“Thy Kingdom Come”

These words are famously spoken by Jesus when he is teaching his followers how to pray. Many, like myself, were taught to repeat these words as a form of prayer. Which is hilariously nonsensical considering that just before giving this model for prayer Jesus said “When praying, do not say the same things over and over again…” (Matt 6:7). So this must mean that Jesus wasn’t giving us words to say in prayer but concepts. Given how badly the scriptures are applied in that case we can’t imagine that those teaching this practice have a strong grasp about other concepts, such as what exactly is this kingdom Jesus said to pray for? According to the bible, what is God’s Kingdom?

First, let’s see this famous verse, Matt 6:9, 10 “Our Father in the heavens, let your name be sanctified. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also on earth.” Clearly, this is addressed to God and he is being petitioned for his kingdom to come. Jesus’ outline for prayer or ‘model prayer’ is asking for God’s will to be take place where? In heaven but also where? On earth.

This harmonizes with this passage toward the end of Revelation:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea is no more. I also saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God and prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. With that I heard a loud voice from the throne say: “Look! The tent of God is with mankind, and he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them. And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4

This again shows that this kingdom is something on earth. Inhabitants of what place have tears in their eyes? Who are in need of relief from mourning, outcry, pain and death? Isn’t this what we currently have on earth? So this passage must be describing relief for earthling mankind from our current woes. It solidifies that promise by also highlighting that these things are part of those “former things” which will pass away, making way for the “new earth”.

The earlier part says that a New Jerusalem comes “down out of heaven from God”. Jerusalem was the seat of power for the ancient kingdom of Israel. This “New Jerusalem” is a symbolic depiction that shows us that the seat of power will be heaven-based. This ties into what Jesus told Pilate “My kingdom is no part of this world” (John 18:36) And it also helps us understand Jesus reaction to crowds wanting to make him king. John 6:15 “Then Jesus, knowing that they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain all alone.” His kingship wasn’t to be given to him by humans. He knew it was to be given by God and so he waiting on him to give it.

Continuing on that last statement we can turn to Daniel and we find this event being described:

I kept watching in the visions of the night, and look! with the clouds of the heavens, someone like a son of man was coming;
and he gained access to the Ancient of Days, and they brought him up close before that One.
And to him there were given rulership, honor, and a kingdom, that the peoples, nations, and language groups should all serve him.
His rulership is an everlasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom will not be destroyed.
-Daniel 7:13, 14

Jesus often referred to himself as ‘son of man” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 14:21, Luke 19:10). This perhaps was to help his followers connect him to this “someone like a son of man” to whom is “given rulership, honor, and a kingdom…”.

Daniel is an interesting book to read in regards to this question of what is God’s Kingdom because it contains two visions about it. Daniel chapter 2 tell us of a dream given to Nebuchadnezzar of a large image with a gold head, silver arms and chest, copper abdomen and thighs, iron legs and then feet of clay mixed with iron (Daniel 2:32, 33). Daniel relates that the head of gold represents King Nebuchadnezzar himself (Dan 37, 38). He then makes it clear than this image shows a succession of world powers, verse 2:39 “But after you another kingdom will rise, inferior to you; then another kingdom, a third one, of copper, that will rule over the whole earth.” So from this we know that when the stone crushes the image and becomes a mountain (Dan 2:34) this pictures divine intervention on earth. Daniel 2:44 makes this act even more clear: “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom”. If it’s replacing those previous world powers then it follows that this is describing a world government established by Jehovah himself.

Back to Daniel chapter 7 we have a similar set of clues. The first part of the chapter describes Daniel’s vision of four great beasts Daniel 7:2-8. Then someone helps him understand the meaning at verse 17 “These huge beasts, four in number, are four kings who will stand up from the earth.” So later when “the holy ones of the Supreme One” take “away his [the final king] rulership, in order to annihilate him” (Dan 7:25, 26) we know we are talking about kingdoms or governments on earth. Thus, when verse 27 says “and the kingdom and the rulership and the grandeur of the kingdoms under all the heavens were given to the people who are the holy ones of the Supreme One” we know that this means governing the earth.

These ideas match Revelation 20, where a small group of humans are given authority, indeed they are said to serve with and under Jesus:

And I saw thrones, and those who sat on them were given authority to judge.
Yes, I saw the souls of those executed for the witness they gave about Jesus and for speaking about God, and those who had not worshipped the wild beast or its image and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand.
And they came to life and ruled as kings with the Christ for 1,000 years.
…they will be priests of God and of the Christ, and they will rule as kings with him for the 1,000 years.
-Revelation 20:4, 6b

So we get to learn a little about the structure of God’s Kingdom. This special group of people who were “executed for the witness they gave about Jesus and for speaking about God” are logically humans, and they’ve been given a position of power to “rule as kings with Christ”.

