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Commentary

Hooray for the Golden Agers!

The low, flat tone of the Shabbat horn was a familiar sound on a recent Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. Time to enter the Sabbath rest!

Minutes later, however, residents of the capital city were surprised to hear a second horn – this one higher-pitched and disturbingly urgent. After a moment of hesitation, everyone realized it was warning of incoming rockets from Gaza. For the first time since the 1991 Gulf War, air raid sirens in Jerusalem were sounding a real alert. Hamas had targeted the holy city. Time to find shelter!

For households all across town, the siren was a shocking wake-up call. Half of Israel is now within range of the terror militias in Gaza. But even more shocking was the sound that followed – fireworks, hours of them, set off just blocks away by east Jerusalem Arabs celebrating the bombing of their own city.

Never mind that the rocket had landed in an Arab village east of Bethlehem, shattering windows in nearby homes. For these Jerusalem Arabs, it was time to dance in the streets and hand out sweets in solidarity with the thugs of Hamas. And that should be an even greater wake-up call for all of us.

Western apologists for Islam insist it is a religion of peace and that only a small number – 10 percent at most – are radical Muslims bent on our destruction. But the truth is radical Islamists have a lot of fans like these ordinary Jerusalem Arabs, content to sit on the sidelines and root for those actively engaged in jihad against Israel and the West. But if the radicals ever seize the momentum and start winning, the fans are going to pour out of the bleachers and join the fight.

Right now, there are three main champions vying to win their loyalty. There are the radical Salafists led by al-Qaida, the more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood now in charge in Egypt, and the Shi’ite clerics in Iran.

All three share the dream of one day reaching the promised “Golden Age of Islam,” when Muslims will finally rule the entire world and place it under the dictates of shari’a law. But each champion wants to be the one that leads the rest of the Muslim world into that blessed age. And each espouses different paths for getting there – all of which must pass through Jerusalem.

In this twisted competition for Muslim hearts and minds, the Salafists preach “Jihad Now” – a puritanical form of Islam that tolerates only that which was taught and practiced by Muhammad and his closest companions. They know that Muslim veneration of Jerusalem is a later hadith (tradition), and thus they reject it. Yet they also know the hadith prophesying a final, end-time battle between Muslims and Jews will be centered on this city.

Most of their fellow Sunnis are closer right now to the Muslim Brotherhood, which takes a more patient, measured approach. They seek to prepare the Ummah (Muslim community) through education for the day when the Caliphate is restored, providing the proper vehicle needed to conquer the world and impose shari’a law. The Arab Spring has opened the door for this stream of radical Islam to seize the reins in Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere. But the Salafists are breathing down their necks, urging the Muslim Brotherhood to do more with their new-found power.

Meanwhile, the ayatollahs in Tehran await the coming of the Mahdi, a mythical messianic figure who will lead the world out of a great apocalyptic battle focused around Jerusalem and into the desired Golden Age of Islam. But they face a dilemma, as Shi’ites constitute only 15 percent of the Muslim world. So they want to leap frog ahead of their larger Sunni rivals by acquiring nuclear weapons. These nukes will ensure that not only are the Jews wiped out in the apocalypse, but that the Shi’ites will be the ones leading the Muslim world into that Golden Age.

The sinister competition between these three brands of radical Islam is extremely unhealthy for Israel and for the world. But for all those millions of moderate Muslims out there, they always seem to have plenty of fireworks and candy on hand for whoever is striking a blow at the infidels.

Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Lost in Ephraimite Doctrine



 One of the teachings currently sidetracking many Christian supporters of Israel is the Ephraimite doctrine, which is rooted in a false historical narrative and irresponsible exposition of Scripture. Some Gentile Christians even see in this teaching an opportunity to identify themselves as Jews! But we should give heed to the warning of the Apostle Paul.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” 1 Timothy 4:1

The Ephraimite teaching is essentially a form of Replacement theology reminiscent of its older manifestation known as “British Israelism,” which asserted that the British Commonwealth of nations are in fact the mythical Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. They insist the word “British” actually comes from the Hebrew words for “Covenant Man.” The British Royal Family is thus said to be the perpetuation of King David’s Throne, since after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC the prophet Jeremiah supposedly brought the “Crowning Stone”, otherwise known as the “Stone of Scone”, and the royal princesses to the British Isles.

In its more recent incarnation, the Ephraimite doctrine also takes the names of “The House of Joseph” or the “Two Sticks” teaching. Two scenarios are posited to support this theory:

1. That Gentile Christians replace the Ten Tribes of the once Northern Kingdom of Israel and are thus very much part of Israel and as such have the right to make Aliyah (that is, return to Israel and become citizens). They assert that the Northern Kingdom was judged and exiled because of their rebellion against God and subsequently cast away.

2.  That Gentile Christians really are direct descendants of the ancient House of Israel and that Jesus’ atoning work only extends as far as them. They fully misunderstand the mission of Jesus, in that the Kingdom first had to be offered to Israel, and thus they wrongly apply to themselves Matthew 15:24, where Jesus says, “…I was only sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Thus, they believe in a limited atonement. They teach that Jesus did not die for every man on earth (Hebrews 2:9) but only for the house of Israel. Thus a Zulu man living in the one thousand hills of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa, if he comes to faith in Jesus, proves that he is in fact a descendant of the ancient house of Israel! How he got there they cannot tell you!

