2.7 Time & Eternity: Hope vs. Fulfillment
Volume 2: Studies in Contrast—Chapter 7
Time & Eternity: Hope vs. Fulfillment
It would seem to some that comparing time to eternity is like comparing a pet pussycat to the Easter Bunny: one is real, while the other is only theoretical (a polite way of saying “mythical”). But unlike the other innocent, tongue-in-cheek lies our parents told us—like Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the fundamental goodness of our fellow man—this one (eternity, not the Easter Bunny) has its roots in the Word of God.
The very first words in the Bible, “In the beginning…,” tell us that there was a time before which time existed. Yahweh was there (or is it “then”?), since He had no beginning and will have no end. But there was nothing else. Thinking too hard about the concept of “eternity past” will make you crazy, of course. We who live in space-time aren’t really equipped to comprehend it. We who live in a universe consisting of matter-energy cannot conceive of a state in which nothing except God exists. And yet, we’re constantly invited to enter into a personal relationship with Yahweh, who is described in His Word as “One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy,” who says, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15) We mortals inhabit time. We sort of understand how it works. But how can we possibly comprehend what it means to “inhabit eternity?” How can we time-bound creatures relate to One who does this?
Since we can’t really understand eternity as an abstract concept, God invariably explains it in terms germane to our own mortal experience. Moses points out that because Yahweh is eternal, we can find shelter and protection in association with Him: “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27) Conversely then, if God were not eternal, we could find no lasting refuge in Him. The point is that false gods, gods of our own manufacture or imagination, cannot help us when trouble comes (though they seem eager enough to make demands of us all the rest of the time).
A God who is unlimited in time would presumably have equally unlimited power and knowledge. So the prophet incredulously asks, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from Yahweh, and my right [that is, the justice due to me, my case, my cause] is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable.” (Isaiah 40:27-28) Ba’al, Zeus, and Allah can be counted upon to “disregard your cause.” Since they live only in the imagination of their devotees, they are powerless to effect change (whether for good or ill). But Yahweh is not only the omnipotent Creator, He is also just, unwavering, and infinitely wise. Only a fool would presume he could live his out life hidden from Yahweh’s watchful eye.
These attributes are directly attributable to His eternal nature, so the Psalmist reminds us: “May the glory of Yahweh endure forever; may Yahweh rejoice in His works.” (Psalm 104:31) His glory and His works are connected in the context of eternity. This may sound elementary if you’re used to reading your Bible; but replace Yahweh’s name in that sentence with any other, and the truth begins to emerge: “May the glory of [my presidential candidate] endure forever; may he rejoice in his works.” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Traditionally, the “glory” of a president (whose office makes him the world’s most powerful man) doesn’t even last until the mid-term elections, even for the best of them. “Forever” is a tall order indeed.
Isaiah gives us another take on this: “Trust in Yahweh forever, for Yah—Yahweh—is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:4) This time, Yahweh’s eternal status translates into security for His people—unending security. If you don’t exist, of course, you can’t do anything. That seems simple enough. But since we can only trust in Yahweh if we exist, to trust Him forever, we must exist forever. And because Yahweh alone is intrinsically eternal—the self-existent “everlasting rock”—we cannot exist forever outside of association with Him. Our existence depends upon His existence. Our security depends upon His unwavering strength.
The security we enjoy in Yahweh is not only the result of us “hiding in the Rock,” as the metaphor puts it. In His own time and in His own way, Yahweh also promises to proactively destroy His adversaries. The fact that He doesn’t do this on a daily basis should not be taken as a sign of weakness (or non-existence). He is merely extending mankind’s opportunities for repentance to their utmost limit. But all earthly things—including our window of grace—must come to an end: “For I lift up My hand to heaven and swear, as I live forever, if I sharpen my flashing sword and My hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance on My adversaries and will repay those who hate Me.” (Deuteronomy 32:40-41) God’s unadorned word is sufficient to establish the truth of a matter, so when He finds it necessary to take an oath, it behooves us to take Him very seriously. And upon what does Yahweh swear when He swears? On His own eternal life.
In case you were wondering, yes: the “vengeance” of which Yahweh speaks here (Hebrew: naqam) is properly translated. This tends to make some people uncomfortable: the idea of vengeance seems so “unchristian.” But that’s precisely the point. We aren’t to exact vengeance: it’s God’s prerogative alone (which, by the way, is the polar opposite of Islamic doctrine). Our instructions, rather, are to demonstrate God’s love and reflect His mercy, so people can through our testimony avoid encountering Yahweh’s “flashing sword.” Our job is to provide the clearest choice possible: either receive God’s love, or discover the hard way what eternity is like without it. Just because we’re told to “turn the other cheek” when we’re wronged, it doesn’t follow that God neither notices nor cares when the world attacks His children (or His Messiah, for that matter). Yahweh is watching, waiting, and taking notes. When the time comes, He will identify His adversaries and “tread the winepress of His wrath—alone” (see Isaiah 63:1-6, Revelation 19:15). The thing we need to notice in the context of time and eternity is that if God could not honestly “lift His hand to heaven and swear, as I live forever,” neither His mercy nor His vengeance would have any lasting significance.
And besides, I get the distinct feeling that Yahweh would really rather be in the “blessing” business than be compelled by our rebellions to execute vengeance. The concepts of blessing and eternity are often linked in scripture—always in the context of what Yahweh has done for us: “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” (I Chronicles 16:36) “Blessed be the name of Yahweh from this time forth and forevermore!” (Psalm 113: 2) “You have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in Your presence forever. Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” (Psalm 41:12-13) We ordinarily (and rightly) think of “blessing” as “speaking words invoking divine favor, with the intent that the object will have favorable circumstances or state at a future time,” or to “praise, extol, thank for greatness or goodness, i.e., speak words of the excellence of an object—an act of worship.” (Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains) But the primary meaning of the word (Hebrew: barak, used in each of these passages) is to kneel down (berek is the Hebrew word for “knee”), to place oneself in a position of worship or humility. Barak implies an asymmetrical relationship between the blessor and the blessee. As one would normally kneel before a potentate when receiving a grant or blessing (picture someone being knighted by the queen), so also are we to come in humility and thankfulness before Yahweh. The word acknowledges that “blessings” are not given between equals, but are rather bestowed by the greater upon the lesser. “Without question, the person who has the power to bless is always greater than the person who is blessed.” (Hebrews 7:7 NLT)
So does it make any sense for us to say, “Blessed be Yahweh”? Yes, as long as we realize that we’re not doing Him any favors by doing so. For us to “be a blessing” to God, we must recognize and acknowledge that He is in every way superior to us. The kneeling posture is more a mindset than a physical position however, for we Nehemiah tells us to “Stand up and bless Yahweh your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” (Nehemiah 9:5) Obviously, we can’t physically stand and kneel at the same time, but we can (and should) spiritually submit our lives in humility before Yahweh while gratefully acknowledging that He has enabled us to stand guiltless before Him. Again, note the intimate connection between our impulse to “bless” God and His eternal nature. It would, in fact, make no sense at all to worship anything that didn’t live “from everlasting to everlasting,” that is, to bless something other than Yahweh.
If we are “blessing” Yahweh, living in submission to His will, then He is, in effect, our King, our ruler, our Lord, the one who exercises dominion over us (specifically in the persona of King Yahshua, to whom all authority is given—see Matthew 28:18). The Kingdom of God is not like human governments, however. First, He is not elected, nor is His office attained by force, heredity, or popular acclaim. Rather, Yahweh/Yahshua is Sovereign by virtue of His natural right, first as omnipotent Creator, then as our Redeemer, our Savior.
Second, we have a choice, as individuals, as to whether or not to recognize Him as King. But there’s a catch: because His right to rule is a natural phenomenon, there are natural consequences for failing to honor His sovereignty. Yahweh doesn’t have to go out of His way to punish the rebels (although He reserves the right to do so, as we saw above); no, they stand “condemned already,” as it’s phrased in John 3:18. Citizens of the Kingdom are indwelled with the Holy Spirit, imbuing them with eternal life; illegal aliens and foreign enemies are not: they’re dead where they stand, whether they know it or not.
Third, the Kingdom of God will never end, because He will never end. “Yahweh will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise Yahweh!” (Psalm 146:10) The earthly manifestation of the Kingdom will be centered in Zion (that is, Jerusalem) during Yahshua’s Millennial reign (coming soon to a world near you). But it will continue for eternity—even after this present earth is no more. “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of Your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness.” (Psalm 45:6) Remember what I said about Yahweh’s natural right to rule? Here we see that His throne—that is, His authority—is as eternal as He is. I surmise from this that there was never a time before which Yahweh did not rule. He did not become Sovereign; He is, always was, and forever will be. He was the King, in fact, before there was anything to rule over. “Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.” (Psalm 93:2) “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations.” (Psalm 145:13)
Right about now, you’re thinking, Wait a minute. I watched the evening news last night, and judging by what’s going on in the world, it sure doesn’t seem to me like there’s a God on some eternal throne reigning with a “scepter of uprightness.” Your observation is quite correct: the evil that prevails in the world today does not reflect the reign of King Yahshua, for He has chosen to rule for the time being in absentia (which is not to say exile). Why would He do this? So He could ascertain who in this world would welcome His reign, and who would not—or more to the point (since He’s omniscient) to give us a chance to show our true colors. Everyone will feel compelled to bow before the King when they find themselves in His presence; but he who is loyal to Him in His absence is the true patriot in the Kingdom of Heaven.
On the night before His crucifixion, Yahshua told His disciples what the plan was (not that they remotely understood what He was talking about at the time). “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming.” (John 14:26-30) In other words, “I’m going back to my heavenly throne, and the devil is going to try to mess with you while I’m away. But I’ve equipped you with the Holy Spirit so that you may live in peace, free from fear, until I return. Rejoice in this, for Yahweh is great!”
