The Great Deliverance
What will Jesus do when He returns? The answer may surprise you, particularly if you’re Jewish.
At a “Thank God for Israel” event on an American university campus a few years ago, a young Jewish rabbi accosted me after I spoke. He assumed I believed evangelicals want Jewish people to return to Israel to hasten the Second Coming when, he thought, Jesus will destroy Israel and the Jewish people. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Bible is clear: Jesus is coming to rescue Israel and the Jewish people and establish an earthly Kingdom headquartered in Jerusalem. Israel has a grand and wonderful national and spiritual restoration in its future.
To be sure, a small number of Christians hold to Preterism, the view that Jesus already returned to Earth in the form of the Roman army to destroy Jerusalem and Israel in AD 70. More importantly, many Christians through the centuries have held and continue to hold to Replacement Theology (also called Supersessionism), which maintains that the church has replaced or superseded Israel in God’s redemptive plan for history.
The majority position within this theology is Amillennialism, the belief that there is no future, earthly Kingdom over which Christ will rule for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:4–5). Amillennialists believe today’s church is God’s Kingdom and fulfills the 1,000 years of Revelation 20. They also believe God has turned His back on Israel and that Israel has no national future.
The Biblical Teaching
Christian Zionists, however, follow the biblical teaching that the Jewish people are still God’s chosen, earthly people; that they will turn to Jesus the Messiah when He returns; and that they will inherit an earthly Kingdom with their Messiah as King.
However, we also believe Jesus’ Second Coming will occur at the end of seven years of unparalleled tribulation that will afflict the entire earth (Isa. 13:11; Rev. 3:10). This period is also called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7), meaning the Jewish people in general and Israel in particular will suffer extreme persecution.
Yet, as Bible scholar Charles L. Feinberg eloquently noted, “The nations of the earth, in coming to destroy Jerusalem and the people of God, will only be positioning themselves for the stroke of God’s unmixed wrath upon them.”1 The Bible teaches that Jesus will return to rescue Israel and the Jewish people from their enemies as He establishes His Kingdom on Earth. He definitely is not coming to destroy Israel.
Many Old Testament passages point to God’s deliverance of Israel. Among the most precise is Zechariah 12—14. In chapter 12, for example, the prophet predicts,
And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it. It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem (vv. 3, 9).
Furthermore, God intends to provide more than physical deliverance; He intends to restore the Jewish nation spiritually as well: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son” (v. 10; cf. Rev. 1:7).
The prophet Zechariah looked down the corridor of time to Messiah Jesus’ crucifixion, when He was pierced for our sins. At the Second Coming, the Jewish people will recognize Him as their Messiah who died for them; and God will powerfully apply His grace to them: “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1). Though the Lord will judge many individuals during the Tribulation, He nevertheless declares,
I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, “This is My people”; and each one will say, “The LORD is my God”(v. 9).
The climax of Zechariah’s teaching concerning God’s deliverance of Israel in the end-times appears in chapter 14: “Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem” (vv. 1–2).
The “day of the LORD” refers to when God breaks through history in judgment. Verse 1 points to the period immediately before Jesus returns. However, even though Israel will be judged and purified as silver is refined and gold tested (13:9), God will not leave the nation unprotected.
During the Tribulation itself, especially during the final three and one half years, God will supernaturally protect the Jewish people who flee from Jerusalem to the wilderness (Rev. 12:13–16).2 Jewish persecution and torment will end forever when Christ finally returns to Earth—the event that terminates the Tribulation: “Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle” (Zech. 14:3).
Revelation 19:11–16 provides a portrait of what the Second Coming will look like. It describes Jesus coming to Earth riding a white horse while judging His (and Israel’s) enemies with the power of His mouth: “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations” (v. 15).
Zechariah enhanced this description: “In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east” (Zech. 14:4). The mountain will split in two, forming a valley through which the Jewish people can flee from their enemies (vv. 4–5). Furthermore, living waters will flow from Jerusalem toward the Dead and Mediterranean Seas (v. 8).
As wonderful as these things are, the most striking result of Christ’s return is that “the LORD shall be King over all the earth” (v. 9). Thus, at the start of God’s earthly Kingdom, Jerusalem will be inhabited safely (vv. 10–11).
The Sweet Ending
It is difficult to read Zechariah 12—14 and still believe God has rejected Israel.
God never permanently destroyed Israel in the past, and He is not coming to Earth to destroy Israel in the future. He is coming as a Deliverer, from sin to be sure, but also to rescue His Chosen People from all their enemies and restore the nation to ultimate Kingdom glory.
As Bible expositor Harry Ironside poignantly stated, “It will be a sweet and lovely ending after centuries, yea, millenniums, of bitter strife and bloody warfare, when the noise of battle shall be no more heard, national hatreds shall be done away, and the era of peace on earth and God’s good pleasure in men shall have in very deed arrived.”3
And Israel will have a front row seat to all the glory.
- Charles L. Feinberg, God Remembers: A Study of Zechariah, 3rd ed. (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1977), 222.
- There is a debate about the identity of the woman clothed with the sun, moon, and stars in Revelation 12:1. She cannot be the virgin Mary. Nor can she be the church. The woman is a sign and thus symbolic. Christ gives birth to the church, but the passage says the woman births Jesus. The image is defined in Genesis 37:9, Joseph’s second dream: The woman in Revelation 12:1 is the family of Israel.
- H. A. Ironside, Notes on the Minor Prophets (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1909), 430.