Peace in the Middle East? Part 2

This post will be fairly technical and targeted especially for Christians interested in end time theology. It will seek to answer the question “What will identify the beginning of the end times? Our answer will be, “the establishment of a significant treaty between many nations centred around Israel”. This post will seek to answer this question as simply as possible. It will suggest that the emerging, current context of conflict, tension and power alignment discussed in part 1 may well lead to a treaty signalling the beginning of the end times so we should watch and pray with heightened alertness.

For many reasons outside the scope of this post to investigate fully, it is possible to show that the unfolding events in the history of Israel form a means by which we can discern the timeline of God’s plan. In other words, we can see where we are in God’s plan today by what is happening to Israel. From this we can infer that we are not in the end times yet, but we are approaching them and we are near. We make a distinction between the last days which begins with Pentecost about 30 AD and spans the whole church age and the end times which is associated with the emergence of the end of the age ruler (sometimes called the anti-Christ). We understand that the key verses that mark that starting point (although it would take too long to explain the reason for that here) are Daniel 9:26-27 from the seventy sevens prophecy.

Our understanding of this prophecy is different from many. An earlier post explains why the periods of seven are not periods of seven years. We also indicated that the Hebrew text of Daniel 9:24-27 is highly ambiguous. We believe the reason for this ambiguity is intentional for these verses are highly structured so that they can form a template whose interpretation only makes sense when slotted into their correct contexts. And there are three contexts which fit; we call them scenarios! The fact that it is structured should be expected since scholars now know that Hebrew text is often structured and that the structure carries substantial meaning and clues to its interpretation. Discerning that structure, if present, is therefore of critical importance. So I want to write these verses in a way that exposes their structure.

The final two verses make a statement about a covenant for the final period of seven preceded and succeeded by a tri-colon. To explain this, Hebrew text can contain multiple lines (or colons) in a thought unit. These lines each add to the thought and can be parallel, inverted parallel, opposite or in other kinds of related thoughts. If there are two lines it is a bi-colon, if three a tri-colon and so on. The bi-colon is usually unmarked, but if the writer wants to vary from this to serve some special discourse function, he will usually mark the thought unit in some way. For example, we see that Psalm 1:1 is a tri-colon marked by the phrase “Blessed is the man”, whose three following thoughts identify characteristics he does not have.

In Daniel 9:26-27 we claim the author does this by beginning the two tri-colons with a time phrase. Typical of Hebrew writing, the most important thought is in the middle rather than at the beginning. Here that central thought is framed by the two tri-colons, each of which contains an opening time phrase followed by three balanced and matching phrases.

Daniel 9:26
After sixty-two sevens
(A) an anointed one will be cut off and will have nothing.
(B) People of a coming ruler will devastate the city and the sanctuary and its end will be with a flood.
(C) Until an end of warfare, desolations are decreed.

Daniel 9:27a
And he will make a strong covenant with the many for one seven.

Daniel 9:27b
From the middle of this seven
(A) sacrifice and offering will be made to cease,
(B) and upon a wing desolating abominations,
(C) until an end which is decreed will pour out on the desolator.

Careful consideration of the three lines in the thought unit shows that they are related; the cutting off of the anointed one with ceasing of the sacrifice and offering, the devastation of the city and sanctuary with the desolating abomination and the continuation of the effects of these things until the end. The two time phrases identify a period of time which must be within the period of the final seven and so the events in the tri-colons must be concurrent. It is also apparent that Daniel 9:26 deals with physical effects whereas Daniel 9:27b is associated with religious ones.

This structure is highly significant and to our knowledge has not been recognised before. We’d be delighted if it was accepted, but our expectation is that it will produce many objections. For one, it challenges those who interpret the passage as describing events in chronological order. Our conviction is that the heart of the message is the middle statement which is framed by two statements which are chronologically in parallel, because the first statement is fulfilled after sixty two sevens which must therefore be within the final seven and the other occurs in the middle of that seven. The two statements outline the events which will occur within that seven, whereas the middle statement indicates that the strong covenant is put in place at the beginning of the seven, not the middle of it as some interpret. This structure is quite typical of Hebrew literature as explained above, although in this case it has some unique features.

In general, the prophecy is focused on the survival of Israel and the answer to Daniel’s prayer although it will take a long time and Israel will suffer greatly in the process. If you study commentaries on Daniel you will find that the prophecy is usually interpreted so that the “coming ruler” in Daniel 9:26 is one of three authorities, (1) the end of the age ruler or (2) Antiochus IV or (3) a Roman general. In our view, the prophecy is written as a template which can be applied to all three authorities and which then leads to three distinct scenarios . Each covers a period of time when Israel’s survival in the Promised Land was severely threatened. So rather than being applied to just one of the three authorities identified above, all three are covered. In all scenarios, the crisis is in the final period of seven. In the first two scenarios, the final seven is short although not seven years. The final seven in the first scenario is still future and will be the worst and will begin when the end of the age ruler appears and the strong covenant will then identify the beginning of the end times. The second scenario was completed when Antiochus IV attempted to impose Hellenism on the Jews before he died in 163 BC. In the third scenario, the whole period of Jewish history starting with the return from exile to the end of the age is covered, with a focus is on rebuilding Jerusalem, the persecution and scattering of the Jews under Rome, the death of Jesus, and the Jews survival through a long period of difficult times.

