God’s processional

The book of Numbers begins with a census that determined the number of men that were eligible to serve in the military. Numbers 1:1-3 states, “The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them company by company.’” The census occurred 13 months after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt. The children of Israel had not yet reached the borders of the Promised Land and no military conflicts had occurred thus far. God was preparing the Israelites for what lie ahead and was making them aware of the fact that war was going to be their new normal after they crossed the Jordan River.

The census allowed Moses and Aaron to organize the people in such a way that moving the camp would be efficient and orderly. Numbers 1:20-45 states:

The people of the tribe of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: those listed of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500…those listed of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300…those listed of the tribe of Gad were 45,650…those listed of the tribe of Judah were 74,600…those listed of the tribe of Issachar were 54,400…those listed of the tribe of Zebulun were 57,400…those listed of the tribe of Ephraim were 40,500…those listed of the tribe of Manasseh were 32,200…those listed of the tribe of Benjamin were 35,400…those listed of the tribe of Dan were 62,700…those listed of the tribe of Asher were 41,500…those listed of the tribe of Naphtali were 53,400…So all those listed of the people of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war in Israel – all those listed were 603,550.

After the men that were able to go to war were listed, they were grouped together to form four separate camps. The division of the camps was most likely determined by the size of each of the individual tribes and a goal of keeping the camps balanced so that their movements would be symmetrical. The total population including the 603,550 men that were able to go to war has been estimated to be 2-5 million people, somewhere around the size of the city of Los Angeles. The Israelites’ geographic footprint is unknown, but it could have been anywhere from 50-500 square miles.

The arrangement of the Israelites’ camps is important because it determined the overall size and structure of the congregation and the ordering of their movements when the people were required to relocate. Numbers 2:1-9 states:

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “The people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses. They shall camp facing the tent of meeting on every side. Those to camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah by their companies, the chief of the people of Judah being Nahshon the son of Amminadab, his company as listed being 74,600. Those to camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar, the chief of the people of Issachar being Nethanel the son of Zuar, his company as listed being 54,400. Then the tribe of Zebulun, the chief of the people of Zebulun being Eliab the son of Helon, his company as listed being 57,400. All those listed of the camp of Judah, by their companies, were 186,400. They shall set out first on the march.

The people’s movement is described as a march, but the Hebrew word that was used, naça (naw-sawˊ) is properly translated as “to pull up, especially the tent-pins, i.e. start on a journey” (H5265). Moving millions of people at the same time was a monumental task and must have taken an enormous amount of coordination, but the system that God put in place was designed to keep everyone in a specified location so that they could move with as little amount of communication and confusion as possible when it was time for them to break camp and move on to a new location.

The camp of Judah, which included the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, was the largest of the four camps and was designated to camp on the east side of the tabernacle toward the sunrise. Judah’s camp led the procession whenever the Israelites set out toward a new destination. The camp of Reuben, which was located on the south side of the tabernacle, included the tribes of Simeon and Gad and had 151,450 men that were able to go to war (Numbers 2:10-16). The camp of Dan included the tribes of Asher and Naphtali and was located on the north side of the tabernacle. Dan’s camp had 157,600 men that were able to go to war and was roughly the same size as Reuben’s camp to the south of it (Numbers 2:25-31). The smallest camp, the camp of Ephraim, which included the tribes of Manasseh and Benjamin, was located to the west of the tabernacle. Ephraim’s camp had only 108,100 men that were able to go to war (Numbers 2:18-24), but its overall position in the camp was balanced out by Judah’s larger size. Together, the camps of Judah and Ephraim had a total of 294,500 men that were able to go to war and the camps of Reuben and Dan had 309,050, so these groupings were fairly symmetrical. The difference between the two configurations was that the smaller camp of Ephraim was located to the west of the tabernacle and the larger camp of Judah was to the east of it, so there was a lopsided distribution of people around the tabernacle which was located in the center of the four camps (Numbers 2:2). It’s possible that the lopsided configuration was intentional and may have caused the Israelites’ camp to resemble the shape of a cross.

