The Creator’s Grand Design—Part 11

Signs of His Presence

JESUS’ disciples believed that he had come to be the great King and Messiah of the prophecies and that he would establish in Jerusalem a kingdom that would extend its sphere of influence until it embraced the whole world. Toward the close of Jesus’ ministry, however, he began to tell them things that indicated that first he would go away and would return later to set up his kingdom. It was not clear to them that he would be put to death, for they were much surprised and discouraged when he was taken from them and crucified.

Having these thoughts in mind, they went to Jesus on the Mount of Olives and said, “Tell us, when these things will be, and what will be the sign of thy presence, and of the consummation of the age?” (Matt. 24:3) We have used the Diaglott translation of the disciples’ questions because it properly uses the words “presence” and “age,” instead of “coming” and “world.” They were not asking for signs that would indicate that Jesus would soon return but for signs that would denote his actual presence. They also wanted to know about the end of the age, not the end of the world, or earth.

The age comes to an end as a result of the return of the Master; so the signs that would denote the ending of the age would at the same time be signs indicating his presence, and it is from this standpoint that we will examine a portion of Jesus’ reply to his disciples’ questions. These disciples had recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, not by his appearance, but by certain signs that accompanied his ministry and presence. They properly expected that this would also be the case when he returned to setup his kingdom, hence their desire to know what the signs would be. Naturally they desired to be once more among the favored ones who would recognize his presence. They did not know his return was to be nearly two thousand years in the future.

All Flesh Threatened

In reply to his disciples’ request for signs that would indicate his second presence, Jesus preached one of his few sermons. It is recorded in the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew. Verses 21 and 22 of chapter 24 present a very revealing sign for us who are living today. We quote: “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.”

Today we are living in a time of “great tribulation” such as the human race has never experienced before. It is a tribulation that threatens to destroy “all flesh,” just as Jesus indicated in this prophetic sign of his presence and the end of the age. Never before in the experience of mankind has there been a situation like this. There was tremendous destruction of human life during the First and Second World Wars, but during those years of war the total population of the earth continued to increase.

Now the situation is different, for the great powers of earth have nuclear missiles in sufficient quantities to destroy the entire population of the earth several times over; so there is no mistaking the identity of this sign and what it means. But it should be noted that Jesus did not say that “all flesh” would be destroyed. He simply said that if this time of tribulation were allowed to continue, it would lead to the destruction of all flesh. For our encouragement he gave assurance that the tribulation would be shortened, and this means that all flesh will not be destroyed.

However, this does not nullify the significance of the threat of destruction that is hanging over the world today. In outlining this “sign” of his presence, Jesus actually foretold nearly two thousand years in advance what the wise men of the world are now declaring to be a reality. Thus we not only have a sign of the time in which we are living, but we have an accurate prophecy in the Word of God that increases our confidence in its forecasts pertaining to events still future in the outworking of the Creator’s grand design.

Israel No Longer Trodden Down

Another sign that Jesus gave his disciples pertained to the natural descendants of Abraham, the Israelites. He said, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24) Here Jesus is using “Jerusalem” to signify the Jewish polity, or nation. At the time Jesus spoke, the Jewish people had already been “trodden down” by the Gentiles for more than 600 years, or, specifically, since 606 B.C. It was then that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, destroyed Jerusalem, and took the Jewish people captive to Babylon. Although seventy years later they were permitted to return to their land and to rebuild Jerusalem, they did not regain their national independence.

Babylon was overthrown by the Medo-Persian Empire, which later succumbed to Greece. Then Greece fell before the Roman armies, and Rome became the fourth in that series of Gentile world powers. The Israelites were subject to each of these in turn, and at the time of Jesus were being trodden down by the Roman Empire. And this lack of independence, he said, would continue until “the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”—Luke 21:24

This expression, “times of the Gentiles,” does not refer to the total number of years Gentile nations would exist in the earth but to the period during which “Jerusalem” would be trodden down by Gentiles. In reality it is, or was, a period of punishment upon the Hebrew people described in the Bible as “seven times.” This time measurement is given by Moses in a warning to Israel of what the result of continued disobedience to God’s Law would be. Certain lesser punishments are mentioned, and then Moses writes: “And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto Me [God], then I will punish you seven times more for yours sins.”—Lev. 26:18

This warning of “seven times more” of punishment is repeated four times. The Scriptures indicate that symbolic “time” is a period of 360 years, and seven of these would total 2,520 years. The biblical key to this method of reckoning is given in Ezekiel 4:4-6. We believe that it was this period of 2,520 years that began in 606 B.C., when Israel lost its national independence. If this is correct, then it would end in A.D. 1914. This was the year in which the First World War began. Out of that conflict came the ejection of the Turks from Jerusalem and Palestine by General Allenby, the famous Balfour Declaration, and the opening of the ancient homeland to Jewish refugees and prisoners from all lands.

