A spiritual revolution (part two)

Paul’s first missionary journey changed the course of history in that it turned the tide toward non-Jewish conversions to Christianity. After they were expelled from Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas traveled east to Iconium where the multitude of the city became divided between loyalty to the traditional teaching of the Jews and Paul’s gospel message (Acts 14:4). The problem Paul and Barnabas faced in Iconium was that things turned violent. A plot to stone them to death caused the two missionaries to flee to Lystra and Derbe, “and unto the region that lieth round about” (Acts 14:6). While they were in Lystra, Paul healed a man that had been crippled from birth (Acts 14:8-10). This miracle caused the people of Lystra to associate Paul and Barnabas with the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes. It says in Acts 14:11, “And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lift up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men.”

The people of Lystra seemed to be ignorant of or perhaps, chose to ignore the existence of the god that created the universe. In his argument against worshipping false deities, Paul encouraged the people of Lystra to turn from their false religion to the living God, “which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things therein: who in times past suffered the nations to walk in their own ways.” (Acts 14:15-16). Even though he was able to convince the people of Lystra that he was an ordinary man like them, Paul’s accomplishment backfired when Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and persuaded the people of Lystra to stone him. Luke’s description of this incident (Acts 14:19-20) suggests that Paul’s death was never verified, but Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 of a man that was caught up to the third heaven and heard words that could not be repeated is thought to be a personal testimony of what happened to him after he was stoned to death in Lystra.

In spite of the dangerous situations they faced in the cities they had already preached in, Paul and Barnabas returned to Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch (Acts 14:20-21) in order to further establish and strengthen the churches started there. Luke tells us Paul and Barnabas were “confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The Greek word translated tribulation, thlipsis means “‘a pressing, pressure’, anything which burdens the spirit” (G2347). Thlipsis is used in Revelation 7:14 to refer to the great tribulation that is expected to take place just before the millennial reign of Christ. Paul’s statement “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” seems to suggest that satanic attacks or spiritual warfare are a normal part of Christian life and must be endured by every believer. Paul and Barnabas’ example of courageous perseverance made their first missionary journey a tough act to follow.

Rejection

The prophet Zechariah’s final vision was received late in his ministry and focused on the events that would take place as a result of the Jews rejection of their Messiah, Jesus Christ. A key aspect of this prophecy was the betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. It says in Zechariah 11:12-13, “And I said unto them, if ye think good, give me my price; and if not forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the LORD said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the LORD.” Following this prediction, Zechariah was told that a foolish shepherd would be raised up to take the place of the Jews true Messiah. This man known as the Antichrist is described in Zechariah 11:16, where it says, “For, lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not visit those that be cut off, neither shall seek the young one, nor heal that that is broken, nor feed that that standeth still: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their claws in pieces.”

Jesus’ second coming will bring sorrow to the Jews because then, they will realize their tragic mistake. It says in Zechariah 12:10, “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.” The great tribulation will be a time of testing, when the Jews will have one final chance to declare their allegiance to Jesus. During that time, it says in Zechariah 13:7-9 that God will strike back against the Antichrist’s rebellion. “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.”

In the final section of Zechariah’s prophecy was a picture of the coming Day of the Lord, the time period when Jesus will rule over the entire earth. Zechariah said, “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward…On that day there shall be no light, cold, or frost. And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light. On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one” (Zechariah 14:4,6-9).

Trouble

Daniel’s prophecy of end times (Daniel 11) was described to him as a time of trouble. The angel Gabriel told him, “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Daniel 12:1). Some have interpreted the time of trouble to be the time when the first century church was persecuted by the Romans. The Hebrew term translated trouble, tsarah (tsaw – raw┬┤) is also translated as tribulation. In Judges 10, the people of Israel cried to the LORD for deliverance from their enemies. His answer to them was that in spite of the many times he had delivered them in the past, “Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation” (Judges 10:13-14).

It appears that the time of trouble Gabriel was referring to was associated with the resurrection of the dead that is mentioned in Revelation 20:12. Daniel was told, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever” (Daniel 12:2-3). The term “great tribulation” is used in Revelation 7:14 where John, one of the apostles of Jesus said concerning the saints he saw wearing white robes, “And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The great tribulation is thought to be “the period of final hostility prior to Christ’s return. Some hold that the beginning of this hostility was already being experienced by the church in John’s day” (note on Revelation 7:14).

Daniel’s final encounter with heavenly beings took place on the bank of a river where Daniel posed the question, how long will it be until this is all over? (Daniel 12:5-6). Jesus’ response to Daniel’s question is recorded in Daniel 12:7. It says, “And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and a half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.” The period of “a time, times, and a half” are also used in Daniel 7:25 to refer to the time when the antichrist, or a world power sharing in the characteristics of the antichrist, will rule over the earth. This time of trouble or great tribulation is believed to be coming sometime in the near future. The only clue we have as to when exactly it will take place is given in Daniel 12:11, where it says, “And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand and two hundred and ninety days.”