When Daniel received God’s answer in Daniel 9, he only knew of one scenario to which it could be applied; that was the message he was given in Daniel 8. In the final vision, he was given the other two which can be identified by the phrase “the abomination that causes desolation”. Interestingly, this phrase is plural in Daniel 9:27, but singular in Daniel 11:31 and Daniel 12:11.

The reason we cover all this is in order to explain that only in the first scenario is the final seven still future. The “he will make a strong covenant with the many for one seven” in Daniel 9:27a is what initiates the end times and is therefore a crucial event still in the future whose occurrence will mark a key synchronism between current affairs and God’s plan revealed in the Bible.

Let’s examine Daniel 9:27a for this first scenario. Note there are at least 3 ambiguities that can lead to different interpretations, (1) the identification of the “he”, (2) the identification of the many and (3) the length of the period of one seven.

Firstly, who is the “he”? Normal grammar would connect it to the previous, immediate antecedent which in this case is the coming prince who will devastate the city and the sanctuary. The parallelism between phrase “B” in Daniel 9:26 and Daniel 9:27b suggests that the devastation occurs in the middle of the final seven and causes worship to cease. We connect this to what Jesus said in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 which speaks of a coming invasion of the location of the sanctuary which should cause God’s people to flee Jerusalem in urgent haste. So the “he” in this scenario is the end of the age ruler.

Secondly, who are the “many”? Our conviction is that these are many nations and the “he” will be the leader of one of them, but he does not necessarily have to come from the most powerful of those nations.

Thirdly, with regard to the length of the final seven, if we connect this scenario to Daniel 8 we are told there that following the defilement of the location of the sanctuary there will be 2,300 evenings and mornings until the end of the little horn. This is most likely to indicate that the period is literal 24 hour days which equates to about 6.3 years. The overall period of the final seven would therefore be perhaps 10 to 20 years since the defilement of the temple location is somewhere in the middle of this seven.

By the way, in our understanding of this scenario, the anointed one cut off in Daniel 9:26a is the nation of Israel. In this respect, it is most enlightening to read Isaiah 53 as a prophecy with dual fulfilment, applying to Jesus at His first coming and to Israel in the end times.

So the key event we are looking for is a major treaty involving many nations probably including Israel although that is not essential from the text. To me this will signal the beginning of the end times. Of course, the treaty could be initiated for many reasons, so we will have to wait and see what happens. We will also need to discern whether the treaty has the right stature and significance, because Bible prophecy is quite high level. This may only be possible after a period of time. It will also give us clues as to the identity of the “he”.

The discussion about a treaty initiated by the U.S. and Russia to bring peace to Syria, also involving many Middle Eastern countries, may lead to a major treaty with the right stature to be this key event. We must watch and pray because the end times could soon be upon us.

I believe that if a treaty occurs soon, for whatever reason, many Christians will miss its significance for a while because of their end time theology. This will be particularly true for those who see the rapture occurring seven years before Jesus returns. The situation will not be unlike the Jews during Jesus’ first coming who expected the Messiah to overthrow Rome and take world wide authority. Because their interpretation of the Bible was wrong, they failed to recognise who Jesus really was. It may also be missed by those with a dominion slant, because they are expecting the church to embrace the world and God’s kingdom to be established on earth before Jesus returns. We are in interesting times!

Thus, in these days, we need to be alert and on the watch and prayerfully seek to understand what is happening so we can guide our people through the coming crises. We must also weigh up events and be alert to what the Spirit is saying so we rightly understand what is happening. That is why we must test our understanding very carefully with the word of God and hold onto what is good.

The permission of God to allow Satan to carry out damage is significant in the book of Revelation. It stems from God allowing mankind to reap what they have sown. God’s grace operates to prevent wars and disasters occurring until the appointed time. Satan continually tries to throw God off His plan and precipitate conflict He does not desire. In part, this is one of the lessons we can learn from Daniel and Revelation especially.

The outcomes of the evolving tensions in the Middle East are having significant impact on the alignments of major powers. Some have not yet shown their hand, but they are certainly watching very closely and will act if their own security is threatened. The outcome of a major treaty seems very possible. In all of this, it is hard to envisage the terrible suffering of civilians especially in Syria. So this is also God’s opportunity as many turn to Him in their desperate cry for help. This is how I believe we should pray. It is the salvation of as many as possible that is at the centre of God’s heart.

In all this turmoil, God’s mercy is available to everyone no matter how evil they have been. Anyone who calls on the name of The Lord will be saved. This is what we must pray. Also, when peace comes to Syria, there may be open doors for a short time in a narrow window. We need to stay alert.

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