How do you differentiate the “third-part left in the land” (Zech 13:8-9) from those brought back to the land from the Diaspora in Isaiah 66:19-20?
To answer this question we need to establish the time of Israel’s national salvation, because this is also the time of another worldwide return that is complete and final. A careful comparison of Isa 11:11-16 with Isa 27:12-13 in their context (note particularly Isa 11:15 with Isa 27:12) will show that the time of the final return is the post-tribulational day of the Lord. This is further established when we see that Jesus mentions Isaiah’s ‘great trumpet’ in connection with His personal return after the tribulation (Mt 24:29, 31).
With the sounding of the great trumpet, the tribulation is past, Jesus appears and the church is translated (Mt 24:31; 1Cor 15:51-52; 2Thes 2:1). At the same time, the elect remnant of Israel that has survived the tribulation deeply repent as they “look upon Him whom they pierced” (Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39; Ro 11:26; Rev 1:7). It is a moment of transforming revelation, best likened to Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus.
With this, a nation is born, ‘at once’ and ‘in one day’ (Isa 66:8; Eze 39:22; Zech 3:9; 12:10; 14:9; Mt 23:39; Acts 3:21; Ro 11:26; Rev 1:7). Now, with God’s face no longer hidden, the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the penitent remnant (Eze 39:28-29) and a newly regenerated nation begins to make its way back to the Land, not by rapture, but by means of every kind of natural means of transport (Isa 49:22; 60:9; 66:20).
[To interpret these scriptures literally, and in light of what we know of the time and nature of the church’s translation into glorified immortality at the last trump, we are left to infer that the Jews who had not repented before the rapture are not translated, but receive repentance and regeneration at the time of the Lord’s appearing (Zech 12:10 with Ro 11:26; Rev 1:7).]
It is crucial that a distinction be made between a preliminary stage of return to the Land before the tribulation and another that is final and complete that takes place after tribulation. The first is in unbelief with prospect of future covenant discipline. The second stage of return is in the repentant faith of the New Covenant.
“From that day and forward” (Eze 39:22), their peace will be sure forever. This final return will be without the presence of the usual remnant, since only the penitent remnant survive to enter the Land as an entirely regenerate nation (Isa 4:2-4; 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34; Eze 39:28). All others will have perished in the tribulation (Eze 20:33-38) . In that day, every Jew left alive will be alive to Christ.
This means that the “third-part” of Zech 13:8-9 will constitute the saved remnant from among those that were dwelling “in the Land when the tribulation began.” This exceptionally large remnant of the Jewish population will escape into the wilderness and thus survive the terrors of the tribulation. They will be preserved alive until the salvation of the last day when the Spirit is poured out (Ps 102:13; Jer 30:7; Eze 39:22, 29; Zech 12:10). Both those that survive in the Land and those in the nations who were “ready to perish” (Isa 27:12-13) are evidently saved at the same time by the same transforming revelation, as the Deliverer returns to Zion (Isa 59:21; Mt 23:39; Ro 11:26).
With the revelation of their estranged Joseph, Zion’s travail is finished, and the nation, wherever it is found among the nations, is “born at once … in one day” (Isa 66:8). With the revelation of Jesus, the Antichrist is destroyed instantly, as the survivors of Israel receive repentance (Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39; Rev 1:7) and begin their final return home, assisted by gentiles (Isa 49:22; 60:9; 66:20; Zech 8:23). No living Jew is left behind; all return (Eze 39:28). Aliyah is complete.
We may ask, how it is that an entire third of the Jewish nation manages to survive the rage of Antichrist? If we restrict the surviving third to only those Jews that are in the land when the tribulation begins, this is indeed a generous portion of survivors of the great tribulation, since we know that Jews in the Land will be the special target of the marauding armies of Antichrist.
This would suggest that many living in the Land when the tribulation begins will manage to escape by flight into the wilderness (Rev 12:6, 14). Could it be that by this time, Jesus’ warning in Mt 24:16 concerning the urgency of flight has become common knowledge through the witness of the believing remnant (the ‘maskilim’ of Dan 11:32-33; 12:3, 10) during the preparation of the first half of the week?
We have yet to see what impact the prophetic testimony will have on a shaken and terrified nation that will see every prophetic word established that they will have heard through the prophetic testimony of believers. They will have heard, for example, what believers were warning concerning Israel’s ill-fated covenant with death and hell (see Isa 28).
The witness of the first half of the week will prepare for the even more powerful witness of the last half of the week. The second half of the week will be the time that a multitude which no man can number will be saved “out of the tribulation, the great one” (Rev 7:9, 14) through the witness of the maskilim (Dan 11:33, 35; 12:10) that will turn many to righteousness (Dan 12:3).
