I’ll never forget the first time I set foot on campus at the California State University at Northridge. The main library building, the Oviatt Library, was amazing! First of all, it’s enormous, measuring just under a quarter of a million square feet. It houses nearly 1.4 million volumes. I wasn’t yet a believer at that time, but seeing this enormous edifice containing so much information and literature fired up my imagination. Being a hopeless sci-fi fan, I wondered what the earth might be like in the distant future if there was a single building on the planet, to which everyone who wanted to gain knowledge would journey, and it was the Oviatt Library that I pictured in my mind.
So now imagine with me one unique and impressive structure on the face of this planet to which everyone who wanted to offer worship to the Creator must journey, and you begin to grasp the significance of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. There is no more sacred site on Earth than that city. From its first mention in the time of Abraham and Malki-tzedek to its conquest under King David and later the construction of the Beit-HaMikdash1 in the midst of it under Solomon, Jerusalem has held fascination for all who love the God of Israel. The prophet Ezekiel declared Zot Yerushalayim b’toch haGoyyim “This is Jerusalem! I have set her at the center of the nations.”
To most of the world, it is just another city, perhaps even regarded as an annoyance for all the conflict it has engendered. But those who are looking for and anticipating the soon return of Messiah Yeshua to Earth understand the centrality of Jerusalem in the plans and purposes of God. Thus we come to Messiah’s last extended teaching, which Matthew tells us took place at the Mount of Olives, Yeshua and His disciples having just left the Temple. Herod the Great had spent 46 years2 and vast sums of money enlarging and beautifying the Temple – a testimony to his love of architecture, and a token gesture of goodwill to the Jewish people. And as they left the city through the Eastern Gate, the Temple was still fresh on the disciples’ minds.
And while some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts, He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”
The Temple was indeed an impressive, magnificent structure. You could hardly blame the disciples for being impressed with it. What the Temple represented was even more significant. Even today there are people who are preoccupied with the eventual rebuilding of the Temple. Here at Shema whenever we pray through the Amidah we pray: “Restore true worship to Your holy Temple in Jerusalem…” Yet Yeshua had declared a few years earlier to an outcast Samaritan woman that a day was coming when true worship would not be measured by geography. And as they left Jerusalem that day, Israel’s Messiah and greatest prophet foretold a second time its complete destruction. In fact, Yeshua’s word would be fulfilled to the letter. Forty years later, after a four-year Jewish rebellion against Rome, in AD 70 the Roman military force broke through the walls of Jerusalem and sacked the city, putting to death an estimated half a million Jewish people. The city and the Temple were destroyed and burned with fires so hot that the gold gilding on the Temple walls melted and the gold ran between the cracks in the stones. Those who later plundered the Temple dismantled the stones one by one to get at the gold, thus fulfilling Yeshua’s prophecy. According to Josephus, those fires were still burning a month later! Notice with me the reaction of the disciples. They are not so much surprised as curious. They don’t ask “why” but “when” this will happen.
They questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, when therefore will these things happen? And what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them. When you hear of wars and disturbances do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.”
They were intent on knowing the chronology of these events. If the Temple was to be destroyed, perhaps they believed it would be the precursor to the Messianic Age and the inauguration of the Third Temple. Their keen interest in prophetic signs and times was understandable, to be sure. Even today there are many who are so preoccupied with the signs of the End Times that they lose sight of our first responsibility – to proclaim the Good News.
Their question, however, was appropriate, and it led to Yeshua’s lengthy teaching about Acharit HaYamim (The Last Days) from the Mt. of Olives. His very first words should be etched in our thinking: “See to it that you are not misled…” Deception on a large scale will be one of the hallmarks of the Last Days. “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them. So how do we protect ourselves from false messiahs? It begins with acknowledging Yeshua as the true Messiah. I spent about five years as a bank teller, and I was never given specialized training on identifying counterfeits. I didn’t need lessons on spotting counterfeits. I spent so much time handling the real thing that on the rare occasion that a counterfeit was passed it stuck out. The bottom line is that anyone who has not bothered to study the Scriptures so as to recognize that the true Messiah has already come, will be easy pickings for a pseudo-messiah. Yeshua declared Himself to be the One. He said that many would come later in His name. We are not to follow them. We are not to believe them when they make bold pronouncements about the nearness of the end.
