He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” (Matt. 16:2-3)
So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (Matt. 24:15-16)
For then there will be great distress (Great Tribulation), unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. (Matt. 24:21)
When it comes to developing any kind of time line concerning the End Times, the watershed event has to be the Abomination that Causes Desolation. Why? Because from that time forward, the Bible gives a very clear sequence of events.
First, the Abomination is the event that kicks off the Great Tribulation, a period of judgments 3 1/2 years long.(Matt 24:15,21) After the Great Tribulation, the Lord returns and following His return the Millennium begins. After the Millennium comes Eternity. Any one on Earth during this time will be able to predict these events with reasonable accuracy.
Second, we who study prophecy can also count backward from the Abomination that Causes Desolation and predict the sequence of events leading up to it by applying our knowledge of Scripture.
How Does That Work?
Well, we know that the Abomination involves the anti-Christ standing in the Temple in Israel, proclaiming himself to be God. (Daniel 9:27 and 2 Thes. 2:4)
But that can’t happen until some other things take place first. Obviously the anti-Christ has to be revealed. And the Jews have to build their Temple. This is something that can’t happen until they experience a change in attitude causing them to demand a Temple regardless of the consequences. Today less than 1 in 4 citizens of Israel want a Temple built, but even if every one of them did just the hint that they were going to build one would send the rest of the world into a tizzy. It simply wouldn’t be permitted.
Some major event has to take place to convince the Jewish people that building a Temple in Israel is the right thing to do in spite of all the trouble it could cause, and some world leader has to have enough clout to convince the rest of the world, especially the Moslem Middle East, to let them do it.
Daniel 9:27 also reveals that as the End of the Age approaches, a leader from among the people who destroyed the Temple in 67 AD will confirm (enforce) a 7 year covenant with Israel that includes permission to build a new Temple, and that in the middle of this period he will commit the Abomination that Causes Desolation. That explains the persuasive world leader. He’s the anti-Christ, and he wants the Temple built for reasons that have nothing to do with Israel. The unanswered question in Daniel’s prophecy is why the Jews would desire a Temple at that particular time.
Our knowledge of the Old Testament tells us that a Temple was necessary to fulfill the requirements of the Levitical worship system. So then, because of the uproar it would create, it seems logical to assume that the Jews would only want a Temple if they felt it was absolutely necessary for the Nation of Israel to re-instate their Old Covenant worship of God.
How Does That Happen?
Toward the end of his two-chapter prophecy that speaks of a great end times battle between Israel and its neighbors (Ezek. 38-39), Ezekiel noted that God is going to use this battle to reveal Himself to Israel and the world once again. The way He’ll do this is to give Israel a decisive victory in the face of such overwhelming odds that everyone on Earth will realize that only God could have done it. Ezekiel wrote that following the battle God would gather all His people alive at the time to Israel, not leaving any behind. (Ezek. 39:28)
So this battle is the event that compels a national return to God in Israel. And when all the living Jews in the world are suddenly drawn to Israel because God has called them there, they’ll demand a Temple so they can resume their Old Covenant relationship with Him. If He was calling them through the Messiah into a New Covenant relationship they wouldn’t need a Temple, so it has to be a resumption of the Old Covenant. Their New Covenant call, prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31, happens later during the time of the Two Witnesses (Rev 11) and they’ll respond to it toward the end of the Great Tribulation, according to Zechariah 12:10.
Also on the heels of Ezekiel’s battle, the anti-Christ will emerge with a plan to restore peace to the Middle East. He first appears as a peacemaker as foretold in Daniel 8:25. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power. I prefer the King James translation of the second sentence, which begins, “By means of peace he will destroy many …”. So the battle of Ezekiel 38-39 creates the circumstances for both the anti-Christ and the Temple to appear on the scene, setting the stage for the Abomination that Causes Desolation.
Connecting The Dots
Using our Bible knowledge to back into the present from the Abomination that Causes Desolation, so far we find the sequence looks like this.
The Abomination can’t happen till the Temple’s built. But that can’t happen till a 7-year covenant is confirmed permitting its construction. (By the way, this 7-year period is often called Daniel’s 70th week because it’s the last week of years in a prophecy consisting of 70 weeks of years given to Daniel in about 538 BC. Dan. 9:24-27)
The 7-year covenant can’t happen till someone from among the descendants of the Roman people emerges with a plan for peace in the Middle East. And that can’t happen till the battle described in Ezekiel 38-39 puts the Middle East in all out war.
