The word for “Christmas” in Hebrew is “Hag Ha molad” – literally “The Festival of the Birth”.
Christmas and the Last Days
What does Christmas, the Nativity, have to do with the Last Days? This may surprise you, but the answer is everything.
You may have heard me say before that we will never understand the Second Coming of Christ until we understand His First Coming. What happened in His First Coming is replayed, recapitulated, in His Second Coming. When Jesus was born, the Roman emperor was Caesar Augustus – formerly Octavius. He was the first Roman emperor to be deified in his lifetime. Thus there was a Roman emperor presiding over the Roman Empire and being worshiped as a god when Jesus arrived the first time. This emperor took a census, ascribing numbers to people – not actually putting numbers on them, but ascribing one to every person in the known world. There were actually two censuses taken by Augustus, both for this purpose: that he might gain financial control of the world. When Jesus comes back, the same thing will happen: we will have a resurrected Roman Empire headed by someone who is virtually deified. This demi-god will number people’s heads in order to economically control the world. What happened at Jesus’ First Coming will happen again at His Second. Christmas is not just a past event; it is a future event, a prophetic event.
The book of Joel, the book of Revelation, and the Olivet Discourse tell us about signs in the sky and the cosmos heralding the return of Christ. Of course, as we know, there were signs in the sky and the cosmos heralding the birth of Christ. The Jews were in their own land, but under the thumb of this Roman emperor. How did he get there? By seduction – the Roman general, Pompeii, seduced the Jews and entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Whenever you see somebody other than the High Priest on the Day of Atonement entering the Holy of Holies, it is a picture in some way of the Antichrist. What happened with Pompeii in Rome will happen again. These events that we see happening in Europe and in the Middle East are setting the stage.
Jochanan ha Matbiel – John the Baptist – came in the spirit and power of Elijah. He was born just before Jesus and appeared just before Him. The prophet Malachi predicted that in some way, Elijah will come again; Jesus confirmed this.
There were many false prophets in Israel when Jesus came the first time, and many will be here when He comes back. The general backslidden state of the faith that should have believed in Him then is no different in many ways from the backslidden state of the faith that should believe in Him now.
Jesus’ First Coming teaches about His Second. Christmas is neither here nor there; the Nativity, however, is very important. If we do not understand how He came the first time, we will not understand His return. There are differences, of course, but one is a picture of the other.
I have spent a lot of my time for the past 20 years as an evangelist to the Jews thinking about one question: How could it be, with 2,000 years of history preparing for the Messiah to come, being in a covenant relationship with God and having the Scripture, that so few Jews were ready for Jesus to come the first time? Paul tells us that the devil blinded their eyes. (Rom. 11:25) There were 2,000 years of preparation for Jesus to come, Israel had a covenantal relationship with God, and they had the Scriptures. Yet in spite of all this, only a remnant was ready for Him to come. The same thing will be true when He comes back, only it will not only be Israel, but also the so-called church.
What kinds of Christians are going to be ready for Jesus to come again in the Last Days? If you want to know the answer to this, look at the kinds of Jews who were ready for Him to come the first time. If you want to know what kinds of Christians are not going to be ready for Him to come back, take a good look at the kinds of Jews that were not ready for Him to come the first time. His First Coming teaches about His Second; we will never understand His Second Coming until we understand His First. Obviously He will not come as a baby the second time, being born of an earthly mother. There are differences between the two comings, but essentially one prefigures the other.
Those Who Were Not Ready
Before we look at what kinds of Jews were ready for Jesus to come the first time, let’s look at Jews who were not ready. When we see what kinds of Jews were not ready, we will know what kinds of Christians will not be ready. A is to B as B is to C.
Turn with me, please, to Matthew’s Nativity narrative in Matthew 2:1:
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”‘
What we see here is that some of the people who were ready for Jesus to come the first time were people whom you would not have expected to be ready. These Magi, or wise men, were from Persia. They were the chaplains of the ancient Medes and Persians. Somehow in ancient Persia there was a religion that has been changed over the centuries, called Zoroastrianism. It was monotheistic; they believed that there was one God and that man was responsible for his own sin. They believed there was a battle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness; they held similar beliefs, in other words, to those of the Essenes and the Christians.