And there’s something to be said here about not jumping on every new bandwagon that passes through. If you feel incomplete unless you’ve read the latest best-selling Christian tear-jerker novel or flock to wherever the latest so-called “outpouring” is taking place, you are a prime candidate for deception. Feelings and sentimentality cannot be allowed to dictate truth. Faithfulness in the little things includes holding fast to sound teaching. Even a little leaven leavens the whole batch! So stay focused. Let’s be people of THE BOOK.
Then He continued by saying to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.
Wars between nations, earthquakes, famine and plagues have been with us, seemingly since the beginning. But Messiah warned us that such things would escalate as we approach the end. This is why the rabbis spoke of the time preceding Messiah’s advent as Chevlei Mashiach – the “birth pangs of the Messiah”. As at the onset of labor, the pains are at first not severe, but as the time draws close, the contractions and the pain are more severe and more frequent, until it seems unsurvivable, but then comes joy mixed with relief. We tend to think that wars are increasing in our day; we talk about our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but during WWII people talked about the European Theatre and the Pacific Theatre. Russia, Japan, all of Europe, the United States – the whole world was aflame! Don’t get me wrong; I believe Yeshua when He said that wars, earthquakes and famines would increase. But we need to be very careful not to interpret the Bible by the Sunday paper, lest we impose an arbitrary timeline on the Scriptures, and then begin doubting when it doesn’t play out the way we were sure it would. Besides, Yeshua told us that other things must take place first. Let’s read on:
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.
Obviously this isn’t the kind of laying on of hands to bring healing. Before the wars, famines, earthquakes and plagues, Yeshua says we will experience targeted persecution, specifically because of our open acknowledgement of Him. I’ve never thought it was a bad thing to be delivered to the synagogue (especially in this kind of weather); but this is in the context of hostile, physically abusive interrogation and even imprisonment. There is, at this very moment, a godly pastor named Walter Hoye in California who has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and a monetary fine for the “crime” of standing outside an abortion mill holding a sign that apparently a jury thought was abusive. It read “Jesus loves you and your baby. Let us help” The abortion clinic staff accused him of harassing and intimidating people. But video taken outside shows the opposite was true – that while he was peacefully holding his sign, so-called “clinic escorts” were following him around and blocking his sign with their own. The jury saw the video, yet they still convicted him! It is being appealed, but this is a sign of the wickedness of our times.
I haven’t been dragged before any governors or kings yet, but Rabbi Paul was; He was brought before Felix and Festus and Agrippa and it gave him an opportunity to preach Yeshua! Adversity is, at times, part of God’s plan for us, and we need to accept that we don’t see the Big Picture and learn to trust Him even when our present circumstances seem bad. Our perspective is like a snapshot; it is nowhere near the whole story. If we have the mindset that every encounter is an opportunity to speak of Yeshua, we will be ready when the time comes to represent Him before anyone – even a governor or king. Personally, I believe our state’s governor really needs to hear the Gospel. But if you are ever on trial for your faith, Yeshua makes clear there will be no need for you to map out a strategy or think through what you’re going to say in your defense. In fact, we’re told to make up our minds NOW not to do so. He Himself will give you the words you need at the time you need them. Mark records it this way: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” Yeshua Himself is our source of wisdom and utterance, and it isn’t us, but the Holy Spirit in us. And those who oppose us will be unable to account for or refute that wisdom; providing we obey Him and don’t try to strategize about it beforehand. It isn’t laziness; it’s trust and reliance. And we can be confident of this promise, because only One who is alive and well can make such promises. He will be with us precisely because He is risen from the dead!
