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Christian Zionism 101

The Second Coming of Jesus

Even a brief glance at the New Testament will reveal that the Second Coming of Jesus was never far from the mind and hearts of those earliest Christian believers. The question we have to ask some two thousand years later is, “Were they wrong?” Did they have an expectation of the soon return of Jesus that was misguided? For instance, even Paul, when writing to the Corinthian church about marriage, stated that in view of the “impending distress” it is better not to marry. He felt that time was short and that therefore the believers needed to fix their hope fully on the soon coming of Jesus.

Progressive prophetic fulfilment

From Jesus’ Olivet discourse, the disciples recognised that certain signs in the region and in the world would indicate the soon coming of Jesus. These are: a temple would be standing in Jerusalem; a global world power would invade the city of Jerusalem; the Holy of holies would be desecrated; great distress would befall the region; and believers would have to flee and find shelter. Then, Jesus would come!

They saw all of these signs flashing and growing with each passing day. The “Day of the Lord” was surely upon them! They were therefore both right and wrong, since it is clear from Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 that the events about which Jesus spoke entailed two fulfilments. One occurred in AD 70 and another was yet in the future. Paul is clear, as is John, that the Anti-Christ who desecrates the Temple is destroyed by the visible real coming of Jesus a second time. We are dealing here with what Bible scholars refer to as “progressive prophetic fulfilment.” That is, one vision having two fulfilments over time! These same circumstances have not come together again until our day!

The signs of the end

While there have always been wars, rumours of wars, conflicts and natural upheavals, it was not until 1948 that the crucial building block of a Jewish return to Jerusalem fell into place again. Jesus cited this as the validating sign of the His near coming (Luke 21:24). Now today, as it was in AD 70, there is once again a growing global campaign against a Jewish Jerusalem and indeed a campaign to delegitimize Israel and dismantle her. Conflict and wars are everywhere and great earthquakes and natural upheavals are a familiar occurrence. It is the first time in 2000 years that these “signs” are manifesting again. Like the disciples of Paul’s day, we should look up because our “redemption draws nigh” (Luke 21:28). Jesus is coming and about this we should not have any doubts at all!

The miracle of Israel’s restoration is the validating sign heralding the return of our dear Lord. It is also true that the Word of God portrays Israel’s restoration as taking place amidst great international resistance to it. The nations will eventually mobilize, as they did in AD 70, against Jerusalem and they will try to remove it from Jewish hands (Zechariah 12). They will be thwarted and Jesus will return in glory and splendour to set up His throne in Jerusalem and from which He will rule the nations with a “rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15).

The hope of the Church

This glorious hope of Jesus’ return (Titus 2:11-13) serves to keep the Church pure and clean. It is when we lose this hope that we sleep spiritually and begin to get entangled in the worldly affairs. Jesus warned about this in His parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).

It is always fascinating to note that every time scripture refers to the Second Coming of Jesus, it invites us to embrace an appropriate spiritual response. So Jesus says, “watch and pray” (Mark 13:33-37).

John, in his first epistle, also tells us that if we hold the hope of Jesus’ return in our hearts, we should “purify ourselves” (1 John 3:1-3). That is, live clean and godly lives!

In his first epistle, Peter writes that because the “end of all things is at hand”, we should be loving, prayerful and engaged in the Lord’s business (1 Peter 4:7-10).

Finally, Paul not only greets his readers with the words Maranatha (“the Lord is coming” – 1 Corinthians 16:22), but he also exhorts believers, who have lost believing loved ones, to fix their hope on the Second Coming of Jesus when they will be resurrected to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

The Second Coming of Jesus thus keeps the Church spiritually healthy and when we ignore it we do the people of God a disservice. Now more than ever, Christians should be gazing into heaven and preparing their lives to welcome Jesus back.

“Behold He is coming and every eye will see Him.” These words greet us in the very first chapter of the book of Revelation. This passage goes on to say that “all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him” (Revelation 1:7). Why would they mourn over such a wonderful event? Because they never embraced Him or prepared their lives to welcome Him on the day of His return.

Jesus also warned in his Olivet discourse that the love of many would grow cold (Matthew 24:12). This can only be a reference to Christians who have taken their spiritual eyes off His soon return! May he not be talking about anyone of us!

The mode of His coming

Though many so-called theologians have tried to deny it in recent years, the Bible teaches that Jesus will come visibly and physically to the Mount of Olives. As He went, so He will come again and thus His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which is to the east of Jerusalem (Acts 1:9-11).

His visible coming will be with great glory and the whole world will see this glory as it flashes from the east to the west (Matthew 24:27). As He descends from Heaven in triumph to reign and rule over the nations, a great trumpet blast will take place and the dead in Christ and all believers then alive will rise to meet Him (Matthew 24:30-31; Revelation 2:27-28, 12:5). What a wonderful day this will be and so no wonder we are to get ready as we now see it approaching! (Hebrews 10:25)

Our Battered Brethren

By David Parsons
January 2006

It has the ring of a spy novel “the Bethlehem dossier.”

