natural wealth, their energy and manpower, into enormous stockpiles of weapons and armaments at burdensome cost, paying for this largely by the printing of greatly inflated or devaluated currencies which necessarily can buy only less and increasingly less of daily necessities such as food, clothing and shelter. Yet very reasonable as it seems that the end of this age must be very near, there are sound Scriptural reasons why this is not true. The main reason is that there is much Hebrew prophecy yet to be fulfilled before a future Millennium.
Here it is well first to pause and consider that in Matthew 24 our Lord was speaking privately to His disciples from Israel. It was about forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem and their cherished temple, an event then impending which our Lord had mentioned first in verse two of this subject chapter. Still most of His reply was in answer to the question as to what would be the signs of His presence and the end of this age. His answer to The Twelve has been preserved for future Israelites, especially for some who will be living at a time far beyond our present day and long after Israel then has been reconstituted as a covenant nation like they once were from the time of Moses onward. Prophecy shows that future ones in Israel are to endure much affliction—violent death for some of them—and in verse 15 their attention is alerted especially to a certain sign from the prophecy of Daniel; an "abomination of desolation" standing in the holy place of Israel's future temple. Paul associates this with the man of lawlessness who is yet to appear, though not until future generations of Israel have been long restored to covenant favor and blessed with a time of undisturbed peace, health and prosperity which they will enjoy as long as they remain faithful to Ieue (Jehovah) their covenant God. We are told, however, that Israel in time will apostatize again by a new "falling away" as this is called in the King James Version (II Thess. 2:3).
Here it becomes quite obvious that there can be no apostasy—no "falling away" as such—while Israel now remains as aliens to the covenant God made with their fathers, because now they have nothing to fall away from. Consequently, there can be no such foretold apostasy till well after they have been reconstituted as a covenant nation; not until after some indefinite future time when they again will become unfaithful, as Scripture shows they will toward the close of a future pre-Millennial era. Long before that, as we learn from Ezekiel's prophecy, Israel is to build a new temple where a future Levitical priesthood will serve once again as former Levities did under the law, and that will continue for a time of unrevealed duration until their new sanctuary is invaded and occupied by a man of lawlessness who will seize upon that opportunity just because Israel then has once more "fallen away." That will result in the abomination of desolation as foretold in Daniel to which our Lord pointed in Matt. 24:15.
From what we have just now observed it is evident that our Lord's prophecy in Matthew 24 contains some very significant implications which are not always adequately considered. This necessarily requires an extensive pre-Millennial era because it calls for the fulfilment of much Hebrew prophecy never fulfilled in the past and which cannot be deferred to a future Millennium. Scripture plainly shows there is first to be a providentially motivated exodus of Israel's descendants from among all nations, followed by a judgment in a foretold "wilderness" (Ezek. 20:35), so very remindful of the judgment in ancient Sinai. Israel is to be restored as a covenant nation to reoccupy the land of their fathers but this must not be mistaken for anything the present generation may be doing now in their own power as aliens to the covenant God made with their fathers. Scripture shows that the land which a newly restored covenant nation is yet to occupy in fulfilment of prophecy is a land which then only recently has been reduced to total desolation with its cities in ruin; a land which other people of that day will have seen lying desolate and waste until it is afterward restored to unprecedented fertility and prosperity by a then newly reconstituted covenant nation, (Ezek. 36:35,36).
To accomplish all this, we are told that the descendants of Israel will be providentially assembled and extracted from all nations by an exodus like unto their deliverance from Egypt at the time of Moses but in vastly greater dimensions. All this the reader may verify from such passages as Ezek. 20:33-42 and 36:17-18 together with Jer. 23:7-8, Jer. 16:14-16, Jer. 32:37-44 and Isa. 11:11. (To spare the need of extending this paper to prohibitive length, the content of such passage as just cited will not be reproduced here. We assume interested readers will turn to these in their own Scriptures).
