Dramatic Escape From Damascus

 

(Word for word reprint of article written for UNSEALED website, Author: Jeff)

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25 ESV)

The mystery of Christ and the Church, a secret sealed up and hidden in past ages (Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:8-10; 5:32), is now unsealed and ready to be examined by those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Like a precious diamond, the biblical teaching of the ingathering of Gentiles during the “Church Age” is a multi-faceted, shimmering, and grand display of God’s glory in both the Old and New Testaments. In this article we’ll shed more light on yet another facet to the mystery referenced by the apostle Paul in Romans 11:25.

For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.

Before we leave the shallow water for the deep end, let’s confirm the precise referent of Paul’s phrase, “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” This phrase refers to a specific time in the future when the Church Age comes to a close, and, afterward, God begins to “unharden” the remnant of Israel’s elect during another specific time—a time referred to elsewhere in Scripture as “Jacob’s trouble” and the final “week” of (seven) years remaining on the (temporarily paused) prophetic clock of Daniel 9:27. Thus, it’s important to understand that this particular facet of the mystery revealed in Romans 11:25 delineates and draws a fine line between God’s agenda for the Church during this current dispensation and His plan to tie up loose ends with Israel during the coming Tribulation period (note: after the rapture of the Church in Romans 11:25, Israel’s rehabilitation isn’t concurrent or instantaneous with the rapture event; it takes some time for Israel to thaw out and fulfill what Paul writes about in Romans 11:26-27…seven years to be exact).

But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them. Deuteronomy 4:29-31

Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. Jeremiah 30:7

Moreover, the context preceding Romans 11:25 provides strong support for this understanding of Paul’s phrase as referring to the conclusion of the CHurch Age and start of the Seven-Year Tribulation. In Romans 10;19-21, Paul affirms that he did not invent new Scripture to justify his understanding of the Church Age prior to Israel’s time of trouble. Rather, he “fishes” out texts from Deuteronomy 32d and Isaiah 65 to show how God has already scripted this end-time narrative from the beginning, albeit in an intentionally cryptic and puzzling manner. 

But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.” But Isaiah is very bold and says: “I was found by those who didn’t seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me.” But to Israel he says: “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people. Romans 10:19-21 

And though Paul is singled-out for special service regarding the ingathering of Gentiles, he is by no means the only voice in the New Testament confirming the mystery of the Church Age. The apostle John joins in on the treasure hunt, and he, too, prefigures a specific point in time when the fullness of the Gentiles will be brought in (John 10:16). 

“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

Through the Holy Spirit, John telegraphs a message about the final result of the apostolic mission: when the last Church Age believer has been caught, the “full net” will be “caught up” and brought to Jesus without a single “fish” falling out of the hands of the Master Angler:

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. John 21:20-21 ESV

More details from the last chapter of John confirm that the apostles’ ministry will eventually reach a full or complete number of Gentiles. For example, note the specific number of disciples mentioned in John 21:2:

Simon Peter, and Thomas who is called Didymus, and Nathaniel from cana of Galilee, and the (sons) of Zebedee, and two of His other disciples were together (LSV)

After doing the math, that’s a total of seven who went fishing in this account of the full net of 153 fish. As many of you already know, the number seven represents “completeness” or fullness” in the Bible. Additionally, this entire scene from John 21 is reminiscent of the miraculous feedings of 5,000 and 4,000 people during Jesus’ ministry. While Jesus’ power accomplishes the miracle of multiplication and provision, it’s important to note that the disciples are the servants who take the food from Jesus and deliver it to the people.

…Therefore they came to the land, and they behold a fire of coals lying there, and a fish lying on it, and bread… and gives it to them, and the fish in like manner…John 21:9,13 LSV 

The emphasis on “fish” and “bread” (the only two items on the menu during the miraculous feedings of 5,000 and 4,000) is followed by Jesus’ command to “feed” His flock in John 21:15,17. Thus, with John’s clue of Jesus appearing for “the third time” after His third-day resurrection (John 21:14), these seven are finally ready to be sent out to bring in the fullness of the Gentiles. Fast-forward to the 21st-century now, and the apostles’ great commission portrayed in John 21 is nearly complete. 