The most notable attribute of the Israelites’ camp was the pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day that hovered over the tabernacle and guided the Israelites on their journey. Exodus 13:21-22 states, “And the LORD was before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” God’s visible presence in the Israelite’s camp was constant reminder of his involvement in their journey toward the Promised Land. Exodus 33:7-11 describes what took place when Moses entered the tabernacle to communicate with God. It states:

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

The Hebrew word that is translated face to face, paniym (paw-neemˊ) is derived from the word panah (paw-nawˊ) which means “to turn; (by implication) to face, i.e. appear, look” (H6437). In a more specific application, the word paniym “represents the look on one’s face, or one’s countenance” (H6440). The text indicates that the LORD spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. The Hebrew word for friend, reya (rayˊ-ah) refers to “a ‘personal friend’ with whom one shares confidences and to whom one feels very close…The closeness of the relationship is best expressed by those texts where the reaˊ is like a brother or son, a part of the family” (H7453).

King David’s intimate relationship with the LORD is vividly depicted in many of the Psalms that he wrote. David seemed to understand that the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness was more about God displaying his glory to the surrounding nations that it was about the people of Israel being seen as a military threat to those whom they were about to conquer. David wrote in Psalm 68, “Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the LORD; exult before him!” (Psalm 68:4). David’s description of the LORD as him who rides through the deserts makes is sound as if the Israelites were carrying the LORD in a cart or perhaps, that he was riding along side them in a chariot. The King James translation of Psalm 68:4 states that God “rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH.” From this standpoint, it appears that the action that was taking place was about the LORD being transported into the Israelites’ camp. The Hebrew word that is translated rideth, rakab (raw-kabˊ) means to dispatch (H7392). David went on to say:

O God, when you went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness, Selah
the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel.
Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad;
    you restored your inheritance as it languished;
your flock found a dwelling in it;
    in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy. (Psalm 68:7-10)

David indicated that God had marched through the wilderness. The Hebrew word tsaʿad (tsaw-adˊ) suggests that God was leading the formation. Tsaʿad’s meaning, “to pace, i.e. step regularly” might have something to do with a cadence, something a drill sergeant uses to keep all his troops moving at the same pace. If so, it seems that the LORD was in control of every step that the Israelites took as they traveled through the wilderness.

David’s reference to “the One of Sinai” (Psalm 68:8) had to do with the physical manifestation of the LORD’s presence in the Israelite camp. The Hebrew word that is translated One is paniym (paw-neemˊ) indicating that God himself was present in the Sinai Desert (H6440). Exodus 14:19 indicates that the angel of God was going before the host of Israel as they moved through the desert and in Exodus 23:20 God told Moses that he was sending an angel before the people to guard them on the way “and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him” (Exodus 23:20-21). “Exodus 23:21 states that the angel of the LORD has the power to forgive sins, a characteristic belonging to God alone (cf. Mark 2:7; Luke 7:49) and that he has the name of God in him. No man can see the full glory of God and live (Exodus 33:20), but Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of the deity was manifested in bodily form, has made God the father known (John 1:18; Colossians 2:9)” (note on Exodus 23:20-23). Therefore, it seems likely that Jesus in a preincarnate state was the One of Sinai that David was referring to in Psalm 68:8.

David’s depiction of the Israelites’ journey through the Sinai Desert transcended the physical realm in that he portrayed their processional as a mixture of both human and angelic forces. David stated, “The chariots of God are twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them; Sinai is now in the sanctuary” (Psalm 68:17). David referred to God as the Lord instead of JAH, the personal name that was used in verse 4. The Hebrew word Adonay (ad-o-noyˊ) is used as the proper name of God only (H136). “In such contexts God is conceived as a Being who is sovereign ruler and almighty master” (H113). Adonay is used Psalm 2:4 where it says, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Psalm 2:1-9 is considered to be a Messianic portion of scripture that refers to Jesus Christ’s reign on earth. David said that Sinai was in the sanctuary (Psalm 68:17). This seems to suggest that Sinai and Heaven converged into a single space. It could be that the convergence of the physical and spiritual realms had to do with the Lord’s presence being perceived in both dimensions of his kingdom.

David said, “Your procession is seen, O God, the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary” (Psalm 68:24). The Hebrew word that David used that is translated seen, raʾah (rawˊ-aw) means to see with the eyes. It can also have several derived meanings, all of which require the individual to see physically outside of himself or herself. “It is also possible for this verb to require the individual to make a mental observation…It can also connote a spiritual observation and comprehension by means of seeing visions” (H7200). David’s declaration that God’s procession was seen probably had a past as well as a future application. David indicated that the procession involved both his God and his King, linking the Israelites journey through the desert with Jesus’ future reign on earth.

