In some Eastern cultures, time is thought to be cyclical. In the West, more linear. But perhaps it’s a bit of both. We often see events – even fulfillment of prophecy – repeating throughout history on different levels, but we also have a Mighty God with a masterplan. Our Father invented time and brought it into being, “so that things don’t happen all at once!” I’ve heard it said. He created chronology, so that events could happen one after the other. And He holds the whole thing in His hands like a timepiece.
History is unfolding God’s great redemptive plan with a beginning, a middle and an end. The question is, do we understand the times and seasons we’re in?
If we do, we will be better equipped, like the men from the Israelite tribe of Issachar:
“Men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do”. (1 Chronicles 12:33)
Seasons come and seasons go. Time can seem to stretch on endlessly both backwards and forwards, but the Bible tells us this is not so. The Creator of time has given us his Book describing the beginning, the middle and the end for us to know what’s going on. There is a path and there is a plan.
God’s roadmap for world events
One of my favorite words in the Bible is “mesilah” (מסילה) or “mesilot” in plural. Here’s part of the Strong’s entry1 on the biblical word:
- A way cast up, embanked, highway; hence a public way
- A ladder, steps
It is often translated as “highway”, but reveals greater meaning in Judges chapter 5, the song of Deborah. Ironically Deborah has just been singing of the mighty men of Issachar and their exploits. She sings the song of victory when the Israelites prevailed against the Syrian king Sisera who had risen up against them. Here’s what she says:
“The kings came and fought… They fought from the heavens;
The stars from their courses [mesilot] fought against Sisera.” (Judges 5:19-20)
Here, the word mesilah describes the fixed path of the stars in the sky. This brings a sense of destiny to the word, which is used poetically in these verses.
Planets do not get to choose where they roam – God set it all in motion and they all continue along their set courses like clockwork. It’s all a big timepiece, ticking away, marching towards the inevitable.
It makes sense then that the word was taken by modern Hebrew word to mean train track. Trains, unlike cars, have no option about where they’re going. The path is set, and their destination is established. Does all this destiny mean we don’t have freedom to make our own choices in our own lives? No! God clearly challenges us to choose life not death and respects our decisions. But God does have His own set plans and purposes that cannot be thwarted. Many of these plans are laid out for us in the Bible.
In Genesis 1, God sets the sun, moon and stars in the sky to regulate the seasons and the passing of day and night. The giant clockwork of the universe was set into motion.
Then God said, “Let lights in the expanse of the sky be for separating the day from the night. They will be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. They will be for lights in the expanse of the sky to shine upon the land.” (Genesis 1:14)
God says they will be for “signs and for seasons”, or “otot” and “moadim” in Hebrew. An “ot” (otot in plural) is a sign, or a letter. A “moed” (moadim in plural) is the Hebrew word God uses to talk about His feasts, His high holy days. Sometimes we translate it as “appointed times”, because the word also carries a meaning of fixed appointment and even destiny. He establishes and creates the world as He designed it to be, separating light from dark, day from night, sea from land and male from female. I have heard that the Chinese state church only permits Bibles without the beginning and end – without Genesis and Revelation. Evidently both the grand design and the great finale are deeply threatening to opponents of God – so much hangs on the beginning and the end. It is also interesting that we’re seeing the steady erosion of God’s creation account within Western culture, with doubt cast both on God’s deliberately created order and also His wisdom in creating male and female in His image – from scratch. End time events are also regularly treated with scepticism and even mockery.
But these bookends of Genesis and Revelation speak of the authority, sovereignty, and design of God.
They tell us that God made everything which means it belongs to Him. They tell us He calls the shots and determines the outcome. They shout of His character, His flawless wisdom and His genius design. They are sacred. We need to believe what He has told us about them in His word.
Genesis also outlines God’s formation of His people, Israel, and Jesus Himself tells us that He will return to the land of Israel when – and not before – His own people welcome Him back to Jerusalem (Matthew 23:39). Israel has been called “God’s timepiece” as the biblical story of redemption hangs on His chosen frame of the land and the people. The Feasts (moedim) of Israel lay out a timetable of cosmic events which point to a glorious reunion of man and God, and are there for us to study. Calvary was not the end of the story but the bridge to reconcile mankind with God – redemption is God’s ultimate goal. The great and terrible Day of the Lord will sort out wrong from right and bring the ultimate reset, the likes of which the world can only feebly imitate.
Time is ticking
Keeping an eye on prophecies coming to pass in the Middle East also helps orient us as to where we are in God’s unveiling story. We have seen tremendous strides forwards last century as Israel was reformed after 2000 years of exile and Jerusalem was miraculously back in the hands of the Jewish people in 1967. Some important elements needed in order for Jesus to return are now in place. Israel is back in the land. Jesus promised that the inhabitants of Judea would be led away captive into all the nations but only for a certain time:
“Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:23-25)
Paul reiterates this delineation in Romans 11, saying that a partial hardening has come upon Israel but only until the end of the time of the Gentiles. We are promised that “All Israel will be saved” and the prophet Zechariah paints the extraordinary picture for us of what that will look like in the last few chapters of his book. Isaiah also speaks of a remarkable future for Israel and the world when the Messiah comes to rule and reign, particularly in chapters 60 and 66.
If biblical prophecies are like roadsigns along the way, or like signs on the face of a clock to help us understand where we are, do you know what to look out for? How to find them in the Bible? We often get lost trying to sort out symbols and allegories, and so find the whole landscape confusing. But just as God promised to scatter Israel and literally did so, He also promised to regather Israel and it came to pass just as literally. A great piece of advice comes from Bishop J. C. Ryle of the 19th century who said:
“Reader, accept a friendly exhortation this day. Cleave to the literal sense of Bible words and beware of departing from it – except in cases of absolute necessity. Beware of that system of allegorizing and spiritualizing and accommodating, which…has found such an unfortunate degree of favor in the church. Settle it in your mind, in reading the Psalms and Prophets, that Israel means Israel; and Zion means Zion; and Jerusalem means Jerusalem.”
The two witnesses of Revelation will be witnessing in the temple courts, so we can expect a temple, and the “beast” who will cause all people to wear his mark in order to buy and sell. These things must take place, along with great signs in the heavens and the gospel reaching the entire world. As you read your Bible, why not take a note of everything that God has promised which has not yet happened in order to get your bearings of where we are in world events? And as you do, keep your eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and His glorious return. He wins! We have got a wonderful future to look forward to.
“Now when these things begin to happen, stand straight and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near!” (Luke 21:28)
- Biblical Prophecy And The Regathering Of Israel, J. C. Ryle (1816 – 1900)
Photo by Alex Guillaume on Unsplash