Examining an Ancient Pre-Trib Rapture Statement

by Thomas Ice

All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins. -Pseudo-Ephraem (c. 374-627)

Critics of pretribulationism sometimes state that belief in the rapture is a doctrinal development of recent origin. They argue that the doctrine of the rapture or any semblance of it was completely unknown before the early 1800s and the writings of John Nelson Darby. One of the most vocal and sensational critics of the rapture is Dave MacPherson, who argues that, "during the first 18 centuries of the Christian era, believers were never 'Rapture separaters' [sic]; they never separated the minor Rapture aspect of the Second Coming of Christ from the Second Coming itself."1

A second critic, John Bray, also vehemently opposes a pretribulational rapture, writing, "this teaching is not a RECOVERY of truth once taught and then neglected. No, it never was taught-for 1800 years nearly no one knew anything about such a scheme."2 More recently, pre-trib opponent Robert Van Kampen proclaimed, "The pretribulational rapture position with its dual parousias was unheard of in church history prior to 1830."3 In our previous issue of Pre-Trib Perspectives, I noted that pre-wrath advocate Marvin Rosenthal has also joined the chorus.4

Christian reconstructionists have also consistently and almost universally condemned premillennialism and pretribulationism, favoring instead, postmillen-nialism. One sample of their prolific and often vitri-olic opposition can be seen in Gary North's derisive description of the rapture as "the Church's hoped-for Escape Hatch on the world's sinking ship," which he, like MacPherson, believes was invented in 1830.5

How to Find the Rapture in History

Is pretribulationism as theologically bankrupt as its critics profess, or are there answers to these charges? If there are reasonable answers, then the burden of proof and historical argumentation shifts back to the critics. Rapture critics must acknowledge and interact with the historical and theological evidence.

Rapture critic William Bell has formulated three criteria for establishing the validity of a historical citation regarding the rapture. If any of his three criteria are met, then he acknowledges it is "of crucial importance, if found, whether by direct statement or clear inference." As will be seen, the Pseudo-Ephraem sermon meets not one, but two of his canons, namely, "Any mention that Christ's second coming was to consist of more than one phase, separated by an interval of years," and "any mention that Christ was to remove the church from the earth before the tribulation period."6

Pseudo-Ephraem's Rapture Statement

I vividly remember the phone call at my office late one afternoon from Canadian prophecy teacher and writer Grant Jeffrey.7 He told me that he had found an ancient pre-trib rapture statement. I said, "Let's hear it." He read the following to me over the phone:

All the saints and elect of God are gathered together before the tribulation, which is to come, and are taken to the Lord, in order that they may not see at any time the confusion which overwhelms the world because of our sins.

I said that it sure sounds like a pre-trib statement and began to fire at him all the questions I have since received many times when telling others about the statement from Pseudo-Ephraem's sermon On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World.8 Grant's phone call started me on journey through many of the substantial libraries throughout the Washington, D.C. area in an effort to learn all I could about this historically significant statement. The more information I acquired led me to conclude that Grant is right to conclude that this is a pre-trib rapture statement of antiquity.

Who is Pseudo-Ephraem?

The word "Pseudo" (Greek for false) is a prefix attached by scholars to the name of a famous historical person or book of the Bible when one writes using that name. Pseudo-Ephraem claims that his sermon was written by Ephraem of Nisibis (306-73), considered to be the greatest figure in the history of the Syrian church. He was well-known for his poetics, rejection of rationalism, and confrontations with the heresies of Marcion, Mani, and the Arians. As a poet, exegete, and theologian, his style was similar to that of the Jewish midrashic and targumic traditions and he favored a contemplative approach to spirituality. So popular were his works that in the fifth and sixth centuries he was adopted by several Christian communities as a spiritual father and role model. His many works, some of doubtful authenticity, were soon translated from Syriac into Greek, Armenian, and Latin.

It is not at all unreasonable to expect that a prolific and prominent figure such as Ephraem would have writings ascribed to him. While there is little support for Ephraem as the author of the Sermon on the End of the World, Caspari and Alexander have demonstrated that Pseudo-Ephraem was "heavily influenced by the genuine works of Ephraem."9 What is more difficult, though secondary to the main purpose of this article, is determining the exact date, purpose, location of, and extent of subsequent editorial changes to the sermon.10

Suggestions on the date of the writing of the original sermon range from as early as Wilhelm Bousset's 373 date,11 to Caspari's estimation of sometime between 565 and 627.12 Paul Alexander, after reviewing all the argumentation, favors a date for the final form similar to that suggested by Caspari,13 but Alexander also states simply, "It will indeed not be easy to decide on the matter."14 All are clear that it had to have been written before the advent of Islam.

Pseudo-Ephraem's Sermon

The sermon consists of just under 1500 words, divided into ten sections and has been preserved in four Latin manuscripts. Three of these date from the eighth century and ascribe the sermon to Ephraem. A fourth manuscript from the ninth century, claims not Ephraem, but Isidore of Seville (d. 636) as author.15 Additionally, there are subsequent Greek and Syriac versions of the sermon which have raised questions regarding the language of the original manuscript. On the basis of lexical analysis and study of the biblical citations within the sermon with Latin, Greek, and Syriac versions of the Bible, Alexander believed it most probable that the homily was composed in Syriac, translated first into Greek, and then into Latin from the Greek.16 Regardless of the original language, the vocabulary and style of the extant copies are consistent with the writings of Ephraem and his era. It appears likely that the sermon was written near the time of Ephraem and underwent slight change during subsequent coping.

What is most significant for present-day readers is the fact that the sermon was popular enough to be translated into several languages fairly soon after its composition. The significance of the sermon for us today is that it represents a prophetic view of a pre-trib rapture within the orthodox circles of its day.

The sermon is built around the three themes of the title On the Last Times, the Antichrist, and the End of the World and proceeds chronologically. The fact that the pre-trib statement occurs in section 2, while the antichrist and tribulation are developed throughout the middle sections, followed by Christ's second coming to the earth in the final section supports a pre-trib sequence. This characteristic of the sermon fits the first criteria outlined by William Bell, namely "that Christ's second coming was to consist of more than one phase, separated by an interval of years." Thus, phase one is the rapture statement from section 2; the interval of 3 1/2 years, 42 months, and 1,260 days, said to be the tribulation in sections 7 and 8; the second phase of Christ's return is noted in section 10 and said to take place "when the three and a half years have been completed."17

Why Pseudo-Ephraem's Statement is Pretribulational

After learning of Pseudo-Ephraem's rapture statement, I shared it with a number of colleagues. My favorite approach was to simply read the statement, free of any introductory remarks, and ask what they thought. Every person, whether pre-trib or not, concluded that it was some kind of pre-trib statement. A few thought it was a statement from such pre-trib proponents like John Walvoord orCharles Ryrie. Most noted the clear statement concerning the removal of believers before thetribulation as a reason for thinking the statement pre-trib. This is Bell's second criteria for identifying a pre-trib statement from the past, namely, "any mention that Christ was to remove the church from the earth before the tribulation period." Note the following reasons why this should be taken as a pre-trib statement:

1) Section 2 of the sermon begins with a statement about imminency: "We ought to understand thoroughly therefore, my brothers, what is imminent [Latin "immineat"] or overhanging."18 This is similar to the modern pre-trib view of imminency and considering the subsequent rapture statements supports a pre-trib scenario.

2) As I break down the rapture statement, notice the following observations: "All the saints and elect of God are gathered . . ." Gathered where? A later clause says they "are taken to the Lord." Where is the Lord? Earlier in the paragraph the sermon speaks of "the meeting of the Lord Christ, so that he may draw us from the confusion. . ." Thus the movement is from the earth toward the Lord who is apparently in heaven. Once again, in conformity to a translation scenario found in the pre-trib teaching.

The next phrase says that the gathering takes place "prior to the tribulation that is to come. . ." so we see that the event is pretribulational and the tribulation is future to the time in which Pseudo-Ephraem wrote.

The purpose for the gathering was so that they would not "see the confusion that is to overwhelm the world because of their sins." Here we have the purpose of the tribulation judgments stated and that was to be a time of judgment upon the world because of their sin, thus, the church was to be taken out.

3) Finally, the Byzantine scholar Paul Alexander clearly believed that Pseudo-Ephraem was teaching what we call today a pre-trib rapture. According to Alexander, most Byzantine apocalypses were concerned with how Christians would survive the time of severe persecution by Antichrist. The normal approach given by other apocalyptic texts was a shortening of the time to three and a half years, enabling the survival of some Christians.19 Unlike those texts, this sermon has Christians being removed from the time of tribulation. Alexander observed:

It is probably no accident that Pseudo-Ephraem does not mention the shortening of the time intervals for the Antichrist's persecution, for if prior to it the Elect are 'taken to the Lord,' i.e., participate at least in some measure in beatitude, there is no need for further mitigating action on their behalf. The Gathering of the Elect according to Pseudo-Ephraem is an alternative to the shortening of the time intervals.20

Conclusion

Regardless of what else the writer of this sermon believed, he did believe that all believers would be removed before the tribulation-a pre-trib rapture view. Thus, we have seen that those who have said that there was no one before 1830 who taught the pre-trib rapture position will have to revise their statements by well over 1,000 years. This statement does not prove the pre-trib position, only the Bible can do that, but it should change many people's historical views on the matter.

ENDNOTES

1 Dave MacPherson, The Great Rapture Hoax (Fletcher, NC: New Puritan Library, 1983), 15. For a refutation of MacPherson's charges see Thomas D. Ice, "Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulational Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret Macdonald," Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (1990): 155-68.

2 John L. Bray, The Origin of the Pre-Tribulation Rapture Teaching (Lakeland, FL.: John L. Bray Ministry, 1982), 31-32.

3 Robert Van Kampen, The Sign (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway Books, 1992), 445.

4 Thomas Ice, "Is The Pre-Trib Rapture A Satanic Deception?" Pre-Trib Perspectives (II:1; March 1995):1-3.

5 Gary North, Rapture Fever: Why Dispensationalism is Paralyzed (Tyler, TX.: Institute for Christian Economics, 1993), 105.

6 William E. Bell, "A Critical Evaluation of the Pretribulation Rapture Doctrine in Christian Eschatology" (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1967), 26-27.

7 For more information on the Pseudo-Ephraem statement see Grant R. Jeffrey, Final Warning (Toronto: Frontier Research Publications, 1995). Forthcoming, Timothy Demy and Thomas Ice, "The Rapture and an Early Medieval Citation" Bibliotheca Sacra 152 (July 1995): 300-11. Grant R. Jeffrey, "A Pretribulational Rapture Statement in the Early Medieval Church" in Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, ed., When the Trumpet Sounds: Today's Foremost Authorities Speak Out on End-Time Controversies (Eugene, Or: Harvest House, 1995).

8 Grant Jeffrey found the statement in Paul J. Alexander, The Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, by (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 2.10. The late Alexander found the sermon in C. P. Caspari, ed. Briefe, Abhandlungen und Predigten aus den zwei letzten Jahrhunderten des kirchlichen Altertums und dem Anfang des Mittelaters, (Christiania, 1890), 208-20. This German work also contains Caspari's commentary on the sermon on pages 429-72.

9 Paul J. Alexander, "The Diffusion of Byzantine Apocalypses in the Medieval West and the Beginnings of Joachimism," in Prophecy and Millenarianism: Essays in Honour of Marjorie Reeves, ed. Ann Williams (Essex, U.K. : Longman, 1980), 59.

