Does Israel still command prophetic attention seventy years after her birth?
From the 1920s through the 1980s, many students of prophecy in the Church of God taught that the second coming of Jesus Christ and the battle of Armageddon were inseparable. Further, they taught that when the state of Israel declared independence in 1948, it was a sign that His coming was near, surrounded by prophetic events yet to be fulfilled.
One of those events that will take place leading to Jesus’ return is described in Revelation 16:12-14, 16:
Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates . . . And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs . . . which go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. . . . And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon.
Zechariah appears to address Armageddon and the gathering of the nations against Israel. He indicates this is not just another attack on Israel’s sovereignty, like those attacks following its independence in 1948 or the current terrorist attacks. The enemies of Israel are gathered there to destroy her, but God uses the occasion to judge and destroy the armies of the nations gathered there by intervening in this fierce battle: “Behold, the day of the Lord is coming . . . For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem . . . Then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle” (14:1-3).
Mount of Olives
Church of God (Seventh Day) apologists taught that the second coming of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, will occur in the midst of Armageddon. The vision of Revelation 16:12-21 is interrupted by the declaration “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches . . .” (v. 15a). Zechariah declares that Jesus will appear east of Jerusalem in the midst of the war: “And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives . . .” (14:4a).
Just as Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives, He will return to the earth on that same mount. Remember, when the Lord ascended to heaven, His disciples were promised, “This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven. . . . Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet . . .” (Acts 1:11, 12).
Further, the Church’s interpreters of prophecy taught that Ezekiel 38 identifies the major participants in Armageddon:
“Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army . . . Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops . . .’” (vv. 2-6).
“On that day it shall come to pass that thoughts will arise in your mind, and you will make an evil plan: You will say, ‘I will go up against a land of unwalled villages . . . to take plunder and to take booty, to stretch out your hand against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people gathered from the nations . . . Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you, ‘Have you come to take plunder? Have you gathered your army to take booty . . . ?’” (vv. 10-13).
Traditionally, Gog has been identified as Russia. She will lead her army, along with the armies of her allies, against Jerusalem to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Tarshish has been identified as England, and the United States as one of the merchants of Tarshish. They, and their NATO allies, will confront Russia’s armies in defense of Israel. The glorious event of the Lord Jesus’ appearance in the clouds of heaven will occur in the midst of this bloody and destructive war.
In 1991 the Church’s teachers of prophecy were dismayed when the Supreme Soviet granted full sovereignty to its former satellite republics, and Mikhail Gorbachev declared the Soviet Union was extinct on December 26, 1991. Many believed that the dissolution of the Soviet Union rendered Russia incapable of leading her satellite states in a war against Israel.
The subject of the Battle of Armageddon and Jesus’ return in its midst to establish His kingdom has virtually ceased to be taught in Church of God circles. Not that the Church has abandoned her hope of Jesus’ second coming. But the Church’s only active discussion of these events may be in our Sabbath school lessons or the Bible Advocate Press’s tract entitled The Battle of Armageddon.
Current events in the Middle East have greatly changed since 1991. Russia has taken possession of the Crimea from Ukraine, giving it a warm water seaport. Russia has established military bases in Syria and has allied herself with Iran, Israel’s archenemy.
These developments give Russia a permanent military presence in the Middle East much closer to Israel than at any time in history. Israel is in easy range of an attack led by Russia, who supports Iran’s ambition to develop nuclear warheads capable of completely destroying Israel.
Under these circumstances, the Church needs to look at these prophecies anew to clarify our understanding of them in view of current events. The Church of God (Seventh Day) should not be caught off guard when it comes to recognizing the signs leading up to Jesus’ return. The second coming of Jesus is something the Church has looked forward to for the past 159 years of its existence!
Robert Coulter and his wife, Ida, reside in Northglenn, CO, and attend the Denver church.