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A Short History of Tribulation - Part 1 The Laws of Captivity

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Issue #148May 2001

A Short History of Tribulation - Part 1 The Laws of Captivity

Many Christians are concerned about the future. They have been told that there will soon be a great tribulation in which much of the earth will be destroyed. A powerful man, they say, will arise (called Antichrist), who will present himself to the world as a man of peace, but who will actually be a satanically-inspired dictator intent on making war against God Himself.

It is often taught that this tribulation will last seven years. The book of Revelation is generally literalized to the point where they believe that oceans will turn to blood, stars will fall from heaven to earth, plagues or neutron bombs will eat the flesh off people's faces, and many other horrible things.

To this one must add the many visions and revelations that certain recognized prophets and apostles have claimed to have which appear to confirm all these tribulations. During the twentieth century, such prophets have had visions of the German Kaiser as the Antichrist, followed by Hitler or Mussolini. Both the world wars were prophesied to be the beginning of tribulation. Of course, after seven years or so, they move on to other more profitable topics and hope everyone forgets the previous Antichrist candidate.

In my view many of these teachings are either wrong or incomplete, because most Bible teachers have failed to study the laws of tribulation. These laws are the basic principles by which God deals with nations, particularly in judging the earth. If Bible teachers do not know these laws, it is inevitable that they will misinterpret the prophecies dealing with tribulation. The prophetic writings must agree with the divine laws of judgment.

Deuteronomy 28: The Basic Law

Deuteronomy 28 shows the blessings of obedience and the curses of the law for disobedience to God. When a nation discards God's laws and substitutes man's imperfect laws, sin and injustice begins to increase in the land until the nation finally disintegrates from within or is destroyed by invading armies.

We could, of course, study Deut. 28:1-47 and show how each of the curses of the law have already come upon America and other countries. But this is a study for another day. The question before us now is how God judges the nations for their rebellion against Him. So we will begin our study with Deut. 28:48, for this is the climax of the law of tribulation.

The Iron Yoke

Deut. 28:48 reads,

48 Therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD shall send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.

A yoke is what the farmers used to place on the neck of the ox in order to plow a field. An ox is man's servant. So a yoke upon a man signifies his coming into servitude.

In the next verses God defines an iron yoke. It is the most severe form of servitude. It indicates being put under an unjust and tyrannical master. He does not follow God's laws, but makes his own and enforces them rigorously. When God puts an iron yoke upon the neck of the nation, He sends to them a foreign nation to lay siege to them until they destroy the whole nation. Verse 64 says,

64 Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known.

It is clear from the Scriptures that when Israel continues in sin and refuses to repent, God promises to destroy the nation and scatter the people. God does not refrain from judgment just because Israel is "chosen." In fact, God requires more of a "chosen" people, because "from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more" (Luke 12:48).

The iron yoke is the discipline of last resort. It means the destruction of the nation and its cities. It means many of the people are killed without mercy. It also involves the deportation of the surviving citizens into other countries, either to be sold as individual slaves or to be resettled as a group to be subservient to foreign rulers and man-made laws. Any nation that experiences such devastation will certainly know that they are in great tribulation.

This occurred when Assyria destroyed Israel and deported the remaining citizens to the area around the Caspian Sea (2 Kings 17:6, 18-23).

This occurred again a century later when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and deported the nation of Judah for a 70-year captivity.

This occurred a third time in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the remaining Jews, selling hundreds of thousands into slavery.

These are brief examples of the iron yoke that God has employed in the past. But as we stated earlier, this is the discipline of last resort. There is a milder judgment that God has placed upon His people in the past. The most important is what Jeremiah calls the wooden yoke.

The Wooden Yoke

During the time of the Judges, God put Israel into captivity to various nations a number of times. Each time, these captivities occurred within the borders of Israel. That is, the nations came to Israel and put them into servitude, making them pay tribute. Even so, the Israelites were allowed to remain in the land God had given them.

In each case the book of Judges tells us that God put Israel into servitude in order to judge them for their sin. If Israel had not become lawless, God would not have allowed the foreign nations to put them into servitude. About the first captivity, Judges 3:5-8 says,

5 And the sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; 6 and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. 7 And the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgot the LORD their God, and served the Baals and the Asheroth. 8 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia; and the sons of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years.

After an eight-year captivity, the people repented, and God sent Othniel to deliver them and throw off the yoke. This yoke was not the iron yoke that Deut. 28 threatened, because the nation was not destroyed, nor were the people deported to another land. It was merely a wooden yoke, as Jeremiah later described.

