Second Coming

Before Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, he indicated he would return to Earth at some point in the future. The Apostle Matthew likened Christ’s return to a bolt of lightning that suddenly appears in the sky. He said, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be” (Matthew 24:27). The exact timing of this event is unknown, but Jesus indicated there was a direct link between the conclusion of the Great Tribulation and the establishment of his physical kingdom on Earth. Mark recorded, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in the heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24-26).

Although Mark’s description of Jesus’ second coming might sound like a cataclysmic event, it does not necessary refer to a complete breakup of the universe. The language Mark used was “commonly used to describe God’s awful judgement on a fallen world (see Isaiah 13:10; 24:21-23; 34:4; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10,31; 3:15; Amos 8:9)” (note on Mark 13:25). What Jesus may have intended to convey was the breakup of a spiritual structure in our universe, a type of resetting of the divine mechanism that controls our lives. The book of Revelation provides some additional insight into what is happening at the time of Christ’s return. The Apostle John stated:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipt in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16)

Jesus’ second coming will be much different than his first. His return will be marked by a powerful overthrow of the evil forces that have been wreaking havoc on Earth since the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. The key to understanding Jesus’ forceful entrance into the realm of mankind is the name mentioned in Revelation 19:13 and the weapon he will use in Revelation 19:15. John said, “And he was clothed with a vesture dipt in blood: and his name is called The Word of God…And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations.” The Apostle Paul wrote in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It is likely that when Jesus returns to Earth he will use the Bible to defeat his enemies. Because of his previous death and resurrection, Christ’s authority will no longer be challenged and he will be able to kill anyone that is not willing to conform to God’s commandments.

Alive again

Jesus’ ability to raise someone from the dead was demonstrated three different times during his ministry. The first occasion is recorded in Luke 7:11-17. This miracle was performed by Jesus in the presence of many witnesses. Luke tells us, “And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her” (Luke 7:11-12). The circumstances of the situation were such that Jesus decided to act without any request or intervention from anyone that was involved. Jesus saw the dead man being carried out of the city and discerned within himself that his help was needed. Luke said, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not” (Luke 7:13).

The focus of Jesus’ attention was the mother of the dead man, who also happened to be a widow. Because her only son was dead, and she no longer had a husband to take care of her, the woman would have quickly become destitute after her son’s death, and likely would have herself died within a short period of time. Jesus’ command to the woman, “weep not” indicated that the woman was deeply distressed. The Greek word translated weep, klaio (klah´-yo) means to sob that is wail aloud (2799). It is evident from Luke’s account that the dead man himself had nothing to do with Jesus’ decision to raise him from the dead. In fact, it can be assumed from his command, that Jesus was invoking his will upon the dead man. Luke states, “And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14).

The Greek word Jesus used egeiro (eg -i´-ro), which is translated “arise” (Luke 7:14), is the same word he used in John 5:21 where it says, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” It is possible that Jesus intended his action of bringing the dead man back to life to be an object lesson for his disciples of what he meant by rising from the dead or being alive again after death. Even though this was the first time Jesus had performed this type of miracle, it was not the first time such a thing had ever happened. In the Old Testament, prophets had the ability to raise people from the dead (2 Kings 4:34). What Jesus was demonstrating was his authority to raise from the dead anyone he chose to. It is likely that the woman’s dead son was not a believer. After Jesus spoke the command, “Arise” (Luke 7:14), Luke tells us, “And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother” (Luke 7:15).

A twist of fate

Haman the Agagite’s plan to have all the Jews in the Persian Empire killed was driven by his hatred for Esther’s uncle, Mordecai. After being personally invited to dine with the king and queen, Haman boasted to all of his friends and wife about what an important man he was becoming. It says in Esther 5:12-13. “Haman said moreover, Yea, Esther the queen did let no man come in with the king unto the banquet that she prepared but myself; and to morrow am I invited unto her also with the king. Yet it availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate.” Haman’s wife and friends suggested that he get rid of Mordecai before the banquet so that he could have a good time and not be troubled by the reminder of his disrespectful behavior (Esther 5:14). Haman liked the idea and had a gallows made that night so he could have Mordecai hanged on it the next day.

That night, while the gallows was being prepared, the king was unable to sleep, so he requested to have some of his kingdom record books read to him (Esther 6:1). In a surprising twist of fate, it just so happened that one of the records that was read that night happened to contain an event that had occurred five years earlier in which Mordecai saved the king’s life. It says in Esther 6:3-4, “And the king said, What honour and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? Then said the king’s servants that ministered unto him, There is nothing done for him. And the king said, Who is in the court? Now Haman was come into the outward court of the king’s house, to speak unto the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him.” The timing of Haman’s visit was such that he ended up being selected by the king to show honour to Mordecai. Rather than obtaining permission to have Mordecai hanged, he was instructed to put the king’s robe on Mordecai and lead him through the city riding on the king’s horse while Haman shouted out “Thus shall it be done unto the man whom the king delighteth to honour” (Esther 6:11).

