by David A. Reed COMPLETE BOOK ONLINE
What Happens Next?
The Bible provides a considerable amount of detail concerning the dramatic events that will occur at the time of the end. However, the details are scattered among many different prophetic passages throughout numerous books of the Old and New Testaments.
Zechariah's prediction that Jerusalem would become a problem for the whole world, and that the nations would unite to impose their solution, is found in the opening verses of his twelfth chapter. Zechariah continues to discuss events related to Jerusalem through the end of chapter fourteen. However, it is not clear whether all of these developments are chronological, or even closely related in time. Here are some highlights:
"On that day I will make the leaders of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves. They will consume right and left all the surrounding peoples, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place." (Zechariah 12:6 NIV)
"On that day the LORD will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the LORD going before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem." (Zech 12:8-9 NIV)
"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son." (Zech 12:10 NIV)
"I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be taken from the city. Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle." (Zech 14:2-3 NIV)
"This is the plague with which the LORD will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. On that day men will be stricken by the LORD with great panic. Each man will seize the hand of another, and they will attack each other." (Zech 14:12-14 NIV)
Keep in mind that the prophetic content of Zechariah chapters 12 through 14 is not necessarily arranged in chronological order. The same is true of the end times prophecies found elsewhere in Scripture.
The Hebrew prophet Daniel was given visions that span much of human history, beginning with a succession of political empires following one another as the dominant world power, and concluding with the Messiah, the Son of Man, taking power to rule the world in the Kingdom of God:
"In my vision at night ... Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. ... a second beast, which looked like a bear. ... another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. ... a fourth beast ... different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. ...As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. ... I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire. (The other beasts had been stripped of their authority, but were allowed to live for a period of time.) In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:2-14 NIV)
An angel gave Daniel "the interpretation of these things: 'The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth. But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever -- yes, for ever and ever.' ... the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. ... 'The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on earth. It will be different from all the other kingdoms and will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time. 'But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.'"(Daniel 7:2-27 NIV)
Daniel's visions went on to reveal the coming of the Messiah: "Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens,' and sixty-two 'sevens.' It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed. He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (Daniel 9:24-27 NIV)
The Apocalypse or Revelation by John in the New Testament uses language similar to Daniel's vision, no doubt referring to the same or similar events:
"And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. ... All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast -- all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. ... Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast ... he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast ... He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. ... His number is 666." (Revelation 13:2-18 NIV)
The apostle John was imprisoned on a Roman penal island called Patmos, when he received this divine revelation of future events. It went on to describe the victory of the Kingdom of God over the kingdoms of men:
"I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. 'He will rule them with an iron scepter.' He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great." Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet ... The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh." (Revelation 19:11-21 NIV)
These prophecies must be pieced together with those found scattered elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments. The Hebrew prophet Joel recorded these warnings from God about Jerusalem in the end times:
"I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
"Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about:
Other prophecies about the end times are found in the book of Isaiah:
"Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her... For this is what the LORD says: 'I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; ...and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.' ...the hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes. See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the LORD. ... 'And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory...' says the LORD. "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.'" (Isaiah 66:10-24 NIV)
Similar powerful language is used by New Testament writers. Peter, for example, reminds readers of the earlier prophecies and of the global deluge of Noah's day as proof that God can and will intervene again in the affairs of mankind:
"I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this "coming" he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men." (2 Peter 3:2-7 NIV)
False prophets have been misapplying biblical end times prophecies since the time in the first century when the New Testament was still being written. Sincere Christians, too, have often 'jumped the gun' by asserting that Christ's return was imminent or had already occurred secretly or invisibly. The Apostle Paul had to warn:
"Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." (2 Thess. 2:1-4 KJV)
Yes the end-times prophecies are many and complex. Unbelievers simply dismiss them as the ravings of madmen or religious fanatics. Some modern cultic commentators who have written or preached about these prophecies have presented themselves as the "channel of communication from God" or as "gods spokesman" or as "God's mouthpiece" giving them special authority or power to discern and give an authoritative explanation of these words. Christians who have studied these prophecies at great length are more humble, but many still feel certain about the conclusions that they have reached. I am less certain that we can or will fully understand these events before they take place.
I believe that God had all of these things written in the Bible so that we can have confidence that his Kingdom will triumph. The details are provided, not so that we would have advance knowledge of all that will take place, but rather that we would know that God knows and understands all the details ahead of time. So the prophecies are intended to inspire in us trust and confidence in God. Our role is not to argue among ourselves over the details, but rather to trust and obey.
