Missing the Forest for the Trees
As Jesus sat with His disciples in the evening on what was most likely the day before His crucifixion, they asked Him three questions:
- “Tell us when these things shall be”?
- “What shall be the Sign of Your Coming?”
- “What is the sign of the end of the age?”
The Bible uses terms like The Beginning of Sorrows, Birth Pangs, End of the Age, Time of Jacob’s Trouble, The Great Tribulation, The Day of the Lord, End of Days, The Last Hour, and others. We will concern ourselves with “The Beginning of Sorrows” and answer the question, is there a time when The Beginning of Sorrows transitions into The Day of the Lord.?
In Matthew 24:32-34 we find the parable of the Fig Tree:
32 “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. 33 So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! 34 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.”
There are three species of “trees” that are used as symbols of Israel in the Bible. The vine is a symbol of Israel’s spiritual privileges; the olive tree, a symbol of Israel’s religious privileges; and the fig tree, a symbol of Israel’s national privileges. When Jesus used the fig tree in the verses above, He was specifically referring to Israel as one of the nations of the world. The nation of Israel was cut down by General Titus in 70 AD, but Jesus was foretelling Israel coming back as a nation once again right at the end of the age. Indeed, this did come about on May 15, 1948.
Every phrase in Matthew 24:32-34 is very important but we will begin with the last phrase: “This generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.” In other words, Jesus said that the generation that sees Israel become a nation once again will also see all of the things foretold in Matthew 24 come to pass in their generation. Just as they knew that summer follows spring, they could be sure that the generation that sees Israel reform, would also see “all these things take place”, using the fig tree as a picture: “When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—it is at the doors!”
Matthew 24 is the answer to the disciple’s threefold question but for the moment let’s take a look at verses 4-8:
4 And Jesus answered and said to them: “Take heed that no one deceives you, 5 for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ’, and will deceive many. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are the beginning of sorrows.” Matthew 24:4-8
Verse 8 ends by saying, “All these things are the beginning of sorrows.” This is telling us that the Fig Tree generation which Jesus mentions a few verses later will see all of the things mentioned from verse 4-7, with verse 8 being a reminder that this is only the ‘beginning of sorrows’.
Question: Are the things being experienced on our troubled planet today just normal times of trouble or it is more than that? In the original Greek translation of the Scriptures, the word used for “sorrows’ is defined as: a pang or throe, especially as in childbirth: pain, sorrow, travail. Understanding what happens during the birth pangs of childbirth is key to understanding what Jesus is telling His disciples happens at the very end of the age. In the Greek lexicon it says: intolerable anguish, in reference to the dire calamities that precede the advent of the Messiah. This tells us that Jesus was referring to something much more dire than the normal times of trouble we experience in this fallen world.
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter 66:7-8, we find these words:
7“Before she was in labor, she gave birth, before her pain came, she delivered a male child. 8 Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children. Isaiah 66:7-8
This helps us to understand more fully what Jesus is really foretelling. The “woman” is Israel who has a child just before her trouble comes—before her pain comes. We will see how one people group comes out of another people group, symbolized as a woman and the birth of a child—before her birth pains! As we examine the passage in Isaiah above, we see that verse 8 says she gives birth to children, plural. These children, plural, represent groups of people. Who are these ‘groups’ of people? We will see shortly.
Another important passage of Scripture relative to our subject is found in Isaiah 26. Here again, we find the connection between a woman pregnant with a child and the nation of Israel. In this Isaiah passage, we find a deliverance involving a resurrection. What is interesting is that the resurrected, delivered ones are taken somewhere else, saved from something, spared from something, while the rest of those on the earth fall under God’s judgment. Passages in Isaiah 26 have this to say:
17 As a woman with child is in pain and cries out in her pangs, when she draws near the time of her delivery, so have we been in Your sight, O LORD. 18 We have been with child, we have been in pain. We have, as it were, brought forth wind, we have not accomplished any deliverance in the earth. Nor have the inhabitants of the world fallen. Isaiah 26:17
I have underlined the word “we” five times in the two verses above. Israel is described as she is seen in God’s sight. Isaiah is describing Israel in her past history. As we look at the following verses however, we see that there is a resurrection.
19 Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for our dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead. Isaiah 26:19
We see an order of events transpiring in these verses. First, we saw a pregnant woman waiting for her delivery. Her delivery is connected to a resurrection. As we continue in the passage, we find out what happens to those who are resurrected.
20 Come, my people, enter your chambers and shut your doors behind you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment, until the indignation is past. Isaiah 26:20
It is interesting that these people are being taken somewhere and kept in another place for a short moment, until the indignation is past. Where are they being hidden, and why are they being hidden? Verse 21 gives us the answer.
21 For behold, the LORD comes out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; the earth will also disclose her blood, and will no more cover her slain. Isaiah 26:21
There is a very important event embedded within these verses that we need to recognize—especially in the crucial days that we find ourselves in today. Some big event happens. At the ‘end of the time of sorrows’, before her pain comes—before Jacob’s Trouble begins, something happens! Why is it that there is a resurrection of those whom God calls His people just before judgment is rolled out upon the earth on the living? However, the dead are raised first and then followed by the living at the time (all those who are God’s people).
Let’s look at what the Apostle Paul had to say in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17:
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (harpazo) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. I Thessalonians 4
This is a description of the “appearing” of the Lord, not His second coming when He sets His foot on the Mount of Olives and begins setting up His millennial kingdom. This passage in
1 Thessalonians has the same sequence of events as the passage in Isaiah 26 that we examined above.
Let’s go back to the Woman, Israel. There is a birth that is going to happen and this leads us to another very interesting scripture—one that needs to be seen and recognized for what it is actually referring to. We find it in Revelation 12: The Apostle John saw the same Woman, Israel, in his vision of the Apocalypse at the beginning of sorrows, but now displayed in the heavens, warning the whole world that she is soon to go into her pain, the time of Jacob’s trouble.