No doubt such a kingdom would function lovingly toward it’s subjects. Jehovah gives authority to Jesus and in turn Jesus gives a measure of authority to some humans. Jesus lived as a man having stayed perfectly faithful in a world separated from God, and those ruling under him will have lived as imperfect humans who maintained their integrity. (Hebrews 2:17, 18)

My main focus is to show how the theme of the Kingdom is throughout the Bible and it’s very clear that it is not just in heaven, but is indeed something that will be on the earth. We could call it “God’s Government”, I suppose, since ‘Kingdom’ may sound old-fashioned to your ear, but the function is the same. Let’s end with a few more scriptures that demonstrate this:

“Just a little while longer and the wicked will be no more;
you will look at where they were, and they will not be there.
But the meek will possess the earth,
and they will find exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.

the righteous will possess the earth and they will live forever on it”
-Psalm 37:10, 11, 29

No more will there be an infant from that place who lives but a few days,
Nor an old man who fails to live out his days.
For anyone who dies at a hundred will be considered a mere boy,
And the sinner will be cursed even though he is a hundred years of age.
They will build houses and live in them,
And they will plant vineyards and eat their fruitage.
They will not build for someone else to inhabit,
Nor will they plant for others to eat.
For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree,
And the work of their hands my chosen ones will enjoy to the full.
They will not toil for nothing,
Nor will they bear children for distress,
Because they are the offspring of those blessed by Jehovah, and their descendants with them.
-Isaiah 65:20-23

“They will sit, each one under his vine and under his fig tree,
And no one will make them afraid,
For the mouth of Jehovah of armies has spoken.”
-Micah 4:4

“I will raise up one shepherd over them, my servant David, and he will feed them.
He himself will feed them and become their shepherd.
And I, Jehovah, will become their God,
and my servant David a chieftain among them.
I myself, Jehovah, have spoken.
And I will make a covenant of peace with them,
and I will rid the land of vicious wild beasts,
so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the forests.
I will make them and the area around my hill a blessing,
and I will cause the rain to fall at the proper time.
Blessings will pour down like the rains.”
-Ezekiel 35:23-26

The next time you hear someone say something like “my vote is for Jesus” ask them if they support God’s Government.

Temple Rebuilt and Damascus destroyed before “the End”?

This is simply a response to this this forum post:

“Isaiah 17 prophecizes the destruction of Damascus, an event which hasn’t happened yet. I muse a major Arab war is something that could shift the paradigm enough in Israel for the current political/power struggles to shift, and the temple to be rebuilt. On the temple, refer to: Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 12:11. Daniel here says that the Antichrist puts a stop to sacrifices (and sets up the abomination of desolation on a wing of the temple) in the middle of the 70th week, or last seven years before Christ returns (1290 days before Christ returns, to be exact). This obviously means that sacrifices commenced sometime before this and implies that there is a Temple already constructed to go along with the altar. Jesus confirms this is Matthew 24:15-16. Revelation 11:1-3 also mentions a “temple of God” in place through the end times. And 2 Thessalonians 2:4 speaks of the Antichrist taking his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

The fall of Damascus and the temple being rebuilt are the next events that must be fulfilled in Bible prophecy before the end times can begin. But after they are fulfilled, how long it actually takes until the end times begin I don’t believe is stated. My guess is quickly, but I could be wrong.”

Since many might feel this way I wanted to publicly speak to each point mentioned. I highly recommend reading my previous post about Israel in the Last Days. Indeed, I wrote that as part of my response to this and other comments. If you’ve read the previous essay then you can perhaps infer what this rebuilt Temple really is. Like Israel it is not a literal thing in the last days, but rather a spiritual reality. If you aren’t fully convinced of this fact or unwilling to accept that there is strong reason for us to think in this way, it may be hard to move on with what else I have to bring out.

There is plenty of evidence in that previous essay, but I will remark on the scriptures brought up above. However, those familiar with the bible may have noted that in my discussion of Physical Israel I limited myself to citing only the Hebrew part of the scriptures. Since the post I’m responding to here references some Greek scriptures I want to open with some important words from Paul that support my previous essay and will help us continue to unlock these prophecies:

For not all who descend from Israel are really “Israel”. – Romans 9:6b

Do you see what I mean? When we consider the primary fulfillment of prophecies of the last days we must keep this in mind. “Israel” is a placeholder for the new covenant group who have God’s favor. Whatever group that is in the last days, this is who these prophecies must refer to.

Daniel 9:27– If we go back to verse 24 we can get a feel for this context of what is being prophesied. 24 gives us a time period of 70 weeks in which, among other things, something will occur to “bring in everlasting righteousness”. The word “everlasting” may remind you of the later covenant to be brought about by the “prophet like Moses”. The covenant that “will not be like” the one made with Jewish bloodlines.

The next verse, 25, confirms this thinking by bringing up the Messiah, who is certainly the greater Moses, who will establish the everlasting covenant that won’t be broken.

Now, this part of Daniel happened later in his life, see 24:1 “first year of Darius”. Jerusalem has been gutted for decades. But Daniel knew from Jeremiah’s prophecy that after 70 years Jerusalem would be restored. So when we read about “from the issuing of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem” we know we are talking events to take place in relation to that reconstruction. This event is covered in another bible book, see Nehemiah 2:5,9. Daniel 9:25 is prophesying about when to expect to see the Messiah relative to that event.

