(01) The Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks – Introduction
Four verses present the prophecy we are accustomed to calling the SEVENTY WEEKS PROPHECY. Yet, despite their brevity, the highly respected 19th century prophetic student and commentator Sir Edward Denny (1796-1889) called these verses the “backbone of scriptural prophecy.” Three reasons ensure that they do fill a key role in the study of prophecy: (a) this is the only Biblical prophecy that gives a date for the presentation of the Messiah to the nation of Israel; (b) since the first three of the four verses (vv24-26) have already been fulfilled in history – 570 years after the prophecy was given to Daniel – their literal fulfilment gives a clear indication as to how the last verse (v27), where fulfilment is still future, must be interpreted; (c) based on the date given in these verses and the divine timetable thus established, all subsequent prophecies fall into place in the divine timetable. It is for this timetable of prophetic events that these verses have been chosen for this first article in this series on prophecy.
The prophecy was given in answer to the deep concern of a trusted servant of God in the world capital of that day – Babylon. World shaking in its implications, this great city had fallen to the tactical skill and military genius of Cyrus the Persian king. In his sweep to world dominion he had already brought all the Median Empire under his control, subdued the Lydian Kingdom, and on the night of 13th October 539 BC Babylon had fallen. It was judged impregnable by military experts of the day. However, by the stratagem of diverting the Euphrates River, Cyrus had taken this city – to use an anachronism – “almost without a shot being fired.” There had been little destruction and very few deaths except that of King Belshazzar and his lords (Dan 5:31). The administration of the city, having been taken over almost intact, had been placed, in keeping with the usual policy of Cyrus, under the control of King Darius the Mede. Under this man God had permitted His servant Daniel to be put to the test for the last time (See Dan 6). Now this trusted servant of God is deeply concerned as to what this change of World Empire will mean for the captive people of Israel now under the Medo-Persian Empire.
As well as the change of the World Empire, two further matters must have deepened Daniel’s spiritual exercise at this time. Indeed, deliberately leaving to one side the administration of Babylon put in his charge by King Darius, Daniel says, “I set my face unto the Lord God to seek (Him) by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth and ashes” (Dan 9:3). First, Daniel knew that the desolation of Jerusalem and its temple and the deportation of the people of Israel was direct divine judgment because of their disobedience to Scripture and their defiance of His servants the prophets. The question Daniel had to face was simple: Had God a future for Israel or had He finished with them? The second matter that clearly burdened his heart was the consciousness that God had announced through Jeremiah (Jer 25:11-14) that the captivity would last for 70 years. Since he had been deported to Babylon in the first company of captives in 606 BC as a youth of about eighteen years, he knew that in this year 538 BC, when he was now 85, there were only two years left of this period. Daniel would ask, “What happens now?” very particularly in light of the decree already issued by King Cyrus (2Chron 36:22-23). In any recovery of the nation what troubled him was the condition of the people of Israel – there was little sign of any consciousness of national sin or any desire for confession that would indicate true repentance in the nation. This drove him to his knees before God.
The exercise of Daniel in the first 23 verses of this chapter may be summarized thus:
(a) Confession of Sin (vv3-16). Note the repetition, “we have sinned” (vv 5, 8, 11, 15) as Daniel identified with his people.
(b) Cry of the Saint (vv17-19). “Thy righteousness” demanded discipline (v16); “Thy great mercies” (v18) designed deliverance. Daniel cried on behalf of “Thy people” (v15), Thy city Jerusalem (v16), Thy sanctuary (v17).
(c) Commitment to the Servant (vv20-23). Gabriel is to “shew” Daniel the “Seventy Weeks Prophecy” (vv24-27). He is to make Daniel “understand the matter” and “consider the vision.”
Gabriel explains to Daniel that God, far from having finished with disobedient Israel, is going to fulfill divine promises to them through a divine Person – identified in these verses as Messiah the Prince. Amongst the promises God gave to Abraham as progenitor of Israel was a promise concerning a people (Gen 12:1-3), a promise concerning a land (Gen 15:18-21), but the comprehensive promise was, “In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blest” (Gen 22:5-18). The Scriptural interpretation of the promise is given in Galatians 3:16: “And to thy seed which is Christ.” The Messiah would come through the nation and through Him all the other blessings would be realized. Is it any wonder that the date of His coming to that nation is the key to the prophetic program? This is the date given in this prophecy.
It must be kept clearly in mind that the subject of this prophecy is confined strictly to a people called “thy People” which is, of course, the nation of Israel; no other nations are in the picture; likewise only one place is mentioned called “thy Holy City,” which is, of course, Jerusalem. With this focus in mind the following outline will be expanded in the articles to follow:
The Prophetic Timetable set out in the Seventy Weeks:
7 Weeks + 62 Weeks + 1 Week = 70 Weeks
Period Determined and the Purpose; Sin removed the Sovereign reigns (v24)
Person Designated and His Presentation; Savior revealed and Subjects refuse Him (v25)
Problem Defined and the Penalty; Sentence upon Sinners (v26)
Prophetic clock Stopped!
Program as Designed; Prophetic clock Re-started! (v27)
Period – Complete; Purpose – Consummated; Person – Crowned.
(02) Scriptural Exposition: Savior Revealed
This verse deals specifically with the commencement of the period that will culminate in the arrival on the scene of “Messiah the Prince,” “The Anointed,” “The Christ.” The date that allows the time clock of prophecy to start ticking is given as “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem.” There are three edicts in Scripture regarding the building of the temple (2Chro 36:22-23; Ezra 6:6-12; Ezra 7:12-26) but there is only one that deals with the rebuilding of the city. It is no surprise that it is carefully dated. This is the decree given by King Artaxerxes Longimanus to Nehemiah as recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-8. It is dated in the month Nisan in the twentieth year of his reign. Nisan is the first month in the religious calendar of Israel and of Babylon. Since it was normal practice in most of the ancient empires, notably in both Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empires, to date edicts from the first of the month in which they were issued, the starting date for this decree becomes, in our chronology, 1st Nisan 445 BC.