All of this turns Paul’s references to the Gentiles in the New Testament upside down. They are, in fact, Israel Gentiles! Jesus never really died for real Gentiles, like those in the Amazon jungle, as He only came for the lost Israelites. This also makes nonsense of the Great Commission and the fact that one day in Heaven there will be people from every tribe and nation gathered at the great Throne of God (Matthew 28:19-20; Revelation 5:9-10).

And yet, this false doctrine continues to take root everywhere, deceiving untaught, unsuspecting Christians. It brings valid biblical ministry to Israel into disrepute and ministers are rightly reluctant to open up to Israel-related ministry because they fear that Ephraimite crazies may well move in and infect their flocks with this nonsense.

The truth is all the tribes of Israel were integrated by division and dispersion.That is, with the division of the Davidic Kingdom into two entities after Solomon’s reign, a mass migration from the northern Kingdom of Israel to the southern Kingdom of Judah took place because of the Temple in Jerusalem and the significance of the city itself. To stop this migration, the northern king Jeroboam built a rival temple in Samaria complete with pagan rituals. Scripture affirms that he caused Israel to sin thereby (1 Kings 12:25-33). Therefore in the south members of all the tribes mingled, lived together and finally integrated. Slowly but surely, the term “Jews” became a synonymous term for all Israelites.

In 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and its remaining peoples were taken into exile beyond the Euphrates. When the Southern Kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BC, its citizens were carried off to the same region. Here again, they all mingled and integrated and eventually became known as Jews (Esther 3:6; Nehemiah 1:6). So, the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were lost only in the sense that they lost their tribal identity. They were never lost in the sense that they vanished from history.

Proof of this is found in Jesus recognizing that in preaching to the Jews of His day, He was in fact preaching to all of Israel (Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24). Also, James addresses his epistle to the… “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” He would not write in this way if the twelve tribes were lost!

So the Jews that have returned to Israel today contain substantial remnants from all twelve tribes of Israel and truly – just as Ezekiel predicted – they have returned to the land of their forefathers as “one stick” and not two! (Ezekiel 37:15-19)

The Book of Hosea also is incorrectly expounded by Ephraimite teachers.Hosea warns Israel that she will be judged for her iniquity and that a people who were “not My people” will be invited into fellowship with the God of Israel (Hosea 2:23). Ephraimite teachers wrongly assert that these “not my people” are Christians called to replace Israel or at a later date, some 2030 years later, are the lost tribes mysteriously recovered in the Christian Church! This is sheer nonsense.

Paul clarifies what Hosea really meant in his epistle to the church at Rome. The Northern Kingdom’s rebellion against God removed its people, for a period, from the grace of God. To make them jealous God will call a people to a place of faith and salvation who historically were never His people (Romans 9:30). These people are real Gentiles from all over the world, according to Paul. They are not lost Israelites, nor a replacement of them. They are Gentiles called out of darkness into the light of Jesus and they share in Israel’s spiritual things (Romans 9:25-26; Romans 15:27). Moreover, they are grafted into Israel’s spiritual olive tree of Messianic faith and thus are equal citizens in the Kingdom of God without having to prove Jewish or Israelite descent (Romans 11:17-22).

So to infer that Gentile believers have a secret Israelite identity or replace natural Israel is a blatant contradiction of Paul’s teaching. Enough said! The argument is over!

The New Testament affirms that Jews in the Dispersion are in fact the twelve tribes of Israel. The Ephraimite teaching also is offensive to Jews as it constitutes yet another attempt to rob them of their identity. The doctrine is a deception built on the falsification of history and the twisting of the Word of God. It attacks the biblical notion that God loves the whole world (John 3:16). It also undermines the completeness of Jesus’ work as its disciples often demand observance of Jewish rituals, Sabbaths and feasts. All of this is warned against by Paul (Colossians 2:6-10; 11:16-19).

Jesus knew he was sending out his disciples to preach to the twelve tribes of Israel and said as much in Matthew 10:6. James writes to the Jews in the dispersion and calls them the twelve tribes (James 1:1). And Peter does the same by addressing his first epistle to the “pilgrims of the dispersion.” (1 Peter 1:1)

Let me add that the Jews today are a people comprising all the original tribes of Israel. These tribes are not lost by any means and in the end they will appear among the redeemed before the Throne of God (Revelation 7:4-12). God seals them and numbers them! The message could not be clearer.

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Annihilation or redemption?

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was spot on in denouncing as “a disgrace and a stain on humanity” the appearance of so many world leaders in Tehran for the recent summit of the Non-Aligned Movement . Given Iran’s relentless demonization of Israel and its renegade quest for nuclear weapons, the attendance of dozens of kings, presidents and diplomats – not to mention UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon – indeed showed the post-Holocaust pledge of “Never Again” is hollow.

The nadir came when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lashed out at Israel as a state of “bloodthirsty Zionist wolves” and no one left the room.

The episode harkens back to the Évian Conference held in France in July 1938, when representatives from 32 free, democratic nations met to discuss the plight of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Convened just days after the Nazis annexed Austria, the gathering was meant to find safe havens for endangered German and Austrian Jews. Yet every nation present – save the Dominican Republic – slammed their doors shut to Jewish immigration, sealing the fate of countless Jewish souls.

“Nobody wants them,” screamed the German newspaper Völkischer Beobachter. A gleeful Hitler responded, “It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them.”

By attending the NAM summit in Tehran, far too many nations told the Iranians that their campaign to vilify and eliminate Israel is acceptable, tolerable, inoffensive... within bounds. For the mullahs, the message once again was, ‘They don’t care what we do with the Jews. Nobody wants them.’