Then in v26 we are also given some information about things that occur after the Messiah is “cut off”. This event is linked to allowing a “leader who is coming” to “destroy the holy place”. Who is deciding upon these “desolations”? Since this is ‘God’s Word the Bible’ it makes sense to first assume it’s his decision. OK, so why “desolations” for the city and the holy place? What would motivate such a decision? Perhaps this is to be part of the judgement upon literal Israel for rejecting their Messiah. That connects with what’s being described, so let’s assume that’s what is meant for now.

The first part of Daniel 9:27 mentions the final week for ‘keeping the covenant in force’ would seem to refer the time given to natural Israel for having the first opportunity to come into the Christian congregation, Matt 10:6, Acts 2:14; 13:46. This coincides with what we see in Daniel, namely that after 69 weeks from the “issuing of the word” Messiah would appear, v25, and then sometime after that he would be “cut off”. Verse 27 says halfway through the final week “sacrifice and offering” will cease. This is most likely when Jesus was executed.

So, what are these weeks? Some translations say “seventy sets of seven” or “seventy sevens”so this is a lot of time. 70 x 7 = 490 days, now that’s just a year and half and it clearly took a lot longer than that for Jesus to appear. What if these days were considered years? Why suggest that? Well, Ezekiel 4:6 and Numbers 14:34 both contain this phrase “a day for a year” giving this logical jump a scriptural basis. Now let’s see how it shakes down: A widely accepted year for the death of Jesus is 33 ce. If this is halfway through the final week of years then this places Cornelius’ baptism in late 36ce. Also, it is widely accepted that Jesus’ ministry was 3 1/2 years long. Hey, that’s half a week of years! So if he started his ministry in late 29ce, when was the city rebuilding completed and when was this “issuing of the word to restore” it? We only have to count backwards and see if the dates make sense. Doing so puts Jerusalem rebuilt at 406 BCE and the issuing at 455 BCE. Nehemiah 2:1 mentions who sent him and gave him with official letters to finish building the city- King Artaxerxes, who ruled from 465-424 BCE. So that lines up well enough for my purposes here.

So, this final week of years starts with Jesus’ ministry, includes the first few years of the early Christian congregation, ending three and half years after Jesus’ death. For this week Jesus keeps “the covenant in force for the many”, why? Well the many seem to be Abraham’s offspring, which the Samaritans also are, Acts 8:14-17. This week must end at the baptism of Cornelius, an event that showed that the new covenant was open to all people, Acts 10:45. Unlike the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter 8, this ‘foreigner’ was given the same holy spirit bestowed to the apostles. Demonstrating that the new covenant had fully opened to people of all nations.

.

There’s a lot more to say about this, but I think this is enough for now. This part of Daniel chapter 9 gives a timeline for the Messiah’s coming and going. Thus, Daniel 9:27 isn’t about an “antichrist”. But this is sufficient to lead us to see that. The Temple sacrifices stop because with the death of the Messiah at the behest of the Jewish Leaders the covenant is done and the Temple sacrifices are no longer acceptable form of worship. It is the time of the new covenant.

Matthew 24:15-16 – Jesus refers to this part of Daniel here, in his long answer to the question of “signs of his presence and of the conclusion of the system of things”. To understand his answer we must understand what is meant by these terms.

First, “his presence”. Later in Matthew 24 he specifically compares his presence to a lightning brightening the entire sky, v27. So it will be discernible worldwide. Then he compares his presence to the days of Noah, v37. Interesting that Christ’s presence marks the period of time before the large destructive act, comparable to the Flood, (Luke 17:26, 27) we’ll see more of that later. This description of his presence is also paralleled at Daniel 12:1, where Michael (Jesus) stands up or arises to his position of power, but then the earth will have great distress, which is described at Matthew 24:5-12.

This sequence of events is also paralleled at Revelation 6, this is the chapter that describes the four horsemen. The first rider, is on a white horse, representing purity or holiness. He is ‘given a crown’, representing authority bestowed upon him by a greater source, (Daniel 7:13,14). So this is Jesus, and his presence begins when he first exercises his authority to act as God’s judge, starting in heaven. The rest of the riders are symbols for the distress coming to the earth. A later portion of Revelation explains the conquest of Jesus and why his presence brings such distress to the earth.

And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels battled with the dragon, and the dragon and its angels battled but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them any longer in heaven. So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him. – Revelation 12:7-9

Jesus’ conquest at first is a heavenly one. And given one that of the first things he does is push the Resister and Opposer out of heaven, it makes sense that his presence brings such distress to the earth:

On this account be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them! Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing that he has a short period of time. – Revelation 12:12

Now we know more of what is meant by Christ’s presence and why it brings the earth so many problems. But of course this distress will not go on indefinitely. It is compared to the time before the Flood, so it will end with righteous ones delivered through some act of divine intervention. This brings us to the “conclusion of the system of things”. Sometimes translated “the end of the world”, or “the consummation of the age”.

So what marks the “age” or era that is to come to an end? Arguably it’s this age of man being alienated from God. His plan is to set up a system which will unify humans under “the tent of God”, Revelation 21:3, in which “he will reside with them, and they will be his people. And God himself will be with them”. Certainly current society cannot be described this way. At the moment our world is filled with competing governments/rulerships, which do not even work to serve their general public. Perhaps this sounds like Daniel 2:43 to you? It does to me! How is the modern world like iron and clay? Well, the rulers aren’t even truthful about anything they do – how much more divided could we get? Daniel 2:44 describes the earth’s governments replaced by God’s Kingdom. (I could also mention that our time is marked by Satan’s control, 1 John 5:19, John 12:31; 16:11. Which may be more important ultimately, but I’m trying to be brief.)

