In the gospel of Mark, Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a tiny mustard seed:
“And he said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.'” (Mark 4:30-32)
Jesus himself sowed that tiny mustard seed when he died on the cross. That same seed germinated at his resurrection three days later and continues to grow and bloom as the gospel spreads throughout the earth making disciples of all nations. It will continue to grow until Christ returns to earth again to establish his physical kingdom. His return begins a thousand year reign theologians call the Millenium. In the meantime, Christ is in heaven preparing for the time he comes to lay claim to his kingdom (Mt 25:14-46).
The Bible tells us that before Christ returns, certain things must happen. Most important among them are the following:
The Nation of Israel Must Be Restored
First, the nation of Israel must be restored. The nation of Israel was destroyed in 70 AD when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and razed the temple, the symbol of their national identity. For the last two thousand years Jews have been scattered across the face of the earth and Israel has been overrun by her enemies. But God has not rejected the Jews forever, as some claim. He began to restore the nation of Israel in 1948. He will eventually return all Jews to the Holy Land, completely remove their disgrace, give them victory over their enemies and bring them to repentance and faith in Him.
God will bring to pass all that he promised Abraham and his descendants, regardless of their faithlessness, just as he fulfills all his promises to Christian believers despite their inevitable failures. Both Jews and Christians are elect of God which means we are all God’s chosen people. In Romans 11:1-2 Paul says, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin (as were Jesus and the rest of the apostles). God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means!” Paul also said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek“(Rom 1:16). God promised Abraham that the covenant he made with him would be everlasting, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:7-8). The prophet Isaiah says, “For just as the new heavens and the new earth I am about to make will remain standing before me,” says the Lord, “so your descendants and your name will remain” (Is 66:22).
Although the Bible prophesies regarding the return of the Jews to their homeland are beginning to be fulfilled in our day, they have not yet been completely realized. The Jews must still repent for their unbelief, including rejecting their Messiah, Jesus. As the prophet Jeremiah predicted:
“Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! …With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn….‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ Their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him”(Jer 31:4-14).
The book of Ezekiel also describes the future return of the Jews as a time of peace. In chapter 36 God says to the land of Israel, “And I will not let you hear anymore the reproach of the nations, and you shall no longer bear the disgrace of the peoples and no longer cause your nation to stumble, declares the Lord God” (vs 15).
These prophecies describe an event that has not yet occurred. Although the Jews have returned to Israel, they still face threats on every side. Today they live in a land surrounded by enemies who won’t even acknowledge their right to exist and would exterminate them if given the chance. This is not a nation that is like a watered garden and that does not stumble or languish, nor has it been delivered from disgrace and reproach.
There will be no doubt when these prophesies come to pass. Ezekiel describes it as a time when Jews will be regathered from all over the world, when they will repent of their rebellion and turn to God, and when God will vindicate his name and display his glory through them to all nations. It will be a time when all the wastelands will become like the Garden of Eden, when the cities will be rebuilt and filled with people, and when harvests will be bountiful. (Ezek 36:22-27). It will be a time when the apostles rule over the twelve tribes of Israel, “…when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Mat 19:28). None of these things have happened yet.
In Ezekiel 37 God says, “Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezek 37:21-23)
Israel has not been united since the northern kingdom was taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Although all the Canaanite nations that existed in those days have long since disappeared, God has miraculously preserved the Israelites as a distinct ethnic group. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mt 24:34). The Greek word for generation used here means “the successive members of a geneology.” God has preserved the nation of Israel because he intends to bring all of them back to their native land and reestablish them in their original tribes one day. As Romans 11:28-29 says, “As regards the gospel, they (the Jews) are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” This truth applies to all of God’s elect, including Gentile believers. As Paul says in Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” He is a covenant-keeping God who always fulfills his promises to those whom he has chosen regardless of their inability to keep their end of the bargain.
Satan will be be deposed
Scripture refers to Satan as the ruler of this world. John 12:31 says, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” In order for Christ to reign supreme, the present ruler of this world must be dethroned. Although he was dealt a fatal blow at the cross, Satan continues to oppose Christ until the appointed time of his torment. Satan and his demons know this time is coming but has not yet arrived, as indicated by the response of the demons whom Jesus drove out from the Gadarene demoniac (Mt 8:29).