The growing Iranian nuclear threat against Israel has reached a critical stage. No one knows for sure whether Israel will respond by launching strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities soon, as multiple media reports suggest. My sense is that we are sitting on a powder keg and even the smallest accident could set things off, but neither side is intentionally planning just yet to light the fuse.

Rather, Israeli leaders are still pursuing the “gunslinger strategy” – making a lot of commotion as if they’re ready to fire away in order to get the lethargic West to take action. This approach has produced tighter sanctions on Iran, but those measures have yet to slow Tehran’s advance towards nuclear capabilities. Only a clear threat of US military action might be able to halt Iran in its tracks, and this is what Israel is angling for at present.

Meanwhile, Iranian leaders have stepped up their direct verbal assault on Israel in order to make this appear more of an Iran-Israel conflict, so that the region’s Arab states will equate opposing Tehran with taking Israel’s side. They also hope their bellicose threats will deter Israeli and Western pre-emptive actions, and draw global anti-American sentiment into their corner.

This confrontation will likely keep building for many more months to come and could eventually force all nations to choose one side or the other. This is exactly what Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been pushing for over recent years. And yet ironically, the Bible says God also wants to bring the nations into the “valley of decision” over Israel and a Jerusalem restored to Jewish hands (Joel 3:14).

The prospect of a thermonuclear device being detonated in Israel’s crowded coastal plain is frightening. But I do not believe it will actually ever happen. Somehow, Israel will be delivered from this peril! I can say this with confidence because I do not believe that God has re-gathered the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel for mass annihilation in some mad nuclear holocaust.

Instead, the Bible is clear that the restored nation of Israel is destined for redemption, not annihilation. There are just too many Scriptures which assure us of this.

Isaiah 60 and 62, for instance, promise that even amid “gross darkness” covering the earth, the glory of the Lord will arise upon this nation because His presence will abide here. Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 concur that even though many nations may conspire to destroy Israel, God will exalt this nation to a place of prominence in the earth, and “no one shall make them afraid.”

Zechariah 12 agrees with these passages that Israel is headed for glory and the nations for judgment. For the purpose of God is to use a restored Israel as a magnet to draw up the nations against Jerusalem as a means to judge them for their rebellion against Him.

In the process Israel may become imperiled, but she will never be annihilated, because “in that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 12:8)

Joel 3:16 also affirms this will be a time when, “the Lord will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel.”

In one overarching verse, Jeremiah 30:11, this is all put in proper perspective. “‘For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to save you; Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.’”

That is, Israel does not totally escape the corrective hand of God but she will not share the fate of the other nations, who are finally brought low under His mighty power. And in fact, Isaiah 40:1 suggests that Israel may have already “received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

Now all of these biblical promises are reassuring, but it does not mean that we can just sit back and wait for things to happen. Rather, Christians have a positive moral duty to stand up against evil plots like those being concocted by Ahmadinejad and his cohorts in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The overwhelming Christian silence in the face of the Holocaust demands that we take genocidal threats against the Jewish people seriously in our day and speak out forcefully against them.

Israel will be delivered, but who knows whether that deliverance will come through our voice – whether in prayer to an Almighty God or in urging our leaders to make the right and just choice when it comes to Israel.

Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

‘The worst I’ll ever do!’

There is little doubt that the renegade Iranian nuclear program is the gravest threat facing the Jewish people since the rise of Nazism.

Today, nearly half the world’s Jews are re-gathered back in their ancient homeland and Iran could potentially do in only minutes what it took the Nazis several years to accomplish – the extermination of six million Jews.

This is a chilling thought, but for the radical Shi’ite clerics in Tehran it is actually a welcoming idea. They are driven by a hadith which holds that Muslims must kill Jews en masse in order to bring on Judgment Day, which also heralds the coming of their mythical Mahdi.

In founding the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini declared he was even willing to sacrifice his own country to reach this unreal moment.

“We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah,” Khomeini proclaimed. “For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [of Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.”

Thus, the Iranian regime has been developing the means with which to carry out their madness. They have not been deterred by tightening economic sanctions and covert cyber-ops, and will stop at nothing to advance their clandestine nuclear capabilities, including lying at every turn.

Tehran may insist it is pursuing the “peaceful atom,” but there is only one known use for uranium enriched to 90% purity – and that is for military applications.

And Iran has been quite clear who will be the target of their nuclear prowess. Former Iranian president Ali Rafsanjani, considered a ‘moderate’ cleric, once stated that “Israel is much smaller than Iran in land mass, and therefore far more vulnerable to nuclear attack.”

On Al-Quds Day in December 2001, Rafsanjani also warned: “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the Imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.”

So it is “rational” in their minds to contemplate the instantaneous destruction of Israel. Further, the ayatollahs and their allies also have rationalized that their efforts to stop the return of more Jews to Israel may have failed for a reason. For instance, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah explained in 2002 that, “If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

This is not just a twisted Shi’ite fantasy. A leading scholar of Sunni Islam, Prof. Mustafa Muslim from the United Arab Emirates, told a Saudi TV channel in 2005 that Allah actually has been gathering the Jews in Israel to make it easier for Muslims to fight and destroy them in one place on Judgment Day – citing the very same hadith.

With that dark Islamic vision in mind, we have to ask the same pivotal question posed in this column last month: Has God indeed re-gathered Israel for annihilation or for redemption? That is, has Israel been restored only to be wiped out in some mass nuclear holocaust – as some Iranian and Hizbullah leaders have portended? Or is Israel’s destiny to be delivered from such calamity and instead redeemed by her glorious King, the Son of David – as the Bible promises?!