Much of what Jesus says at Matthew 24, and in the parallel accounts, is pertinent when we look for signs that tell us “our deliverance is near”(Luke 21:28). However, when Jesus first said this he was speaking to the apostles and the Mosaic law was still in force. Remember the Jewish bloodlines were still being given first opportunity to respond to him, Matthew 10:5, 6. So those alive during this time were about to experience the end of that Jewish “system of things”, the older covenant marked by the divinely approved temple worship, using the Levitcal priesthood, and Jerusalem being a place of special divine favor. So Jesus’ answer likely included some useful specific instruction for them in their immediate lives. This is how I understand Matthew 24:15, 16.

The fact that he mentioned Daniel 9:27 here supports this since, as we’ve seen, the part of Daniel he mentions is specifically about the Messiah’s ending the covenant by means of his being ‘cut off’. Jesus is providing a few more details to help his faithful disciples escape the coming judgement and destruction of Jerusalem – which occurred at 70ce. The one causing desolation is the Roman army, as often happens God used a world power to carry out his judgments (we’ll see more of this below). The specific instructions to flee to the mountains “of Judea” also support this reading of Matthew 24:15-20.

As Jesus was speaking we can see that he wraps this back around to the later greater fulfillment when he mentions “great tribulation such as has not occurred since the world’s beginning until now, no, nor will occur again”, v21. Which of course has more to do with the great time of distress marked by his presence, but that is the main idea of this whole section so that makes sense. It is a common thing to see prophecy written this way. Greater fulfillment mixed with initial.

Daniel 12:11 – This is a prophecy focused on the Last Days. Daniel 11:40 sets up the remaining part of the book to take place “In the time of the end”. But if that is the case then this is describing the activity of the participants of the new covenant. Daniel didn’t have those specific details, so he describes a vision in a way that he can understand, using the shadows of things to come (Col. 2:17). In relation to this it’s worth quoting Hebrew 10:1:

“For since the Law has a shadow of the good things to come, but not the very substance of the things, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make those who approach perfect.”

So what is the constant feature or continual sacrifice mentioned in Daniel 12:11? What aspect of the new covenant is also meant to be continual? Christians are encouraged to “pray unceasingly” (1 Thess. 5:17), but that isn’t particularly public, in fact it’s private enough to do silently in your head, so this isn’t really something that can be stopped on the whole, but what activity is public enough to put a stop for a time?

The last thing Jesus commanded is followers to was to “Go…make disciples of people of all nations” (Mat 28:19). How are disciples made? Romans 10:14 makes it clear: preaching. This is the primary outward activity of the Christian congregation. Then, Hebrews 13:15 takes us all the way: “let us always offer to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that make public declaration to his name.”

The last thing to note is that this a temporary cessation of the preaching work. Daniel 12:11 ends with giving us the time limit of “1,290 days”. This has nothing to do with the 70 weeks from Daniel 9. I think I explained those weeks well enough above. It is of course easier to look back on history and see how a prophecy was carried out, but it is another matter to explain or interpret one that may have happened much more recently, is happening or is soon to occur. I think it is enough for now to note that this number merely shows that the continual sacrifice would most certainly pick back up. If that feels like a push, let’s compare this to Revelation 11, but first let’s set the stage since that’s another cited scripture:

Revelation 11:1-3 – Here is another vision with a temple, “the holy city” is also mentioned. But certainly this is a vision of the end times, so this must not be read literally. Rather, than consider this in terms of physical Israel and a literal Temple we know this is about the greater covenant which doesn’t have those features. We are working under the premise of “not all who descend from Israel are really ‘Israel'”, from Romans 9:6. Another time Paul called it “the Israel of God”, see Galatians 6:16.

I’m not going to try to explain Revelation 11 or Daniel 11&12 in full here, my goal is mainly refute the idea that this refers to a physical Israel or Temple, as that notion merely makes it harder to understand what is really being expressed.

If you continue reading Revelation 11:1-12, you will see that these two witnesses in sackcloth are “killed”, v7, but later they are brought back to life, v11. This is what I compare Daniel 12:11, 12 to. Early into the last days, the preaching stops but resumes after some time.

We must consider that Revelation 11:3 brings up the 1290 days again. This time death is not mentioned but rather the two witnesses “prophesy…dressed in sackcloth”. Sackcloth garments are often worn in bible times as a sign of grieving or mourning, (Ge 37:24; 1 Sam 3:31) which is the usual response to death, so it relates on that level. It was also associated with times of crisis, 2 Kings 19:1, Isaiah 15:3; 22:12). If Christian activities are put on hold, certainly that is a crisis for them, relative to their fervent preaching work they are now dead. Both passages bring out that it is temporary.