10 Paul J. Alexander, "Medieval Apocalypses as Historical Sources," American Historical Review 73 (1968): 1017. In this essay Alexander addresses in-depth the historical difficulties facing the interpreter of such texts. To these difficulties, issues of theological interpretation and concern must also be added.

11 W. Bousset, The Antichrist Legend, trans. A. H. Keane (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1896), 33-41. An early date is also accepted by Andrew R. Anderson, Alexander's Gate: Gog and Magog and the Enclosed Nations. Monographs of the Mediaeval Academy of America, no. 5. (Cambridge, MA.: Mediaeval Academy of America, 1932):16-18.

12 Caspari, 437-42.

13 Alexander, Byzantine Apocalyptic Tradition, 147. This leaves the possibility that the work may have been altered or revised prior to the date of the extant manuscripts.

14 Ibid., 145. Earlier, he writes: "All that is certain, is as Caspari pointed out, that it must have been written prior to Heraclius' victories over Sassanid Persia, for the author talks repeatedly of wars between Rome and Persia and such discussions do not make sense after Heraclius' victories and the beginning of the Arab invasions" (144).

15 Ibid., 136-37. The only critical edition is Caspari's which suffers a lack of objectivity in that he relied upon only two of the four extant manuscripts.

16 Ibid., 140-44.

17 Caspari, 219. English citations are taken from a translation of the sermon provided by Cameron

Rhoades, instructor of Latin at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX.

18 Ibid., 210.

19 Alexander, 209.

20 Ibid., 210-11.

The Sacred Mystery of the Trinity

Chapter 6 - The Handwriting of God
by Grant Jeffrey

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." Deuteronomy 6:4

Many Christians and virtually all non-Christians acknowledge that the mystery of the Trinity is the most profound and difficult of all biblical doctrines to understand. During my years at Bible college in Philadelphia, I can remember many late-night conversations with my fellow students as we vainly attempted to come to terms with this difficult concept. As a result of numerous conversations over thirty-five years with both pastors and laymen, I have come to believe that many Christians do not have a clear understanding of the great scriptural truths about the triune nature of God. Unfortunately, many pastors and Bible teachers in our generation have failed to teach this vital doctrine, perhaps because of its obvious difficulty. However, the sad result of this failure is that many Christians are unable to express clearly in either thought or word their understanding of the true nature of God as revealed in the Bible. Surely, we who love God with all our heart and have dedicated our lives to His service need to come to a full, mature understanding of the great biblical truths regarding the nature of God. It is obvious that the only source of true knowledge about God's nature must be found in the genuine written revelation of God, as found in the Holy Scriptures. However, in this study we will also examine the writings of the Early Church about the nature of God. Finally, I will share some fascinating research that will reveal an extraordinary discovery - the greatest of the Jewish rabbis in the years before Jesus was born taught, in the clearest language possible, about the sacred mystery of the Trinity.

When we examine the pages of the Bible, we find that there is a deep mystery concerning the nature of God, beginning with the opening verses of the Scriptures. From the initial verses in the book of Genesis through to the closing promises found in the book of Revelation, we discover numerous inspired statements that affirm that there is only one God. However, it is equally clear that the Word of God constantly affirms, often in the very same verses, that this same God, is revealed in three persons or three manifestations. This seeming contradiction has puzzled millions of thoughtful believers over the centuries. The infinite and omnipresent nature of God is far beyond the power of our finite minds to understand perfectly. However, while we still struggle to appreciate the inner mystery of His triune nature, the truth of the Trinity has been taught throughout the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation.

One of my favorite biblical commentators is the brilliant Russian writer Ivan Panin, who completed an exhaustive study of the Word of God to discover its marvellous doctrines and the phenomenal textual features within the Scriptures. He once wrote, "I used to doubt God. Now I only doubt my knowledge of Him."1 While the doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our ability to fully appreciate, it is not fundamentally contrary to reason. This is a study that needs to be approached with a holy reverence, an open heart, and an obedient spirit that will examine the inspired statements of the Scriptures to learn from its sacred pages what our Lord reveals regarding His divine nature.

What does the Bible actually teach about the Trinity, the triune nature of God? The scriptural revelation of the nature of God can be succinctly described in one sentence.

The Bible declares that there is one God who is revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each of whom has distinct personal attributes; however, there is no division regarding nature, essence, or being.

This statement sums up every significant point that the Scriptures teach us about the doctrine of the Trinity, as held by orthodox Christian believers in all denominations during the last two thousand years. While the Bible clearly describes this triune or threefold nature in its constant use of the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Scriptures also declare authoritatively that there is only one God. As we consider these passages that describe God, we need to fix our mind on the truth that God is one God, not three. Because of the lack of biblical teaching about this important doctrine of the Trinity, some believers who are young in their faith have misunderstood the true nature of God. Some immature believers unfortunately imagine that they will see three individual Gods - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - sitting on three separate thrones when they arrive in heaven. This is a profound misunderstanding of the true doctrine of the Trinity.

Let us examine the teaching of the Bible itself to learn what these inspired passages can teach us about the nature of God. First, the Bible repeatedly and emphatically rejects the pagan idea of polytheism (the view that there are many gods). In ancient times polytheism was virtually universal, with the exception of the Jews and Christians. The Hindus of India believe that there are millions of gods. The various ethnic groups making up the vast Roman Empire acknowledged thousands of different gods. However, the teaching of the Bible, from the first pages of Genesis to the last verses of Revelation, has declared that there is only one God.

Jesus Taught the Trinity

Consider the profound words of Jesus Christ that reveal His authoritative teaching about the triune nature of God, or the Trinity: "Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake . . . And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever" (John 14:11,16). In this one verse Jesus affirmed that He and the Father were one. At the same time, He identified himself and the Father as two distinct persons under the titles of His own name and that of "the Father." Then Jesus promised His Church that the Father would answer the prayer of Jesus and send "another Comforter," referring to the Holy Spirit, as the third person in the Triune God. A careful examination of these words of Jesus reveal clearly that He taught the unity of God expressed in three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Comforter (the Holy Spirit).

The word "Trinity" comes from the Latin word trinitas, or the word trinitus, which means "three in one" or "threefold." This word expresses the clear teaching of the Church on the profound biblical doctrine of the nature of God, as revealed in the Scriptures, as a Trinity in unity.

The Unity and Attributes of God

The Bible teaches repeatedly that there is only one God. Numerous examples from the Scriptures could be sighted, but these few verses will suffice to prove the truth of this important doctrine. Moses, the great lawgiver of the Jews, declared, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). Moses also declared the unity of God in the famous words of the "Shema," the daily affirmation of righteous Jews throughout the world for thousands of years: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4). However, there is a mystery found in the Hebrew words of this declaration that we will study more deeply later in this chapter. The prophet Isaiah also declared the unity of God in his prophetic words, "I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images" (Isaiah 42:8). Isaiah also wrote of God in the following words: "To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?" (Isaiah 46:5). The prophet Malachi wrote of one God when he said, "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?" (Malachi 2:10).

One of the most important attributes of God is that He is both eternal and uncreated. In other words, there was never a time when God did not exist. Therefore, God has no beginning and no ending. The Scriptures reveal the eternal nature of God in numerous passages, including the words of King David in the Psalms: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God" (Psalms 90:2). Jesus Christ confirmed His eternal nature in these words: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). Furthermore, the Bible teaches us that God is omnipresent, which means that He is simultaneously everywhere throughout His creation, not only in awareness but in His actual divine presence. This omnipresence of God was alluded to by King Solomon, as recorded in the book of Kings at the building of the Temple: "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?" (1 Kings 8:27). The Scriptures also declare that God is unchangeable, that His nature will remain the same forever. The prophet Malachi wrote, "For I am the Lord, I change not" (Malachi 3:6). This inspired declaration by Malachi confirms that God's nature, as expressed in the Trinity in unity, did not change when the Son incarnated in the body of the Christ child, Jesus of Nazareth, 2000 years ago. In other words, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have always existed as the Trinity.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Are Called God

Now that we have examined the passages that affirm there is only one God, we need to explore the other passages of Scripture that also teach us clearly that God the Father, God the Son, Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit are all identified and named as God. Paul wrote the following letter referring to both the Father and Jesus as God: "To Timothy, my dearly beloved son: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (2 Timothy 1:2). Paul again affirms that both are God in his letter to the Church at Philippi: "And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:11). In the Gospel of John we find a clear declaration by the beloved disciple, John, that both Jesus and the Father are God. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18).

Jesus, the Son of God, Created the Universe

However, while John reveals that Jesus and the Father are both God, he also reveals that it was Jesus, the Son of God, as the Word (Logos) of God, who created the entire universe and everything within it. I am constantly surprised to find that many Christians have assumed that God the Father created everything. However, a careful examination of the Scriptures reveals that the act of creation was committed to Jesus, the Son of God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1­3). This teaching is confirmed by the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians Church: "And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:9). The Psalmist David alludes to the fact that the Son is the One who created all things by identifying the Creator as "the Word of the Lord." Later in this chapter we will examine the scriptural evidence that "the Word of the Lord" is often used as an Old Testament title for the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. David declares, "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalms 33:6).

The Bible continually refers to the Holy Spirit as a distinct person of the Godhead who teaches, acts, witnesses about Christ, and dwells within the spirit of the believer as the Spirit of God. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ promised His disciples that He would send them "a Comforter" to guide and direct them after He ascended to heaven. "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:16­17). This passage reveals the three divine persons of the Trinity. However, this verse also clearly identifies the Holy Spirit as the person of God the Comforter, who will indwell the believers. King David also wrote about the divine Holy Spirit as a separate person of the Trinity when he appealed to God (the Father) in the following words: "Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me" (Psalms 51:11). Additionally, in the New Testament, Jesus identified the Holy Spirit as both God and as a distinct person of the Trinity. Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit as God in His conclusion to the Lords Prayer, which was addressed to "Our Father." Jesus taught, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Luke 11:13). These Scriptures obviously teach the threefold nature of God as we describe it under the word "Trinity."

The Bible Teaches the Trinity

We have examined the scriptural teaching that there is only one God. In addition, we have examined the Scriptures that teach that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons of the Godhead. We now need to look at the Scriptures that reveal the three persons as one God. One of the most significant passages revealing this teaching about the Trinity is found at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus when John baptized our Lord. The Gospel of Matthew records, "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16­17). In this well-loved passage we observe Jesus, the Son of God, being baptized by John and the Holy Spirit of God descending upon Him. Simultaneously, God the Father speaks from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son."

This critical passage clearly reveals the three distinct persons of the Trinity acting as individual persons, yet in perfect harmony as the Trinity of God. It is significant that at the end of His ministry on earth, Jesus Christ instructed His disciples by giving them His Great Commission: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19). Since baptism is the most profound profession of faith, devotion, and worship, which is due only to God, the words of Jesus confirm that "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost" are equally God, as taught in the biblical doctrine of the Trinity. This teaching of the Trinity also appears in the final benediction, in which the apostle Paul concludes his second inspired letter to the church at Corinth. Paul gave them his blessings in the names of the three persons of God, as revealed in the Trinity, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen" (2 Corinthians 13:14).

