Before launching into those details concerning the "First Resurrection," it remains for us to discuss one important element of the time-period we are considering, and which is connected in a special manner with the salvation of God's elect. We speak of the long-awaited national conversion of the Jewish people. As we've written, Antichrist will arise and, through his false signs and specious promises, be hailed as the Messiah. However, it is evident from certain Scriptures that he will fail to bring deliverance. On the contrary, woe unto them who are delivered into his hand!
For, as well as persecuting the saints, he will be an especial hater of the Jews, notwithstanding he'll derive his lineage from the tribe of Dan. Of course, few will doubt but that he'll keep this genealogy a secret. For no one will willingly accept a savior who comes from that tribe which drew Israel into idolatry. The genealogy will probably be known to a select group of "insiders." It will surely be known to his armor-bearer and associate, the False Prophet. But there is little more we can say concerning the matter, as we are unable to peer into the future.
Nevertheless, we have Scriptures which speak of Antichrist as a leader and gatherer of the Jews. As Christ was ordained to gather an elect people, so Antichrist, in imitation of the true savior, shall also gather a people of unbelievers from among all nations. Hippolytus writes: "He will call together all the people to himself, out of every country of the dispersion, making them his own, as though they were his own children, and promising to restore their country, and establish again their kingdom and nation, in order that he may be worshipped by them as God." (Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, liv). Thus Antichrist, relying entirely upon false promises and lies, will lure away many before they realize his true nature. It is likely that, upon stepping into office, he shall be given carte blanche to execute his designs. It is not impossible that he will even be given dictatorial powers. But therein will be the beginning of his madness. He is that "idle shepherd" prophesied by Zechariah.
(Zech. 11: 15-17) "And the Lord said unto me, Take unto thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd. 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. Woe to the idle shepherd that leaveth the flock! The sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened."
Now, I suppose that while his persecutions are being waged, many will come to a realization that this is that same man foretold by Isaiah: "He who smote the people with wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger," &c. (Isaiah 14: 6). But few will be able to resist his tyranny, as his power shall be beyond human strength to withstand. Wherefore the Lord has given those who live within Judea a solemn warning, that when the abomination of desolation appears (that is, when Antichrist stands forth in his true colors): "Let them flee into the mountains," He says; "Let him which is on the house-top not come down to take any thing out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes" (Matt. 24: 16-18). Luke also implies that there shall be a leading away into captivity of those under Antichrist's jurisdiction (Luke 21: 24). However, when Christ returns He shall free Jews and Gentiles alike from the fury of the oppressor.
We spoke in our last article concerning the battle of Armageddon. Our conception of this great end-time battle is something like the following: When Antichrist knows that his time running out, and when he sees the signs in heaven that presage Jesus Christ's advent, he will dispatch ambassadors to all the nations, to gather an immense army. The military forces will be mobilized to the City of Jerusalem, along with all the weapons of mass destruction that technology has ever been able to devise. Not all men will know exactly what is about to occur. Some, not knowing the Scriptures, will fear an invasion from extra-terrestrial powers. Thus, armies will be gathered together to do battle against this coming menace. It would appear that during this time there will be tyranny and violence within the city of Jerusalem itself. Some of the troops, lacking morale, may rifle the houses of the inhabitants.
The prophet Zechariah paints a general outline of those days. "For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city" (Zech. 14: 2). What does this signify? The prophet says that "all nations," that is (as we understand it), 'the combined military forces of all nations,' will be gathered against Jerusalem; in other words, to prevent the Lord's return, who comes to establish the New Jerusalem in glory.
The prophet Joel likewise hinted at the battle of Armageddon, when he wrote: "For behold, in those days, and at that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people, and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and have parted my land" (Joel 3: 1-2). It is obvious that Joel is speaking of the times of Antichrist, for he alludes to the same "captivity" predicted by Luke. But if anyone should suspect that these prophecies were fulfilled in the Jewish War (A.D. 66-70), a simple reading of the text itself will disabuse them of their views. If "the nations" be interpreted as meaning the armies under Vespasian, then the prophecy falls to the ground. For Zechariah says: "Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle" (Zech. 14: 3).
Now, it is a known fact that the Roman armies were never "destroyed" when they gathered against Jerusalem. So that event cannot in any wise be claimed as the fulfillment of these prophecies. Zechariah clearly states that the Lord will fight against those very nations that surround Jerusalem. This plainly has reference to the times of Antichrist, and not to any past period in the history of the Holy City. Hence these events are future. And really, if we simply read these Scriptures, harmonizing them with those parallel passages in the Apocalypse, our eyes will be enlightened, and we'll understand that they speak of nothing else than the Battle of Armageddon, which precedes the Millennium.