2 Thessalonians 2:4 – This scripture also mentions the temple of god, but in what context? Is this about the end times? Seeing as how Christ’s presence is mentioned perhaps it is… But notice how it is mentioned, many translations use the word ‘concerning’ with an expression of this sort: “However, brothers, concerning  the presence of our Lord Jesus and our being gathered…”. This notes a change of topic, from whatever he had been talking about shifting to something new, specifically something that they had likely been asking about. Something they want (to know more about) so much so that some are taking advantage of this and thus correction was needed: “we ask you not to be quickly shaken from your reason…” and “Let no one lead you astray: (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).

Verse 3 goes on to say that it, Christ’s Presence, will not occur until after “the apostasy comes first”. As well as after the revealing of someone referred to as “the man of lawlessness” and “son of destruction”. Is he referring to a specific individual? I don’t think so. Verse 7 says the “mystery of this lawlessness is already at work” then verse 9 mentions that “the lawless one’s presence is by the operation of Satan”. So this seems to be a figurative term to describe those under Satan’s influence. 

It is important that this ‘son of destruction’ is ‘exalting himself’ to God’s place is mentioned as already occurring even at the time of this being written, (2 Thess. 2:7). Even as the first century Christians preached empowered with miracles the new Christian congregation it is was being attacked by Satan, so in this passage Paul is helping his readers not to be shaken by anyone saying that Christ is back or his presence has begun. Again, he says it will happen only after “the apostasy comes first”. This is in line with Jesus’ illustration of the wheat and the weeds.

Read Matthew 13:24-30, 36-40. Notice that Jesus is the sower of the fine seed and Satan is the sower of the weeds. They aren’t separated until the “conclusion of a system of things” so that’s likely during Christ’s Presence. But the timing of the sowing is shortly after Jesus sows his fine seed, some night before any of the seed has sprouted Satan comes to sow his, this pictures what is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Namely that Satan was already at work to undermine the new covenant group. This coincides with Paul saying that “God lets a deluding influence mislead many” (v11) – which is a logic occurrence if one allows the ‘weeds’ to grow with the ‘wheat’.

That brings to an end the discussion the scriptures cites as evidence of the temple restored in the times of the end. Even if you disagree, I hope you can agree that there is solid reason for viewing these and the rest of the prophecies concerning the end times as involving a spiritual “Israel” and not the literal bloodlines or locations.

~

The original comment also asserts that Damascus must be destroyed before the end comes. Citing Isaiah 17, so these must be the words he is referring to.

A pronouncement against Damascus:
“Look! Damascus will cease to be a city,
And it will become a heap of ruins.
The cities of A·roʹer will be abandoned;
They will become places for flocks to lie down
With no one to make them afraid.
Fortified cities will disappear from Eʹphra·im,
And the kingdom from Damascus;
And those remaining of Syria
Will be like the glory of the Israelites,” declares Jehovah of armies. -Isaiah 17:1-3

However, if you examine the context of these words there is no reference to the last days. In fact the context here is a series of pronouncements against Babylon (Is 13, 14), Moab (Is 15, 16), and Egypt (Is 19). Why aren’t we expecting these pronouncements to be fulfilled? Because they already have been carried out. Isaiah wrote this about 730 BCE. What happened after that? Well, in 539 BCE Babylon was conquered by Darius the Mede, Cyrus, (Daniel 5:30-6:1) after that it was never was a power. Moab faced much of its judgment in 582 BCE when Babylon conquered them and sometime after ceased to be a nation or people. Egypt, in fulfillment of these words, was invaded by Assyria 671 BCE, then in 525 BCE the Persia Empire took control, after this a series of rebellions fulfills Isaiah 19:2. 333 BCE Alexander the Great places a garrison there. Jump to 30 BCE and it’s made a Roman province. So we can see the Egypt was no longer the world power it was once was in the ancient world. (I just grabbed these dates from Wikipedia.)  Given that all this happened so long ago, isn’t it logical that given the Damascus pronouncement’s placement in the middle of this that we expect a similar fulfillment from history?

Damascus was the capitol of Syria. Syria’s fall is mentioned in the Bible, at the hands of a Assyrian army, 2 Kings 16:9. This fits in with the pattern above. Many of of these pronouncements involved God’s judgement being carried by Assyrians, Babylonians and the Medo-Persian powers (Isaiah 10:5, 6; 13:17; 44:28, Ezekiel 30:24, Proverbs 21:1). After this invasion, Damascus and Syria were no longer the source of opposition they once were to Israel (1 Chronicles 18:5, 6; 1 Kings 11:25).

I must then assume that the motivation behind expecting this prophecy at Isaiah 17:1-3 to see further fulfillment comes solely from the strong language used to describe the fate of Damascus as ‘ceasing to be a city’ and to ‘become a heap of ruins’. The use of figurative language or hyperbole is not uncommon in biblical prophecy, for example Isaiah 13:8, 12; 14:7, 8; 18:6; 19:5-7. So expecting a completely literal fulfillment doesn’t necessarily follow.

However, we know similar words were used to describe the fate of Babylon and indeed that ancient city is a ruin to this day. So what’s the difference? Quite simply, the frequency and severity of the words against Babylon are much more severe. Compare just those first three verses of Isaiah 17 with all this:

A pronouncement against Babylon that Isaiah the son of Aʹmoz saw in vision:

I will make mortal man scarcer than refined gold, And humans scarcer than the gold of Oʹphir.