Like Catching Fish…in a Basket

All right, I hope no one drowned back there in the shallow water, because we are going to dive into the deep end of this mystery! Now that we’ve established the biblical precedent for a specific time in the future when the full number of Gentiles signals the completion of the Church Age (Paul and John testify as two witnesses), we are ready to go after even bigger fish. And if we are on the same page about a divide between the end of the Church Age and the start of Israel’s Tribulation as prefigured and prophesied in John 21:11 and Romans 11:25, then let’s move on to the focus of this particular study. 

There is another rapture pattern or typology drawn from Paul’s humble beginnings in Acts chapter 9. However, before we get on the road to Damascus and join up with Paul, we’ll take a brief detour through the outskirts of Galilee and follow the footsteps of Jesus and His chosen “fishermen” (Mark 1:16-20). Before Saul became Paul, there was a rag-tag band of brothers whose discipleship training prefigured a greater, widespread ministry to the Gentiles.

Although there are two miraculous feedings recorded in the Gospels (5,000 and 4,000 respectively), the “Feeding of the Four Thousand” has ministry to the Gentiles written all over it, whereas the “Feeding of the Five Thousand” has more connections to the Jews. For example,, let’s compare Mark 6:30-44 (5,000 fed) and Mark 8:1-10 (4,000 fed): 

  • The Mark 6 feeding takes place during Jesus’ ministry in Jewish territory, and the account in Mark 8 locates Jesus and the disciples in the Decapolis, a ten-city, “global” province of the Roman empire (the northernmost city is Damascus and the southernmost is Philadelphia). Contextually, the focus of Mark’s narrative shifts from Jewish to Gentile outreach with the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24) and a deaf and mute man (likely Gentile) from the Decapolis region (7:31).
  • In Mark 6:41, Jesus’ action with the bread is reminiscent of a typical Jewish blessing (He looks to heaven and “blesses” the Father, not the bread). In Mark 8:6, Jesus takes the bread and immediately “gives thanks.” The phrase “having given thanks” (8:6) comes from a single Greek verb, eucharisteo, which is used only two times in Mark’s gospel. The other usage is found in Mark 14:23: the “Lord’s Supper” and formal commencement of the New Covenant—a covenant in which Gentiles are the predominant ben beneficiaries during this present age until the full number comes in!
  • In Mark 6:43, the term for “basket” is distinctly Jewish, whereas in Mark 8:8 the term originates from Greek influence. This particular distinction between two kinds of baskets is even maintained by Jesus in His recounting of the two feedings (Mark 8:19: “When I broke the five loaves of bread for the five thousands, how many hand-baskets [kophinos]…”) in contrast to “Mark 8:20: (“And when I broke the seven loaves of bread for the four thousand, how many large baskets [spuris]…”). Note: In Mark 8:5, the disciples start with seven large loaves and leave with seven large baskets of leftovers (in addition to being a number of fullness or completion, seven is also a distinct “Gentile” number: Deuteronomy 7:1; Acts 13:19; Luke 10:1; the Septuagint / LXX = 70; the seventy nations of Genesis 10).

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance 4711: spuris (“large basket”), the key takeaway from Mark 8:8,20, gets us on the road to Damascus. There is only one other text in the New Testament that contains this peculiar Greek term other than the four occurrences in Matthew and Mark—both use spuris in their accounts of the “feeding of the Four Thousand.” Like leftover good for a Gentile multitude, look at who is brewing preserved in a similar manner: 

But his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket [spuris] (Acts 9:25, ESV).

What a fascinating thread!

Paul, an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21; 26:17-18), is placed in the same type of container that stored the leftover bread and fish from the outreach to the Gentiles as recorded by Matthew and Mark. This distinctive Gentile basket becomes the vessel by which Paul is delivered, so that he can fulfill his mission as God’s vessel to preach the gospel that will bring in the full number of Gentiles!

