The “now and the not yet” is an important factor in understanding the Bible’s teaching on the End Times. It teaches that:

·         There are two ages – this age and the age to come, but they overlap like two intersecting circles and believers now have a foretaste of the age to come.

·         Believers have received eternal life now, but this is only a foretaste of the fullness of eternal life they will experience when Jesus returns.

·         Believers live in the kingdom of God now but this is only a foretaste of what it will be like when the kingdom will be fully revealed in glory when Jesus returns.

·         We already live in the Last Days and yet there will be a Last Day when Jesus returns.

 

Understanding this “now and not yet” factor will help us come to terms with our experience of some prayers, e.g. for healing, not being answered. In the age to come and the fullness of the kingdom and eternal life all sickness will be healed. In the present age not all sickness will be healed. Not all other suffering or injustice will be removed either. So there is the ‘now and the not yet’ of healing and deliverance from suffering and injustice.

 

This age and the age to come

 

Jesus speaks of the two ages – this age and the age to come.[1] The present age is under the influence of Satan, “the god of this age.”[2]

 

However the age to come has already begun. The “culmination of the ages” was inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus.[3] He died to “rescue us from the present evil age”[4] and now he reigns high over all in this age and the age to come.[5] He has promised to be with believers “to the very end of the age” and so God will protect them until Jesus visibly returns.[6]

 

This age is characterized by a worldly ‘wisdom’ which is foolishness in the eyes of God[7] so we believers must not conform to this age but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.[8] When Jesus returns we shall be made like him, so we should seek to be like him now.[9]  In fact, if we are rich in good deeds in this age we are laying up treasure in the coming age.[10] God can enable us to live godly lives as we wait for the return of Jesus[11] and the great thing is that we can taste the powers of the coming age in this age.[12] Jesus gives rewards to committed believers in both this age and the coming age.[13]

 

Jesus will visibly return at the end of this age[14] and he will carry out judgment, separating the wicked from the righteous.[15] We believers will be raised imperishable.[16]  We “will shine like the sun” in the kingdom of the kingdom of God[17] and God will show his kindness to us.[18] We shall see God and understand fully.[19] Jesus will destroy all ungodly “dominion, authority and power” including death.[20]

 

Eternal Life – Now and Then

 

The New Testament teaches that believers receive and enter into eternal life now, in the present age.  Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.[21] It is a gift[22] which is in Jesus so when we invite Jesus into our lives he brings us eternal life.[23] In fact, Jesus is eternal life[24] and eternal life is knowing God.[25]  However, if we have the faith in Jesus which brings eternal life we will be prepared to make sacrifices for him[26] and to do good.[27]

Nevertheless the full experience of eternal life will only happen when Jesus returns.[28] It will be a reward for believers who have shown their faith in good deeds.[29]  Jesus promises to keep them safe until they enter the fullness of eternal life.[30]

Kingdom – Now and Then

The kingdom, or Rule, of God, came into the world with Jesus.[31]  He told the Pharisees: “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed,nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”[32] It is an eternal, otherworldly kingdom,[33] characterised by righteousness, peace, joy,[34] justice [35] and the power of God.[36] So it cannot be shaken, like earthly kingdoms[37]  and it grows phenomenally.[38]  It is a kingdom of believers, all of whom are priests.[39]  They enter the kingdom by being born again.[40]  Characteristics required in the kingdom include humility,[41] penitence,[42] forgiveness,[43] obedience[44] and perseverance.[45]

Jesus majored on preaching the kingdom[46] and he commanded his disciples to do the same[47] as a matter of urgency,[48] so this characterised the ministry of the early church.[49]  They urged people to strive to enter the kingdom by faith[50] as a priority.[51]

However, Jesus not only proclaimed the kingdom, he demonstrated it in healing and exorcism.[52]  He taught that the kingdom interfaced with the kingdom of Satan[53] and he sent his disciples out to heal the sick[54] and to cast out demons as a sign of the kingdom. We also are called to preach the kingdom.[55]

Jesus said in Matthew 16:28 that some listening to him would not taste death before they saw the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. He may have been referring to the Transfiguration (which happened shortly afterwards) or to Pentecost. Either way it was not the ultimate revelation of the kingdom. He also said at the Last Supper that he looked forward to eating with his disciples at the messianic “wedding supper” when the kingdom is fully revealed.[56]

After Jesus returns his kingdom will be fully revealed[57] and will replace the “kingdom of the world”[58] and the power of Satan.[59] The saints will share in his rule over the nations.[60]We should be ready and watching for the kingdom to be revealed[61] and pray regularly for it to be revealed.[62]  One of the signs of that time drawing near is the message of the kingdom being preached throughout the whole world.[63]  Ultimately Jesus will hand over the kingdom to the Father.[64]

The Last Days and the Last Day

 

We already live the in Last Days. The coming of Jesus 2000 years ago ushered in the Last Days.[65]  Peter makes it clear that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a fulfilment of the prophecy by Joel that God would pour out his Spirit “in the last days.”[66]  The fact that the New Testament teaches that we are in the Last Days shows that we are meant to live in the light of the return of Jesus.  It warns that there will be terrible times in the Last Days in terms of sinful human behaviour. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,  without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good,  treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power.[67]

 

Another characteristic of the Last Days in which we are living will be people scoffing at the idea of the return of Christ. People will say: “Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”[68]

 

However there will be a Last Day when Jesus will raise up all believers.[69] All will be judged on this Last Day,[70] and those who reject the gospel will be cast out from God’s presence.