And Babylon, the most glorious of kingdoms,
The beauty and the pride of the Chal·deʹans,
Will be like Sodʹom and Go·morʹrah when God overthrew them.
She will never be inhabited,
Nor will she be a place to reside in throughout all generations.
No Arab will pitch his tent there,
And no shepherds will rest their flocks there.
The desert creatures will lie down there;
Their houses will be filled with eagle owls.
The ostriches will reside there,
And wild goats will skip about there.
Howling creatures will cry out in her towers,
And jackals in her luxurious palaces.
Her time is near, and her days will not be prolonged.”

-Isaiah 13:1, 12, 19-22

and

In the day when Jehovah gives you [Israel] rest from your pain and from your turmoil and from the hard slavery imposed on you, you will recite this proverb against the king of Babylon:

“I will rise up against them,” declares Jehovah of armies.
“And I will wipe out from Babylon name and remnant and descendants and posterity,” declares Jehovah.
“And I will make her a possession of porcupines and a region of marshes, and I will sweep her with the broom of annihilation,” declares Jehovah of armies.
Jehovah of armies has sworn:
“Just as I have intended, so it will occur,
And just as I have decided, that is what will come true.

-Isaiah 14:3, 4, 22-24.

And Jeremiah was inspired to say something similar:

The word that Jehovah spoke concerning Babylon, concerning the land of the Chal·deʹans, through Jeremiah the prophet:

Your mother has been put to shame.
She who gave birth to you has been disappointed.
Look! She is the least of the nations,
A waterless wilderness and a desert.
Because of the indignation of Jehovah she will not be inhabited;
She will become utterly desolate.
Anyone passing by Babylon will stare in horror
And whistle because of all her plagues.

How the forge hammer of all the earth has been cut down and broken!
How Babylon has become an object of horror among the nations!

Come against her from distant places.
Open up her granaries.
Pile her up like heaps of grain.
Destroy her completely.
May she have no one left.

Therefore, the desert creatures will dwell with the howling animals,
And in her the ostriches will dwell.
She will never again be inhabited,
Nor will she be a place of residence throughout all generations.”

Jeremiah 50:1, 12, 13, 23, 26, 39

After reading all this it is easy to see why ancient Babylon was made and remains a ruin. Above it was said of Babylon that it would “never again be inhabited” and “Nor will she be a place to reside in throughout all generations.” Her’s was a much more permanent judgment. Whereas the judgment of Damascus is much less pronounced. Based on the city’s tumultuous history I don’t find it a stretch to say that Damascus received her promised judgment in full already.

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This is all to say that if we want to look for “signs of the times” we must be careful how we apply scriptures. First, when the end times and Israel are mentioned together we probably are on the right track when consider an application concerning a spiritual Israel and its role in modern history. Secondly, Jesus gave a nice long list of things to look for that mark his presence, (which precedes the establishing God’s kingdom on earth Daniel 2:44; 12:1), see Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Paul gave a list of attitudes that dominate during last days at 2 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:3, 4. These seem like the best places to start one’s understanding of what to look for to determine our place in the timeline described by the Bible.

Physical Israel in the “Last Days”

Many Prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures mention Israel and some variation of the phrase “the last days” or “final part of the days”. [See Ezekiel 38:14-16, Hosea 3:4,5, Daniel 10:14]. In 1948 a nation-state was established by people of Jewish descent on approximately the same location, and they called this place “Israel”. Can we expect this physical nation-state to be the instrument by which these prophecies are fulfilled? No, I don’t think so, and here’s why:

From an internal logic standpoint the simplest connection to make is how is this nation doing at upholding the law? The ancient nation was established on observance of the Mosaic Law. Is the modern nation observing the law as written in the Torah? From what I’ve been told there are not sacrifices at the temple or tabernacle. So from the perspective of the Mosaic Law the modern nation is not acting as we’d expect if they wanted to reclaim their old favor with Jehovah. No amount of double-talk and human reasoning can wiggle out of that.

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Beyond this obvious fact we can see from the Law itself that God’s arrangement for true worship was prophesied to undergo a big change. Many times in the Tanakh, God, or more specifically, Jehovah (Psalm 83:18, Isaiah 42:8), lets humans know that he plans on establishing a new covenant:

“Look! The days are coming,” declares Jehovah, “when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their forefathers on the day I took hold of their hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, ‘my covenant that they broke, although I was their true master,’ declares Jehovah.”

— Jeremiah 31:31, 32

One of the features of the “new covenant” is that “it will not be like” the one made with Israel’s forefathers. This passage also tells us that the old covenant was broken; the physical nation didn’t hold up their end of the contact making it null.

This broken covenant is likened to a legal case also at Hosea chapter 4:1. Verse 2 states the evidence and 3-5 then outline the consequences for this breach in contract bringing us to this very important result:

My people will be silenced, because there is no knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I will also reject you from serving as my priest;
And because you have forgotten the law of your God,
I myself will forget your sons.

