Tribulation and Israel’s Expectation – Part 3

This article is the third in a series that looks at Israel’s expectation for the tribulation and the end of their exile as outlined in the introductory article. Recall that these expectations are derived from writings by Jewish scribes and commentators during the Late Second Temple period.

In this article, we’ll look at number seven of the fourteen expectations(1) with the understanding that they are derived from a period prior to and including the time when Jesus of Nazareth was delivering his gospel of the kingdom of God.

  • The tribulation has two stages: 1) the preliminary stage, and 2) the Great Tribulation.

Although we as Christians can relate to the idea of these two periods of varying tribulation, we must set aside our understanding and expectations so that we can attempt to see it from the perspective of Jews of this period. Their understanding of scripture, and their definition of tribulation is going to be applied from a considerably different supposition than that prophesied by Christ, and later by some of his apostles.

Here’s another consideration that complicates viewing tribulation from the perspective of the Jews of that day. Generally, the definition of tribulation would involve the suffering of the righteous at the hands of the unrighteous. Though Jews of this period clearly recognized they were under exile, having been under the oppression of numerous kingdoms; the Babylonians, the Persians, and now to be under the oppression of the Romans, they would consider themselves the righteous. This was apparent by their treatment of the Messiah upon his advent. They were blind to their own sin, and though repeatedly corrected by the Son of the God they claimed to worship, they refused to recognize their error.

The importance this plays in our effort to view tribulation from their perspective, is that they wouldn’t be considered the righteous in this case. The very fact of their exile indicates a time of correction for Israel and Judah. If they failed to see their own sin and idolatry, then they wouldn’t properly understand the tribulation they were seeing within the Old Testament scriptures, and how it applies to them; not tribulation due to their righteousness, but tribulation as a means to correct and humble them. Yet when we look carefully, we’ll see that God will even use their correction for their benefit and the benefit of others.

A View from Reality

Since I don’t have the benefit of Pitre’s book or all the references from which he derived these fourteen expectations, I’m going to look at these expectations from the perspective of what scripture shows to be the reality, rather than from what was the perceived reality. This is appropriate, since my goal is to first understand God’s perspective in a matter, then use that as the basis for understanding Israel and Judah’s perspective.

Let’s begin my noting some overall observations made by the apostle Paul concerning Israel. Keep in mind that Paul had the benefit of direct revelation from the Spirit of Christ. It is this special revelation, through God’s Spirit, that enabled him to connect the OT scriptures with the current work of God in Christ our Lord; something Paul often refers to as the mystery of God. One thing that Paul and the Jewish scribes of the Late Second Temple Period would have agreed upon is what the Messiah meant for the salvation of their people. Where their understanding will differ, as we’ll see, is how that salvation is to come about.

For an introduction to the Mystery of God and what it means for the faithful, the descendants of Israel, and even for the nations,
Discover more.

  • Isaiah observed that although the children of Israel numbered like the sands of the sea, only a remnant would remain when the Messiah comes (Romans 9:27-29; 11:2b-7; Isaiah 1:1-20).
  • The descendants of Judah will stumble over the very Messiah they seek (Romans 9:31-33; Isaiah 8:13-15).
  • A partial hardening has come upon Israel with the advent of the Messiah to open the way for the Gentiles, until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled (Romans 11:7-10,25; Deuteronomy 32:15-22).

Only a Remnant will Remain

First of all, Isaiah understood well the circumstances that brought Judah and Jerusalem to this point in their history. He also understands the part this will play in their future.

Isaiah 1:1-17

  • They are a rebellious people
  • Israel doesn’t know the God who formed them
  • They are laden with iniquity, the offspring of evil-doers
  • They have forsaken and despised the Holy One of Israel, and are therefore estranged from him
  • They are unsound from foot to head
  • Foreigners devour your desolate land, your cities burned with fire
  • You are likened to the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah!
  • If the Lord of Hosts had not left you survivors, you should have been like Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • Your filthy religion is a detestable thing

God does not leave them in a state of condemnation, but in his faithfulness, makes the way for them to repent and return to him.

Isaiah 1:18-20
18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
    you shall be eaten by the sword;
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

The apostle Paul’s assessment of their condition pulls from Israel and Judah’s past and the indictment brought upon them by prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others. An indictment that continues even to Paul’s day and beyond.

In Roman 9 – 11, Paul shows the relationship between the work our Lord was doing in Israel then and the work he continues to do, an inclusive work; calling some, a remnant, from Israel to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles (Greeks).