And before Paul is officially sent out to bring in the Gentiles, he is first made to identify with them. Note the comparisons of Paul’s conversion experience with that of the Gentile multitude in Mark 8: Like the Gentiles who walk in darkness (Isaiah 9:1-2; Ephesians 4:17-18), Paul is blinded and has to be led by hand (Acts 9:8). 

Furthermore, as the Gentiles are with Jesus for ”three days” and have “nothing to eat,” Paul walks in darkness for “three days” and does not eat (Acts (:9). The remainder of the account in Acts 9 is very “fishy” and can only be explained by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration. After God’s “grace” (Ananias) lays hands on Paul, something like “scales” fall from his eyes (Acts 9:18). The word translated “scales” is the Greek lepis, which is used only one time in the New Testament. However, in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, five out of the six uses refer to the “scales” of a fish (cf. Leviticus 11:9; Deuteronomy 14:9)! Also, just as the Gentiles are fed and satisfied in Mark 8, Paul is also fed and regains his strength in Acts 9:19.

There is one other Greek word in Acts 9:25 that is infused with John 21:11 and Romans 11:25 theology: But his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering [chalao] him in a basket.

The verb chalao, Strong’s 5465, is used in reference to Peter and the other fishermen “letting down” their nets into deep water (Luke 5:4-5). Note also the mention of nuktos (“night”) in Acts 9:25 and Luke 5:5. This usage of chalao in Luke’s gospel contains an aspect of a “full net” of Gentiles, and two other occurrences of chalao in Luke’s other book apply to the end of the Church Age: Acts: 27:17 and Acts 27:30. The salvation of the Gentiles through Paul’s ministry in the final chapters of the book of Acts is a type and shadow of the end of the Church Age when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, having been rescued out of then chaotic “sea’ of this world, and transferred to the heavenly shores of “Malta.” 

And on that note, we’ve come to the end of the Damascus road…

The Dramatic Escape From Damascus

At the present time, Damascus is considered by many to be the oldest and most continuously inhabited city in the world. Biblically speaking, this ancient city is more than simply a place where Gentiles live and do business. Like Sodom, Babylon, Egypt, and Rome, the city of Damascus represents what the apostle John refers to as the kosmos (“the world”). Therefore, “Damascus” is a symbol and broadly represents this present evil age and Satanic world order that believers in Christ are called out of and will eventually be physically taken out of before Israel’s day of reckoning (Galatians 1:4; Revelation 3:10). 

Therefore, from the very first mention of Damascus in Genesis 14:15 (Abram’s victory over Gentile kings) to the 15 occurrences of “Damascus” in the New Testament (all in relation to Paul), God’s Word speaks of more than mere setting and location. For the Body of Christ, “Damascus”” in Scripture is a cue for a curtain call, an exit—a dramatic end-of-the-age escape!

Paul’s escape from Damascus in Acts chapter 9 is more than a record of a one-time event that occurred in the first century. Not only does Paul’s story in Acts 9 connect us directly to “the fullness of Gentiles,” but the narrative of Acts 9:20-27 also mirrors the consummation of the Church Age. In other words, Acts 9 and Revelation 12 have a lot in common: Paul’s dramatic escape from an evil plot in Damascus follows the same pattern as the dramatic escape of the male-child from the evil plot of the Dragon.

The pattern begins with Paul’s proclamation of Jesus as “the Son of God,” the empowerment and success of his testimony, followed by the growing opposition from a group of conspirators that Jesus refers to as “the synagogue of Satan” (Acts 9:20-22; cf. Revelation 2:8; 3:9).

Next, in Acts 9:23, the plot thickens, threats intensify, and the days of fulfillment arrive:

And when many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel together to kill him (LSV). 

The LSV translates this all-important opening phrase literally, “And when many days were fulfilled [pleroo]…” The word pleroo is the verbal form of the noun pleroma, as in the phrase “until the fullness [pleroma] of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25). Similar to the way that the Jews conspired with the Roman authorities to kill Jesus, the Jews were not alone in their plot to kill Paul in Damascus. Paul’s testimony in 2 Corinthians 11:32 adds another layer:

In Damascus the governor [under] Aretas the king was watching the city of the Damascenes, wishing to seize me (LSV).

