"I am the vine, you are the branches"
The Second Coming, Part 1
Birth Pangs of Messiah
We began a series a few years ago about the end time churches and how God calls us to repent and all the opportunities He gives us to do that. Then last year, we looked at how Yeshua clears out the moneychangers and gives a strict warning, and a look at God's people as a royal priesthood. This year we want to begin a series looking at the second coming of Yeshua. We will begin by looking at Matthew 24-25, with the same narrative in Mark 13 which is considered to be the Eschatological Discourse.
Chapter 24 of Matthew verses 1-3 is where Yeshua predicts the destruction of the Temple and His disciples ask, "When will these things begin, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" We always hear about the "End Times," especially in Bible-believing churches. There are those who are Pre-Tribulation and those who are Post-Tribulation and then there are those who do not even know what that all means. Well, quite frankly, no one really knows what that all means because we can not totally understand the future until it happens. But this we do know: Yeshua was speaking Hebraicly. So we are going to try to sort it all out with a Hebraic understanding.
Yeshua goes on in verses 4-5; He warns that many will come and mislead people by saying that they are the Messiah. In fact, the best known one was Simon bar Kochba who led many astray, even the chief Rabbi Akiba, by claiming to be the Messiah. Bar Kochba formed an army (remember, Messiah would come and deliver Israel from their enemies) and led a revolt which brought on the Second Jewish Revolt in the years 132-135 AD in which many Jews died. Yeshua's prediction of the Temple being destroyed was fulfilled in 70 AD during the First Jewish Revolt, and now this great deception takes place which causes many more to die.
In verses 6-8, Yeshua goes on to say that there will be wars and rumors of wars, but don't be frightened because these things must happen, but the end is not yet. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes; but all this is just the beginning of birth pangs. We have seen over the last century alone that war, famine, and earthquakes have come on us like labor pains and have quickly intensified. We hear so often these days, "This has been the worst storm" or flooding or whatever the natural disaster is, and it is only getting worse. We don't understand it, so we call it global warming, but it should be called global birth pains, chevlei shel moshiach, "the birth pains of Messiah." This terminology is from an early medieval midrash called midrash Pesiqta Rabbati. It reads: "In the year in which King Messiah will be revealed, all the kings of the nations of the world will provoke each other... And pangs will take hold of them like unto the pangs of a woman in childbirth. And Israel will tremble and fear, and they will say: 'Where shall we come and go, where shall we come and go?'" The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Micah all use this imagery of a woman in labor. But this is only the beginning.
Verses 9-11 continue, "Tribulations and persecutions will come and many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another and many false prophets will arise, and mislead many." We see this happening during the time of the apostles. Yeshua tells His disciples that because the world hated Him, that they would be hated also because of Him. All but the disciple John were martyred for their faith. Paul writes, "And indeed, all who desire to live godly lives in Messiah will be persecuted." During the time of Nero, the believers were made human torches and burned at Nero's gatherings. They were also thrown to the lions for his entertainment. As we see in Paul's letters, many of the believers had gone back into the world and gave up their beliefs. Paul, Peter, and John all warn their readers about false prophets that were in their day misleading the people. The Torah speaks about false prophets and when it does, it always gives a warning. John, in 1 John 4:1, says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." All throughout Scripture it warns believers to beware of false teachers, prophets, and shepherds. Paul writes, "But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."
In verses 12-14, Yeshua goes on to say, "And because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. But to the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations, and then the end shall come." John writes, "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness." We want to stop here for just a moment. What is lawlessness? When we stop to think about it, there is only one law: the Torah. Paul tells us in Galatians that Torah is a tutor, teaching us right from wrong. He says in Romans that, "I would not have come to know sin except through the Torah." So when we go against God's Torah, we sin.
The false messiah will be a man of lawlessness. In the Greek, the word is anomia which means "Torah-lessness." He will be a man who is anti-Torah. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work." So Paul was saying that already in his day, people were discrediting the Torah. We see that this happened as the Romans were persecuting the Jews in the First Revolt; they also included believers (anyone who kept Torah), so many believers (mostly Gentile believers) walked away from being Torah observant. Yeshua said that He did not come to abolish the Torah; James calls the Torah perfect, quoting Psalm 19, and he calls it liberty. Paul calls it holy, righteous, and good. We ought to think about God's Word as a whole and not discredit any part. Paul tells us, "All Scripture is inspired of God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness," and he was talking about the Torah. How can a building be built without a foundation? How can a tree grow without roots? Let us not be Torahless people, but people of God's whole counsel, living by it and obeying God's commands.
Paul addresses Yeshua's statement that sin will increase and people's love will grow cold. Paul writes to Timothy, "For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these." Again he writes to Timothy, "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and in turn, turn aside to myths. But the one who endures by continuing to walk by the Word of God will remain in the Lord."
