The Coming of the Son of Man (2)
Malcolm Horlock, Cardiff, Wales
The main purpose of this second article is to outline the background to the coming of the Son of man (‘The Scene‘). The third, and concluding, article will suggest a possible order of events both for the coming itself (‘The Sequence‘) and for the period immediately following (‘The Sequel‘). But it is necessary first to state the assumptions upon which these articles are based.
There are four key assumptions:
- That all divinely inspired prophecies and all God’s unconditional promises will be fulfilled. And that, when due allowance is made for apocalyptic symbolism, they will be fulfilled literally and as understood by those that communicated them and those that received them. The literal and historical fulfilment of those prophecies which concerned the Lord’s first advent encourages me to expect the literal and historical fulfilment of those prophecies which concern His second advent.
- That single passages of Scripture (and sometime even single verses) may cover events separated by quite lengthy periods of time, even though they give no indication of doing so. For example, many Old Testament passages referred, without any attempt at making a distinction, to the two advents of Messiah - events which we now know to be separated by over 2,000 years. Viewed from the prophet’s standpoint, future events are seen as great mountain peaks on the horizon. From a distance these seem almost to touch each other. It is only when coming near to these peaks that one realizes that wide valleys sometimes extend between them. By way of example only, consider Isa. 9. 6-7; 11. 1-9; 61. 1-2; Zech. 9. 9-10.
- That the invasion and defeat of Gog, Ezek. 38. 1-39. 22, occurs some 3 and a half years before the Lord’s second advent. This assumption rests largely on the conditions applying in Israel at the time of the invasion. The land will have recovered from earlier wars and desolation; the people will have been re-gathered; will be wealthy and will be dwelling in security and ease in unwalled communities, 38. 2-14. These conditions appear to fit better into the first half of the sevenyear covenant between Israel and the Roman Prince (the Beast), Dan. 9. 27, than into the time of the second advent. With a peace treaty confirmed between Israel and the powerful Prince, it is by no means unlikely that Israel will feel confident to disarm, cf. Isa. 28. 15.
It is quite conceivable that the dramatic divine intervention to destroy over 80% of the combined forces of Gog and his allies, Ezek. 38. 18 - 39. 2, and the consequent deliverance of the land of Israel, will encourage many in Israel to seek God again. This might well cause the Roman Prince to react by putting a stop to all sacrifice and offering, by the setting up of ‘the abomination of desolation‘ in the Holy Place, and by aggressively persecuting the people, Dan. 9. 27; Matt. 24. 15-16, 21-22. That is, on the human level, the defeat of Gog may be one of the contributing factors to trigger the Great Tribulation. On the spiritual level, it will be the casting down to earth of the Dragon which directly occasions it, Rev. 12. 6-17.
- That, when the Beast of the book of Revelation represents the personal head of the coming empire, rather than the empire itself, he is to be identified with the ‘little horn’ of the fourth beast, Dan. 7. 7-8, 19-20, 23- 26, with the Roman ‘prince’, Dan. 9. 26-27, with the ‘king’ who does ‘according to his will’, Dan. 11. 36-45, and with the ‘man of sin’ (or ‘man of lawlessness’), 2 Thess. 2. 3-12. The key references to the Beast in the book of the Revelation, covering both the empire and its ruler, are 11. 7; 13. 1-10; 17. 3, 8-14; 19. 19-20.
The Beast is to be distinguished from the False Prophet, who is mentioned by name three times, Rev. 16. 13; 19. 20; 20. 10, and described more fully as the ‘beast coming up out of the earth‘, 13. 11-17. There is no suggestion in Scripture that the False Prophet will be a king or possess any political power in his own right (as will the Beast); his role is plainly subordinate to that of the Beast, directing all worship to him and his image. He will be the ultimate ‘false prophet‘, just as the Beast will be the ultimate ‘false Christ‘, Matt. 24. 24.
The reference above to Daniel 11. 36-45 should be noted in particular. I assume three things there: (i) That the reference in these verses is to a figure of the end times, and not to the historical Antiochus Epiphanes - who is the subject of the earlier part of the chapter. (The evidence for this interpretation is marshalled well in E B Pusey’s ‘Lectures on Daniel the Prophet‘, pages 91 to 98.) (ii) That the Beast (the ‘king‘ who does ‘according to his will‘) is to be distinguished from the King of the North; that is, that three kings and not two are mentioned in verse 40. (iii) That the Beast, and not the King of the North, is the subject of the remainder of the chapter (that is, from the end of verse 40 to the end of verse 45) as well as of verses 36 to 39. This last assumption affects considerably the suggested outline of events to be set out in the concluding article.
Briefly, the background is as follows.