What was it we saw in Isaiah 66:7? Before the woman went into the travail of her final contractions that normally immediately precede the delivery, she was delivered of a man-child. Revelation 12:1-2 also talks about the Woman, Israel getting ready to go into her travail, her time of trouble, she is delivered of a man-child. Let’s look at the passage:
1 Now a great sign appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. 2 Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth. Rev 12
There have been many signs in the heavens in the last few years, many of them serving as harbingers of things soon to come. One of the greatest of these heavenly signs was the “Revelation 12 Sign” which was displayed in its fullness on September 23, 2017. This ‘’sign” appears regularly but only with 9 “stars”, not 12. Three “wandering” stars (planets), Mercury, Venus, and Mars joined the nine stars that are usually part of the heavenly show. Our computer programs confirm to us that the last time this sign (with all 12 ‘stars’) was visible in the heavens, was 7,000 years ago!
Revelation 12:17 references a dragon mentioned earlier in verse 3:
17And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Rev 12
Remember we read in Isaiah 66 a reference to multiple children? Who are the “rest of her offspring”? Some translations read “remnant”. Who is that remnant? These are the left-over; the left-behind. They are the ones who found themselves in the Great Tribulation, realizing that they had missed the “catching up”. There is some disagreement among Bible scholars, but these appear to be those described in Revelation 7 as having come out of the Great Tribulation, having washed their robes, making them white in the Blood of the Lamb. We call them Tribulation Saints. Whether this is the true identity of this large multitude of believers or not, Scripture does confirm that there will be a massive harvest of souls brought in through the ministry of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 in Jerusalem and also of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists sent out during the first half of the seven year Apocalypse described in the Book of Revelation.
These ‘children’ mentioned in Isaiah 66 represent groups of people, just as the Woman, Israel, represents a group of people, the Jewish nation. The Church came out of Israel, one group of people out of another. But, there is more! Isaiah 66 tells us that the Woman is delivered of a man-child. This man-child is a representation of the Body of Christ, the Church. In Colossians 1:18 we find these words: about Jesus Christ and the Church:
18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. Colossians 1:18
Jesus is the head of the body, which is the Church. We find in Acts 1:9-11 the account of Jesus ascending into heaven after the Resurrection. However, the Body of Christ will not ascend, but will rather be snatched up, caught up unto God and His throne. Revelation 12 describes what happens with the man-child after its birth:
5 She bore a male child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her child was caught up to God and His throne. Rev 12
Jesus Christ was under no threat when He ascended into heaven. The Body of Christ however will be under duress as we see in Revelation 12:
3 And another sign appeared in heaven, behold, a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her child as soon as it was born.
There is no doubt who the dragon is. He is identified in Revelation 12:
9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
The most common interpretation of the “man-child” in verse 5 is as a reference to Mary’s Man-child, Jesus. This is partially because it is an unquestionable fact that Jesus will rule His millennial kingdom with a ‘rod of iron’ just as we read in this passage. An example of a reference in Scripture to that effect is found in Revelation 19:
15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
We have no doubt that this is speaking of our Messiah, Jesus Christ, who will rule the world with a rod of iron, as God-KING. There is however another passage for us to look at that will show us some additional information to consider. It is found in Revelation 2:25-29:
25 “But hold fast what you have until I come. 26 And he who overcomes and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations. 27 He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels—as I also have received from My Father; 28 and I will give to him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 2
Just as the passage in Revelation 19 describes Jesus Christ as the Almighty GOD-KING who will rule the world with a rod of iron, so the second passage in Revelation 2:25-29 says that those who hold on to what they have in their Savior and God until His return, and continue doing His works, will rule and reign under His authority. Amazing!
This tells the story of how we as people can experience the resurrection from the dead and enter into eternity. But, it is important that we understand there is only one way, one entrance to an eternity in the Kingdom of God. It is not through religion, nor is it through good works, or living a decent life, nor even a life of servitude to the needs of mankind. Many have traveled these roads but have missed the entrance to heaven. What is that entrance? What is the door, or rather…Who is the Door? Jesus Himself tells us in John 14:
6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6
Then John 10 re-emphasizes that He is the the door:
7Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the Door, if anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. John 10:7-11
History is full of those who have claimed to be a special prophet of God, or even the Messiah Himself, but, there is only ONE. The One born in Bethlehem and who grew up in Nazareth 2,000 years ago. He not only taught the words of God, but He lived the God-life as He intermingled amongst the people. Those who were brought to Him, the blind, deaf, dumb, diseased, maimed, or even possessed by devils, were all healed and set free. There has never been One like Him, nor will there ever be. Why? Because He was, is, and always will be The All Mighty, All Knowing, Everywhere Present GOD, Creator of everything that is seen and unseen! The first few verses of John 1 make it pretty clear:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5
Throughout the centuries, there have been many who tried to deny that the “Word” is Jesus. The attacks on His true identity will continue until the day when all evil and sin has been put down forever. Our choice is to recognize Him for WHO He is. This is addressed a few verses later in John 1:
10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. 12 But, as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. John 1:10-12
Prophets come and go, great teachers, influencers of the masses, social justice warriors, kings, prime-ministers, dictators—all die and they are gone! Jesus Christ, however, rose out of the grave and lives today! Not only does He live, but He is coming back—very soon, to gather those that have chosen Him as the DOOR. As the great Apostle Paul said, “Today is the day of salvation.” Tomorrow is not guaranteed to anyone!
Forever in His Service,