That has been true for the last couple of millennia now. But things will change a bit when Yahshua returns at last to establish His Kingdom on the earth. When that day comes, His reign will leave nothing to the imagination. We will walk by sight, no longer purely by faith. John gave us a glimpse of the Kingdom’s coming reality: “Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Revelation 1:4-6) It’s a funny thing, though. Yahweh (i.e., Yahshua) is described as the reigning King only as long as there are mortal humans on the earth—up until the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). After that (though admittedly, there isn’t much data left) the relationship between God and man is described not so much as a monarch over His subjects, but rather as husband and wife, as lover and loved one.
And what of those who participate in the final rebellion against the “faithful witness”? Their predicament will endure just as long as our blessing will—forever: “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” (Revelation 14:11-12) It has been pointed out by some (perhaps in the desperate hope that “eternity” isn’t really eternal) that in neither in Hebrew or Greek does “forever” necessarily demand a time duration without end. It’s true: the Hebrew noun/adjective ‘olam can mean forever, always, a continuous existence, a perpetual, everlasting, indefinite or unending future, in other words, eternity—or it can merely mean a long duration, in antiquity or futurity, an undetermined length of time, one with no anticipated end but one that may nevertheless have limits. In the same way, the Greek word translated “forever,” aion, can mean either eternity—an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, forever—or merely a long period of time, an age or an era. (It can even mean the universe or the world’s system, a definition that stresses its temporary side.)
So is Yahweh hedging His bets? Is it possible that “forever,” our eternal promises (whether for good or ill) are less than what they seem? No; the problem is in the imperfection of human language, not the intention (or power) of God. Both the context and phrasing make it perfectly clear that Yahweh, His Kingdom, and our destinies are indeed eternal, everlasting, without end. In reference to the Revelation 14 passage cited above, R. C. H. Lenski points out that “The strongest expression for our ‘forever’ is eis tous aionan ton aionon, ‘for the eons of eons’; many aeons, each of vast duration, are multiplied by many more, which we imitate by ‘forever and ever.’ Human language is able to use only temporal terms to express what is altogether beyond time and timeless. The Greek takes its greatest term for time, the eon, pluralizes this, and then multiplies it by its own plural, even using articles which make these eons the definite ones.” If God had meant to convey something less than a permanent and unending afterlife, He couldn’t have chosen more misleading words.
In Hebrew too, the phrase translated “forever and ever” (as in Psalm 45:6) is ‘olam ‘ad, a compound that’s found 19 times in the Tanach. That second word denotes perpetuity, forever, a continuous future existence, an unlimited, unending duration of time, the unforeseeable future—in a word, eternity. Again, the two thoughts used in conjunction effectively refute the notion that the Kingdom of God (or the punishment of those who align themselves against it) is anything less than eternal.
Perhaps because eternity is such a difficult concept to get our heads around, the Psalms incessantly make comparisons between the “time” in which we live and the “eternity” in which God operates. For example: “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But You, O Yahweh, are enthroned forever; You are remembered throughout all generations.” (Psalm 102:11-12) The contrast between time and eternity is demonstrated in the divergent natures of those who inhabit the two paradigms. Our mortal bodies are not built to last very long, but Yahweh transcends time (which is one more way of saying He’s “holy,” separate and distinct from His own creation). Scientists’ opinions wouldn’t necessarily have any bearing on the truth of the matter, but physicists have recently come to the conclusion that the concept of time before the “big bang” is meaningless: time depends on the existence of space, which in turn is contingent upon the presence of matter/energy. Before Genesis 1:1, the universe did not exist, but Yahweh did.
It is, to my mind, impossible to envision a universe that had a finite beginning without also seeing the logical necessity for an external Creator. That is why, until the sheer preponderance of evidence forced them to capitulate to it, so many respected scientists found the idea of the “big bang” (a term coined in derision by astronomer Fred Hoyle) philosophically repugnant. They desperately wanted an eternal universe, or at the very least, a “steady state” sort of thing, in which stuff just sort of spontaneously appeared to replace matter lost to the ravages of the second law of thermodynamics—forever. The “problem” (for them) with a big bang in the neighborhood of 14 billion years ago (and the formation of our own solar system about 4.5 billion years ago) was that it didn’t leave remotely enough time for the impossible demands of organic evolution—the illogical premise of life arising from non-life, given enough time. Truth be told, even an infinite amount of time doesn’t solve the “problem” of creation without a creator, of design without intelligence. But until the finite universe theory was proven correct beyond the shadow of a doubt, the evolutionists—those who insisted on a materialistic view of the cosmos (a world without God)—could present their theory as if it were at least plausible. Fact is, it was never possible. Now, it’s not even conceivable. It’s just…
Well, I don’t want to make any unflattering characterizations myself. I’ll leave that job to Yahweh: “The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever [‘ad]; but You, O Yahweh, are on high forever [‘olam].” (Psalm 92:7-8) There’s the uncomfortable truth that makes so many folks squirm: the existence of an eternal creative deity with moral standards (that is, One who recognizes and condemns evil and wickedness) implies responsibility on our part. And it’s not just the responsibility to acknowledge His existence: as David says, the one who won’t even do that is a fool (see Psalm 14:1). No, our larger responsibility is to honor, revere, obey, and love the One who brought us into existence. To fail in this regard is like a fetus in the womb refusing to believe that mom exists, just because he can’t see her. Like that unborn baby, we—even the smartest of us—don’t have all the facts yet. Give it time.
In a direct rebuke to those who insist that life spontaneously generated itself, Moses says, “Yahweh, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.” He’s implying that all men of all time derive their life from Yahweh alone—there is no such thing as a “self-made man.” Human life, however, is only the frosting on the cake. Yahweh had to create an entire infrastructure, space/time, matter/energy, and physical laws to govern it all, in order for mortal man to have a place to live: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God.” Our bodies are made of the same stuff as the earth upon which we walk. “Earth” here is our old friend eretz—the physical land, earth, or soil. “World” is the Hebrew tebel, the inhabited part of the world, or by extension, the people who live there. Both things were “formed” by Yahweh, but unlike their Maker, neither of them is built to last. “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:1-4)
An unidentified Psalmist says pretty much the same thing: “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same, and Your years have no end.” (Psalm 102:25-27) It’s worth noting that this entire Psalm is a poignant, terrifyingly accurate description of the Nazi Holocaust, its aftermath, and its legacy. The point here is that because Yahweh inhabits eternity, there is always hope for His people, no matter how bad things get. The chapter concludes: “The children of Your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before You.” (Psalm 102:28) Against all odds, the world is about to discover how literally true those words are. The Messiah’s Millennial reign—centered in Zion—is practically upon us, no matter what you hear on the evening news. Remember what we learned a few paragraphs back: “The fool cannot understand this.”
The eternal Kingdom is also in view in another anonymous Psalm: “Save us, O Yahweh our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise.” About half of the world’s Jews (at least those who can be identified) live today in the land of Israel—they have been “gathered from among the nations” (thanks, ironically enough, to the genocidal intentions of Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin). So the prayer of the Psalmist is well on its way toward being fulfilled. (Unfortunately, we have yet to see much of the requisite thanksgiving to His holy name—to this day, the Jews are extremely reluctant to utter the name of their God—Yahweh. But this too will change.) The only reason a three thousand year old prayer had a prayer of being answered, of course, is that the God to whom it was addressed is eternal. “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” (Psalm 106:47-48)
Israel doesn’t “deserve” to be saved, but that’s kind of the point: if Yahweh can keep His promises of reconciliation to a nation as rebellious as they are, then there’s hope for the rest of us. Paul makes the principle personal: “But I (Paul) received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.” (I Timothy 1:16-17) The old murderous Paul, as a privileged Pharisee, had been every bit as rebellious against Yahweh as Israel, God’s chosen nation, had been. But he received mercy, he says, to demonstrate just how far Yahweh was willing to go in effecting our redemption. And once again we are reminded of the baseline truth that makes God’s perfect patience and unfathomable mercy possible: He reigns in glory forever. The truth should be obvious: as only a living God can create living things, only an eternal God can grant eternal life.
Yahshua Himself taught us to acknowledge the ramifications of Yahweh’s eternal nature: “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:13) The model prayer ends at it began, with our reverent recognition of Yahweh’s everlasting glory, of His right to rule and His ability to see His will done. It’s the bread and butter of our “prayer sandwich.” Our petitions—the stuff we usually consider “the meat” of prayer—are actually the least of it, and those consist primarily of admissions of our own failure, weakness, and vulnerability: we need forgiveness and protection from our own sinful natures just as much as we need material sustenance. Once again, the contrast is drawn between our temporal existence (as amazing as it is) and Yahweh’s eternal brilliance.
We’ve run across the phrase “from everlasting to everlasting” a few times in reference to Yahweh’s eternal nature. Another oft-repeated way of stating the same truth is that He is “the first and the last.” “Listen to me, O Jacob, and Israel, whom I called! I am He; I am the first, and I am the last. My hand laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand spread out the heavens; when I call to them, they stand forth together.” (Isaiah 48:12-13) Yahweh hints that His eternal nature, both past and future, is the key to His creative power. Only One who was beyond it all—before, after, and outside of the universe (read: holy)—would be in a position to create, manage, and utilize it all for His own glory. And that glory would be manifested in the most unlikely of places: Israel. Call me Captain Obvious, but if Yahshua of Nazareth, the first-century Jewish claimant to the office of God’s Anointed, was not the promised redeemer of mankind, then Yahweh’s enduring interest in Israel would seem sorely misplaced. I mean, their historical footprint has been far less significant than, say, the Hittites, Parthians, Carthaginians, or the Mongols—once-mighty peoples who now rate no more than a couple of paragraphs in the history books.
Isaiah uses this “first and last” theme over and over again: “Who has performed and done this, calling the generations from the beginning? I, Yahweh, the first, and with the last; I am He.” (Isaiah 41:4) I realize this looks pretty esoteric, out of context like this. Isaiah is referring to God’s foreknowledge—and its revelation through His prophets—specifically of a future king who would be “stirred up from the east” and “called in righteousness to His service.” He asks, “Who gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings?” (Isaiah 41:2) Rhetorical question: the answer is, “Yahweh did.” And to whom is the prophet referring? Apparently it’s Cyrus the Great of Persia (mentioned by name in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1) who would conquer Babylon in 539 BC. What’s remarkable about this is that Isaiah wrote it down almost two centuries before it happened: Isaiah ministered from about 740 to 680 BC. The Babylonians, never mind the Persians, were barely a blip on the radar screen when he began: the Assyrians were the terror of Isaiah’s age.
