Endurance

Jesus Christ’s return will coincide with Satan’s final attempt to ruin God’s plan of salvation. At that time, the Nation of Israel will become the focus of a man known as the Antichrist. What this man will try to do is to trick people into believing that he is the Savior of the World. The key to his plot is a treaty that will ensure the safety of God’s people for a specific period of time that is referred to by Bible scholars as the Great Tribulation. Antichrist’s vow to take care of the Israelites will result in a betrayal that involves the desecration of God’s temple (Matthew 24:15). When that occurs, Jesus warned his followers to run for their lives because they would face opposition to their faith that was beyond most people’s capability to endure (Matthew 24:16-22).

Jesus described the break up of God’s kingdom in the context of a home that was being broken into by a thief and suggested that some people would be taken captive by Satan because they were unaware that Antichrist was deceiving them (Matthew 24:24). Jesus said, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:40-42). The Greek word translated taken, paralambano means to receive near that is associate with oneself (in any familiar or intimate act or relation)” (3880). This word suggests that being taken involves an acceptance of someone as a friend or companion, perhaps as an alternate to someone else. Jesus was probably referring to the acceptance of Antichrist as a personal savior or collectively as Israel’s Messiah. The apparent fifty-fifty division of the population could mean that half of the people will not be taken in by the Antichrist’s trickery because they have been chosen by God to withstand Satan’s attempt to overturn his plan of salvation (Revelation 7:3).

The point Jesus made in his lesson of the faithful and unfaithful servants was that endurance was necessary to withstand the evil influence of Antichrist (Matthew 24:48-50). Jesus indicated that the greatest fear of the Jew should be to be identified as a hypocrite and cast into hell with Satan and the rest of his cohorts (Matthew 24:51). The Apostle Paul outlined a method for resisting the devil and warned Christians about the evil spiritual forces that are presently attacking believers in Christ. He said, “Finally, my brethren,  be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13).

Imposters

In what is now referred to as the Olivet discourse, Jesus revealed signs of the end of the age in which non-Jewish believers would be integrated into the kingdom of God. As he began to focus on the Great Tribulation, Jesus warned his disciples that imposters would try to deceive the Jews into thinking their Messiah had arrived. He said, “And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or lo, he is there; believe him not: for false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders to seduce, if it were possible even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things” (Mark 13:221-23). The Greek word translated seduce, apoplanao, which means “to lead astray” (G635), seems to suggest an evangelistic effort that is not based on the New Testament of the Bible. It could be that the Jews will one day realize they missed their opportunity to receive God’s salvation and will try to obtain salvation through some other means. Jesus’ comment “I have foretold you all things” was probably meant to be a type of line in the sand that marked the end of divine revelation. At the conclusion of his Olivet discourse, Jesus didn’t intend to say anything more about his return to Earth and didn’t want there to be any confusion about whether or not he had left anything out.

The primary reason Jesus warned his followers about imposters that would try to lead them astray was because of the Antichrist’s role in deterring the Jews from inheriting the kingdom of heaven. The term antichrist was introduced around the end of the first century by the Apostle John in his first general epistle to believers. John’s objective was to expose false teachers and give believers assurance of salvation. John said, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time” (1 John 2:18). John went on to say, “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 1:22). John’s reference to the last time was probably not meant to suggest that Jesus’ return was imminent, but that the ministry that Jesus launched was coming to a conclusion. John was the last survivor of the original twelve apostles and was probably nearing the end of his life when he wrote his general epistles. One thing that is certain from John’s message was that before the end of his ministry, it had already become common knowledge that someone known as “antichrist” was going to try and take the place of Jesus as the savior of the world. The imposter will likely have a similar appearance to Jesus as being a compassionate leader, but will deny the authority of God and will try to usurp his power.

Sheep in the midst of wolves

Jesus used the metaphor of sheep to describe God’s chosen people who had wandered away from him in their search for pleasure among the pagan nations that surrounded Israel. Jesus sent out his twelve apostles like laborers in a field and instructed them, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). In depicting God’s people as lost sheep, Jesus portrayed them as vulnerable, fearful creatures that were unable to find their own way back home again. There was no judgment or harsh criticism in Jesus’ viewpoint of the situation, only a concerned attitude toward the people that were voluntarily living their lives separated from the God that wanted to save them. The Greek word translated lost, apollumi means to destroy fully (622) and is therefore, referring to a spiritual condition rather than a physical one. What Jesus was implying was that the Israelites were on their way to hell and needed to be rescued from Satan’s grip on them.

