All modern trends are moving inexorably in the direction predicted by the Hebrew prophets. In addition to keeping the church wakeful, this fact should be continually pointed to in the church’s witness, as a powerful evidence of the Bible’s authority and inspiration, and as a call to come to terms with the claims of Christ and the urgency of salvation through faith in the gospel.
Expectation of the sure fulfillment of prophecy was a given in first century Israel. The church’s task was to show that prophecy had been fulfilled in Christ and would continue to be fulfilled in the impending destruction of Jerusalem and ultimately, the return of Christ. Many, such as the sectaries of Qumran, the people of the Dead Sea scrolls, dwelt in desert communities in expectation of Jerusalem’s imminent desolations and the final world conflict. We have come full circle. Once again the world stands under the shadow of another threatening age ending crisis over the question of Jerusalem, the “controversy of Zion.” The prophetic scriptures are indeed on schedule, but few employ this compelling fact in presenting the gospel to an intellectualizing generation that demands evidence. Well, the evidence is in our daily news. It has always been with us in the person of the wandering Jew but much more so now that Israel has been, against all odds, restored to nationhood as the great without which not of all prophetic fulfillment.
The modern church naturally acknowledges that Christ fulfilled prophecy, though many are at a serious loss to make the case from the Old Testament. But for the larger part, the church has scant knowledge of the legitimate aspects of first century Jewish expectation. Those “legitimate aspects” are still outstanding and in evident process of contemporary fulfillment. As for world Jewry, unlike their first century counterparts, Jews for the most part are ignorant of what the prophets foretold concerning Jerusalem and the last days, but this is begining to change through the current popular facination with apocalyptic themes (albeit only slightly and with pitiful distortions). Most modern Jews are secular, and like the world, are compartively ignorant of both sides of the prophetic equation concening both Christ and Israel. But God has given the church a powerful tool for the convincement of a skeptical age. However, due to the scandal of its recurrent misuse through failed ‘apocalyptic scares’, this tool, so powerful in the early church, has been allowed to slip into disuse.
Prophecy is God’s own self-chosen apologetic (Isa 41:21-23, 26; 43:9-12; 44:7; 45:11, 21; 46:10; “the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy;” Rev 19:10b). And where prophecy does not at once convince, it leaves a seed of witness that unfolding of events will confirm pointing to the truth of Christ and the gospel. The seed may yet germinate under the right conditions, particularly in the case of Israel when the church will move the Jew to jealousy by the manifest evidence of the Spirit, coupled with the testimony of the most prolific fulfillment of prophecy in history. Furthermore, prophecy leaves all who persist in resistance of the saving good news without excuse (Jn 15:22). Prophecy exposes the hiding place (Isa 28:17).
Paul said his gospel was to be known to all nations by the scriptures of the prophets (Ro 16:25-26). This was the divinely ordained ‘modus operandi’ of the the early church’s approach to evangelism as seen in all the NT examples of apostolic proclamation, as seen particularly all throughout the book of Acts. The gospel was to be held forth to Jew and to gentile as a previously concealed, but no less foretold mystery (Ro 16:25-26; 1Pet 1:10-12) contained in the prophetic writings and to be made known to all nations by the same. Perhaps this neglect, together with its failure to take seriously the mandate to go first to the Jew, has robbed the church of some of the strength of its witness. In these days of restoration of the original context of the gospel, let us pray that the church will soon recover this vital key in its witness, as this is certainly the divinely mandated, apostolic approach to evangelizing the nations no less than Israel, and that recovery of this lost key will also aid the church in the recovery of its own lost apostolic and prophetic identity and vitality.
So while the end of the age awaits what God has determined concerning Israel (Zech 12:10 w/ Mt 23:39; Acts 3:21; Ro 11:26), Israel awaits the apostolic and prophetic witness that God has determined to restore to the church of the last days (Dan 11:32-35 w/ Jn 13:35; 14:12; 16:21-26; 17:11, 21-22; Eph 4:13; Phil 1:20; 3:10-14; Rev 12:10-11). Though not easy to prove exegetically (since it is more by implication and by the cumulative evidence), there is a case from scripture that certainly implies that a prior travail and birthing into eschatological fullness must be accomplished by the church before the final tribulation (Zion’s travail) can begin for Israel (consider the mystery implicit in Isa 66:7 as compared w/ Rev 12:5, 13).