The Hebrew word that is translated procession in Psalm 68:24, haliykah (hal-ee-kawˊ) is related to the word halak (haw-lakˊ) which sometimes refers to one’s behavior, or the way one walks in life. “Thus, the rather concrete idea of following God through the wilderness moves to ‘walking behind’ Him spiritually” (H1980). When Jesus called his disciples, he used the phrase “follow me” (Matthew 8:22, 9:9). The Greek word that is translated follow, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-thehˊ-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). God’s ways are often associated with a pathway or course of life that one must follow in order to reach a desired destination. It says of the LORD’s ways in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

David’s view of God’s processional seemed to be a depiction of an invisible heavenly host (Psalm 68:17) and Israel’s army walking side by side through the Sinai Desert. This scene may have been a depiction of the Israelites’ journey through the Sinai Desert, but it could also be related to Christ’s return and his defeat of the kings of the earth. Revelation 19 indicates that there will be a convergence of the physical and spiritual realms at that time. John wrote:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords…And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21)

David concluded his psalm with a tribute to God’s awe-inspiring performance and the ultimate victory of his chosen people. David declared:

Ascribe power to God,
    whose majesty is over Israel,
    and whose power is in the skies.
Awesome is God from his sanctuary;
    the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people.
Blessed be God! (Psalm 68:34-35)

The Hebrew word that is translated awesome in Psalm 68:35, yareʾ (yaw-rayˊ) means to stand in awe. “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). This will be a distinct characteristic of Jesus when he returns as “King of kings and Lord of lords” and leads the procession of heaven’s armies into battle against the beast and the kings of the earth (Revelation 19:16, 19).

Antichrist

Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians was primarily a follow-up to the one he had previously sent them. The topic of Christ’s return remained the central focus of Paul’s communication. Apparently, the Thessalonians were convinced that Jesus was going to return at any moment. Paul told them, “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2). Paul wanted the Thessalonians to understand that the rapture was only one of a series of events that would take place during the end times. He explained, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

Antichrist’s appearance on the religious scene will be evident by his impersonation of God. This will only be possible because God will remove his Holy Spirit from Earth and allow Satan to be in full control of the world during the Great Tribulation (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Paul told the Thessalonians, “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish: because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10). Paul indicated that Antichrist would be successful in establishing his kingdom on Earth because of a deliberate rejection of God’s word. Because unbelief will become the norm, Paul told the Thessalonians, “for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Paul’s introduction of the man of sin, whom he also referred to as the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3), emphasized the uselessness of Satan’s attempt to overthrow God’s kingdom. Paul referred to Jesus’ second coming when he said that the Lord would consume Antichrist with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy him with the brightness of his coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The Apostle John described the scene of Antichrist’s defeat in Revelation 19:11-16. Afterward, John said, “The beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” (Revelation 19:20-21).

Be prepared

Jesus talked frequently about the kingdom of heaven and used parables to teach his followers about the principles of the spiritual realm in which God exists. After he instructed his disciples to watch for his return (Matthew 24:42) and warned them about the punishment of unfaithful servants (Matthew 24:51), Jesus used the parable of the ten virgins to emphasize the importance of being prepared for his imminent return. He said, “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps” (Matthew 25:1-4). The picture Jesus painted to illustrate his return was a wedding ceremony in which the bridesmaids were looking for the bridegroom’s signal to start the processional. The lamps Jesus referred to were torches that consisted of a long pole with oil-drenched rags at the top. The lamps were trimmed by cutting off the charred ends of the rags and adding oil. “Torches required large amounts of oil in order to keep burning, and the oil had to be replenished about every 15 minutes” (notes on Matthew 25:1, 7, 9).

The initial point Jesus made in his parable of the ten virgins was the need to be prepared ahead of time for a lengthy wait. Jesus stated previously, “But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up” (Matthew 24:43). It can easily be assumed from these two examples that Jesus’ return will be an unexpected event. It is possible that no one will be looking for Jesus to return when he finally does come back to Earth. He stated in his parable, “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” (Matthew 25:5). The Greek word translated tarried, chronizo means “to take time, i.e. linger” (G5549). Chronizo as a verb, means literally “to while away time.” This seems to suggest that time is being wasted, but Jesus made it clear that he would return at a set or proper time (Luke 19:44). It could be that Jesus’ delay is due to his preoccupation with activities in heaven. Jesus told his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).