I bring it up because of the reference to Yahweh being “first and last” in verse 4. The idea is that not that “God was born a really long time ago and it looks like he’ll outlive us all.” It’s that He maneuvers in time because He inhabits eternity. In other words, Yahweh isn’t restricted to the moment in which we find ourselves. He sees what we will do as clearly as what we already did. All time is, in a sense, present to Him. I should hasten to point out that it does not follow that we are therefore predestined to do this or that. Yahweh has made it abundantly clear that free will—the privilege of choice—is ours to exercise. He does not interfere. (If He did determine our choices, we would not be culpable for our crimes—He would.) The fact that He knows what we’ll choose before we do doesn’t change anything. But it does give God the opportunity to confirm His deity by declaring what will happen in the future. “Thus says Yahweh, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, Yahweh of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; beside Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before Me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.” (Isaiah 44:6-7) This is a challenge to those who would flout Yahweh’s authority, His right to rule. He says, You want to be the god of your own life? You think you’re qualified? Okay, then tell me what will happen tomorrow, or next year, or say, on October 3, 2033, if you think you’re so smart. I know what will happen on that day, for I see it. Do you? If so, let’s hear it.
There are two sides to predictive prophecy: foreknowledge and the ability to bring about one’s will, however and whenever you wish. Yahweh is master of both disciplines. He knows what will happen because He’s timeless; and He brings His word to pass (when He can do so without abridging man’s free will) because He’s omnipotent. “The former things I declared of old; they went out from My mouth and I announced them; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass.” Knowing Israel would rebel (but being unwilling to force them to make better choices) Yahweh did what He could to demonstrate His deity to them: “Because I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old, before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest you should say, ‘My idol did them, my carved image and my metal image commanded them.’” Yahweh is uniquely qualified to say, “I told you so.” Everybody else is either guessing or hallucinating; He alone knows what will happen and declares it to us before hand. “You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’ You have never heard, you have never known, from of old your ear has not been opened. For I knew that you would surely deal treacherously, and that from before birth you were called a rebel.” (Isaiah 48:3-8)
It must be painful for God to know that, for the most part, His entreaties will be met with scorn, and His loving kindness with derision. But even with this grim foreknowledge, His only proactive response is to reach out in love, offering us counsel and admonition, giving us a chance to recognize our sin for what it is, while there’s still time to turn away from it. That—His agenda of mercy and reconciliation—is why Yahweh instructs His prophets to warn us of the coming judgment: “And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of Yahweh.” (Isaiah 30:8-9) It’s not that He wants sinners to suffer His wrath; He’d prefer that we all avoided it.
The things revealed by God’s prophets and servants were to serve as witnesses of His eternal nature. So, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) Calling Yahshua the “founder (or author) and perfecter of our faith” is another way of saying He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end—the very attributes that enable Him to provide for us such a “great cloud of witnesses.” Note that our response to these witnesses should be three-fold: (1) We are to put aside our sins—those things we do that weigh us down, preventing us from rising to the level of fellowship with God that He has made possible. (2) We are to participate in the “human race” with unflagging enthusiasm, an ability Yahweh Himself provides: “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for Yahweh shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31) And (3), we are to rely upon our Messiah, not ourselves, for He alone is worthy of our trust.
“‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,”’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:8) The Alpha, of course, is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and the Omega is the last. But notice that His subsequent self-description states that He’s also “everything in between.” God is not only the Creator of the distant past and the ruler of far-off and inaccessible future heavenly realms. He is also a present reality in our lives through the ministry of His Holy Spirit, if only we’ll open our eyes and hearts. As the Psalmist says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1-2) Our lives do not consist of our mortal, earthly existence. They will (or at least can) exist forever, beyond what we can presently see. Because He was there for us yesterday, Yahweh is in us today, assuring us of life in Him tomorrow.
We are reminded of the “Alpha and Omega” theme more often as we approach the end of the story, presumably because understanding the ramifications of Yahweh’s eternal nature will become all the more critical as the days grow short. “And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” This time, He links His eternity to direct blessings for those who earnestly desire to be His children: “To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” And vice versa, I’m afraid. “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:6-8) Eternal cursing lasts just as long as eternal blessing, because both things are the result of the same root cause—the eternal nature of our God. One more time: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:12-13)
It may come as an epiphany to some, but the same God who is eternal, the Alpha and Omega who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is on a schedule. If we’re not careful to observe who Yahshua was talking to—and what He was talking about—some of the statements He made might lead us to the conclusion that He’s making up the timeline as He goes along, or at the very least, He doesn’t want us to know anything about it. After all, He said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36) But He can’t be saying that no one will ever know the day and hour of His coming, because after all, the whole world will know it when they see it—which is not to say they’ll all like it. The word translated “knows” here doesn’t imply cognition, knowledge, or understanding, however; it actually means “perceives.” Yahshua is declaring that from where His disciples stood in history, it would have been impossible to envision or observe the conditions He had been talking about—encompassing the entire “beginning of sorrows” period leading up to His coming in glory.
And what is the specific “day” and “hour” to which He’s referring? He explains in the verses that immediately follow: it’s the rapture of the ekklesia (although He doesn’t call it the rapture; He merely describes it): “One will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming…. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:41-44) This translation and transformation of the Church will happen with blinding speed—“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (I Corinthians 15:52), or as a flash of lightning, as He put it in Matthew 24:27. It will be so sudden, no one will perceive it—no one will see it coming. (By the way, I’m convinced that we have been told the “day” of the year upon which the rapture will take place. The imagery of the fifth appointment on Yahweh’s annual calendar, the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah) on the first day of Tishri, fits the rapture like a glove, though we haven’t been given any hints as to the year in which it might occur. It theoretically could have happened during any autumn since the resurrection. But it didn’t. Trust me, we would have noticed.)
Lets take a look at another of these “misleading-if-you’re-not-careful” passages. Just before His ascension, forty days after the resurrection, Yahshua told His followers, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) See? We aren’t supposed to know diddley squat about God’s timing, right? No, not right. Granted, this time the Greek word used does accurately describe “to know” (ginosko). But who was Yahshua addressing when He said this? They were believers at the very cusp of the Church age. They hadn’t even been given the Holy Spirit yet. Although He didn’t want to discourage them, Yahshua knew that He wouldn’t be returning to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (the focus of their inquiry in verse 6) for another two thousand years. In fact, Yahweh had prophesied that very thing through the prophet Hosea: “Come, let us return to Yahweh; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” (Hosea 6:1-2) The “tearing” would come as a result of Israel’s national rejection of their Messiah (though many individuals believed). As long as you understand that “two days” in God’s parlance means “two thousand years” (see II Peter 3:8), then the reason for Yahshua’s admonition becomes clear: it would have been quite pointless—even counterproductive—for first-generation Christians to spend their time agonizing over when He would return. It was not for them to know. You and I, on the other hand, find ourselves on the other end of that era: the year 2033 will mark precisely two thousand years since the Passion of Yahshua took place—the conclusion of Hosea’s “second day.” That’s when Yahweh promised to “restore the kingdom to Israel,” for “on the third day He will raise [Israel] up.” Like I said, He’s on a schedule, whether we understand it or not.
Throughout the Tanach, Yahweh told us that the timing was in His own hands: “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I might be glorified. The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am Yahweh; in its time I will hasten it.” (Isaiah 60:21-22) More often than not, the schedule He has revealed has to do with what we’d call “mission improbable”—the restoration of Israel. “You, O Yahweh, are enthroned forever; You are remembered throughout all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come.” (Psalm 102: 12-13) Here again, we see the eternal nature of Yahweh contrasted with the temporal timetable under which we live—and again it’s used to explain the inevitability of His prophetic fulfillments. If Yahweh is “enthroned forever,” then His pronouncements must come true. And if they do not, He is a fraud. So far, they have been one hundred percent accurate: I wouldn’t bet against Him.
I mentioned above that the rapture of the ekklesia seems to be in view in the imagery of the fifth of Yahweh’s seven mandated “appointments,” the Feast of Trumpets. These “holy convocations” were introduced to Israel, as a collective concept, with these words: “These are the appointed feasts of Yahweh that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are My appointed feasts.” (Leviticus 23:2) “Appointed feasts” here is the same Hebrew word translated “appointed times” in Psalm 102 above: mo’ed. Thus it’s not a stretch to envision the fulfillment of one of these seven “appointed feasts” (though that’s a mistranslation—they’re not exactly “feasts,” not all of them, anyway) as being that to which the Psalmist referred: “It is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come.” And which of Yahweh’s seven “appointed times” is in view? The first four were fulfilled in 33 AD with Yahshua’s death, burial, and resurrection, followed by the indwelling of Yahshua’s called-out assembly with the Holy Spirit. (I plan to discuss all seven appointments in detail, by the way, in a future chapter.) The fifth, as I noted, will be fulfilled with the rapture of the Church (still in our future, in case you haven’t noticed). That would make the fourth and fifth mo’edim—Pentecost and Trumpets—the “bookends” of the Church age. The sixth, Yom Kippurim or the Day of Atonement, seems to be prophetic of Israel’s national repentance, their belated recognition of Yahshua as their Messiah. And this would indeed mark the commencement of God’s “favor,” His “pity on Zion,” after a hiatus of two millennia.