Now we have to start out by admitting that, sadly, even some Christians – including many who genuinely love and support Israel – also believe the Jews have come back home in order to go through one more mass annihilation, whereby two-thirds are wiped out during the Great Tribulation so that one-third will finally get on their knees and call on Jesus.

Now this is a cruel theology and it is not how most of us got saved. It also gives Jews great pause to hear Christians declare their love for Israel while knowing some of us actually expect them to face one final, massive convert-or-die scenario.

One dear Christian lady even told me recently that the “two-thirds teaching” had always left her anxious about helping Jews make aliyah to Israel, due to fears she might be leading them to the gallows. Yet this teaching is based on a poor exegesis of prophetic scripture and needs to be vanquished from our thinking.

The two-thirds teaching is based largely on Zechariah 13 and Ezekiel 5. In Zechariah 13, the prophet foresees a time when two-thirds “in the land” will be “cut-off” while the remaining one-third will go through “the fire” and come to know the Lord as their God.

The overall context of this passage is an end-of-days prophecy, yet the verses immediately before it state: “Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will scatter” – which the New Testament writers applied to Jesus and his followers in the First Century. So there is nothing that demands we read this two-thirds reference as a Tribulation event.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel 5 contains a much fuller exposition of the two-thirds scenario. Here, the prophet is speaking straight from the Law of Moses, specifically Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, where God sets out exactly how He would deal with Israel for rebelling against Him.

The “curse” of the Mosaic Law always starts with Israel being caught in sieges on her cities that get so bad the Israelites turn to cannibalism, and the end result is always exile. Then once God returns Israel to the land (which He is duty bound to do under His covenant with Abraham – see Genesis 17:8), if they rebel again the curse becomes seven times worse.

Ezekiel 5 actually describes with chilling accuracy the events which led up to the Second Exile. The prophet warns that one-third of the Israelites would soon die by the sword, one-third by famine and disease, and one-third would be scattered to the four corners of the earth. And yet the Lord promised Ezekiel that this was something He had never done before to Israel and that He will never do again, “and so shall My wrath be spent.”

This is exactly what happened in the Jewish uprisings against Rome in the First Century, and we have exhaustive historic accounts by Josephus to verify this. One-third of the Jews died in battle, one-third fell to disease and starvation, and one-third were exiled to the nations.

Jesus also relies heavily on the Ezekiel 5 passage in his Mount Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, in which he warns his disciples that horrific events are coming to Jerusalem in their lifetime. He knew the Law, he knew the Prophets, and he knew the worst that God would ever do to His own people was about to take place.

The key to understanding the prophetic outlook of Jesus is to realize he does not confuse the “tribulation’ and “days of vengeance” that God was bringing upon the Jewish people in those days with the Great Tribulation at the end of the age. The latter is presented in the Bible as chiefly a divine judgment upon the Gentile nations for their own rebellion against Him. This does not mean Israel will totally escape the perilous times ahead, but it does mean God already spent His harshest wrath against Israel during their long exile from the land.

Ultimately, those who maintain the two-thirds judgment on Israel is still to come face an insurmountable problem, because Ezekiel 5 is clear that it ends with the surviving one-third in exile, not redeemed. Yet the Bible speaks of only two exiles and two returns before Israel’s final redemption. Isaiah 11, for instance, says God would “set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people,” while in Amos 9:15 we have God vowing to “plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them.”

In other words, Israel’s exiles are over. And so is the worst God would ever do to them!

Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

This article was first published in the November 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Getting serious about Iran

Every September, world leaders gather in New York for the annual Opening Assembly of the United Nations. The dominant agenda item this year was Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the most memorable moment was that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu literally drawing a “red line” on a sketch of a fused bomb.

This was masterful use of a visual aid to demonstrate to the entire world the urgency of the threat facing not only the Jewish State but the entire planet. The prime minister made dramatically clear why everyone needs to take Iran’s atomic quest seriously.

Israel’s legitimate security concerns
For Israel, the Iranian threat is a question of survival. While many Western leaders still place hope in further negotiations, Israel does not put much faith in this kind of political maneuvering – for good reasons. Israel’s modern history has taught the nation’s leaders to never ignore vows to wipe it out or to “drive the Jews into the sea.” These threats were not mere rhetoric, as the Jewish state has found itself fighting six wars over the past six decades while living under a constant danger of terror attack. Moreover, Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction have been accompanied by its patronage of two of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the region – Hezbollah and Hamas. With the cooperation of these proxy militias, Iran is already engaged in an active campaign to eliminate the Jewish state.

An even more tragic lesson for Israel comes from the pre-World War II era. Europe’s leaders were desperate to believe that Hitler was someone they could make a deal with. In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from talks with Hitler in Munich and proclaimed “peace in our time!” Just one year later the world was thrust into the bloodiest conflict in human history, and only four years later the gas chambers and crematories of Auschwitz were in full operation, exterminating six million European Jews. If there is one lesson to be learned from this sad chapter, it is that Israel cannot afford to take Iran’s threats and deadly ambitions lightly.

Iran playing with fire
Yet the nation most endangered in all of this is not Israel but Iran itself. Not because of Israel’s military power, which is significant, but because history has also shown that those rulers who touch the apple of God’s eye – Israel – always come to ruin themselves. This is not only a hopeless undertaking, but also a dangerous one. Regarding the future of Israel, the Bible is crystal clear. God is restoring Zion not to annihilate the Jewish nation but to deliver them even in the midst of perilous times! Israel has returned to stay, to prosper, and to be revived by His Spirit! And the Bible is also clear that those who come against His chosen people will eventually have to deal with the God of Israel.