 



[1]Matt 12:32; 13:22

[2]2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:1-2

[3]1 Cor 10:11; Heb 9:26

[4]Gal 1:4

[5]Eph 1:20-21

[6]Matt 28:18-20; 1 Thess 5:23-24

[7]1 Cor 1:20; 2:6; 3:18-20

[8]Rom 12:2

[9]1 John 3:1-3

[10]1 Tim 6:17-19

[11]Titus 2:11-13

[12]Heb 6:4-6

[13]Luke 18:29-30

[14]Matt 24:2-3

[15] Matt 13:38-42, 49-50; John 5:24-29

[16]1 Cor 15: 50-54

[17]Matt 13:43

[18]Eph 2:6-7

[19]1 Cor 13:12

[20] 1 Cor 15:22-26

[21] John 3:36, compare John 3:14-16; 4:14; 5:24; 6:47, 54; 1 Tim 1:16; 6:12

[22] Rom 6:23

[23] 1 John 5:11-13

[24] 1 John 5:20; compare 1: 2

[25] John 17:3

[26] Matt 19:28-29; Rom 6:22

[27] Rom 2:6-7; Gal 6:8-9

[28] John 6:40; Titus 3:5-7; Jude 21

[29] Matt 25:46; Mark 10:29-30

[30] John 10:27-28

[31] Matt 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15

[32]Luke 17:20-21

[33]Luke 1:30-33; John 18:36-37

[34]Rom 14:17-18

[35]Heb 1:8

[36]1 Cor 4:19-20

[37]Heb 12:28-29

[38]Matt 13:31; 33; Mark 4:30; Luke 13:18-21

[39]Rev 1:5-6; 5:9-10

[40]John 3:3, 5; 1 Cor 15:50

[41]Matt 5:3 “poor in spirit”; 18:1-4; 19:12-14; 22:2-3; Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:15-17

[42]Matt 21:31

[43]Matt 18:23-25

[44]Matt 5:19-20; 7:21; 8:11-12; 16:19; 21:43; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 5:5; Col 1:9-13; 1 Thess 2:11; 2 Peter 1:10-11

[45]Matt 5:10; Acts 14:21-22; 2 Thess 1:4-5

[46] Matt 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; 8:1

[47] Luke 9:2

[48] Luke 9:59-62

[49] Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23-32; Col 4:11

[50] Matt 9:47-48

[51] Matt 6:33; 13:44-50; Mark 10:24-25; Luke 14:15-18

[52] Matt 12:28

[53] Matt 13:24, 38-39, 41; Mark 4:26-29

[54] Luke 10:9-11

[55] Matt 10:7

[56] Rev 19:7

[57] Luke 21:27-31

[58] Rev 11:15

[59] Rev 12:10

[60] Mt 19:28; 1 Cor 6:2-3; Rev 3:21

[61] Matt 25:1

[62] Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2

[63] Matt 24:14

[64]1 Cor 15:22-28

[65]Heb 1:1-2

[66]Acts 2:16-18

[67]2 Tim 3:1-3; James 5:3

[68]2 Peter 3:3-4

[69]John 6:39-40, 44, 54

[70]John 12:48

 

One of the greatest failings of the modern church is to soft-pedal or ignore the fear of God. This is one of the main reasons for a neglect of eschatology (the doctrine of the End Times).  If we really thought we are going to stand before God individually to answer for our behaviour we would live accordingly. But, as Paul said in Romans 3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” As a result, he says, people don’t seek God, and they fall into sin.

 

Of course, some people don’t believe in God. The rather pathetic atheist bus advert campaign stated: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  Probably”?  What if there is, and he holds us accountable? It’s got to be incredibly unwise to take the risk of relying on thinking there “probably” is “no God.”

It’s the same with the popular word “yolo” which means “you only live once” and it is an excuse to live irresponsibly. As someone said, it should stand for “you oughta look out!” Jesus rebuked people whose philosophy was “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19-20) and called them foolish.

 

It doesn’t do any good to “roast people over Hell.” But if people are going to face God’s judgement and we don’t warn them about it, as helpfully as possible, we are deeply lacking in love. That is why I think the modern church is lacking in love.  We have bought into the relativism of modern society. Anyone can believe anything. Your truth is as valid as my truth even if the two truths contradict one another. Similarly I am free to choose how I shall behave within reason. Modern thinking confuses the equality of all human beings with the equality of all human behaviour. That is a serious fallacy. I believe firmly in the former but not in the latter.

 

The question is: has God revealed what we should believe and how we should behave? Surely the personal, loving God of Christianity can be expected to have done so. And does he require us to obey him? If that is the case we are very unwise not to find out what he has said and to put it into practice.

 

It profoundly concerns me that people don’t realise they are accountable to God – and, frankly, that applies to some Christians as well, judging by their behaviour. I believe God is love as much as anybody. But he is also a holy judge before whom we each must stand one day.

 

Little wonder the Bible states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

LIVING IN THE LIGHT OF THE END, WHICH IS A NEW BEGINNING

(Updated 23.06.13: Message 18)

This Post only contains shorter messages. There are separate articles on Eschatology which are listed on the Welcome Post above.

Message 1

The New Testament really does teach we should be thinking frequently about the End Times. Jesus stressed the Kingdom which is ultimately eschatological. He taught us to pray regularly for his eschatological Kingdom to come (in the Lord’s Prayer). He also said we are to celebrate Communion and so to proclaim his death “until he comes.” Communion looks forward as well as backwards. I counted 118 passages on eschatology in the NT excluding Revelation. This includes 8 major passages plus a whole book – Revelation. For more information on eschatology see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/

Message 2 Near-miss asteroid

Could Jesus’ statement that “stars will fall from the sky” before his Return be literal? Is tonight’s near-miss asteroid relevant?