During the Babylonian Captivity, when Persia overtook Babylon in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies, some of the Persian kings came to believe in the Jewish God, having already been predisposed to monotheism. There was a lingering Jewish influence in that place. We read about Esther, for example, and Darius the Mede, as well as the prophecy of King Cyrus by Isaiah the prophet over 200 years before Cyrus’ birth. We read in Ezra and Nehemiah what happened there. All the way through the Hasmonean period to the time of Jesus, the Persians favored the Jews. In fact, until the Shaw of Iran fell, the Persians – Iran – favored Israel. I have no doubt in my mind that the Prince of Persia, the principality against which Daniel prayed and fasted for three weeks (Dan. 10:13; 20), is still there today in the form of Shia Islam, that Islamic fundamentalism in Iran. People in modern Christian circles like to call demons like this one “territorial spirits”, which is not a good translation or interpretation. The Greek word is “arche”, the Hebrew word “shedim”; a better translation for these words is “principalities”, meaning demonic powers over nations. We have many crazy people today doing “binding and loosing”, among other nonsense, but there is no doubt about the fact that there are principalities over nations. The book of Daniel reveals that, and in Gerasenes the demons going into the swine begged Jesus not to send them out of the region. (Lk. 8:31-33) There are territorial spirits, if you want to use that term, although it is not a particularly good interpretation. They do exist. In Belfast, you see murals of ancient Celtic war gods on the walls, both in the neighborhoods where Protestants are recruited and in those where Catholics are recruited.
You see, those wise men understood how to interpret the signs of the time. Sadly, there are born-again Christians who cannot see the significance of contemporary events in the Middle East. They are blind to it, as if the book of Zechariah was not in the Bible. They cannot see what is happening in the EEC – they don’t understand the globalization of the world economy, the destruction of the environment, or any of these other signs, as wise men do.
So the Magi came to see the Messiah, non-Jews, people you would not have expected, because they saw the Star in the East. Here we see that they come to Jerusalem, where Herod heard them and was troubled – and all Jerusalem with him. This was the city where David said that the Messiah would come. This was where the Temple was; the focus of their identity and their Messianic hope, yet almost nobody who lived there wanted Him to come.
You will find many churches with the same attitude; drive up the road, look at the churches you pass, and ask yourself how many of them really want Jesus to come back. All Jerusalem was troubled; oh, they had the rituals, the liturgies, the festivities and the holidays, but when it looked like He was showing up, they were all troubled. Especially troubled were the national and religious leaders. Think about this.
It gets even more frightening, however – these guys knew the Scriptures. Herod wanted to know where the Messiah would be born, and they told him what Micah 5:2 said, that He would be born in Bethlehem. They had head knowledge of the Scriptures, but not heart knowledge. When He showed up, it was the last thing in the world that they either expected or wanted. Do you think it will be any different when He returns?
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Who is not going to be ready? “Herod mourned, and all Jerusalem with him.” The Sanhedrin were troubled. The theologians were pulling their hair out. They won’t be ready – people like that rarely are. But the individual clergy like Zacharias and his dear wife, or Joseph the foster father of Jesus – a man who was just, or a teenage girl who said, “I need a Savior”, or the shepherds who watched their flocks, or a little old lady whose whole life was spent in prayer and serving God and telling others about Jesus, or an old man who longed for Him to come and was filled with the Spirit of God – they are a different story. They were the kinds of Jews, who were ready for Him to come the first time, and I promise you, they will be the kinds of Christians who are ready for Him to come the second time.
My prayer for all of you, for your families, for myself and for my family, when I look at these Jews who were ready for His first coming, is that by the grace of the God of Israel we will be among the faithful who will be ready the second time. My dear brethren in Jesus, make no mistake about it: Christmas is coming.
My favorite Christmas carol is Hark the Herald Angels Sing for this reason: the music was composed by Felix Mendelssohn, a Jew, and the words were written by Charles Wesley, a Gentile Christian. It is one of the greatest Jew-Gentile collaborations I know of. Would you join me in singing it?
Hark, the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With th’angelic hosts proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Hark, the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn Kin