The Birth Pangs of the Messiah
Gershom is a young Israeli I visited during our 1993 Summer Witnessing Campaign in New York City. He perfectly fit the stereotype of many Israelis who live in Manhattan. He was in the United States temporarily in order to earn enough money to return to Israel and continue his studies. He was an archaeology student, but he was working for a moving company. (That seems to be a very common job for Israelis in New York, maybe because many Manhattan moving companies are owned by Jewish people who would be inclined to hire fellow Jews whenever possible.) To keep expenses down, Gershom was sharing a flat with several other Israelis. To complete the stereotype, Gershom held the agnostic, almost atheistic worldview that is prevalent among many Israelis today.
One of our campaigners had met Gershom on the street, and Gershom had seemed open to further discussion. I was eager to get together with him soon because he was going back to Israel in less than two weeks. I called him and we set up a time to meet.
The common ground I had with Gershom was my interest in archaeology. When I asked him why he wanted to become an archaeologist, he said, I want to understand the future by understanding the past.” Knowing that we would only be able to meet once or twice before Gershom returned to Israel, I lent him my Bible and asked him to read Matthew 24.
On our next (and last) visit, we discussed the events of the future described by Yeshua in Matthew 24. Yeshua spoke of the time before His return as “the beginning of sorrows.” There are parallel Talmudic references to the “birth pangs” or “travail” of the Messiah (Sanhedrin 98b and Shabat 118a). These are based on Old Testament prophecies of suffering before the coming of the Messiah. The time is likened to the ordeal of childbirth. When a woman begins to have birth pangs, it means that things are not going to get easier, only much harder. Joy lies ahead, but first comes the painful part.
Yeshua predicted that before the joy of His return, there would be an increase in painful events. There would be famines, earthquakes, lawlessness and wars between countries. He also foretold that many would come and claim to be the Messiah, and that many false prophets would arise. Perhaps most poignant of all was Yeshua’s warning of the future “abomination of desolation” foretold in Daniel 11:31 and 12:11. It sounds similar to what Syrian King Antiochus perpetrated against the Jewish people in 165 B.C.
In discussing these things with Gershom, I pointed out two things. First, in order for the “abomination of desolation” to recur, Israel would have to exist once more as a nation. Prior to 1948, there was no nation of Israel, and many theologians frankly did not know what to make of Daniel’s prophecy in relation to the timetable of world events. Yet with the rebirth of Israel in 1948, many began to rethink what they had previously regarded as mere symbolism.
The second factor was that, before “the abomination of desolation” could happen, there would have to be another temple in Jerusalem. In recent years rumors have begun about people in Israel making plans to rebuild the Temple. Other rumors also say that a priesthood is being trained. In their zeal to see end-time prophecy fulfilled, some will subscribe to any sort of rumor. I explained that I usually take reports like that with a large grain of salt. Nevertheless, for those of us who interpret the Scriptures literally, the question is not if the Temple will be rebuilt, but when it will happen.
Gershom and I also discussed the increase of famine, the growing frequency of large-scale earthquakes, the deterioration of the earth’s environment, the many false teachers and prophets and the lawlessness that we read about more and more in the papers. Gershom began to see what I was driving at: We may not know the exact time of Yeshua’s return, but we need to recognize the pattern of events He described and realize that, among other things, He was genuinely a prophet to whom we ought to listen.
I got Gershom’s forwarding address in Israel, and I also encouraged him to look up some of the messianic believers in the area where he will be living. Please pray for Gershom and the many secular Israelis like him. They have been ignoring God, but they won’t be able to ignore Him much longer as the sorrows increase. Pray that in the days ahead many Israelis will come to recognize Jesus, their Messiah. Please pray also that the believers in Israel will be bold in their story, for according to Scripture, what we are experiencing in the world today is “only the beginning of birth pangs.”