The size of an office block, doing 5 miles a second it will pass nearer than many of our satellites. Will the next one be bigger and hit us?

Astronomers are concerned and scanning the skies, having found 10,000 others which could threaten Earth. No immediate danger but it makes you think. Jesus would say it’s meant to.

Message 3

End Times teaching is a strong motive for holiness and evangelism amongst Christians and thinking seriously about eternity amongst unbelievers

Message 4

Now we’re back from holiday here’s an update on the eschatology (End Times) campaign. It is, of course, early days but things are going well. More people are showing interest and I’m meeting up with some Friends to discuss co-operation. I’m continuing my research and writing, and some interesting ideas are emerging (more on that later). I’ll be circulating material from time to time and hope to arrange conferences and speaking engagements.  Suggestions are welcome.

Message 5

Yesterday I went to the Thanksgiving Service for a Methodist Minister friend who died recently. It was a salutary experience which focused attention on the shortness and purpose of life, and gave opportunity to ask: “How am I doing in terms of living my life for God?” As I’ve said before, thinking about eschatology (which includes death) is a strong encouragement to holiness and mission. How are you doing?

Message 6

The UN has declared March 20th from this year the first International Day of Happiness and is encouraging us to make other people happy. Peter wrote to believers who “suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1: 6). Yet he speaks of them being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” even though they don’t see Jesus “now” (verse 8). This inexpressible and glorious joy is largely based upon our sure hope of seeing him face to face “then”. The more we think about that, the more we will experience the joy which is vastly greater than mere happiness.

Message 7

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 1: Early in Holy Week Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple (which was brought about by the Romans 40 years later in AD70). But he also prophesied the End Times and urged his disciples to look out for both early (recurring) and later signs of his Return (see Matthew 24). His prophecies here are typical of biblical prophecy:

  • Prophecy can have an early and a later fulfillment.
  • Prophecy can concertina events widely separated in time to appear close together.
  • So Jesus speaks of the events of AD70 and of his still future return in the same passage.

Are you looking out for the signs of Jesus’ return? (see “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about the signs of Jesus’ return?” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf ) .

Message 8

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 2: Jesus also told the parable of the Ten Young Women (Virgins) in Holy Week. They were waiting for the bridegroom to come but he “was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep” (Matthew 25:5). That’s a good picture of the church and of many Christians today. Because the ‘bridegroom’ (Jesus) is a long time in coming (the Second Coming) they have stopped concentrating and don’t think about his Return. However, Jesus’ message is for those who have not made any preparation for his Return, i.e. have not come to faith in him, shown in obedience. Such people, he says, when he returns, will be shut out from his presence – a solemn warning.

Message 9

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 3: Jesus’ teaching in Holy Week includes a description of the last judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). When Jesus returns he will judge the people of all nations. The criterion of judgment is people’s attitude towards the followers of Jesus (which, of course, shows their attitude towards him). Only those who show love and kindness towards the followers of Jesus (and so to him) will have eternal life.

Message 10

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 4: At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches that Communion not only looks back to his death but forward to when he will drink wine with his disciples in his Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29). Paul says Communion proclaims the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26). Jesus was referring to a prophecy of Isaiah that God “will prepare a banquet for all the nations of the world—a banquet of the richest food and the finest wine. Here he will suddenly remove the cloud of sorrow that has been hanging over all the nations. … will destroy death forever …. will wipe away the tears from everyone’s eyes” (Isa 25:6-8). Are you looking forward to that?

Message 11

HOLY WEEK ESCHATOLOGY 5: When Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) the high priest said: “Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied: “‘You have said so ….. ‘But I say to all of you: from now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (Matthew 26:63-64). Jesus looked beyond the horror of the cross to the time (still future) when he returns “on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). I strongly recommend that you think of his return daily. How about it?

Message 12

AN EASTER MESSAGE (1 Corinthians 15:19-26)

 

  1. HOPE WITHOUT RESURRECTION IS PATHETIC (“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied”). Those who only seek money, sex and power (or popularity) are to be pitied. They can’t take any of it with them.

 

  1. JESUS’ RESURRECTION IS THE BEGINNING OF OURS (“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep”). First fruit – means there is more of the same crop to come. There’s much more where that came from, i.e. resurrection. Christians are united with Christ and share his resurrection.

 

  1. DEATH IS UNDER A DEATH SENTENCE (“The last enemy to be destroyed is death”).  Can you imagine a life where there is no ageing, sickness, anxiety, depression, frailty, or dying? That’s where we believers are heading, folks! Death is ‘promotion to glory.’

Message 13

Wars and rumours of wars are one of the early repeated reminders of the End Times Jesus mentioned (Matt 24:6). Hopefully the N Korean threat will remain a rumour rather than a real war (though we need to pray). But it does vividly illustrate the danger of terrorists getting a nuclear bomb. N Korea has much to lose. Terrorists don’t. Quite a reminder!

Message 14

Professor Stephen Hawking has warned this week that humans must explore space if we are to survive the coming millennium. “We must continue to go into space for humanity. We won’t survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet.” The problem is that most of us, including Christians, live as if everything will continue “as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.”  Even the scientists warn that the Apocalypse is coming.

