By looking at the historical mistakes of God’s people in discerning the times, we can better understand the main ingredients of how to miss God’s timing in a BIG way. We can then understand how the same thing is happening in our time, and how to avoid those errors.
Let’s look back in Biblical history to see a major example of the what, why, and how of mistaking God’s timing. Then we can take a look at some pretty important unfulfilled prophecies to see how we are making the same mistakes today (as the Church has done for centuries).
When Yeshua came to earth about 2000 years ago, the people of Israel were somewhat expectant of a Messiah coming to deliver them. When Herod asked the Jewish leaders where the Messiah was supposed to be born, they understood Micah 5:2 to be a Messianic prophecy and responded to Herod accordingly. Various prophecies at the time of Yeshua were understood to apply to the Messiah. Some of these prophecies spoke of a suffering Messiah who would die (such as Isaiah 53) and others spoke of a Messiah who would reign forever (such as Daniel 7: 9 – 14). The former was referred to as Messiah ben Joseph and the latter as Messiah ben David.
Based on the prophecies of Daniel 9 (and possibly also from Genesis 49:10 in conjunction with the Sanhedrin’s loss of ability to enact the death penalty), it was understood that the Messiah needed to arrive near the time that Yeshua came, thus setting up a Messianic expectation. Thus it was that the appearance of the Messiah during the first century did not come as a huge surprise to many people in Israel.
Despite Israel’s expectation of the coming Messiah, they still managed to completely misunderstand that Yeshua came to suffer and die rather than to set up a physical kingdom. Even Yeshua’s disciples completely misunderstood this until after his resurrection. And after the resurrection, before Yeshua was taken up into heaven, they were still asking him about when he was going to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1: 6).
Daniel 9 presents the clearest passage in the Bible of when the Messiah would come. It clearly indicates that the Messiah had to come prior to the destruction of the second Temple. Additionally, it clearly states that the Messiah would be cut off, but not for himself (Dan 9:26). This is clearly a reference to the figure that was associated with Messiah ben Joseph – the suffering Messiah. Why then did everyone, including Yeshua’s disciples, completely misunderstand that Yeshua was coming as the suffering Messiah? I believe it was related to a combination of the Scriptures that referred to a reigning Messiah combined with Israel’s situation at that time. Israel was sorely oppressed by Rome, and they were looking for a deliverer. By looking to the Scriptures that assured them of a Messiah who would reign forever, by seeing the timing of the Messiah as being correct (from a Scriptural viewpoint) and by desiring deliverance from Rome, they focused only on those Scriptures that told themselves what they wanted to hear – that the Messiah would come and deliver them from Rome. In the end though, Israel missed God’s timing by more than 2000 years and counting.
So here are the basic steps to missing God’s timing in a BIG way:
- Decide what we want to happen now
- Interpret Scripture based on what is going on in the world today
- Read the prophecies that help validate our opinion
- Ignore prophecies that don’t validate our opinion
Throughout the history of the Church, believers in Yeshua have done a great job of following the above steps to predict the end of the world coming within their own lifetimes, and often within “the next few years”. It is hard to blame God’s people for wanting deliverance and seeing the evil plans of the Enemy as part of end-time prophecy. After all, what would any of us have thought during World War II when we saw the world reeling from a world-wide depression and saw Hitler taking over the world and killing the Jewish people – perhaps we would not have done any better.
In hindsight, we can look back on the Church of the 2nd through 19th centuries and say “hey,
but you totally missed it regarding Israel”. The Church’s biggest error in trying to interpret Scripture for many centuries was in trying to explain away physical Israel. Now that physical Israel has been resurrected again in the sight of the nations, we can then pat ourselves on the back, say that we can check that off of our list, and go back to following the above four steps for missing God’s timing.
Wait … what … what are you talking about?
One very clear example of ignoring prophecies to validate end-time theories relates to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. In 1 Kings 12 we read about how Israel was split into two kingdoms – the Southern Kingdom and the Northern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah (but also contained most of Benjamin and some of Levi) and the Northern Kingdom, which contained the rest of the tribes, retained the name Israel. The two kingdoms were exiled at different times, the Northern Kingdom going into exile first due to their much faster decent into idolatry. The word “Jew” in Hebrew is יהודי Yehudi and is derived from יהודה Yehuda (Judah). The Jews as a people are actually that of the Southern Kingdom of Israel.
The Northern Kingdom was dispersed primarily in Asia and Africa. They are not technically “Jews” because they are not from the Southern Kingdom (Judah), rather they are physical descendants of Israel. The people from the Northern Kingdom still exist today, and they have been only partly identified. Menashe is believed to be in India, Daniel in Ethiopia. Several other groups in Asia and Africa have been identified as likely parts of the Northern Kingdom.
Biblical prophecy indicates that God will join the Southern and Northern Kingdoms back together again as one people. One such passage is Ezekiel 37: 15 – 22.
15 The word of the Lord came again to me, saying, 16 “Now you, son of man, take for yourself one stick and write on it, ‘For Judah and for the sons of Israel, his companions’; then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions.’ 17 Then put them together for yourself one to another into one stick, so that they may become one in your hand. 18 And when the sons of your people speak to you, saying, ‘Will you not declare to us what you mean by these?’ 19 say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says: “Behold, I am going to take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will put them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”’ 20 The sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. 21 And say to them, ‘This is what the Lord God says: “Behold, I am going to take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; 22 and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king will be king for all of them; and they will no longer be two nations, and no longer be divided into two kingdoms.
Other passages on this topic are Isaiah 11:11-13 and Jeremiah 30:1-3. According to Biblical prophecy, all of the tribes of Israel will return to the Land promised them by God. While a small trickling of people from the Northern Kingdom have returned, the majority of the Northern Kingdom is still in exile and not even completely identified. We thus have a choice to make – we can simply ignore these prophecies, or we can spiritualize them (the same mistake that the Church made about Israel for centuries), or we can believe them despite the difficulty in understanding how God is going to accomplish His word.
And now let’s put the timing of this in perspective. The first wave of aliyah was in 1882, approximately 140 years ago. The size of the Northern Kingdom is probably similar to the size of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. I do believe that God will accelerate the rate of return of all of Israel to the promised land. – as I have written before, God miraculously caused Israel’s Jewish population to double every 13 years from 1882 to 1973 which represents a hastening of this in its time (Isaiah 60:22). But not withstanding that, it has still been 140 years and only about half of the Southern Kingdom has returned to the land … and the majority of the Northern Kingdom has not yet even been fully identified or started to return.
World-wide judgment is commonplace throughout history. When Babylon carried away the Kingdom of Judah into exile, the nations around Israel were also being judged. Eleven chapters of Isaiah (14 – 24) are devoted just to talking about the world-wide judgment of that time. Only a century ago, the world experienced two world wars and a world-wide economic depression. We are currently witnessing the fall of a super-power and perhaps some world-wide judgment, but that is not the end of the world – only commonplace events throughout history.
Before jumping to conclusions about what is happening in the world today, let’s remember that all of Scripture will be fulfilled. It’s hard to imagine how God is going to accomplish the return of the Northern Kingdom to the Land of Israel when not all of the tribes have even been positively identified yet, but let’s not repeat the same mistakes of missing God’s timing by limiting our understanding of God’s power or by allowing our desires for immediate deliverance influence our interpretation of Scripture.