Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, December 5, 2021  (8 candles at sunset)
Shavuah Tov,

A Conversation with Yeshua – When Will He Return? (Part 4) by Dr. Raymond Finney

INTRODUCTION: I continue Yeshua’s important prophetic teaching, known as the Olivet Discourse. This conversation Yeshua had with His disciples on the Mount of Olives prophesied signs of His return and the nearing of the end of the Age of Grace.

PERSECUTION: Another sign of the end of the Age of Grace is persecution (Matthew 24:9-13): [Yeshua said] “Then they will hand you over to persecution and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of My name. And then many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one other. Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

● Be thankful that you are hated: God’s people– Jews and Believers/ Christians– have been hated for many centuries. Although humans spout the hateful speech and accomplish the evil deeds, such hatred comes from Satan (Genesis 3:15a): [Adonai Elohim said] “I will put animosity between you and the woman– between your seed and her seed….”Be overjoyed that you are hated. If you do not worship the true God and if you do not follow the true Savior, you would not evoke Satan’s notice, much less his hatred. If you followed a false god (Satan), Satan would be your friend.

Believers have been under attack from the very beginning of Yeshua’s Community (Church) on the Day of Pentecost in ca AD 33 (read Acts, chapter 2).

● Stephen, the first martyr: Stephen, one of the seven deacons of the early church in Jerusalem, supervised church benevolence (read Acts 6:5); was a powerful preacher (read Acts 7:2); was full of faith and the Ruach ha-Kodesh (read Acts 6:5), wisdom (read Acts 6:3, 10), and power (read Acts 6:8, 15); and possessed fullness of love (read Acts 7:60) and faith (read Acts 7:56). Stephen was martyred for his faith in ca AD 34 (Acts 7:54-60): When they [Jews in Jerusalem] heard these things, they became enraged and began gnashing their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Ruach ha-Kodesh, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God– and Yeshua standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears; and crying out with a loud voice, they rushed at him with one impulse. Driving him out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he was calling out, “Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit!” Then he fell on his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” After he said this, he died.

Stephen was one of the first Christian martyrs, and the first martyr named in the B’rit Chadashah. Notice in this passage that Stephen saw Yeshua standing. Yeshua is usually described as sitting at the right hand of the Father (Matthew 26:64, Mark 14:62). Being seated to the right was a sign of honor to ancient Jews. Did Yeshua stand out of respect for Stephen’s martyrdom (the equivalent of our “standing O”) and out of respect for the millions of martyrs who would follow him?

In this passage, we read of a young man, Saul, who guarded the garments of those who stoned Stephen. As Saul, he consented to– encouraged–  Stephen’s death (read Acts 8:1) and zealously persecuted early Believers (read Acts 8:3-4). This young man would later become a Believer and have his name changed to Paul. As Paul, he tirelessly spread the Gospel and wrote the major portion of our B’rit Chadashah.

Paul would later lament his role in the martyrdom of Stephen and other Believers (Acts 22:19-20): [Paul confessed] “And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another, I was imprisoning and beating those trusting in You. Even when the blood of Your witness Stephen was spilled, I too was standing by and approving, and guarding the clothing of those who were killing him.’”

Paul would later (AD 67 or 68) also be martyred by beheading for his faith in Yeshua as Savior. A sixteenth century English historian, John Foxe, wrote a book about early martyrdom, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (https://www.ccel.org/f/foxe/martyrs/home.html).  Foxe recorded the horrible deaths of some early Believers. All of Yeshua’s apostles were martyred except for John, who died in old age in Roman imprisonment. Every Believer should read Foxe’s book to appreciate more about the costs of our faith and examples of faithfulness even unto death.

SIDELIGHT: A martyr is a person killed because of his/ her belief, especially a religious belief. “Martyr” comes from the Greek μάρτυς (martus), translated as “witness” or “testifier.” A martyr is a witness of unshakable faith, who is willing to forfeit his/ her most valuable possession– life– for that faith. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs explains that any early Believer/ Christian martyr would have been spared a horrible death, if only he/ she would recant (deny) the testimony that Yeshua was the Son of God, was crucified, and was raised to life. There is no record that any Believer/ Christian denied Yeshua. To the contrary, these men and women willingly died as a witness for Him. Roman eyewitness accounts indicate the soldiers were amazed at how joyfully the Believers marched to their deaths as witnesses for HaMashiach. I would not die for a false Messiah. Would you? Would early Believers have all died needlessly for a fraud? Do their testimonies strengthen your faith? Do their testimonies embolden you? Did they all know something we also need to know? END sidelight.

