Sunday, three of our sisters just returned home from a tour to the land of Israel. We asked them all to give a report, especially the impact that this had on them personally. They came back with a sense of the real urgency to pray for and stand by and support the nation of Israel. (Ps.122:6) clearly say, “Pray for peace in Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.” The prosperity he speaks about is not financial, but instead, the security that comes from being in harmony with God and in tune with his plans and workings. This is why I couldn't ignore the abundance of articles in the last few weeks all centered around Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of Israel’s pre-emptive attack on them in the interest of national security, most of them emphasizing sooner rather than later. Something like this would undoubtedly have profound ramifications for our world today.
Biblical preaching carries with it many dimensions. There is doctrinal preaching: teaching us what we believe as Christians and why. There is preaching about Christian living: the implications of what we believe in our day-to-day living, decisions and priorities. There is preaching that emphasizes the relational: when we make Jesus Christ Lord and Savior of our lives, it brings us into vital relationship with the church, Christ’s Body. Some preaching is purposeful, in that it focuses on the callings and giftings of God: what we’re on ths earth to accomplish. There is also inspirational preaching whose aim is the building up of people’s faith. Then, there is also prophetic preaching. Bible prophecy is a vital part of the Christian life, since it deals with the future aspect of our Faith. The prophetic realm though is not limited to the predictive or being able to tell the future; it ispreaching that lays out how things fit into the scope of God’s greater plans. I’ve always been inspired by the testimony of the Sons of Issachar who had “understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.” They were people who had understanding both of our unique TIMES and also our DUTIES in light of our times. The need for people of this caliber is always with us. Whenever you tackle the subject of Bible prophecy you should do so knowing the challenges. First, is the fact that prophecy sermons are “informational intensive.” Another challenge is that even the best of us “sees through a mirror dimly,” even the so-called “experts.” The other challenge is to take that truth and teaching and make the connection how it relates to our day-to-day living. It’s not about speculation or sensationalism, it’s about the future promises of God motivating us as Christ-followers and witnesses today. The Apostle Peter was a master in this department as he wrote about the last days and said, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2Pet.3:11,12)
It was with all this in mind that I was drawn to the Apostle John’s words in the Book of Revelation 16:12-16):
“The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. ("Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!") And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.”
You've heard of the saying, “Out of the mouths of babes”...well, this verse spoke to me of “Out of the mouths of....Frogs!” It draws our attention to some very vital considerations, which I would like you to think about with me.
I Feel The Spirit Moving!
In this case, I am not talking about the Holy Spirit, but a different kind of spirit. This passage deals specifically with the period of the Great Tribulation, a time still future, when God turns His focus to Israel nationally. It is very similar to (1Jn.2:18), “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” John is saying that the event (i.e. the coming of the anti-Christ) has not arrived, but there are spiritual precursors to this that mirror and echo the physical reality. In this case it would be the spirit of anti-Christ at work in the world. The spirit that is highlighted here is the spirit of anti-Semitism. The text mentions “3 unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits.” He talks about spiritual forces that have political, international and even military objectives; a kind of “news behind the news.” Recently, at the end of the G20 Summit, there was a very embarrassing and revealing open microphone gaffe. French President Nicolas Sarkozy told U.S. President Barack Obama that he could not stand Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he thinks the premier is a liar. President Obama was heard to respond, “You’re fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day.” When I heard that, my first thought was “anti-Semitism is alive and well” in our world today! I trust that you will agree with the truth of the statement, “No people on the planet has endured more systematic, heavily resourced attempts to wipe it out than the Jewish race.” A quick trip through history should confirm this fact. In Egypt we see the enslavement of an entire nation with Pharaoh’s command to the Hebrew midwives to kill all of the male children. In Persia, we see Hamaan’s hate-filled attempt at genocide, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children.” In the first century, in 70 A.D., Rome killed a million Jews and took another 300,000 as slaves exiling them to different parts of the empire. More recently were the Russian pogroms of the 19th century. Then, there was Hitler’s “final solution” during WWII with the goal of the eradication of the Jewish people. Six million Jews lost their lives throughout Europe during this period known as the Holocaust.
All of this only really makes sense when you realize it doesn't make sense, at least not on the natural. It is spiritual and supernatural in nature. (Rev.12:1-5;13;17) pulls back the curtain to reveal a deep, spiritual and demonic roots of both anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity.