The Trinity As Taught in the Old Testament

The unusual language used by Moses in the first verses of the book of Genesis presents a great mystery regarding the nature of God and His creation of this universe and mankind. The first verse of the Bible records the creation of the heavens and the earth by God. However, the inspired writer used the word Elohim Myhla "Gods," which is the plural name for God, rather than the singular name Jehovah hwhy "God." It is fascinating to note that Moses uses this plural name for "God" Elohim Myhla more than five hundred times in the first five books of the Bible. The mystery is that the plural name of God Elohim appears with a singular verb each time. The normal laws of grammar demand that the plural form of the noun must agree with the plural form of the verb. However, throughout the Scriptures, we find that the plural noun for God Elohim appears invariably with the singular form of the verb, such as we find in the first verse of Genesis. Here the singular verb "created" arb bara occurs with the plural noun Elohim Myhla in Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." The Hebrew Scriptures record this passage as follows [reading from right to left in the Hebrew]:

"the heavens and the earth." "Elohim (Gods)" "created" "In the beginning"

Urah taw Mymvh ta Myhla arb tyvarb

[plural noun for Gods] [singular verb]

There is only one logical solution to this problem. If there is no grammatical agreement between the plural noun Elohim and the singular verb "created," then there must be an overriding logical agreement that demands the unusual grammatical construction found in these sentences. The logical agreement is that the word Elohim clearly reveals the sacred mystery of the nature of God as a Trinity. In other words, Genesis 1:1 reveals this declaration: "In the beginning the Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) created the heavens and the earth."

The Teaching of the Early Church on the Trinity

The early Church upheld the biblical doctrine of the Trinity universally from the Day of Pentecost in a.d. 32 throughout the last two thousand years. An examination of the early Church writings will verify their unwavering support for this teaching found in the writings of both the Old and New Testament. The real value of these ancient Christian writings is that they are the best interpreters of the doctrine of the Trinity as it was preached by Jesus and the apostles. As some of these early Christians were taught by those who personally knew the apostles, they would have been in an excellent position to understand the true meaning of the New Testament teachings. Some critics of the doctrine of the Trinity have complained that the word "Trinity" cannot be found in the actual Hebrew or Greek words of the Scriptures. However, the truth of this doctrine is taught clearly from Genesis to Revelation. Many scholars believe that the word "Trinity" was used for the first time in reference to this biblical doctrine during a church council held at Alexandria, Egypt in a.d. 317. However, the history of the early Church reveals that this doctrine of the Trinity was taught by Jesus Christ, His disciples, and the apostles. The Trinity of God was the universal belief of the church from the very beginning of the Christian era. For example, the secular Greek writer Lucian, in his book Philopatris, written in a.d. 160, confirmed the well-known belief of the Christians in the Trinity. Lucian described the first generations of Christians confessing their faith in God in the following words: "The exalted God . . . Son of the Father, Spirit proceeding from the Father, One of Three, and Three of One."2

Some critics and theologians have claimed that the doctrine of the Trinity was unknown until the Council of Nicca in a.d. 325, where they claim it was invented by the unanimous collusion of the Church fathers in that council. However, this claim is totally contradicted by the many writings of the early Church from Christ to a.d. 325. I will share some passages from several of these writers to establish this fact. In addition, the orthodox Christian faith has continued to teach the Trinity for two thousand years, from the resurrection of Jesus Christ until today.

One of the earliest of the manuscripts written by Church leaders is the Shepherd of Hermas. He was a brother of Pius, the bishop of Rome. Some scholars believe Hermas is the person mentioned in the apostle Paul's epistle to the Romans (16:14). Hermas wrote, "The Son of God is more ancient than any created thing, so that He was present in council with His Father at the creation."3

Justin Martyr was a great leader and writer in the early Church in a.d. 150. His writing declares that the doctrine of the Trinity was proclaimed with great clarity from the earliest ages of the Church. Justin and many of the early Church fathers wrote that it was Jesus Christ who appeared as God to Moses in the burning bush. He criticized the Jews for confusing the roles of God the Father with that of His Son in the passages of the Old Testament. Justin Martyr wrote,

The Jews, who think that it was always God the Father who spoke to Moses, (whereas He who spoke to him was the Son of God, who is also called an Angel, and an Apostle) are justly convicted both by the prophetical spirit, and by Christ himself, for knowing neither the Father nor the Son. For they, who say that the Son is the Father, are convicted of neither knowing the Father, nor of understanding that the God of the universe has a Son: who, being the first-born Word of God, is also God.4

Justin Martyr also wrote the following statement in his Dialogue With Trypho. He establishes a general rule that wherever God appears or converses with any man in the Old Testament, as in Genesis 17:22, we should understand that the passage is referring to Jesus as God the Son.

Now that Christ is Lord, and substantially God the Son of God, and in times past appeared potentially as a man and an angel, and in fiery glory as He appeared in the bush. and at the judgment of Sodom, has been proved by many arguments." 5

The Council of Sirmium was held in a.d. 351 to deal with a number of heresies that were beginning to plague the Church.

This council established a creed as a clear statement of the teaching of the Church regarding the Trinity. In one of its comments on this subject we find the following words: "If any one say that the Father did not speak the words, 'Let us make man,' to His Son, but that he spoke them to Himself, let him be anathema."6 The declaration "Let him be anathema" means "Let him be accursed or cut off from the Church." This statement shows how strongly the Trinity was held to be an essential doctrine of the faith by the early Church.

The Mystery of the Trinity Revealed in Ancient Jewish Writings

A few years ago I made a fascinating discovery in the ancient writings of the Jewish sages that were recorded thousands of years ago during the centuries surrounding the life of Jesus Christ and the destruction of the Second Temple in a.d. 70. This discovery suggests that the mystery of the Trinity was understood by some of the greatest of the ancient Jewish sages and writers. Furthermore, this doctrine of the Trinity was recorded in the writings of these great Jewish teachers and sages in their Targums (paraphrases of Scripture) and their commentaries (including the Zohar).

Both Christians from Gentile backgrounds and Jewish Messianic believers accepted the teaching of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that shows that God has revealed Himself throughout the Scriptures in the form of the three persons of the Godhead, or as the Jewish sages wrote, "three manifestations" or "three emanations."

Many students of the Bible will be as astonished as I was when I first discovered these provocative ancient Jewish theological writings. They helped me understand why so many of the Jews in Israel and throughout the Roman Empire rapidly accepted the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be both the Messiah and the true Son of God. Any student of the history of religion knows that the Jewish people, together with the Muslims, have historically rejected the truth of Christianity, primarily because they reject the claims that Jesus is the Son of God. The Jews and Muslims generally reject Christ because they believe that Christianity teaches polytheism, that we believe there are three Gods, not one. They generally fail to understand that Christians believe and uphold the biblical teaching that there is only one God. Both Jews and Muslims understand the truth that is clearly expressed numerous times in the Old Testament that there is only one God, but because they misunderstand the biblical teaching about the Trinity, they reject Christianity without examining the claims of Christ.

The question that occurred to me several years ago was this: Why did hundreds of thousands of Jews accept the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God? We know from early Church history that many of those who first accepted the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire were Jews. The apostle Paul and other Jewish Christian missionaries were accepted as teachers and worshippers in the Jewish synagogues throughout the empire for one hundred years, from the resurrection of Jesus in a.d. 32 until the rebellion against Rome in a.d. 135. During the three years of battle for Jewish independence led by the general Simeon Bar Kochba, many of his followers (including the famous Rabbi Akiba) declared that Bar Kochba was Israel's true messiah.

Naturally the Jewish Christian believers were forced to withdraw from the Jewish forces fighting against Rome because, as followers of Jesus Christ as the true Messiah, they could not acknowledge the false claims of Simeon Bar Kochba. Unfortunately, this rejection was treated as treason by the Jews who were involved in a life and death struggle with six legions of the cruel Emperor Hadrian. The war for Jewish independence ended in a.d. 135 with the massacre of one and a half million men, women, and children in the Jewish army and their civilian followers. From a.d. 135, the Jews that were believers in Jesus were no longer welcome in the Jewish synagogues. The great schism began between Jews and Christians that has tragically continued for the last two thousand years.

However, to return to my question: Why did many Jews in the first century of this era accept the claim that Jesus is God, while most Jews in later centuries have rejected this claim out of hand? I believe the answer can be found in these ancient Jewish Targums and the Zohar, which we will examine in this chapter. These writings clearly reveal that the Jews in the centuries surrounding the life of Jesus Christ understood that the sacred Scriptures taught that there was a profound mystery regarding the triune nature of God. That mystery is revealed in the Targums and the Zohar. There is One God, who is revealed in three persons - the Trinity. Since these Targums were read in the synagogue every Sabbath day, these concepts would have been widely known to religious Jews in that day. I believe that the evidence we will examine will prove that these writings prepared many Jews to accept the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God because their greatest religious teachers, including Rabbi Simon ben Jochai and Rabbi Eliezer, writers of the Zohar, and the writers of the Targums, Jonathan ben Uziel and Onkelos the Proselyte, all taught the mystery of God expressed as "Three in One."

In the remaining pages of this chapter, I will share a number of fascinating ancient Hebrew writings from the distant past that reveal that these brilliant Jewish writers anticipated the New Testament's revelation that Jesus was truly the Son of God. It was natural that the Jews in the first century found it difficult to accept the claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be the Son of God and to be "equal with the Father." The obvious problem faced by Jewish religious scholars when they encountered the unusual name Elohim Myhla, the plural name for God, repeatedly in the Bible was the question, Why would God identify Himself in the plural form? One of the ways these Jewish scholars escaped the clear suggestion of the plurality of persons in the Godhead, as found in the word Elohim, was to claim that this expression was simply an example of the "royal plural form" used by kings and queens to express their royal nature. The famous Rabbi Aben Ezra, writing around a.d. 1100, suggested this as a solution. The "royal plural" is an unusual plural form of speech used by such royalty as Queen Victoria when she uttered her famous line, "We are not amused."

While this evasion regarding "Elohim" as a "royal plural" appears in numerous Jewish commentaries on the Scriptures, it does not solve the problem. There is no evidence that this royal plural form of speaking was ever used in ancient biblical days. The kings and leaders of Israel and the leaders of surrounding pagan nations, such as King Nebuchadnezzar or King Cyrus, never used this form of speech. In fact, it is a comparatively modern invention that was created by medieval monarchs to emphasize their elevated status to rule their kingdoms in accordance with the theory of the "divine right of kings." However, all of the leaders and kings in the Scriptures speak in the singular form, never in the plural form of address. The normal mode of royal speech in biblical times was always the same singular form used by King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel: "Therefore I make a decree . . ." (Daniel 3:29). Therefore, the plural name for God Elohim Myhla must refer to the mystery of the plurality and unity of God in the Trinity.

The Zohar

The Zohar is a fascinating book written by Rabbi Simon ben Jochai and his son Rabbi Eliezer in the years following the Roman army's tragic destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in a.d. 70. For many years father and son were forced to hide from the troops of the Roman emperor who had passed the death sentence on them both. The Zohar is held in great reverence by Jewish scholars, and has also been of great interest to many Christian scholars in past centuries, beginning with Pico della Mirandola (a medieval scholar), who wrote Latin summaries of its teachings. Pico della Mirandola was the first Christian writer to conclude that significant parallels existed between some of the deeper doctrines of Christianity and Judaism, as found in the writings of the Zohar. He believed that the doctrines of the Trinity, the doctrine of original sin, and the mystery of the incarnation of Christ were referred to in the ancient Zohar.