● Roman Empire persecution: The Roman Empire tried to eliminate HaMashiach’s Community of Believers through nearly two centuries of horrendous persecution. In AD 312, Emperor Constantine the Great added Yeshua to Rome’s pantheon and declared  Christianity an (an, not the) official religion of Rome. Constantine’s actions stopped the persecution (good effect), but the entanglement of church and state– the Roman government– created new problems (bad effect). During the Roman persecution, the Church (Body of Believers) grew faster than the Romans could martyr Christians.

● The Dark Ages: During the Dark Ages, Christians turned on themselves, as a corrupt Catholic Church sought to stop the Protestant Reformation, but the Church remained intact and grew.

● Modern persecution: In the past century, enemies of Yeshua HaMashiach– primarily Muslims– have tried to remove Christians from “their” land through forced conversions to Islam or death, but faith in Yeshua has grown steadily in these areas. Unfortunately, non-Muslims, even in America, are now trying to remove Yeshua from our society.

● Satan… no match for God: The harder Satan in the past has persecuted or now persecutes God’s people, the more resolute and numerous Believers have become! And, of course, the Jews have always been terribly persecuted throughout history.

● The final battle: The Holy Bible (in large part, the books of Daniel and The Revelation) tells of an evil government during the seven-year Tribulation. This government may gain a foothold or credibility through the United Nations or other globalist organizations. This one-world government, headed by the Antichrist and the False Prophet in league with Satan, will be established to accomplish Satan’s bidding and to oppose the Holy Trinity.

Before the Tribulation begins, according to the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Theory, Believers will be removed from the Earth by the Rapture. (Other theories, with different rapture schedules or even no rapture, exist.) God will not leave the Earth without hope, though, and He will raise up144,000 Jewish evangelists and the Two Witnesses to proclaim His Gospel message of grace (salvation through faith in Yeshua’s blood sacrifice) throughout the world. A great multitude of persons will be converted to faith in Yeshua during this time. The Antichrist’s government will ruthlessly hunt down these recently converted Believers, and they will be martyred (murdered).

All pieces of the puzzle are falling into place to fulfill the prophetic scenario of the last days. For reasons I will discuss in a future RR, the end of the Age of Grace may occur in the near future.

Consider these facts: Some students suggest the Antichrist may arise from the European Union. Although dysfunctional and deeply in debt at the moment, Europe is building a powerful federation of nations. Europe is mostly apostate, with little practice of Judeo-Christianity in many countries and with anti-Christian hostility in some countries. Europe’s long-standing anti-Semitism is intensifying. Europe is increasingly becoming allied with Islamic nations, which hate Jews and Christians. In America, the Judicial System, the State Department, many members of Congress, many members of the media, university professors, and members of the entertainment community are strongly biased against Christianity. (Such bias is called “Christianophobia.”)

The world is ready for the Antichrist and the unmerciful persecution of Jews and Believers he will unleash. Satan will execute his plan for a few years, until he is defeated by Yeshua HaMashiach, King of kings and Lord of lords, at Yeshua’s Second Coming! In a future RR, I will discuss the coming great apostasy (falling away from faith).

JUDEO-CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION TODAY AND DURING THE TRIBULATION: Statistics on Christian martyrdom are difficult to obtain. Several groups try to maintain databases of martyrs. Even so, statistics are estimates, at best.

It is estimated that more than 72-million Christians have been martyred since Stephen. More than 100,000 Christians are thought to be martyred yearly. (Other sources provide different estimates.)

More than 340-million Believers live under persecution for their faith in the world today. Our government and the godless United Nations remain mostly silent about Christian martyrdom. (To me, their attitude seems to be: “After all, they’re only mostly poor Christians. So, why should we worry? Let’s focus our attention on social and environmental issues. Let’s save the Earth, not Christians. By caring for the Earth, we will make Gaia, the Earth goddess, proud.”) The preceding hypothetical sentiment is not as far-fetched, as it may seem. Untold millions of people throughout the world are more concerned with Nature (which must be protected at all costs), than they are concerned with people (which are expendable, because there are too many people). All of us probably want to conserve the natural habitat and keep it as pristine as possible, but be careful in following many environmentalists. Follow teachings of ministers of the Gospel, not teachings of Greta Thunberg.