Implicit in this verse is the return of the remnant of the nation of Israel (around 50,000 persons) to Jerusalem, which took place in 536 BC. So Daniel’s immediate concern about his people is answered in the implications obvious in this prophecy. The complete return took place in several movements between 536 BC and 445 BC. The key dates for the temple may be noted:
(a) Founded at the first return movement under Zerubbabel 536 BC;
(b) Finished under the ministry of Haggai and Zechariah 516 BC;
(c) Furnished at the second return movement under Ezra 458 BC.
There is no mention of rebuilding the city up to this point. Through the exercise of Nehemiah (Neh 1) attention is drawn to the condition of the city of Jerusalem. The decree was issued to restore and build the city by Artaxerxes Longimanus in the month Nisan in 445 BC and put into the hand of Nehemiah for implementation. By this time Daniel had been dead many years and Israel had been back in the land ninety years when this key date starts the prophetic clock.
From the commencing date to Messiah the Prince is given to Daniel as “seven weeks and three score and two weeks” – thus a total of 69 “weeks” or heptads. Counted as weeks of years, this gives 69 x 7 = 483 years. The break between the seven weeks (49 years) and the 62 weeks (434 years) is clearly to point to the completion of the city. The “street” or “open place” describes the public area where civic gatherings took place. The word for “wall” is not the usual word but is best translated as “the scarped rampart”(F. A. Tatford) indicating the restored defensive ditch. The phrase “in troublous times” aptly describes the time from Nehemiah (445 BC) until the prophetic voice fell silent in Malachi (396 BC).
The threescore and two weeks following the seven weeks (69 weeks total), bring us to Messiah the Prince. The RV reads “Unto the Anointed One the Prince.” The “anointed” is the OT designation of the expected prophet (greater than Moses); priest (greater than Aaron, after the order of Melchisedec); king (greater than David; David called Him Lord) in whom all divine promises would be made good to Israel. So from the 1st Nisan 445 BC to the expected Christ would be 7 weeks plus 62 weeks totaling 69 weeks of years = 483 years. Using the prophetic year of 360 days gives a total of 173,880 days. In his book The Coming Prince, Sir Robert Anderson has shown that exact calculation of the days between 1st Nisan 445 BC brings us to the date 10th Nisan AD 32. The expression “Messiah the Prince” implies a public presentation of Christ, thus ruling out reference to His birth or to His baptism. However, there is one very public event recorded in all the gospels and dated very carefully in the Gospel of John that fits the timing in this passage. This event is the formal presentation of Christ to the city of Jerusalem as anticipated by the prophet Zechariah when Christ rode into Jerusalem on the colt.
The Jewish Passover was, of course, on the 14th Nisan. For His last Passover, Christ arrived at Bethany six days before the Passover (John 12:1) which must be dated as the 8th Nisan AD 32. In this year the 8th fell on a Friday. Christ would rest on the Sabbath day (9th Nisan) and then, after sunset, enjoy the supper in the house of Simon the leper (Matt 26:6; John 12:1-9). On the next morning (John 12:12), the first day of the week, the 10th Nisan, Christ presented Himself officially to His nation as Messiah the Prince. Zechariah had given a prophetic view of that moment when the nation was challenged: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion; Shout O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, Thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation: Lowly, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech 9:9).
Messiah the Prince had arrived exactly on schedule.
Problem Defined and its Penalty: Sentence upon Sinners v26(a)
The next statement is startling and unexpected. “After the threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off.” In a sober prophetic statement the most dramatic moment in earth’s history is stated. Instead of a crown, the nation of Israel gave Christ a cross! Four days after the closing of the 69th week, on the 14th Nisan AD 32 Christ died on the cross of Calvary. “The Lamb of God” (John 1:29) having been kept the four literal days, dies on the Passover day in keeping with Scripture. “Cut off” is a word used in Scripture to describe deliberate judicial action (see Isa.53:8); the nation refusing His claim took action to put Him to death. Instead of the AV reading “but not for Himself” theRV “and shall have nothing” carries the authority of most conservative grammarians. Not a crown but a cross for Messiah. The purpose of God for this nation was not cancelled but suspended. Before the Sovereign could reign national Israel would have to face this sin. In the meantime, the prophetic clock is stopped.
(03) Daniel’s Seventy Weeks
At the close of the 69th week the prophetic clock was stopped. At the commencement of the 70th week the prophetic clock is restarted.
Program Deferred v26 (b)
The 69th week of the prophecy closed with the presentation of Christ. This is the point where the prophetic clock was stopped. All that follows in verse 26(b) is the consequence of unbelief in the Messiah. Since the 70th week only commences in verse 27 it is very obvious that the text demands a time gap between these two verses. Two major events take place after the 69th week has closed with Messiah presented to the nation’s leaders. In the first event, unbelief takes over and the result is “Messiah is cut off.” This points to the crucifixion four days after His presentation; this is the answer of the nation.The four days (10th – 14th Nisan) remind our hearts of Egypt and the kept lamb (Exo 12:1-6).
The second event is the total destruction of the city (Jerusalem) and the sanctuary (the temple). This is the answer from God to that generation’s unbelief in the cross. This took place 38 years after Calvary in AD 70, when, in the process of subduing the Judean rebellion, the Roman legions under Titus destroyed both the city and the sanctuary. The agent of this destruction is very carefully identified as “the people of the prince that shall come.” The adjectival participle describing the prince as “coming” makes it clear that the people from whom this particular prince comes would be on the world stage before he, the prince, was. In other words, while the people are assuredly the Roman army, the prince here cannot be Titus. It is the western peoples who are in the prophetic picture, not Titus.
It may be relevant to recall that in AD 70 the fanatical defense of Jerusalem incited the legionaries to unparalleled brutality. Crosses around the city were in such numbers that it was said that not a tree was left in Judaea. Titus had given explicit orders that the sanctuary was not to be destroyed, but even the authority of Titus could not hold in check the rage of his veteran legions and the temple was deliberately torched. In the blazing temple, gold melted and ran down between the stones. To get the gold the soldiers pried the stones apart. A greater than Titus had said, “There shall not be left one stone upon another” (Matt 24:2).