Before he sent them out, Jesus told his twelve apostles, “Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). In comparing the Israelites’ spiritual enemies to wolves, Jesus was suggesting that they would be difficult to detect among God’s children. One of the advantages wolves have over their prey is they can sneak into a flock undetected because they are about the same size and color as sheep. Jesus’ reversal of the roles, sheep in the midst of wolves, meant that he wanted his disciples to infiltrate the enemy’s camp, like a sheep walking into a pack of wolves, and work against them without being detected. Jesus’ instruction to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” meant that he didn’t want any harm to come to the lost sheep of Israel that were being held captive by the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees that dominated the religious culture at that time.

Jesus warned his disciples of the danger they would face in taking his gospel into enemy territory, but also encouraged them to act fearlessly, because God would protect them (Matthew 10:31). Focusing particularly on the Pharisees who had accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan (Matthew 12:24), Jesus said, “Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid that shall not be known” (Matthew 10:26). In other words, the teaching of the Pharisees would be exposed as false doctrine by the truth of the gospel. All the disciples had to do was tell God’s people the truth and they would realize on their own that the Pharisees had been lying to them. Likening God’s word to a sword, (Matthew 10:34), Jesus explained that telling people the truth would result in spiritual warfare, but conflict was necessary for the kingdom of heaven to be established on earth. He said, “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matthew 10:35-36).

The liar

One of the few descriptions of the devil in the Bible is found in John 8:44. Differentiating between those who are true children of Abraham and those who are not, it says, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do .He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for his is a liar, and the father of it.” Satan’s reputation as the father of lies implies that all lies originate from him. In the book of 1 Kings, there is recorded an incident in which a lying spirit was sent to the king of Israel (1 Kings 22:23-24). A conversation between God and the host of heaven suggested that king Ahab could be persuaded by a lying spirit to do something that would result in his own death.

At the time of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, the people were being told lies about their safety inside the city walls. Ezekiel was told, “They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they made others to hope that they would confirm the word” (Ezekiel 13:6). “Divination was a pagan parallel to prophesying…it seems probable that the diviners conversed with demons…Divination was one of man’s attempts to know and control the world and the future, apart from the true God” (7080). Even king Zedekiah participated in the deception of God’s people. His consultation with Jeremiah revealed that surrender was the only way to avoid death, and yet, Zedekiah chose to keep the information from the people and tried to escape secretly by night (Jeremiah 39:4).

In an attempt to make the truth known to his people, Ezekiel was given advance warning of king Zedekiah’s plot (Ezekiel 12:6) and was told to warn the people against false prophets (Ezekiel 13:2). God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, what is that proverb that ye have in the land of Israel, saying, The days are prolonged, and every vision faileth? Tell them therefore, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will make this proverb to cease, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel; but say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision. For there shall be no more any vain vision nor flattering divination within the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 12:22-24).

The connection between idolatry and lying divination was found in a sacrificial system that promised peace and prosperity at a price. In a sense, the false prophets were bribed to tell the people what they wanted to hear. Sacrifices to pagan gods were used as a front for the business of organized crime. It was illegal for the Israelites to worship other gods, and yet, idols were kept in God’s own temple (Ezekiel 8:12). God’s condemnation of the false prophets showed that his people were under their control and needed to be delivered from their dangerous practices. He said, “Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 13:22-23).

Zedekiah’s escape

King Nebuchadnezzar’s attack of Jerusalem lasted from the ninth year and tenth month of Zedekiah’s reign over Judah until the eleventh year and fourth month, on the ninth day of that month. The exact date of the fall of Jerusalem is known to be July 18, 586 B.C. During the nineteen month siege upon his country, king Zedekiah pretended to believe Jerusalem would survive Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, but in reality, Zedekiah knew the end was coming.

When Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, all his princes, and all his army came against Jerusalem, and sat in the middle gate, a strategic vantage point for invaders; it says in Jeremiah 39:4: “And it came to pass, that when Zedekiah the king of Judah saw them, and all the men of war, then he fled, and went forth out of the city by night, by the way of the king’s garden, by the gate betwixt two walls: and he went out the way of the plain.” Zedekiah took with him all his princes and men of war and left the people of Jerusalem defenseless (Jeremiah 52:7-10).

Zedekiah’s plan of escape went against the counsel he received from Jeremiah. The LORD told Jeremiah, “And Zedekiah king of Judah shall not escape out of the hands of the Chaldeans, but shall surely be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon, and shall speak with him mouth to mouth, and his eyes shall behold his eyes” (Jeremiah 32:4). The Chaldean army overtook Zedekiah in the plans of Jericho and brought him to Nebuchadnezzar’s military headquarters (Jeremiah 39:5).

Zedekiah was appointed king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. after the first wave of captives was taken to Babylon (2 Kings 24:14, 17). Initially, Zedekiah did what Nebuchadnezzar wanted him to , but later Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon and sought assistance from the king of Egypt because Nebuchadnezzar “made him swear by God” that he would remain faithful to their agreement (2 Chronicles 36:13). It says of Zedekiah in 2 Chronicles 36:13 that “he stiffened his neck, and hardened his heart from turning unto the LORD God of Israel.”

When Zedekiah stood before Nebuchadnezzar after he had been captured, Zedekiah was treated as a traitor. It says in Jeremiah 39:6-8, “Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah. Moreover he put out Zedekiah’s eyes and bound him with chains to carry him to Babylon. And the Chaldeans burnt the king’s  house, and the houses of the people with fire, and brake down the walls of Jerusalem.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s barbaric treatment of Zedekiah was a type of psychological torture that was intended to cause him pain and anguish. Most likely, Zedekiah suffered from nightmares and perhaps depression as a result of seeing his family slaughtered before his eyes. The practice of putting out someone’s eyes after he has witnessed a personal tragedy suggests that Nebuchadnezzar was a ruthless disciplinarian that controlled others to the point that no one dared cross him. Zedekiah was foolish to think he could escape from Nebuchadnezzar’s army and paid dearly for his rebellion against the king of Babylon.

A coward

The kings of Israel and Judah had a responsibility as the earthly representative of God to defend and protect his people. In some instances, the king was considered a savior because God used him to deliver his people from their enemies (2 Kings 13:4-5). Like their Messiah, the king of Judah was endowed with special capabilities that enabled him to intercede for the people, and yet, many of Judah’s kings neglected their responsibilities and sought help from foreign kings (2 Kings 23:35).

King Zedekiah, the last king to rule over God’s people, had access to God  through the prophet Jeremiah. After Jeremiah repeatedly told the king and his people that Babylon was going to attack and destroy Judah, king Zedekiah began to seek counsel from Jeremiah secretly (Jeremiah 37:17). Although the king knew Jeremiah was telling him the truth, he had already made up his mind to disregard Jeremiah’s advice.

The reason king Zedekiah met with Jeremiah secretly was so that no one would know he planned to use the information Jeremiah provided to save himself from going into captivity. While the rest of the nation was deceived into thinking the king of Babylon was going to retreat as he had when the Egyptians came to assist Judah, king Zedekiah knew the end of his nation was nearing, and so, he distanced himself from Jeremiah to make it seem as though he wasn’t paying any attention to his message.

Jeremiah was placed in a dungeon and left for dead (Jeremiah 38:9), but king Zedekiah rescued him and arranged a meeting. It says in Jeremiah 38:14, “Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD, and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.” Zedekiah used his position as king to gain an advantage over the prophet Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to reveal the future to him and Zedekiah intended to use the information for his own benefit.

Jeremiah told the king exactly what he needed to do to avoid Jerusalem being burned to the ground. The kings response showed his true motive for disobedience to God’s command was a lack of concern for anyone but himself. It says in Jeremiah 38:19, “And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.” Jeremiah assured Zedekiah he would be safe if he obeyed the LORD and encouraged him to listen to the voice of the LORD (Jeremiah 38:20).

In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, Zedekiah chose to keep the truth hidden and threatened Jeremiah with death if he told anyone else what he revealed to the king (Jeremiah 38:24). In the end, Judah’s army believed they could withstand Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and many of the people waited inside the walls of the city until it was too late for them to surrender and save their own lives (2 Chronicles 36:17).