The Antichrist will kill untold millions of God’s people during the Tribulation. Their cries will rise up to God to form the Fifth Seal Judgment (Revelation 6:9-11): When the Lamb [Yeshua] opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those slaughtered for the sake of the word of God and for the witness they had. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “O Sovereign Master, holy and true, how long before You judge those who dwell on the earth and avenge our blood?” Then a white robe was given to each of them, and they were told to rest a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants was complete– their brothers and sisters who were to be killed as they had been.

Interestingly, these martyrs will be murdered by beheading (read Revelation 20:4). Beheading is a favorite method of killing Believers and Jews today by Islamic terrorists. Will Muslims be influential in the Antichrist’s government? The ten most dangerous nations for Believers/ Christians (in descending order) are: North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Yemen, Iran, Nigeria, and India. Christian genocidal cleansing is actively practiced in some of these countries.

MARTYRDOM REWARDED BY YESHUA: Yeshua knew a great deal about being hated and suffering martyrdom (John 15:18-19): [Yeshua said] “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But you are not of the world, since I have chosen you out of the world; therefore the world hates you.”

When you lose something in service for the Lord, much more will some day be given to you. An example is the Crown of Life for Believer Martyrs, as promised in Revelation 2:10: [Yeshua said] “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, so that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Yeshua promised a special reward (a “crown”) for anyone who loses his/ her life because of faith in Him. When a martyr comes to his/ her Bema Judgment, being awarded the Crown of Life and, perhaps, a “Thank you for your faithfulness” from Yeshua will far outweigh any persecution or martyrdom suffered in this earthly life.

Watch for these possible future events, as we rush toward the Tribulation:

● Persecution of God’s people– Believers/Christians and Jews– from Islamic terrorists, atheists, Communists, even our own countrymen, and others will increase.

● In nations which claim freedom of religion (for example, the United States under the First Amendment), nonlethal anti-Believer/ anti-Jewish hatred will increase. There is a sequence of attitudes and events which may ultimately lead to martyrdom:

□ mockery  ►

□ ostracism (shunning, exclusion)  ►

□ discrimination ►

□ harassment  ►

□ persecution ►

□ martyrdom.

Probably all of us have experienced the early stages of this sequence. I have. Students at many universities and colleges frequently experience the anti-religious bigotry of their “learned” professors.

If you have Yeshua, you should not miss being shunned or mocked by enemies of the cross (1 John 4:4-6): You are from God, children, and you have overcome them, because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world, so they speak from the world and the world listens to them. We are from God; whoever knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

● People with some degree of authority and community standing (for example, university/ college professors, so-called journalists/ commentators, politicians, and business persons) will continue to mock and/ or discriminate against Yeshua, Believers, and persons with conservative ideals (those with a “guns and Bible mentality”). We have been forewarned such persecution will happen. Expect this bigotry from those who are choosing to spend eternity in Hell, but stand fast in your faith and beliefs, rejoicing that you have chosen eternity in Heaven. A fair and just God allows each person to choose his or her eternal life, whether in Heaven or in Hell.

● Expect Yeshua HaMashiach to be viciously demeaned and ridiculed by His enemies, but, sadly, few Believers will rise to His defense. Have you ever heard Yeshua or His followers demeaned? Did you offer any defense? Did you protest? Maybe not. Most of us tend to stand by and watch our Yeshua and our fellow Believers mocked and harassed without protesting.

In this regard, consider quotations of three men:

(1) Edmund Burke (Irish statesman, 1729-1797): “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

(2) Martin Niemöller (anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor, 1892-1984), speaking of the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, which he personally witnessed: “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

If someone attacks your brother or sister in Yeshua because of his/ her faith, how long will it be before you are attacked because of your faith?

(3) The Apostle Jacob, misnamed James (James 4:17): Therefore whoever knows the right thing to do and does not do it– for him it is sin.