The Jews were on their way to independence, and while there were temporary setbacks, the rehabilitation of Palestine by the Jews and their migration to their ancient homeland continued. Out of this came the birth of the new State of Israel in 1948. Thus seen, it was in 1914—after 2,520 years of subjugation—that there began to unfold the chain of events that led to national independence for this biblical and historic people, proving that the prophetic “times of the Gentiles” had been fulfilled.

The nation of Israel today is a free nation. No longer are the Israelites without their own government. Israel is a nation among the nations of the world, no longer a vassal to Rome or to any other Gentile power. The new State of Israel is not without its difficulties, but these are the common problems of being free in a topsy-turvy world. Israel is not only free but is a full-fledged member of the United Nations. She is no longer trodden down by the Gentiles. Thus we have another outstanding sign of the Master’s presence.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

In the second chapter of the prophecy of Daniel, there is an account of some of the circumstances surrounding the beginning of the period of Gentile supremacy, during which the Jewish people were to be trodden down. Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon at that time, and the Lord used a very dramatic way to indicate that with him began the period referred to by Jesus as the times of the Gentiles, which, as we have seen, terminated in A.D. 1914.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that he could not remember upon awakening. He was induced to send for Daniel, a Jewish captive, who was able not only to remind the king of his dream but to interpret it for him. Daniel explained that in his dream the king had seen a humanlike image. This image had a head of gold, breast of silver, thighs of brass, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron mixed with clay. As the dream progressed, the king saw a stone cut out of the mountain without hands; and this stone smote the image on its feet, causing it to fall. After the image fell it was ground to powder, and the wind blew it away as the chaff from a summer threshing floor. Then the stone that smote the image grew until it became a great mountain, which filled the whole earth.

Daniel’s interpretation of this dream is remarkable, in that it gives an accurate preview of Gentile history, beginning with the new Babylonian supremacy and continuing on down through the centuries even to the present day. In this divine interpretation Daniel identifies the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar as being represented by the head of gold. To the king Daniel said: “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.”—Dan. 2:37,38

Prior to this, God had recognized and favored none but the Jewish nation. But now the Jews had been made subjects of Babylon, and the king of Babylon was recognized by God as representing the first of that long line of Gentile powers who for 2,520 years were to hold the Jews under their control as a subject people. This was the beginning of the times of the Gentiles.

Other Kingdoms

But Daniel did not close his prophecy with his identification of Babylon as the “head of gold.” He explained further to Nebuchadnezzar that with the downfall of his kingdom there would arise another, an empire represented by the arms and breast of the image, which were of silver. This proved to be the Medo-Persian Empire, which conquered Babylon a few years later. Daniel also told of a third empire that would arise, conquering the Medes and Persians. This was the Grecian Empire and was represented in the image picture by the thighs of brass.

Nor did Daniel stop there. He went on, and foretold the rise of the great military power of Rome. This kingdom, or empire, was represented by the legs of iron, and truly Rome was an iron kingdom. But Daniel did not make the mistake of mentioning a fifth world empire to supplant Rome. Instead, he called attention to the deterioration and divisions of the old Roman Empire, this being represented by the feet and toes of the image, which were part of iron and part of clay. The last remnants of the Roman Empire, as represented in the various states of Europe, continued down to 1914, or to the end of the times of the Gentiles, as mentioned by Jesus in Luke 21:24.

In the king’s dream he saw a stone cut out of the mountain without hands, indicating a divine intervention in the affairs of these particular Gentile kingdoms, for this stone was seen to smite the feet of the image, causing it to fall. After it fell it was ground to powder, and the wind carried it away. Then the stone grew into a great mountain that filled the whole earth. Daniel explained this to mean that “in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom”—that is, in the days of the kings depicted by the toes of the image—the pre-1914 European monarchies.

Divine Right of Kings

Since the various divisions of the old Roman Empire continued until the First World War, it was natural that the ideology of divine right of kings, which began with Nebuchadnezzar, should remain alive. Prior to the end of the times of the Gentiles, the kings of Europe did claim to rule by divine right. But this viewpoint is no longer accepted. In place of the divine-right kings, there are either godless dictators or rulers who are elected by the people. True, there are a few kings left, but they are powerless in the world today and are no longer flaunting the claim of divine right to rule.

Thus, not only did 1914, the end of the times of the Gentiles, see circumstances arise that led in a few short years to the liberation of the Israelites as a people but it also witnessed the turn of events that led to the downfall of that system of rulership which had subjected the Jewish people throughout the centuries.