Haman’s humiliation was more than he could bare. He went home with his head covered so no one could see the distressed look on his face (Esther 6:12). Haman knew his plan had backfired and he would not be able to get rid of Mordecai, but what he didn’t know yet was that Mordecai was Esther’s uncle and the reason he had been invited to Esther’s banquet was so that she could tell the king it was her people Haman planned to have killed. Haman’s plot to have the Jews exterminated was the cause of not only his downfall, but ultimately his death. After King Ahasuerus was informed of Esther’s true identity and her relationship to Mordecai, Haman was condemned to be hanged on the gallows that he had built the previous night (Esther 7:10).

Providence

The book of Esther is so much like a fairy tale that it might be hard for some people to take it seriously. The events recorded in the book occurred at a time in history that was actually very well documented, so there is little doubt that it is a true and correct account of what happened to Esther, but how the story may be interpreted varies greatly. In order to understand the details, a context has to be established, and I believe the best way to do that is to look at the accomplishments of the first Persian Empire. It was the first kingdom to establish a centralized bureaucratic administration system that included people of different origins and faith. The Persian Empire had an official language that was used across all its territories which spanned 5.5 million square kilometers, approximately the size of the United States. After its conquest of the Babylonian Empire, a series of kings, beginning with Cyrus the Great, identified themselves as world leaders and attempted to unite all people into a single culture. Ahasuerus reigned “from India to Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces” (Esther 1:1).

It could be said that the first Persian Empire was similar to the United States during the 1950’s after its victory in World War II. The economy was booming and expansion was taking place throughout the country. A key characteristic that I think is similar between these two cultures is male dominance in the home and sexual pleasure being considered a necessary requirement for a successful marriage. Queen Vashti, Ahasuerus’ first wife, was deposed, which means she was removed from her office suddenly and forcefully, because she refused to appear immediately in his court at his command during a festival the king was hosting. It says in Esther 1:12, “But the queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s commandment by his chamberlains: therefore was the king very wroth, and his anger burned in him.” It is likely Vashti was pregnant with her third child at the time this incident took place. Using Vashti’s disobedience as justification for her dismissal, Ahasuerus launched a search for a suitable replacement that included all the good looking virgins in his kingdom (Esther 2:2).

It is clear from the description of what happened that every virgin that was selected was expected to have sex with the king. It says in Esther 2:14, “In the evening she went, and on the morrow she returned into a second house of the women, to the custody of Shaashgaz, the king’s chamberlain, which kept the concubines: she came into the king no more, except the king delighted in her, and that she were called by name.” A concubine or paramour in today’s language is a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person. When it was Esther’s turn to sleep with the king, he fell in love with her. It says in Esther 2:17, “And the king loved Esther above all the other women, and she obtained grace and favour in his sight more than all the virgins; so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen instead of Vashti.” The king’s emotional decision to marry Esther was most likely a result of God’s providence over her life. Even though Esther was out of the will of God, he did not allow her life to be ruined by her circumstances.

A testimony

It took Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon seven years to learn a lesson that he could have gotten immediately if he had been open to the possibility that God was more powerful than he was. Nebuchadnezzar thought he could ignore God’s existence and do as he pleased, until he was stripped of his power and made to live like an animal. Nebuchadnezzar recorded his testimony of conversion and made it available to the world large. His opening remarks are recorded in Daniel 4:1-3, where it says, “Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”

Nebuchadnezzar’s second experience of having a prophetic dream showed that he had gained no insight into God’s plan for his life. Instead of honoring God for the privilege he had been given of ruling over the entire world, Nebuchadnezzar chose to honor himself and claim the glory that rightfully belonged to God. Therefore, he was told his kingdom would be taken from him until he acknowledged God’s sovereign control of the entire planet. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, “This matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the demand by the word of the holy ones: to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men” (Daniel 4:17). The watchers were agents of God, guardian angels, that were empowered to bring down any kingdom that did not conform to God’s will.

King Nebuchadnezzar was forced to submit himself to God. Through a unique set of circumstances, Nebuchadnezzar was humbled and became like a wild animal in order see that he could not live apart from God’s divine control. For seven years, it says in Daniel 4:33 that Nebuchadnezzar “did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.” Whether or not Nebuchadnezzar contracted a rare disease or went insane is not clear from the description of his condition, but it appears that he was aware of what he was going through, and yet had no control over his behavior until a set period of time was completed. It says in Daniel 4:34, “At the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lift up mine eyes to heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation.”