Still, there is hope for Iran. First, we should understand that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). It saddens me when some of Israel’s friends eagerly hope for Israeli military strikes against Iran and even wish that God would send fire down from heaven to annihilate Israel’s enemy. Jesus challenged his disciples on exactly this attitude in Luke 9:55, saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”

In spite of the darkening horizon, there happens to be an historic Christian revival in Iran today. According to various institutes tracking global church growth, the church in Iran currently has the fastest growth rate in the world. Iranian pastors we have spoken with recently are so hopeful they believe their nation may be on the verge of a huge political change. One leading Iranian evangelist recently stated on CBN News that if this trend continues, Iran could even become the first Muslim nation to turn Christian.

The prophet Jeremiah makes an astonishing statement regarding the ancient land of Elam, which comprises much of Iran today. It is a powerful declaration of hope! “And I will set my throne in Elam and destroy their king and officials, declares the Lord. And in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 49:38-39)

Call to action
What does this all mean for Christians today? No one single action will bring forth change, but we do need the perspective of God’s Kingdom.

1)  Stand for Israel’s security
Israelis today need to see their friends worldwide taking their concerns about Iran seriously. We must challenge our leaders to do the same and finally stop Iran’s nuclear drive. Nuclear weapons do not belong in hands of a nation whose former ‘moderate’ president Hashemi Rafsanjani once decreed that Israel was a “one bomb country.”

For this reason, we challenged parliamentarians from 17 nations attending this year’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration in October to fully support Israel’s security needs. It was a moving moment when a packed auditorium reached out their hands and prayed for these political leaders gathered on our platform. We need to pray for our leaders to have the strength and wisdom to stand up for Israel’s security and well-being.

2)  Pray for Iran
We must realize that the prayer of faith can have a greater impact in this region than we could have ever imagined. Hebrews 11 is inspiring when it records that great men of faith “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

If the Body of Christ will arise and unite in prayer, we can believe for positive changes in the region. We need to pray for Iran, for a change of leadership, an outpouring of God’s mercy on the people, and a complete halt to its nuclear program.

3)  Pray for Israel
Also pray for wisdom for Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, as he holds one of the most challenging positions on earth and his nation is now moving into a critical election season. If there was ever a time to pray for Israel it is now!

Dr. Bühler serves as Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

This article was first published in the November 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Sukkot and the Gentiles

Along with Passover and Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles is one of three major pilgrimage feasts given by God to Israel around which the Jewish calendar pivots. Yet it is unique from the other two annual pilgrimage festivals in that God-fearing Gentiles were also invited to come up along with the Jewish people on this particular holiday to worship God in Jerusalem.

Though not expressly commanded in the Bible, the tradition of the nations taking part in the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, has clear scriptural footing as well as an intriguing prophetic angle. How this tradition developed and where it may one day lead the entire world are fascinating topics to consider.

Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, lasts for one week and recalls the deliverance of the Hebrew nation from Egyptian slavery. Pentecost, or the Festival of Weeks, marks the last phase of the grain harvest and came to be associated with the giving of the Law at Sinai.

The Feast of Tabernacles, on the other hand, occurs in autumn when the summer crops have been harvested, so it is also known as the Feast of Ingathering. In addition, the Israelites were instructed to build temporary shelters, or booths, in which to live for this one week in order to remember the forty years of wandering in the desert prior to entering the Promised Land.

The origins of Tabernacles can be found in the Five Books of Moses, where we are told that the Lord commanded all Israelite males to appear before him three times a year at the place he would designate (first Shiloh, and then Jerusalem). They could not come before their God with empty hands. So one common aspect of all three Feasts centers on acknowledging the ultimate provider, the Lord, by visiting the location of His presence and providing timely sacrifices to Him from their most recent harvests.

The Feast of Tabernacles was actually considered the most significant feast for Israel. One way we see this is in its name. In several verses in the Hebrew Bible, it was referred to as the “festival of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:39; Hosea 9:5; Judges 21:19). But it became common to refer to it simply as “the festival” (1 Kings. 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chronicles 5:3; 7:8; Nehemiah 8:14; Ezekiel 45:25).

In these passages, there are other textual clues that make it clear that “the festival” refers to the Feast of Tabernacles. For instance, Ezekiel tells us “the feast” is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month, which parallels Leviticus 23:34.

The sheer numbers of sacrifices offered at Sukkot also attest to the centrality of this feast. According to Numbers 29:12-34, over the course of the seven-day feastival some 70 bulls, 14 rams, 98 lambs and seven male goats are to be sacrificed, in addition to grain and drink offerings for each one. The significance of 70 bulls has been debated by scholars, but many rabbinic authorities came to view it as part of Israel fulfilling its role as a priestly nation offering sacrifices on behalf of the Gentiles, who were then thought to consist of 70 nations.

Dr. Yaacov Vainstein, in The Cycle of the Jewish Year, states that the 70 bulls were “offered for the welfare and well-being of the seventy nations of the world.” Vainstein goes on, “It was a call to the human race to take note that without the Law of G-d, without G-d’s kingship and partnership in man’s destinies, the world cannot survive.”

This unique connection between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Gentile nations becomes unmistakably clear in the later Hebrew “Writings.” For instance, after Solomon completed the construction of the First Temple, he chose the Feast of Tabernacles to move the ark of the covenant from the City of David into the Temple on Mount Moriah, as recorded in 1 Kings 8.