A correlation between Jesus preparing a place for us in heaven and his return to Earth may be found in his example of the wise virgins that were ready when the bridegroom arrived. Jesus said, “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut” (Matthew 25:6-10). The separation of the wise virgins from the foolish ones indicated some people that appear to be Christians might be attempting to enter the kingdom of heaven under false pretenses. Jesus’ preparation of a place in heaven for believers might be his way of determining who belongs in his kingdom and who does not based on something like a reservation system that indicates a particular room or space has been set aside for a specific individual.

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).

Watch

No one knows when Jesus will return to Earth, but he instructed his disciples to be on the look out and expect him to arrive at any moment. It says in Matthew 24:36-39, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (ESV).

Mark’s gospel emphasized the importance of vigilance in waiting for Christ’s return. He said, “Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake” (Mark 13:32-37, ESV). Jesus’ command to stay awake was probably meant as a reference to the spiritual complacency that many Christians fall into when they realize Christ might not return during their lifetime. Although it’s been 2000 years since Jesus left, it’s very unlikely it will take another 2000 years for him to return.

Jesus used the parable of the fig tree to encourage his followers to watch for the signs of his second coming. He said, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves,  ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, now that it is near, even at the doors” (Matthew 24:32-33). One of the clearest signs that Christ’s return is near is that the Nation of Israel has been reestablished and God’s people are once again living in the Promised Land.

The end

Before his departure, Jesus described future events that would signal believers that the end of the world was at hand. Jesus seemed to be concerned that his followers would miss the signs and not be able to tell that his return was imminent. He warned his disciples by saying:

Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:4-8)

The Greek word translated sorrows in Matthew 24:8, odin (o-deen´) refers to “a pang or throe especially of childbirth” (G5604). Jesus probably used this particular word to convey the idea a long painful process that would end with a joyous moment. Even though the end of life as they knew it was probably a frightful thought to them, Jesus wanted his disciples to know that something good was going to come from it.

As he laid out a framework for the end of time, Jesus indicated there was only one requirement that first had to be fulfilled. He told his disciples “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matthew 24:14). The preaching of the gospel in all the world was a significant assignment for Jesus’ twelve apostles. Initially, there were only a few people qualified to transmit the message that Jesus entrusted to his followers. Although Mark’s record of this conversation contained the same Greek word that is translated preached in Matthew 24:14, his version was interpreted a little differently. It says in Mark 13:10, “the gospel must first be published among all nations” (Mark 13:10). One of the great hurdles that had to be overcome in order to preach the gospel in all the world was the writing of what we now know as the New Testament of the Bible. Martin Luther, who was the first person to translate the scriptures into plain language that could be understood by the average person, didn’t accomplish that task until 1500 years after Jesus died.

Jesus said the reason the gospel had to be preached in all the world was for a witness unto all the nations (Matthew 24:14). The Greek word translated witness, maturion means something evidential or evidence given (G3142). Jesus probably meant his statement about the preaching of the gospel to be interpreted in connection with his prophecy about the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:15-28). Therefore, it seems likely that the requirement for a witness unto all the nations had something to do with the disappearance of Christians when the rapture took place (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). After all the Christians have been taken out of the world, the Bible will be the only witness left to the fact that the end of the world has come. It is possible that the requirement for the gospel to be preached or published among all nations has now been fulfilled because smart phones, Bible apps, and the internet make information about the end of the world readily available to anyone that wants to know what Jesus said about it.

Signs

The conclusion of Jesus’ ministry marked the beginning of a new age that would continue for an unknown period of time. Since he had already made it known to his followers that his kingdom on Earth would not be established immediately, Jesus’ disciples wanted to know when they should expect his return. Jesus focused their attention on the beginning and ending stages of a time period he referred to as “this generation” (Luke 21:32) so that his followers would be aware of and tracking the most obvious signs of his imminent return. Jesus started by pointing out that the temple in Jerusalem was an important sign or marker of what was about to happen. Luke’s gospel stated, “And as some spake of the temple how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, he said, As for these things which ye behold, the days will come, in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Luke 21:5-6).