Jeremiah told the people of Judah and Jerusalem that because they had continually violated the divine law, God would forsake Solomon's temple and destroy it. After listing the reasons for this, Jeremiah 7:12-16 says,

12 But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, 14 therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim. 16 As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.

When Jeremiah received this Word, it was God's verdict being rendered in the courts of heaven. From this point on, Jeremiah was not allowed to pray that judgment might be averted. Even repentance could not set aside the judgment of God, once the verdict had been handed down. From this time on, Jeremiah had to pray in a different manner. He could only pray the judgment be lessened by repentance, not cancelled.

From Jeremiah 23-30 the prophet told the people that if they would submit to God's just verdict, He would allow them to remain on the land under the wooden yoke only. But if they refused to submit to God's verdict, then they would come under the iron yoke and be deported to Babylon.

In Jeremiah 27:2 the prophet wrote,

2 Thus says the LORD to me--Make for yourself bonds and yokes and put them on your neck3 and send word to the king of Edom, to the king of Moab, to the king of the sons of Ammon, to the king of Tyre, and to the king of Sidon by the messengers who come to Jerusalem to Zedekiah king of Judah.

This was a message not only to the king of Judah, but also to the neighboring nations that God was giving to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. All those nations were admonished to submit to the wooden yoke of Babylon.

In Jeremiah 27:5-7, God told the prophet,

5 I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in My sight. 6 And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, My servant, and I have given him also the wild animals of the field to serve him. 7 And all the nations shall serve him, and his son, and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant. 8 And it will be, that the nation or the kingdom which will not serve him, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence," declares the LORD, "until I have destroyed it by his hand.

In other words, God said that He had given all these nations to the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, "My servant." God claims the right to do this by right of creation. God declares His right to do this in verse 5.

Thus we see that God Himself claimed the credit for bringing the king of Babylon to Jerusalem to destroy the temple and to deport the people to another land. God had, in effect, hired the king of Babylon to execute His verdict upon the sinful nation of Judah.

But Jeremiah also made it clear in verse 11 that if the people of Judah would submit to God's verdict, they would be allowed a lesser form of judgment--the wooden yoke.

11 But the nation which will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will let remain on its land, declares the LORD, and they will till it and dwell in it.

The next chapter of Jeremiah tells us the decision of the people through their primary spokesman, a prophet named Hananiah. Here we also learn that God had actually told Jeremiah to walk around Jerusalem with a wooden yoke around his neck to let people know what he himself had decided to do. Jeremiah's decision was to submit to the king of Babylon and serve him as unto the Lord, knowing that Nebuchadnezzar was God's servant, or employee.

The prophet Hananiah, however, was offended at the yoke around Jeremiah's neck, so he forcibly removed it from Jeremiah's neck and broke it. We read in Jer. 28:10,

10 Then Hananiah the prophet took the yoke from the neck of Jeremiah the prophet and broke it.

Jeremiah made no resistance, knowing that this was simply the people's answer before God. They had no intention of submitting to Nebuchadnezzar, for they thought God was on their side. Jer. 2:35 says about them,

35 Yet you [Judahites] said, I am innocent; surely His anger is turned away from me.

They did not believe God would allow His beautiful house (temple) to be desecrated or destroyed. In Jer. 7:4 the prophet answers them,

4 Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.

God called two prophets, Jeremiah and Hananiah, to polarize the people and make manifest the hearts of the people. Those who had rebellion in their hearts naturally followed the prophecies of Hananiah, and these believed in the theology of rebellion. In rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar, they unknowingly rebelled against God Himself.

Those who believed Jeremiah were those who knew and understood the law of tribulation--that God would judge Israel for casting aside His law. These were willing to submit to the wooden yoke, even as Jeremiah did.

The rebellious majority, however, decided that God did not want them to be slaves to the king of Babylon. They fought and died, and the city, temple, and the entire land was devastated. The survivors were forcibly taken to Babylon to serve their 70-year sentence (Jer. 25:11).

Judah Sentenced to an Iron Yoke

In Jeremiah 28:12-14 we read,

12 And the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, after Hananiah the prophet had broken the yoke from off the neck of the prophet Jeremiah, saying, 13 Go and speak to Hananiah, saying, Thus says the LORD, You have broken the yokes of wood, but you have made instead of them yokes of iron14 For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, I have put a yoke of iron on the neck of all these nations, that they may serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; and they shall serve him. And I have also given him the beasts of the field.

The nation of Judah could have avoided the absolute desolation and destruction if they had taken heed to the word of the Lord from Jeremiah. However, they were far too patriotic to submit to the judgment of God. There is nothing wrong with patriotism, but when one chooses patriotism over submission to God's judgment, such patriots do a great disservice to their own people.