Before all the elders of Israel – the Levites, priests and leaders of every tribe and family – Solomon offered a dedicatory prayer in which he mentions the foreigner who comes from distant lands to pray in Jerusalem toward the Temple (1 Kings 8:41-43). He asks God to hear and answer the prayers of the foreigners so that all peoples would know His name and fear Him.

Implicit in Solomon’s prayer is that God-fearing Gentiles had celebrated this feast in Israel prior to the completion of the First Temple. Furthermore, Solomon envisioned this as continuing during his reign and into the future. Might there have been just such Gentiles in Jerusalem on this very occasion to celebrate “the feast” and witness this marvelous event?
 

The Feast of Tabernacles continues to have significance in later time periods. After the Babylonian exile and before the Second Temple was completed in 516 B.C., the Jews living in the land assembled in Jerusalem at the beginning of the seventh month. After Ezra read the book of the Law to the people, the Israelites built an altar and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (Ezra 3; Nehemiah 8).

Interestingly, a glorious future is forecast for this particular feast by the prophet Zechariah, a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah who ministered to the Jewish remnant in the land between 520 and 480 B.C. In chapter 14 of his book, the prophet Zechariah looks into the distant future when both a tragic and beautiful day emerges. It is both a day of judgment and deliverance – judgment on the nations and deliverance for Israel – which culminates in the Lord’s enthronement as King in a Jerusalem that is finally safe and secure.

He also foresees an amazing time when Gentiles who manage to live through the Lord’s vengance on the nations will flock annually to Jerusalem to worship the King and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:6)

Gentiles from nations who sought to subject Jerusalem and its inhabitants to themselves will be destroyed and those who will survive will be subjected to the Lord. They will worship Him in the city of Jerusalem every year during the Feast of Tabernacles. Just as it was an “appointed time” for the Jewish people, so Zechariah envisions this festival as a yearly memorial for the entire world.

Today, some rabbinic authorities view this verse from Zechariah, along with other prophetic passages, as a promise of future mass Gentile conversions to Judaism during the Feast of Tabernacles. Thus many are intrigued by the increasing number of Gentile Christians showing up in Jerusalem each year for Sukkot.

Meanwhile, there is a growing school of thought among Christian scholars that the Feast of Tabernacles indeed is linked to the coming enthronement of the Son of David in Jerusalem. This view maintains that just as Jesus fulfilled the prophetic purposes hidden in the spring festivals of Passover and Pentecost at his first coming, his second advent will somehow fulfill the prophetic purposes hidden in the fall High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Tabernacles.

This will culminate in the Messiah taking up the throne of David during an appointed future Sukkot, and this majestic moment will then be celebrated by all nations on its anniversary each year throughout the Millennial age.

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Principles of Prayer

The recent Olympics Games in London contained many dramatic moments, and none were more exciting than the sprint races in track-and-field. They serve as reminders of a key spiritual principle taught to us by the Apostle Paul concerning our devotional and prayer life as Christians.

Purpose in prayer
Paul explained that his own ministry was characterized by purpose and vision. “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26)

The Greek word for ‘uncertainty’ (adelos) describes somebody running a race without a fixed goal or purpose. If we have no fixed goal ahead of us, we are in danger of merely beating the air and our prayers accomplish little. The Olympic sprinters had a clear goal – to be the first to reach the finish line.

Jesus teaches us that believers united in prayer can transform the most difficult situation. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19)

So as we pray, we need to do so with purpose and a clear strategy in mind.

Power in prayer
Prayer is also a powerful agent of change. Doors which seem to be closed can open, necessary resources are released, and needed expansion takes place if we draw near to God. Lingering needs, the lack of growth, or waning influence can often be traced back to an absence of prayer. “You do not have because you do not ask”, says James 4:6.

Jesus challenges us to ask the Lord of the harvest to provide the means to bring in the harvest (Matthew 9:38). We need to dedicate ourselves to spending more time in prayer. There are Christian supporters of Israel all across the globe. What a power this represents if we agree in prayer.

Persistence in prayer
Working for and defending Israel often allows us no rest as her enemies are relentless and new challenges crop up daily. But we should never blame a busy schedule for our lack of prayer. Martin Luther once said that if he had a busy day ahead he actually needed to spend more time in prayer.

Jesus also gives us the example of regularly withdrawing – often late into the night or well before sunrise – to converse with the Father. Let us not grow weary in these busy days to find time to commune with our God, just as Jesus did. We must dedicate certain times each day to prayer, especially for Israel.

Perception in prayer
Finally, we need the “mind of Christ” as we pray (1 Corinthians 2:16), and here is the good news! As we draw close to Him, we are transformed and we start thinking like He thinks, and perceiving the world around us like He does. The mind of Christ has more to do with understanding who God is than of the specific details of our prayers.

David overcame Goliath not by using heavy armor, but by realizing he served an all-powerful God. His victory was based in a child-like faith. Saul and the other Israelites were more impressed by Goliath than by the God of Israel. But not David! He knew he served a mighty God.

Together, let us also carry out great exploits as we all draw closer to God!

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Dangerous ground

The recent Levy Report delivered to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which reaffirms Israel’s legal rights in Judea and Samaria, has re-invigorated the national debate over the wisdom of retaining what has proven to be dangerous ground to hold on to. This debate was left smoldering in recent years because most Israelis realized there is no peace partner on the other side right now, so why waste time and emotional energy bickering with each other over this issue.