The garden of Eden

The garden of Eden was representative of the idyllic state God intended man to live in. In his original creation, everything God made was good and was meant to be sustained for ever. It was only because Adam and Eve sinned against God that things began to deteriorate. After the earth was cursed, the garden of Eden became restricted and was guarded by angels. It says of Adam in Genesis 3:23-24, “Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

It can be assumed that the garden of Eden still exists somewhere in the world, but the fact that it is inaccessible to man means that only God and his angels knows where it is. It is possible that the Assyrian Empire was established near, or perhaps just outside the entrance to the garden. In his parable of the cedar of Lebanon, Ezekiel referred to the Assyrian nation as a tree in the garden of Eden. He said, “The cedars in the garden of God could not hide him: the fir trees were not like his bough, and the chestnut trees were not like his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in beauty. I have made him fair by the multitudes of his branches: so that all the trees of Eden that were in the garden of God, envied him” (Ezekiel 31:8-9).

Perhaps the link between the Assyrian nation and the garden of Eden was the origin of human civilization. If Eden represented the ideal state, then Assyria was most likely the opposite, a degenerate pagan center of idolatry. The Assyrians were know to be cruel and were merciless to their enemies. The Assyrian campaigns against Israel and Judah were the most traumatic political events in the entire history of Israel. “The brutal Assyrian style of warfare relied on massive armies, superbly equipped with the world’s first great siege machines manipulated by an efficient corps of engineers. Psychological terror, however, was Assyria’s most effective weapon. It was ruthlessly applied, with corpses impaled on stakes, severed heads stacked in heaps, and captives skinned alive” (Assyrian Campaigns against Israel and Judah).

God’s reference to the garden of Eden in his parable of the cedar of Lebanon may have been intended to show the Assyrians as the end result of the fall of mankind. It could have been that the illustration was also an attempt to associate the Assyrians with Satan’s effort to challenge God’s sovereignty. Setting them up as the chief among sinners, God’s overthrow of Assyria demonstrated that there was no power that could stand against him. He said, “I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth. They also went down into hell with him unto them that be slain with the sword; and they that were his arm, that dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the heathen” (Ezekiel 31:16-17).

 

Satan’s headquarters

The prince of Tyrus elevated himself in his own mind in order to assume the role of God in managing the kingdoms of earth. Ezekiel was told, “Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the sea; yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God” (Ezekiel 28:2). The title, prince of Tyrus, may not have referred to a specific person, but an office or position that was held my multiple individuals. The father of queen Jezebel was named Ethbaal, which means a close master (856). It could be said that Ethbaal was considered the earthly or human representative of his god, Baal. In the same way that the king of Israel was considered God’s representative, the king or prince of Tyrus may have been Satan’s designated representative on earth.

Ezekiel’s discourse was directed at a man, and yet, some of his message indicated a higher power was at work in Tyrus. Ezekiel was told to take up a lamentation for the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God…Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee” (Ezekiel 28:12-15). One explanation for the unusual description of the king of Tyrus was his association with Satan, perhaps as a type of antichrist. If so, the city of Tyrus may have been used as a headquarters for demonic activity. The city’s unique location and demographics made it a prime spot for influencing world trade and military conquests.

One thing that is known for sure about the king of Tyrus was his pride and arrogance in claiming superiority to God made him the first man ever to challenge God’s sovereignty. Only in the most subtle way could he have differentiated himself more as a challenger to God’s throne. Really, the king of Tyrus was synonymous with man’s ongoing attempt to usurp God’s authority and his attempt to make the physical realm of earth a separate kingdom from God’s own. God’s response to the king’s claim clearly demonstrated that the physical and spiritual realms were united and God ruled and reigned over all of it.

In conclusion, Ezekiel was told, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; When I shall have gathered the house of Israel from the people among whom they have been scattered, and shall be sanctified in them in the sight of the heathen, then shall they dwell in their land that I have given to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell safely therein, and shall build houses, and plant vineyards; yea, they shall dwell with confidence, when I have executed judgments upon all those that despise them round about them; and they shall know that I am the LORD their God” (Ezekiel 28:25-26).

A model of success

The lives of the Israelites were meant to be an example of what dependence on God could do for a nation of people. Their prosperity and peaceful existence was not only unusual, it was a stark contrast to a world in which power and influence reigned supreme. In particular, the city of Tyre or Tyrus appeared to be a model of success. Tyre was the island capital of Phoenicia (present day Lebanon). “Because of its geographical location, its political importance and the central role it played in international trade,” it was thought to be a gateway to the world (Ezekiel 26:2 and note). In many ways, Tyrus was the opposite of Jerusalem and could be considered an evil empire led by Satan himself.