The Christian writer Petrius Galatinus published his book, De Arcanis Catholicae Veritatis, which illustrated his research into the ancient Jewish teachings of the Zohar which paralleled several of the major doctrines of the Church. Other Christian researchers on the Zohar's teaching include the writer Gasparellus, Kircher, and Knorr von Rosenroth. The fascinating book Kabbalah Denudata by Knorr von Rosenroth was published in 1677 and later translated into English almost two centuries later. His book is valuable for Christian scholars unfamiliar with the Hebrew and Aramaic languages who wish to examine the teachings of the Zohar.

Many of the most difficult areas of the Scriptures are discussed and debated in the pages of the Zohar. The primary value for Christians is the deeper understanding we can gain as to what the Jewish religious leaders truly thought about the teachings of the Old Testament, including the mystery of the Trinity. I was amazed when I first read the English translations of this book because I discovered that these brilliant Jewish sages had come to a clear understanding of the mystery of the Trinity two thousand years ago. This important discovery of the teaching of the Trinity by the ancient Jewish sages helps us to understand why many Jews accepted the teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth during the first century of this era. Although many Jews naturally rejected Jesus' claims to be the Messiah and the Son of God, many Jews accepted that Jesus was the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament. In addition, the fact that the ancient Jewish sages spoke of the mystery of the plural nature of God prepared many in the Jewish nation to accept Jesus' claims that "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30).

The Trinity As Taught by the Ancient Jewish Sages

Do the ancient Jewish books such as the Zohar and the Targums actually refer to the Trinity and clearly describe the plural nature of God? Let me present the evidence, and you will be able to judge for yourself. Consider the following statements:

"How can they (the three) be One? Are they verily One, because we call them One ?

How Three can be One, can only be known through the revelation of the Holy Spirit."7

According to the Zohar, one day Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai was teaching his son Rabbi Eliezer about the mystery of the triune nature of God. He instructed his pupil by saying, "Come and see the mystery of the word hwhy, Jehova: there are three steps, each existing by itself; nevertheless they are One, and so united that one cannot be separated from the other."8

Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai indicates in another passage of the Zohar that these three steps as revealed in Elohim Myhla (God) are three substantive beings or three divine persons united in one.

The Ancient Holy One is revealed with three Heads, which are united in One, and that Head is thrice exalted. The Ancient Holy one is described as being Three; it is because the other Lights emanating from Him are included in the Three. Yet the Ancient One is described as being two. The Ancient One includes these two. He is the Crown of all that is exalted; the Chief of the chief, so exalted, that He cannot be known to perfection. Thus the other lights are two complete ones, yet is the Ancient Holy One described complete as one, and He is one, positively one; thus are the other lights united and glorified in because they are one.9

Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai wrote a fascinating passage recorded in the Zohar that is as clear a discussion of the mystery of the Trinity as you could find in any Christian theology text. Rabbi Simeon comments on the text found in Deuteronomy 32:39: "See now that I, I am he, and Elohim is not with me."10

He said: "Friends, here are some profound mysteries which I desire to reveal to you now that permission has been given to utter them. Who is it that says, 'See now that I, I am He?' This is the Cause which is above all those on high, that which is called the Cause of causes. It is above those other causes, since none of those causes does anything till it obtains permission from that which is above it, as we pointed out above in respect to the expression, 'Let us make man.' 'Us' certainly refers to two, of which one said to the other above it, 'Let us make,' nor did it do anything save with the permission and direction of the one above it, while the one above did nothing without consulting its colleague. But that which is called 'the Cause above all causes,' which has no superior or even equal, as it is written, 'To whom shall ye liken me, that I should be equal?' (referring to Isaiah 40:25), said, 'See now that I, I am he, and Elohim is not with me,' from whom he should take counsel, like that of which it is written, 'and God said, Let us make man.'"

Another book written by Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, known as The Propositions of the Zohar, records the mystery of the Shechinah glory of God in these words.

. . . the exalted Shechinah comprehends the Three highest Sephiroth; of Him (God) it is said, (Ps. lxii. 12), "God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this." Once and twice means the Three exalted Sephiroth, of whom it is said: Once, once, and once; that is, Three united in One. This is the mystery.11

Another famous Jewish scholar, Rabbi Eliezer Hakkalir, who lived at the time of Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, also taught the scriptural doctrine that there were three distinct Beings revealed in the one unified Godhead. In his commentary on Genesis 1:1, Rabbi Hakkalir wrote the following:

When God created the world, He created it through the Three Sephiroth, namely, through Sepher, Sapher and Vesaphur, by which the Three twywh (Beings) are meant . . . The Rabbi, my Lord Teacher of blessed memory, explained Sepher, Sapher, and Sippur, to be synonymous to Ja, Jehovah, and Elohim meaning to say, that the world was created by these three names.12

Rabbi Bechai, in his commentary on Genesis 1:1 (p. 1, col. 2) explained that the word Elohim Myhla is compounded of two words, Mh and la, that is, "These are God." The plural is expressed by the letter jod (y).

Another extraordinary reference to the Trinity is found in the Zohar :

Here is the secret of two names combined which are completed by a third and become one again. "And God said Let us make Man." It is written, "The secret of the Lord is to them that fear him" (Psalm 25:34). That most reverend Elder opened an exposition of this verse by saying "Simeon Simeon, who is it that said: 'Let us make man?' Who is this Elohim?" With these words the most reverend Elder vanished before anyone saw him . . . Truly now is the time to expound this mystery, because certainly there is here a mystery which hitherto it was not permitted to divulge, but now we perceive that permission is given." He then proceeded: "We must picture a king who wanted several buildings to be erected, and who had an architect in his service who did nothing save with his consent. The king is the supernal wisdom above, the Central Column being the king below: Elohim is the architect above . . . and Elohim is also the architect below, being as such the Divine Presence (Shekinah) of the lower world.13

The Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God Is One Lord."

Every religiously observant Jew makes a daily affirmation of his faith in speaking the Shema, the inspired words of Scripture, as recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord." In these sacred words, the speaker first uses the singular name of God, hwhy "Jehovah," then the plural name, Myhla "our God" (strictly, "Gods"), and then again the singular name, hwhy "Jehovah," and concluded with dxa "One." Most people hearing this affirmation would assume that the simple meaning is a direct declaration that "there is only one God." This biblical statement does declare that there is only one God - a statement accepted whole heartedly by both Jews and Christians. However, as pointed out earlier in this chapter, the mysterious use of the plural name for God, Elohim Myhla, suggests that this passage also contains God's revelation of His mysterious nature as Three in One and One in Three. When I searched the ancient Jewish books that were written during the period from the return from the captivity in Babylon in 536 b.c. to the destruction of the Second Temple in a.d. 70 I was amazed to find that many prominent Jewish sages taught the mystery of the Trinity based on this very passage in Deuteronomy 6:4.

We need to carefully read the words of this ancient teaching found in the Zohar regarding the deeper meaning and mystery of God found in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord." Although the language is awkward, it clearly teaches the Trinity.

We have said in many places, that this daily form of prayer is one of those passages concerning the Unity, which is taught in the Scriptures. In Deut. vi. 4, we read first hwhy "Jehovah", then, Myhla "our God," and again, hwhy "Jehovah," which together make one Unity. But how can three Names [three beings] be one? Are they verily one, because we call them one? How three can be one can only be known through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, and, in fact, with closed eyes. This is also the mystery of the voice. The voice is heard only as one sound, yet it consists of three substances, fire, wind, and water, but all three are one, as indicated through the mystery of the voice. Thus are (Deut. 6:4) "The Lord, our God, the Lord," but One Unity, three Substantive Beings which are One; and this is indicated by the voice which are One; and this is indicated by the voice which a person uses in reading the words, "Hear, O Israel," thereby comprehending with the understanding the most perfect Unity of Him who is infinite; because all three (Jehovah, Elohim, Jehovah) are read with one voice, which indicates a Trinity.14

This statement from the Zohar is an incredible acknowledgment of the nature of God, as revealed in the Scriptures, as a Trinity. Rabbi Menachem of Recanati, writing in his Commentary on the Pentateuch about the Deuteronomy 6:4 passage, also clearly describes the mystery of the Trinity, the threefold Unity of the Godhead. Rabbi Menachem wrote about these mysteries and concluded, "These are secrets which are revealed only to those who are reaping upon the holy field, as it is written 'The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him'" (Psalms 25:14). Rabbi Menachem wrote the following on the Trinity:

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our god is one Lord." This verse is the root of our faith, therefore Moses records it after the ten commandments. The reason (that there is said hwhy, Lord, Myhla, our God, and hwhy, Lord) is, because the word emv does not here signify "Hear;" but "to gather together, to unite," as in 1 Samuel 15:4, "Saul gathered together the people." The meaning implied is The Inherent-Ones are so united together, one in the other without end, they being the exalted God. He mentions the three names mystically to indicate the three exalted original Ones.15

Let Us Make Man in Our Image

Moses recorded God's creation of man in the first chapter of Genesis. The inspired account read, "And God said, 'Let us make man in our image.'" The question that has been asked by many Christian and Jewish commentators is this: Who did God refer to as "us" when he stated "Let us make man in our image?" The answer is this: God referred to the other members of the Trinity when He said "Let us. . . ." This statement clearly refers to the Trinity.

In Genesis 1:26 God says, "Let us make man in our image." In this passage we find God definitely speaking of the Godhead in the plural form using the word "us." Then, we find a sentence in which the word "God" is written in the singular tense (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, this passage suggests that God as revealed in plurality is yet One God. In Genesis 11:5, Moses speaks of God using the singular noun, "And the Lord came down to see the city." However, in the seventh verse of this passage God Himself speaks in the plural form "us": "Go to, let us go down, and we will confound their language." This transformation from the singular form of God to the plural reveals the mystery of the Trinitarian nature of God as declared in the doctrine of the Trinity.

In the prologue to the Zohar we find the following statement that suggests the clear knowledge of the Jewish sages about the plurality of the One God.

The fourth precept is to acknowledge that the Lord is God, as we read: 'Know this day, and lay it to thy heart that the Lord, he is God' (Deuteronomy 4:39); namely, to combine the name Elohim "God" with the name Jehovah "Lord" in the consciousness that they form an indivisible unity.16

The latest English translation of the Zohar also contains fascinating passages revealing the knowledge of the ancient Jews about the Trinity.

All those supernal lights exist in their image below - some of them in their image below upon the earth; but in themselves they are all suspended in the "firmament of the heaven." Here is the secret of two names combined which are completed by a third and become one again. "And God said, Let us make Man. . . ."17

In the second Psalm, we read, "Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee." It is interesting that Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai comments in The Propositions of the Zohar on this passage:

There is a perfect Man, who is an Angel. This Angel is Metatron, the Keeper of Israel; He is a man in the image of the Holy One, blessed be He, who is an Emanation from Him; yea, He is Jehovah; of Him cannot be said, He is created, formed or made; but He is the Emanation from God. This agrees exactly with what is written, Jeremiah 23:5, of xmu dwd, David's Branch, that though He shall be a perfect man, yet He is "The Lord our Righteousness.18

In this incredible passage from The Propositions of the Zohar we can see the ancient Jewish sages understood the mystery of the Trinity and the realization that the "Son of God" is truly the Holy One of God.

