I have received many letters asking about the role of Israel during the Great Tribulation. This issue of Day Star contains a summary of my conclusions on this topic. Yes, Israel will play a very important role during the end-time. But, as a political entity, the nation of Israel will experience the Great Tribulation just like every nation on Earth and Judaism, as a religious system, will experience the same startling revelations of truth that all religious systems will face during this same time.
Yes, the 144,000 Come From the 12 Tribes!
The Bible indicates that God will select 144,000 servants from the twelve tribes of Israel. (Rev 7:1-8) Obviously, the 144,000 will be Jews, but there is a problem. I find that most Christians do not understand who the "Jews" are! Who are the twelve tribes of Israel from which the 144,000 are selected?
The apostle James identifies the twelve tribes as believers in Jesus! "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings . . . My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. . ." (Jam 1:1, 2:1) James wrote this epistle to encourage and instruct fellow Christians who were widely scattered among the nations.
This epistle was also written after the defining church council in A.D. 49 when it was determined that uncircumcised Gentiles were equal members with believing Jews in the family of God through Christ. (See Acts 10 and 15.) Therefore, James, as well as the early church was convinced that the twelve tribes were the "believers in Christ." Before we take a closer look at Israel's coming role during the Great Tribulation, let's review some of the ideas that are widely accepted about the Great Tribulation.
Popular Eschatology #101
Many Christians believe in a "pre-tribulation" rapture. They also believe that 144,000 Jews will convert to Christianity shortly after the rapture occurs. It is also maintained that 144,000 Jews will play a leading role during the 70th week (the time period of the Great Tribulation).
This scenario is tied together by several concepts. For example, some people believe that a portion of the 70 weeks allotted to Israel during the Babylonian exile is in the future. (See Dan 9:24.) Specifically, it is believed that 69 of the 70 weeks have been fulfilled, but the 70th week is yet to come and represents a seven year period for the Great Tribulation.
So, why did God insert 2,000 years between the 69th and 70th week? Adherents to this school of thought believe that God allotted a period "of grace" for the Gentiles – a time when Gentiles can receive salvation through faith in Jesus. (See Luke 21:24; John 3:16.)
This 2,000 years of grace for the Gentiles is called "a dispensation" and its purpose is based on the following concept: Israel’s unwillingness to accept Jesus as the Messiah (John 1:11) and proclaim His gospel throughout the world forced God to displace Israel with a new group of people called "Christians." (Gentiles and Jews who believe in Christ are called Christians. Acts 11:26; Rom 11:25; Mat 13:11; 28:19,20; John 3;16)
Christians believe they were given the gospel commission that formerly belonged to the nation of Israel. (Matt 28:19,20; Act 4:8-13; 13:42-47; 15:1-41 ) But, over the past 2,000 years, Christians have had mediocre success at evangelizing the world. Today, about 27% of the world’s population claims to be Christian, so the evangelism of the world for Christ is far from complete.
Proponents who believe that God is going to rapture "the church" away also believe that 144,000 Jews will suddenly convert to Christianity due to the "shocking proof" of the fulfillment of the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine. With "the church" out of the way, and with the conversion of 144,000 Jews to Christianity, God will revive His "dormant" covenant with Israel. The 70th week will then commence and the gospel will go to the whole world! Not surprisingly, many Jewish people are deeply offended by this scenario.
First, Jews reject the idea that they have been displaced by Christians, and second, Jews are offended with the idea that they must convert to "Christianity" before God will fulfill His promises to them.