Message 15

Messianic Rabbi Binyamin Sheldrake wrote: “

“Shalom Tony! Knowing your interest in end times.. just finished reading an excellent (traditional) Jewish commentary on Daniel and have been crunching through some thoughts. I am beginning to wonder if in fact the prophecies contained therein and elsewhere were in fact fulfilled in the latter part of the run up to the first century and slightly after, into the lifetime of Yeshua. If that is the case (and certainly the Jewish commentaries seem to advocate such a view, with dates and names of kings, rulers etc who do meet the historical criteria well) then you begin to wonder whether it is worth attempting to extrapolate them into more modern times at all, in fact the conclusion could be even more serious and transformational: If the birth and death of Yeshua were the apex of Jewish history, the moment in time towards which everything had been planned leading to the salvation of Israel and through us the whole world, then the subsequent time span (last 2000 years) only exists as a time bracket brought about due to our (the Jewish people’s) failure to rise up to our historic and prophetic call to be a light to the nations and bring the harvest of the nations in to the God of Israel. He has still ensured that that harvest happened by using those of the nations who did respond in faith, but attempting to label ‘this is this’ from the Prophets suddenly becomes a meaningless exercise, not in the mind of the Prophets at all who saw only the course of prophetic history as regards Israel, and her still at that point in time unclear choice as to whether she would respond to God in the right way. Let’s be clear about what we DO know: the UK, America, Russia etc are never mentioned in the Torah or Messianic Writings (NT) by name, all labels are interpretational. At best only the ‘right at the end’ bits of prophecy, the bits after the break between the 3rd and 4th cups of Pesach (he who has insight will understand 😉 ) can be called upon for real prophetic meaning and application (if it is possible to discern such texts with certainty).

Would be interested in your thoughts on my ramblings.

I responded:

 

Thank you for this stimulating post, Binyamin. I’ll try to do justice in the confines of Facebook. I think I’ll use numbered points for clarity (and, as always, I’ll seek to write in a way which will be meaningful to the non-theologically trained reader):

1.      I’m sure you’re aware of the view called Dispensational Premillennialism  (Reader, don’t worry about that mouthful: I’ll explain it in a later post) which sees the Jewish people and the church as completely separate. They see the “church age” (the last 2000 years) as an interval in God’s purpose for the Jewish people. In this interval the Gentiles are prominent but eventually God will resume his main purpose which is realised in the Jewish people.

2.      As you know, I am not one of those Christians who believe God has finished with the Jewish people and is only interested in the (largely Gentile) church. I believe Romans 11 is clear that God has a purpose for the Jewish people – a massive turning to Christ which will have a profound effect on the world. However, I also believe firmly what Paul says in Gal 3:28-29 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

3.      Paul speaks in Eph 2:11-22 of God’s eternal purpose to bring the Gentiles into the covenant through the blood of Christ, making Jew and Gentile one, destroying the barrier between them. So Jew and Gentile become “fellow citizens” and the whole Jewish-Gentile ‘building’ becomes “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  In Eph 3:4-11 Paul makes clear that this was the great “mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations” so you’re right: it wasn’t revealed to the Prophets but it was “revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.”

4.      However, this does not mean that the church is a sort of after-thought or interlude. It was the mainstream purpose of God. So Paul continues: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus …. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:4-11). This is why I disagree with Dispensational Premillennialism – I cannot see the last 2000 years as “a time bracket brought about due to … the Jewish people’s failure to rise up to our historic and prophetic call …” as you put it. The last 2000 years was God’s intention, although ideally it should have been with full Jewish participation, but God was not caught out by their disobedience, as many of Jesus’ parables underline

5.      As you may have seen, I have been explaining why I don’t believe the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew 24 etc., were all fulfilled in the 1st century AD. See “Which aspects of the teaching of Jesus on the Mt of Olives refer to the Second Coming?”  http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=349 and “Jesus teaching about the future on the Mt of Olives – some scholarly opinions” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=364

These are my thoughts, Binyamin. By all means continue the discussion. Shalom.

Message 16

In a debate about “What makes a good bank?” this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “banks, to be good, need the fear of hell and the hope of heaven, not merely the fear of penury and the hope of a larger bank account.” My response is “and so do the rest of us.” Sadly, the church has failed to convey this message to society.

Message 17

PlayStation has just released a game which depicts a Britain abandoned for 20 years after a poisonous fungus has wiped-out almost all the world’s population, leaving nature to gradually reclaim towns and cities.

The blurb says: “Eerie computer-generated images reveal how UK landmarks could crumble and decay if humanity was wiped out.”

They include a crumbling Buckingham Palace, Brighton Pier falling down, a broken-down Battersea Power Station billowing black smoke, Liverpool’s Albert Docks as an overgrown mess, a ruined Clifton Suspension Bridge near Bristol, King’s College, Cambridge as a crumbling ruin and a ruined Clyde Arc with a smouldering Glasgow in the background.

Many in the general population have a fascination with apocalyptic events. Why do Christians fail to take the prophetic and apocalyptic predictions of Scripture seriously? Why doesn’t the church include reference to them in its message to society? Maybe they are more ready to hear than we are to speak.

Message 18

 

CURRENT AFFAIRS: SURVEILLANCE & UNNECESSARY SECRECY

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, has criticized the government for requesting unnecessary secret court proceedings against an Iranian bank, claiming it was too sensitive to be heard publicly.  He said: “Having held a closed hearing, it turned out that there had been no point in the Supreme Court seeing the closed judgment.” They said the bank was treated in an arbitrary, irrational and disproportionate manner and given no opportunity to defend itself in procedures that were “demonstrably unfair.”

 

On Monday the Guardian reported that British intelligence had spied on delegates at two G20 summits, chaired by Gordon Brown in 2009. Laptops and mobile phones had been hacked, and internet cafes bugged. The government banned the rest of the media from reporting it.