The Trinity Was Also Taught in the Ancient Jewish Targums

As I mentioned in an earlier chapter, the Targums were a series of paraphrases and commentaries on the Jewish Bible written in the Chaldean language that were read in the synagogue every Sabbath day. The two major commentaries were written by Jonathan and Onkelos. The Targum of Jonathan was written by Jonathan ben Uziel, a famous scholar who was a student of the great Jewish scholar Hillel the Great during the decades before the birth of Christ. The Targum of Onkelos, which contained commentary on the five books of Torah, was written around the same time period. Jewish scholars believe that Onkelos the Proselyte was probably descended from Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. Both Targums were considered virtually as inspired as the Bible itself and were read in the synagogue after the reading of the Torah in Hebrew.

These Targums are valuable because they allow us to understand exactly how the ancient Jewish sages interpreted these important biblical passages that deal with the mystery of the nature of God. While only the words of Scripture itself are authoritative in teaching us the true doctrines of God, we can learn a great deal from examining the writings of the ancient Jewish scholars who understood the nuances of the Hebrew text. Furthermore, these Targums provide a precious insight into the true understanding of the Trinity by the Jewish sages who lived before the birth of Jesus. Let's examine these Targums to understand exactly what they taught about the nature of God.

In the so-called Jerusalem Targum,written by Jonathon ben Uziel, we find a commentary on the passage in Genesis that describes God's destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven" (Genesis 19:24). The Targum describes the Lord (hwhy) in this passage as "the Word of the Lord," which is a title for Jehovah suggesting the second person of the Trinity that appears often throughout these paraphrases: "And the Word of the Lord caused to descend upon the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, brimstone and fire from the Lord from heaven."19

The Targum on Exodus 3:14 reveals God's declaration of His eternal identity using the same title of "the Word of the Lord" to describe God. "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you" (Exodus 3:14). The Jerusalem Targum on Exodus 3:14 reads as follows: "And the Word of the Lord said unto Moses: I am He who said unto the world, Be! and it was: and who in the future shall say to it, Be! and it shall be. And He said Thus thou shalt say to the Children of Israel: I Am hath sent me unto you."20

The Angel of the Lord and the Angel of the Covenant

The ancient Jewish commentary by Rabbi Bechai (col. 1, p. 35) that describes Abraham's obedience to God's call for him to sacrifice Isaac provides an extraordinary insight into the writer's appreciation of the Trinity. Moses records in Genesis 22:11 that "the angel of the Lord" was the person of the Trinity that intervened to prevent the sacrifice of Isaac. "And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I."21 This portion of the deepest teaching of the great sages of Israel provides powerful evidence for the fact that some of the Jewish writers in ancient times understood the mystery of the Trinity:

It is necessary that thou shouldest understand what in this section (Abraham's sacrifice) is related; namely, that He who is tempting is God, and He who is restraining is the Angel of the blessed God. . . . The eyes of Abraham's understanding were opened, that this Angel was not one of the intelligences, but one of the Inherent Ones, which cannot be separated, nor cut off one from the other. If this Angel had been one of the intelligences, Abraham would not have obeyed his voice, when restraining him to do what God had commanded him; yea, an Angel would have no authority to say, "Thou hast not with holden thy son from Me, but would have said, from Him." But this Angel was one of the Inherent Ones, the great Angel . . . and in fact it was that Angel of whom it is said, "for my name is in Him."

Another famous sage, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, wrote about this mysterious Angel of the Lord, the great Lawgiver, that appeared to Moses in the flames of the burning bush. Rabbi Nachman points out that the Bible refers to this appearance of God to Moses as the Angel of the Lord in Exodus 3:2: "And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush." However, only two verses later Moses declared that it was the Lord God who was speaking to him from the burning bush: "And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I" (Exodus 3:4). These Jewish sages obviously understood that the Scriptures taught that the Angel of the Lord was truly God. Rabbi Nachman commented as follows:

It is said: "An Angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire," and (Elohim) Myhla, "God called unto him." This is all one, namely, whether he saith "The Angel, or (Elohim ) Myhla, "God spake to him out of the midst of the bush". . . Therefore be not astonished that Moses hid his face before this Angel; because this Angel mentioned here is the Angel, the Redeemer, concerning whom it is written; "I am the God of Bethel;" and here, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." It is the same of whom it is said, "My name is in Him."22

The significance of this study of the Trinity is that it will enable us to appreciate the biblical revelation of the mysterious nature of God who is revealed to us as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we grow and mature as Christians we need to come to a fuller understanding of the deeper truths taught to us by the beloved Scriptures. The apostle Paul shared this wonderful blessing with the Church at Ephesus that I would like to use to conclude this chapter. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

Notes

1. Ivan Panin.

2. Lucian, Philopatris (a.d. 160).

3. Shepherd of Hermas, 1, III, Similitude 9, 12, 118.

4. Edward Burton, Testimonies of the Ante-Nicene Fathers to the Divinity of Christ (1829).

5. Edward Burton, Testimonies of the Ante-Nicene Fathers to the Divinity of Christ (1829).

6. The Council of Sirmium, Ath. de Synodis, vol. 1 (a.d. 351) 743.

7. Zohar, vol. ii. p. 43, versa., 22.

8. Zohar, vol. iii. Amsterdam edition. 65.

9. Zohar, vol. iii. Amsterdam edition. 288.

10. Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, Zohar.

11. Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, The Propositions of the Zohar, cap. 38, Amsterdam edition. 113.

12. Rabbi Eliezer Hakkalir, The Book of Creation. 28­29.

13. Zohar, vol. 1, Soncino Press edition. 90­91.

14. Zohar.

15. Rabbi Menachem, Commentary on the Pentateuch, Venice edition. 267.

16. Zohar, vol. 1, Soncino Press edition. 51.

17. Zohar, vol. 1, Soncino Press edition. 90­91.

18. Rabbi Simeon ben Jochai, The Propositions of the Zohar.

19. Jonathon ben Uziel, Jerusalem Targum.

20. Jonathon ben Uziel, Jersualem Targum.

21. Rabbi Bechai, col. 1, 35.

22. Rabbi Moses ben Nachman.

Russia's Day of Destruction in Israel

From Grant R. Jeffrey's Armageddon - Appointment With Destiny

And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal and prophesy against him, and say, Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: and I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armor, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.(Ezekiel 38:1­6)

God is in control of history. As the earlier chapters of this book demonstrate, some of God's appointments with destiny for Israel and the nations have already occurred. Several additional appointments remain to be fulfilled in the future. Russia and her allies (the former republics of the USSR, Eastern Europe, and the Arabs) still await their appointment with destiny.

The Lord gave the prophet Ezekiel a prophetic warning directed to the nations of the "far north." Ezekiel was raised near the Temple in Jerusalem and had studied to be a priest. He was among those Jewish captives from Jerusalem who were taken to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel. It was he who wrote "among the captives by the river of Chebar, . . . the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God" (Ezekiel 1:1). These prophecies written in Babylon from about 593 b.c. to 570 b.c. were directed to Ezekiel's fellow captives and to those Jews still living in Jerusalem, as well as to the generations that would follow.

Ezekiel was given an astonishingly accurate prophetic vision about the rebirth of the nation of Israel that would occur in the spring of 1948, as detailed in chapter 3. He foretold that Israel would arise miraculously from the graveyard of the nations, where she was buried with the ruins of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 by the Roman army led by Titus. Incredibly, God promised that the Jews, after almost two thousand years of exile, would return to the Promised Land. The ancient prophets also foretold that the Jewish exiles would become "a mighty army" in her ancient homeland. In 1948, Israel triumphed against an invasion by six well-armed Arab armies. Israel's military forces consisted of a small, voluntary citizen army composed of unskilled farmers and scholars who were equipped with inadequate weapons, a few jeeps, and two small airplanes. Israel's armored force consisted of several vehicles captured from her enemies, including trucks with improvised steel plates. Yet, like David's miraculous victory over Goliath, God supernaturally intervened to allow a weak Israel to survive and prosper, defeating her Arab enemies against incredible odds.

Ezekiel's amazing vision depicted the Jewish people as a "valley which was full of dry bones." This certainly described the fate of Israel after it's destruction by Rome in 70 a.d. and the centuries of persecution that followed. Israel was buried in the graveyard of the ancient nations. Anyone who has seen the sickening scenes of the huge pits full of emaciated, skeletal remains of victims from Nazi death camps can imagine that this might have formed part of the vision that the prophet saw twenty-five centuries ago. The Lord asked him, "'Can these bones live?' and I answered, 'O Lord God, thou knowest"' (Ezekiel 37:3). Yet God told Ezekiel to watch a miraculous resurrection of these "dry bones." "So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army" (Ezekiel 37:10). Today, Israel has the world's third most powerful air force and possesses more tanks than any other nation except the United States and Russia. The Israeli Defense Forces have rewritten the military manuals of the world with their audacious and brilliant tactics. Today (according to many military analysts), the small nation of Israel has the fourth most powerful armed forces on earth after America, Russia, and China.

Geographically, Israel occupies an area of land smaller than the state of New Jersey - only one-half the size of tiny Switzerland. Yet, despite its insignificant size and a population of only five million, Israel has attained a position of prime importance in the global struggle between nations. For the last several years, almost half of all of the resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations have concerned Israel. Newspapers throughout the world carry front-page stories about Israel several times a week. This astonishing fact can be explained only by prophecy and the deep hatred for Israel expressed by Russia, the former republics of the USSR, Iran, the Arab nations, and many Third World nations.

The prophet Zechariah prophesied twenty-five hundred years ago, "Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it" (Zechariah 12:2­3). Ironically, the first nation to formally recognize the state of Israel was Russia. In 1948, Joseph Stalin hoped that Israel would become a socialist nation and help offset the growing influence that the Western powers exercised in the Middle East. However, as Stalin soon came to realize, Israel would not become a Russian pawn, so Russia quickly turned to the Arabs and encouraged their hatred toward the Jewish state.

More than twenty-five hundred years ago, Ezekiel prophesied about an invasion by Russia (called "Magog") and her allies that would occur during the last days, "after many days." He said that after Israel was reborn as a nation, Russia and her allies would attack her in a violent attempt to completely annihilate the Jewish state. Naturally, Ezekiel did not describe the present nations of Russia, Germany, Syria, and Iraq by their modern names. Rather, he referred to them by the names of the ancient tribes that occupied the geographical territories of the present nations at the time of his writing. The prophecies found in Ezekiel, chapter 38 and 39, describe this massive, future Russian-Arab invasion of Israel and the spectacular defeat of the enemies of the Jews by the supernatural act of God.

The Lord warned the leader of Russia in these words addressed to Gog, the ruler of Magog (Russia):

Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them. After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee. (Ezekiel 38:7­9)

Many of the tribal names in Ezekiel 38 are recorded in the book of Genesis. Following the Flood, Noah's sons and grandsons dispersed to various parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa. Genesis 10 records the ancient genealogy of the nations, naming the tribes descended from Noah's children, later referred to by Ezekiel. Ancient historians, including Herodotus and Flavius Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, tell us where most of these tribes ultimately settled. Many Jewish and Christians scholars conclude that the tribes referred to by Ezekiel are those listed in figure 1 and figure 2, which show the ancient name of each tribe and the modern nation that now occupies that particular territory.