A.W. Sac wrote, “Next to the survival of the Jews, the most baffling historical phenomenon is the hatred which he has repeatedly encountered among the nations of the earth. This hostility is to the Jews, which goes under the name of anti-Semitism, is as old as Jewish existence. It is endemic like many contagious diseases; it is always with us to some degree. But under certain circumstances it assumes epidemic proportions and characteristics. It is prevalent wherever Jews reside in sufficiently large numbers to make their neighbors aware of their presence. ‘The growth of anti-Semitism,’ Chaim Weizman declared, ‘is proportionate to the number of Jews per square kilometer. We carry the germs of anti-Semitism in our knapsack on our backs.’"
What this presents us with is a majestic woman (the nation of Israel and the Jewish people); a Child destined to rule the nations (Christ); and a great red Dragon (identified as the devil and Satan). All of this is set in the context of the ancient cosmic struggle to damn the souls of men and defeat the purposes of God.
The text is specific, the woman was pregnant and about to give birth. God chose Israel, Abraham and his descendants to be the delivery system for His message of life, truth, love, law and the gift of Messiah. Israel has and will yet pay a tremendous price for this privilege, making them the focus of Satan’s animosity down through the ages. This is the real source of anti-Semitism and why it continues to this day.
There is something totally illogical about this, but woven into the fabric of the “world mind” by the Deceiver himself. If you’ve been paying attention, the whole ‘Occupy Movement’ and protesters are filled with an unmistakable anti-Semitic note. Today, we might be dealing with a new face, bit it is the same old spirit at work...trust me on this.
The Alignment of Nations
This is without a doubt God’s domain. The prophet Haggai spoke (Haggai 2:6,7) "For thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations...” Any thinking person would agree that there is a “shaking” being felt today whether it is economic, or political, or international or military. In the Book of Revelation, John highlights this aspect, vs.14, “who go abroad to kings of the whole world to assemble them for battle on the great day of God Almighty.” In order for Satan to try to wipe out Israel, THE NATIONS MUST ALIGN TOGETHER. This is not new, but there is an ancient strategy behind it, (Ps.83:4,5 “They have said, "Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.
For they have consulted together with one consent; they form a confederacy against You.” Notice, there is an evil confederacy that will one day align nations against Israel. We can clearly see this happening before our eyes today! In fact, recently, there is so much happening it is hard to keep track. One of the most important prophecies in this regard is (Ezek.38:1-6)
“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, 'Thus says the Lord God: "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops — many people are with you.”
It’s important because it sheds light on a particular alignment of nations. Ezekiel identifies (using the ancient names) a confederacy led by Russia consisting of “Persia (Iran), Ethiopia, Libya will join you too, with all their weapons.” Also “Togarmah” which is modern day Turkey. We’re looking at something that’s reported on in the news on a weekly, if not daily basis today! Let me just highlight a few things for you. What has been dubbed “the Arab Spring” has brought a major realignment of governments with some serious unrest and uncertainty that goes along with it. Just think this year: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen with very possibly, Syria next. All of this has been reported in the news as a populist uprising in response to oppressive regimes with a yearning for democracy. Really? What has happened is a toppling of dictators and governments with an uncertain future at best, but indications of a vacuum that is being filled by Islamic extremists. On the day that Libyan President, Muammar Qaddafi, was captured and killed, President Obama immediately took to the airways to talk about how the dark cloud of oppression has been lifted there. Uhhm, he conveniently forgot to mention the absence of the rule of law in all of this, or where this was actually taking that nation. Not to mention the huge stash of weapons they had! Remember Ezekiel, “Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya...with all their weapons.” One commentator remarked, “The worst aftermath is over 20,000 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles belong to the Qaddafi regime have been ‘dispersed’ throughout the world and are currently ‘lying in wait.”