These two incidents add weight to the criticism that we have a government that wishes to be unduly secretive. This Big Brother tendency should concern us all as citizens and as Christians.

PS. There are reasons for covert operations and it may not be easy to draw the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t. But “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing” so the worst thing we can do is to be complacent. The current lively debate is a good thing: it will keep the authorities on their toes. The Big Brother tendency is always present.

LATEST MESSAGE No 10 posted 23rd June 2013

 

This Post only contains shorter messages. There are separate articles on Eschatology which are listed on the Welcome Post above.

Message 1

As many of you know, one of my main interests (after living and working in Israel) is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I shall soon be producing one of my occasional newsletters encouraging prayer for both sides and seeking to take the need, pain and fears of both sides seriously.

 

However, I am also interested in what the NT says about Israel in an eschatological (End Times) context.

 

It is good to have Friends from the Israeli Jewish, Israeli Arab and Palestinian people groups. I think it is very important for me to explain my attitude to Israel (and to the Palestinians). It is easy to be misunderstood – by both sides. In a nutshell I believe God loves both people groups equally, but more needs to be said. So, this week I plan to outline my attitude towards Israel. By all means respond but bear in mind, I will probably take the whole week to summarise all I want to say on the subject and I shall come onto the Palestinian people later in the week. I shall then put an article on the blog.

 

My first message on the subject follows.

Message 2

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 1:

There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:

Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) – the only explanation for this huge phenomena is that it is demonic.

  • Lack of compassion for the Jewish people (not understanding the effect of centuries of persecution, much of it from the church).
  • Uncritical support (the idea that Israel is always wonderful and can do nothing wrong).
  • False eschatological views (the idea that God will deal with Jewish people totally separately from Gentiles, and on the basis of the Law, not faith in Jesus).

 

I have given the subject much thought and prayer over many years

  • I was General Director of the Churches Ministry among Jewish People for 7 years and on its Council for 20 years.).
  • Over the years I have met and discussed with many Jewish people, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have also met and discussed with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have met and discussed with many Christian Zionists, some of whom had extreme views.

Message 3

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 2:

God has not simply replaced the Jewish people with the church, his calling of them is irrevocable.

See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29

 

God still has a purpose for the Jewish people in Jesus. “All Israel will be saved” (through Jesus) when “the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27).

 

The return of the Jewish people to Israel is prophetically significant.

However controversial it is and however much Israel fails the Lord, the Old Testament foretells a worldwide return in the Last Days (see Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14).

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK

 

Ian Paul: But there is a huge debate to be had about who ‘Israel’ is in Rom 11.25…I am convinced by NT Wright’s reading of this to mean ‘All who will come to know God in Jesus.’

 

My reply: I am aware of this, Paul, but the whole context makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Gentiles and I find it very difficult to believe ‘Israel’ has a different meaning from the previous verse where it obviously means literal (Jewish) Israel.

 

Ian Paul: Well, that is the main criticism of eg Tom Wright’s position (I guess you have read him on this…?). But then Paul uses ‘Israel’ to mean ‘God’s true people’ rather than ‘the ethnic nation’ earlier in this section in 9.6, arguably he uses it in the same way in Gal 6.16, and also in Eph 2.12. In fact, Eph 2.14 would support this idea that both Jews and Gentiles are now one ‘Israel of God.’

 

Again, fascinating you list Joel 3 above…when Peter is quite explicit that ‘those last days’ when the people will return, there will be signs in heaven, and the Spirit is poured out on all flesh…are the days of Pentecost in which he is speaking! In the words of F F Bruce ‘This is that…’

 

My reply: I have always understood Rom 9:6 as Paul speaking only of the Jews but distinguishing between Jewish believers and purely ethnic Jews. I don’t think Eph 2 proves anything because there is no reference to the word ‘Israel’. But clearly Gal 6:16 is speaking of the new Jewish-Gentile Israel. On your second point there is also ‘the now and the not yet’, the multiple fulfilment of prophecy. I don’t think you can say that the Day of Pentecost totally and finally fulfilled Joel when it goes on immediately to speak of “wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (By the way, thanks for the discussion, I’m finding it both enjoyable and helpful – keep challenging me).

Message 4

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 3:

The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign

 

The NT assumes knowledge of the OT which does speak of a worldwide return of the Jewish people to the land so there are not many references to it in the NT, but here are two.

Jesus says the end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem is a sign in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

 

Jesus does not disagree with the disciples when they speak of the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

 

We must oppose anti-Semitism and be compassionate towards the need, pain and fears of Jewish people.

Memories of persecution and especially of the Holocaust are very strong. Israelis fear the loss of the land because of all that, whatever their military strength.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK

 

David Sax: Excellent Tony. I wish that more believers would read this and consider it carefully.

Ian Paul: Not sure if you want an FB debate about this…I have always found it striking that NT appears to see the OT promises to Israel as completely fulfilled in Jesus. That followers of Jesus come from ‘every tribe language people and nation’ is the fulfilment of the promise of gathering.

 

My reply: By all means debate, Ian. Obviously, the NT is the blossoming of the ‘bud’ of the OT but I’m convinced that, however ‘untidy’ it is, the NT does follow the OT is seeing a future purpose for the Jewish people – but only in Christ. Hence my first composite point above. Replacement Theology (which I’ll define for the benefit of others), namely the idea that church has totally replaced the Jewish people in God’s purposes, does not seem to fit all the biblical material. See my article ‘Christian Zionism: An Attempt at a Biblical Basis’ at http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/christianzionismbiblebias.html

Ian Paul: I agree with you about ‘replacement theology’ not being in the NT. But I am struggling to relate your first line ‘the regaining of Jerusalem is an end-times sign’ to the NT in the light eg of Jesus’ seeing himself as the new temple in John’s gospel. But I will look at your article…

(It does seem odd to me that the *only* text you cite in support of the Jerusalem comment is Luke 21.24…which doesn’t actually say much.)