Yet here we are not to assume that a nation so suddenly called out and restored to covenant favor will be instantly worshiping their God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, no more so than their fathers did in the days of Moses. God is not then as yet revealed to them by the name He is known to us. Israel will know Him then, as their fathers did also, by the name of Iene (Jehovah), their covenant God, but as long as they remain faithful according to the knowledge they first receive, they will be bountifully blessed in the yield of their land and the labor of their hands. This in turn will have a salutary effect on contemporary nations of the Gentiles and they will voluntarily come to the aid of Israel in her reconstruction work, remindful of days when Hiram, king of Tyre, supplied Solomon with cedars from Lebanon to build that former temple or when Cyrus of Persia strengthened the hands of Judah and Benjamin to rebuild their temple after the Babylonian servitude. Another Hebrew prophet foresaw a then distant day when former Gentile enemies of Jerusalem, represented there as hostile "horns," will surprisingly turn into "carpenters" and help Israel to rebuild (Zech. 1:16-21). Thus will it be when the Lord once again turns back the captivity of Zion (Psa. 126). "In those days," we read, "it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold out of all the languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, 'We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (Zach. 8:23).
There is to be a time yet future—which necessarily becomes a pre-Millennial time—when Egypt and Assyria, two of Israel's ancient and relentless oppressors, are to be blessed jointly with Israel, and when they as three friendly nations will be faithful to the Lord, so the three of them will be equally blessed because of Israel (see Isa. 19:24-25). This is not to be mistaken for a subsequent Millennial time when Egypt as a nation has reverted to her former hostile ways after Israel's apostasy. Then we are reminded that Egypt will need the discipline of threatened drouth by the withholding of rain so she will be CONSTRAINED to come up and keep the feast of tabernacles at Jerusalem (Zech. 14;17-18). The reason for this is quite apparent. Egypt and other hostile nations who then first have been friendly to Israel until she begins to apostasize will turn hostile again and they will contribute to Zion's last affliction, but for this they will bear the consequences of Millennial judgments after God in His mercy has delivered Israel as a nation then born in one day (Zech. 3:9). Still it is Israel, the favored nation of prophetic destiny, who will first degenerate into apostasy and thus lose the good will she enjoys for a time from friendly nations in the earlier part of a pre-Millennial era, future to our own day.
On the other hand, it should be equally obvious that all this requires time. A"nation so blessed does not apostatize abruptly, or all at once, so as to find her sacred temple suddenly occupied and desecrated by "the man of lawlessness" and "the abomination of desolation" mentioned in Daniel. The Scriptural record of Israel's past performance, faithless as she often was in ancient times, is abundant proof of our God's longsuffering with a rebellious people. Israel's apostasy, in the future as in the past, will develop most reasonably over a span of time as the moral fiber of the nation ebbs lower through successive generations, but there finally comes a time when God gives them over for a season to suffer the consequences of their unfaithful ways.
Still those who become involved in Israel's future apostasy are somewhat less than the whole nation. Other prophecy shows there is to be a certain first fruit from among them; a faithful remnant who will suffer persecution at the hands of their own brethren, and it is just because of these that the nation at large will be delivered from her last great affliction in the day of the Lord when He, at long last, shall arrive to deliver His people, the nation from whom He was born in the flesh (Joel 2:32).
In Isaiah's prophecy the separation of this faithful remnant appears as a "male child" born from Zion, the mother, before she afterward travails with the birth of her many children, the whole remaining nation (Isa. 66:7-8). In two preceding verses there we are told that the faithful remnant will be severed from the nation "on account of My name," showing that by then they as a firstfruit out of Israel will come to recognize that Ieue, their covenant God, is, indeed, none other than Jesus Christ, our Lord, whom their fathers once caused to be crucified. "Hear the word of Ieue, ye who tremble at His word. Say to your brethren, who are hating you, Who are isolating you ON ACCOUNT OF MY NAME (and saying) 'Ieue will be glorified.' Yet He will appear to your rejoicing, and they shall be ashamed" (Isa. 66:5-6). This coincides wi th a similar account of the same phenomena in Revelation chapter 12. There in verse five we are told that those who will constitute the "male child" are to be shepherding or ruling all the nations with an iron club, a power they are to exercise eventually in the subsequent Millennial age. The same promise reappears in Rev. 2:27 as one of seven promises to the "conquerors" out of all seven ecclesias in Asia Minor. There we are told quite clearly why the faithful remnant will have been cast out by the nation at large from their city and temple to be found afterward as exiles in Asia Minor. To those in Philadelphia our Lord says it plainly, "You do not disown my Name," much like the prophet Isaiah had said; "Your brethren who hate you, who are ISOLATING YOU ON ACCOUNT OF MY NAME" (Isa. 66:5). To those in Smyrna also our Lord identifies Himself as He "who became dead and lives" (Rev. 2:8).
