God’s Great Surprise

by Lois Tverberg

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. – Malachi 4:5

Many of the prophecies that describe the coming of the Messiah also describe a time of judgment by God. For instance, in Luke 1:17, the angel tells the father of John the Baptist that John “will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children.” The angel was quoting a prophecy from Malachi which says,

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. (Mal. 4:5-6)

Jesus baptized by JohnThe Malachi passage appears to describe the “great and terrible day of the Lord” as coming right at the time of Elijah. John the Baptist knew Scriptures well, and in his ministry we hear him preaching that judgment is right around the corner, in accordance with his Scriptures.

These prophecies are also the reason why John sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?” John knew he was to be the “messenger” prophesied in Malachi 3, and he had expectations for the one coming after him:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap… So I will come near to you for judgment. (Malachi 3:1-2, 4-5)

John’s question for Jesus came from the fact that Jesus wasn’t fulfilling prophecy as he expected. It appears he was thinking that Jesus would be a mighty warrior who would destroy the wicked, including those who had imprisoned him. Jesus replies by quoting other prophecies about the Messiah, that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Luke 7:22-23). John probably still believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was asking the question to show how perplexed he was at how Jesus fulfilled prophecy.

Often Christians say that Jesus’ people rejected him as Messiah because they just wanted a political leader, not a spiritual leader. It is more likely that many rejected him because he did not fit their reading of prophecy. Even Jesus’ disciples were waiting for him to announce when he would begin the war and they would take their thrones to reign in power. God surprised everyone, even the most faithful, in the coming of Jesus.

It should humble us to realize that he does not use our logic to fulfill prophecy, and should make us very careful to say we have definitive knowledge about the future from Bible prophecy. Jesus said of his second coming, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mark 13:32).


Photo: Lawrence OP

Always Ready

by Lois Tverberg

“Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. “Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them…You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” Luke 12:36-37, 40

A friend recently told me of his belief that a certain Middle East city would be utterly wiped out in the near future because of how he read Bible prophecy. But the potential death of thousands of people didn’t seem to be much of a concern to him – just that he was excited about “knowing” the future. It seems like we have watched so many gory movies that the suffering of others doesn’t seem real enough to horrify us.

Many folks are fascinated with understanding world events in the light of end-times scenarios. We feel secure by feeling we have an understanding of the story being played out before us, and we get a thrill when a Middle East headline fits our reading of Revelation. But this excitement about end-times can develop into a callous “spectator mentality” that is numb to the suffering of others.

Dog waitsJesus speaks several times about the end times too, and he said of his second coming, “of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” (Mark 13:32). He reminds us that our attempts at date-setting are futile, because not even he knows. But when Jesus talks about being ready for his return like the servants waiting for their master, what does he mean?

Jesus’ parable is to remind us that we need to always be mindful of the fact that he will return to judge, and that we should be faithful at all times because of it. We shouldn’t say to ourselves that if we abandon our walk with the Lord that we can just fix things later, because “later” may not come. All of us should have a special urgency to share the gospel and live lives that are a witness to Christ, that we will be found faithful when he arrives.


Photo: Nicolas Nova

The Battle of Armageddon

by Pastor Ed Visser

Then they gathered the kings together at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. – Revelation 16:16

Apocalypse. Judgment Day. The End Times. Armageddon. Most students of the Bible know it as the place where the cataclysmic battle between forces of good and forces of evil will unfold. Some believe that this battle will take place soon. But few know that Armageddon is a real place—one that has seen more fighting and bloodshed than any other spot on the earth.

Jezreel Valley from Mt Carmel

The name Armageddon is a corruption of the Hebrew phrase Har Megiddo, and it means “Mount of Megiddo.” More than thirty bloody conflicts have been fought at the ancient site of Megiddo and adjacent areas in the Jezreel Valley during the past 4000 years: Egyptians, Israelites, Greeks, Muslims, Crusaders, Mongols, British, Germans, Arabs, and Israelis have all fought and died here. The names of the warring leaders echo through history: Thutmose III, Deborah, Gideon, Saul & Jonathan, Ahab & Jezebel, Saladin, Napoleon, and Allenby, to name but the most famous (for more, cf. Eric Cline’s The Battles of Armageddon, Univ. of Michigan Press, 2000). Throughout history Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley have been ground zero for battles that determined the very course of civilization. No wonder that John, author of Revelation, envisions Armageddon to be the place of the final battle of good and evil on earth.

What makes this area so suited for battle? The Jezreel Valley is one of the few and largest pieces of flat land in Israel, prerequisite for ancient warfare with horses and chariots. The farm belt of Israel, this valley would be wet and muddy throughout the rainy season (late fall – early spring), thus unavailable for war. This is why the Bible talks of spring, following the rainy season, as the time kings go off to war (cf. 2 Samuel 11:1). From late spring to early fall, conditions were ideal.

The Jezreel Valley is guarded by mountains (hills, at least) nearly all the way around. Certain mountain passes were the only entry points. Whoever could take the high ground was usually assured victory. One of the most popular but treacherous routes was the Wadi ‘Ara, which passes under Megiddo. This location became the “mother of all battle fields” in Israel. Because of this, when John envisions a final battle between good and evil, Megiddo is the most logical place. This location is also prophesied in Zechariah 12:11 as the place where Yahweh will finally defeat his enemies.

Will an actual final battle take place here? Quite unlikely, given its small size. But symbolically, it is just the place!