No one really knows where this curse originated, but it fits the present day; it goes like this: “May you live in interesting times”. It is meant as irony, since life is thought to be better when things are normal, predictable… not ‘interesting’. Chaos and societal upheaval are ‘interesting’ but who wants to live through that?
We Jews have had more than our share of ‘interesting times’. Ever since our imposed exile from Israel in the aftermath of the Jewish revolts of 66 and 132 AD, we have had to wander the earth, fleeing from persecution in one country, only to eventually face it in the next, and this across all the centuries.
We have a humorous saying that describes Jewish history and we trot it out each year around some of the more festive holidays. The saying goes like this: “They tried to kill us – we won – let’s eat”. We laugh, and we can afford to, since we did win. One of the great lessons of Chanukkah is that God often gives victory to the few over the many, and to the weak over the mighty. But I want you to think about the difficult interval of time between when “They tried to kill us” and “we won”.
When Antiochus put a stop to the daily sacrifice, desecrated the Beit HaMikdash, and erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy Place, that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Until that time, the effort to hellenize the Jews had been gradual. But this abomination was the tipping point. This was war! As Rabbi Jerry explained, the priestly family of Mattathias (the Maccabees) rallied the people, and eventually we prevailed against this tyrant and his wicked armies. The great miracle of Chanukkah was that this comparatively small, rag-tag Jewish army, vastly outnumbered and outgunned, with God’s help gained victory and independence for our people. The Temple was secured, cleansed, and rededicated to the sole worship of the God of Israel.
This morning I’d like us to consider the sobering lessons to be learned, not from the victory, but rather from the difficult, spiritually challenging years that led up to that confrontation. Why? Because Scripture tells us that it’s going to happen all over again, and that it will be even worse. This isn’t opinion; it is biblical prophecy; nor is it merely one person’s interpretation of prophecy; Yeshua declared it and so did Rabbi Paul.
Here are the dire circumstances Messiah Yeshua foretold would take place, as found in Matthew 24, the Olivet Discourse:
- False messiahs will proliferate
- False prophets will proliferate
- Many will fall victim to their false miracles and teachings
“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will mislead many… For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance” (Matthew 24:4-5, 24-25).
- Wars will increase
- Famines will increase
- Earthquakes will increase
“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars… For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes…” (verses 7-8).
- Followers of Yeshua will be hated world-wide
- Followers of Yeshua will be rounded up and martyred
- Many will abandon the Faith and even turn informant against believers
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another” (vss 9-10).
- Rampant criminal behavior will cause people to become cold-hearted
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (verses 22-23).
Yeshua said these things more than once (Matthew 10:16, 21-22):
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves… Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”
And listen to Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the apostasy occurs first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s Temple, proclaiming himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
And consider John’s vision, recorded in Revelation 15:
The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name… He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them…
And John went on to write:
All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. He who has an ear, let him hear (Revelation 15:1-9, excerpted).
The Scriptures all agree on these things. Centuries earlier, the Prophets Jeremiah (30:1-7) and Daniel prophesied these very same things– foretelling the terrible situation on earth, and the great persecution to come at the end of the age. Listen to what Daniel wrote:
Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued (Daniel 12:1).
I realize that a message like this isn’t exactly what people expect on a festive day like Chanukkah, but considering the history behind the holiday, how can we not take to heart the need to prepare ourselves for what is to come. History repeats itself, and Scripture makes clear that what happened in the time of the Maccabees will happen again, and that it will be even worse. But now let me bring us back to Yeshua’s first words of the Olivet Discourse.
“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will mislead many… For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance.”
If false prophets, false teachers and adverse circumstances at the End of the Age will be so bad that even the elect aren’t immune to deception, and Yeshua seems to suggest it, then how do we make sure we are not among those deceived? If lawlessness will be so bad at the end of the age that most people will become loveless, then how do we make sure our love endures?
The first step is to understand that it is a battle of attrition. Consider this: the goal of the Seleucid Dynasty and the evil tyrant Antiochus IV was the eventual complete Hellenization of the Jewish people. But it was executed incrementally. The worship of the Greek pantheon of gods began as a voluntary matter. It was merely encouraged. Some Jewish people adopted Greek customs and began to leave their Jewish heritage behind, telling themselves that it was a matter of diplomacy, and was the best course of action in order to have peace and safety.
Soon enough, however, what began as voluntary came to be expected socially. And soon enough what had been socially expected came to be mandatory – enshrined in law. And those laws forbade circumcision and other commandments from Adonai. And defiance of the laws of Antiochus eventually brought the death penalty.
If you don’t guard yourself against the devious nature of incremental compromise, you will end up part of the Great Apostasy of which Yeshua and Rabbi Paul spoke. So what can you and I do to avoid this gradual slide into apostasy? Simple. Decide right now what you believe, and decide where you draw your boundaries. Ask yourself whether or not you’re prepared to forfeit your life rather than forsake your faith. But one thing is for sure: if you wait until there’s a moral crisis to figure out where your line in the sand is, you will probably not endure.
There’s no magic pill to take to endow you with perseverance and to give you victory. In the arena of sporting contest, natural talent is helpful, but only takes you so far. Perseverance and victory usually comes to the team or the individual who is better conditioned. Victory is usually the result of a lifestyle of discipline and diligent training, not luck or chance. It’s true in every field. The famous chemist, Dr. Louis Pasteur said, a little sarcastically, “Fortune favors the prepared mind”.
The violent oppression of the Jews in the time of Antiochus IV required each Jewish person to make a choice: would they submit to Hellenization and live peacefully, or faithfully follow God’s Law and risk their lives. A similar scenario is beginning to play out in our day, and a time is coming when we will have to make a choice: submit to wicked decrees to avoid trouble, or remain loyal and faithful to Messiah Yeshua at the risk of our lives.
If you hope to endure in the coming tribulation, then now is the time to get into spiritual shape, and it means nurturing the spiritual disciplines of prayer; quieting your soul and seeking God, reading and studying the Scriptures daily and diligently, gathering together with God’s people for worship and accountability, and evangelism – making known the truth of Messiah Yeshua. All these things contribute to spiritual strength, and unless I’ve completely misread the Scriptures, we will need that strength in the days that are coming.
But there’s a bonus in it for us when we prepare for the ‘long game.’ Those same spiritual disciplines will make your life better every day! You know, there’s a lot about oil in Chanukkah; we need to walk in the Spirit; so let us nurture these disciplines. These spiritual ‘engines’ of ours run a lot more smoothly with fresh oil.
O Lord God of Israel, please grant us reverence for You that leads to a disciplined and holy life. Please grant us love for You that leads to unwavering loyalty and enables us to have joy despite any adversity that comes our way. Please grant us strength and resolve that leads to perseverance for that Day. Help us to be ever on the alert, and devoted to You and to Your Kingdom. We ask this through the name of Your Son, our Risen and soon-coming King and Redeemer, Messiah Yeshua.