But the seventh and final appointment, the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot, is prophetic of God incarnate coming to “camp out” with mankind. In other words, it marks the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom of Yahweh upon the earth. This is the mo’ed to which Hosea specifically referred: “On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” It’s also what Isaiah was talking about: “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I [Yahweh] might be glorified.” The Feast of Tabernacles is an eight-day convocation. I believe (based on the structure of the Feast as described in the Torah) that the first seven days speak of the perfection of the Millennial Kingdom—the whole thousand-year reign of Christ—and that the eighth day represents the commencement of the eternal state. The primary differentiation between the two blessed conditions is that during the eternal state, there will be no more mortal humans. All of Yahweh’s children—even those born during the Millennium—will have received their immortal, spiritual bodies (as described in I Corinthians 15). And Yahweh will unveil a new heaven and new earth designed to be compatible with these new bodies, just as the physical earth is what our mortal bodies require during the present age.
When I contemplate the Millennial Kingdom of Yahshua, and what lies beyond it, I can’t help but be reminded of what Solomon wrote: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” These days you have to look at the world through the eyes of faith to see the beauty that God once created—and will again—in our world. Man’s inhumanity and faithlessness have obscured the perfection of a world that God once called “very good.” But most of us have an intuitive sense that there is more to it than what we see before us. We can try to deny the hope of heaven, and suppress the dread of hell, that we all feel, but somehow, we know. Why is that? It’s because “He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) Since we’re mortal, we can’t really comprehend eternity, and yet Yahweh has placed something within us—some intuitive sense that tells us our souls can live forever. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the “breath of life”—the neshamah—that Yahweh breathed into our father Adam in the Garden. Our bewilderment concerning eternity began when our parents sinned, but it will end when we are raised from our mortal state in newness of life—in bodies designed and built for the eternal state.
Whether or not we ever inhabit these eternal bodies, however, is a choice that we alone must make. Yahweh has responded to our need, but it is up to us to respond in turn to the salvation He has provided. “Thus says Yahweh: In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Interestingly enough, the word translated “answered” here—describing something God did for us—is the very same word defining our primary responsibility to Him on the Day of Atonement: anah—to answer or respond to Yahweh. “I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’” (Isaiah 49:8-9) As Paul remarked upon quoting this passage, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (II Corinthians 6:2) God has provided the opportunity. It is up to us to seize it. Carpe Diem.
Yahweh presented His Messiah to the world at precisely the right moment: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4) Before Yahshua came into the world, the “Law”—God’s instructions to Israel—foretold His mission in detail, though in symbolic terms. By observing its precepts, Israel announced (or would have, had they been faithful) the means by which Yahweh planned to redeem the world from its fallen state. But after Yahshua’s mission was complete, our willingness to recognize what He had done for us (and in us) was what defined our relationship with Him. But whether before or after “the fullness of time had come,” there was only one way to be reconciled to God and become His children: exercise faith in what He had determined to do on our behalf. That redemption, the price of which was Yahshua’s blood, “…[made] known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10) God’s plan, that series of redemptive events He’s bringing about according to His own schedule, didn’t end with the resurrection of Christ, although that was certainly a high point for us. It will continue beyond time and into eternity, resulting in the end with “all things” being brought together in Christ—which means (I presume) united under His authority, being brought into a single coherent sphere of spiritual synchronicity: perfect harmony throughout the universe. I can’t even imagine what that will be like.
But the eternal state cannot commence until we who inhabit time have all finished using it. The universal spiritual synchronicity under Christ of which Paul spoke cannot become reality until every last human being on the planet has had an opportunity, one way or another, to either choose Yahweh’s friendship or reject it. And more to the point, this decision process can’t merely drift on the tide of time (as it’s apparently been doing since the fall of man) forever. As I said, Yahweh is on a schedule. He has revealed that at some point He intends to compel everyone left on the earth to get off the spiritual fence: to choose one side or the other, to get right or get left, so to speak.
As usual, Israel is the test market for this concept—a microcosm for what will eventually transpire worldwide. As far back as the conquest of Canaan, Joshua told his people, “If it is evil [ra’a—a bad thing] in your eyes to serve Yahweh, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve Yahweh.” (Joshua 24:15) The day is coming, and soon, when the whole world will be asked—no, compelled—to make the same black-and-white choice: Yahweh or somebody else. If the order and prophetic symbolism of the fourth and fifth of Yahweh’s holy appointments has any significance at all (and I think you know where I stand on that issue) then the Church—the called-out assembly of Yahshua—will have come and gone by the time Yahweh requires the world to show their true colors. And once again, Israel will be on the cutting edge of the process. “Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it.” (Jeremiah 30:7) The amazing thing is that God has revealed that Israel—for the first time in their long and rebellious history—will choose Yahweh’s path, and never again look back.
This window of decision goes by many different names: the Day of Yahweh, the Indignation, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble. Its most common title is “the Tribulation.” It is defined as the last “seven” or “week” of the sweeping Daniel 9 prophecy—the final 2,520 days (7 x 360) preceding the Millennial reign of the Messiah. The history of the world is the unbroken record of man’s unrelenting evil. And contrary to popular myth, the more “advanced” we get, the worse we treat each other. While we talk piously of “surgical strikes” and minimizing collateral damage, and while we rightly mourn each fallen soldier as we would a beloved son, we keep weapons in our arsenals capable of obliterating entire cities indiscriminately. And the only thing preventing us from using these weapons is not MAD (the concept of “mutually assured destruction”), nor is it universal love for our fellow man (not because that wouldn’t have done the trick, but because it simply isn’t there.) What keeps us from pushing the button is an insufficient appreciation of the evil that confronts us. Were it not for the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit, the fear of reprisals, and an abysmal ignorance of who (and how bad) our enemies really are, the world would be a very different place.
Am I advocating disarmament, then? No. A bad attitude and a big stick are still sufficient to get the job done: Cain proved that. What I’m advocating here is that we start paying attention to Yahweh’s incessant warnings about what’s on our immediate horizon: “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Disaster after disaster! Behold, it comes. An end has come; the end has come; it has awakened against you. Behold, it comes. Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come; the day is near, a day of tumult, and not of joyful shouting on the mountains….” There it is again: the eternal God observing a temporal timetable. “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come; the rod has blossomed; pride has budded. Violence has grown up into a rod of wickedness. None of them shall remain, nor their abundance, nor their wealth; neither shall there be preeminence among them. The time has come; the day has arrived.” (Ezekiel 7:5-7; 10-12) The looming Babylonian conquest of Judah that originally occasioned these dire warnings was but a taste, a small-scale preview of what awaits our present world. What once happened to Israel will be the undoing of the entire world—and for precisely the same reasons. God is about to divide the world between those who are His and those who don’t want to be. The earth’s fate is sealed, and we’re running out of time.
“Oh, please,” you say. “I haven’t heard anything on the news about an impending day of judgment—well, maybe a little, but only from the lunatic fringe on the Internet telling me to buy gold and stock up on ammo.” Funny you should say that. A couple of thousand years ago, one of Yahshua’s disciples predicted, “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation….’” The evolutionary viewpoint that’s crammed down our throats in state-run schools insists that ever since the big bang, the universe has been running on auto-pilot, with no intelligent force guiding it—read: with no “god” to whom we are accountable. They say, the laws of physics explain everything—even the occasional pang of conscience we feel when we’re screwing over our neighbors in an attempt to get ahead in life.
Really? Peter opines that the real problem is revisionist history, prompted by an abject fear that God’s word might actually be true. “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.” So, let’s see: if we convince ourselves that Noah’s flood never took place, we can “logically” ignore hundreds of specific prophecies concerning the coming Tribulation. In other words, if God was lying then, He must be lying now. “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly….” What do you get when you cross an ostrich with a lemming?
But what if God told us when this judgment would take place? If I’m reading Genesis 6:3 correctly, He gave man a 120-year window in which to repent or die in the flood. The fact that nobody listened to Noah other than his immediate family is a sad commentary indeed. But, then as now, we needn’t be caught flat-footed when the Day of Yahweh arrives. Peter now explains the timing: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (II Peter 3:3-9) Just because he stressed God’s patience, there is no reason to suppose that this is only a metaphor, that it has no objective mathematical meaning. Call me overly literal, but I believe that Peter is explaining Yahweh’s timetable here—the whole thing. That is, God’s seven-day creation account, commemorated in His mandated seven-day week (both of them described as six “days” of work followed by one of Sabbath rest) is a picture, a prophecy, of His entire schedule for the redemption of mankind. Beginning with the fall of Adam into sin, mankind would have six “days,” (that is, six thousand years) to work things out with God—to choose to reciprocate His love and accept His salvation, or not to. Any way you slice it, that six-thousand year window of grace is almost over. And the seventh millennium will be a mandatory day of rest, in which no one can make up for what he failed to do during the “work week.”
A Psalm by Moses that we saw earlier states the same truth in slightly different terms: “For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4) “Yesterday” is “one day” in our past—but something (like today or tomorrow) that God sees in the present tense. And what does the reference to “a watch in the night” mean? I believe God is telling us that just as soldiers stand guard at their posts per a predetermined schedule—so many hours on, so many hours off—in the same way, God’s “days,” the thousand-year slices of time He has determined for the unfolding of His plan for our redemption, are scheduled, like stops on a subway route—delineated by pre-ordained “stations” or milestones. But unlike Yahweh’s seven miqra’ey (convocations), these mile markers for God’s redemptive plan appear on schedule every “day”—that is, every one thousand years. As Jeremiah said, “The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22) These “mercies” are either reminders of our need for redemption, or they reveal what Yahweh is doing to meet that need. Although the dates for the early ones are impossible to verify, the schedule looks like this:
(1) The fall of Adam apparently took place four thousand years before the “anchor date” of the series (the passion of the Messiah, in 33 AD). Because our sin nature is inherited from Him, this date (3967 BC, according to the theory) marks the commencement of Yahweh’s program for the redemption of our race. Remember the imagery of the creation account: the sun is said to have appeared on the fourth day—after plant life on earth. This apparent “scientific blunder” is explained by Malachi: “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2) If one understands that the “Sun of righteousness” is actually Yahweh’s Spirit empowering Yahshua (who appeared at the very end of the “fourth day”—i.e., before the fifth millennial milestone) then Yahweh’s metaphor starts to make sense.