— Hosea 4:6

“I will also reject you from serving as my priest” should be of special note because when the covenant was being enacted that was one of the attributes given that made the nation special: “Now if you will strictly obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will certainly become my special property out of all peoples, for the whole earth belongs to me. You will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Exodus 9:5, 6. Notice that this is conditional. As long as Israel was maintaining their end of the contract they served as priest or mediators between God and man.

Many scriptures highlight Jehovah’s patience and forgiveness, but at Hosea 4:6 he is careful to explain that he will indeed “forget”. That last line is sometimes rendered “I shall forget your sons, even I.” Which emphasizes that even Jehovah, who so often is ready to forgive, has decided to forget this bloodline for their lack of faithfulness to his covenant.

The conditional nature of Israel being God’s special property is repeated throughout the Mosaic Law. Leviticus 26:3, 14, Deuteronomy 11:13, 22, 28; 28:1, 15; 30:15-18. How many more “if, then” statements can you find? So, it really was like a contract and thus the reaction to the breach should not be surprising.

As mentioned, within the Torah itself it is prophesied that this covenant would be broken due to the unfaithfulness of Israel as a whole:

Jehovah now said to Moses: “Look! You are about to die, and this people will begin to commit spiritual prostitution with the foreign gods that are around them in the land to which they are going. They will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. At that time my anger will blaze against them, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them until they are devoured. Then after many calamities and distresses have come upon them, they will say, ‘Is it not because our God is not in our midst that these calamities have come upon us?’ But I will keep my face hidden in that day because of all the wickedness that they have done in turning to other gods.

Deuteronomy 31:16-18.

Notice that in this section the passage doesn’t immediately go into a prophesy of restoration based on Israel’s repentance. Rather, Moses is given a song which is to serve as “witness against the people of Israel” (v19). Then in describing the commands related to the song and Moses presenting it to the people we are told again that Israel will break the covenant (v20), and be unfaithful (v29).

The song itself is most of chapter 32 and it’s imagery is not very flattering for Israel.

 5 They are the ones who have acted corruptly. They are not his children, the defect is their own. They are a crooked and twisted generation!

15 When Jeshurun (Israel) grew fat, he kicked out rebelliously.
You have grown fat, you have become stout, you have become bloated.
So he forsook God, who made him, and despised the Rock of his salvation.
16 They incited him to fury with foreign gods;
They were offending him with detestable things.
17 They were sacrificing to demons, not to God, To gods that they had not known,
New ones that came along recently, To gods that your forefathers did not know.
18 You forgot the Rock who fathered you, And you did not remember the God who gave birth to you.
19 When Jehovah saw it, he rejected them because his sons and his daughters offended him.
20 So he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what will become of them.
For they are a perverse generation, Sons in whom there is no faithfulness.

So in vivid language and in plain words Moses tells us that Israel will indeed fail to uphold their end of the covenant thereby making it ineffective. Good thing that earlier, at Deuteronomy 18:15-18, arrangements are made by means of a prophecy for a “prophet like you [Moses]” to be “raised up”. What makes Moses unique? Let’s see… he spoke with God “face to face” (Deu. 34:10), he was instrumental in God’s deliverance of his people (Ex. 18:8; 32:11-14), and most importantly he mediated the covenant between God and humans (Exodus 20:18-21). So this “prophet like Moses” would probably do all those same things, but most importantly he’d set up the new and everlasting covenant between God and his people.

It’s good that’s the plan, since this breach of the contract on Israel’s part is mentioned many times. Logically something stronger would be needed to replace it. Let’s look at a few more passages that make it clear that the covenant needed replacing.

They continued rejecting his regulations and his covenant that he had made with their forefathers and his reminders that he had given to warn them, and they kept following worthless idols and became worthless themselves, imitating the nations all around them that Jehovah had commanded them not to imitate.

2 Kings 17:15

“Became worthless themselves” is pretty succinct. A few a more: The people of Jerusalem are told they brought bad things upon themselves by “abandoning Jehovah your God” Jeremiah 2:13, 17. Jehovah said to Solomon similar words to those we’re considered above, namely that if “you turn away and forsake my statutes and my commandments” then “I will uproot Israel” and “this house that I have sanctified for my name I will cast out of my sight”, 2 Chronicles 7:19,20.

I can’t imagine needing much more evidence than all that. If one reads these texts in full you will see these themes developed.

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Now is a good time to look more specifically at passages that use the phrase “Lasting Covenant” in relation to “Israel”. That may make it seem like God is establishing this new covenant with the same group. But is that what is indicated?

It follows that this lasting covenant is the one that would come later, by means of the prophet “like Moses”. Recall the first scripture we looked at, Jeremiah 31:31, 32, in which we read that this new covenant will “not be like the covenant made with their forefathers”. So we know there will be major differences.

We’ve established that one of those differences is that this new covenant will not be broken. Jeremiah 32:39-41; 33:19-22 make that point very clearly. Now, the beginning of these passages mention a restoration to the physical places of Israel. This proclamation was to let Israel know that their exile would not be permanent, but he would indeed restore them. That’s certainly the initial fulfillment, but since we’ve established that this covenant with Israel will be broken and replaced we can see that the primary fulfillment of these latter verses are in the new covenant.

Another clue that the current Israel cannot be fulfilling these prophecies is also in here, at Jeremiah 33:17, 21, 26 he mentions David. Reaffirming that a descendant of David would “sit on the throne of the house of Israel” forever. Do we see that sort of government with those sort of credentials?