However, it is clear that this prophecy looks beyond Titus to show that a far greater than Titus would emerge from the peoples of the western world. Another leader far outranking Titus, identified as the Coming Prince, would arise in the west. As we view history, the gap between people who destroyed Jerusalem (the Roman Legions) and this “Coming Prince” lengthens to centuries.
The three statements that follow these two events summarize the history of Jerusalem during this gap period, indeed until the commencement of this 70th week: (a) “And the end thereof shall be with a flood,” (b) “And even unto the end shall be war” (RV), (c) “desolations are determined.” The use of the word “flood” in the OT is used frequently of an enemy invasion (Nah 1:8; Isa 28:2). It is simply a matter of historical record that in these intervening years down to the present time Jerusalem has endured 36 major wars, experienced 20 sieges, and been destroyed 17 times.
The Gap between the 69th and 70th Week
While it is not strictly within the remit of the exposition of the seventy weeks for our intelligent understanding of the whole range of prophetic Scripture, it must be noticed what takes place within the time break. The following is a brief summary:
(a) The resurrection of Christ on the 17th of the month Nisan and His ascension 40 days later.
(b) The setting aside of the nation of Israel (Rom 11:25).
(c) The descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the incorporation of the Church (Acts 2).
(d) The mission of the Church in the preaching of the gospel worldwide.
(e) The removal of the Church from earth when Christ comes to the air (1Thes 4:13-18). It should be pointed out that since the Church is not introduced until after Israel has been set aside it is clear that the Church must be removed from earth before Israel comes back into the prophetic timetable with the confirmation of the covenant (Dan 9:27).
It is clear from the above that the Church of the Dispensation is neither a continuation of Israel nor a replacement for Israel. The Church, a distinct entity, commenced after Israel was set aside and her history on earth closes at the Rapture, before Israel comes back into the timeline of prophecy with the signing of the covenant.
(04) Prophecy: Prophetic Clock Restarted
One week of this prophecy awaits fulfilment. Consistent exegesis demands that this is a period of seven years of 360 days each, making a total of 2520 days. If the first coming of Christ (the Messiah) was accurate to the day there is a very strong case for absolute accuracy in the date of the Second Coming of Christ to earth. The starting point of this period is the “confirming” of a covenant between one identified as “he” and the leader in Israel who speaks for the “many.” The only possible antecedent for the “he,” both grammatically (the nearest antecedent) and logically, is the one described as “The Coming Prince” in the previous verse. The use of the word “Prince” suggests one who stands in contrast to Messiah the Prince and it has been shown that he is the powerful leader from the west. Other Scriptures (Dan 2:40-43; 7:7-8) indicate that he will lead a ten-power world kingdom on the pattern of, but far greater than, the Roman Empire. He is depicted as the Beast from the Sea (Rev 13:1-2) and called the “Man of Sin” (2Thes 2:3).
The emergence of a leader in Israel able to enter into such covenant assumes that Israel is back in its own land and as a nation is able to decide its own destiny. For a period of 2554 years from 606 BC to 1948, this was never so. It must therefore be of prophetic significance that only since Israel became an independent nation on 14th May 1948 could such a covenant be made. They await a charismatic leader able to command a majority vote for peace. When such arises he will be the one of whom the Lord warned that he would “come in his own name” (John 5:43) to claim the allegiance of the apostate nation of Israel. He would answer to John’s vision when he wrote “I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth” (Rev 13:11) and identified in other Scriptures as “The False Prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) and “The Antichrist” (1John 2:18).
This seven-year covenant underwritten by the powerful western leader:
(a) brings peace in Israel
(b) permits the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (2Thes 2:3-4) and
(c) allows the reestablishment of the sacrificial system of Judaism.
Isaiah has described this covenant in scathing terms as “a covenant with death” and “an agreement with hell” (Isa 28:18).The confirmation of this covenant commences the seven-year tribulation whose details will be unfolded in the book of the Revelation (Rev 6-16). In the middle of this period, at three-and-a-half years, a crisis develops. Suddenly, the recently established sacrificial system is interrupted. The sacrifice (the blood offerings) and the oblation (the non-blood offerings) of Judaism are made to cease. The action that brings this about is described thus “upon the wing of desolations shall come one that maketh desolate” (RV). The most justifiable interpretation is to see the “wing” as the wing or pinnacle of the temple from which Satan sought to persuade Christ to make a public claim to deity (Matt 4:5). It is here that the leader in Israel (the false prophet) will place the image he has made of the Beast (Rev 13:14) and demand his worship. This is identified by the Lord as “the abomination of desolation” (Matt 24:15). This happening at the midpoint of the week introduces the “great tribulation” (Matt 24:21) spoken of by Jeremiah as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer 30:7) when unparalleled judgment breaks on earth. This is the period when Jerusalem is trodden under foot for 42 months (Rev 11:2) and every soul who will not worship the Beast is put to death. Jews and believers who will not bow to the Beast are put to death.
This idolatry, the worship of Satan’s man, is allowed to continue to the “consummation,” a word meaning “full end,” that indicates the judgment of this man will take place on the last day of this 70th week as Christ arrives on earth with the armies of heaven (Rev 19:11). In Daniel 9:27, the word “determined” is the same word as already used in verse 26 and means “decreed” – heaven has passed its judicial sentence upon unbelieving mankind both in Israel and the nations. Unbelievers who worship the Beast, bow to his image, and take his mark will share his doom. That judgment is defined in the final statement of the text: “shall wrath be poured upon the desolator” (RV). This points to the confrontation at Armageddon between Christ and the Man of Sin who has led the world into terrible desolation. The record of Scripture is concise: “And the beast was taken and with him the false prophet … these both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev 19:20). With the desolater cast into the Lake of Fire and his armies destroyed (Rev 19:20-21), Christ moves to Jerusalem (Psa 24:7-10) to claim the crown refused Him when He came the first time. The promises to Abraham and David will be fulfilled in the kingdom established at this point. The record of Zechariah thrills the soul: “He shall speak unto the nations, and His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth” (Zech 9:10).
