Birth Pains and the Signs of the End of the Age

end of the age

Are we experiencing the birth pains Jesus spoke of in Matthew 24 that culminates in the end of the age?  If you are a Bible prophesy student you probably think so.  I became interested in Bible prophesy over thirty years ago and along with that came an interest for Middle Eastern politics.

Personally, I come from a religious tradition that teaches most all Old and New Testament prophesy has been fulfilled.  All was was fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus or soon afterwards with the Jewish temple’s destruction in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.   They taught the book of Revelation was code language regarding the Roman Empire and the Emperor Nero.  The point of the code was in case the document fell into Roman hands they would not be able to interpret the code to understand it was a secret message about their Roman oppressors.

Our teachers suggested we shouldn’t worry about studying Revelation or prophesy because it couldn’t be understood today.  No need to worry because the early Church understood it perfectly.  When our church studied the Bible we would simply skip over Revelation and argued that it was too complicated and caused dissension among those who study it. We studied the Old Testament for the stories, but taught to focus our attention on the New Testament.  The Old Testament was good for the stories but replaced or “nailed to the cross.”

Unwittingly, our approach to scripture made us ignorant regarding prophesies.  It was either written in code, too complicated to understand or irrelevant to today.  This teaching made the third of the Bible that is prophetic  irrelevant.

How did I become interested in prophesy?  In 1982 I read a New York Times best seller by Hal Lindsey called “The Late Great Planet Earth.” Later that year I heard a speech by a man named Dr. David Reagan on the topic of Bible prophesy.  This piqued my interest and after thirty years both men are still writing and teaching and my interest has not waned.

There were two things about Dr. Reagan that gave him credibility with me.  One was he was a very knowledgeable teacher with a doctorate in international politics as well as studied at Harvard. But the thing that gave me the most comfort was that we both shared the same Church background and he had already worked through some of the issues I would have on the topic.

Dr. Reagan taught that the key to understanding prophesy was to take the text and use its common sense meaning. The effect of this approach brings one to the conclusion that many if not most of the prophesies in the Old Testament and Revelation are yet to be fulfilled.

This led me to the next idea that made sense to me.  A fulfilled prophesy reads like history. If it doesn’t, then the ultimate fulfillment is yet in the future. I say ultimate fulfillment because God often gives us what Jewish prophesy scholars call types, shadows and patterns of fulfillment.  The Hebrew mindset regarding prophesy is different from the western mindset so heavily influenced by the Greeks.  To our Greek/Gentile mindset, prophesy is made and fulfilled, but to the Hebrew mindset when prophesy is given then God begins to create a pattern of fulfillment building up to the ultimate fulfillment (See my blog on how God created a pattern pointing to the Messiah).

These patterns of fulfillment designed into history by God shows us his mastery over the affairs of men and the divinity of scripture.  These designed patterns or pre-fillments that we can see in scripture regarding his first coming are also recognizable regarding His second coming.  Prophesy was written in a way that most generations could read it and have a sense that the Revelation was speaking to their generation and gave them a sense of urgency that Jesus could come any time.

For example, it would have been easy for the first century Christians to interpret Revelation in terms of the Antichrist being the Roman Emperor and the false prophet as the Emperor’s council for enforcing Emperor worship.  The mark of the beast could have been the yearly confession required of all loyal subjects that “Caesar is Lord.” Babylon is the Roman Empire and the message of the Revelation is that Rome will fall and the Church will emerge in triumph. This would have made good sense and the Christians at that time were looking and watchful for His second coming.

A little later in history it was easy for Christians to view the Papacy as the Antichrist, the false prophet those organizations of the church that carried out the Inquisitions and the Crusades and Babylon as the empire of Roman Catholic Church.  Again, this would make sense and Christians were watchful for His soon coming.

These pre-fillments of the ultimate end time fulfillment is further evidence that God not only knows the future, but has His hands on the events that shape the future.

Unfortunately, many cause much confusion by spiritualizing Revelation (saying it means something it doesn’t really say).  When you spiritualize instead of taking the plain meaning, a person can come to many bizarre conclusions about what the text means.  For me, taking prophesy for its common sense meaning caused Revelation to go from something that couldn’t be understood to fascinating.

Yes, prophesy is full of idioms and literary devices, but the idioms too can be understood and are usually explained in the text itself.  There are over three hundred direct references or allusions to Old Testament passages in Revelation.  Therefore an understanding of Revelation demands a study of OT scripture.

Lets take a minute to look at this idea of God pre-filling or designing a pattern in scripture that leads to an ultimate fulfillment.  The idea of pre-filling or patterns is also referred to by Bible scholars as a type or a shadow of prophesy.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.  God’s plan was for Jesus to come into the world to redeem and repair the damage that had been done by His first son Adam (Yes the Bible does call Adam the son of God…see genealogy in the gospels).  Jesus is often referred to as the second Adam.

So God began to set up this pattern in scripture to show us that He was going to send a second man.  How did he show this?  He showed it by preferring the second son over the first son through early history.  Let’s look at some examples.  Cain was the first-born of Adam and Eve, but it was Able who pleased God.  Ishmael was the first-born of Abraham, but it was Isaac to whom the promise was given.  Esau was the older and Jacob the younger, but God said Jacob I loved and Esau I hated.  Joseph had two sons and Manasseh was the oldest, but when Grandfather Jacob bestowed his blessing he reversed his hands and gave the first-born blessing to Ephraim the second son.

I could go on with several more examples but I hope you get the idea.  God doesn’t just fulfill his prophesy of sending a second son, he does it in multiple ways and hides them in scripture for those who diligently want to know God and his plan by searching Him out in scripture.

