What does the Bible tell us about the future? - Part 4 - Israel – The persecution of the nation
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
The nation of Israel has often been the victim of the most bitter persecution ever since they became a nation in Egypt under the Pharaohs after the time of Joseph’s administration there. As the chosen earthly people of God, ‘the apple of His eye’, they have always been the object of other nations’ hatred and discrimination. This has not really decreased since the recognition by a majority of nations of the little State of Israel in 1948, partly as compensation for the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust during the Second World War. Several times they have had to defend their allotted territory against determined efforts to destroy them. The question which is currently being asked in the media is, ‘Can there be another Holocaust against them in the future, or is their trauma now over?’ Sadly, if we believe our Bibles aright, the answer is, ‘Yes, the worst time of persecution for the Jews is still to come’, the so-called ‘time of Jacob’s trouble’ in the yet future Great Tribulation, but that same verse in Jeremiah also reassures us that ‘he will be saved out of it’, Jer. 30. 7. Israel is indestructible, but they will come very close to complete defeat just before the Lord Jesus returns to save them, Zech. 14. How, therefore, will all this come about? Scripture does tell us much, although it does not explain all the reasons why. As the Lord’s obedient friends, we are privileged to know at least some of His future plans for this world, John 15. 14, 15.
How will persecution against Israel arise during the coming Tribulation?
This may seem surprising, because we know from Daniel chapter 9 verse 26 that the coming Roman prince will have made a covenant with the majority of Jews in Israel for their protection to last for seven years. Consequently, they will be living in complete security at first and will have relaxed their defence arrangements. Ezekiel chapter 38 speaks of ‘unwalled villages’ in Israel. However, several scriptures may help us to understand why the coming prince, who is also described as the Beast, the man of sin, and the antichrist, will so suddenly change his policy and attitude towards the Jews at the midpoint of the seven years of tribulation, as Daniel chapter 9 goes on to predict.
First of all, Revelation chapter 12 reveals that, before the last three-and-a-half years of the tribulation, there will be war in heaven between the archangel Michael with his holy angels and Satan with his demonic hosts. Satan will then be cast out of heaven and down to earth, where he will turn all his hatred against the woman in that vision, who clearly depicts Israel, and relentlessly persecute her and all remaining believers on earth.
Second, Revelation chapter 13 reveals that the man called the Beast, who is clearly the same as Daniel’s evil coming Roman prince, will suddenly receive a deadly wound from which he will be miraculously healed, causing the whole unbelieving world to wonder and worship him. This may indicate an assassination attempt upon the Beast, from which he is healed by Satanic power. From this moment onwards, therefore, the Beast will be possessed and energized by Satan himself, even worse than before Satan had first given him his power. According to 2 Thessalonians chapter 2, the man of sin will proceed to demand universal worship as if he were God, while the Lord Jesus, in Matthew chapter 24, foretold that there would come a time when a detestable idolatrous image of the Beast would be set up in a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, called ‘the abomination of desolation’, which all must worship on pain of instant death. In other words, the coming Roman prince, who will at first appear to favour the Jews and protect them with a Middle East peace settlement, will become their foremost persecutor in his evil desire to usurp the place of the one true God in mankind’s hearts. It will be the deification of man and the height of Satanic rebellion against God.
Other possible factors in the world scene of the end times
A few other scriptures may prove to be relevant to this question, although we should acknowledge that not all believing Bible students are agreed about their precise timing and place in the end time events.
First of all, there is the prediction in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 of the end time attack upon Israel by a huge coalition of nations, all currently either atheistic or Islamic, which are located largely in the far north of the earth and led by someone called Gog. His people are called Magog. The fact that they will attack when there are apparently ‘unwalled villages’ in Israel suggests that they will do so during the latter part of the first half of the tribulation, which will probably be the only time when Israel is undefended and can be taken by surprise, since they will be relying on the Beast to defend them. Ezekiel reveals that, in the event, Israel will not need to defend themselves, because the Lord will supernaturally intervene to destroy all the attacking armies by various catastrophic means. Thus, the world scene will suddenly alter, and the Beast will find himself the more complete master of the situation without waging any further war.