I’m not an anti-Semite, and you can call me a conspiracy nut, but isn’t there a plot presently underway to kill and enslave people through the coordination of world governments, banks, and other global corporations? As the Scriptures say about the coordinated threat against Paul, the dragon continues to work through governments and religious institutions, “watching” and “wishing” to seize the male-child as soon as he is born (Revelation 12:4). Furthermore, those of us with ears to hear (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17; 3:6, 13, 22) have already caught on to the current plot to devour the male-child. And we also hear what the Spirit is saying about our coming escape. 

Paul also had ears to hear:

And their counsel against [him] was known to Saujl; they were also watching the gates both day and night, that they may kill him (Acts 9:24 LSV).

Note how Paul’s persecutors were “watching the gates” intently, waiting for him to come out of the opening so that they could take him out. Likewise, the dragon of Revelation 12:4 watches the “gate” day and night, waiting for the male-child to come out of the opening of the womb.

But, we know the rest of the story. God makes a way:

But having taken him by night, his disciples let him down through the wall, having lowered him in a basket (Acts 9:25, Berean Literal Bible).

Paul receives divine intervention with a little help from his friends. Note: he is taken by night (like a “thief in the night,” 1 Thessalonians 5:4; Revelation 3:3), and the apostle to the Gentiles finds a way out of this devilish trap, not through the expected opening, but rather through the wall and inside a Gentile basket. The parallel account of 2 Corinthians 11:33 adds two additional layers to Paul’s dramatic deliverance: the words “window” and “escape.” The Greek word thuris (*little door, window, opening”) is used in Genesis 8:6 and Joshua 2:15, 18—the escape of the spies from Jericho (known for its walls)!

Thus, having been taken like a thief in the night, Paul’s escape from Damascus through another opening finds fulfillment in Revelation 12:5. The male-child is taken through an unexpected opening, a door in heaven (Revelation 3:8-10)—almost like a sudden C-section (cf. Isaiah 66:7-8)—and dramatically escapes the clutches of the dragon and his advances. 

Finally, after his unconventional and thrilling escaper, Paul goes up to Jerusalem, reunites with the rest of God’s family, and receives an encouraging word about his work for the Lord:

And Saul, having come to Jerusalem…and Barnabas having taken him, brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how he saw the LORD in the way, and that He spoke to him, and how in Damascus he was speaking boldly in the Name of Jesus (Acts 9:26-27 LSV)

As the pattern goes, when that basket full of the Gentiles has come in, the male-child of Revelation 12 will be taken up to Jerusalem—the New Jerusalem above (Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 3:12; 4:1; 12:5). And many that we did not expect to be there (like Saul) will be there, and they will be vindicated by their testimony of Jesus! As a second witness to the Acts 9 pattern of “Damascus Escape” + “Taken Up to Jerusalem,” the sudden narrative transition from 2 Corinthians 11:32-33 (Paul’s escape from Damascus) to 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 (Paul’s rapture to heaven) also supports the Revelation 12 narrative sequence of the dramatic escape of the male-child and subsequent rapture to heaven!

So there you have it: Yet another confirmation of the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church through the typology and pattern established in Scripture. How fitting that Paul’s escape from Damascus at the beginning of his ministry also speaks of the end of his ministry when the fullness of the Gentiles will come in and suddenly be taken out!

Is it any wonder why so many in the Body of Christ today are laser-focused on Israel’s military forays into Syria? And where have we heard of conspiracies and evil plotting going on in Damascus before? Remember, the focus on Damascus in these last days, is no accident. One day, this ancient city that symbolizes the world in rebellion against God is going to be leveled to the ground (Isaiah 17:1). 

Therefore, as the world waits for things to go nuclear between Israel and Iran in Syria, don’t be surprised when people who speak boldly ”in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27) suddenly go missing from “Damascus.” 

It is written!

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