(05) Prophecy: The Promise of His Coming
The tension had been mounting steadily in the upper room. The lesson of the bason left a deep impression as the twelve disciples watched their Master and Lord (John 13:1-5) kneel to wash their feet and wipe them with the towel. To the disciples, this was an unforgettable picture of the Son, in His Savior role, voluntarily sacrificing inherent status for service to them. Then, as the Lord dealt with Peter’s objections, the Lord’s action became a parable of salvation in the distinction the Lord made between a total “bathing” (of the whole body) and a partial “washing” (of the feet). In the final word from the Lord, His action became a pattern for saints to be followed by His disciples in their treatment one of another (v14).
Amid the silence, the Lord resumes His seat and with troubled brow makes them face a Scripture-based fact for which He must prepare them: “One of you shall betray Me.” The tension is now palpable as each disciple surreptitiously examines his neighbor. Peter, realistic as ever, signals quietly to John, the one lying on Jesus’ breast, who, in response, whispers “Lord, who is it?” In answer the Lord gives the lesson of the bread as, quietly, He responds “He it is, to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it.” The disciple privileged to receive that token of love, the morsel of bread dipped in herbs, was Judas. Identified by the Lord Himself, angrily refusing to yield to the love and reconciliation expressed in the sop, Judas jumps to his feet, and marching down the hall is followed by the Lord’s command “That thou doest, do quickly” (v27). Judas is no longer moving to his own timetable. Such an exit left its message on the mind of John so that sixty years later he still remembers, “and it was night” (v30).
The tension is unbelievable as the Lord speaks again. “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” In the simple statement, the Lord is saying to His own “I am leaving you; I am going back to Glory.” No one can follow Him at this time (v33). He must travel alone and thus, in a “little while,” just a few hours, they will be alone. Peter, impetuous as ever, does not understand as he asks “Why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake.” At this point, the Lord quietly introduces the third lesson of the chapter; the lesson of the bird. The Lord warns Peter “The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied Me thrice.” These were sobering, searching words for Peter to ponder. One can only begin to understand the tension. The Lord leaving them for glory and even yet, the truth of the cross has not dawned upon them. To their minds, they are to be left homeless, powerless, and penniless, in a hostile world. One of their own select band is to prove a traitor and another is to show himself a turncoat. What a dark moment!
The Lord’s words drop into these tense moments with an effect like oil on a troubled sea. “Let not your heart be troubled.” Note that He did not rebuke their condition, but supplied the antidote. He could speak with absolute authority; He had known such moments of agitation in the recent past. John has just recorded three such moments: (a) at the grave of Lazarus (11:33); (b) when the Greeks sought an audience with Him (12:27); and (c) just a few minutes before when the traitor was exposed (13:31). These moments reminded the Savior of the nearness of the cross. There would be agitation of soul and spirit but, beyond that, glory. For the disciples, the answer lay in seeing beyond the present grief to the “glory of God.” Has not the Lord lifted the eye to the glorified Son of Man (v31)? Glorified must mean that same Person, seen by faith in the presence of God, brings a promise into the present pain. (Study each case just mentioned as to how the Lord responded to the circumstances: in John 11:40-41 resurrection; in 12:27-28 reassurance; and in 13:31-32 reality.)
The Lord shows that, for believers, the answer to an agitated or troubled heart lies in three considerations that may be set out as follows:
1. Rest in a Person – “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” The AVhas the right interpretation. The first verb is in the indicative mood; to believe in God is basic (Heb 11:6). The second verb is in the imperative mood to distinguish those who have also placed their trust in Christ. These disciples will certainly need that trust when they stand under the cross of Calvary. Unless that trust is retained in Him they will assuredly be agitated or troubled. They will understand nothing of what is taking place.
2. Reality of a Place – “In My Father’s House are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” They believed in Him when, as the Son, He had passed judgment on “My Father’s House” on earth (John 2:13-17). In His coming to earth, He judged the earthly house, so His going will open an abode for them in the Father’s house above. Behind the typical there lies the real – in glory.
3. Revelation of a Promise – “If I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and receive you unto Myself that where I am there ye may be also.” The logic is inescapable. “I go away” must include the stages: His death on the tree, His resurrection from the tomb, and His ascension to glory. Now, one step brings Him back; “I will come again.” No mention of angels, armies, and astronomical disturbances. The eye focuses on the person Who left (Acts 1:9-11) as the person Who comes back “in like manner as ye have seen Him go” – a single person, visible to the human eye, silent as far as the world is concerned. Thus He went, so He will come.
(06) The Prospect of His Coming
It has already been made clear in these articles that the very next event on the divine timetable with respect to earth is the coming of the Lord for His Church as He promised: “I will come again and receive you unto Myself” (John 14:1-3).
With this agrees the statement: “Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord hath drawn nigh” (James 5:8). The perfect tense in the verb (eggiken) points to the fact that the Lord’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension are all in the past; these events have opened the way. The next event must be His coming. In this sense, that coming has been “imminent” since He ascended, leaving His disciples on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-11). We remember that “imminent” does not carry the thought of “immediate,” but rather must be understood as “impending” or “overhanging.” It could happen at any moment. In fact, the very last words of the Lord to the churches in Asia (Rev 22:20) are words that have rung down the ages with satisfying authority: “Surely I come quickly.” Every believing heart, from the depth of earth’s trials and tears, responds with supreme assurance, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
On the Tuesday afternoon before the cross (12th Nisan, AD 32) the Lord had gathered His disciples around Him on the Mount of Olives (Matt 24-25) and spoke to them as representatives of the nation who had already passed the death sentence upon Him (John 11:53). Presently those leaders of Israel were awaiting a word from Judas the traitor – words that would set procedures in motion to ensure His death on a cross. Hence, in answering their questions, the Lord deals with the national rejection of His claims and the retribution such an action of a rebellious people demands. Then He climaxes with the return in power of the rejected Son of Man. Israel gave Him a cross; He will come back to claim the crown. This means judgment of which the Lord spoke: “immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven … and the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt 24:29-30).