Ezekiel’s battle can’t happen until God is ready to reveal Himself to Israel again, bringing Jews from all over the world to Israel clamoring for a Temple so they can re-instate their Old Covenant relationship with Him.
For all of my 25 plus years as a student of prophecy, scholars have been expecting the Battle of Ezekiel 38. Yet the conditions that make it possible have never been met. For one thing, the participants are not all in place, but more importantly Israel has never known a single day of peace, let alone the prolonged period necessary for them to be described as a peaceful and unsuspecting people, the way Ezekiel did (Ezek. 38:11). Something has to happen to make them feel like they no longer have a threatening enemy while leaving Iran, Russia, and the other nations Ezekiel identified in position to attack.
Recently, several writers, myself included, have seen two other Old Testament prophecies as likely preludes to Ezekiel 38. In Psalm 83 it appears that all of Israel’s next door neighbors will rise up in an attack intended to destroy the Jewish nation, and Isaiah 17 specifically mentions Israel’s destruction of Damascus. The defeat of Israel’s neighbors fills in two more blanks in the end times sequence. First, it explains why none of them are mentioned in Ezekiel 38, when logic dictates that they should be right in the thick of things. Second, it reveals how the Jews can be caught with their guard down. With Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, Lebanon, and the others defeated, Israel will finally have some breathing room. Since Russia and Iran have traditionally used these neighbors as proxies rather than having a face-to-face confrontation, Israel may feel there’s no longer any threat from them either.
But Wait, There’s More!
And neither God’s revelation to Israel nor the emergence of the anti-Christ can happen until the Church is gone, for two very good reasons.
1. In Acts 15:14 James clearly prophesied that after the Lord had taken the church He would return and rebuild the Temple. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: “After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it” (Acts 15:14-16).
After the Lord has taken the Church, He’ll return and rebuild the Temple. Two Greek words are critical to our understanding of this passage. The one translated tent also means Tabernacle, a reference to the Temple. The one translated taking means to lay hold of, or take up in order to carry, or carry away. I believe it’s a veiled reference to the Rapture of the Church preceding God’s return to Israel.
If so, it’s consistent with God’s way. He seems to focus either on Israel or the Church, never both at once. In the greater context of the passage James was illustrating this very point from the other end of the Church Age. He told the gathered Apostles that God was setting Israel aside while He took from among the Gentiles a people for Himself. But after He had taken them, He would return to restore Israel.
Later, Paul alluded to this sequence in Romans 11:25-27: I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
As I’ve pointed out before, in Paul’s day the phrase full number was a nautical term that stood for the number of crewmen necessary before a ship could legally set sail. Apparently God has assigned a specific number to the church before it can be raptured. When that number is complete, the Church will “come in” to the place prepared for us. Come in was another nautical term meaning “to arrive at the intended destination”, which Jesus described as His father’s house in John 14:1-3. Then God will turn again to Israel, reversing the hardening of Israel’s heart, taking the blinders from their eyes, and offering salvation once more.
2. In 2nd Thessalonians 2:6-7 Paul explained that the anti-Christ could not be revealed until the power that’s restraining him is taken out of the way (literally out of the midst). To most evangelical scholars the power Paul wrote about is the Holy Spirit as resident in the Church. Since this power is sealed within us (Ephe 1:13) it stands to reason that if the Holy Spirit is taken we have to go too. Here’s another hint of the Rapture of the Church, this time preceding the appearance of the anti-Christ.
So if the Rapture has to precede both the revelation of God to Israel and the revelation of the anti-Christ to the world, then the Rapture has to precede the battle of Ezekiel 38 as well. Since no one knows what the full number of the Church is, no one can know in advance exactly how long before Ezekiel 38 the Rapture will take place. It could literally happen any day, and there’s no day more likely than any other. For that reason we can’t locate it any more specifically in the End Times sequence than to say that it must precede Ezekiel 38.
But apart from that, the sequence of events will go like this. The Battle of Psalm 83/Isaiah 17, the Battle of Ezekiel 38, anti-Christ’s appearance as a peace maker, the 70th week of Daniel begins, the Abomination that Causes Desolation takes place, then the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming, the Millennium, and Eternity. The first of these could be very close. So close that you can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.