In response to His Disciples’ three-pronged question, Jesus told them the things that would befall them, the Temple, the city of Jerusalem and Jews as a whole. He talked about the persecutions that awaited His followers. There would be random arrests, trials, imprisonments and martyrdom of Disciples. On the Temple, He said ‘there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.’
Earlier He had told them that Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Jews uprooted from the Promised Land for the second time in their history. The people of Israel ‘shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’
The issue of dispersion was not new to the Jewish Disciples. Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other Old Testament Prophets foretold the captivity of the people for burning their back on their God.
What Jesus said was different and shocking. The violence on the Jewish people, nation and institutions was to be so brutal and fiendish that Israel would cease to be a nation. Never before had this happened. In the two versions of the previous dispersions, there was a notably a remnant of the people on the land.
The Assyrian plunder of the northern kingdom of Israel in xxx left a remnant on the land. One hundred years later, King Nebuchadnezzar took the southern kingdom of Judah captive. The dispersion was prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer 25:11) to last 70 years. It did. During the Babylonian captivity there was a remnant in Judah and Jerusalem. The nature of the dispersion Jesus told His disciples was different. The Disciples were perplexed. Their confusion was heightened by the fact that Peter had successfully identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, the most-awaited hope of Israel.
By the time Jesus was discussing with His disciples events surrounding the end of the age at the Mt of Olivet, the Church was not in existence. The disciples’ questions therefore were asked from a Jewish perspective. Jesus equally gave them a Jewish answer. However, although the Church was not in existence at the time of the Olivet Discourse, the ‘beginning of sorrows’ prophecy by Jesus affected the three end time groups. The three groups are the Gentiles, Israelites and the Church of Jesus Christ.
According to Matthew’s account, Jesus told His disciples that eight signs would signal the beginning of sorrows for the Jews. The disciples understood what Jesus meant by ‘sorrow.’ The Jews had gone through periods foreign-imposed sorrows in their national history.
1. There was sorrow in Egypt when a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph ascended the throne and demanded the destruction of newly-born Jewish boys and the subsequent refusal to let Israel go as demanded by Moses under God’s command.
2. There was sorrow through defeats and annexation by the Philistines and the sons of Lot during the period of the Judges.
3. There was sorrow when Assyria expelled the Northern kingdom of Israel from the Promised Land.
4. There was sorrow when about a 100 years later, Nebuchadnezzar raided the southern kingdom of Judah and carried away the Jews into 70 years captivity in Babylon after destroying the Temple Solomon built.
5. There was sorrow preceding, during and immediately after the years of siege and the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in AD70.
And so Israel as a nation died. Satan was happy; the camp of the wicked entered into a frenzy of rejoicing. The plan of God has been aborted. “And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees” (Lk 21:29). God’s Plan of Redemption for the world is through the instrumentality of Israel. “Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gen 12:1-3).
The god of this age is enraged against the descendants of Jacob. The people of Israel have had a chequered history; peace and prosperity when they are obedient to God and chastisement whenever apostasy creeps into the nation’s life. The remembrance of Israel was like dry bones in a valley. The enemies of the Jews were not satisfied. In Hitler, a vigorous near-successful attempt was made ‘to put an end to Zionism.’ That was partly because in an Israeli named Hertzel began a move to revive Israeli nationalism and return to their homeland. Centuries earlier God, whose word cannot return to Him void, spoke through Prophet Ezekiel. Even though the house of Israel was like a valley of very dry bones, He will revive them and bring them back to the land He gave their father, Abraham.
A careful study of the Bible will reveal a murderous trend against Israel. Because God has chosen her above all other nations of the world, there is this trailing spirit intent on decapitating the Jews so that Israel would fail to produce the Messiah, but having done so, be destroyed in order not to enter into the glorious future envisioned for her.
The rebirth of Israel has brought a lot of sorrow to Satan and his sons. Satan and his agents induced the following situations:
1. While a sojourner in Egypt Satan planted Hagar in the household of Abraham in order to corrupt the Seed of the woman who would bless the whole world.
2. Sexual sins in the kingly line. Reuben slept with his father’s wife and lost the kingship, priesthood and double portion. Judah, who inherited the kingship, married a foreigner and eventually committed incest with his daughter-in-law thereby delaying the first coming of Christ by generations. David, Ammon, Absalom and Solomon were affected by the same trailing spirit. This lewdness led to the splitting of the kingdom of Israel into two. The result was abominable idolatry and witchcraft down the line that led to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.
3. The spirit that controlled Haman wanted to exterminate the Jews in Babylonian captivity and not just one man, Modecai who allegedly offended the Agagite.
4. King Herod ordered the execution of children aged two years and under in a bid to get at newly-born King of the Jews, the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. The Sanhedrin and the Romans crucified the Lord of glory without knowing that Calvary’s Cross was part of God’s Plan of Salvation of humankind.
6. Roman soldiers were ruthless in destroying the Jews, Jerusalem and the Temple of God in AD70. Israeli remnants were dispersed to different part of the world. The intention was to remove Israel permanently from the Middle East by presuming that they would lose their language, culture, religion and contact with their God.
7. Hitler organized a near-successful pogrom against the Jews in Diaspora during WW II. Over six million Jews perished in the world’s worst persecution of a people.
8. Israel’s Arab neighbors have made it clear that they want to push the Jewish people into the Mediterranean Sea.
9. The official policy of the Palestinian Authority, Iran, Syria and their allies is ‘there is no Israel.’
10. Several countries including the Roman Catholic Church have expressed willingness to recognize the Palestinian State even before it is officially established.
Every Jew knows that God has made an irrevocable promise to establish His Kingdom on earth under the headship of His Son, the Messiah and greater Son of David according to the flesh where Jews would be preferred citizens. They knew that the Davidic covenant had not been fulfilled. Jesus must have perceived that what He was saying was not palatable to His Jewish brethren. The paradox was that Peter under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit had earlier declared that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Son of the God of Israel. Jesus went on to elaborate on the various signs that would occur before His return. He assured them that the Fig Tree would bud again. The disciples understood that He was talking about the nation of Israel because He had earlier confirmed the ancient prophecies that the Jews would be dispersed to the four winds of the earth for rejecting her Messiah.
The prophets of old prophesied also about re-gathering the Jews back to the Promised Land in the latter days. Even that did not assuage their disappointment. Even after expanding their commission prior to His ascension to take the good news, not to Jews alone but to the whole world, they still asked Jesus: “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).
The disciples felt privileged to know that Jesus, the Messiah had come to establish the Davidic Kingdom. Till today, unbelieving Jews are looking forward to the coming of the Seed of the woman promised to Abraham to save Israel from her woes and restore peace, justice and equity. The incentive to the Jewish girl to remain a virgin until marriage is the hope of being the mother of the Messiah. Jesus did not talk to the disciples at this time about the Church. He rather referred them to the prophecy given by Daniel concerning Jewish end time:
“Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city … after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined. Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.”
Part of this prophecy has been fulfilled. A ‘week’ is equivalent to seven years. There are 490 years altogether in this prophecy. AD70 marked the 483rd year with the happening of two events: ‘Messiah shall be cut off but not for Himself’’ Jesus was crucified, buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Secondly, ‘the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary.’ General Titus led the Roman soldiers that destroyed the Temple, burned down the structures and dispersed the Jews to different parts of the world as fugitives. From that time until May 1948, there was no nation of Israel.
For the last one week of seven years to come to pass, there must be a state known as Israel and Jerusalem must be in Jewish hands. So, Jesus gave them the parable of the Fig Tree and told His followers to expect birthpangs. “A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world“ (Jn 16:21).