This is why it is so important even today to recognize the judgments of God, rather than merely assume that all national enemies or oppressors are "of the devil." In the days of Jeremiah, it was the religious patriots who led the people like lambs to the slaughter.

Round Two: 70-73 A.D.

Jerusalem was destroyed again in 70 A.D. and the final devastation of the land was completed with the capture of Masada in 73 A.D. During this entire time, the Judahites adopted the same attitude as their forefathers in the days of Jeremiah. They could not believe that God would actually fight against them. They could not believe that God was judging them for their sin. They could not believe that it was the will of God for them to submit to their conquerors.

And so once again, the religious zealots and patriots among them brought the nation into utter disaster. This judgment from God came as a direct result of their rejection and execution of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. God gave them 40 years of grace in which to repent, but they refused. In their blind religious zeal, they fought until the whole land was devastated and millions dead or sold into slavery.

John the Baptist was executed at Passover of 30 A.D., about six months after he had baptized Jesus. Matthew 14:1-12 tells us that after John was executed, his disciples came and told Jesus. Jesus then fed the 5,000 with five barley loaves and two fish. The same story is told in John 6, where we learn in verse 4 that this miracle was done near Passover.

Forty years later, the Romans began to lay siege to the city of Jerusalem. Josephus, one of the Judean generals who had fought against the Romans until his capture, wrote of the 115,880 casualties carried through just one gate of Jerusalem. In his Wars of the Jews, V, xiii, 7 he wrote:

"No fewer than a hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies, in the interval between the fourteenth day of the month Xanthicus, or Nisan, when the Romans pitched their camp by the city, and the first day of the month Panemus, or Tamuz.

In other words, Josephus recorded that the Romans pitched their camp around Jerusalem to begin the siege at Passover in 70 A.D. This was precisely 40 years after the execution of John the Baptist.

The city was destroyed by late August of the same year. The temple was burned. All the gold melted from the heat. Later, in the scramble for gold, the people pried every stone from the other to salvage the gold that had collected like water between the rocks. By the time the destruction was finished, not one stone stood upon the other (Matt. 24:2). So were the words of Jesus fulfilled.

The Capture of Masada

The Zealots of the day were called Sicarii, which means "people of the daggers." They were assassins. Everyone was their enemy that did not help them try to overthrow the Roman authorities. One of Jesus' disciples, Simon Zelotes, had been one of them (Luke 6:15) before Jesus showed him a better way.

In 73 A.D. a man named Eleazar was the commander of the Sicarii. Before going to Masada, he and his men killed thousands of people in Jerusalem, terrorizing the people so they would not submit to the Romans. When they were finally expelled from Jerusalem, they took over a fortress mountain called Masada.

Three years after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Romans took Masada. The Romans had to build a ramp up to the fortress in order to take it. They finished the ramp on the fourteenth day of the first month in 73 A.D. This was the day the people would normally have killed their lambs for Passover.

That night the Sicarii in Masada committed suicide instead of keeping the Passover. Only one elderly woman and five children hid themselves and survived the ordeal. Josephus tells us in Wars of the Jews, VII, ix, 1,

"This calamitous slaughter was made on the fifteenth day of the month [Xanthicus] Nisan."

Josephus makes it clear that these religious zealots (the Sicarii) were among the ones most responsible for the disasters that came upon Jerusalem and the whole nation. Their doctrine of rebellion was "to look upon God as their only Lord and Master" (Wars, VII, x, 1). By this they meant that they were duty-bound by God Himself to make war on any nation that had conquered them.

They did not comprehend the law of tribulation in Deut. 28. They did not understand the book of Judges, where God makes it very clear that He would not allow them to be free, as long they were in rebellion against His law and remained in an unrepentant condition. Neither did they learn anything from the writings of Jeremiah and the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of Babylon.

Masada fell at Passover of 73 A.D., precisely 40 years after Jesus' crucifixion. Forty years of intercession and grace brought many individual Judeans to repentance and conversion. But the nation itself continued to reject Jesus.

The Zionist Jews living in their Israeli state are again in the same position, poised for utter destruction. It will come again for the same reasons as found in past history. Once again, most assume that God is on their side, and that He will save them at the last minute. Once again, as a nation they refuse to repent of crucifying the Messiah. This time, Jeremiah's prophecy will be fulfilled. The city will be destroyed and never be rebuilt again (Jer. 19:10, 11).

Pray that God will spare more individual citizens.