False information

The people of Judah were dependent on false prophets and corrupt priests to guide them in their spiritual activities. One of the reasons God’s people were unrepentant was they thought their sacrifices were enough to guarantee God’s blessing on their nation. There was no real awareness among the people of Judah that they were in trouble. Jeremiah described their problem as a “perpetual backsliding” (Jeremiah 8:5). Jeremiah’s use of the term perpetual backsliding indicated there was a permanent separation between God and his people. Another way of describing their condition would be to say the people had abandoned their faith. They no longer believed in God.

It was difficult for Jeremiah to get through to the people because their consciences were unaffected by what they were doing. Jeremiah declared, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them  that fall: in the time of their visitation” (Jeremiah 8:12). A time of visitation was an appointed time when an officer or custodian would have to give an account for his area of responsibility. The nation of Judah was responsible to God for their worship activities. They were not free to worship in any other way than what had been prescribed to them by the Mosaic Law. God’s ultimate goal for his people was for them to receive salvation and eternal life. Because of their disobedience, God’s plan could not be carried out.

God was grieved over the situation in Judah. He didn’t want to punish his children, but he couldn’t overlook the fact that they had disassociated themselves from him and were going to die without their sins being atoned for. Jeremiah depicted God’s attitude toward his children as one of care and concern for their well-being. He said, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

Psychological warfare

Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servant Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army in order to intimidate the people of Jerusalem into surrendering (Isaiah 36:2,4). A master at psychological warfare, Sennacherib instructed his servant to speak to the Jews in their native language so that they would understand every word he said and would believe he sympathized with their situation.

Rabshakeh intended to instill doubt and fear in the people when he said, “Am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against the land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10). Hearing these words spoken in Hebrew made the message much more convincing. Essentially, Rabshakeh implied that the LORD had switched sides. He was no longer protecting the Israelites; God was helping the Assyrians to destroy them.

Rabshakeh’s message was true in the context of the northern kingdom of Israel, but an outright lie in regards to Jerusalem. Whether or not God had spoken to Sennacherib was not what really mattered. The question at hand was did God intend to destroy the kingdom of Judah as he had the northern kingdom of Israel? Apparently, king Hezekiah had already warned his people of an Assyrian invasion. Rabshakeh wanted the people to think Hezekiah was the one who was lying to them.

Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: the city shall not be delivered into the had of the king of Assyria. (Isaiah 36:13-15)

Rabshakeh had a strategic advantage in convincing the people that their king was lying to them. It would make sense for Hezekiah to do so. Rabshakeh argued that Hezekiah was like every other king and was powerless to keep his promise. Rabshakeh declared, “Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isaiah 36:18).

Three of king Hezekiah’s cabinet members were listening in as Rabshakeh struck fear into the hearts of the people of Jerusalem. Rather than trying to defend their leader, these men walked away without acknowledging Rabshakeh’s threat. It says in Isaiah 36:21-21, “But they held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was saying, answer him not. Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.”

Deception

I started working in downtown San Diego a few months before my 18th birthday. I developed a routine of parking in the same spot everyday and walking as quickly as I could to get to work on time. One day, when I arrived, there was a distressed looking man standing near the curb outside my building. As I entered, he followed close behind me as if he was in a hurry. After the elevator doors closed, he told me there was a man injured on the floor below us and he needed my help to move him to safety. I told him I was late and didn’t have time, but he pleaded with me until I changed my mind. Once we were in the stairwell, he pulled  out a knife and pointed it at my side as he ordered me to get in the closet and take off my pants.

Proverbs 2:11-12 indicates that understanding can deliver us from the way of an evil man, “from the man that speaketh froward things.” The Hebrew word translated froward, tahpûkâh (tah – poo – kaw´) means a perversity or fraud (8419). Tahpukah is derived from the word haphak (haw – fak´) which indicates reflexive action including changing your mind or turning one’s back.

The man that spoke to me in the elevator was a serial rapist that had already abducted and raped several women in the area surrounding my work location. His objective was to get me to abandon my plan to go straight into the office so that I could help him do a good deed. In the moment when I decided to turn my back on my responsibility to my employer, I became a victim of his evil plot and was unable to escape what was about to happen to me, being raped at knifepoint.