Jesus’ prophecy about God’s temple was “fulfilled literally in A.D. 70, when the Romans under Titus completely destroyed Jerusalem and the temple buildings. Stones were even pried apart to collect the gold leaf that melted from the roof when the temple was set on fire…Excavations in 1968 uncovered large numbers of these stones, toppled from the walls by the invaders” (note on Matthew 24:2). This significant sign may have marked the official start of what could be referred to as the Gentile age, the time period when Jesus’ gospel would be taken to the world at large. According to the Great Commission, Jesus told his disciples just before he ascended to heaven, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The end of the world that Jesus mentioned in his great commission was not the destruction of the physical planet that we live on, but his overthrow of the world systems of government that are currently being managed by Satanic forces. The word Jesus used that is translated world in Matthew 28:20, aion (ahee-ohn´) is properly translated as an age and specifically refers to a Messianic period (G165). There could be a direct correlation between the spread of the gospel and the destruction of Satan’s earthly kingdom. Whenever someone is born again, there is a shift in the population from the number of people that belong to God’s kingdom compared to Satan’s. It is possible there is a tipping point, so to speak, that will trigger Christ’s return. At which time, the end of this age will begin to unfold.

Jesus indicated there would be numerous signs that would mark the end of the age in which his gospel would be spread throughout the world.  He said, “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:25-27). It seems likely that the signs of Jesus’ return will become more noticeable the closer we get to it happening. Some Bible scholars believe the rapture will take place before an event known as the Great Tribulation and Christians will return with Christ at his second coming (Revelation 19:14). Jesus may have been referring to this when he said, “And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).

Expectations

As Jesus approached Jerusalem, he took some time to prepare his disciples for his departure “because they thought that the kingdom of God should appear immediately” (19:11). The Jews expected their “Messiah to appear in power and glory and to set up His earthly kingdom, defeating all their political and military enemies” (note on Luke 19:11). In spite of his repeated warnings, some of Jesus’ followers still didn’t realize he was about to be crucified. Rather than stating the truth plainly, Jesus once again used a parable to explain what was going to happen. He told them, “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:12-13). Jesus’ description of heaven as a “far country” suggested that he would be away for a long period of time. The fact that he would eventually return meant that there would be some type of continuation or follow up to his earthly ministry. In other words, Jesus’ resurrection was not the conclusion of his work on Earth. The ten servants were most likely representative of all who would serve Christ as ministers of the gospel until Jesus’ second coming, but this may have been a direct reference to the Jewish believers that would be given the responsibility of establishing Christianity among the Jews in Jerusalem.

In his parable, Jesus said the nobleman gave each of his ten servants a pound of silver and told them to “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). The Greek term translated occupy, pragmateuomai (prag-mat-yoo´-om-ahee) means “to busy oneself with that is to trade” (G4231), the implication being that the king’s servants were to be involved in business matters, making a living for themselves and earning a profit for their master. Although it may seem unusual for God’s work to be likened to a profitable business, Jesus was clearly telling his disciples that he expected them to be doing something while he was gone. Jesus went on to say, “And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received his kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading” (Luke 19:15). This part of Jesus’ parable could be a reference to the rapture, a moment in time that the Apostle Paul referred to as the sudden coming of the Lord, of which he said, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Sometime following this, there will be an event referred to as the judgment seat of Christ. At that time, Christians will be held accountable for their actions while they were alive on Earth (Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10).

In his parable of the pounds, Jesus gave examples of the type of rewards Christians can expect to receive at the judgment seat of Christ. He said, “Then came the first saying, Lord thy pound hath gained ten pounds. And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:16-17). The faithful servant’s reward was described as “authority over ten cities.” The ten cities most likely represented a spiritual jurisdiction equivalent to what we might think of today in the United States as a voting district. Even though Jesus will not be an elected official when he reigns on Earth, he will have a political system that he will use to govern the world. The purpose of the servant’s delegated authority might be to enforce spiritual laws that were identified and/or established during Jesus’ ministry e.g. “These things I command you, that ye love one another” (John 15:17). Although Christians will not receive punishment at the judgment seat of Christ, Jesus indicated there would be negative consequences for failing to produce revenue for his kingdom. He said, “And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee, because thou are an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow…And he said to them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds” (Luke 19:20-24).

Even though it wasn’t specifically stated, it could be assumed that by taking away of the wicked servant’s pound, the master was removing him from his position. This doesn’t mean that Christians can lose their salvation, but it does suggest that our position in God’s kingdom is dependent upon our obedience. The reason Jesus used money to represent the resources his disciples received from him may have been because he wanted them to realize that their spiritual gifts were valuable and he expected them to be used frequently to do his work. While he was in prison, Paul identified various motivations for preaching the gospel and said, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will” (Philippians 1:15). Paul went on to say, “What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:18-21). In other words, Paul expected to be judged not just by Christ, but by Christ’s example, and he didn’t want to be ashamed when he was asked to account for the result of ministry.