(2) The second milestone must surely have some connection with the flood of Noah—the prototypical “judgment vs. deliverance” scenario. The date is impossible to pin down from Biblical sources (since the chronological data from the Masoretic texts isn’t perfectly consistent with the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Septuagint, and the genealogical data in both Genesis 5 and I Chronicles are missing from the Dead Sea Scrolls). If not the flood proper, it seems likely that the milestone’s target date (2967 BC) marks the announcement of the coming judgment (Genesis 6:3) 120 years previously.
(3) Though its date is still impossible to determine exactly from the Bible’s genealogical data, the third milestone, I’m convinced, was Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah—in what would become Jerusalem. The prophetic parallels to the sacrifice of Christ are too numerous and too blatant to brush off. At least this time we know we’re in the ballpark of the target date, 1967 BC. I find it significant that all of the subsequent milestones took (or will take) place in this very same location. Yahweh is fine-tuning His message, and His metaphor: all of the last five millennial milestones occur on Moriah, and five (as we shall see) is the number of grace.
(4) The fourth milestone falls (finally) in historically verifiable territory. 967 BC—precisely one thousand years before Yahshua sacrificed Himself on Calvary—marked the building of Solomon’s temple. The temple, of course, was patterned after the wilderness tabernacle (which in turn, we’re told, was patterned after a prototype in heaven). The tabernacle was built according to exacting specifications, every detail of which is symbolic of some facet of Yahweh’s plan for our redemption. (We’ll study the tabernacle’s symbols more closely in a later chapter.) Note that the temple was built in the same neighborhood as Abraham’s seminal demonstration of faith—Mount Moriah. I believe the temple was erected where Abraham’s “young men” stayed with their donkey (Genesis 22:5) while Isaac (carrying the wood for the sacrifice on his back, just as Yahshua would) walked with his father further up the hill about half a mile, to the place that would later be known as Golgotha. The irony would be stunning but for the fact that Yahweh orchestrated the whole scene. None of this was accidental or coincidental.
(5) Milestone number 5 is, as I said, the anchor date of the whole series. The passion—the death, burial, and resurrection of Yahshua the Messiah—is the fulfillment of the first three prophetic appointments of the Torah: Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits. Although the Gospels are silent on the matter of chronology, numerous historical rabbit trails conspire to pinpoint the date as the spring of 33 AD, not the least of which is the fact that the Feast of Unleavened Bread (which by Levitical Law was to begin on a Sabbath) fell on a natural Sabbath—a Saturday—that year. Furthermore, the Daniel 9 prophecy (which I won’t take the time to explain in detail here) also predicts, if you’ll do the math, the coming of the Messiah on what works out to the tenth day of Nisan (see Exodus 12:2 for the significance of that date): Monday, March 28, 33 AD—the date of the triumphal entry (Mark 11:1-11), Not “Palm Sunday,” but Palm Monday as it turns out—four days before the Passover sacrifice.
(6) The beginning of the sixth millennium had me stumped at first. Sure, 1033 was definitely a low point for Christendom, with the ascension of the twelve-year-old Pope Benedict IX, arguably the worst in a long line of abysmal pontiffs. A bisexual who sodomized animals and ordered several murders, he practiced witchcraft, necromancy, and Satanism, and before his untimely death in 1055, the church had split forever into warring fragments. But hey, nobody’s perfect. Is that really all there is to 1033?
Not by a long shot. Numbers 5:11-31 delineates a goofy-sounding procedure for determining the guilt or innocence of a woman suspected by her husband of infidelity, but then we never hear anything more about it. The jealous husband was to bring her before the priest, who was to take dust from the floor of the sanctuary, place it into “holy water” in an earthen vessel, and make the woman swear her innocence. She would then drink the water. If she was guilty, her “belly would swell and her thigh would rot,” but if she were innocent, she would be blessed with children. As far as we know, however, nobody ever did this.
What’s my point? In 1033, a great earthquake shook Jerusalem. Result? The Spring of Gihon, the sole water source for the old city, located in the shadow of the temple mount) turned septic—a noxious condition that persisted for forty years. The Rabbis at the Jerusalem Academy took the hint, leaving town and setting up shop in Damascus instead. Then the Islamic overlords increased the jizyah (the “protection” taxes imposed on the dhimmi, the non-Muslims living under Islamic rule), driving out the last remaining Jewish farmers from the area. But there were also ramifications for Christendom. The year 1033 saw a great surge in Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem, since it was the one-millennium anniversary of Yahshua’s passion. And Catholic pilgrims, like the departing Jews, found the waters of Gihon (now literally mingled with the dust of the sanctuary) poisonous.
In Exodus 20:6,Yahweh had described Himself as “a jealous God.” Through this event in 1033, both Israel and the Church were declared unfaithful. The curse of Numbers 5 had come to pass. Not only did the Jews’ “belly swell and thigh rot,” but the prophecy concerning the Church of Thyatira had come about: “Indeed, I will cast her [the false prophetess “Jezebel,” who had seduced the Church] into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery [read: idolatry] with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” (Revelation 2:22) Thus the beginning of the sixth millennium, 1033, was characterized by spiritual adultery on the part of both Yahweh’s “wife” Israel and Yahshua’s “bride,” the Church. The need for the redemption of mankind was never more obvious.
(7) You’d have to be blind not to see the pattern that’s emerging: a stunning spiritual milestone marking man’s need for salvation, and/or God’s plan for providing it, happens every thousand years, like clockwork. But the pattern doesn’t go on forever: we must remain cognizant of Yahweh’s prototypical blueprint: six days of work followed by one of rest. If things are as they appear, our six thousand year window of grace will end forever when we reach the next millennial milestone: 2033. The Millennial Kingdom age that follows will be analogous to the Sabbath rest Yahweh mandated in the Torah—a time in which our own efforts are forbidden, at time in which we must rely upon what Yahweh already provided (back in the fourth day, when the “Sun arose with healing in His wings,” if you’ll recall).
If you’re not living with your head in the sand like an ostrich, you have no doubt already noticed that things in the world seem to be coming to a head—on half a dozen different fronts. The world’s population has pushed past the seven billion threshold, and our ability to feed ourselves is strained to the breaking point. For the first time in human history, mankind has developed the means to utterly destroy itself in warfare. A fifth of the world’s population espouse a religion whose scriptures demand (even if they do not) that everyone on the planet must eventually embrace their god and their prophet or be put to death—beginning with Christians and Jews. Diseases are emerging for which there is no known cure, while the mechanisms for spreading these plagues become more efficient by the day. The amount of information available to us is increasing at an exponential rate, but one inversely proportional, it would seem, to the wisdom needed to utilize this knowledge for the common good. More and more wealth is being grasped in fewer and fewer hands as the world teeters on the brink of total economic collapse. There are strident cries for one-world governance, economic policy, and environmental and societal controls. But since man has never been able to govern himself in wisdom and benevolence, it would seem the height of folly to concentrate all of the world’s power in the hands of a single elite overlord.
And if you plot the growth of these hazards—any one of which has the potential to end civilization as we know it—out to the point where they look likely to become totally insurmountable, you’ll find your paradigm of peril converging about three decades into the 21st Century. (For an extensive examination of the evidence, see Volume 4 of The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website.) Everybody with his eyes open knows we’re in trouble. And everybody, it seems, has a theory as to what should be done to correct the course of humanity. But only a handful of us (relatively speaking) are willing to admit that God has already told us what will happen—that although things could have been fixed, they won’t be. The Last Days are almost upon us. The Tribulation will run its course. And the seventh Millennium will commence, just as Yahweh planned from the beginning, on a Sabbath, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Tishri 15 (October 8), 2033. Either that, or I’m just making this stuff up as I go along.
Even if we weren’t nearing the end of the era God allotted for unredeemed man to walk upon the earth, each of us would still have to face the fact that as individuals, time is always on the verge of running out. Hardly anybody gets more than eight or nine decades. We shouldn’t need the Bible to remind us that our days are fleeting, limited, and uncertain, nor that we should try to make the best use of them that we possibly can. The Psalmist, feeling the uncomfortable rod of Yahweh’s discipline upon his nation’s backside, laments, “How long, O Yahweh? Will You hide Yourself forever? How long will Your wrath burn like fire? Remember how short my time is! For what vanity You have created all the children of man! What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?” (Psalm 89:46-48) Yes, our time as mortals is short—so short that it can seem as if Yahweh’s eternal presence mocks our predicament. When we become aware of His greatness, our own lives can only be seen as pointless and insignificant. But that’s kind of the point: the “vanity” of our existence is what Yahweh’s plan of redemption was designed to rectify. The amazing thing is not so much the eternal greatness of God, but that He is both willing and able to interject His own eternity into our otherwise futile temporal lives.
Having made us, Yahweh knows the handicaps under which we labor. Since we’re living in time, He doesn’t expect us to “get it” until the time is right. Some 2,500 years ago, the prophet Daniel was shown things that he couldn’t possibly comprehend—disturbing, puzzling things that he was nevertheless instructed to write down for the edification of a future generation. “Then I said, ‘O my lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’” Daniel had been shown an unprecedented “time of trouble,” out of which Israel’s remnant would be miraculously delivered. He saw the resurrection of the dead—some to everlasting life, and others to eternal shame. And he saw the “time of the end,” prior to which mobility and information would be exponentially enhanced while the “power of the holy people” was “completely shattered.” And Daniel was not ashamed to admit that he didn’t understand any of this. But the angel who was delivering the vision to him said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are shut up and sealed until the time of the end. Many shall purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined, but the wicked shall act wickedly. And none of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” (Daniel 12:8-10) The “time of the end,” he intimates, would be incomprehensible until it was right on mankind’s front doorstep. It would be characterized by a widening gap between the pure and the wicked, between behavior of the saved and that of the lost. And accompanying this division of good from evil would be a “wisdom gap” in which God’s people (the “wise”) would begin to see and understand what was really going on, while the wicked from whom they were being separated would remain clueless—until destruction was upon them.