There is a twofold travail of the woman. First there is the preliminary spiritual travail of the heavenly Zion. This is accomplished before Israel’s pain comes (see Isa 66:7 w/ Rev 12:5; compare also Jn 16:21; Gal 4:19 as a pattern). Then follows the earthly travail (the literal tribulation) of the earthly Zion / natural Israel (compare Isa 13:8; 66:8; Jer 30:6; Mic 5:3; Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21). It is only AFTER this travail (the brief but unequaled tribulation) that “a nation is born in one day” (Isa 66:8; 59:19-21; Zech 3:9; Ezek 39:22; Hos 6:2). This ‘one day’ is at once the spiritual regeneration of Israel and the translation and gathring of the church unto Christ; 2Thes 2:1; 1Cor 15:52).
However symbol and imagery may be interpreted, one thing seems beyond dispute: There is a spiritual kind of travail and birth that must be completed before Israel’s earthly tribulation can begin. There is a spiritual birth that happens before the time of Israel’s eschatological tribulation. The two travails, one spiritual, and the second physical, are bound together. Unless an unscriptural wedge is driven between Israel and the church (as in dispensationalism), the woman’s birthing of the manchild pertains to the church (the true Israel within Israel), no less than the persecuted woman pertains to both Israel and the church in the tribulation. Unless the presence of the church is defined out of the tribulation, as in dispensationalism, then it cannot be doubted that the church is in veiw when the scripture refers to “the rest of her offspring, who hold to testimony of Jesus;” Rev 12:17). It is not enough to see this as only fulfilled in Mary and Christ, since this travail and birth is accomplished at the threshold of the last 3 1/2 years and is the catalyst for the last 3 1/2 years that follow immediately upon the flight of the woman as soon as she is deliverred of the man-child, a figure for both Christ and by extension His fullness realized in His body at the middle of the week.
The New Testament shows an awareness of the clear distinction between tribulation as an inalienable principle of the spiritual life, and the final ‘great tribulation’ of brief duration that ushers in Christ’s return. The two must not be confused. When this important distinction is made, it becomes clear that the travail of the woman and the birth of the man child has to do with a heavenly occurence that immediately results in the final tribulation of ‘short’ duration. The birthing of the man child completes the time of the woman’s travail, which permits Michael’s victory over Satan in heaven. With Satan’s expulsion from heaven to earth, his time is ‘short’; the tribulation is here, and thus the kingdom of God can now come. Regardless how the woman’s travail is understood, it is clear that it has not reached its final goal until the final casting down of Satan, and this happens only at the mid point of Daniel’s seventieth week.
Paul shows that the day of the Lord and the church’s gathering unto Christ must await the revelation of the mystery of iniquity (2Thes 2:1-3, 7-8). The revelation of this mystery is the ‘without which not’ of Christ’s once and for all return. But this event cannot come until Satan is cast down. It is important to note that Michael’s expulsion of Satan, the announcement of the inbreaking of kingdom power (12:10), and the woman’s 3 1/2 year flight into the wilderness, all hinges on the completion of the woman’s travail in the birth and ascent of the man child. In view of the connection of these events to the limited tribulation of 3 1/2 years, it is evident that the fulfillment cannot be limited to the entirity of the inter-advent period. Rather something future seems intended that reiterates in pattern and principle what was accomplished in the birth, safe escape, and victorious ascent of the Seed over all principality and power.
I believe this future travail of the church awaits a Pauline or Danielic kind of priestly travail for Israel (compare Ro 9:3; Gal 4:19)? What will it take to bring an indulgent and self-occupied church to this? Will the church finally understand that there can be no informed praying for the coming of the kingdom that ignores the prior necessity of unequaled tribulation, as only this can end in Israel’s age ending confession (Dan 12:7; Mt 23:39; Acts 3:21; 14:22)? Will the church come to understand that the age cannot with Christ’s return independently of the day of Israel’s national repentance? And will the church ever come to see its own divinely intended role in preparing Israel for that confession through its tribulation witness? The church, rightly defined is the corporate Ebhed Yahweh (Servant of the Lord). Not only as the witnessing remnant, but also as the corporate priestly ‘servant – intercessor’ in the travail of divine love for covenant Israel.
Such travail will require a selfless willingness for the events that are necessary to its fulfillment? What will raise the church’s consciousness and prayer to its calling to travail for a kingdom that cannot come apart from a church willing to lay its life down for Israel? [Note that on the basis of Ro 11:12, 15, Israel’s future “fullness” is the key to an exponential increase of salvation among the nations. Thus how can a church devoted to ‘missions’ ignore its calling ‘to the Jew first’?] It is so much more than Israel’s salvation that is at stake; it is the very name and glory of God in His covenant pledge that is at stake, though most of the church historically would see no loss at all to their concept of divine glory if Israel should remain estranged forever (Ro 11:25-36).