My reply: I’m convinced that Luke 21:24 is literal. The Jewish people did literally ‘fall by the sword’ and were literally ‘taken as prisoners to all the nations’ and Jerusalem has been for 2000 years literally ‘trampled on by the Gentiles’ and so I can’t be other than literal in regard to the direct implication of ‘until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’, namely the Jewish people regaining control. Also what happened in the 20th century is a most remarkable coincidence if it doesn’t relate to that prophecy. As I said, I think it is backed up by the direct implication of Jesus’ reply Acts 1:6 (and a great deal of OT prophecy). That is not to deny that the Kingdom is bigger than believing (Jewish) Israel (and, of course, I am not at this moment commenting on the political (Israeli-Palestinian) aspect. More on that later).

If I were basing this point merely on two brief verses (both of them inferences), namely Luke 21:24 and Acts 1:6, it would hardly be a strong foundation. But those two verses are the NT tip of the OT iceberg which is Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14.

Message 5

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTIANS 4:

 

God loves the Palestinian people as much as anyone.

  • He wants the best for them
  • He wants them to be treated with dignity and justice, which is all too often not the way they are treated by the Israeli government.

 

The Torah (Law) commands Israel to love the Palestinians.

This teaching is about foreigners (non-Jews) in the land and applies to the territories under Israel’s control. It is particularly relevant to Zionists who believe the Palestinian areas should be and remain Israel proper.

  • The Lord loves and defends the foreigner (Deut 10:18-19; Psa 146:9).
  • The Lord forbids Israel to ill treat, oppress or deprive the foreigner (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Deut 24:14, 17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezk 22:7, 29; Zech 7:10).
  • Anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner is strongly condemned (Deut 27:19; Mal 3:5).
  • The people of Israel must love foreigners as they love themselves (Lev 19:33-34).
  • Israel must provide for needy foreigners (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21; 26:12; Ezk 47:21-23).

 

The Palestinians are responsible to act justly with respect to Israel, which is all too often not the case.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

Peter Gray-Read: Tony, Israel is an economic support for the Palestinians, Israel would love closer ties but when you are bombed as they have been they need to protect themselves. WE have to recognise that the Palestinians Arabs have been a pawn used by other Islamic nations to get world opinion against the Jews. And many have swallowed the bait. Israel has absorbed Jews from so many nations. How big is Israel? Why could not the other huge Arabic nations have shown such compassion on their own people. I love your desire to promote the study of end times but please be careful about the blame Israel lobby. They who bless Israel will be blessed … Gt Britain had such an opportunity to assign the Jews land commensurate with their God given heritage after WW1 we abused that trust. Let’s not repeat the mistake.

My reply: Peter, there are faults on both sides of this dispute but your (admittedly brief) comment seems to be putting all the blame on the Palestinian/Arab side. It is not that I disagree with your criticisms of them but the situation is more complicated. Your statements that Israel is “an economic support for the Palestinians” and “would love closer ties” are not the whole picture. For example, the fact is that a significant number of Israelis do not long for closer ties. I used to take a solely pro-Israel view before I lived in Israel and listened extensively to people from both sides and did a fair amount of research.

I am well aware of the “Israel can do no wrong” lobby as I am of the “Israel can do no right” lobby and I definitely disagree with both of them. They are both mistaken and unhelpful. We must recognise the need, pain, fear – and faults – on both sides if we are to pray effectively. And prayer is the most important thing we can do. You will have read my very positive statements re Israel and its future (and my condemnation of anti-Semitism) over the last few days. But I do not believe we bless Israel by ignoring her faults (see the Prophets – to whom I referred in my piece), any more than we love an individual by ignoring his/her faults. The same can be said for the Palestinian side. The problem with the Arab nations absorbing the Palestinians is that the Palestinians believe they have a right to return to what they see as their homeland. Whatever we think about this or the likelihood of it happening we have to understand this aspiration, just as we have to understand the Jewish concerns about not losing their homeland. We must show God-given compassion to both sides and on that basis assess and pray about the faults of both sides. (I’ll deal with the “God-given heritage” later so won’t comment now).

 

Message 6

MY ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIANS 5:

There are two attitudes we need to avoid:

 

  1. An excessive appreciation of Israel: I know what it is to have a deep love and a profound concern for Israel. It first happened to me in 1983 and I believe it is God-given. But the danger is that it leads to an uncritical and very biased support for Israel – ‘Israel can do no wrong.’

 

  1. A unconsciously anti-Semitic carping criticism of Israel: This can be deemed to be a proper concern for justice for the Palestinians. There is such a thing as righteous anger over injustice but this isn’t it. Katrina Lantos Swett wrote recently: “While no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe).

 

There are two attitudes we need to have:

 

  1. A true friend will be a critical friend and will share constructive criticism
  • I want to be a true friend of Israel (and also of the Palestinian people).
  1. We must always listen to both sides of the story
  • Anyone with any experience knows one must listen to both sides of a story, however convincing one side is. This is true in the realm of personal relationships. It is true in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides use propaganda. Both sides can make overwhelmingly convincing cases.