POSTSCRIPT: In the preceding text, I mentioned the historical truth of the inexplicable growth of the Body of Believers, when persecuted. Bill and Gloria Gaither have written a popular song about persecuted Believers, “The Church Triumphant.” I print below the narration in the song. You may hear a performance of this work (both music and narration) at: Bill & Gloria Gaither – The Church Triumphant (Live) – YouTube

NARRATION: “Let the Church be the Church. Let the people rejoice for we’ve settled the question.  We’ve made our choice. Let the anthems ring out, songs of victory swell. For the Church triumphant, is alive and well.

“You know, this ship’s been through battles before. The storms and the tempests and all the rocks on the shore. Though the hull may be battered, inside it’s safe and dry.

It’s gonna carry its cargo to the port in the sky.
“God has always had a people. Many a foolish conqueror has made the mistake of thinking that because he had forced the church of Jesus Christ out of sight, he had stilled its voice and snuffed out its life, but God has always had a people. The powerful current of a rushing river is not diminished because it’s forced to flow underground.

“Now the purest water is the stream that bursts crystal clear into the sunlight after it has forced its way through solid rock. There have been charlatans who like Simon the Magician sought to barter on the open market that power which cannot be bought or sold, but God has always had a people. Men who could not be bought and women who were beyond purchase. God has always had a people.

There have been times of affluence and prosperity when the Church’s message has been nearly diluted into oblivion by those who sought to make it socially attractive, neatly organized, financially profitable, but God has always had a people. Yes, it’s been gold plated, draped in purple and encrusted with jewels. It has been misrepresented, ridiculed, lauded and scorned, but God has always had a people.

And these followers of Jesus Christ have been, according to the whim of the times, elevated as sacred leaders and modern heretics. Yet through it all, their march is in that powerful army of the meek. God’s chosen people who cannot be bought, bartered, murdered, or stilled. On through the ages they march, the Church! God’s Church triumphant

“Listen child of God, its alive. Discouraged pastor, it’s His Church and it’s still alive. Lonely missionary, sow that seed with confidence. The Church is still alive. Old saint, you’re not alone or forgotten. The Church is still alive. Its alive my brokenhearted friend, it’s still alive. Busy mothers, just keep trusting in Jesus, the Church is alive.

You’re not alone out there, just keep looking to Jesus. The Church is alive. And faithful fathers, there’s rest in the Lord. God’s Church is still alive. So family of God, lift your hands, lift your hands and praise the Lord. The Church, God’s Church triumphant, is alive, it’s alive my friends. Alive and well.” END narration.

Why is Yeshua’s Body of Believers still alive after all it has endured? A partial answer may be in the poorly translated word for Church. “Church” has been chosen for the B’rit Chadashah Greek word ἐκκλησίαν (ekklēsian– the origin for “ecclesiastical,” etc.), which literally means “[the body of] the called out [ones].” God will not let His wishes fail (multiple Scriptural citations). If you and I are in this Body of Yeshua, we have been called out of the world to accomplish certain things– even small things– for God.

● The ekklesian is NOT the denominational Church, bound by catechisms, creeds, and rituals (Roman Catholic Church, for example).

● The ekklesian is NOT a geographical reference point or a building used for religious meetings (“one block from the First Baptist Church,” for example).

● The ekklesian is NOT an ornate tourist attraction (“I took beautiful photographs of St. Peter’s Basilica,” for example).

● No, the ekklesian IS the people who meet together to worship and serve God (read Hebrews 10:24-25, etc.). In the ekklesian (the congregation of persons called out of the world to serve God), the Holy Trinity may find people who are willing to serve and worship God, even if persecuted and martyred.

● It is from the TRUE ekklesian that the Holy Trinity will find the remnant of Believers– called out Believers– who will serve faithfully during the Tribulation. Prepare yourself now that you will be worthy to be found acceptable for service in that blessed remnant.

We are in the world, but not supposed to be of the world (1 John 2:15-16). Individually, we may fail; collectively, we, with our believing brothers and sisters, shall succeed. Yeshua and God’s prophets have solemnly prophesied our certain victory. Be assured that we shall not fail. Our ultimate victory is Adonai’s plan. Shalom and Maranatha.

Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
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