So scripture became something to me that was alive and dynamic and I guess you could say even a puzzle and mystery that is more fascinating than any novel in the book store.  Why read fiction when you can read nonfiction stories that are more thrilling?

With that introduction let me restate the earlier question.  Are we headed toward the end of the age and should we be concerned with the end of the age?

The answer is yes to both.

Birth Pains

I believe, as do many, that there is a convergence of many events all across the world that is pointing to an event much like a woman who groans in labor before giving birth.  I believe it all points to the end of the age.

What did Jesus say about the end of the age?

Doesn’t the Bible say that we cannot know anything about the second coming of Jesus? Doesn’t it say He is going to come like a thief in the night?  Didn’t Jesus say an evil generation looks for a sign and will not be given one?

Jesus did say in Matt. 24:42-44 that no man knows the day or the hour of His return and that His coming will be like a thief in the night. However, I Thess. 5:1-6 says that to the believer, He should not come as a thief.  We are to watch so that we are not surprised.

Watch for what?  That is a good question. The answer is to watch for the signs that reveal to us the season of His coming.  No one knows the day or the hour, but the watching believer should not be surprised because he is seeing the signs.

In Matthew 16 Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and the Sadducees for not being able to read and understand the signs of the times.  If they had, they would have understood that He was their Messiah.    Jesus says that because the Jews did not recognize (see the signs) the time of their visitation from God and they will all suffer for it.  And suffer they have and this is well documented throughout history since that time (Luke 19:41-44).  They have been like scattered sheep without a shepherd.

What are the signs?

The list of signs are many and we will cover a lot of them. To begin, Jesus mentions a few signs to watch for. “See to it that no one deceives you, because many will come in my name and say, ‘I’m the Messiah, and they will deceive many people. You’ll hear of wars and rumors of wars. See to it that you aren’t alarmed. These things must take place, but the end hasn’t come yet, because nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are only the beginning of the birth pains.” Matt. 24

Birth pangs, as we all understand, come closer together and with greater intensity as the time of birth approaches.   So if you want to watch the birth of a baby, when the birth pains start, you can know the time is soon, but as the pain intensifies and the time between pain get shorter you know the time is very near.

Have the birth pangs begun?

I believe they have. Jesus tells his disciples about His second coming and immediately after gives them a parable or riddle that alludes to the timing. Here is the riddle.

“Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches become tender and it produces leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you’ll know that the Son of Man is near, right at the door.  Matt 24:32-33

Idioms are a common literary device of Jesus and the fig tree is an often used idiom for Israel.  The disciples understood this idiom for Israel even if they didn’t fully understand the parable at the time.  Here is the common sense meaning.  Watch for Israel to bloom again or become a nation again and when it does my return will be very soon.

Living in 2017 we have a great advantage over Christians who lived in earlier times.  This parable or riddle was hard to believe before it became reality with the recreation of Israel as a nation in 1948.  Israel had ceased to exist as a nation for almost 1900 years and most Bible scholars had given up on Israel ever becoming a nation again. Instead, scholars began to believe that all references to the nation of Israel were figurative language that now meant the Church.

This incorrect interpretation led to much Antisemitism among church members throughout the church age and is responsible for many Christians believing God was through with Israel.  I believe there is a strong argument that this Christian teaching was largely responsible for the Holocaust and other atrocities done to the Jewish people, many of which were overtly condoned by “The Church” (both Protestant and Catholic).  To get a true understanding of how God thinks about the Jew you must read what Paul says in the book of Romans chapters 11-14.

It is easily understandable how this false doctrine could develop. The Jews were a disenfranchised people.  They had no nation. They had no political power because they were scattered to the four corners of the earth.  They had no prestige and, as David predicted in the Psalms, had become a byword among the nations of the world.

It was easy to believe that God was finished with the Jews.  It made sense to many that these prophetic scriptures must be referring to a Spiritual Israel, the growing and powerful Church.

It would take nothing less than a miracle from God to be able to re-gather the Jews from around the globe and put them back in their original homeland of Israel. However, that is just what God has done. To consider this an accident of history is to be both illiterate of scripture and to believe that God is not orchestrating the affairs of man to His ends.

After the nation of Israel became a state again in 1948 this parable made sense for the first time in 1900 years and the fig tree nation of Israel began to produce leaves again.  Jesus said, when you see this, then know that I am right at the door (Matt 24).

It is interesting to note here that Jesus is talking about producing leaves and not fruit.  The Nation of Israel, though showing leaves is yet to produce fruit.  Fruit represents people who are becoming alive to God and entering into the Kingdom.  Israel is still in unbelief as far as Jesus being the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world, and as so are yet to produce fruit.  So for 69 years now Jesus has been standing at the door poised to come back to get his Church and soon thereafter to return to the earth as King of Kings.

Jesus did make another more straight forward reference to this same event in Luke chapter 21.  In this instance He was talking to His disciples about all things that must happen before his second coming. He says in verse 24, And they (the Jews) shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. To put it like we would say it today…When Jerusalem is no longer under the control of non-Jewish people, then he says, look up for it will not be long till you see me coming in the clouds.  The fulfillment of this verse in history came with the six day war in 1967 when Israel gained control of Jerusalem.

This is enough for one post, but if you would like to go further click on part 2 regarding: wars and rumors of wars, the signs in nature, signs in society, technology, world politics and especially regarding the nation of Israel.

For another good source on information on the subject check out Dr. Dave Reagan.

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