Second, there are the scriptures which predict the invasion of Israel from both the north and the south in the end times, namely, Daniel chapter 11 verses 40 to 45, and the references in Isaiah and Micah to a latter-day northern Assyrian enemy.
All these events could easily influence the Beast to change his policy towards Israel, especially if the nation is reluctant to acknowledge him as God. His real desire for world dominion will become evident and lead him to persecute all believers in Israel and the wider world.
How a remnant of Israel will escape imminent death during the Great Tribulation
In Matthew chapter 24, the Lord Jesus counselled the Jews to flee to the mountains as soon as they saw the ‘abomination of desolation’ set up in their rebuilt temple, because that would be the signal for the beginning of the Great Tribulation, which few would survive. Revelation chapter 12 says that a remnant of Jews will flee to the wilderness and be divinely protected there for three-and-a-half years, the duration of the Great Tribulation. Isaiah chapter 16 verse 4 (KJV/RV) indicates that the Lord will expect Moab to protect Israel’s outcasts in the end times, so it is likely that this wilderness/mountain refuge will be in the region of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, present-day Transjordan. Those who fail to reach this safe haven in time will become the victims of the Beast’s persecution.
The role of the second Beast, the False Prophet, in supporting the first Beast
Revelation chapter 13 verse 11 introduces us to another Beast coming up out of the earth, or land of Israel, therefore probably an apostate Jew, who looks like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon. He will exercise the power of the first Beast, and cause all unbelievers on earth to worship the latter, using deceptive Satanic miracles to convince men to do so. 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 calls these miracles ‘lying wonders’. It is he who by these means will persuade mankind to make the idolatrous image of the Beast, and will also compel all to receive the mark of the Beast in either their right hand or their forehead, the number 666, which will permit them to buy and sell. Those who refuse to do this will be unable to make a living and be persecuted cruelly. Mercifully, God will allow this dire situation on earth to continue for only three-and-a-half years, before He intervenes in the glorious person of the returning Lord Jesus Christ.
The climax of Israel’s persecution and their miraculous deliverance and conversion at Armageddon
Zechariah chapters 12 to 14 tell us most about this. Only a third of the Jewish people will survive the persecution and judgements of the Great Tribulation, but these will be refined by their traumatic experiences. Jerusalem will become a ‘burdensome stone’ to all the surrounding peoples, an insoluble international problem, and they will be gathered by the Lord against the city to destroy it. When all seems to be lost, the Lord will suddenly intervene to save His chosen people and judge the attacking nations. Christ will return in glory and Israel will find, unexpectedly, that their Saviour is the very same One whom they pierced and killed at Calvary. Immediately, their spiritual eyes will be opened, they will mourn deeply for their sin in ever rejecting Him, and be converted in a day. When Christ’s feet touch down on the Mount of Olives, the mountain will split in two along a fault line already existing in an east-west direction, creating a very great valley through which the besieged Jews will be able to escape from their enemies. This event will be the climax of the Day of the Lord, the conclusion of the Great Tribulation for Israel, and the beginning of the glorious millennial reign of Christ, during which the believing remnant of Israel will assist Him in His administration.
Lessons to be learned from Israel’s continual persecutions
First, so often unbelieving and rebellious Israel has simply been allowed to reap what they have sown, and so will we today if we reject Christ and His word.
Second, the Lord’s chosen earthly people Israel are indestructible. He has said, ‘no weapon that is formed against thee [Israel] shall prosper’, Isa. 54. 17. Many hostile nations have proved this to be true to their eternal loss.
Finally, the Lord Himself is always absolutely sovereign in His control of all nations, and is able to orchestrate and use all events to further His own purposes of grace, discipline, and judgement, despite all His enemies’ attempts to thwart them, even in the coming Great Tribulation both for Israel and the rest of the world. Praise His name!