This is a pattern we’ve seen throughout scripture, of course: the ark of Noah’s salvation; the rescue of Lot from Sodom; Yahshua’s warning to flee from Jerusalem when the armies of Titus started closing in. The redeemed of Yahweh have always been given the means to “get out of town” before disaster strikes (though the warnings were never kept a secret from anybody). The ultimate permutation of this principle, no doubt, will be the rapture. But none of these escapes would have been possible were it not for the fact that Yahweh operates in eternity while we exist in time. We who belong to Him receive the benefit of His foreknowledge. The rub, of course, is that we have to trust Him enough to take Him at His word—which means in turn that we have to know His word well enough to recognize the warning signs. Describing the approaching of the same “time of the end” that rattled Daniel so badly, Yahshua, in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21) delineated a series of “signs” that would precede His coming and the end of the age. My friends, every one of those signs (with one possible exception) is a common, obvious, and recurring reality today. And that single exception, “fearful sights and great signs from heaven” (Luke 21:11), seems to be gaining traction. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that He is near, at the very gates.” (Mark 13:28-29) “These things” are taking place.
The idea that there are appropriate seasons for everything—even the “end of the world as we know it”—shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Solomon’s familiar words lay down the principle: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) Did he really need to spell it out? There is also a time—for God—to let things run as they have since the dawn of history, as well as a time to bring all human affairs to a conclusion. Those “times” are, ironically, the purview of the One who holds eternity in the palm of His hand and calls it all “now.”
Men of faith have always longed for the eternal God to intervene in the course of time—to impose order and meaning on the timeline that constrains us. In the earliest writings in scripture, Job prays, “Oh that You would hide me in Sheol, that You would conceal me until Your wrath be past, that You would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come. You would call, and I would answer You; You would long for the work of Your hands.” (Job 14:13-15) Yahweh has answered in the affirmative, not only to Job, but to all of us: He has appointed us a set time; He does intend to call us to renewal, even if we’re hidden in the grave—if we allow ourselves to be “the work of His hands.” I remain astounded that so many people—even Christians—act as if Yahweh doesn’t have a schedule, a timetable, a plan. They behave as if the status quo will continue pretty much forever—that they needn’t be particularly watchful, ’cause after all, “Where is the promise of His coming?”
Meanwhile, those of us with our eyes open want to scream, “How can you not see this? How many more leaves does the fig tree have to sprout before you’ll admit that summer is upon us?” We’ve been advised, we’ve been informed, we’ve been admonished: God knows precisely what He’s doing, and precisely when He’s going to do it. You can argue that He has been unusually obscure in revealing what His timeline is, but the fact that He has one should be apparent to anyone who even glances at the scriptural data. This becomes all the more obvious as we approach the end of the story: “And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.” (Revelation 10:5-7) Last things first: the angel flatly declares that God’s schedule was revealed through the Old Testament prophets (even though from man’s point of view, its fulfillment was so long in coming, it seemed “delayed”). He calls it a “mystery,” however—something that in biblical parlance indicates that nobody really understood its nature until it came to pass, no matter how many hints and clues Yahweh gave us ahead of time. (The classic example of a “mystery” is the largely-gentile Church, the called-out assembly of Yahshua. Nobody saw that one coming until it was already here.)
The “seventh trumpet” to which the angel referred was the last of a series of “wake-up calls” that are prophesied to come to pass during the Tribulation, beginning with thermonuclear war—“fire and blood” destroying one third the earth’s land surface. The seventh of the series describes the commencement of the Millennial Kingdom: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15) I believe the “days” (note that it’s plural) of the seventh trumpet will begin with the definitive Yom Kippurim, the Day of Atonement, which will mark Yahshua’s physical return to earth on the Mount of Olives. The kingdom itself, as we saw above, will begin five days later, on Tishri 15, the Feast of Tabernacles, in the year 2033. What lies between the two dates? Armageddon!
John was given the privilege of recording the final words of the Bible. I find it fascinating that he didn’t spend them telling us to do any of a thousand things the church has been fixated upon for the past couple of millennia. These last words, rather, do three things: confirm Christ’s credentials, encourage those who are His to heed His precious promises, and invite those who are outside to enter into fellowship while the opportunity lasts. Three times in this passage we are reminded that Christ is coming soon. Three times is God’s eternal nature cited as a reason for hope and faith. And three times we are encouraged to remain holy—separate from a world that chooses not to receive the grace that defines us. “And he [the angel] said to me [John], ‘These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent His angel to show His servants what must soon take place. And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book….’” You may protest, Soon? It’s been almost two thousand years! You call that “soon?” Well, actually, the word tachu would be better translated “quickly,” “speedily,” or “without delay.” Remember, God is on a schedule: He’ll come precisely when He means to. Besides, for us as individuals, it is soon: we’re never all that far from physical death—the point at which the march of time becomes irrelevant.
But what does it mean to “keep” the prophecy of the Apocalypse for all those generations who would not personally experience its seals, trumpets, and bowl judgments? The Greek word is tereo, which means “to attend to carefully, to take care of, to guard.” (Strong’s) I would point out that Philadelphia, the sixth of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 to whom the Book of Revelation was addressed, was promised that because they had “kept” (tereo) Christ’s command to persevere, He would also “keep” (again, tereo) these believers out of the worldwide trial described so vividly in the following chapters. In other words, for the faithful and “blessed” believers of Philadelphia (and them alone), Christ is literally “coming soon.” He told them as much in Revelation 3:11, when He said, “I am coming soon. Hold fast, so that no one may seize your crown.” (None of the other churches on the list, including the seventh and final assembly, Laodicea, received any such promise of temporal deliverance.)
Continuing with Revelation’s concluding verses, we read: “I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.’” You can’t really fault John for his confusion: this was all awe-inspiring stuff. “And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy….’” The angel points out, quite logically, that there’s really no point in pretending to be good if you’re not a child of God—the origin of Good. If you’re dead, no amount of good intentions can make you alive, and no amount of washing can make you truly clean. But at the same time, we who have become alive—i.e., righteous and holy through the finished work of our Redeemer—should act like it. I believe that as the end draws closer, we’re going to see that this is actually a prophecy: the saved will be increasingly revealed to be fundamentally different from the lost among whom they live. And as the Day approaches, we will be marginalized, persecuted, and treated as some sort of alien species. The process has already begun.
So it is with timely concern that Yahshua tells us, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end….” We are all going to reap what we have sown in the world, whether evil filthiness or righteous holiness. The fact that righteousness and holiness are possible only in the strength of God’s Spirit living within us doesn’t change anything—that Spirit was available to everybody. And don’t misread “recompense” as a euphemism for “vindictive payback.” The word is misthos: one’s wages, what one is rightfully paid for the job he does. It’s a reward, in the strictest sense; but a proper reward for evil deeds is actually punishment, so that word can be misleading. Note once again that Yahshua’s eternal nature is what ultimately gives Him the right to decide what our just “recompense” is—big bucks, minimum wage, the unemployment line, or a prison cell.
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood….” Once again, division is stressed: inside vs. outside, clean vs. filthy, blessed vs. cursed, living vs. dead. Attaining this separation (to God and from the world) is the essence of being holy. Note the metaphorical criteria for being in Yahweh’s camp: they have “washed their robes.” Clothing (as we shall see in a future chapter) is symbolic of our status before God—that is, what we “put on” in order to hide the shame of our sin. Adam and Eve knew intuitively that they couldn’t go around butt naked after they disobeyed Yahweh’s instructions, so they made themselves clothes out of fig leaves. But God knew an innocent sacrifice was necessary, so he slew an animal and made them proper garments to put on. In later times, God used linen clothing as a metaphor for imputed righteousness, while wool signified the alternate path—works. But here in the closing chapter of the Bible, what matters is that the believers’ robes (identified as “linen” in Revelation 19:8) are washed, made clean in the blood of Christ and the water of the Spirit through the Word of God. And note who is to wash them: it’s the one who wishes to be blessed. God won’t “wash our clothes” Himself, not without our permission. In other words, our choices—our actions—have eternal significance. No one is predestined to go to heaven or to hell. We choose our own destination, even though Yahweh reserves the right to select the route.
At this point, Yahshua Himself speaks: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star….” John had been getting lots of amazing information from the angels—so much so that it had all begun to look like the glory of deity to him, as we saw above. So Yahshua reminds him that He is the source of it all. These angels may be awesome, but they’re still “only” messengers (which is what aggelos means), created beings sent by God to deliver his truth to us, “the churches,” i.e., those who are called out of the world. Once again, Christ’s self-description stresses His eternal nature and contrasts it with our temporal existence. David is the prototypical king: to be his “root” is to be the ultimate source of both his life and authority: Yahweh Himself. And to be his “descendant” is to lay claim to the throne of Israel as God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. Yahshua is all of that, and more.
The “bright morning star” reference is a bit more esoteric. It is apparently an allusion to the passage in Isaiah 14 where the king of Babylon is characterized as “Lucifer, son of the morning” (helel ben shachar—shining one or day-star, literally: son of the dawn) who boasted in his heart that he would ascend to heaven, set his throne on high, sit on the mountain of assembly, and “be like the Most High.” Basically, the arrogant ambition of a temporal pagan king is being recruited to educate us about Satan, the mighty angel who rebelled against Yahweh and became our adversary. Satan would like to present himself as the “light bringer,” the great illuminator, the sun god. In fact, virtually every false religion in history has incorporated some permutation of the “sun god” myth. The truth, of course, is that he brings only darkness and death. But here in Revelation, Yahshua the Messiah is revealed as the real “bright morning star,” the genuine Light of the world. The point (in context) is that just as Yahshua’s eternal nature makes Him the rightful King of Glory, it also makes Him infinitely superior to even the most impressive counterfeit spirit—which explains why John’s angel was so careful to chastise him for falling at his feet in worship (vs. 8-9, above). Eternal existence trumps mere immortality.