Our interpretation, then, of these final events runs thus: When Antichrist mobilizes the world's military forces to the City of Jerusalem, in an attempt to prevent Jesus Christ's coming, the sky will become darkened gradually, until night spreads across the entire land. Then, a luminous Cross shall suddenly appear in the sky, heralding the army of Christ and His saints. This is the "sign of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24: 30) foretold by the Savior. Cyril of Jerusalem writes: "Now Christ's own true sign is the Cross; a sign of a luminous cross shall go before the King, plainly declaring Him who was formerly crucified. [...] The sign of the Cross shall be a terror to His foes; but joy to His friends who have believed in Him, or preached Him, or suffered for His sake. Who then is the happy man, who shall then be found a friend of Christ?" (Catechetical Lectures, XV. xxii).
It is important that this sign of the Cross be clearly seen, in order that those who have not yet repented may accept Jesus Christ and be saved before the Final Battle begins. It has been thought by many students of prophecy that the national conversion of the Jewish people will occur immediately prior to this battle; that is, during the siege of Jerusalem, but before the Lord wreaks vengeance upon the adversaries. Joel once again makes reference to this time, when he writes: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and terrible day of the Lord shall come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call" (Joel 2: 31-32). The "remnant" is clearly the same of which Paul speaks: "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Rom. 11: 5). That is, there is a large number of natural Jews who shall be grafted back into their own olive tree (Rom. 11: 24) before Christ returns.
Truly, this is one of the most wonderful events which will ever occur in the world's history. And anyone who begrudges the Jews the blessings of Christ's salvation is clearly one of envious disposition. But we, along with countless others, look forward to this event. For when the Jews, when they see what great terrors Antichrist has brought upon the world, and perceive that it is Christ alone who is their Messiah, will repent and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and shall be saved. Zechariah also foretold the wholesale conversion of the remnant of Israel. He, too, depicts it as occurring during the times of Armageddon: "And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. 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 first-born" (Zech. 12: 9-10).
As well, Ezekiel seems to have regard to this conversion, when, in predicting the day of the Lord, he says: "But they that escape of them shall escape, and shall be on the mountains like doves of the valleys, all of them mourning, every one for his iniquity" (Ezek. 7: 16). It would appear that Ezekiel refers to those who follow Christ's warnings to "flee into the mountains" when they see the abomination of desolation. Hence, there will probably be a "first-fruits" of national conversion among those who believe in Christ before Armageddon actually begins. Those who remain in the city will be converted only when they see the mobilization of the troops, the darkening of the heavens, or the sign of the Cross. But one thing is certain, to which the prophets uniformly testify--namely, that "all Israel shall be saved."
This salvation will be all the more necessary, inasmuch as there seems to be evidence in Scripture that the gathering of the elect will take place before Christ and His saints wage war against the adversaries. We are not at all sure of the actual details, but, judging from Christ's Olivet Discourse, it is quite reasonable to assume that there will be an immediate gathering of all the elect from the four corners of heaven before the Lord fights against Jerusalem. When the tribes of the earth mourn, and see the Lord coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, "He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matt. 24: 30-31). Thus, prior to the battle itself the "First Resurrection" will take place.
Then, immediately after, or concurrent with this resurrection, there shall be earthquakes and thunderings, followed by a parting, or opening, in the heavens. Then, the Lord and His saints will appear to do battle against the powers of iniquity. The blessed evangelist John gives us a few more details, when he prophesies of the "harvest of the earth." He writes: "And I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And He that sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped" (Rev. 14: 14-16 ff.).
I don't suppose anyone would assume that by these Scriptures we are to understand the "harvest of the earth" as implying that of the "whole world," as if all mankind will be collected and destroyed in one massive battle. Frankly, that concept is antagonistic to the idea of the Millennium, which holds that all nations shall come to Jerusalem to worship Jesus Christ (Isaiah 66: 23; Zech. 14: 16). Rather, we believe that Jerusalem will be the main scene of these events. For John writes: "The wine-press was trodden without the city" (Rev. 14: 20), that is, the battle will be waged within the environs of Jerusalem itself.
Once again, Joel gives us the local coloring. "Let the heathen be wakened, and come to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord shall be the hope of His people, and the strength of the children of Israel" (Joel 3: 12-16).
Our personal understanding, then, of the Battle of Armageddon, is that those nations and armies which come against Jerusalem will be destroyed at Jesus Christ's coming. Since these troops will be those very persons who shall take Antichrist's mark their forehead and willingly serve him, it is only fitting that they should "drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation" (Rev. 14: 9-10). But as inferred from Joel's prophecy and other Scriptures, there will be a great quaking of the whole earth, and the heavens as well, insomuch that all areas of the world will feel and know what is going on in the Holy City. Of course, we have many other opinions we could give involving Armageddon and the things which will occur at that time. But we have already digressed too far from our immediate subject, which involves the Lord's Second advent in glory, the gathering of His saints, and the Resurrection of the Just.
To be continued...