It has already been shown that in the upper room, hours before the cross, a different scene meets us. The final Passover has been celebrated. Judas, having been exposed by the Lord, hastens away to complete his traitorous bargain with Caiaphas. The Lord speaks to the 11 as representatives of those who, by believing in Him, had disassociated themselves from the national rejection of Christ. Thus, the Lord can speak to them as representatives of the new entity that would come into existence at Pentecost. They would become the nucleus of that Church of which He had spoken in Caesarea Philippi. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). To this representative company the Lord gave that precious promise: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” The contrast with the previous discourse (Matt 24-25) is crystal clear. There is not a single feature of the judgment so clearly associated with the coming of the Son of Man. Not a word about the fearful astronomical signs, the armies marching to destruction, or even the presence of angels. The emphasis falls on His Person: “I will come again.”
On that very night the tension of the upper room was replaced by the tears in Gethsemane (Heb 5:7). After midnight Christ was arrested, faced the various trials up to the final trauma of Gabbatha and then was led out to Golgotha. Nevertheless, all was put right by the triumph of the resurrection of Christ. The 40 happy days that followed were memorable. Their Lord tarried with them from Sunday 17th Nisan, AD 32 until on that Thursday afternoon on the 26th Zif, He led them out to the Mount of Olives. As they gathered around Him for the last time, there burst from the anxious hearts of the disciples a vital question: “Lord wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”
The Lord’s answer confirmed what the disciples had implied. Since the rejection of their Messiah the nation of Israel had been set aside as God’s testimony on earth. Christ had come to earth through that nation and they had rejected Him. With respect to the purposes of God, Israel was no longer the key nation. It had been set aside with respect to the earthly side of the program of God. The Lord’s reply also shows that, while the setting aside was temporary with a view to restoration, the time of restoration must be left to His Father. They could do nothing to bring this about. Meanwhile they had an urgent and vital task to fulfil. These very men must be His witnesses in a worldwide mission: “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” National boundaries would no longer limit the blessing to Israel. These men would be the channel of the gospel to all mankind. So mighty was the task, that they must wait at Jerusalem 10 days, until the Feast of Pentecost, for the empowerment to be brought by the Holy Spirit in their baptism in the Spirit (Acts 1:5).
As they received this last charge from their Lord, suddenly they are conscious that His hands are extended in priestly blessing as He was rising from their midst (Luke 24:50-51). Luke’s simple statement is dramatic: “while they beheld He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). Eyes still fixed above where He had disappeared from view, the disciples must have been quite startled to find two men in white apparel stand by their side with a message. This message linked two things: the manner of His going and the manner of His coming again. There is no doubt that the heavenly messengers were adding detail to the Lord’s promise of John 14:1-3 to His disciples when He said in the upper room, “I will come again and receive you unto Myself.” On that Thursday afternoon there were no astronomical disturbances, no mighty armies thundering through the land, nor a host of angelic beings standing in attendance. The disciples are told very simply, “this same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” He left in bodily form, visible only to the eyes of His own; silently as far as the world was concerned. Jerusalem, two miles away, went about its social, political, and religious life unaware of what was taking place on the other side of the hill.
What a moment it will be when we see Him in yonder sky!
(07) The Power in the Coming
The earliest question asked about the Lord’s Coming in this Church age, of which we have any record, is the question that troubled the believers in Thessalonica around AD 50-51. It seems to have arisen as the new believers studied the OT Scriptures in the light of the gospel recently brought to them by Paul and Silas. From the gospel they knew that not only had Christ died for sinners but that He had risen from the dead and ascended to glory. Further, they knew that He was coming back to earth in glory to claim the crown refused Him at His first coming and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem. Though the nation of Israel had rejected His Son and, thus were temporarily set aside (Rom 11:25) as the gospel went out to the nations, the Scriptures made it very clear that He still had purposes of blessing for that nation. For believers the prospect was bright – Christ was coming back to earth for the establishment of the glorious Kingdom in which they would share. But believers were dying and, suddenly they wondered. Would such miss that glorious manifestation? Of resurrection they had not the slightest doubt; that truth was an integral part of the gospel they had believed. However, from their study of Scripture, resurrection seemed to be placed subsequent to the establishment of the Kingdom (Dan 12:1-3). Thus, reason led them to understand that the believers, who died before the Lord returned, would miss the glorious inauguration of the Kingdom. Such a thought robbed His coming of its gladness, not in any way like the sorrow that death brings to unbelievers, but still, they could not rejoice as the Lord intended believers to do, in that hope without a shadow. This sober and sensible question requires not human reasoning but divine revelation to answer.
The answer, from the Lord Himself (1Thes 4:13-18), channelled through the apostle Paul, has brought comfort and joy to multitudes of believers down the years. The answer replaces ignorance with the light of Scripture, puts to rest every doubt, dispels every vestige of uncertainty, and dries every tear-stained cheek. There is no need to sorrow for believing friends who have died. Indeed, far from missing the inaugural scenes, they will enjoy a priority that places them in the forefront of the action: “The dead in Christ shall rise first.”
If the question is implicit in the wording of verse 13, the answer is explicit in verse 14. The answer is based on two indisputable facts: (a) that which to the unbeliever is death becomes, through Jesus, “sleep” (as in Matt 9:23-26 and John 11:11-14); note the expression “through (dia) Jesus” (v14). Sleep is related to the body only and the verb is always in the passive voice. As a mother tenderly rocks her child to sleep, so also Jesus puts His people to sleep. The soul “departs” to be with Christ (Phil 1:23) as the body sleeps. (b) Christ’s body was laid in a tomb but the next time unbelievers see Him is when He returns in glory. So believers in Him, in this age of gospel preaching will die and be buried and the next time unbelievers will see them will be when they come with Christ to earth in glory (v14). The verb “bring” is agowhich is used eight times in the epistles: on five of these occasions it is translated “lead.” So it should be translated here. The Savior leads all the resurrected saints, their resurrected bodies patterned on His body (1Cor 15:35-47) in the setting up of His Kingdom. Loved believers who have died before the coming will not miss anything. Emphasis is placed on their presence by the expression “them also” (kai … tous). Not a single true believer from the Church age will be missing; we will all be there.