The remnant that remains are similar to the remnant who returned from the captivity of which Isaiah spoke, and were later called to rebuild the physical city and the temple (Isaiah 45:1-13). A new remnant, who walk in the Spirit of Yeshua the Christ, are born of the same faith, but are called to take part in building a better temple and an everlasting kingdom, not made with human hands.

Romans 11:5-7
5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. 7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened,

Now Paul contrasts these two groups throughout Romans 9 – 11:

  • The faithful and the unfaithful
  • Those broken off and those who remain attached to the root, or are grafted in
  • Those formed as vessels of honor and those formed for dishonorable use

Yet in all this, both the honorable and dishonorable are formed to make known the riches of God’s glory, not only to show his mercy upon the vessels of honor (Romans 9:23-24), but to show his mercy to all (Romans 11:32).

The Obstinate Stumble

Though the disobedient and unfaithful in Israel would desire that the Messiah come and save them from the nations that have oppressed them, they are blind to the sin and idolatry that is the real source of their oppression (Isaiah 8:19-22; 9:8-17).

Although a Messiah is promised, a Wonderful Counselor and a Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:2-7), he will only be thus for the faithful, those with eyes to see and ears to hear. To the rest he will be a rock of offense and a stone of stumbling (Isaiah 8:13-15).

Romans 9:30-33
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Paul, like the God he serves, remains faithful regarding those without faith; my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved (Romans 10:1). Yet Paul clearly understands the reason for their stumbling and the distress they experience.

Romans 10:2-4
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Paul understands that Israel is without excuse. Not only did they have the general revelation available to all (Romans 1:19-21), but they received special revelation about God through Moses and the prophets.

Romans 10:19But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

Moses, even then, makes it clear the character of these people called out and chosen by God.

Deuteronomy 32:15-22
15 “But Jeshurun (Israel, the beloved one) grew fat, and kicked;
    you grew fat, stout, and sleek;
then he forsook God who made him
    and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation.
16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
17 They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
    to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
    whom your fathers had never dreaded.
18 You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
    and you forgot the God who gave you birth.

19 “The Lord saw it and spurned them,
    because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.
21 They have made me jealous with what is no god;
    they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
    I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
22 For a fire is kindled by my anger,
    and it burns to the depths of Sheol,
devours the earth and its increase,
    and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

Is the vengeance of the Lord the final fate for the unfaithful in Israel, or will his mercy and grace exceed their sin and disobedience (Deuteronomy 32:36-39)?

Unfaithful are Hardened

Paul seems to understand God’s perspective regarding his chosen people Israel – all day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people! (Romans 10:21) Paul also understands that this is according to God’s will and purpose, and especially his timing, by which his work is done in Israel. It does not depend on human will or exertion.

Romans 9:15-18
15 For he (God) says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

So God hardens some, the disobedient; those seeking their own righteousness apart from the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1-4). If we look back at Deuteronomy 32, we can see an underlying purpose for the hardening of Israel and how it relates to the Gentiles.

Deuteronomy 32:16,19-21
16 They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods;
    with abominations they provoked him to anger.
19 “The Lord saw it and spurned them,
    because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.
21 They have made me jealous with what is no god;
    they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
    I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.

God would respond to them similarly to how they treated him. They made him jealous by going after other gods who were not God. He in turn will go after a people who were not a people. He had originally chosen the descendants of Jacob (Israel) to be a kingdom of priests to the nations (Exodus 19:1-6), but since the vast majority of them chose other gods to trust, God would call people from the nations who did not know him (Isaiah 65:1).

Paul then fills in the gaps in Romans 11 as to how this temporary rejection of Israel works to the inclusion of all.

Romans 11:7-10
7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,
   “God gave them a spirit of stupor,
   eyes that would not see
   and ears that would not hear,
   down to this very day.”

9 And David says,
    “Let their table become a snare and a trap,
    a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
    and bend their backs forever.”

Yet in spite of all Israel and Judah’s rejection of God and his Christ, God will remember them. Not according to their many sins, but for his name’s sake does he lead the unfaithful to salvation, just as he leads the faithful to salvation. (Psalm 23:1-4; 25:11-14; Isaiah 48:1-11; Ezekiel 20:33-44)

We should not miss that both the righteous and the unrighteous come to him, though through different paths, through disobedience and tribulation. In this way, not only is all Israel saved (Romans 11:25-27), but all the world is saved.

Romans 11:28-31
28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.

Unless we understand the dual application of tribulation, we cannot fully understand the complete work of God in Christ; the tribulation of the righteous confirms their faithfulness, while the tribulation of the unrighteous ultimately leads those who are willing to repent into righteousness as well (Romans 11:12,15,19-24).