The author, Samir Qumsieh, an Arab Orthodox parishioner from Beit Sahour, came forward in August with a list he had compiled of 93 incidents of abuses committed against Bethlehem’s Christians by local “Islamic mafia” and 140 cases of land theft against the dwindling Christian community over the past five years. Accompanied by a petition signed by scores of traditional Christians, the Bethlehem dossier was quietly delivered to leading bishops and clerics in Jerusalem, as well as to the Papal Nuncio, Ambassador Pietro Sambi, and the head of the Franciscan Custos in the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

Like Luther nailing his 95 points to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, the dossier sent ripples through the corridors of Jerusalem’s historic churches. Here was a catalog of grievances compiled by grassroots parishioners documenting what the holy city’s pro-Palestinian bishops and patriarchs had been denying for decades.

Armed Muslim gangs have invaded our homes, extorted our businesses, torched our shops, raped our daughters, and stolen our lands, the dossier charged. Our appeals for protection and redress to Palestinian authorities go unanswered or even worse spark clan retaliation against us for filing complaints in the first place. Thousands of our family members have fled abroad. And the whole time, you shepherds remain silent!

Silent Shepherds

THE SHEPHERDS indeed have not been just silent, but actively deceptive concerning the Muslim oppression of local Christians, adamantly insisting that all is well between Palestine’s Islamic majority and its tiny Christian remnant.

In but one example, prominent Arab clerics totally dismissed substantiated reports early in the second intifada of Muslim militiamen shooting at Gilo from Christian homes in Beit Jalla in a deliberate effort to draw IDF return fire.

“The entire history of Palestine never witnessed any religious conflict between Christians and Muslims,” Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem Riah Abu ‘Assal told the Washington Times at the time.

“The Arab Christian community in the Palestinian territories is an integral part of the Palestinian people. It suffers with it, rejoices with it, and shares with it the same hopes and aspirations,” concurred the Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate, Father Raed Awad Abusahlia. “Therefore, the recent Israeli rumors about getting the town of Beit Jalla involved in the recent clashes is not a coincidence, but aim to ‘divide and rule’ among the one Palestinian people.”

“Refuse... the propaganda that wants to prove that there were any studied or willed persecution from our Muslim brothers and sisters of the Christians. We consider it as mere propaganda against Islam, a cold war against our Muslim brothers that only benefits the Zionists of Israel,” added Father Labib Kobtl, another representative of Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah.

Sabbah himself assured Newsweek at Christmas 2002 that, “[i]n Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians.”

Even now, leading Palestinian clergymen affiliated with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in east Jerusalem are being hosted in Protestant churches across North America, spreading the ruse that the salvation of Christians in the Holy Land lies in divesting from Israel and dismantling the security fence. Follow the Sabeel ‘road show’ this fall and you will not hear one word about the “dossier” of appalling cruelties by the Islamic mafia in Bethlehem.

Blaming Israel

THE BETHLEHEM dossier directly challenges these tired blame-it-all-on-Israel refrains instead sending up a desperate, genuine cry from the pews to the church hierarchy in Jerusalem to end their long silence regarding Muslim persecution and finally speak out in defense of their embattled flocks.

The source of the dossier was also startling Samir Qumsieh happens to be no friend of Israel. Exiled for a number of years for his activism in Fatah, he returned to Bethlehem under Oslo to open a local TV station named Al Madeh (“Nativity” in Arabic). But when Muslims recently claimed a plot of his land that he had set aside for expanding the station, Qumsieh had enough.

According to an article in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera in September, he was counseled by the Vatican representative not to go public with his compilation of grievances. “You could be killed”, warned Sambi.

“We have to complain, we have been silent long enough,” responded Qumsieh.

Father Pizzaballa of the Custos was finally ready to speak out as well, telling the Italian daily:

“Almost every day, I repeat, every day, our congregation is being attacked by Muslim extremists in the territories. And if it’s not Hamas or Jihad members attacking us, we run against a wall of ignorance in the Palestinian Authority, who does very little, if anything at all, to punish the culprits. In the past it even happened that these [attacks] were perpetrated by Mahmoud Abbas policemen or militant members of Fatah, by those who are actually supposed to protect us. I am so exhausted to hear the same complaints again and again that I sometimes don’t even check some of them.”

State of Fear

THE HISTORIC explanation for the silence of Arab church leaders in the face of Muslim persecution is well known by now. It stems from their long, sad status as second-class citizens steeped in dhimmitude a survivalist mentality passed down through the generations that conditions them to never say anything bad about their Muslim neighbors since it could prove deadly.