During the Oslo era, this land dispute raged around the recipe of “land for peace,” which inherently put opponents of Oslo on the defensive by suggesting they were anti- peace. Embracing hope, many Israelis bought into this formula even though the threat of Palestinian terrorism was growing, not waning. Opponents argued that Oslo was only endangering more Israeli lives.

The best insight I ever received on why so many Israelis were “fooled” by Oslo came from the late David Bar-Ilan – former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and senior policy adviser to Netanyahu in his first term as premier. He explained that during their centuries of exile, Jews were constantly threatened wherever they wandered. Largely landless, they instinctively learned to flee rather than stay and try to hold on to what little they did possess.

This instinct of placing self-preservation above all else, acquired during the painful Diaspora experience, is what drove Oslo. Yet David Bar-Ilan concluded that this debate, which he couched in terms of “land versus life,” had been rendered “academic” by Palestinian intransigence. He was right!

Today, this land dispute still centers around Jewish self-preservation but in a different context. It has more to do with maintaining Israel’s democracy and its good relations with the United States, which is so crucial to Israel’s security, especially in light of the growing Iranian nuclear threat. So proponents of territorial concessions now offer the simplistic “land for centrifuges” formula.

But most Israelis know it would be a foolhardy move at present, as it would only make Israel a more vulnerable and inviting target given the Iranian threat and the rise of radical Islam amid the chaotic Arab Spring. Meanwhile, the true hawks among them say Israel has to retain all the land to defend itself and because the land belongs to the Jews, period!

I agree that the Jewish people have a superior claim to sovereignty over all the Land of Israel, but by definition “sovereignty” includes the right to give land away. Through Oslo, Israel unfortunately impaired its own title – though not beyond repair. The Levy report represents an effort to reassert Jewish rights in the territories so long as the Palestinians remain stuck in their maximalist demands.

Yet there is a larger question here and that involves the “land promise” – the fact that God vowed to give the Land of Israel to Abraham’s descendants as an “everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:8). This promise has never been truly fulfilled and it must be or God will prove to be untrustworthy, according to the teachings of the Apostles (e.g., Hebrews 6).

Now some Christians have so spiritualized the land promise that they say Abraham was actually meant to inherit the cosmos. Yet the Land of Israel is still a piece of real estate in the Middle East which can be plowed, built upon and paved over like any other. And the Bible is clear that God meant a certain tract of land, even giving us several “metes and bounds” descriptions.

But many Christians argue that we should not get hung up on the “land question”; that it is not an essential doctrine of the faith; that land is not as important as salvation. The way they see it, this debate is about “land versus eternal life” and we all should know what wins out there.

Yet the land question matters greatly because it goes to the very nature and character of God: Can He be trusted to keep His promises? Hebrews chapter 6 basically tells us that the same unchanging God who swore by an oath to Abraham to multiply his descendants and give them the Land of Israel (Psalm 105:7-15), likewise swore that Christ is our High Priest forever (Psalm 110:1-4). So those who say the land promise no longer matters to God are also suggesting He could change His mind about the blood of Jesus. And that is dangerous ground for any Christian to be on!

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Serious times are upon us

The Bible states that Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, are located at the center of the world. This is a world that is in chaos. Its financial systems are failing and secularism has bred violence, rape and sexual perversion on a scale never imagined before. Our technology, while impressive, is totally unable to deal with the human heart, which according to the Bible is “wicked above all things.”

Humankind needs a Savior and indeed has one but despises Him. It’s popular to ridicule Jesus, but those doing so will never do the same to Islam’s prophet. They are cowards and their end will be sorrowful.

The United Nations is inept and powerless in the light of global violence and war. It has breathed disgust at Bashar Assad’s war on his own people but has done absolutely nothing as hundreds of Syrians are murdered daily. The normal diatribe of “show restraint” has become a joke, as Assad may even use his arsenal of chemical weapons against Israel.

All the while Jews are being attacked all over the world and a wave of global anti-Semitism is upon us. Israel is in the ‘sights’ of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and many other militant Islamic forces. Tehran has not fully duped the world about the malevolent nature of its nuclear program, yet it has discovered that the West is all talk and does not have the stomach to really confront it. The Iranians are laughing all the way! If nothing is done soon Israel will have to go it alone, and it will!

The wider Middle East is falling into the hands of Muslim radicals who consider their success at overthrowing Western-aligned Arab regimes to be evidence that Allah is with them and will prosper their march to Jerusalem and towards a new global Caliphate.

Whenever Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu speaks, one gets the sense he knows what he is talking about and is one of the few politicians around who tells it like it is. Thank God (and I mean that reverently) he is in charge of Israel at a time like this. His analysis of the Middle East region has been astute and a breath of fresh air compared to the lunatic predictions of the liberal elite that touted the Arab Spring as a great harbinger of peace and democracy. Netanyahu needs our prayers as the ‘winds of adversity’ blowing around him must be immense.

Indeed, Israel is in grave danger of being attacked from the North by Hezbollah, to deflect attention away from Iran’s nukes or perhaps to salvage Assad’s regime in Syria. The possibility increases every day that Israel will have to launch pre-emptive strikes on Iran or Hezbollah. The immediate days ahead will be serious and could change our world as never before.

The United States is increasingly under a determined assault designed to weaken it as a world power and to break its close alliance with Israel. There are now powerful people in America who have been seduced by this narrative. The coming elections in November will determine the direction in which the nation will go and therefore they are the most crucial in years and need much prayer.