The explanation follows. Note “for” (gar); so vital is this matter that Paul assures the saints that it does not even rest on apostolic authority but carries the absolute authority of the Lord Himself. It is “a word of the Lord” (en logo kurio). First, a very natural assumption has to be ruled out: “that we who are alive, who are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep” (RSV). Any question of priority for the living believers is ruled out completely. This is made clear in the order of events introduced by the second explanatory “for” (hoti):
1. The Savior – “from heaven” (ap’ouranou). “For the Lord Himself” (hoti autos ho kurios).This can be delegated to no other. It is the Lord Himself Who calls home the Church. There is a marked absence of astronomical signs (Matt 24:29-30); there is no mention of the armies, attendant angels (Jude 14), or of the white horse and the rider with many and a flaming sword (Rev 19:11). In fact, it is the same Jesus as ascended to heaven Who descends from heaven (Acts 1:9).
2. The Shout – “with a shout.” Three prepositional phrases stand before the verb to describe the circumstances accompanying the Lord’s coming: “with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” There are various ways of understanding the grammar involved. However, the simplest is to take the shout as a definitive sound which is then interpreted in two different ways, possibly in two different realms. The word “shout” (en keleusmati) used only here in the NT has the thought of absolute authority. The authority of a military command; it commands obedience, instant and automatic. In the Septuagint, as pointed out by W. E. Vine, it is used of locusts who at the “word of command” march in rank (Pro 30:27). No genitive identifies the one giving the shout or to whom it is addressed. It is surely the triumphant shout of the victor over the grave, awakening all His own to eternal life; the shout that reaches all believers of this dispensation whether in heaven (those who have died) or those living on earth. It is the summons of the bridegroom to the bride.
The two phrases that follow interpret that sound in two different ways. In heaven it becomes as the “voice of archangel.” Bodies of believers would seem to be under archangelic supervision (Jude 9); and since many believers are about to be clothed with their resurrection bodies angelic powers are made aware of this. For believers on earth the final stage of earth’s pilgrimage is over. The trump of God sounds. This is why it is called “the last trump” (1Cor 15:52). The seventh trumpet in Revelation 11:15 is numbered in a series and the context shows it is not related to this trump.
(08) His Saints
Two companies of saints respond to that great commanding shout in I Thessalonians 4:13-18: (A) The dead in Christ (hoi nekroi en Christo) shall rise first” (v16). The same verb used of Christ (v14) is used here of the resurrection of His own. The limiting phrase, “in Christ,” shows that this resurrection is confined to believers who have died from Pentecost, the incorporation of the Church. This limitation is supported by a number of Scriptural arguments. (a) The phrase “in Christ” is the NT term used only of believers in this gospel age. (b) The phrase “they that are Christ’s” (1Cor 15:23) is wider and includes believers of every age; but there are different “orders” or “ranks” in the resurrection unto life. Believers in the Church are just one of the ranks: “but every man in his own order.” (c) The resurrection of OT saints must be left where the OT places it in the divine timetable, at the close of the Tribulation period (Dan 12:1-2). Any interpretation that spiritualizes this resurrection to make it refer to the spiritual recovery of the nation of Israel stands self-condemned, misinterprets the passage, and misreads the context. This resurrection will include believers who have died in the Tribulation period (Rev 20:4-6).
(B) “We which are alive and remain” (hemeis hoi zontes perileipomenoi); living believers comprise the second company. Responding to that summons, their very bodies changing (1Cor 15:51-57), rising, they mingle and become one company (sun autois). Simultaneously, they are “caught up together.” The verb (harpazo) inherently has the idea of force in it: “take by force” (John 6:15) or “pluck away” (John 10:28); but “catch up or catch away” is a good translation. So translated on five other occasions in the AV (Matt 13:19; Acts 8:39; 2Cor 12:2, 4; Rev 12:5), it simply implies a swift, sudden removal of each believer by a superior force. In the Vulgate, the Latin word used by Jerome (345-420 BC) for harpazo is rapio, rapere, which translates into English as “to tear, to snatch, to carry off, to seize quickly.” It is by this Latin-based word that, in more recent times, believers have come to refer to this event as the Rapture. Such an endearing term delights our hearts.
First Thessalonians 4 deals with the problem of saints who have died before the Lord comes for the Church. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-57, the apostle has to consider a different angle – the problem posed by saints who are alive when the Lord comes. The dead saints, in this case, offer no problem. Their bodies, in rising from the grave, put on the incorruptible body patterned on Christ’s body. Since “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v50), the bodies of living saints must be changed. Paul writes, “Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump” (v51). In 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the same trumpet is mentioned. For living believers, it is the signal for being clothed upon with the new body fitted for the kingdom. Incorruptibility and immortality belong inherently to this body (Phil 3:20-21). The change takes place in an instant of time; so quickly it cannot be measured by human technology.
At His ascension “a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9), and now the clouds receive the saints as they leave earth behind and move “to meet the Lord in the air” (1Thes 4:17). There is no suggestion in either passage that the clouds should be other than literal clouds, beyond which the saints have that special meeting with their Lord in the air. There is no obvious reason why air should not carry its normal NT meaning of “atmosphere,” so it will be behind the clouds in the atmosphere of the heavens, in its nearness to earth, and will thus be a testimony of the triumph of the power of Christ over Satanic power, calling away His Bride from earth. In Hellenistic Greek the word “meeting” carries the thought of a ceremonial presentation to a superior dignity but perhaps, in this context, Paul makes use of the basic meaning of the word “meeting,” as the Church, the Bride, meets her Lord as the Bridegroom. What a meeting that will be!