 

[This is the final part of my 5 comments on this subject. They are now in article form on http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=277]

 

Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians? Because although the re-establishment of Israel is an End Times sign, I cannot talk about it without compassion for both people groups, not only for reconciliation, justice and security but also for them to come to know Jesus. It may surprise you to know that many Jewish people think Christian Zionists are only interested in them eschatologically because they will be killed in the Battle of Armageddon. We need to show that is not our position.

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

David Sax: Well said Tony.

Angela Harverson: Indeed .we must have the two eyed approach..

Hazel Smalley: Yes, we must never lose sight of the fact that there are two sides to every story….and especially where Israel is concerned.

Peter Gray-Read: Amen to that. Paul’s desire was that all Israel be saved – it should be ours as well. They are not just a Biblical exhibit – they and the descendants of Ishmael are our brothers and sisters. Thank you

 

Alasdair Gordon: One of the most balanced articles I have read in a long time on this difficult subject.

Ian Paul: I would agree with this–but I am unclear how it sits with your conviction that the land has been promised in perpetuity. When Israel steals land that belongs to others and builds settlements on it, is this a violations of human rights or enacting Israel’s God-given right?

My reply: Ian, I am about to write relevantly to your question but you may like to see my brand new article “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284

 

Stanley Hierons: Am in agreement Tony…

Hazel Smalley: Just read your “brand new article” Tony…and I shall read it again as it’s a lot to take in all at once! Thank you ‘tho, I enjoy a good and informed read any time!!

 Message 7

On April 3rd a hundred prominent US Jews wrote a letter to Israel’s Prime Minister: “We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to respond to President Obama’s call for peace by taking concrete confidence building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We urge you, in particular, to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.”

 

I have written earlier that the re-establishment of Israel is a sign of the End Times and a fulfilment of God’s ancient promises about the land. But I also believe that the establishment of a Palestinian State is probably the right way forward for Israel. That raises the question: Is it right to divide the Promised Land?

Message 8

IS IT RIGHT TO DIVIDE THE PROMISED LAND? 2

I will briefly summarise various points I make in my article (Is it right to divide the Promised Land? See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284)

1.      The “Promised Land” included much of what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

So it is difficult to imagine Israel possessing the whole of the land. Israel has only possessed the whole land for 40 out of the last 4000 years (1% of the time), {some would say they have never possessed the whole land] yet God has worked out his purposes for the Jewish people.

2.      Israel is not obeying the law which is a condition of possessing the Promised Land

God commanded Israel to observe a “Year of Jubilee” every 50th year when all property is to be returned to its original owner. This was a condition of keeping the land. (Those who are strict about God’s promise of the whole land should be strict about this too!). Only having part of the land is preferable to losing it.

 

I shall give more reasons later but you may like to read my full article “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284

3.      Israel has a God-given responsibility towards the Palestinians

In have already addressed this on Facebook.

4.      The single-state solution is not really viable for Jewish Israelis

Israel is a democracy and the single-state solution (making Palestinians citizens) would soon mean an Arab majority and an end to the safe Jewish homeland.

5.      If Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians the world will turn against her

Scripture foretells such a turning against Israel. But Israel should not to bring unnecessary or premature trouble on herself just because of some ‘prophetic’ resignation or fatalism.

It seems clear to me that, in view of God’s faithfulness to Israel despite her not having the whole of the Promised Land throughout most of history and not having a land at all for many centuries, we need to take the way of faith in our thinking. God has shown with abundant clarity that he can fulfill his promises to Israel despite all the anti-Semitism and persecution and, one might add, her rejection of God’s Messiah. The way of faith includes obeying what Scripture teaches about justice and loving one’s neighbour, which must be applied to foreigners and those from another people group. It means trusting God to protect Israel (although this does not, of course, rule out taking proper precautions). The two-state solution seems the best for Israel as well as the Palestinians, although I don’t think it will mean an end to all danger and strife. But Israel will regain support from powerful allies against those seeking to destroy her. If it is God’s purpose for her ultimately to have more of the Promised Land, God is not limited by Israel agreeing in the near future to the Palestinians having their own state. One thing is certain, he would reward her obedience.

Message 9

TO INFORM YOUR PRAYERS FOR ISRAEL & THE PALESTINIANS
My latest Paradox Newsletter is now available. My newsletters seek to take the needs, pain and fears of both sides seriously. This edition asks what hope there is for the Peace Process and reports on

• The situation with Hamas in Gaza
• The effects of the UN agreement to treat the Palestinians as a “non-member observer state”
• The dangerous isolation of Israel
• Israel’s relationship with the US
• The results of the Israeli General Election

• Thanksgiving & Prayer Topics

See http://prayerforpeace.org.uk/blog/?p=37

Message 10

CURRENT AFFAIRS: ISRAELI GOVERNMENT “STRONGLY OPPOSED TO PALESTINIAN STATE”

Having spoken strongly about the strong anti-Israel bias in the WCC’s recent statement I now have to say something on the other side. This week Naftali Bennett, the Israeli economics and trade minister said in a meeting of West Bank settlers that it was hopeless to expect a settlement with the Palestinians. He said: “Never have so many people invested so much energy in something that is hopeless …. This land has been ours for 3,000 years. There was never a Palestinian state here and we were never occupiers. The house is ours and we are residents here, not the occupiers.” He then said Israel should “build, build, build” settlements on the West Bank.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, agreed with Bennett.  Two weeks earlier the deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, claimed a majority within the Israeli government were strongly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. He said: “If there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the party and the government.”