Scripture tells us that when Christ returns, he will bind Satan and cast him into a bottomless pit called ‘The Abyss’ for one thousand years, “Then I saw an angel descending from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a huge chain. He seized the dragon – the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan – and tied him up for a thousand years. The angel then threw him into the abyss and locked and sealed it so that he could not deceive the nations until the one thousand years were finished” (Rev 20:1-3). During the thousand year reign of Christ, Satan and his demons will be entirely banished from the earth. Mankind will be completely free of Satan’s temptations for the first time in history.
Until that time comes, Satan will continue to deceive the nations and evil will increase, reaching a crescendo just before Christ returns. The Bible describes these as times of increasing war, crime, rebellion, and natural disasters accompanied by the spread of the gospel throughout the world (Mat 24:3-14). Paul describes the total depravity of the people of these last days, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” These are the days in which we are living.
Jesus Will Take the Throne
Immediately after Satan is cast into the Abyss, Christ will assume complete, uncontested authority over the earth. All of those who have been faithful to Christ, whether dead or alive, will rule with him. Revelation 20:1-3 says, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Christ’s rule will be characterized by justice, righteousness and equity as the rightful ruler of the earth (Isaiah 9:3-5, 7, 10). Punishment of evil doers will be swift and severe, “From his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod, and he stomps the winepress of the furious wrath of God, the All-Powerful” (Rev 19:15). The innocent will no longer suffer at the hands of the unrighteous (Is 11:4). The place where Christ reigns will be filled with glory and all of creation will rejoice at his rule, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes,for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness (Ps 96:11).
The Earth Will be Renewed
Jesus referred to the time of his earthly reign as a period of renewal or regeneration, “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: In the age when all things are renewed, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Paul also said that the curse will be removed, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 5:12-17 teaches that the curse that came through the disobedience of Adam will be removed by the obedience of Jesus Christ. When Christ comes to reign, he will rule over a creation restored to its original pristine state.
The Old Testament describes this as a time when the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, when field and trees will rejoice, when the predator-prey relationship will be removed from the animal kingdom, when swarms of fish will fill the oceans, when barren wastelands will be covered with lush vegetation, when scarcity will be no more, when infirmities will be healed, and when life will be extended to hundreds of years (Amos 9:13; Is 32:15; Ez 47:9-10; Is 35:5-7; Is 11:6-9; Is 65:20; Joel 3:18; Is 43:20; Is 41:18; Is 35:1-2; Is 35:25; Is 44:4-5; Hab 2:14). Nothing remotely like this has ever happened before because Christ has not yet established his earthly kingdom.
There are those who teach that God abrogated his covenant with the Jews when they crucified Christ. Paul very clearly addresses this fallacy in the book of Romans when he warns Gentile believers against becoming proud that God has chosen them:
“For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree? For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved...”(Rom 11:17, 25-26)
We live in what theologians call the church age. This is the time when God has hardened the hearts of the Jews as a nation and is gathering Gentiles into his kingdom in their place. But Paul calls this period a “partial hardening” because it is only temporary. There is coming a day when the Jewish people will look on him whom they have pierced and repent:
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn...On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” (Zech 12:10; 13:1).
On that day, all Israel will turn to Christ. That is what the image of the dry bones in Ezekiel portrays:
“O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezek 37:4-6)
Has the Anti-Christ Already Come?
