I am contemplating the church’s necessary awakening to the necessary birth of the millennial nation of the long resistant natural branches, that great ‘without which not’ of the kingdom come on earth. But without this awakening, how will the church know its role as prophet priest intercessor and mid-wife in travail, just as Paul understood that only through travail can Christ be formed in his erring Galatians (Gal 4:19). It is this principal of travail that has been all but lost to the church in its indispensable role and relation to the foretold conclusion of the age. Before it is waiting on the revelation of the Antichrist, the age is waiting on the church, and the church is waiting on God to crowd and constrain her to the appointed finish line, which is something far more than a sudden rapture.
Little considered, but essential to the promise is the relationship between the heavenly Zion and the earthly Zion. The two shall at length meet in glorious unity of spiritual birth and transformation of nature. A comparison of Isa 66:7-8 with Rev 12:1-14 makes us to understand two distinct travails of two distinct births of two distinct Zions, first the heavenly, then the earthly made heavenly through spiritual rebirth. The birth of the man-child is significantly BEFORE the tribulation, as the birth of the nation ‘in one day’ is significantly AFTER the tribulation (Zion’s travail). A careful comparison of Isa 66:7-8 with Rev 12:2-6 compels our recognition that while the birth of the man-child (divine offspring of the woman) takes place without the travail of the earthly Zion (i.e., the literal, unequaled, pre-day of the Lord tribulation), His birth does not come without travail. This is the pre-tribulational travail of the heavenly Zion of God (the heavenly woman).
It is a view that is to be argued more on the basis of spiritual principle than strict exegesis of just the immediate context. However, when these key texts are considered, not only in the light of their more immediate context but the principles enunciated elsewhere in scripture, these combine to argue for the fulfillment of a pattern that extends, not only to the Messiah as the personal seed of the woman, but to His seed, as the corporate seed of the woman, the godly remnant born of the Spirit of Christ. In this sense, the travail of the heavenly woman is not only Mary but the godly remnant, which in this age is identified with the body of Christ, the corporate seed of both Messiah and the heavenly woman. This is why we cannot restrict the birth and ascent of the man-child only to Mary and Jesus. There is something more cosmic and corporate in view that pertains to the coming of the kingdom on earth through a principle of spiritual travail that is born of faith and earnest longing. According to Paul’s cosmology of glory, when Jesus was taken up, we were taken up in Him. This is something utterly glorious that requires spiritual apprehension to begin to fully fathom or appreciate. As the Son of Man is in heaven, even while on earth (Jn 3:13), there is a profoundly real sense in which this is true of all His seed.
In Rev 12 we see that a great transition in heaven must take place in order for the final tribulation to come on earth that finishes the mystery of God (Rev 10:7). It cannot be missed that the revelation of the mystery of iniquity in the incarnation of Satan in the man of sin, for which the return of Christ awaits (2Thes 2:3-8; Rev 12:10-12), takes place at exactly the same time that Michael casts down Satan from heaven to begin the tribulation (Rev 12:12), obviously in the middle of the week. Though the text by itself does not require it, we can infer on the basis of the analogy of Dan 10 that Michael’s heavenly victory does not happen independently of the intercessory travail of the faithful, in notable analogy to Daniel’s self-abasement and deep intercession.
This leads to the further inference that the travail of the heavenly woman is not exhausted in Mary and Jesus, but forms a pattern that implies another great transition when the church will travail in like pattern to Daniel, so that Michael’s expulsion of Satan permits what Paul calls, ‘the mystery of iniquity’ (2Thes 2:7). We believe the mystery of iniquity is revealed when Satan takes up full and unhindered residence in the fallen and then revived body of the Antichrist. This cannot happen apart from Michael’s heavenly victory. We we believe Michael’s expulsion of Satan will not, cannot take place independently of the intercessory travail of the church. But such travail of love and holy groaning, as represented in Daniel and Paul for the longed for necessity of the covenant redemption of Israel, is not likely to issue from a church that has little consciousness of what must necessarily precede and attend the coming of the kingdom. Otherwise, we would know that apart from the regeneration of the long estranged prodigal nation, there can be no return of Christ and resurrection of the church, no resurrection of Israel, no resurrection of the church, and really, no God, since it His unbreakable Word that has bound the two inextricably together.
Christ doesn’t just appear. His return is dependent on these necessary preceding events.The Word of God stands or falls together and Satan knows it. That’s why his primary focus is to exterminate, not only the church as appointed to an heavenly, and, to mortal eyes, invisible destiny of rule over the millennial earth, but particularly the Jew who is appointed to national re-birth and millennial headship over the nations in public vindication of God’s corporate election of Jacob (Ro 9:11). Knowing this destiny as essential to the fulfillment of the Word, Satan mounts an all out assault on the natural seed of the woman when he sees his time as short, as now cast down by Michael in the middle of the week. It is only as he “sees” that the earth has helped the woman (by reason of the saints in the earth who foresaw the evil) that he turns his rage on the church, the spiritual seed of the woman. Satan’s logic is clear: If the natural branches survive to become an holy nation at the end of the tribulation, his tenure over the nations is over and his eternal damnation sealed.