Figure 1 The Nations of Ezekiel 38: 1­ 6
The Ancient Nations The Modern Nations
The land of Magog
Meshech and Tubal
Persia
Ethiopia
Libya
Ashkenaz
Gomer
Togarmah
"Many peoples with thee" Russia
Somewhere in Russia
Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan
Ethiopia and Sudan
Libya
Austria and Germany
Eastern Europe
Southeastern Europe - Turkey
Various other nations allied to Russia

The Identification of "Gog and Magog" as Russia

The names "Gog and Magog" are famous in biblical prophetic literature and in Jewish rabbinical writings because of their future role in the great War of Gog and Magog predicted by the prophet Ezekiel (chap. 38 and 39). The book of Revelation (chap. 20) also records that an army of millions will once again join with the nations represented by "Gog and Magog" in a final attack, led by Satan, against the "beloved city" and the "camp of the saints" at the end of the Millennium. This final war will be the last battle in human history. Biblical prophecies indicate that three enormous wars will convulse the planet during the apocalyptic period known as "the last days."

The first war, as described by Ezekiel, is the War of Gog and Magog (a Russian-Arab invasion against Israel), the subject of this chapter. The second war, known as the Battle of Armageddon, will occur a minimum of seven years later. Armageddon is described in the prophecies of Joel, Zechariah, and especially the book of Revelation (16:16). This cataclysmic conflict will involve nations across the entire world as the significant armies of the East battle against the armies of the West under the Antichrist. These titanic armies will be pitted against each other and Israel. During the conclusion of this struggle, Jesus Christ will descend from heaven with His army of angels and heavenly saints (the resurrected Church). Both armies will then turn their fury against Jesus and His saints. The returning King of Kings will utterly defeat them and inaugurate the Millennium of peace under the Kingdom of God. Finally, Revelation 20:8 tells us about a third war, the final battle in human history. This will occur one thousand years after Armageddon, at the end of the Millennium. Millions of people born during the Millennium to those who survive the tribulation period will choose to join Satan in his attack against the future City of God. The prophet John foretold that his army would include the nations of "Gog and Magog," referring to Russia and other nations to the extreme north of the Holy Land.

The question of the proper identification of the nation of "Magog" is of great interest to serious Bible students who wish to clearly understand these great biblical prophecies. "Magog" is a real nation occupying a territory that was known to Ezekiel and his Jewish readers in the fifth century before Christ. I believe the evidence supports the conclusion that Magog refers to the territory that is currently occupied by the present nation of Russia, including several of the southern republics of the Commonwealth of Independent States (formerly the USSR). The majority of prophecy teachers agree with this conclusion. However, a number of biblical scholars have challenged this identification of Magog with the Russian nation. Some scholars suggest that Magog was connected with some small tribal groups in ancient Mesopotamia in the area presently occupied by Iran. Others suggest Magog is connected with the tribes led by an ancient king known as Gyges in the area of ancient Lydia (present-day Turkey) to the south of Russia. The ancient historian Pliny claimed the Syrians thought the name Gog was the same as Gyges, a king of Lydia whose country was named from him - Gygea, or Gog's land. King Gyges was the grandfather of King Croesus (Natural History l. 5.c.23).

In 1986 my wife, Kaye, and I were standing with our guide on the Great Wall of China. He told us that enemy armies from Mongolia and Siberia have attacked China at that very spot numerous times throughout Chinese history. The Chinese guide pointed out that due to the geography of this rugged terrain, this location would be the logical place for the next Russian-Mongol attack on China. Arab writers confirm that in the Arabic language their name for the Great Wall of China is called "the wall of Al Magog" because the Great Wall was built to keep out the invading armies from Magog (Russia).

Many liberal scholars reject Ezekiel's literal interpretation of prophecy, including the identification of Russia. These academics often interpret his prophecy merely as a symbol of the apocalyptic war between good and evil. However, precise descriptions in this prophecy of specific nations, weapons, places, and actions during the war strongly suggest that this is not a symbolic war. If we want to understand this prophetic message of Ezekiel, we must examine its literal implications and determine the correct identification of Gog and Magog. A summary of the research material I have collected on the identification of Magog follows.

Jewish Scholarship and Magog

The passages in Ezekiel 38 and 39 were studied in minute detail for thousands of years by Jewish sages. Consequently, the conclusions drawn by these scholars should illuminate the true meaning of the Hebrew words "Gog and Magog." Genesis 10 lists Magog as a literal grandson of Noah who ultimately gave birth to a nation. This name, "Magog," was well known to every Jew who studied this Genesis passage every year as part of the annual Sabbath reading of the Torah. In his prophecy about the future war, the prophet Ezekiel named "Magog," along with other specific nations such as Libya, Persia, and Ethiopia. This strongly suggests that Ezekiel expected the name "Magog" would be understood by his Jewish readers as a real nation, not as an abstract symbol of evil.

A recent commentary on Genesis, Bereishis Genesis: A New Translation With a Commentary Anthologized from Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic Sources, includes this commentary on Genesis 10:2. "Magog is mentioned several times in Scripture, e.g. Ezekiel 38:2; 39:6 as the name of the land of Gog. Kesses HaSofer identified them with the Mongols who lived near China, for in fact the very name Mongol is a corruption of Magog." The commentary also cites Arab writers who refer to the Great Wall of China as the wall of Al Magog. A 1961 biblical commentary by Dr. J. H. Hertz, the late chief rabbi of the British Empire, called The Pentateuch and Haftorahs identifies the Magog of the famous Genesis 10 passage: "Magog - The Scythians, whose territory lay on the borders of the Caucasus." The Jewish-Christian scholar Dr. Alfred Edersheim in his book, Bible History, Old Testament, also identifies Magog as the Scythians.

A fascinating 1980 Jewish commentary, Daniel, published by The ArtScroll Tanach Series, makes the following comments on the identity of Magog:

The various traditions concerning the identity of Magog, who in Genesis 10:2 is listed among the sons of Noah's son Japheth, tend to place the land of Magog in what today is southwest Russia­The Caucasian region, which lies between the Black and Caspian Seas . . . This is in agreement with Yerushalmi Megillah 3:9 which renders Magog as "the Goths," a group of nomadic tribes who destroyed the Scythians and made their homes in Scythian territory. . . . Our identification of Magog as Caucasia, which was at one time inhabited by the Goths, is based on the assumption that the land of Magog is named after Japheth's son. . . .

Rabbi Chisdai Ibn Shaprut wrote to the king of Khazaria (a Caucasian kingdom in southern Russia which converted to Judaism in the eighth century after Christ) in which he addresses the king as 'prince, leader of Meshech and Tubal.' This salutation, drawn from our verse, indicates that the Gaonim had a tradition that these countries were indeed located in Russia.

This acclaimed commentary concludes this section with a fascinating comment:

In this light one may understand an oral tradition passed down from the Vilna Gaon (see Chevlei Mashaiach BiZemaneinu, p. 134), that when the Russian navy passes through the Bosporus it will be time to put on Sabbath clothes (in anticipation of the coming Mashiach.)

The Bosporus is the narrow strait in Turkey that links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea through the Dardanelles strait. The Jewish sages warned that the generation who witnessed the Russian preparation to invade Israel should prepare their hearts because the coming of the Messiah was at hand. The famous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who lived at the time of Saint Paul, wrote a definitive history of the Jewish people called the Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus identified Magog as follows. "Magog founded those that from him were named Magogites, but who are by the Greeks called Scythians" (pp. 30­31).

Christian Scholarship Identifying Magog as Russia

The section of Dr. R. Young's book, Young's Analytical Concordance of the Holy Bible, dealing with Magog speaks of ancient Scythia or Tartary, a name used to describe southern Russia in past centuries. Professor Young said that the name "Gog" was derived from a phrase that meant a "high mountain" and that the name "Gog" in Ezekiel 38 referred to "A prince of Rosh, Mesheck, Tubal, and Tiras, in ancient Scythia or Tartary." Young also refers to "the descendents of Magog and their land, called Scythia, in the N. of Asia and Europe." The authoritative 1973 reference work, Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible, came to the same conclusion, "Magog, Meshech, Tubal and Gomer were all sons of Japheth (Noah's son). They gave their names to Indo-European peoples living in the Black Sea/Caucasus region, on the northern fringe of the then-known world."

The Comprehensive Commentary of the Holy Bible, edited by Dr. William Jenks, provides some fascinating information regarding the identity of Magog.

Magog was the son of Japheth (Genesis 10:2), from whence the Scythians are generally supposed to be derived. The Mogul Tartars, a people of the Scythian race, are still called so by the Arabian writers . . . the Jews of his day thought 'Magog to be the Scythian nations, vast and innumerable, who are beyond Mount Caucasus and the Palus M├Žotis, and near the Caspian Sea, stretching even to India.

The same commentary, quoting Professor William Bochart, gives the following information.

The Koran, and a Christian poet of Syria (Ephraem the Syrian - see chapter 9) before the Koran was published, both allude to a fable of Alexander's shutting up the barbarous and troublesome nations, Gog and Magog, near the N. Pole by an iron and brasen wall. The mountain Scythians extended hence (from the river Araxes) to the Caucasus, and those of the plain to the Don, the sea of Azof, and the N. Ocean. It is credible, that from the Rosh and Meshech nations dwelling about the Araxes, are descended the Russians and Moscovites.

Dr. Dwight C. Pentecost is the author of an excellent study of the major themes of Bible prophecy entitled Things to Come. During the last few years I have discussed a number of prophetic issues with him and have a great appreciation for his superb book. Dr. Pentecost quotes Professor Bauman on the identification of Magog as follows:

Magog's land was located in, what is called today, the Caucasus and the adjoining steppes. And the three, Rosh, Meshech and Tubal were called by the ancients, Scythians. They roamed as nomads in the country around and north of the Black and the Caspian Seas, and were known as the wildest barbarians.

One of the most important scholarly tools employed in the exegesis of Scripture is Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon. Numerous scholars utilize this book as an authority on the precise meaning of Hebrew and Chaldee words found in the original languages of the Old Testament. In the section of his definitive work dealing with this identification, Gesenius wrote the following:

Magog - PR. N. of a son of Japheth, Genesis 10:2; also of a region, and a great and powerful people of the same name, inhabiting the recesses of the north, who are at some time to invade the Holy Land Ezekiel 38, 39. We are to understand just the same nations as the Greeks comprised, under the name of Scythian (Josephus Antiquites of the Jews 1.6.1.)

It is important to note that Professor Gesenius referred to "Magog" as a real nation that will invade the Holy Land in the future. Gesenius' concluded that "Gog" was a

prince of the land of Magog . . . also of Rossi, Moschi, and Tibareni, who are to come with great forces from the extreme north (38:15; 39:2), after the Exile (38:8,12) to invade the holy land, and to perish there, as prophesied by Ezekiel.

In addition, Gesenius described the Revelation 20:8 passage as a reference to a final war involving "Gog and Magog" at the end of the Millennium. However, he correctly concludes this final war will be a totally separate event: "Gog and Magog in the Apocalypse belong to a different time to those spoken of in Ezekiel, so it is in vain to point out a discrepancy."