Paul does not tell us what follows the meeting in the air. For Paul, for the troubled Thessalonians, and for us, the ultimate comfort lies in the next sentence, “and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (v17). No believer needs anything beyond this absolute assurance. Here we rest. Eternity carries not the slightest fear.
(09) The Coming of the Lord for the Church
The Parting at the Coming
Scripture has made it plain that believers who are alive when the Lord comes will be caught up for a meeting with Him in the air (1Thess 4:13-18). It has also been pointed out (Part 3 of this article) that the verb “caught up” (harpazo), generally implies a forceful removal and is translated sometimes “take by force” (Matt 11:12; John 6:15; Acts 23:10), or “snatch away” (John 10:28, 29). In each of the six times it is translated “caught up,” there is a very clear implication that the one “caught up” disappears from sight. A clear example is seen in connection with Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8:39). Scripture records: “The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip and the Eunuch saw him no more.” Thus believers caught up at the Rapture will simply disappear from the earth.
It is difficult to grasp the terrible shock this will be to those left on earth. The news will swamp the centers of the world media on radio and television within minutes of its happening. Round the earth the news headlines will scream, “Millions Disappear.” The unbelievable has happened, and every news flash will tell of another disaster. Driverless cars on crowded highways, bullet trains with brakes afire, pilot’s seat empty on the flight deck of a jumbo jet as it enters controlled airspace – events that presage disaster! Headlines will speak of travel chaos around the world. The Lord coming to the air for His Church has separated those with life in Christ from those without that life. Every believer will be caught up to meet the Lord and to enter the Day of Christ in heaven. Every unbeliever will be left behind for the judgments of the Day of the Lord on earth, climaxing with the Tribulation period and the Lord’s return to earth as Son of Man.
When the Lord spoke directly of that period of special judgment, the Tribulation period, that will precede His coming to earth as Son of Man, He drew significant parallels with the last universal judgment to sweep earth – the Flood (Gen 6-8). His words are clear: “For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came and took them all away” (Matt 24: 34-42). Here the Lord stresses (a) the unexpectedness of the Flood – in spite of clear warnings and many signs, “they knew not;” (b) the unbelief of society marked by iniquity (Gen 6:1-8), independence (Job 22:15-18), and indifference; (c) the universality of its scope – it “took them all away.” These features will be reflected in the judgment scenes of the Tribulation period.
The important point to which the Lord draws attention here, in the “then” (v40), is that beyond the voice of Noah, the building of the ark and the behavior of the animals, that generation had received an earlier and unforgettable warning. Enoch did two things: he pleased God, and he preached of a Lord coming to judge the earth (Jude v14). Significantly, he disappeared from earth before the judgment arrived. The Scripture says “Enoch was translated that he should not see death.” Men searched but Enoch was gone; he was not to be found (Heb 11:5). The verb “translated” is rendered elsewhere “carried over” (Acts 7:16), “removed” (Gal 1:6), or “changed” (Heb 7:12); he had disappeared from earth. His translation marked the opening of a generation that closed with the Flood. His son, Methuselah, whose name means “when he is dead it shall be sent,” bears testimony to this. Methuselah was 300 years old, not yet in his middle years, when his father disappeared. Is it not remarkable that this is the man with the longest lifespan on record? It would seem that a longsuffering God withheld the judgment as long as possible. The generation that opened with the disappearance of Enoch closed with the Flood.
The understanding of the “then” in the next verse (Matt 24:40) is crucial. The Lord is still referring to the period connected with His coming as Son of Man, which climaxes a generation (v34) marked by judgment. In simple terms the generation that saw the commencement of this period would see the climax, the Son of Man descending to earth. In Noah’s day the generation that began with the translation of Enoch ended with the Flood. So it is suggested that while the Rapture has not been fully revealed, the Lord, in very careful language, is introducing it to show that the disappearance of saints at the Rapture would be the opening note of the generation that would close with His coming as Son of Man in judgment.
The statements that follow are startling: (a) “[then] shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” Clearly there are two working or walking together and one disappears, instantly and silently. (b) “Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken the other left.” Two women are engaged in daily chores and, suddenly, one of the women disappears; not a word of farewell. The parallel passage in Luke (Luke 17:34-36) presents a third picture: (c) in that night there shall be two men in the one bed; one shall be taken; and the other shall be left.” The walking, working and sleeping indicate that all the time zones of earth are affected at the same moment.
It has been a common interpretation to link the verb “taken” with the statement of judgment in the previous verse “the flood came and took them all away,” as if these individuals were the ones taken away to judgment and those left go into kingdom blessing. This is faulty exegesis. The verbs that the Lord used do not allow this. The verb “took” in verse 39 is airo the usual verb for simply moving something out of the way or to a different location. On the other hand the verb “taken” in these verses is paralambano, a word totally different with a very much warmer meaning. Vine’s Dictionary gives, “to associate with oneself another in intimate relationship.” It generally implies the idea of welcome. In this gospel, it is found addressed to Joseph, “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife” (1:20). It is the word used by the Lord of the Rapture, “I will come again and receive (paralambano) you unto myself”‘(John 14:2). Of the 50 times it is used in the NT, all but one demands a happy outcome. The only possible exception is “they took Jesus and led him away” (John 19:16) where the verb could still be translated “received.” Also note that the verb “left” is from apheimiwhich, with very few exceptions, refers to someone “left” or “abandoned” (Rev 2:4). Just before taking His seat on the Mount of Olives, the Lord uses it in the statement, “Behold your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt 23:38).
In light of the words used and the context, it is suggested this points without any doubt to the Rapture as the opening note of the Day of the Lord which takes unbelievers by surprise (1Thes 5:2). The Lord never comes to His own as a thief in the night. When this figure is used, unbelievers are always in view (Rev 3:3; 16:15). With later Scriptures now available it can be seen how the Rapture of the church, which introduces the Day of the Lord (1Thes 5:2), will be a terrible warning for the generation on which the Tribulation will break.