But most of Christendom is blissfully unaware that such things are even at stake. Thus, to a very large extent, they are ignorant of the cosmic war that has raged, with its special focus on the Jew and the little hill of Zion ever since God declared the decree (Ps 2). It’s final focus will surface and concentrate and be required of all nations in what Isaiah calls, ‘the controversy of Zion’ (Isa 34:8). How can a church that is out of touch with the elect objects of this ‘everlasting hatred’ pray intelligently, let alone travail, for a kingdom that must come on earth but can only come through much tribulation?
When will the church see, or even care that apart from the redemption and return of the natural branches at the appointed day of the Deliverer’s return (Mt 23:39; Acts 3:21; Ro 11:26; Rev 1:7), there can be no kingdom on earth? This omission is much more costly than we tend to conceive, since the day of the Lord, which is now revealed as the return of Jesus, is everywhere depicted as inseparable from the restoration of the prodigal nation, whose return will be life from the dead. In scriptural revelation, God has bound up our resurrection with theirs (Ro 11:15), as the elect object of divine longing and open vindication of the everlasting covenant, “My covenant with THEM! (Ro 11:27).
The absence of this from the church’s consciousness, let alone expectation and hope, let alone intercessory travail, is nothing short of an abomination of utter detachment from, not only the plan, but the pain of God’s heart for Zion, as the great test and proof that puts finally to rest Satan’s original question, “Has God really said?” But the secure evangelical asks only this: “If one has salvation in Jesus, then how is Israel’s redemption and return to the Land necessary for the church’s hope?” This is what happens when men separate what God has united. This is the mentality that has won the day throughout most all of evangelicalism. It’s a light, ‘que sera sera’ attitude towards any of the controversial ‘details’ of prophecy. But here’s the maxim that is missing from the church’s consciousness and responsibility: There cannot be a birth without travail. But where does the travail come from? Does God travail in Himself alone? Is it only creation that shares in His travail? Is the travail of the heavenly woman accomplished in Mary and Jesus without further reiteration in the heavenly woman, i.e., the godly remnant, which is the church of God? Indeed, heavenly woman is comprised of the people of the Spirit who show themselves in union with Spirit, who travail till Christ be formed most particularly in that people whose long awaited salvation will make Jerusalem a praise in all the earth. This does not happen without the church as witness and intercessory mid-wife. It brings the question, what is the church?
In all of scripture, God does nothing but that He first reveals His secret to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7). A prophet is one who is heavy with the burden of the Lord, with the vision of the glory of God. Ideally, just as the church is called to a corporate servant, she is called to be a corporate prophet to the nations. But a church that doesn’t know, or is out of touch, with the truth can hardly travail in unison with the Spirit of truth. So for what does the age wait? It waits for the travail of Zion, but not only the travail (final tribulation) of the earthly Jerusalem but the travail of the heavenly Zion, the mother of us all, as the pillar and ground of the truth.
Because the church, by very definition, is the pillar and ground of the truth, we can say that where the church is, there is the truth. Conversely, where the truth is not, there the church is not. And what is a prophet? A prophet is a friend of God, one in whom God is pleased to confide the secrets of His heart and mind (Jn 15:15; 1Cor 2:14). “Shall I hide from Abraham the thing which I do?” (Gen 18:17). “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My FRIEND” (Isa 41:19). A prophet may not speak well, may not speak everything, is certainly not the whole body, but simply one who has been sent to declare the truth by the Spirit of truth. “Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that He would put His Spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29). If the church is anything, it is prophetic! It is the organism of the Spirit incarnate in jars of clay. If the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy, then to be prophetic means much more than someone who is occupied with unfulfilled future events; it is about the very nature of seeing, and implies a deep saturation in the covenant as governing structure to all the principles, prophetic mysteries, and goals of God.
Whatever a prophet is or isn’t, there can be no change to God’s own fixed rule that He will surely NOT do anything until He has first confided His secret (hidden purpose) to His friends. That is a rule that does not change with times and dispensations. One might say that He has done this once and for all in the revelation of the mystery to His first century apostles and prophets, and that would be, in one sense, correct. But it also means that there will be a faithful witness to that revelation in all the earth at the time of the end, sufficient to make all accountable for what the Lord is about to do in that day, and this extends to the vital particulars of prophetic prediction.