The literal interpretation of "Magog" by Gesenius and other biblical scholars stands in marked contrast to the allegorical interpretation of many modern scholars who treat Ezekiel 38­39 as "apocalyptic literature" (referring only to a symbolic war between good and evil). Gesenius identified Magog as a real country, which exists to the extreme north of the Holy Land that will invade Israel in the future. He also identified Magog with the "same nations as the Greeks comprised under the name of Scythians." In light of the many scholastic sources that identify Magog with Scythia, we must answer a critical question: Who were the Scythians and what geographical area did they occupy?

The Scythians

Professor G. Rawlinson wrote a definitive study of the ancient tribes and empires that ruled the Middle East called Five Great Monarchies. Chapter 9 of that work, dealing with Assyria, includes the following footnote: "The Scythians proper of Herodotus and Hippocrates extended from the Danube and the Carpathians on the one side, to the Tanais or Don upon the other." The geographic territories described by Professor G. Rawlinson that were ruled by the Scythians are clearly located in the south of Russia and include the Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia (see figure 3 for the location of the Scythians).

In Ezekiel 38:7 the prophet foretells that in this future conflict Russia (Magog) will also be the arm's supplier for all of these nations. God says, "Be thou a guard unto them." It is fascinating to observe that the armories of these nations (as listed by Ezekiel), without exception, are filled with Russian AK-47 assault rifles, SAM missiles, RPG7 anti-tank weapons and various other Russian-manufactured arms, exactly as the Bible foretold thousands of years ago. The prophet described an invasion that would come without warning in which the enemy invaded like a "storm" or "cloud to cover the land." It is possible that the prophet saw in vision an airborne invasion force, like D day, and used the best language he had available to describe such an event.

The Coming Russian-Arab Invasion of Israel

Bible prophecy also provides some insight into the ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Thousands of years ago the prophet Ezekiel (chaps. 38­39) predicted that a huge confederacy of Arab nations under Russian leadership would join together to attack Israel in the generation after the Jewish exiles returned to their homeland. Despite massive changes in Russia, the hard-liners in the KGB, the army, and military-industrial complex maintain their solid grip on the levers of power. A recent study of the role of the military in Russia revealed that President Boris Yeltsin secretly appointed over 14,000 senior military generals to assume command of every single department of the Russian government in the spring of 1996. These departments included the health, agricultural, transportation, and mining ministries. Until the recent political changes in Russia, no men could rise above the rank of major in Russia's army unless they were an approved member of the Russian Communist Party. Therefore, the military officers controlling the "democratic" government of Russia are virtually all Communists. By this action Yeltsin has allowed the Communist Party and their military allies to secretly assume control over all major decisions in his government. Although Yeltsin won the June 1996 elections, the Communists hold a clear majority in the Duma (Parliament). Despite all the media hype about Russian democracy, the real leadership of Russia remains firmly in the hands of the resurrected Communist Party, the renamed KGB (now called the Foreign Intelligence Service), and the powerful army generals.

Twenty-six centuries ago the prophet Ezekiel prophesied that a military leader would arise in the land of Magog to lead a Russian-Arab alliance of nations to attack Israel. Ezekiel predicted that this leader would say, "I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates" (Ezekiel 38:11). It is interesting to note that, during the lifetime of Ezekiel and throughout history up until 1900, virtually all of the villages and cities in the Middle East had strong walls for defense. Ezekiel had never seen a village or city without defensive walls. Yet, in our day, Israel is truly a "land of unwalled villages" for the simple reason that modern techniques of warfare (bombs, tanks, and missiles) make city walls irrelevant for defense. This is one more indication that his prophecy refers to our modern generation.

Since 1948 Israel has been forced to live as an armed camp while surrounded by twenty-one nations with two hundred million Arabs that are publicly committed to her destruction. The Jewish state has not been able to "dwell safely." This threatening situation compels Israel to spend more of its budget on defense than any other country in the world. However, the present peace negotiations between the PLO and Israel may create a false sense of security during the next few years. The Jewish state will relax its defenses as a result of the misconception that she can "dwell safely." This present peace process may set the stage for the fulfillment of the great War of Gog and Magog prophesied by the prophet Ezekiel.

When this Russian-Arab alliance attacks Israel, the prophet declared that God will intervene with supernatural earthquakes, hail, and pestilence to defeat the combined forces of Russian and Arab armies. This miraculous deliverance by the hand of God may set the stage for Israel to build the Third Temple as described in Daniel 9:24­27. These awesome prophetic events concerning the defeat of Russia will prepare the way for the fulfillment of the prophecies of the rise of Antichrist to rule the earth and his seven-year treaty with Israel. This treaty with the Antichrist will commence a seven-year countdown to the return of the Messiah at the Battle of Armageddon to establish His eternal Kingdom on earth.

These critical developments in the Middle East encourage believers to live in constant expectation of the glorious return of our Messiah. Jesus said, "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh"(Luke 21:28). Yet we, as Christians, must live in a spiritual balance during these last days. Although our Messiah may return soon, He may also delay His return for a generation or more because our Lord "is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance"(2 Peter 3:9). We must live each day watching for His return. We must faithfully witness to those around us as though His return will occur immediately. Yet we must also plan and work as though we still have a hundred years. Our Lord commanded, "Occupy till I come"(Luke 19:13).

The Strategic Importance of the West Bank and the Golan Heights

If Israel's present government under Prime Minister Netanyahu continues the disastrous policies of former prime ministers Rabin and Peres and surrenders the vital strategic territory in the West Bank and the Golan Heights in its "Land for Peace" negotiations with the PLO and its Arab neighbours, Israel will face military disaster in the next war. The tragic four-thousand-year history of the Middle East indicates clearly that another Arab-Israeli war will occur. It is only a question of timing. Israel requires military control of the land on the Golan Heights, Gaza, and the West Bank in order to provide the strategic depth to defend itself against the overwhelming military force of twenty-one enemy Arab nations. The Arab nations possess territory that is five hundred times the size of tiny Israel. Why do the Arabs need the small strategic territory of the Golan Heights and the West Bank? The real reason that the Arabs need this territory is so they can destroy the Jewish state of Israel. Every single European or American military study in the last thirty years has concluded that Israel cannot be defended by conventional weapons if it surrenders military control over these vital strategic territories. The 1992 study by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed that Israel can not surrender the Golan, Gaza, or the West Bank and expect to survive the next Arab invasion.

History shows that victorious nations have never returned land captured from their enemies following a defensive war in which they were forced to defend themselves against their attackers. The Golan Heights represents less than 1 percent of the territory of the large nation of Syria. The Golan Heights was only controlled by Syria for a few decades after World War I. They lost it to Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967. The only reason Syria needs this small territory is to use it to attack Israel. However, Israel desperately needs the Golan Heights to resist Syria's tanks. Moreover, 30 percent of Israel's water comes from the Golan Heights. If they surrender control of the West Bank territory, Israel will be less than nine miles wide at its center near Tel Aviv, where almost 80 percent of its population lives. In a future conflict Arab armies could easily cut Israel in two by attacking from the PLO-controlled high ground of Judea and Samaria (West Bank). The Jewish state could then be overrun in a matter of days. Unlike other conflicts in which defeat leads to a loss of territory and political freedom, an Arab conquest of Israel would lead to a massive slaughter of the Jewish population.

In a future war Israel may be quickly forced to resort to nuclear weapons when they find their small diminished territory about to be overcome by Arab armies. The Israeli army describes this desperate scenario as "the Samson Option" because it would lead to the destruction of the whole Middle East; Samson, too, brought down the temple on his enemies and on himself. Despite this grim reality, the Israeli government has agreed to relinquish much of the strategic area of the West Bank and all of Gaza while continuing negotiations with Syria about the Golan Heights. Military and intelligence sources have informed me that if this "Oslo II" peace process continues, for the first time since its creation in 1948, Israel's conventional army and air force will soon be unable to successfully defend its vital territory and population from an overwhelming Arab armed invasion.

The Lord commands all believers to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee" (Psalms 122:6). However, the current peace process between the PLO and Israel may set the stage for the fulfillment of these tremendous prophecies about the War of Gog and Magog and how they lead to the Messiah's return in our generation. While we long for true peace in the Middle East, we must recognize that the ancient prophets warned that a false peace in the last days would precede the final conflict that would conclude with the Battle of Armageddon. The prophet Jeremiah warned that in the last days men would say, "Peace, peace! When there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14). Our world will not know true peace until Jesus the Messiah, the Prince of Peace returns. Scriptures reveal that real peace will only come to the Middle East when the Arabs and the Jews finally dwell as brothers in true peace under the rule of their Messiah, who alone can heal the ancient hatred between them.

The Proposal That Israel Surrender Land for Peace

For fifty years, the United Nations and the Arab states have continually demanded that the tiny nation of Israel surrender its vital land to "buy" peace with its Arab neighbours. However, we should consider some questions. How large is Israel compared to her Islamic neighbours? The state of Israel is less than one-tenth of 1 percent as large as the thirty-five Islamic states surrounding her throughout the Middle East. These thirty-five Islamic states possess 8,879,548 square miles of territory and a combined population of 804,500,000. To put this in perspective, the tiny nation of Israel is only 8,020 square miles in size with a population of less than five million people. This means that the surrounding Islamic nations are 1,107 times larger than the Jewish state of Israel. The state of Texas alone is over thirty-two times the size of Israel. The Islamic state of Saudi Arabia is over one hundred and seven times the size of Israel. Islam is the major religion in thirty-five nations, or 22 percent of the 159 member-states of the United Nations. Judaism is the major religion in only one nation on earth, the state of Israel.

In addition, these Arab and Islamic nations are incredibly wealthy as a result of their oil resources. They are also naturally related to the Arab Palestinians by both race and religion. In addition, most of the Palestinian Arabs were born in Arab states surrounding Israel. Why should Israel surrender its incredibly small and strategically vital territory to her Arab enemies when the Islamic states have more than a thousand times the land and their vast oil wealth that can be utilized to absorb the Palestinian Arabs?

Israel's Covenant with Death

The world was astonished to witness the leader of Israel and its deadly enemy, the Arab PLO, sign an agreement on September 13, 1993, promising to end the brutal warfare that has characterized the Middle East for the last fifty years. PLO leader Yasser Arafat and the late Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin took the first tentative steps towards a possible peace treaty in the Middle East. Does this mean true peace is at hand? Or, will a false peace set the stage for the War of Gog and Magog prophesied by the ancient prophets of Israel?

The Arab governments and the PLO now claim that they are offering Israel "peace for land." But what kind of "peace" are they offering? There are two concepts or terms for "peace" in the Arab language. One represents true peace such as the peace between Canada and the United States, where we genuinely wish our neighbours well. The other refers to something more like "an armed truce." During the Crusades, the leader of the defeated Muslim armies, Saladin, offered the English general, Richard the Lion Heart, a peace treaty. However, two years later, after rebuilding his Arab armies, Saladin suddenly broke his agreement and defeated the English armies in Israel. In Yasser Arafat's speeches to Arab audiences, he boasts that he will offer Israel "the peace of Saladin." This proves that he is offering Israel "an armed truce" rather than "true peace." The PLO have not relinquished their commitment to conquer all of the land of Israel, or to destroy the Jewish population. All Arab Palestinian groups use emblems, flags, letterhead symbols, and maps that deny acknowledgement of the existence of the Jewish state.