Romans 11:32 – For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Until the Time of the Gentiles is Fulfilled

Now Paul makes it clear that this temporary rejection of disobedient Israel, those cut off due to unbelief, continues until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in. It is at that time when the exile and their tribulation will end. We can get a sense of that timing from Christ’s very own prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). The Seventy Weeks prophecy of Daniel, referenced by Christ, showed the destruction of their temple(2), which became obsolete after the Lamb of God became the way, the truth, and the source of life eternal. This work in Yeshua, the Christ, is what God promised to all through Abraham.

To get the time frame for how long the exile for Judah (and by extension Israel) continues, we must go to Luke’s account of Christ’s discourse on general tribulation and great distress. Yeshua has just described the destruction of the Herodian temple, which occurred later in A.D. 70. This “abomination of desolation” upon Jerusalem and the temple is multi-faceted in the roles it plays for the righteous and the unrighteous alike, and time prevents a deeper dive. Yet Yeshua gives us a key characteristic of this event – for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.

Recall that Paul described the exilic state of disobedient Israel was to continue until the fullness of the Gentiles is achieved. Luke goes on to describe the nature of God’s correction upon disobedient Israel and Judah specifically.

Luke 21:23b-24
For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

There are several points Christ makes about the Father’s plan for Judah (this people) that we don’t want to overlook. They involve the scope of correction for Judah and Jerusalem.

  • These are days of vengeance to fulfill all that is written
  • There will be wrath against this people
  • They will fall by the sword
  • They are led captive among all nations
  • Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by Gentiles

As we know from other prophecies concerning Israel and Judah, this period of tribulation and exile which is upon them doesn’t represent their final state. Paul, based on his understanding of the Old Testament, knows that their exile will end. We’ll discuss the end of their exile in a subsequent article. Realize now, that God, through his grace and faithfulness, will lead them through tribulation and exile for their correction, and ultimately for their salvation. It’s only at that time when they will finally acknowledge Yeshua as Christ – The Lord is our righteousness.

Jeremiah 23:5-6
5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Jeremiah 30:8-11
8 “And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck, and I will burst your bonds, and foreigners shall no more make a servant of him. 9 But they shall serve the Lord their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.

10 “Then fear not, O Jacob my servant, declares the Lord,
     nor be dismayed, O Israel;
for behold, I will save you from far away,
     and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
     and none shall make him afraid.
11 For I am with you to save you,
     declares the Lord;
I will make a full end of all the nations
      among whom I scattered you,
      but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
      and I will by no means leave you unpunished.

Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Conclusions

Though I haven’t fully distinguished between the two periods of tribulation, which I will do in a subsequent article, it was important to establish the basis for why the view of tribulation for Israel and Judah, as a whole, cannot be related directly to the general expectation of tribulation by the faithful and the righteous.

The tribulation experienced by disobedient Israel and Judah has spanned the majority of their history, and according to our Lord, will continue until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled. There have been varying degrees of distress upon Jerusalem and Judah since the time of Christ and the destruction of both the city and the temple. Over the last two thousand years that distress has been significant at times, and even though they’ve successfully reestablished their national statehood, they have yet to meet the fullness of God’s promises for their restoration. We’ll delve into this in more detail later as well.

Because God has promised and will certainly fulfill his faithfulness to Israel and Judah, we can rest assured that their struggles have, and will in the future, serve to lead them ultimately to the Lord their Righteousness, where he will be their God and they will be his people.


There is much more to learn about each of these topics and links have been provided to related articles. Those tagged with Read more lead you to related channel questions and their basic answers. Those tagged Discover more are part of a more in-depth study program. Any tagged with Learn more address methods, processes, and resources which can aid your approach to learning. All are free resources to assist you in gaining a more unfiltered view of God’s word.

To discover more about the plans Christ has for his body of believers, for the descendants of Israel and Judah, and for the world, read my recent book –

The Rapture Question: An Unfiltered View


Footnotes:

  1. Dr. Michael S Heiser’s – The Naked Bible Podcast, Number 101: Jesus, the Exile, and the Tribulation   and blog post: https://nakedbiblepodcast.com/podcast/naked-bible-101-jesus-the-exile-and-the-tribulation/
  2. Desolation of the Temple and Messianic Enthronement in Daniel 11:36-12:3, Jason Thomas Perry, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54.3 (September 2011, pages 485-526)

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Published by GMajella

Husband, father, and author on theological topics, with a focus on the underlying presuppositions which either cloud or enhance our view of reality. My focus is to challenge and guide fellow Christians into a deeper knowledge of God; his work, his will, and his overall purpose. My primary methods will be through books, blogs, and virtual or personal events.

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