I find the 70th week scenario just described to be flawed for several reasons. It is a distortion of Scripture to teach that God is obligated to fulfill many Old Testament promises given to ancient Israel during a future 70th week because many of the Old Testament promises given to Israel were conditional. God promised to fulfill many promises, if Israel "kept faith" with the Lord and loved Him wholeheartedly. (Deu 6:5; Eze 20)
"If" is the key word because God is not obligated to keep His covenant with any party that persists in rebellion. (See Lev 26; Deu 28, 31:16-32:52; Rom 9-11; Gal 4.) Bible history underscores this fact repeatedly. For example, the "Israel" that experienced the Exodus and entered into covenant with God at Mt. Sinai (Exo 19:4-8) perished in the wilderness because of rebellion (except for Joshua and Caleb). (See Psa 95:10,11; Heb 3:7-4:1)
Yes, God’s plan was ultimately fulfilled, but not for those people to whom the opportunity was first given! (Heb 3:16-19) Furthermore, we cannot overlook God’s subsequent actions during Jewish history, either. Because of rebellion God sent the king of Assyria to destroy the northern ten tribes of Israel 700 years later and God later sent King Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem and the two southern tribes. Even more, after Israel rejected Messiah, God sent a Roman army to totally destroy Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (Dan 9:26; Luke 21:22)
Christians often cite the following text to support the idea that all of God’s promises must be fulfilled to a literal Israel. "For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable." (Rom 11:29) In this text, Paul is saying that God’s calling or selection of Israel is irrevocable. However, it is not the selection or calling that is in question, but the identity of Israel! Consider how Israel came to be: God made a covenant with Abraham and He promised three things:
- Abraham would be the father of many nations and through him, "all nations on Earth" would be blessed. (Gen 18:18)
- Abraham and his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. (Gen 15:5)
- Abraham’s descendants would inherit a particular piece of land. (Gen 15:18-21)
Now, the essential question rises, "Who are the heirs of Abraham?" Both the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac claim to be the heirs of Abraham, but God rejected Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael. (Gen 17:18-21) Ishmael was a child of "works," whereas Isaac was to be a child of faith. (Rom 9:8)
Paul teaches, therefore, that the heirs of Abraham are those who live by faith, just like their father, Abraham! (Rom 3:29,30; 9:1-8; Gal 4:23-31) This does not mean that God failed to honor Abraham’s bloodline through Isaac; actually, He gave Jacob’s sons knowledge and possession of His covenant first. (Deu 7:6-10; Rom 1:16; 2:9-11) But this honor, like all mutual covenants, must be understood within the context of "good faith."
God abandons faithless people and He destroys people who persistently rebel against Him. Therefore, if God displaced the Jews because they rejected the Messiah, how can He fulfill what was promised to Abraham? Many Christians have concluded that the best answer to this question is displacement theology (God substitutes Christians for Jews until the rapture). For me, there is a much better answer. The New Testament teaches that God redefined the "heirs of Abraham" after the Jews rejected Messiah.
God now defines "Israel" as any person who believes that Jesus Christ is His Son and submits to Him. (John 3:16) Consequently, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal 3:28,29) Notice in this text who Paul declares to be the offspring of Abraham. Clearly, if we belong to Christ, then we are Abraham’s seed (Greek: sperma) and heir.
Paul also wrote, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God." (Rom 2:28,29)
Believer and Non-believer
What has God done? When the Jewish nation rejected Messiah (John 1:11; Mat 23:37-39; Act 3:22,23), God removed all religious distinction between Jews and Gentiles through Jesus. This is good news! (Eph 2; Gal 3; Rom 10:12) Now anyone who submits to Jesus is grafted into Abraham’s family tree. (Rom 11)
Through faith, Jews and Gentiles alike become heirs of Abraham – God sees no difference between Jews and Gentiles who submit to Christ! To make it simple, the only distinction God sees in the human race today is believer and non-believer – sheep and goats. (Mat 25) God’s redefinition of Israel enables Him to fulfill all He promised Abraham.
For example, all nations have been blessed through Abraham, for Jesus is a descendant of Abraham! God promised Abraham that he would someday be the father of a numberless multitude who would come from all nations. This promise will be fulfilled when the numberless multitude of the redeemed from every nation stand before the throne after the Second Coming. (Rev 7:9) The third promise to Abraham will be fulfilled when God sets the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, down on the specific piece of real estate originally promised to Abraham! (Zech 14:4)
The land and the city will belong to Abraham’s heirs for eternity!!! "And so all Israel will be saved . . ." (Rom 11:26)
So, Abraham and his heirs, everyone who is born again by the Spirit, will inherit the Earth made new. "Neither circumcision [being a Jew] nor uncircumcision [being a Gentile] means anything; what counts is a new creation [born again by the Spirit]. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God." (Gal 6:15,16, insertions mine) Paul has written much on this subject. If we fail to synthesize all that he wrote on this topic, a number of flawed ideas will develop.
Unfortunately, I believe this has happened and many Christians have been misled. When it comes to being an heir of Abraham, Paul summed up the matter saying, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision [being a Jew] nor uncircumcision [being a Gentile] has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Gal 5:6)
The Israel of God are those people who submit to the authority of Jesus and live according to faith in Him. (Joh 3:16; 15:1-27; Rom 3:28-30)
Another presupposition used to support a future 70th week scenario is the doctrine of "dispensations." This doctrine teaches that God has offered different plans or methods of salvation during different periods of Earth’s history. For example, people "saved" during the New Testament "dispensation of grace" are saved in a different way than those "saved" during the Old Testament "dispensation of law."