Much debate has taken place among Christians as to when we can expect to be "raptured." The "rapture" refers to believers being caught away to meet the Lord in the air at his second coming: "...the dead in Christ shall rise first; Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thess. 4:16:17 KJV)
Different views on this have held sway at different epochs in the history of the Christian church. Throughout much of the Christian era the viewpoint that prevailed was that the Church would remain on earth and would pass through the coming tribulation, only to be raptured at the triumphant conclusion. Today, however, the prevalent view is that believers will be caught away to join the Lord in heaven before the end times events get really rough here on earth. But there are several schools of thought on this matter, even now; they go by such names as "pre-tribulation" (abbreviated "pre-trib"), "post-tribulation" ("post-trib") and "mid-tribulation" ("mid-trib"), depending on whether the theory places the rapture of believers ahead of a period of worldwide trouble, at the end of that period, or in the middle of it.
According to the eschatology prevailing in evangelical churches today, the end times prophecies can be sorted out to reveal a scenario roughly like this: An individual anti-Christ will rise in the Middle East and will gain power in the area including Jerusalem. The temple of God will be rebuilt on the ancient Temple Mount. The anti-Christ will make some sort of covenant or agreement with the people of Israel. Jewish worship will be restored at the temple, including the sacrifice of animals as was the practice before the Temple's destruction at the hand of the Romans during the first century. All of the Jews worldwide will return to Israel, according to some of these interpretations. There will be a seven year period marking the anti-Christ's rule, and in the middle of those seven years he will break his covenant with Israel. There will be some sort of worldwide dictatorship inflicting tribulation on the whole planet.
Historically, the predominant teaching in the Christian Church has been post-tribulation. But the late twentieth century saw a swing toward pre-tribulation thinking in Christian preaching and writing. So, probably the most popular theory today is that there will be a sudden and unexpected rapture of believers, followed by a seven year tribulation period. There are then no Christians left on earth, since they have all been caught away to be with the Lord, and the unbelievers who are 'left behind' must struggle to deal with their disappearance and with the evil world rulership of an individual antichrist. According to this understanding, the predicted international attack on Jerusalem does not occur until the end of the seven years.
Regardless of whether the attack on Jerusalem occurs then or much earlier, it would be hard to deny that the United Nations began laying the groundwork for it back in 1947 when General Assembly Resolution 181 called for international control over the city. (See the details elsewhere in this book.) Subsequent resolutions rebuking Israel have been based on this original demand, and future resolutions at the time of the foretold international attack will, no doubt, be rooted in this long history of U.N. concern about the status of Jerusalem. Back in 1947 it was an agenda item of interest to some; in our day Jerusalem has truly become a problem for the whole world, as Zechariah predicted.
Some may be inclined to think that Jesus' words about "Jerusalem surrounded by armies" (Luke 21:20) apply, not to the end times before Armageddon, but rather to the destruction of the city by the Romans, which took place just decades after the crucifixion. And some of what Jesus said in that lengthy passage may indeed apply only to those first century events. But much of what he said must also have had a wider meaning, a meaning aimed specifically at the end of the world. In this sermon Jesus gave that was recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, he was answering a three-part question from his disciples:
"Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. 'Do you see all these things?' he asked. 'I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.' As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. 'Tell us,' they said, 'when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'" (Matthew 24:1-3 NIV)
So, although part of his answer related to when the stones of the temple would be thrown down -- an event that occurred within the lifetime of those who heard him speak -- other parts of his answer related to "your coming and the end of the age." He gave signs to look for that would indicate when "the end will come" (Matthew 24:14), when "They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. " (Matthew 24:30) when "your Lord will come" (Matthew 24:42) when "the kingdom of God is near." (Luke 21:31) These would be events that would reach far beyond Jerusalem and that would "come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth." (Luke 21:35) (NIV)
These prophecies are not provided so that we will know ahead of time exactly what will happen and exactly when. Rather, they are provided so that we will know that God knows exactly what will happen, and so that this knowledge will motivate us to put our trust in Him.
Prophecy is usually best understood in retrospect. We may have twenty-twenty hindsight in our understanding of fulfilled prophecy, but seldom do we have twenty-twenty foresight as to how the remaining prophecies will be fulfilled.
This fact is abundantly clear from the failure on the part of of the the Jewish religious leaders to recognize clearly all the prophecies about the Messiah and to understand them correctly before he appeared. Jesus called his followers' attention to many of those prophecies and how they applied to him and were fulfilled by him. And the apostles' writings went on to explain how many more versus in the Old Testament applied to the Messiah and pointed out how those were fulfilled by Jesus. Yet, serious Jewish students of Scripture had been unable to discern the correct scenario: that the Messiah would not arrive as a conquering hero, but would appear humble and would be killed and would only later return in power.
The same may well be true with the prophecies about the final conflict over Jerusalem. We may best understand them after the events take place. Meanwhile we can take comfort in these words of Jesus: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you will know that soon she will be destroyed. ...and the heathen will trample over Jerusalem until their time is up. ...When these things begin to happen, stand up and raise your heads, because your salvation is near." (Luke 21:20, 24, 28 Today's English Version)