The angelic testimony John related to the churches has but one point: it’s an invitation to the world to share in Yahweh’s gift of everlasting life: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” A cynical and suspicious world may look at God’s free gift of life and say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch: there must be strings attached. This has to be a trick.” Okay, maybe. There is one string attached: if you accept Yahweh’s gift, you’ll be alive, and that can be a shocking epiphany if all you really wanted was to feel good about remaining dead. But let’s face it. It’s very hard to explain life to the dead. They’re just not equipped to comprehend it. All God can really do is employ symbols to inform us that our choices have consequences: as it is in this life, so it shall be in the next. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” That’s a sobering admonition for a guy who’s written a thousand-page book on biblical prophecy (The End of The Beginning, elsewhere on this website). How does one do that and not “add” anything? Actually, I’ve studiously endeavored to neither add nor subtract from God’s revelation, but merely to correlate the myriad of scriptures on the subject, Old Testament and New. Put together like a ten thousand piece jigsaw puzzle, they form a remarkably coherent picture. And the picture has but one thing to say: “Come!”
Whether or not we choose to “come,” there is no ambiguity about the Messiah’s intentions: ready or not, here He comes. The Bible concludes with a witness, a promise, and a prayer: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:6-21) The thing that lingered in John’s mind as he put down his pen was God’s invitation to participate in His grace—to enjoy the unmerited favor for which Christ died in order to bestow upon us.
Peter noted that this was nothing new: “The prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” (I Peter 1:10-11) I probably read that a hundred times before I saw it: the prophets, he says, inquired of God about the timing of the Messiah’s advents—both of His suffering and His coming reign. We now know that Daniel was spot on when pinpointing the date of Yahshua’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem—followed less than a week later by His crucifixion. And if I were a betting man, I’d be willing to wager that Moses, Hosea, Peter and John will be proven no less accurate in pointing us to the “time the Spirit of Christ was indicating” for His “subsequent glories.” But I must reiterate: being “right” about God’s timing is of no particular value unless you’re alive; and being “wrong” need not be an insurmountable problem unless you’re dead. The only essential thing is life, and the only way to attain eternal life is to come to the One who lives eternally.
Where I live, we enjoy four distinct seasons, and there are lots of deciduous trees here to remind us at a glance what time of year it is. I can’t help but wonder if the changing of the seasons was designed by God to be an annual picture of something—the course of our individual lives, or perhaps the course of nations upon the earth. Yahweh set “New Year” in the early spring (Exodus 12:2), when the new leaves are just budding; they’re young, tender (read: innocent), and an enthusiastic bright green in color. The forest becomes lush and verdant as we move into summer—a paradise for birds, squirrels, and deer. But as the heat of late summer becomes oppressive, the leaves turn a darker, more somber (or is that cynical?) shade of green, and they take on a tough, leathery quality that’s very different from that of the baby leaves of spring. This seems to be a picture of what typically happens to folks as they “mature.” It’s a good-news bad-news story. On one hand, we tend to become inflexible, set in our ways, hard to teach, and suspicious of anything we aren’t accustomed to. But we’re also less likely to be shaken by adverse circumstances, more resistant to empty fads and fashions, and more securely anchored to what really matters.
As we move into the autumn, though, something happens. The leaves begin to change color. They eventually fall off their branches and descend to the forest floor, where they decompose, providing nutrients for future generations of leaves. But visually, the process varies. Some leaves sort of skip fall and move straight from summer into winter: they simply turn brown and fall off. But if the conditions are right, the leaves first turn brilliant yellows, oranges, or reds, hanging on for a month in a spectacular display of botanical glory. The brightest autumn colors are caused by an increase in anthocyanin and carotene as chlorophyll decreases—the result of dry sunny fall days followed by cool, dry nights. But that’s just science; we’re looking for a spiritual metaphor here.
I think perhaps what Yahweh was trying to tell us with the changing seasons is that our life on earth was never designed to be permanent. We are mortal: like the leaves, we’re all destined to end up flat on our backs on the forest floor—our legacies nourishing succeeding generations. And although we all start off the same—tender, pliable, thirsty, enthusiastic for life, and reaching out toward the heavens—we can finish our time on this earth in one of two ways. We can either die badly—dry, stiff, shriveled caricatures mocking the forgotten promise of our youth—or we can go out in a blaze of glory, as something beautiful and attractive in spite of what we all know is coming—the cold death of winter.
In North America (which has the most numerous species of indigenous deciduous trees), there is a billion dollar tourist industry built around people departing their drab cities to witness the annual autumn spectacle. What does it all mean? Perhaps I’m a bit too attuned to the natural metaphors Yahweh has put in our path, but I can’t help but notice that if folks are not blinded by their own misconceptions and prejudices, they’re naturally drawn to the beauty of Yahweh’s Spirit living within the souls of the believers they meet. They’re put off, of course, by religious display and arrogant, pushy proselytizing, but they’re intrigued and attracted by the genuine life of a true follower of Yahshua—especially in the face of adversity (which explains why Christianity has always flourished under persecution). And once Israel has come to her senses and has recognized her Messiah, this mantle will fall upon her shoulders as well: “Thus says Yahweh of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of Yahweh and to seek Yahweh of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek Yahweh of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of Yahweh. Thus says Yahweh of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” (Zechariah 8:20-23) We wouldn’t walk across the street to see a dead tree, but we’ll drive hundreds of miles to witness the glory of a New England forest in October. Could the beauty of the fall foliage be a subtle prophetic metaphor for the splendor of Christ’s coming kingdom? I mean, even the dates line up.
I’m the first to admit that I may be seeing something that just isn’t there. “Seasons” in the Bible invariably speak generally of things happening at their proper time—on God’s schedule. Furthermore, illustrations from nature that appear in the Bible are invariably witnessed by Israelites, within the Land of Israel. But Israel (like my native Southern California) really has but two seasons, summer and winter. The prophets never saw the Blue Ridge Mountains ablaze with color, as I am now privileged to do every autumn. Perhaps this lesson is one Yahweh wanted to be especially clear to North American believers—the same thing Daniel observed as he walked with Israel’s God while a pilgrim in exile: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:20-22) The annual changing of the seasons (though that’s not really what Daniel was talking about) only serves to make the permanence of Yahweh that much more awe inspiring.
A while back, a friend of mine introduced me to a little known concept—the idea that the ancients of Israel did not string their weeks together end to end like we do, but began their weekly cycles all over again at every new moon. In other words, the beginning of each month, marked when the first sliver of the new moon was sighted in the night sky, would reset the cycle. So the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th of every month would always be Sabbath days. As strange as the idea sounds to us today, there is actually some circumstantial evidence to suggest that this might have been the practice at one time.
The ramifications for those with a legalistic mindset could be a little unsettling. Could it be that the day you thought was the Sabbath (or Sunday, for that matter) is no such thing? Are you (and everybody else) worshipping on the “wrong” day? And more to the point, is God angry because you’re not “observing the day” correctly? I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this. Let me point out a few salient facts: (1) There is no way to be absolutely sure which system was in use in ancient Israel. Scripture doesn’t say, and the clues are inconclusive. (2) Although Yahweh instructed Israel to observe both the new moon and a seven day week ending with a Sabbath, He never specifically tied one event to the other. (3) He did not instruct us to begin the weekly cycle over again at the new moon (nor were we told to use the unbroken daily sequence we’re familiar with today). He didn’t say anything about it. (4) There are other cycles in the Torah, such as the three-year Levitical tithing cycle and the Sabbatical year, for which there is a similar dearth of instruction concerning how they were to be linked—if at all.
Although it can be hard to sort out sometimes, we should be aware that what God didn’t tell us can be as revealing as what He did. Yahweh—the Eternally Existent One—used a variety of time measurements to communicate with us. And as far as what He actually said is concerned, these time units are completely independent: a day is sunset to sunset, a week is seven days ending with a Sabbath rest, a month lasts from one new moon to the next, the sabbatical-year cycle lasts seven solar years, and Jubilee comes once every fifty years. The Torah does not require readjusting or resetting any time-measuring period, nor does it link one to any other. Rather, Yahweh seems to be teaching us different lessons through each unit of time measurement. Each time unit specified in God’s word, then, should be recognized as a symbol of a separate truth, a recurring reminder of some fundamental facet of Yahweh’s plan. And at this late date, we should not be too terribly surprised to learn that there are seven such time units used in scripture—seven being the number of completion or perfection. These seven, taken as a whole, describe what the eternal Yahweh is in the process of accomplishing in the temporal arena of mankind’s redemption:
1. The day—one full revolution of the earth on its axis—was described by Moses as beginning and ending not at midnight or sunrise, but at sunset. Speaking of Yom Kippurim, he writes, “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement…. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.” (Leviticus 23:27, 32) So the “day” in God’s mind and metaphor progressed from darkness into light. It is therefore a picture of Yahweh’s mercy and healing, of the process of moving His people out of chaos and obscurity into truth. Thus we read of His mercies being “new every morning,” and of the “Sun of righteousness rising with healing in His wings.” Every new day is an opportunity for us to recognize and embrace the mercies of our Creator. Even when the “day” is used as a euphemism for an age or an era—as in the creation account—there is invariably an element of progress implied: from nothing to something, from unformed to organized, or from flawed to perfect.
2. The seven-day week is established in the very first chapter of the Bible. Since each day represents a fresh look at God’s grace or the renewed prospect of comprehension concerning His plan, multiplying it by seven tells us that the “week” represents the totality of man’s opportunity to receive Yahweh’s gift of redemption. But note the pattern He instituted: whenever we see seven of something, it’s invariably structured as six plus one—six of one thing contrasted with one of something else. And the week is no exception. Yahweh’s creative activities all took place during the first six “days,” and on the seventh, He is said to have rested. This pattern was codified into Law in the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore Yahweh blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11) The “week,” then, represents Yahweh’s timeline for the redemption of mankind. The week—six days of work followed by one of rest—signifies six millennia of humanity’s “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” followed by one final Millennium of resting in the Messiah’s reign. Both before and after man’s “week,” however, the eternal state is the paradigm in operation.