If the travail of the woman is not wrongly dissociated from the church, it seems clear that there is an inseparable relation to something that must first be accomplished in and through the church that is related to the finishing of the mystery of God (Rev 10:7). This doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it presupposes truth and revelation, and the travail of true faith and intercession. It is not new truth, but a deeper apprehension of the prophetic scriptures at the time of fulfillment that will constrain the church to a place it would not otherwise have gone, in analogy with Jesus’ word to Peter: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old (weak and dependent), you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you (“dressed in His righteousness alone”), and carry you where you do not want to go” (Jn 21:18). For Peter, it was a martyrs cross; for the church of the last days, it will be the great tribulation.
I believe the church will be brought corporately to something almost analagous to Mary’s conception and birth of the Word, as utterly weak, as utterly meek, and so completely apart from the help of man. There is mystery here; but I am sure that Michael’s removal of Satan (in analogy with his removal of the opposing Prince of Persia in answer to Daniel’s travail; Dan 10:13), and the resulting tribulation (which is necessary to bring Israel back in fulflillment of the everlasting covenant at Christ’s return), must not be dissociated from a fullness that must first come to the church, as it knows itself to be facing the final and greatest test.
This heavenly victory will be accomplished by the church’s deeper apprehension of the revelation of the mystery of the gospel in conjunction with the final opening of Daniel’s sealed vision. In short, the church must attain to its own “fullness” before Israel can attain to “their fullness” (compare Ro 11:12 w/ 11:25). God has placed the two in amazing tandem. The one is dependent on the other and cannot come to full formation without the other. Israel and the church are a mutual source of divinely intended provocation with a view towards the revelation of the glory of sovereign mercy apart from works. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”
I am personaly convinced that the same God who will be publicly vindicated in His word concerning Israel will be no less vindicated in the sight of men and angels concerning a yet unfulfilled eschatological fullness for the church. Before it will be “Israel My glory” (Isa 46:13), it will be “glory in the church” (Eph 3:21). And contrary to the false dichotomy of the dispensational error, the twain do meet! Regenerated Israel on earth will be no less the body of Christ than the glorified church ruling and reigning with Christ. The seed is the seed, and it is such by nothing other than union with the indwelling Spirit of Christ, regardless of dispensation.
So while the end of the age waits for Israel, Israel waits for something to be restored and demonstrated in the church, and it is a sovereign God of absolute predestination that will accomplish to fulfill His purpose in both at the “set time” (Ps 102:13), “for that that is determined shall be done” (Dan 11:36). God knows how to both to their appointed place “at the time appointed” (Dan 8:19; 11:35), but it is a pitiful theology that drives a wedge between God’s sovereign ability and the church’s necessary responsibility. A new dispensation of divine requirement is at hand. When prophecy will be in the final stages of fullment, things formerly discussed and debated of only casual consequence will begin to be divinely required. Much will be exposed and many will fall away.
As Jesus was a stone of stumbling and rock of offense to the religion of first century Israel, so will the offense of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Jew, become an extension of the same essential mystery in its final form (see Isa 28:9-16). All nations will be required to grapple with a prophetic testimony of the gospel that can no longer be conveniently separated from the issue of Israel. As the age began, so shall it end, and all the great issues that formed the offense of the cross and the gospel, will be present in the last offense that brings all nations to oppose the everlasting covenant in Israel’s election and divine right to the Land. Not because they are worthy in themselves, but because of what God has decreed concerning them. It is not their Land because they are holy Christians; it is their Land because of God’s predestinating prerogative to make them holy Christians in the day of His power (Ps 110:3).
Apparently, God is holding all nations responsible to know this, since when the nations come down to the mountains of Israel to ‘divide’ and ‘part’ the Land (Dan 11:39; Joel 3:2), God’s fury comes up in His face (Ezek 38:18), since He regards this act as the ultimate act of hubris and violence “against the holy covenant” Dan 11:28, 30). So it is clear that the contention of God with all nations over the issue of His covenant with Israel cannot be separated from the issue of the gospel. In fact, this is how God has chosen to press the issue of the gospel upon the conscience of all nations. To not have God’s heart towards Israel (especially when the prohetic standard is being raised in the sight and hearing of all nations) is to not know God’s heart or His covenant.
We may be sure that Satan enjoys the church’s ignorance of this mystery, as it helps to extend his illicit tenure in the heavens, which prolongs this present evil age. But at some soon point, something’s got to give! Come quickly Lord Jesus, and accomplish in heaven and on earth all that holds back your return! Lord, you said that when you looked there was “no man .. no intercessor,” so your own arm brought to you the decreed salvation of Israel (compare the contexts of Isa 59:16 w/ 63:5). Lord, this is not in the heart of man; it is in your heart. Lord, in ourselves, we could never be willing for the price. Create the intercessor in us. It is Him you always hear. Come quickly Lord Jesus! Come suddenly to your temple! is our prayer.