The autumn season has always been the one in which I most feel the “pull” of prophecy, specifically end-times prophecy or eschatology. The slow fading of the year appeals to my default state of cheerful melancholia, putting me in the right mood for contemplating the end of history with a Messianic hope. In addition to the prophetic nature of the fall feastdays, there’s something about the final brilliant transformation of the leaves before they wither and fall, something about the sudden chill in the wind combined with grey and rainy skies that sets me in the mood to contemplate the End of All Things.
This is nowhere more true than on Sukkot:
On Sukkot I emphasize the “cheerful” part of my cheerful melancholia. It is, after all, the time when Yeshua will officially take office as King over the whole world, having reconciled with Israel and pouring out the waters of the Holy Spirit over them. It is the feast where Israel sacrificed seventy bulls for the seventy nations, acting fully in her capacity as a “nation of priests.” And, it is arguably Yeshua’s birthday today (though many would argue for Rosh Hashannah instead). There’s an optimism built into Sukkot that surpasses every other Feast, to the point that Hashem actually commands us to rejoice this week (Deu. 14:26, 16:14).
So this seems like the perfect time to talk about prophetic optimism. No, not the kind of optimism that the post-millennialists and Dominionists have, where they think that we will succeed in politically conquering the world, putting it under Christ’s feet so that he can return. The Scripture is pretty clear that we can expect the political systems of this world to always turn back to serving the prince of this world, the Adversary.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to consistently lose.
When most people read the Olivet Discourse (Mat. 24-25, Mark 13; cf. Luke 21), they focus on the wars and rumors of wars, the famines, the earthquakes, and the persecution of God’s people, the Great Tribulation. That must mean that everything has to go straight to hell for the Lord to return, right?
No, not at all. I mean really, the whole of human history is full of wars, famines, earthquakes, and persecution, so what kind of sign would that be? No, the real signs of the Lord’s immanent return are three very positive developments hidden in the text:
First, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations (ethnoi), and then the end will come” (Mat. 24:14). In other words, one of the signs of the Lord’s near return will be the completion of the Great Commission. It’s almost complete now, with only a handful of places in the world that yet need to be evangelized properly. Is not the spread of the Good News to every tribe and tongue and people and nation despite all of the Adversary’s attempts to block it something to look forward to–and more than that, to participate in?
Second, “let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. . . Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (vv. 16, 20). This warning presupposes two things: That Israel would be back in the land of ancient Judea and in control of its mountains (the West Bank), and that there would be disciples of Yeshua living there to whom the Sabbath matters. In other words, the return of both the Jews and of a considerable number of Jews who practice Judaism and yet are followers of Yeshua is predicted in this passage.
Third, “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place . . .” (v. 15) presupposes that there will be a holy place to stand in.
Christian critics of Israel will often point to its secular nature as “proof” that it isn’t the predicted state. However, the truth is more complicated than that. First, as we’ve noted before, the Jewish people as a whole did repent of the specific sins that led to the “curse of the law.” Second, while it is true that half of Israeli Jews identify themselves as secular, the general trend in Israel over time has been towards greater faith and devotion, with those born in the country being more likely to be religiously devoted than their parents. The same poll shows that when you actually start asking about specific religious practices, even many secular Jews practice elements of Judaism on a regular basis.
To rebuild the Temple would require an incredible upsurge in devotion to Hashem and his Torah in Israel–even before the Messiah’s return. I’d call that a pretty optimistic outlook for Israel’s future, as predicted in Scripture.
So as we enjoy this time of feasting, family, friends, and faith, let’s renew our vigor to see the Gospel spread “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile,” knowing that our Lord will not rest until the task is complete, and neither should we. We need to play to win, striving in excellence in all things so as to bring glory to our King.