The most noticeable nation in this confederacy next to Russia has to be Iran, whose burgeoning nuclear program not only has a de-stabilizing effect on the entire region, but it represents the greatest threat to Israel’s security. This was ratcheted up by the 25-page report by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) which confirmed Iran is much closer to having an atom bomb than most thought. The report concluded that Iran is systematically enriching nuclear fuel towards military applications; and that Iran’s nuclear program is no longer run by civilians but by the Ministry of Defense. It stated that Iran did not cease developing military applications for its nuclear program in 2003, as the CIA reported in its controversial National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, but rather accelerated its efforts to develop the Bomb. It seems that the U.S. policy of “containment and sanctions has been unsuccessful, largely blocked by Russia and China. What makes Iran so unsettling and such a threat is the “theological” element embraced by its leaders. They embrace a Muslim prophecy of the 12th Iman and that in order to hasten his coming, he is waiting for the Muslim world to attack Israel. The real quarrel is not with the Iranian people, but the regime in Tehran that has been hijacked by Islamic extremists, and represent probably the significant threat in the world to global peace and security (quote by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper).
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks before the Israeli Knesset last week about the Iranian threat were very sobering and enlightening. He said, “If I had to summarize what will happen in our region, I would use two terms: instability and uncertainty. The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the bloody incidents in Syria, the American forces leaving Iraq, the new government in Tunisia, the upcoming elections in Egypt and many other events - these are all expressions of the immense changes occurring around us. These changes can increase the instability within these countries, and the instability between countries....A nuclear Iran would pose a terrible threat to the Middle East and on the entire world. And of course, it poses a great, direct threat on us too....A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone. It must also include offensive capabilities, which is the very foundation of deterrence. We operate and will continue to operate intensely and determinately against those who threaten the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is ‘if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,’ and the second is ‘if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.’” Clear, concise, accurate and sobering words, indeed.
The other nation mentioned is Turkey (Togarmah). Turkey has been a secular Islamist state for many years, but in recent times is becoming more and more radicalized. The new Prime Minister has targeted Israel by halting all trade and defense ties to the Jewish State, ordering Turkey’s ambassador to leave Israel, and warning of more sanctions to come. Perplexingly, we’re talking about a NATO ally here? All of this represents a kind of ticking time clock, and mirrors the confederacy that Zechariah spoke about in (Zech.12:2,3), "Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it.” Religious, political and economic alignment will cause the nations of the earth to conclude, “Israel is the problem; if they would be more reasonable, or did not exist, then things would be safer and more prosperous for everyone involved. I have no idea what will trigger all these events. It is stunning, however, to see that the pieces and players are all definitely in place.
Paying Attention To The Signs
In God’s word, a “sign” refers to an indication or to a marker, usually showing proximity and warning. Today, we see an abundance of signs, of events and alignments which should tell us what time it is. In (Matt.24:33) Jesus said, “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near – even at the doors.” To conclude, the key question though is why? I’m not making any of this up, and I’m not a “prophecy expert” (is there such a thing?!), but why is all of this unfolding before us today? Perhaps, more importantly what should we glean from all of this for our daily lives? Let me quickly suggest 4 things that come into clear focus as we consider the “signs of the times.”
A reminder of the sovereignty of God, that God is in control, orchestrating events according to His purpose. This is a major antidote against fear, that God has not lost control. In our personal lives as well, I can live confidently knowing that my life and my steps are ordered of the Lord.
An encouragement of the love of God, specifically, that God does not judge the righteous with the wicked. (1Thess.5:9) states, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a powerful argument for the importance and truth of the Rapture of the church: God removes the righteous before judgment (i.e. Lot; Noah; Rahab). This is not saying we’ll escape persecution, but there is a huge difference between persecution and the wrath of God.
A warning for believers to be ready. I do believe God knows human nature, that we tend to lose focus. God, in His mercy, allows these signs and events to remind us so that WE WILL BE READY. Our text carries the blessing, vs.15, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!" I tell our church, today is definitely NOT the time to be stupid or careless or drift from the things of God!
Preparation for an end-time harvest. Any true understanding of Bible prophecy doesn’t leave us with our heads in the clouds. Instead, it speaks about our own personal readiness, and also our being positioned as workers in God’s harvest (the world) to see souls won to Christ. Jesus Himself exemplified this, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (Jn.9:4)
I must confess: from the time of my conversion on November 15, 1970, I have lived with the thrill and anticipation over the Lord’s promise of his Second Coming. I know there are those who would scoff and dismiss it all and say, “ You've been saying this for 40 years, and Jesus still hasn’t come.” I’ll be honest with you, when I first became a Christian; I didn't think we’d be here this long! But my answer to those nay-Sayers is simple, “Yes, you’re right, Jesus hasn't come yet. But, He’s 40 years closer than when I was first saved!” KEEP LOOKING UP!