No doubt, Palestinian Christians have a deeply engrained fear that the Islamic religious hostility now directed primarily against Jews might one day be more fully turned against them.

Scholars monitoring the plight of Palestinians Christians are increasingly employing the analogy of the battered spouse syndrome, in which the wife of an abusive husband becomes conditioned to defend and identify with their tormentor even as the abuse worsens.

It helps to have a more precise clinical diagnosis of the problem, but what is much more needed now is an effective and compassionate prognosis for lifting the Muslim siege and preserving these ancient, fragile Christian communities. What is also sorely needed is for the shepherds to stop standing in the way of relief for their beleaguered flocks.

David Parsons serves as ICEJ Media Director in Jerusalem and a Contributing Editor of 'The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition' in which this article was first published.

Of Silence And Scorn

Thursday, May 16, 2002

By: David Parsons

Though relieved over the end to the long standoff at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, many Jews and Christians remain outraged that most Church leaders did not forcefully condemn the blatant Muslim desecration of a major Christian shrine. Here was a clear case of Islamic militiamen deliberately taking their battle against Israel into a revered church and taking clerics and youths as hostages. Yet most of Christendom seemed mysteriously silent! And many churches that did speak out chose to unfairly criticize Israel for its “siege.”

It is vital for Israelis to understand the reasons behind this moral imbalance of silence to Islam and open scorn towards Israel. In this regard, the Bethlehem standoff provides an unusually crisp portal into present Christian attitudes towards Israel and the enduring plight of Arab Christian minorities under Muslim domination.

First, not all Christians were silent. The Christian Embassy, for one, published a statement early on that “strongly condemned… this transgression on the sanctity of the Church of the Nativity,” deeming it “a premeditated offense by militant Muslim outlaws.” This was long before reports surfaced that the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem had previously met with the Abayat clan that heads the Fatah Tanzim in Bethlehem, offered them keys to the Nativity compound, and encouraged them to seek refuge there if the need arose.

Yet much of the mainstream media refused to pick up on such sober truth telling, since it did not fit their spin on the story, and thus they bear partial responsibility for the perceived silence.

Otherwise, the most obvious reason for the silence is classic Christian anti-Semitism both patent and latent. The standoff indeed unleashed a firestorm of anti-Semitic diatribes from numerous Arab clerics and Western pulpits. There is still much darkness to be purged from the Church. But there were other factors in play that warrant explanation namely self-preservation and self-enrichment.

This first concept is simple to grasp. Arab Christians in Bethlehem and throughout the Middle East have developed over time an ingrained survival mechanism never say anything bad in public about your Muslim neighbors since it could cost you dearly. With the rise of Palestinian nationalism, this penchant for self-preservation prompted some indigent Christians to wax more anti-Israel than the Muslim majority. In his excellent work The Siege, former Irish diplomat (and Catholic) Conor Cruise O’Brien describes it as “waving the bloody shirt” higher than the Muslims in order to show your loyalty to the cause.

Yet the price for demonstrating that loyalty is on the rise. In the first intifada, Bethlehem’s Christians were asked, “Why don’t your sons come throw stones alongside the Muslim boys?” Many Christian families packed up and left. In the current, more deadly intifada, the question being asked is, “Why aren’t you giving any of your sons as shaheeds?” The silence is ever more deafening.

Many church leaders abroad understand the dangers faced by local Christians and thus adhere to the same code of silence to protect these precious flocks. This was prominently on display in the recent standoff, and may be a responsible move to some extent, so long as you do not also unduly blame the Israelis for every wrong.

In addition, as local Arab clerics keep silent about their suffering under Islam, it limits their ability to appeal for vital outside support to meet real needs in their communities. Some respond by jumping at any chance to trumpet supposed sufferings under the “Israeli occupation,” knowing Israel does not bite back. Thus when the IDF first entered Beit Jala last August to quash Tanzim gunfire at Gilo, there was a tremendous outcry that Israeli forces were holding some 45 “orphans” in a Lutheran compound as “human shields.” Total nonsense, of course, and nothing as egregious as Muslim gunmen invading the Church of the Nativity. But it proved profitable nonetheless.

Some local clergy and foreign ministries aligned with them subtly compete for funding, and the winner is often the one who can scream the loudest against Israel. The same can be said about major elements of the so-called human rights movements. Blasting Israel can be good for business.

In a similar vein, many churches that minister in the Arab/Islamic world make the mistake of thinking they have to bash Israel in order to “get in good” with the natives. This has manifested even in Evangelical circles that otherwise would be predisposed to favoring Israel. Yet we can attest that it is possible to raise monies and assist the humble Christians of Bethlehem without compromising on the Bible’s mandate to “bless” the Jewish people.

Be that as it may, there are some very positive signs coming out of the Bethlehem standoff that augur well for future relations between Israel and the Christian world.