Those who claim that God has finally rejected the Jews also believe that the prophesies regarding the end times were all fulfilled in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed the temple and drove the Israelites from their land. They say that the period of history in which we are now living is the millenium prophesied in the Bible and that Christ is ruling through the Holy Spirit in his church. This is a real stretch given the nature of the biblical descriptions of end time judgments. Listen to the description of Christ’s conquest of the Anti-Christ in Revelation:
“Finally the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying: “It is done!” Then there were flashes of lightning, roaring, and crashes of thunder, and there was a tremendous earthquake – an earthquake unequaled since humanity has been on the earth, so tremendous was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts and the cities of the nations collapsed. So Babylon the great was remembered before God, and was given the cup filled with the wine made of God’s furious wrath. Every island fled away and no mountains could be found. And gigantic hailstones, weighing about a hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people, but they blasphemed God because of the plague of hail, since it was so horrendous.” (Rev 16:19-21)
Clearly nothing like this has ever taken place. Isaiah 24 describes the same event this way:
“Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word… The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers… therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left. .. Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins. For thus it shall be in the midst of the earth among the nations, as when an olive tree is beaten, as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is done.” (Is 24:1-13)
Geologists tell us that all the major geological fault lines are connected and that a large enough earthquake in the right spot could trigger a world-wide quake that would cause unbelievable damage. That is likely what is described in the books of Isaiah and Revelation. This is a quake that will literally level the mountains, wipe out every city and sink every island. Obviously, this didn’t happen in AD 70. Neither were there hailstones that weighed a hundred pounds each. Nor has Babylon, i.e. the kingdom of Satan, been overthrown. The Bible says these apocalyptic will be so severe that, “if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mat 24:22). If such an event had already occurred it most certainly would have been recorded in our history books since civilization would have essentially started over at that point.
Matthew 24:24 says, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” Not even Hitler, considered the most evil man to ever live by most people, had miraculous powers strong enough to be confused with divine manifestations.
The book of Matthew says, “Immediately after the suffering of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man arriving on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory“(Mt 24:29-30). There can be no doubt that the tribulation of the last days will be immediately followed by the return of Christ to earth in power and great glory to take up his throne and judge the nations. But the nations still rage against God and rebel against his authority today (Ps 2:1-3). If you go to Jerusalem, you can look long and hard, but you won’t find Christ seated on his throne and surrounded by adoring worshipers. Quite the contrary, you will find the Israeli Premier faithfully executing the duties of his office and the Knesset still making laws. Few, if any of them worship Christ. And the surrounding nations have nothing but contempt for the Son of God.
Those who take the alternative position make all these passages figurative. But there is no reason to interpret these passages in any other than a literal sense. In fact, Matthew 24:23-28 warns believers to beware of false reports of his second coming, saying that it will be as unmistakable as lightning that shines from one end of the globe to the other and that the corpses of those who oppose Christ will be scattered across the surface of the earth (Mat 24:23-18). There will be no room for conjecture or speculation when this happens.
The Flaws of a Symbolic View
The position that all these end time prophecies were fulfilled symbolically in AD 70 and that we are living in the Millennium today is untenable for several reasons. One is obvious. The intervening period between the end time judgments and our day has been two thousand years, not one thousand years. Another is that all other Bible prophecies have been borne out by history. The kingdoms represented by Daniel’s visions all rose and fell as prophesied. We can identify these kingdoms and we know their history. But if you were to ask the man on the street who was the most evil man that ever lived, most people would say Adolf Hitler, not some Roman conqueror from AD 70. That is, if the Anti-Christ had already come, that fact would be common knowledge and no subsequent ruler, no matter how evil, could even begin to compare with him. Also, if the events that surround the end times prophesies had already occurred, the world would look nothing like it does today. Those catastrophic events would have leveled the topography of the earth, restoring it to pre-flood conditions prior to its renewal at the coming of Christ. We would be living in a restored paradise today.
But most important, the view that God has rejected the Jews may lead to a false sense of pride among those who have taken their place, as the Apostle Paul warned. Antisemitism is a horrible evil which God condemns. He may use other nations to punish Israel, but he always punishes those nations more severely. The proof lies in the fact that Israel still exists, but the nations that have conquered her have all vanished. Benjamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel, made this very point before the United Nations when he warned Iran against attacking his nation.
A literal one thousand year period in which Christ physically comes to earth, vanquishes his enemies, restores the Jewish nation, renews creation and establishes a kingdom governed by absolute justice, equity and righteousness is the only common sense rendering of all of the Bible passages that deal with end time prophesies. Any interpretation that presupposes the abandonment of the Jewish nation and replaces the rule of Christ with the reign of the Holy Spirit for some indefinite amount of time cannot explain all of the supernatural phenomena that surround the end times. Such a position breeds spiritual pride and a contempt for the nation of Israel that God will not abide. A literal interpretation, however, encourages the believer to patiently endure tribulation as he awaits a kingdom so wonderful that it cannot be imagined. As the apostle Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18)