Yeshua tells us in verse 14, "And this gospel will be preached in the whole world." Even in the Talmud the Rabbis write that the Messiah will not come until all nations have been converted to the belief of the minim (heretics). By this time, believers were considered heretics because they did not keep Torah. So what is this gospel that will be preached? Today there are many gospels; many versions of salvation are taught today. Some say that all roads lead to heaven. But what is the true gospel, the one that John the Baptist, Yeshua, and the disciples preached before there was this denomination and that interpretation? Matthew writes in Matthew 3:1-2, "John came preaching in the wilderness saying, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.'" Matthew 4:17 tells of Yeshua preaching, saying, "Repent for the Kingdom is at hand." In Mark 1:14-15 it is written, "Yeshua said, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'" On the day of Pentecost, Peter tells the crowd to "repent." Paul tells King Agrippa that he declared to Damascus and Jerusalem and all Judea and even to the Gentiles that they should all repent and turn to God.
But is this the whole gospel? No, but it is the beginning. No one can receive the gospel unless his heart is right. Take the parable of the Sower. The seed that fell on the good soil produced a crop of 30, 60, and even 100 fold. Being "born again" is a matter of the heart. The Sermon on the Mount is all about the matter of the heart. For the heart to be right, you must first repent, make that 180 degree turn in your life. If you lie, you must stop lying; if you steal, you must stop stealing, and so forth. Repentance is the key that opens the door to the Kingdom of God. This is where the true gospel starts. Then we can have forgiveness and redemption through the blood of Yeshua. Then we must walk by the light of the Word of God.
In verses 15-20, Yeshua goes on to say, "When you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of in Daniel standing in the holy place, let the reader beware. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in the house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak... But pray that your flight may not be in winter, or on the Sabbath." This is a reference pertaining to the time of the Maccabbees, when the Assyrians came into the Temple and desolated it (1 Maccabees 1:54-56). Yeshua warns His listeners that when you see this happen, remember the Macccabees who fled to the mountains (1 Maccabees 2:28). And this is exactly what happened during the Second Jewish Revolt. During the reign of Hadrian, about 132 AD, a Roman temple to Zeus was built on the Temple Mount. The believers, who knew Yeshua's warning, knew what to do and that is what they did, they fled to the mountains and were safe. But the remaining Jews, first of all, were following this false messiah who began the revolt and secondly, when the Romans attacked, they did not know to flee and were killed. This began the division between believing Jews and their brethren. They were regarded as heretics and many believers in Yeshua separated themselves not only from their Jewish brethren, but from Torah altogether to protect themselves from the persecution.
We want to stop and think about verse 20. Why would Yeshua tell His followers, "Pray it's not on the Sabbath" if we are not supposed to be keeping the Sabbath? It is important when we read Scripture that we think about what it is saying and then determine if our lives are lining up with what it is saying. No man—whether he be Peter or Paul or a Pope or Scholar or Minister—can change God's Word or His Appointed Times or His ways. God established the Sabbath, the seventh day, at the time of creation and there is no changing what God has called holy. If we are to be holy as God is holy, then we need to keep what He has called holy.
We have seen that up to this point, Yeshua's prophetic words came true with the First and Second Jewish Revolts. The Temple is now gone, believing Jews and Gentiles no longer worship together with their non-Jewish brethren, and everyone has scattered, Jews and believers alike. Yeshua goes on in verses 21-22, "For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall. And unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short." Yeshua quotes the prophet Joel, "A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness. As the dawn is spread over the mountains, so there is a great and mighty people, there has never been anything like it, nor will there again after it." Here the Prophet prophesies about a great, disciplined army that will come and who will be like a consuming fire, leaping over walls and not deviating from their course. They will rush the city and they will carry out the Word of the Lord. Now people take this as saying that the Day of the Lord is God's judgment on Israel. But if you read Daniel, it reads, "Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the Book, will be rescued."
Now you have to ask yourself, "Can the Jews be written in the Lamb's Book of Life?" And if you say, "No, only if they are believers," then you must ask yourself, why would they not be raptured with all the other believers? We will answer that question as we go along. The Great Tribulation, or Jacob's Trouble, or the Day of the Lord, which are some of the names for this time, is going to be a time of great distress. The nations will come up against Jerusalem. It was interesting to see the peace conference in Annapolis when all the nations did come, but they sat around Israel. What a precursor of the end times! Yeshua says that the time will be so terrible that for life to be saved, the time had to be cut short. When you think of the wars from World War I until today, and how many people have died in the last one hundred years in these wars—nearly one hundred million people—and how that cannot compare with those who will die during the Great Tribulation by war and all it brings, can you imagine if God did not shorten the time?
In Revelation 6, the seals are opened and the first is one sitting on a white horse with a bow and a crown and he went out to conquer, a reference to the Antichrist who will come and conquer all nations with a false god and false religion. The next seal is a rider on a red horse, who rides to take peace from the earth with men slaying each other. The third seal is a rider on a black horse who rises to destroy crops and brings famines. The fourth seal is a rider on an ashen horse whose name is Death with Hades following behind, and he went about taking the lives of a fourth of the people on the earth by the sword, famine, pestilence, and by wild beasts. The fifth seal brought martyrdom to God's people. The sixth seal brings about a great earthquake; the sun will become black and the moon will become like blood. We have seen many of these things begin to happen and increase in intensity especially in the last seven years.
Could this be the last millennium? Could this be the last century? Can we be coming to the culmination of all things? Yeshua tells His listeners, "Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; even so you too when you see these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door."