One Protestant source close to the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Vatican delegations involved in the Nativity negotiations insists they were “tremendously grateful to Israel for exercising restraint,” but had “disgust beyond words” for the Muslim gunmen and Palestinian officials they had to deal with. Christian and Israeli officials built a “trustful relationship” during the stretched-out talks, although it will remain problematic to express this publicly. The outrage against the Muslim actions is there, but it is still outweighed by the fears.

The question is whether it is time for responsible Church leaders to remove the gag, since it has done little to relieve the plight of Christians in Bethlehem and elsewhere under the Palestinian Authority. The standoff may be over, but they are still living with a Muslim gun to their heads. And God forbid that the next standoff darken the door of the Holy Sepulchre.

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

O, Troubled Town of Bethlehem

Sunday, December 24, 2000

By: David Parsons

Bethlehem holds a unique place in the Christian faith, not only as the home of young King David and the resting place of Rachel, but also as that small village of Judean shepherds visited from on high two millennia ago. Each Christmas, Christians worldwide sing carols honoring that "little town" lost in "a deep and dreamless sleep," that would become universally known as the birthplace of Jesus. But just as the Jordan River is not "deep and wide," so our songs about Bethlehem no longer reflect its reality today - a bastion of Islamic fervor on the front-lines of a holy war against Israel and infidels.

Bethlehem, along with Beit Jalla to the west and Beit Sahour to the east, have been predominantly Christian for centuries, but in modern times they have been invaded by PLO/Muslim elements bent on an aggressive agenda to retake Jerusalem and the Islamic waqf of Palestine. In one generation, the entire area has undergone a dramatic transformation, as 60% of its Christian families have fled and Muslims have taken over, now constituting three-fourths of the local population.

This agenda has been on full display during the current Palestinian uprising, as Fatah's "Tanzim" militiamen - Muslims - have infiltrated Christian homes and churches in Beit Jalla night after night to shoot at the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo. The IDF has reluctantly responded to snipers firing from buildings whose owners were chased away at gunpoint. This is not Israeli spin, but first-hand testimony from local residents. Their stories are chilling. We have listened to grown men in tears talking of the Tanzim. Hundreds of Christians have fled. Last month, one family with nine children hid in a cave until they could cross safely into Jerusalem. This is the reality of Bethlehem this Christmas.

The truth is, Beit Jalla was initially targeted by Muslims at an Islamic conference in Baghdad in 1978, which raised money to build mosques in a village that - alarmingly! - had no mosque. Actually, at that time it had no Muslims either. Over the years since, some 50,000 Christians from Beit Jalla and the Bethlehem area have moved to Chile alone. Likewise, Bethlehem went from one mosque to 70 in a span of thirty years.

When Israel handed over Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority three days before Christmas in 1995, Yasser Arafat flew in and delivered a speech to an overwhelmingly Muslim throng pressed into Manger Square under banners of the PLO chief and the "Engineer," revered Hamas bomb-maker Yihye Ayyash. "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men," proclaimed Arafat, invoking the angelic message found in the Christian account of the Nativity. "In spirit and blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!" answered the crowd.

Christian pilgrims visiting Manger Square that Christmas were handed flyers in English prepared by the Palestinian Ministry of Information that stressed, not the biblical significance of Bethlehem, but Islamic claims to Jerusalem. Instead of Joseph and Mary, the focus was on Muhammad tying his winged horse "Buraq" to the Western Wall in his mythical night journey - thus rendering it an exclusive Muslim holy site.

Two days after that first "PLO" Christmas, Arafat had an editor of the Al Quds newspaper kidnapped and jailed for not following orders to place on the front page of the Christmas Day edition a photo of him and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. The picture was to be accompanied by a story comparing Arafat to the Caliph Omar, the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem who was handed the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Sophronius. The editor's crime? He buried the story on page 7.

In years since, Palestinian officials admit tourism to Bethlehem has dropped and Christmas festivities have been marred by roving Muslim hooligans out to spoil Christian observances.

But this year may be saddest of all. The PA had worked with major production companies to stage Bethlehem 2000, with plans for a laser show and choirs from around the globe, to be beamed to a worldwide audience. The choirs cancelled weeks ago, due to the Palestinian uprising - and not any Israeli closure. Some traditional events will be held, but the Arab Christians of Bethlehem are in no mood for singing.

You will hear some Arab Christians - perhaps even in response to this column - telling a completely different tale, of Israeli abuses and good relations with the Muslims. But far too many of them have privately looked us in the eye and said they fear for their lives if they openly tell the truth. "We are forced to live with two faces," they lament.

So this Christmas, Christians and people of goodwill everywhere should say a prayer for the dear Christians who have managed to survive in Bethlehem. And keep in mind, they are singing the same cherished carols heard round the world - but with a gun to their heads.

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem


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