Now if we reconsider the prophecy of Matthew 24 in its logical relation to the future course of events which are predetermined on Israel, its intended application becomes apparent. To alert the faithful remnant against bold deceptions of that future day our Lord begins with an ominous warning, "Beware that no one should be deceiving you. For many shall be coming in My name saying "I am the Christ" (Matt. 24:4,5). Then He continues "You shall be about to be hearing battles, and tidings of battles." This clearly implies a preceding time of sustained world peace, for otherwise battles and tidings of battles would become nothing new to serve as a sign of our Lord's presence in advance of His ultimate revelation then impending.
We have observed here in the foregoing that after the descendants of Israel are extracted from the Gentile nations by a divinely motivated exodus to reoccupy the land of their fathers, they will enjoy the good will and voluntary cooperation of contemporary nations as long as they remain faithful and obedient to their covenant God, but afterward when they yield to apostasy, as we are told that they will, the reverse of all this will come to pass. Gentile nations will turn hostile to Israel and to each other. Israel then becomes the focal point of world animosity, even as our Lord said also, "You shall be hated by all nations because of My name." It is then also that the faithful remnant will suffer most severely at the hands of their brethren while the nation will suffer at the hands of the Gentiles. Battles and tidings of battles are then to be heard from many sources just as our Lord's prophecy indicates so well. Furthermore, drouth-stricken lands will suffer the consequences of world-wide famine, disease and pestilence. The frequency and intensity of earthquakes will increase. All these evils will gather momentum and move along swiftly on a tide of international intrigue and political deception which enthrones the man of lawlessness and establishes the "abomination of desolation" in the holy place of Israel's temple.
Still in the early stages of this abrupt reversal from a long preceding era of peace among the nations we may well infer that men of the unbelieving world will pay but little heed until each one personally is directly affected. By that time any remaining knowledge of present world-wide distress will seem remote to them, much like we now may look upon events of the distant past which no longer affect us directly. We are reminded it will be then as in the days when the deluge was approaching. Men were heedless of Noah's warning. "Thus," we are told, "shall be the presence of the Son of Mankind." That will be what Peter called "the last days" When "scoffers will be coming...going according to their own desires and saying, "Where is the promise of His presence? For since the fathers were put to repose, all is continuing thus from the beginning of creation" (II Pet. 3:3-4). still as we have now observed more closely, these ultimate signs of our Lord's presence cannot appear until they must follow a preceding time of sustained world peace because of divine blessing on Israel and on other nations because of Israel.
Something which was little if at all recognized until a few years ago—and was observed then only by relatively few—is that the greater part of Hebrew prophecy not fulfilled in the past still remains to be fulfilled BEFORE the Millennium. This may be demonstrated by the prophecy which comprises the Book of Revelation. While it is found in the Greek Scriptures, the whole substance of that little book is nonetheless Hebrew prophecy just as if it were found in what is commonly called the Old Testament. From a total of 22 chapters (all relating to the future and none to the past) nineteen of those chapters are pre-Millennial. Only one chapter, the 20th, deals with the thousand years that follow, while the last two chapters relate to the new heavens and new earth of a post-Millennial era. John who received the Revelation had been projected in spirit down into the future Day of the Lord (1:10) preceding the Millennium, so from that position he says, "I turned about to look for the voice which spoke with me" (1:12)). Thus he saw everything pre-Millennial in retrospect as if it had occurred already yet many centuries before it would come to pass. Much Hebrew prophecy which belongs to the future is reflected in that compact little book, notably the calling and sealing of the "firstfruit" from the Twelve Tribes who will constitute the faithful remnant of Joel 2:32; and, as we have seen here, it is because of these that the nation at large will be delivered from her last great affliction caused by her own apostasy.