Ezekiel chapter 16 poetically describes Jehovah’s relationship with Jerusalem. Showing how much he loved and cared for her in establishing her. Then she became unfaithful, worse then the neighboring nations, thus Jehovah punished her. But the final section is yet another restoration prophecy including this:

But I myself will remember the covenant that I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you a permanent covenant.

Ezekiel 16:60

Notice the use of the word “establish” (see also Ez. 16:62). The prophecy isn’t to amend or fix the old arrangement. This word is mainly used with the definition “to rise”. So the idea is that something isn’t set up, but will or can be. But again this is slightly redundant since the old covenant was demonstratively not permanent.

Isaiah 2:2-4 and Haggai 4:1-3 both use similar language to describe Israel in the “in the final part of the days”. That phrase indicates that they are describing the end of a certain era. (Which must be a separate time from the permanent arrangement promised for the future when death is no more, as described as Isaiah 25:8 and the later part of Isaiah 65.)

During those final days, what do we find? “all the nations”, “many nations”, and “many peoples” are described as seeking God’s guidance. They worship in a unified way and they don’t practice war. This is another major difference between the two covenants. Does this diversity and unity describe any earthly organization today?

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A restoration is also prophesied at Isaiah 61. Verse 8 mentions an “everlasting covenant”. So we are in the right sort of passage for this portion. Also, notice that in verse 2 one of the tasks is to “proclaim the year of Jehovah’s goodwill and the day of vengeance of our God” so the time of “goodwill” hasn’t started quite yet. The day of vengeance is still in the future- only after that will the true good times begin (Psalm 37:10, 11). Also one of the tasks is to “bind the brokenhearted” implying that some are still experiencing such pain. And indeed some are “captives” who also receive comfort.  These captives and brokenhearted ones are grouped also with “prisoners” and “those who mourn”. Verse 3 explains that they will be “given a headdress instead of ashes” and “oil of exultation in stead of mourning”, but most important to our discussion is what verse 4 says they will do. 

They will rebuild the ancient ruins; They will raise up the desolated places of the past, And they will restore the devastated cities, The places that lay desolate for generation after generation. Strangers will stand and shepherd your flocks, And foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.

Isaiah 61:4, 5

Jehovah will use such ones to restore his arrangement for true worship. And as part of this arrangement even “strangers” and “foreigners” will be given not only a part with responsibility, but will even have leadership roles: “stand and shepherd your flocks”. Who are “strangers”? Often this word is used in connection to people who aren’t sons of Aaron, that is, those not approved for the priesthood. And who are “foreigners”? Well, basically in context, anyone not of Jewish descendant, right? So this prophecy informs us that the new arrangement will utilize all ethnic backgrounds, something beyond the physical Israel. We know this is the later, better covenant because this is part of the “everlasting covenant with them.”

Now, let’s look at Zechariah’s prophecy. Chapter 8 starts with God gathering his people to reside in Jerusalem to be his people. But its good to know that he was writing about 518 BCE, so the Babylonian exile is over and Jerusalem is mostly rebuilt. Verse 18 of this chapter starts a new pronouncement. After giving specific instructions for some spiritual celebrations we pick up the reading:

20 “This is what Jehovah of armies says, ‘It will yet come to pass that peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will come; 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to those of another and say: “Let us earnestly go to beg for the favor of Jehovah and to seek Jehovah of armies. I am also going.” 22 And many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek Jehovah of armies in Jerusalem and to beg for the favor of Jehovah.’
23 “This is what Jehovah of armies says, ‘In those days ten men out of all the languages of the nations will take hold, yes, they will take firm hold of the robe of a Jew, saying: “We want to go with you, for we have heard that God is with you people.”’”

Zechariah 8:20-23

Again, we have “many peoples” and this time “mighty nations”. A large diverse group is to “seek Jehovah” and the “favor of Jehovah”. It goes on to describe “ten men out of all the…nations” desiring to join God’s people. In the scriptures, the number 10 seems to have the figurative meaning or connotation of representing all of a thing. Which harmonizes with much of what the other passages we’ve looked at that speak of “all the nations” coming to “the house of Jehovah”.

Now notice, these aren’t just casually wanting to go with God’s people, no they are said to “take firm hold” so they are decidedly taking action to join in true worship. So, who are the Jews then? Current literal physical Israel?

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares Jehovah. “I will put my law within them, and in their heart I will write it. And I will become their God, and they will become my people.”

Jeremiah 31:33

This is from the same passage quoted at the beginning, describing the new covenant, that will “not be like” the older one. How does this relate to the “robe of a Jew” from Zechariah? Well, what is logical? That all physical Jews have God’s “law within them”? Does that follow from the evidence? I can’t see how anyone could answer yes. We all know a person’s ethnic heritage has nothing to do with how caring, compassion, honest and spiritually-minded they are.

We’ve seen above the two prophets who described the many nations coming up “to the mountain of the house of Jehovah” that they would “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, Nor will they learn war anymore.” So that pretty much disqualifies the modern Israel from the running. So again I ask, is there an earthy organization that fulfills this?