This would suggest that huge numbers of Jews in the Land will be able to escape the Antichrist to places of safety, which according to a number of clear scriptures seem mostly outside of the Land, particularly and specifically the wilderness of southern Jordan (e.g., Isa 16:1-5; 42:11; Dan 11:41). On the other hand, Art contended that the third-part may be proportional to the ratio of Jewish survival globally. In any event, we know that when the tribulation strikes, Jews everywhere will be the target of Antichrist hatred, as Satan knows that only their complete annihilation can stop the fulfillment of the promise.
Although many more Jews may return to the Land after the false peace with the Antichrist, still, the far greater number will remain in the nations. Therefore, any return before the tribulation is much to be contrasted to the final return when not a single Jew will left behind in the nations (Eze 39:28), never again to be threatened by their enemies. Furthermore, it is evident that when the tribulation starts, some Jews from within the land will flee to neighboring regions outside the Land for refuge. We know of at least one area that prophecy makes certain, namely, the wilderness of Petra (Isa 16:1-5; 26:20; 42:11; Dan 11:41).
There will definitely be a remnant of Jews that miraculously survive in the Land all throughout the time of Antichrist (Zech 14:2; Rev 11:13). However, in view of what the scripture depicts of that time, we may expect that the ratio of survival will be comparatively sparse within the Land, particularly in Jerusalem. It seems clear from scripture that the far greater number survive only because they were able to escape into the wilderness, or, in the case of those that survive in Jerusalem (Zech 14:2), this could be due to the special protection by the two witnesses.
In any event, flight is the only wise and obedient response to the clear warning of Jesus (Mt 24:16), as significantly confirmed by Rev 12:6, 14. Scripture is clear that not only Jerusalem, but the entire Land will be the scene of great desolation, because the implacable forces of Antichrist will cover the Land like a flood and like a cloud (Dan 9:26; 11:22; Eze 38:9, 6). The desolation of the holy place, the cities, and all the land will continue for forty two months (Rev 11:2 with Isa 63:18; 64:10; Dan 11:31; 12:1, 7, 11; Mt 24:15-16, 21).
It is important always to distinguish between the preliminary return that we see now (Jer 30:3; Eze 38:8; Zeph 2:1-2) and the final and complete return (to the last man; Eze 39:28) that comes only after the tribulation (i.e., “Jacob’s trouble;” compare Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21; Rev 11:2). It is only this latter return after the tribulation that the scripture can be fulfilled that promises that ‘all Israel’, without the exception, will “lie down in safety, so that none make them afraid ever again forever.’ Until the obedience of the covenant is fulfilled through the regenerating Spirit of Christ, the threat of further covenant discipline and the forewarned desolation of Jerusalem will always hang over Israel’s head as a prophetic inevitability (Dan 11:36).
It is only after the tribulation that the full number of scattered Israel returns, this time as an “all” holy nation, (Isa 54:13; 59:21; 60:21; Jer 31:34). This final return is the one from which Israel will never again be plucked up or destroyed (Amos 9:15). That is the order we see in scripture, and failure to make this crucial distinction has led to very naive notions of Israel’s future, just as the presumption of a pre-trib rapture has led to ignorance of the church’s part and role towards Jacob in the coming hour of ultimate crisis and testing.
In conclusion, the “third-part left in the Land” may refer to a great number that survive within the borders of the Land that endure to the day of national salvation. That would be the most optimistic interpretation. However, knowing what the scripture says of the concentration of the Antichrist forces in the Land, I cannot share that optimism. I see scripture better harmonized by understanding that this is the third-part of the full number of those that were in the Land at the start of the tribulation, but the greater part of the surviving remnant are those that managed to flee into the wilderness. Ezekiel speaks of a final dealing in the “wilderness of the nations” as the scene of a final divine pleading (Eze 20:35 with Jer 31:2; Hos 2:14) .
Whether that wilderness is in the Land or beyond the Land in southern Jordan is a moot question. But in a time when the long arm of Antichrist hatred and persecution will extend into all nations, it is not far to consider that Jacob’s trouble will extend to wherever Jacob is found among all nations. Therefore, the concept of Jewish flight into the wilderness makes perfect sense in view of an Antichrist policy of persecution that will extend as far as his economic control extends (Rev 13:7).