Many Protestant clergy defend the absence of law because we now live during "the dispensation of grace," claiming we do not have to obey God’s Ten Commandments (specifically the Sabbath commandment) because the commandments were made null and void at the Cross. However, this position creates another problem. How does one move 144,000 "Jews" from their "dispensation of law" to the current "dispensation of grace?"
Many Christians answer saying: "When the Christians are raptured from Earth, 144,000 Jews will suddenly become converted to Christianity. These 144,000 Jews will, like the apostle Paul, repudiate the legalism of Judaism and embrace the grace of Christ. They will evangelize the world and countless people will receive salvation. When this is accomplished, Jesus will return and the millennium of 1,000 years will begin and the Jews will rule over the world during the millennium. In the end, God will finally fulfill all He promised to Israel."
I believe the Bible evidence reflects a completely different perspective. We know that Abraham’s salvation came through faith in God. (Gen 15:6; Rom 4) The idea that God saves people in different ways, at different times (or in dispensations) is not Scriptural. (Eph 2:8,9; Heb 3:18-4:2)
The doctrine of dispensations appears to be a scheme designed to obscure the obligation that rests upon all mankind to obey God’s Ten Commandments. Of course, obeying the Ten Commandments does not bring salvation, but obedience does reveal our faith in God. (See Dan 3.) Eternal life does not come through obedience; instead we show our faith by obedience! Paul says that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and so many others in the Old Testament were people of faith! (See Heb 3, 4 and 11, Rom 4 and 5, and Eph 2.)
Their faith was revealed by their obedience. Were they counted "righteous" because they were obedient? No, they were sinners, but God counted them as righteous because they believed Him and acted on that belief! (Gen 15:6; Heb 11:13-16) The Bible is also clear that no one, at any time in history, has ever been "saved" by the blood of sacrificial animals. (Heb 10:4,11) So, the doctrine of a "dispensation of law" (saved by obedience or ritual) is a distortion of Scripture.
Salvation has always come through faith alone. (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16; 3:24; Heb 11; Isa 1:11-13; Jer 7:21-24) Living by faith means submitting to the will of God; to go, to be and to do all that He requires. Living by faith produces good fruit (works), but works without faith is worthless. (Mat 7:17-20; James 2:17)
In fact, works without faith stinks! (James 2:20-26) Living by faith day after day is no small matter. At no time has living by the law saved a person and this shows how faulty the "dispensation of law" is. Israel’s inability to keep the law (instead of living by faith) throughout 1,400 years of Old Testament history demonstrates the flaw in dispensational logic.
Good fruit comes only through faith! Without faith there can be no acceptable works! (Heb 11:6; Joh 15:5)
The Weekly Cycle is a Continuum
The last item I want to address is the insertion of 2,000 years between the 69th and 70th week. The Jubilee calendar verifies that the 70th week in Daniel 9 occurred immediately after the 69th week. The 70th week occurred between A.D. 27 and A.D. 33 inclusively. Jesus, the Messiah, died on Passover in the Wednesday year, or middle year, of the 70th week which was A.D. 30. Astronomical data pinpoints the position of the Sun and Moon in A.D. 30 (published by the U.S. Naval Observatory) and the data properly aligns with the course of events as recorded in Scripture.
A future 70th week is not logical or consistent with the operation of the Jubilee calendar. The calendar does not permit the insertion of several centuries between the 69th and 70th weeks. In fact, it does not permit the insertion of even one second, because time is an unbroken continuum!
No one can insert a space of time between Monday and Tuesday, or between July and August. When one unit of time ends, another begins. There is no space of time between the 7 weeks and the 62 weeks in Daniel 9:25 and there is no space of time between the 69th and 70th weeks in verse 24.
I have written extensively on this topic and encourage the reader to review the appendix in my little book, Warning! Revelation is about to be fulfilled for a longer discussion on this topic. To review a more recent research paper on this topic, go to our web site and download the free article, "Great Clocks from God" at <www.wake-up.org>.
I find the 70th week to be in the past and not the future. I find the heirs of Abraham to be people from every nation who believe in Christ. I find that salvation has always come through faith in God. There are no dispensations or need for them. Today’s popular eschatology is badly flawed. In fact, the Bible points in a completely different direction!
To be sure, Israel has a prophetic destiny. We just have to be clear on who the real Israel is.