Finally, many churches in the West are generally weak, carnal and powerless. There are no doubt pockets of blessing and strength but, in my mind, we are witnessing a great falling away. Just as Isaiah predicted, darkness is covering the earth. More and more biblical positions that were once the bedrock upon which our nations were built have been cast aside. Christians who stay true to God’s word will be smeared as bigots. Now is the time to strengthen the things that remain and to determine that “love of the truth” is more important than political correctness. This love of truth includes standing with Israel and speaking out against anti-Semitism.

Despite it all, the God of the Bible has not lost control of His world. He is handing humanity over to great delusion because of its wickedness and rebellion against Him, and divine judgment will follow. Those who stay close to Him will know His joy and love. Let us not be down-hearted but boldly proclaim His word.

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

The fiasco at UNESCO

In Washington they joke that no one is safe so long as Congress is in session, but nothing can compare to the “Flat Earth” society operating within the UN system.

At its recent annual gathering, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization made a series of decisions regarding religious sites in the Holy Land that are both patently absurd and woefully unhelpful in the search for peace and mutual understanding in this fractured region.

First, UNESCO followed up on last year’s admission of “Palestine” as a member state of the world body by listing the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a World Heritage site located in this non-existent country of Palestine. Incredibly, the traditional place of Christ’s birth and the pilgrimage route leading to it were also added to the list of endangered World Heritage sites.

In pushing for this decree, the Palestinian Authority argued that the Church of the Nativity was in danger because the “Israeli occupation” was preventing them from repairing a leaky roof in the church as well as blocking access to this revered site.

Ahead of the vote, a team of UNESCO experts had visited Bethlehem and determined that the church, in fact, was not endangered and did not even qualify yet for World Heritage status. The Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox clerics who oversee the Nativity compound concurred with these findings in a letter sent to PA president Mahmoud Abbas in April, which urged that the site not be turned into a political football.

Yet a majority of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee did just that at its annual session in St. Petersburg last Friday. Ignoring the pleas of the clergymen and the advice of their own experts, 13 of the 21 member states on the Committee voted to prematurely grant the church World Heritage status and simultaneously blame Israel for endangering it.

Now Israel was not opposed to listing the Nativity Church as a place of great significance to the entire world. But it did object to the politicizing of the process and to the finding that it is endangered. After all, nothing is stopping the roof repairs and over two million Christian pilgrims managed to safely visit the Church of the Nativity last year.

In another swipe at Israel, the same UNESCO gathering also endorsed a Jordanian declaration from some 30 years ago that accused Israel of endangering the Temple Mount and walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Amman managed to add Jerusalem’s walled city and the Temple Mount to the World Heritage list in 1981 and then to the endangered list in 1982. But according to the Petra news agency, UNESCO has now accepted the Hashemite Kingdom’s claim that it has jurisdiction over these areas and that the Israeli occupation is harming the cultural heritage of the city.

The issue of Jerusalem is back on UNESCO’s agenda because Israel is trying to repair a rickety foot bridge to the Mughrabi Gate, the only access to the Temple Mount compound for Jews and Christians. It has been in danger of collapsing in recent years due to local earth tremors and heavy winter rains, and Israeli authorities have developed plans to replace the wooden bridge with a sturdier structure.

But Jordan has objected, insisting it alone has the right to make the repairs. The Palestinians also exert a claim to being the proper guardian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, yet the PA backed the recent Jordanian effort at UNESCO. This is because the Israeli plan calls for first conducting an archeological excavation of the embankment underneath the Mughrabi bridge and the Palestinians are afraid even more artifacts will be uncovered there proving the ancient Jewish connection to the area.

So it is clear that the Palestinians are once again manipulating UN forums like UNESCO, where they enjoy automatic majorities against Israel, to further their political campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. In this instance, they have portrayed Israel as a reckless and uncivilized destroyer of cherished Christian and Muslim holy places, and thus unfit to be included in the family of nations.

In addition, the PA is once again circumventing direct talks with Israel to achieve peace or cooperation at any level and instead trying to impose solutions from the outside.

UNESCO should not be lending itself to such machinations, as this undermines its own stated goal of contributing to the building of peace among nations and peoples through an intercultural dialogue based upon respect for commonly shared values.

Yet UNESCO members have now entrusted a revered church to a Palestinian regime that has compiled an appalling record on safeguarding Christian and Jewish religious sites. For example, PA police stood by in October 2000 while a Palestinian mob looted and razed Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Upon orders from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, PA security forces also assaulted and forcefully removed Russian Orthodox priests and nuns at monasteries in Hebron and Jericho.

Perhaps the most egregious example of the PA’s lack of credibility when it comes to safeguarding holy sites occurred at the very Church of the Nativity now entrusted to the Palestinians. In a dramatic April 2002 stand-off with IDF troops, gunmen from Arafat’s own Fatah faction truly endangered the historic Church by commandeering the building and wiring it throughout with explosives.

In contrast, it cannot be stressed enough that Israel has a far better record on safeguarding and allowing access to holy sites than any other sovereign who has ruled the Holy Land over these many centuries.

Yet the fiasco goes on! And the latest UNESCO decisions will only whet the Palestinians’ appetite to encroach on more religious sites within Israel. In 2010 it was Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, which was deemed to be a Palestinian mosque. Next, we could see the PA exerting through UNESCO its claim to the Western Wall, which the Palestinians insist is a Muslim holy site known as the al-Buraq Wall where Muhammad tied his winged horse in his mythical “Night Journey.” After all, it lies just inches away from the “Israeli occupied” Mughrabi bridge.
 

This article was first published in the August 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

 

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