Regarding the kingdom of Tyrus, Ezekiel was told, “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock” (Ezekiel 26:3-4). Tyrus’ attitude of invincibility made it an easy target for God to shoot down. As he had sent Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem, so the Lord would bring down this coastal stronghold with the crushing blow of the Babylonian army.

Ezekiel was told, “For  thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadnezzar king of kings, from the north, with horses, and with chariots, and with horsemen, and companies, and much people” (Ezekiel 26:7). The term king of kings was first used by God in reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, but it was frequently associated with God’s kingdom and the Messiah. It is possible that Nebuchadnezzar was used by God to set the stage for a worldwide ruler who would as the Messiah, conquer every kingdom that stood against him.

Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Tyrus opened up a vast well of resources that would eventually cause him to follow in the footsteps of Tyrus’ leaders, becoming arrogant and blinded by pride. Nebuchadnezzar’s 15-year siege of Tyrus began shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar’s reign began in 605 B.C. and ended in 562 B.C., so he had about nine years to enjoy the fruits of his labor. No doubt, the king of Babylon was revered and hated by many, but his success in bringing down two of the most invincible cities in the world, Jerusalem and Tyrus, gained him a reputation for being a model of success.

The royal bloodline

The princes of Israel were descendants of king David that ascended to the throne through a selective process that was intended to preserve the royal bloodline until the Messiah was born. Initially, when Jacob blessed his twelve sons, Judah was singled out as the designated leader of the family. It says in Genesis 49:8, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.”

Judah’s blessing foretold of the sovereignty, strength and courage with which the kings of Judah would rule over the people. Judah was portrayed as a lion’s whelp or cub that would be trained to kill (Genesis 49:9). In his prophetic discourse, Jacob declared, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Genesis 49:10). The scepter was symbolic of authority in the hands of a ruler (7626) and Shiloh was an epithet of the Messiah (7886).

Clearly, it was foreseen that the sons of Jacob would multiply into a nation of people that would be ruled by the Messiah. What was most likely misunderstood about the reign of the Messiah was that it would mark the end of human rulership and was expected to put the entire world under the Messiah’s authority. As the kings of Judah gained strength and became skilled warriors, their power to rule over God’s kingdom became less and less effective, until finally, it was evident that they were unfit to represent God among his people.

In his parable about Israel’s princes, Ezekiel showed that the kings of Judah were acting in their own strength and according to their own human nature. The kings’ exercise of authority drew their enemies attention away from the fact that God was the true leader of Israel and made it seem as if the Nation of Israel could be conquered like any other kingdom. The capture of king Jehoiachin and placement of Zedekiah on the throne was an attempt by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to abdicate God’s sovereign rule over his people.

In order to maintain control over the lineage of the Messiah, God removed the infrastructure that had supported the kings of Israel and Judah. Putting an end to their ability to rule, God showed the kings he would not allow them to usurp his authority. Speaking metaphorically of the royal bloodline, God said, “And now is she planted in the wilderness in a dry and thirsty ground. And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule” (Ezekiel 19:13-14).

The new covenant

The captivity of Judah brought an end to God’s original plan of salvation for his people, known as the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was based on God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and entered the wilderness, they became an independent people group that was later referred to as the nation of Israel. Everything that happened between God and his people was done collectively as if all the people were a single entity. When the Old Covenant was brought to a conclusion, God began to look at every person on an individual basis to determine their life’s course.

The captivity of Judah was the result of a national failure to obey God. Even though every person was guilty of sinning against God, it was their collective guilt that brought condemnation on God’s people. Describing the new approach God would take, Jeremiah declared, “In those days they shall say no more, the fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity” (Jeremiah 31:29-30). God make his new covenant “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). The reunification of Jacob’s family and rebuilding of the nation of Israel was an important aspect of God’s revised plan that showed he did not intend to start over or abandon his chosen people in his attempt to save the world.

A critical difference between the old and new covenants was the type of relationship God intended to have with his people. Initially, God acted as a husband to his people (Jeremiah 31:32), and desired an exclusive relationship with them based on a binding legal agreement. After Israel betrayed him and Judah sought military assistance from foreign nations, God determined another way to deliver his people from their sinful behavior. Rather than expecting them to make sacrifices to him, God would enable his people to be forgiven of their sins once and for all. Based on his sovereign right to show favor to whomever he chose, God designated all who accepted his free gift of salvation to be completely absolved of their sins (Jeremiah 31:34).

A description of the new covenant was given to Jeremiah in order to clarify God’s intent in restoring the nation of Israel. He said, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). God’s ability to transform the human heart was the hallmark of his new covenant. A desire to do the will of God would be evidence that a person had been converted. Not only did God intend to bring his people back to their homeland, but he also intended to live among them (Jeremiah 31:34).