Halfway through the seven years of Daniel’s ‘seventieth week‘, Satan will be cast from heaven to earth and will energize and empower the Beast, Dan. 9. 27; 2 Thess. 2. 9; Rev. 12. 9-14; 13. 2, 5. With Gog and his allies destroyed, for the best part of 3 and a half years the Beast will rule as undisputed ruler of the world. He will demand universal worship. The religious Babylon, the apostate church system, will be of no further use to the Beast, and he and the ten confederate kings under his sway will utterly destroy it, Rev. 17. 16. The Beast will also put a stop to all sacrifice and oblation, and will for a time blasphemously sit himself in the inner-shrine of the Temple, Dan. 9. 27; 2 Thess. 2. 4. In this Holy Place, an ‘abomination of desolation‘, will be set up, Matt. 24.15, which may well consist of an image of the Beast, Rev. 13. 14-15; cf. Dan. 3 (noting the underlying numeral ‘6’, both in the dimensions of the image and the number of the musical instruments, Dan. 3. 1, 5; cf Rev. 13. 18.)
The erection of the ‘abomination of desolation’ will herald the beginning of the ‘great tribulation’, Matt. 24. 21-22, during which the Dragon, through the Beast, will ‘make war‘ with the saints of Israel, Dan. 7. 21, 25; Rev. 12. 17; 13. 7. The Great Tribulation will last for 3 years, Dan. 7. 25; 9. 27; Rev. 11. 2; 12. 6, 13-14, and will be the most intense period of suffering ever known, Jer. 30. 7; Dan. 12. 1; Joel 2. 2; Matt. 24. 21. Two-thirds of the Israelites in the land will perish in the persecution, Zech. 13. 8; death will claim the firstborn’s portion! Many will be slain because of their witness for God, cf. Rev. 11. 1-8. Nevertheless, the faithful will continue to preach the gospel of the kingdom, although they will not have covered all the cities in Israel by the time that the Son of man comes, Matt. 10. 23; 24. 14. The persecution will be so severe that, apart from its duration being curtailed, Israel would be totally annihilated, Matt. 24. 22.
At the ‘time of the end‘, encouraged perhaps by seeing the Beast reel from some of the divine judgements falling during the Tribulation period, the ‘King of the South‘ (heading a North African alliance comprising Egypt, Ethiopia and Libya) and the ‘King of the North‘ (a formidable military and naval power) will challenge the authority of the Beast, Dan. 11. 40. On his way to deal with the King of the South, the Beast will enter the land of Israel (‘the glorious land‘, cf. v. 16) but, passing down the coastal plain, will leave Edom, Moab and Ammon untouched, Dan. 11. 41.
With the Beast preoccupied elsewhere, these three local nations will take advantage of the opportunity to attack and besiege Judah and Jerusalem. But ‘the peoples round about‘ will discover that they have bitten off more than they can chew! Supernaturally empowered by the Lord Himself, the men of Judah and Jerusalem will destroy them, Zech. 12. 2-9. The nations will prove incapable of supporting the ‘burdensome stone‘ which they had presumed to lift - and it will crush them.
Meanwhile, the Beast will conquer Egypt, taking great spoil, and both Ethiopia and Libya will submit to him, Dan.11. 42-43. But he will hear disturbing news out of the east and the north, v. 44. The latter may well refer to the formidable ‘King of the North‘, v. 40. As far as the east is concerned, the Euphrates is to be dried up to make a path for the invading ‘kings from the east‘, Rev. 16. 12. The Euphrates, the eastern boundary of both (i) the land of Israel promised to Abraham, and (ii) the old Roman Empire, represents a natural barrier against invasion from that direction. An army of 200 million will pour westwards to confront the Beast and will be responsible for the death of one third of the human race, Rev. 9. 14-19. (Is an army of 200 million feasible? It is of interest that, in his book ‘The Final Encounter‘, Fred Tatford described China as ‘a country with a population of 1,000 million, and an army of 200 million‘, page 460. And what might be the capabilities of the Muslim world?)
The Beast will turn north with great fury, Dan. 11. 44. Initially, at least, his brutal attack will be directed at Jerusalem. It is by no means unlikely that, following their crushing defeat of the ‘peoples round about‘, the men of Israel will feel encouraged to rebel against him. But this time Jerusalem will fall, amid scenes of terrible cruelty and lust, Zech. 14. 2. Half of the population of the city will go into captivity and the Beast will establish his palace and headquarters in the Holy Mount of Zion, Dan. 11. 45.
The forces from the east and north will converge on Palestine. Their armies (or, just possibly, those of the Beast) will encamp at Armageddon, Rev. 16. 16. The name (‘Har-Magedon‘, lit) points to the hill of Megiddo in the vast plain of Esdraelon. This is some 60 to 70 miles north of Jerusalem and has been the scene of many decisive military battles, both in biblical times and since.
Three distinct controlling factors account for the gathering of the various nations to the land of Israel. At the human level, the nations will be motivated by the desire for power and world domination. At the spirit level, they will be lured by the satanic trinity, with the dragon’s ultimate purpose of employing them in war against the Lamb, Rev. 16. 13-14; 17. 14; 19. 19. At the divine level, they will be summoned by God that He might execute His fierce anger against them as a prelude to establishing His kingdom on earth, Joel 3. 9-14; Zeph. 3. 8; 2 Thess. 1. 7-9; Rev. 16. 16 (note ‘He‘ not ‘they‘). The forces of evil (both human and spirit) operate within the constraints of His will, cf. Rev. 17. 17.
To be concluded…