The PLO have repeatedly declared to Arab audiences that their long-term strategy is to eliminate Israel in a plan called "Liberation in Phases." Since 1974 Yasser Arafat decreed that during the first phase of his "Liberation in Phases" plan, the PLO would seek to establish a beachhead in Gaza and the West Bank. In the second phase their armies will take over Jerusalem. In the final phase, they will build up their strength in Gaza and the West Bank to join their Arab-nation allies in an invasion to finally conquer all of Israel. On September 1, 1993, Arafat confirmed to an Arab audience that his peace accord was part of his previous "Phases" plan. During interviews, many Arab leaders, as well as individual Palestinians, have declared that they would never be content until they recovered the entire land of Israel from the Jews. In 1980 Yasser Arafat clearly stated, "Peace for us means the destruction of Israel." One of the problems for Israel is that the Koran teaches that if a land was ever occupied in the past by Muslims, then it must be recovered by Jihad, or holy war. Although Yasser Arafat has pledged to eliminate the references in the PLO Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization that call for the destruction of Israel and the Jews, he has consistently refused to fulfill this pledge. Furthermore, most of his Arab allies refuse to relinquish their goals to destroy the Jewish state. The Arab states continue to arm for war against Israel.

The PLO Charter

Excerpts from the PLO Charter, including the revisions made in 1968 and 1974, still include the following language calling for the destruction of Israel. Article 1 declares that "Palestine is the homeland of the Palestinian Arab people and an integral part of the great Arab homeland, and the people of Palestine is a part of the Arab Nation." Significantly Article 2 of the Charter affirms that "Palestine with its boundaries that existed at the time of the British Mandate is an integral regional unit." This means that the PLO not only claims the West Bank and Gaza plus Jerusalem, but they still demand that the Jews surrender every single inch of Israel also. Article 3 declares, "The Palestinian Arab people possesses the legal right to its homeland, and when the liberation of its homeland is completed it will exercise self-determination solely according to its own will and choice." This means that the Jews will have no rights, no will, and no choice if the Palestinians succeed. Articles 7, 8, and 9 confirm that "armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine." Lest anyone misunderstand their intent regarding the Jews who have lived in Israel all their lives, the PLO Charter declares the following in Article 15: "The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national duty to repulse the Zionist, imperialist invasion from the great Arab homeland and to purge the Zionist presence from Palestine . . . until the liberation of its homeland." Finally, the Charter's articles reflect the Arabs' fundamental rejection of any truly peaceful cooperation with the Jewish people to share any portion of the Holy Land. Article 19 states, "The establishment of Israel is fundamentally null and void . . ." In case any reader still wonders if the PLO intends to live in peace with the Jews they should carefully consider the words of Article 22: "The liberation of Palestine will liquidate the Zionist and imperialist presence. . . ."

The prospects for lasting peace in the Middle East are remote. Even if Israel recklessly surrenders military control of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, this will still not satisfy the ultimate goals of the Arab nations nor the PLO. Since the Arab's true stated goal as revealed in countless speeches and the PLO Charter is the annihilation of Israel, this preliminary surrender of land simply alters the strategic balance massively and irreversibly in favor of the Arabs. However, the implacable hatred of the Arabs is the true cause of the last four wars against Israel. The Arab nations tried to annihilate the Jewish state in three wars (1948, 1956, and 1967) long before the Jews had occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Obviously, Arab hatred against the Jews will never be satisfied by simply surrendering these territories to the PLO and Syria. These surrenders will simply allow the Arabs to be in a much improved strategic position to launch a final annihilating war against Israel. Despite the current euphoria, Israel's Arab neighbors will continue to harbor thoughts and plans of launching a future war against the Jewish people. Far from leading to a real peace, if Israel does surrender these vital territories, it will make a future war more certain.



Setting the Stage for a Seven-Year Treaty with Antichrist

The United Nations and the Arab states continue to demand the elimination of Israel's nuclear weapons. The introduction of Iranian nuclear weapons and the growing possibility of Libya, Syria, and Iraq joining the nuclear club has seriously altered the strategic balance of the Middle East. It is difficult to see how a balance of nuclear terror could continue for very long between Israel and the Islamic states who remain dedicated to Israel's destruction. United Nations' resolutions to ban nuclear weapons from the Middle East may tempt a future Israeli government to recklessly agree to relinquish their nuclear option. The present leaders of Israel realize that an unstable Arab regime, such as Iraq or Libya, might be tempted to use their nuclear, biological, or chemical warheads even though they know it would result in mutual destruction. In Islamic religious philosophy Muslims believe they will gain paradise if they die in a devastating war to cleanse the "infidels" from Jerusalem. In a few years following the War of Gog and Magog, the defeat of the Arab armies will pave the way for a European superpower to come forward to guarantee Israel's security and borders. Several prophecies describe the revival of the Roman Empire in the end times to dominate Europe and the rest of the world, as it did thousands of years ago in the days of Christ. The rise of the European Union is creating an economic and political superpower that is increasing its involvement in the Middle East peace process. The prophet Daniel wrote that a future Antichrist would arise in the last days to take over the revived Roman Empire (Daniel 7). Daniel predicted that "He shall confirm a covenant with many for one week." The word "many" means the Jews, and the word "week" is commonly used symbolically in Hebrew to refer to a period of seven years. This verse indicates that this future European dictator would confirm a treaty to defend Israel for seven years. The signing of this future treaty will start the final seven-year countdown to Armageddon, the climactic battle when Jesus Christ will defeat the armies of the world and establish His kingdom forever. This interim peace agreement between the PLO and Israel may set the stage for the fulfillment of these tremendous prophecies that lead to Christ's return in our generation.

The prophet Isaiah also spoke of this final seven-year peace treaty based on Israel's false confidence in the Antichrist: "You have said, 'We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we are in agreement. When the overflowing scourge passes through, it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves'" (Isaiah 28:15). The leaders of Israel will cynically make this seven-year treaty with the powerful dictator of the European superstate believing that he will protect Israel from the overwhelming military force of her enemies during that terrible time. However, the treaty will fail to protect them. In Isaiah 28:18 the prophet reveals God's judgment on Israel's treaty with the Antichrist: "Your covenant with death will be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overflowing scourge passes through, then you will be trampled down by it." After three and one half years the Antichrist will betray Israel and break the treaty. He will enter the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem and claim to be god. When he demands that Israel worships him, most of the Jews will rebel against him. The book of Revelation describes the righteous Jews fleeing into the wilderness for 1260 days (three and one half years) after this betrayal.

When the "Gog and Magog" invasion occurs (see figure 4), it appears that the only response from the Western democracies will be a diplomatic protest. Ezekiel 38:13 says that "Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish" and "the young lions thereof, [probably the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Commonwealth nations] shall say unto thee, "Art thou come to take a spoil?" Tarshish, Sheba, and Dedan were ancient trading nations and are believed by many Bible scholars to refer to Spain or Britain and their former colonies ("the young lions thereof"). It will not be the Western democracies that respond to this attack. The superpower who intervenes to save Israel in its greatest hour of need will be their great defender, the God of Abraham.

God declares through His prophet Ezekiel that He will defeat Russia and its Arab allies in the greatest military disaster in history. According to Ezekiel 39:2, five-sixth's of the Russian-Arab armies (85 percent) will be annihilated by God upon the mountains of Israel. The Lord will trigger the greatest earthquake experienced thus far in history, centered in the mountains of Israel, but affecting the cities around the globe. In addition, the supernatural destruction will be accompanied by God's additional judgments, including "pestilence, overflowing rain, great hailstones, fire, brimstone" (38:22). The Lord will send such confusion and chaos upon the enemy that "every man's sword shall be against his brother" (verse 21). The devastation and loss of human life will be so great that "seven months shall the house of Israel be burying of them" (Ezekiel 39:12). The captured weapons and fuel supplies will provide fuel for the towns and villages of Israel for seven years following the supernatural victory (verse 9).

In my research, I have found that some new Russian weapons have been produced. These weapons are manufactured using a new material known as lignostone. Prepared from compressed wood-product, this material was developed in Holland to be used as fuel. However, the Soviet weapons laboratories discovered that this unique substance, called lignostone, is as strong as steel, light, pliable, and almost invisible to radar. These unique characteristics encouraged the Russian military to utilize this material in many military vehicles and weapons. One of the characteristics of lignostone is that it burns at very high temperatures and can be readily used as an alternative fuel. The use of lignostone, and the fact that mobile Russian military units can carry large amounts of fuel (in containers 100 yards across) for their tanks and helicopters, may explain the prophecy that the defeat of this army will provide ample fuel for Israel for a period of seven years.

The prophecy recorded in Ezekiel 38:21 and 39:21­22 indicates that God's purpose in this extraordinary intervention in history is to glorify and sanctify His Holy Name in the sight of Israel and the Gentile nations. The awesome destruction associated with this victory over the Russian-Arab armies will not be confined solely to the invading armies. God declared, "And I will send a fire on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles: and they shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezekiel 39:6). Russia (Magog) will be devastated by the wrath of God, as well as those nations "dwelling carelessly in the isles" which may refer to Europe and America.

Russia has prepositioned enormous military supplies in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Egypt in preparation for the coming Russian-Arab invasion of Israel. It is both easier and more efficient for Russia to airlift huge numbers of lightly armed men into Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon to pick up previously positioned weapons, than to airlift the military supplies for them. Military equipment often weighs five to ten times the weight of the soldier who will use that equipment. The same logic motivates the United States military to preposition enormous amounts of military supplies in Europe to be available for American and Canadian troops who would be flown into France and Germany in the event of a Russian invasion of Western Europe. The PLO, Iraq, Jordan, Lybia, and Syria are themselves already so heavily armed that they have little practical use for this additional equipment.

God set an appointment more than twenty-five hundred years ago to destroy Gog and Magog on the mountains of Israel: "Thus saith the Lord God; Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them?" (Ezekiel 38:17). As I mentioned earlier, it is fascinating to read the Jewish commentaries on Ezekiel 38 and 39 that describe an oral tradition recorded from the Vilna Gaon that advises Jews to observe carefully when the Russian fleet (Magog) passes from the Black Sea through the Bosporus to the Mediterranean. "It is now the time to put on your Sabbath clothes because the Messiah is coming." For the first time in history, the Russian Navy has surpassed all other navies in the world in size. Russia has moved many of its ships from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean Sea opposite Israel to challenge the former U.S. naval supremacy in that strategic area.

Although Scripture does not indicate the year in which this future invasion and defeat of Russia will occur, the prophet Haggai gives us a strong indication of what the actual day may be. Haggai reveals that on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month (Chisleu) of the Jewish calendar, the day before Hanukkah, God will deliver Israel as He did twice before on this day: (1) the defeat of the Syrian army and recapture of the Temple in 165 b.c. and (2) the British capture of Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917 during the closing battles of WWI.

The prophet Haggai declares: "The Word of the Lord came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month [Chisleu], saying, Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother" (Haggai 2:20­22).

This description by Haggai, and the exact language of his prophecy, is uncannily like the language of Ezekiel 38 and 39 that describes Russia's defeat. The interesting point is that Haggai names the exact day of the year on which this will occur. Since so many other prophecies have been so precisely fulfilled to the day, there is a strong probability that this prophetic event will also occur on its appointed anniversary date of the biblical calendar. "Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord God; this is the day whereof I have spoken" (Ezekiel 39:8). God's appointment with Russia is set; it will not be postponed.