It is well to remember that the time prophecies of the Bible point out the dates for the beginning of the events they forecast, not the completion of those events. This process of fulfillment is indicated in Daniel’s description of what happened to the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream when it was smitten by a stone cut out of the mountain without hands. First it fell, but this was not the full end, for after that it was ground to powder, and subsequently the powdered bits were blown away “like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors.” We suggest that this is an apt illustration of the gradual disintegration of the pre-1914 social order. And the end is not yet.

Paul’s Prophecy

The Apostle Paul gives us further valuable information concerning the development of world events in this, the end of the age. He agrees with Jesus with respect to the destructive trouble that would come upon the world and explains that it would come as “travail upon a woman with child.” “Travail” comes in spasms, with periods of easement between, and Paul explains that this intermittent trouble would be in conjunction with claims of “peace and safety.”—I Thess. 5:1-3

We suggest that the first of these destructive spasms came upon the world in 1914, in that great military holocaust that toppled virtually all the crowned heads of Europe from their thrones. It is interesting to note in this connection that 1913 was an international peace year. But before the cries of peace and safety had fully died, that great “war to end wars” broke out. In 1918 the war ended and an armistice was signed; but while the nations paid lip service to the idea of peace and goodwill—even sinking a few outmoded battleships—preparations for the next war soon began; and it came upon the world in all its fury in 1939—another “spasm” of destruction.

There have, of course, been other spasms of trouble. One of these was the great depression of the 1930’s. The Korean War was another. Vietnam another. Meanwhile, and as a result of these “spasms,” the fabric of civilization is being gradually weakened. Creeping inflation is eating at the economic security of even the most powerful nations, and the weaker ones would have succumbed long ago except for American dollars.

Nations Gathered

Another aspect of the “great tribulation” mentioned by Jesus is foretold in Zephaniah 3:8. This text reads: “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy [Hebrew, zeal].” Note in this forecast that the worldwide association of nations is described.

Here is something that is unique to the end of the age. The 1914 World War saw the first global gathering of nations for military purposes. This is what made it a “World War.” Following that war there came the League of Nations—another gathering, but for peaceful purposes. It was hoped that this association of nations could maintain lasting peace, but it failed.

Then came another gathering of nations for military purposes, and like the first one, it was worldwide. It was followed by the United Nations. And today there are little associations of nations, with interests crisscrossing each other. The Lord foretold that eventually this would lead to the “devouring” of the symbolic earth with the fire of his zeal. Following this, the Lord will turn to the people a “pure language,” that they may all call upon him to serve him with one consent.—Zeph. 3:9

The “fire” of God’s zeal is in reality the great time of trouble, or tribulation, with which the present social order is even now being destroyed. It does not indicate that God is vindictive, but it does mean that before the long-promised messianic kingdom can be set up in the earth Satan’s social order must be swept away; and this is accomplished by God’s zeal, which will brook no interference, now that the due time in his grand design for the establishment of Christ’s kingdom is approaching.

In a prophecy of the birth of Jesus and the purpose of his birth, recorded in Isaiah 9:6,7, Jesus is depicted in his role of The Prince of Peace. This prophecy declares that “of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end,” and then the prophecy concludes with these reassuring words, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” It is the zeal of the Lord of hosts that is accomplishing every detail of his grand design, and we rejoice to know that there will be no miscarriage of his plans and purposes.

Increase of Knowledge

What Jesus spoke of as a great tribulation with which the age would end Daniel described as “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation.” (Dan. 12:1) In the 4th verse of this same chapter we are informed that in “the time of the end,” that is, in the end of the age, many would run to and fro in the earth, and knowledge would be increased. It has been given to our generation also to witness the fulfillment of this prophecy. We have suddenly become a world of travelers, because there has come an unprecedented increase of knowledge, which has led to the invention of new modes of travel.

The younger members of the present generation are inclined to forget that all our wonderful blessings of invention and travel are peculiar to this generation. Our grandparents knew little or nothing about them. In the early days of railroads many otherwise intelligent people claimed that they were “inventions of the Devil to carry immortal souls down to hell.” But today the highest speeds of travel by railroad are slow as compared with the speed of travel by jet planes.

We mention only briefly the foretold increase of knowledge and rapid travel. The facts themselves, as they unfold before us worldwide, speak louder and more convincingly than words. It is another sign of our Lord’s presence and the end of the age. How thankful we are that the end of the present age, or of Satan’s world, signals the coming of a new age of peace and blessing for the world. How glad we are that according to God’s grand design Christ does not return to destroy the earth but to fill it with a knowledge of God’s glory! So we hail his presence as the “Day Star,” which has appeared to those who, through faith in God’s promises and prophecies, are able to discern his presence and know that soon, as the glorious “Sun of Righteousness,” he will rise with “healing in his wings.”—II Pet. 1:19; Mal. 4:2

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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