But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
Non-messianic Jewish people are quick to say that Messiah will bring peace. That is what people hear, and they merely repeat it. Yet Messiah Yeshua warned us back in chapter 12 that His coming would not result in peace, but division; family members at odds with each other over the fact that one or a few of them believe in Yeshua and the rest refuse. In the Acharit HaYamim the hostility over Yeshua will run so deep that one’s own family members will betray them. We are told here that we will be hated – universally hated, and some will even be put to death on account of our faith. Martyrdom for Yeshua began early on. It began with Stephen. He preached Yeshua; He was given divine and irrefutable wisdom and the mob hated him and stoned him to death. Jesus’ followers were a favorite target and convenient scapegoats for Ceasar and Rome, and countless of our brothers and sisters in ancient times paid the ultimate price for their faith. The same is true today. We have brothers and sisters at this very hour being put to death in Communist countries and Islamic countries for their confession of Yeshua. The Greek word in verse 13 translated “testimony” is martyrion, from which we get the word “martyr”.
It’s interesting that we are told that some of us will be put to death, but that not a hair of our head will perish. There is only one way to make sense of that; Yeshua is speaking of our eternity. Even if we are killed for our faith, in the World-To-Come nothing can touch us. And I believe we can infer here that the resurrection to take place at the end of the age is a physical resurrection.
But we are also told that we must endure. This is where we get doctrines such as “the perseverance of the saints”. If we confess Him in front of people, He will confess us in front of the Father. If we deny Him in front of people, He will deny us in front of the Father. That time of severe testing will reveal whose faith is real and who has been deceiving themselves. But rest assured that the One who gives you the words to say at that time will give you the strength to endure under pain and even the threat of death.
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
Yeshua was predicting the desolation of Jerusalem which would take place just 40 years in the future, and warned His followers to get out of the city. The siege against Jerusalem lasted 143 days, and many who had originally come there for Passover and Shavuot were stuck inside the city. Nearly 600,000 Jewish men, women and children were slaughtered by the Romans when they broke through Jerusalem’s walls. Many of those who were spared were sent to the gladiatorial games and others sold on the slave-market. Those who had escaped were exiled to other nations. And Jerusalem was utterly leveled. And that is how it remained for the better part of 2,000 years. In fact, one of the strongest arguments for the early dating of nearly the entire New Covenant Scriptures is the absence of any mention whatsoever of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, which was an earth-shattering catastrophe for our people. For the better part of 2,000 years that is how things were to remain: our people exiled to the nations, and Jerusalem ruled by one or another Gentile nation. Even a few hundred years ago, people could scarcely believe that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and Jewish people once again living in a land called Israel. But history has a way of repeating itself. Yeshua’s prophecy was not limited to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. He was asked about the end of the age, and His answer addressed it. On May 14, 1948 Israel was once again declared an independent nation. Sixty-one years and eight wars later, Israel still exists, but not very securely. There are many nations that hope for Israel’s destruction, and some nations working toward that end. Yeshua’s prophecy includes the days still in our future.
There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Yes, things are going to get worse. But it means He’s coming soon, and we should look up. There will be great joy for those who look for and hope for His return. We will be joined to our Bridegroom! What a contrast to the dismay that will cover the earth among those who have rejected Him.
When Yeshua said that the nations would be in perplexity and dismay, and that the nations will be arrayed against Jerusalem, it should cause us to think of the words of the prophet Zechariah (12:2-3, 9-10, 14:3-4).
“Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it… And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
Now think about this: when Israel was rescued out of Egypt and Egypt’s army destroyed in the Red Sea, our people rejoiced. Miriam and the women sang and danced with tambourines. Why then, on that day when Israel is rescued from the armies of the nations that we mourn? It is because we will see our Deliverer for who He is – the One we pierced and despised. And there will be no ambiguity about the Deliverer or His deliverance. The prophet goes on to say:
Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle. In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south.
When Yeshua said that He will come in a cloud with power and great glory, it should cause us to think of the words of the prophet Daniel.
“I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
And so we are to learn something from Yeshua’s teaching to the disciples. It isn’t wrong to wonder when these things will take place. By the way, did you notice that Yeshua didn’t answer their question “when”. He didn’t tell them exactly when these things would take place. But He did answer their question about the sign to look for. The sign is His coming in the sky! What a Day that will be – a day of joy for those who desire His coming, a day of dismay for those who have hated Him, and a day of destruction for those who would destroy God’s people Israel.
Are you ready for that Day?
1 One of the names for the Temple (meaning literally “The Holy House”)
2 See John 2:20