Now this becomes significant just because Revelation has strangely nothing to say about the earlier part of a presently forthcoming pre-Millennial era which may well be the greater part and of longest duration. We find nothing in Revelation about Israel's exodus from all nations, their subsequent judgment in some prophetic "wilderness," such as we have noted from earlier prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures, nor does Revelation mention Israel's providential occupation of the promised land followed by the construction of new cities and a new temple. All this which necessarily precedes the severance of the faithful remnant coincident with Israel's apostasy is not reflected at all in the book of Revelation. As Commander Steedman once reminded me in one of his latest letters, all this earlier part of Israel's pre-Millennial experience is essentially presupposed or just taken for granted in the book of Revelation as something it clearly implies but does not relate. This would indicate that Revelation intentionally covers only the latter part—possibly even the lesser part—of the pre-Millennial era yet to come. Still the part it does cover is not necessarily brief which is indicated, for example, by something we find in the letter to Ephesus, one of the seven future ecclesias in Asia Minor. They are first commended for their former works, their labor of love and patience, but afterward (and conceivably quite long afterward) they are admonished to "remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works." This is very suggestive of the pristine zeal which is so often characteristic of some new or young ecclesia until in the course of time the initial fervor has slowly ebbed away and there is need for a call to revival.
After the seven letters to the seven ecclesias in chapters two and three, all that follows in the Revelation prophecy may be summarised here only very briefly. First comes the opening of seven "seals" at seven successive intervals. These become something like previews of the same adversities as our Lord foretold. As we compare the opening of the first seal with Matthew 24:4-5, the likeness ve may look for beoomes very obscure yet very real. Here we are to expect something subtle and delicately deceptive about the one seated on a white horse and holding only a bow (apparently not also an arrow). The "wreath" he receives is for fraudulent conquest, coinciding exactly with our Lord's first warning, "Beware that no one shall be deceiving you, for many shall come in My name saying 'I am the Christ.'" When the second seal is opened we see a rider on a red horse bearing a sword who takes peace from the earth (6:3-4) which is instantly remindful of "battles and tidings of battles." As the third and fourth seals are opened, a careful rationing of food and resulting famines are plainly the famines of Matt. 24:8. The great earthquake after the sixth seal is opened corresponds exactly to "quakes in places" which our Lord also mentioned. Thus false Christs, wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes are features shared in common by the seals of Revelation and Matthew 24.
After the seven seals we have the sounding of seven trumpets by seven successive messengers, each trumpet blast followed by some new phenomena of progressive judgment: thereupon seven further messengers with "vials" or "bowls" containing the last dregs from the wrath or fury of God to be poured out upon the nations. All this converges on a sudden and utter destruction of Babylon, a great city of evil design which is yet to be built on some unrevealed site; most conceivably where ancient Babylon once stood. All this and more (the judgment of the beast and false prophet also) must yet occur in the latter part of a now impending pre-Millennial era before the Adversary is restrained for a thousand years coincident with Israel's eventual deliverance in the Day of the Lord.
In conclusion here, perhaps we should pause to consider just how the future rise and fall and ultimate deliverance of Israel may relate to our own expectations. Until or unless we are graced to observe that these revelations have no DELAYING effect whatever on the realization of our present hope, the necessary readjustment of understanding may become momentarily painful though there is no valid reason why it should. Today, no less than in Paul's time, our comfort rests in the solid assurance that even now as the night progresses the day is near (Rom. 13:13). We already have "the earnest of the enjoyment of our allotment" so we are to confidently await the "deliverance of that which has been procured" (Eph. 1:14). Our hope and destiny are in no way contingent on the fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy for Israel. Our blessings are found primarily in Paul's revelations for this present secret economy. While we are to walk by faith and not by perception, this after all is the highest quality of faith consistent with the highest plane of spiritual blessings among the celestials in Christ.
What becomes most useful for us to remember here is that the element of time which intervenes between the realization of our present hope and the beginning of Israel's national restoration to divine favor is something Scripture nowhere reveals nor is it needful for us to know. It is our conviction that the deliverance we are awaiting must precede anything which signals the beginning of Israel's renascence, but we are not told how much the one may precede the other. What we should never do is misappropriate any part of Hebrew prophecy bearing on Israel's eventual deliverance, such as Matthew 24, and then assume mistakenly that our deliverance is somehow determined by theirs—or theirs by ours. It is enough for us to know that each of these will have its respective part in attaining the purpose of "the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will."
Melvin E. Johnson (Treasures of Truth, Instalment Seventeen, May-June 1975)