3. A month in Biblical symbology isn’t the artificial construct of any man-made calendar, but rather one complete cycle of the moon’s phases. The month officially begins at the only time one can precisely gauge its status through visual means: at the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon. Neither weeks nor days fit exactly into a lunar cycle, since the synodic month (as it’s known) is 29.530588 days long. As usual, this measurement of time stands independent of all the others, functionally and symbolically. The “month” is, I believe, a picture of how much spiritual light or darkness is being experienced by the human race at any given time. Our months begin in almost total darkness, but as the time wears on, more and more of the sun’s light is reflected from the lunar surface—up to a point, after which things gradually get dark again. The point of maximum brightness (the full moon) falls on the 14th or 15th of a lunar month—the middle of the month. Just as in the phases of the moon, the closer we are to the center of God’s will, the clearer things will be, and the more we’ll be able to perceive.
This symbolic principle can perhaps best be seen by correlating the seven annual “appointments with God” scheduled in the Torah with the phases of the moon in which they occur. The first three of these occur in the spring: Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits—prophetic of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, respectively. These all hover around the middle of the month of Nisan, when the moon is at its brightest: we are being given the clearest possible look at one side of Yahweh’s true nature—compassion. Note however that there is one other miqra that occurs at the full moon: the Feast of Tabernacles (the final appointment on the calendar, Tishri 15, in the fall) is a picture of the glorious reign of our Messiah as King over the whole earth. It illuminates the other side of Yahweh’s nature—His glory, power, and unabridged authority. And what of the others? Both the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and the Day of Atonement are scheduled under a “waxing” moon—when things have been dark, but they’re getting brighter day by day. But alas, the Feast of Trumpets (prophetic of the rapture of the church) is scheduled at a new moon, the 1st day of the lunar month of Tishri—a time of maximum spiritual darkness, when comparatively few can see where they’re going or appreciate what Yahweh is doing. In other words, any time now.
4. A solar year—one full revolution of the earth around the sun—is the bird’s eye view of God’s entire plan, to be viewed (again) through the lens of Yahweh’s seven appointments. It begins almost immediately after God’s “New Year” (i.e., Nisan 1) with the rebirth of hope in the spring—the Passover sequence—and is punctuated again, seven months later, with the joyful harvest, the Feast of Tabernacles. But the year is not nearly over at this point: there are still five months left to run. It is my opinion that five is the number symbolizing Yahweh’s grace toward us. So if I’m right about any of this, the “year” begins with the perfection and completion of Yahweh’s plan of redemption, and it concludes with grace. By the time the earth (the home of humanity) has circumnavigated the sun (representative of Malachi’s “Sun of righteousness,” the Spirit of Yahweh in our midst) we will have had an opportunity to see it from every angle: mankind will have experienced God’s creation, disappointment, anger, compassion, instruction, redemption, mercy, salvation, resurrection, separation, patience, judgment, grace, and glory. If we don’t know Him by then, we never will.
5. The sabbatical year cycle (six years of normal activity followed by one year of rest and release—See Leviticus 25:1-7) combines the mercies of God’s character with the awareness of His schedule (the six-plus-one pattern). There is emphasis on forgiveness and freedom in the seventh year, for debts were to be forgiven and indentured servants were to be released. But there was also a strong trust component, for Israelites were instructed not to sow their fields, nor reap what came up voluntarily during the Sabbatical year. Rather, they were to live on what Yahweh had already provided. Symbolically, the Sabbatical year cycle differs from the weekly cycle in that the week of days informed us of God’s six-plus-one schedule; the seven-year metaphor revealed what He would accomplish during that time: our freedom, our provision, and our rest.
6. The Jubilee is a fifty-year cycle. Unlike the week/month relationship, there is apparently a connection between the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee: “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines.” (Leviticus 25:8-11) In other words, there were to be seven Sabbatical cycles—49 years total—followed by the year of Jubilee, after which the whole thing would presumably begin again. There’s a lot more to it than the timing, of course. It’s sort of like a Sabbatical year on steroids. The most significant difference is that all land that had changed hands in Israel (you couldn’t buy someone’s inheritance; you could only “lease” it) reverted to its original owner. Jubilee is therefore predictive and indicative of Yahweh’s willingness and ability to set right the wrongs of our lives. The timing (on a human scale) hints that this forgiveness is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And the fifty-year time span is also significant in another way: if a man’s normal allotted lifespan is seventy years (Psalm 90:10), and if he becomes responsible for being a soldier in God’s army at the age of twenty (Numbers 1:3), then the fifty years represent the sum total of his adult responsibilities before God, focused on his responsibility to choose to honor Yahweh.
You’ll note that all six of these units for marking time are based on “natural” sidereal phenomenon—the kind of thing we read about in the creation account: “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.” (Genesis 1:14) But if we’re attuned to Yahweh’s ubiquitous six-plus-one pattern, we would expect to find one more time unit—a seventh, one distinct from the others in some material way. And we wouldn’t be disappointed. The last time unit is not linked to any obvious heavenly phenomenon. It’s apparently quite arbitrary—based on Yahweh’s preference alone—and for good reason:
7. The “time” or “prophetic year,” is a 360-day unit of measure, used for only one thing: to describe the chronological destiny of the nation of Israel. It figures prominently in both the Daniel 9 prophecy and in the Revelation. It is the unit that revealed the timing of the coming of the Messiah—to the very day—and it will define the tempo by which the Tribulation—the time of Jacob’s trouble—is played out. Interestingly, we never encounter a single “time” in scripture. The name I’m using for this 360-day “Designer year” comes from the phrase “time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7; Revelation 12:14), meaning, of course, three and a half of this unit. This is apparently equated with two other descriptions—42 months (which still allows room for questions, since a “month” might be either lunar or solar and could thus be defined as anything between 28 and 31 days) and 1,260 days (a definition that leaves no wiggle room whatsoever).
The seventy “weeks” of the Daniel 9 prophecy are each comprised of seven of these 360-day “times.” We know this because Yahshua triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Nisan 10 (Monday, March 28), 33AD, precisely 173,880 days, or 476 solar years plus twenty-five days, after the prophesied starting point. (That’s (7 + 62) x 7 x 360, as required in Daniel 9:25.) This means that Yahweh’s prophetic dealings with Israel have “one week,” or seven “times” (that is, 2,520 days) left to run. This 70th of Daniel’s “weeks” is popularly known as the Tribulation, and by the time it’s over, the most fundamental goals of Yahweh’s plan for our redemption will have been met: Daniel was told, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint the most holy.” (Daniel 9:24) You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the end of this auspicious 70th week will coincide with the definitive Feast of Tabernacles: “anointing the most holy” is tantamount to inaugurating the Millennial reign of the Messiah (literally, “the anointed one”), and the Feast of Tabernacles is a picture of God “camping out” with men. Does His title “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us,” ring any bells?
The question we ought to be asking, to my mind, is why Yahweh chose to use this artificial, rounded off unit of time to define Israel’s destiny? Why not just use the solar year? I think the answer may be bound up in the question: Yahweh chose. Our salvation (like our creation) is designed. It didn’t just happen; there’s nothing “natural” about it. Left to our own devices, we would live, sin, and die, with neither the means nor the possibility of forming a personal relationship with the God who made us for no other purpose. A solar year is approximately 365.24219879 days long. The number is strictly serendipity. There’s no particular reason for it; it just is. The 360-day “time” of prophetic revelation, on the other hand, is obviously designed by Someone, like the degrees on a compass. The point, I believe, is that Yahweh is trying to tell us that He planned all of this; none of the salvation scenario is a fortuitous coincidence, an inadvertent incident, a happy accident. Since God went to all this trouble, it seems to me the least we can do is to seriously consider what He did on our behalf.
We’ve been discussing the contrast between time—the paradigm inhabited by matter and man—and eternity, the abode of God. Ever since the debut of Einstein’s theory of relativity, the issue of time and its origin has been a thorny one for scientists. Though they’re comfortable enough with extremely large numbers, physicists don’t really like the idea of infinities, such as the hypothetical singularity from which sprang the big bang (as the theory goes). The very idea of an eternal God is often seen as philosophically repugnant, for the simple reason that He can’t be measured, analyzed, or contained. (As Yahweh Himself intimated, He can’t really be known by anyone bereft of His Spirit. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.) And yet, the more thoughtful scientists are not above referring to His hypothetical role if they run into a conundrum they can’t sort out. Time is one such Gordian knot.
Paul Davies, in About Time, Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution, writes, “The fashionable theory that time originated with the big bang is probably the biggest outstanding issue, begging all sorts of (maybe unanswerable) questions concerning causality, God, and eternity. If time existed before the big bang, we have to explain what physical processes predated this dramatic and violent event, and how it was caused. If the universe has always existed, we also run into major problems over the arrow of time. If, on the other hand, time really did ‘switch on’ at the big bang, perhaps as a result of quantum processes, then we confront some equally tough problems. If the process was unique, can it be considered in any sense natural (as opposed to supernatural)?” That’s the rub, isn’t it, Dr. Davies? Supernatural processes stick in the collective craw of the scientific community, don’t they? (And more to the point, if you admit God—you can kiss your funding goodbye!)
Stephen Hawking, in his classic A Brief History of Time, writes, “Up to now, most scientists have been too occupied with the development of new theories that describe what the universe is to ask the question why. On the other hand, the people whose business it is to ask why, the philosophers, have not been able to keep up with the advance of scientific theories.” I would argue that both the what and the why of it are to be found exclusively in the one place the philosophers and scientists refuse to look: the revealed character of Yahweh. Hawking bemoans the fact that the scientists haven’t been able to come up with a satisfactory “theory of everything” that explains all that they observe (something neither Newton’s laws, relativity, nor quantum mechanics can do). He concludes, “If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.”
Really? I know I’m just an “ordinary person,” and presumably not as smart as you are, Dr. Hawking, but wouldn’t it make more sense, if you really wanted to know the mind of God, to simply ask Him? Wouldn’t it seem more reasonable to receive and embrace the answers He’s already given you? The universe exists because “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And we exist because “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is with us.” (In case you missed it, that’s how the Bible begins and ends.) Yahweh has told you what He did, and why. You scientists, bless your hearts, have figured out when He did it, and how (though you usually don’t appreciate the ramifications of own data). There’s really only one critically important thing left for you to figure out: Who!