The wilderness mentioned in Rev 12:6, 14 is a common theme throughout the prophets. It is often mentioned as the scene of God’s final pleading in judgment that ends with Israel’s final redemption. This will have it greatest fulfillment in the brief exile of the last 3 1/2 years. Ezekiel speaks of “the wilderness of the peoples” (Eze 20:35), a term that can have reference to the outlying countries, or the particular wilderness through which Israel passed to the promised Land. In either case, we may be sure that the greater part of the “third-part” will survive only by obedience to the Lord’s command to flee, Judea in particular (Mt 24:16).
We believe that the greater part of the ‘third part’ that survive the tribulation do so precisely because many will have been warned to flee when it becomes clear that the desolation of Jerusalem is near at hand (Mt 24:15-16; Lk 21:20-21)? Where do they flee? Jesus said to the mountains of the Judean wilderness, but this may not be their final destination. From the evidence of several passages, many will flee to the wilderness of Petra in southern Jordan, and perhaps other bordering nations, some of which are presently hostile to their Jewish populations (e.g., Egypt, Assyria; Isa 27:12-13). This suggests that survival during that time may be more hopeful in those hostile territories than in the Land itself, a sobering thought to consider.
In any event, the promised survival of a full “third-part” gives us great hope that there will be a sizable remnant that survives throughout all the nations as well, and this puts the onus on the church to be the prophetic voice in all places, and to be the mysterious “they” of Rev 12:6 who “feed her (the woman) there,” i.e., in the wilderness place prepared of God.
So whether in or out of the Land, there is one thing about which there should be sufficient agreement: Jews will not fare well in the population centers. Their greater hope of survival will be to find shelter in the wilderness, in places of refuge from their hunters. I believe at least the greater part of the ‘third part’ of Zech 13:9 will be those that return to the Land from the wilderness to which they fled from the face of Antichrist. It is after his destruction by the returning Messiah that the greater Diaspora of Isa 66:19-20 will return from all lands with singing and everlasting joy (Isa 35:10; 51:11; 61:7). The time of this final and complete return of all Jews from all lands is very clear. It is “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (Mt 24:29; with Jer 30:7-10; Isa 11:10-16; with Isa 27:12-13 with Mt 24:31).
This theme of Israel’s everlasting redemption coming only after a final exodus of sifting and trial in the wilderness has been much neglected. Most Bible scholars recognize it, but interpret the so-called, “new exodus” only of the salvation of the church through Christ. But for our purpose we need to see the time and circumstance of this quite literal wilderness pleading with the nation during its last and most severe phase of the discipline of the covenant.
It is clear that after the Jews have been regathered and reconstituted as a nation in the Land, the prophet Jeremiah does not see the peace that he would have expected on the basis of the earlier prophecies of return in Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah. On the contrary, he is astonished to see, not peace, but a sword (Jer 30:3-7). “Alas, for that day is great so that there is none like it; it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble.” This is also the unequaled tribulation of which Daniel and Jesus spoke (Dan 12:1; Mt 24:21). Therefore, the initial stage of Jewish return from the many generations of exile into revived nationhood (Jer 30:3; Eze 38:8; Dan 12:1) is NOT the final regathering that secures the lasting peace of the everlasting covenant. Rather, it is a prelude to final divine discipline (Zeph 2:1-2).
An unbelieving Jewish nation, however much a necessary fulfillment of prophecy, is still subject to the “quarrel of My covenant” (Lev 26:25). Therefore, it becomes clear that a final wilderness experience that ends in Israel’s everlasting deliverance is future, having its most ultimate fulfillment in the final 3 1/2 years of the great tribulation (Dan 12:7, Rev 11:2; 12:6, 14), which is the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week (Dan 9:27; 11:31; 12:11).
Rather than quibble over to what degree Jews may or may not be again displaced from the land, isn’t it enough that we agree that the greatest tribulation of all time and history is at hand, and that every preparation of faith and foresight is now urgently expedient? Whether in the Land or out of it, who will not agree that Jews everywhere will be driven into the wilderness in flight from the long arm of the Antichrist, which scripture shows will reach into all lands and places (Rev 13:7)?
Seeing that all these things shall surely come to pass, how should we then live? I suppose the question of what action faith and obedience would demand in the light of these things will depend on the question of how soon? That is another discussion, but scripture seems very clear that just as soon as Israel back in the Land after ‘many generations’ of dispersion, the last assault of the gentiles is shown to follow not long after (Jer 30:3; Eze 38:4, 8; Zeph 2:1-2; 3:8; Zech 14:2).
That seems to me to be the general order of events and how the prophecies of return are best harmonized.
Yours in the Beloved, Reggie