As much as the warning of Ro 11:25 has had its dread fulfillment in the false presumptions of a triumphal, often anti-Semitic Christendom, we may also rest assured that a faithful witness to the true implications of Ro 11:25 will be sounded far and wide throughout all nations before the end can come. This is because it is always the Lord’s way to warn very clearly before His final judgments fall, particularly the judgments that conclude the age. Not only the what but the why of those judgments must be in open declaration and powerful evidence before the final strokes of judgment will fall. The world will be unwary but NOT unwarned.
So the church will stand forth in its ordained fullness and prove faithful to the end (Dan 11:32-33; Rev 12:11). The world will be without excuse. Because God is faithful, there will be a faithful witness and the church, as pillar and ground of the truth, will be that faithful witness. So while the age waits for the church to be the church, the church waits for God to constrain her to an pre-ordained maturity that makes her a fit mid-wife for the final travail of Zion, as those who understand what it will take for the kingdom to come on earth. As another would take Peter to a place he would not naturally have chosen, just so will the Lord take His church to its own cross, as we are sure that the final witness to Israel will not be entrusted to a church that has not first passed through the cross. This divine jealousy to reveal the Son in jars of clay is why judgment MUST first begin at the house of God. God has undertaken to see that quite apart from her own power, the church will be the church for such a time as this, even when, and especially when, such fulfillment is so manifestly against all odds, to the end that no flesh might glory.
This means that so far from the church being conveniently absent, there is no other appointed vessel by whom the witness to Israel and the nations can be fulfilled. This tells us that even before the Antichrist, the age is waiting for the church to be the church. The coming forth of the Antichrist is NOT the cause but the result of church’s maturity (pregnancy unto travail and birthing). As we have often made the case, Jesus cannot return until the mystery of iniquity is first revealed in its final embodiment in the man of sin (2Thes 2:3-8). And this cannot take place apart from Michael’s heavenly victory that casts down Satan to begin the tribulation that finishes the mystery of God (Rev 10:7; 12:7-14). In notable analogy to Michael’s intervention on Daniel’s behalf in Dan ch 10, we believe Michael’s engagement and victory over Satan in the middle of the week will NOT be apart from a similar intercessory travail on the part of the believing remnant who know and understand the truth (Dan 9:25; 11:33). For reasons everywhere witnessed in scripture, I cannot conceive that this great transition can take place independently of the role of the church as prophetic intercessor. How will God get us there, to such an urgency of travail for Israel and the kingdom? I believe the answer lies, in part, in the strategic use that God intends to make of the first half of Daniel’s final week and the events that will then be in clearest evidence to “those who understand among the people” (Dan 11:33).
In this sense, the end of the age is waiting on a church that has come to travail for a kingdom that they know must come through great tribulation. They will also know that the kingdom cannot until Satan is first cast down. The greatest woe for the earth will mean greatest rejoicing in heaven. This is because it is only with Satan’s expulsion that the mystery of iniquity can be revealed in the Antichrist. This is that one great event that must take place for Christ to return (2Thes 2:1-8; Rev 12:7-14). For this cause, it is cause for great rejoicing in heaven, since with Satan’s removal from his place in heaven as accuser, not only is the mystery of iniquity revealed, but the church has come into an unhindered apprehension of her place in heaven with the ascended Lord of Glory, even while she suffers the rage of Antichrist on earth. With Satan’s removal, the kingdom at once comes with power. This suggests a form of kingdom power that precedes the actual return 3 1/2 years after Satan has been thrust down. This appears to be the release and anointing that comes to a church who loves not its life unto the death (Rev 12:11).
Paradoxically, the casting down of Satan will also mean the church’s finest hour, at least as not seen since the apostolic period, as the gospel goes out in final kingdom power to all nations, reaping a harvest that no man can number. With the removal of the accuser, there is evidently a greater grasp and appropriation of the gospel that enables great power and anointing on those who will do great exploits. This suggest that the power that comes on the two witnesses at the start of the tribulation comes, in some measure, on a far greater number. It is now that the church will face the ultimate and final expression of the mystery of iniquity in the incarnation of Satan in the man of sin (“all power”; 2Thes 2:9). This is directed, not at first on the church (‘the remnant of her seed that keep the commandments of Jesus’), but most especially and significantly against Jerusalem and the Jews in particular. It is the climactic end of the ‘everlasting hatred’, as Satan’s aim has always been to stop the seed and so make void the Word of God that threatens his eternal destruction (Isa 14:13; Eze 25:15; 28:17-19, 25-26; 35:5; Dan 11:28, 32).
I like to say, ‘when the church will travail, Michael will prevail!’ Then and only then will the mystery of iniquity be revealed SO THAT the mystery of God can be finished (Rev 10:7). This is not only because Jesus has returned; it is also because His return will mean that the nation of covenant promise has been born in one day, the day of the Lord, the day His praise fills the earth as His feet touches down on the cosmically contested hill of Zion. So we believe and so we speak.