To interpret this passage as a summary of what happens at the entrance of the kingdom means to view the “taking” as a “taking for judgment” and the “leaving” as a leaving for blessing or the entrance into the kingdom. As shown, this interpretation does violence to the normal usage of the verbs. It also presents problems regarding the agency and the destination of the “taken.” It seems a strange way to refer to the judgment of the living nations (Matt 25:31-33) as well as being out of context. The interpretation given above fits the vocabulary and the context much more satisfactorily.
(10) After the Rapture: The 144,000 Witnesses
The Day of Christ Opens for Saints in Heaven
It has been noted that the next event on the divine timetable is the coming of the Lord for the Church, when every believer in Christ in this dispensation of grace (from Pentecost to the moment of the Rapture) will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. Believers who have died (the “dead in Christ”) will be raised from the grave with new bodies patterned on the body of the risen Christ. Believers still alive, with bodies changed to that same pattern “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1Cor 15:52) are caught up together with their resurrected brethren to meet the Lord in the air (1Thes 4:13-18). The Lord, in His final promise to believers of this age, reminded them: “Surely, I come quickly” (Rev 22:20). Through the ages, the very imminence of that coming has been a cheer and comfort to tried saints in life’s darkest hours. Many believers have sighed through tears “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus (22:20).”
The Rapture has taken every believer of the gospel age to meet the Lord in the air. The initial meeting in the air precedes their presentation to the Father in the Father’s House (Heb 2:10). There, they enter upon the Day of the Lord Jesus Christ (1Cor 1:8; 5:5; 2Cor 1:14), or the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6) or simply the Day of Christ (Phil 1:6, 10; 2:6). Two events of major importance take place in glory. First the Judgment Seat of Christ (2Cor 5:10) where Christ takes His place as judge and the work of each saint is revealed, reviewed, and rewarded by the Lord Himself (Rev 22:12). The bride of the Lamb, the Church, now ready and “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white … the righteousness of saints” (Rev 19:6-8) is presented to the Lamb in the marriage ceremony. These events take place before Christ returns to earth with His Bride to host the Marriage Supper (Rev 19:9) at the establishment of the Millennium Kingdom.
The Day of the Lord Opens for Souls on Earth
The Rapture, which opens the Day of Christ for the saved of earth, opens the Day of the Lord for the souls left on earth after the Rapture. For believers, the future means glory in the presence of the Savior. For unbelievers, the future at this point means the gloom of the Tribulation. The Day of the Lord for earth is introduced by the Rapture, which is the first manifested divine intervention in the affairs of earth since the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It has come upon unbelievers as a thief in the night. Unexpectedly and without warning, that generation has their state of “peace and safety” dramatically shattered. That slogan sounds pathetic now, in the light of divine intervention at the Rapture. Deceived by the lie of evolution, all on earth had been assured that a God of Creation was an ancient myth, while a God of Judgment was a relic of the Victorian age. As the “taking” of Enoch shattered the peace of the generation that met the flood of Noah’s day (Matt 24:36-42), so the generation on earth beginning at the Rapture will endure the judgments of the Tribulation, ending with the climax of Armageddon.
It may come as a surprise to some to note that the Tribulation does not commence immediately after the Rapture of the Church. In fact, it is likely that the time gap between the Rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation may be quite a few years. A glance back at Article 1 in this series and the diagram there will show that the gap in the timeline of the Seventy Weeks Prophecy is between the 69th and 70th week. The 69th ended with the presentation of Christ to the nation on the 10th Nisan AD 32. His death, burial, resurrection and ascension followed. The sending down of the Holy Spirit ten days after His ascension opened the Church age. The Rapture closes the Church age and every believer is caught up to meet their Lord. However, while the Rapture opens the Day of the Lord, the commencement of the 70th week in Daniel’s prophecy awaits the confirmation of a peace covenant between the charismatic leader of an independent nation of Israel who speaks for the majority (a democratic majority?- note “the many”), and the Palestinians and their Arab supporters. The unique feature of this treaty that distinguishes it from all previous peace agreements is that it has the guaranteed support of a mighty man from the west called the Coming Prince (Dan 9:24-27).
That there is such a time gap between the Rapture and the opening of the Tribulation is confirmed by a study of the first eight verses of Revelation chapter seven. Here, the incipient storm, symbolized in the four winds, is held back by divine agencies, symbolized in the four angels, until 144,000 of Israel are sealed in their forehead “with the seal of the Living God.” It is clear that the Tribulation period is delayed in divine supervision until 12,000 from each tribe of the nation are saved, sealed for their security, and sent through the world with the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matt 24:14). Since all preachers of the gospel in the church age have been removed at the Rapture, these men of Israel are saved by direct, divine action patterned on the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (1Cor 15:8). Israel, for the first time, has become the missionary nation God had always intended them to be.
It may well be that the chaos after the Rapture will be cleared up very quickly. Roads and airfields will quickly be made serviceable again, while the intestacy cases going through the courts will take much longer. The immediate impact will likely fade surprisingly quickly (do you remember now the impact of 9/11?). Satan will have his men in place – the politicians, the philosophers, the prelates, and the preachers to sooth public disquiet, perhaps with the lie of “alien attack” based on UFO sightings. So long as any suggestion of divine intervention is kept out of the story, Satan does not care. For most people, life settles down quickly into its normal routine. The Rapture begins to fade from the consciousness of the majority of the people.
Suddenly this peace is shattered. From Jerusalem issue, not 12 men (as in Acts 2), but a multiple of 12 (12x12x100). These men are sent throughout the world with the message of a Coming King. Some have questioned the possibility of the tribal identification made in this passage. The problem arises, in our thinking, because the genealogical records of the Jews were destroyed by the Romans (AD 70). Thus, it is presently impossible to identify tribal links. However, with genetic identification through blood testing now available, the situation has changed dramatically. Already certain tribal patterns have been observed, and the tribal identification goal seems within the grasp of science. Nevertheless, God is not dependent upon human records or the progress of science. He will fulfil His Word exactly as stated, and 144,000 true witnesses will preach Christ as the Coming King across the world.