All this is very sad and guaranteed to create a lot of trouble for Israel as well as frustrating the Palestinians in their legitimate desire for their own state. True, there was never a Palestinian state on the West Bank but there were Palestinian people living there, many of whom were displaced and their private land occupied. These politicians should realise that we are living in 2013, not 1948. There is now a recognised and defined Palestinian people who naturally wish to have their own state.  It is wrong and unjust not to recognise this.

I recently wrote at greater length about this issue in “Is it right to divide the Promised Land?” at

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=284  This new development is very disturbing and we must pray it won’t prevent a just settlement with peace and security for both sides.

MY ORIGINAL CASUAL MESSAGE WHICH SPARKED LENGTHY DEBATE:

 

“On holiday last week we walked on England’s famous Jurassic Coast and I discovered a couple of fossil Ammonites. It is awesome to think they had been lying there for perhaps 190 million years. It spoke to me of the wonder of creation and the greatness of our Creator!”

 

DISCUSSION ON FACEBOOK:

 

David Sax: Of course Tony I would have to disagree on the time spans but I’m glad you had a great time.

 

My reply: I think that what ultimately matters is not when or how God created the universe but THAT he created the universe. To me it would be just as wonderful whether he created the universe 13.7 billion years ago, 6000 years ago or last week and it would be just as wonderful if he created it over billions of years, seven days or instantaneously.

 

David Sax: I respect your work and your opinions Tony

 

Katie Chapman: We are hooked on time, whereas God operates in eternity. A day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. if we could understand everything about God, He wouldn’t be God, that’s why He is worthy of our praise.

 

Stephen Mountier: I have no worries about 13.7 billion years or 6000 – God is GOD and he could have done it anyway he chose… I have an opinion like any person should but really at the end of the day the HOW is interesting and exciting but not important… the WHY he created is!
David G Lazell: I disagree. If you gave me your name and address and I said I didn’t believe you, you would be offended. God’s word clearly says that he made the world in six days (with an evening and morning after each one) and, unless you beleive in a Gap theory, only a few thousand years ago. Was Jonah in the fish for 3000 years? Did Joshua march around Jericho for 7 million days? Why do we doubt the Genesis day which is the same Hebrew word? How can we say that God is wonderful when we don’t believe His word?

 

David Sax: The Bible is not a science book, but we need to take Genesis seriously as it sets the scene for the rest of the holy books of scripture. I think evolutionism is mistaken. But at the core of Genesis and beyond is that we accept God’s rescue plan in Jesus the second Adam. Bless you all.

 

My reply: David, It is simply not a credible position to take everything in the Bible literally and I’m sure you don’t do so. It uses figures of speech: similes, metaphors, hyperbole, idioms, etc. We have to recognise these and to seek to understand what is meant by them. For example, Genesis 1-3 speaks of God breathing, walking and resting. All of these are non-literal statements. It shows no disrespect or lack of faith whatsoever to see them as non-literal. Jesus speaks of people being salt, and having planks in their eyes and tells them to hate their father and mother. These are not literal statements but they do convey God’s truth. I can’t deal with the bigger issues here so see my article http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/doesevolutiondisprovegod.html which, amongst many other things, lists the 10 great theological truths which I see in Gen 1-3. I firmly believe Genesis 1-3 is God’s word but we have to understand it correctly.

 

Lynda Edwards: I believe evolution is part of creation. God is adapting this planet and its inhabitants to different conditions. That is not to say we can abuse it though!

 

David Sax: @ Tony – many thanks. I wholly agree with you. The Bible is full of literature, allegory, poetry, metaphor etc. etc. Time doesn’t allow in depth debate here! Thanks for the link.

 

My reply: Thank you, David, I realised after putting “David” in my reply to David Lazell that it could have seemed I was replying to you! There are just too many Davids!

 

Stephen Mountier: Another interesting read is John Lennox’s “Seven Days that divide the World” written by a committed christian and Oxford Don in Mathematics… whilst it is heavy going at times it presents all cases very well… My view is do not dismiss any view without valid research – It is important to respect all who genuinely have done such and come to their conclusion. David L. I can assure you my Christian faith is very strong and my commitment to the bible and Christ’s teaching equally. We are able to disagree in love on issues that are, in my view, secondary which is why I distinguished the HOW from the WHY. The bible to me is ‘primarily’ God’s Love for us and His plan of Salvation from beginning to end and how it developed to it’s fulfillment in Christ. Imperfect men and women being inspired by the Holy Spirit to record such. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” 2 Tim 3:16… Getting right with God is the aim.

 

My reply: You took the words out of my mouth, Stephen. We must not fall out over creation/evolution (or eschatology). We must listen carefully and, where necessary, disagree in love. I believe the very public creation/evolution controversy has done enormous damage to the cause of the Gospel. However unintentionally, it has given the impression that a person has to choose between believing in evolution or believing in God. Sadly, I think that it has caused many to make that choice – against belief in God. I want to say loud and clear that belief in evolution is not incompatible with belief in God and that many godly Christians (including scientists), with a high view of Scripture, believe evolution is the method God used to bring about the universe. In fact evolution doesn’t answer ultimate questions of origin and purpose – they are only answered by belief in God. I am not too concerned about whether evolution is true/proven or not. I am DEEPLY concerned not to hinder people coming to faith.

 

David G Lazell: David Sax rightly said the Bible is not a science book. That is very true; science books are always changing! We shouldn’t need to feel we have to accommodate the theory of evolution and somehow ‘shoehorn’ the Bible into it. The Bible stands alone as the infallible, inerrant word of God. “Let God be true but every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4b) Jesus certainly believed the Genesis account was literal; when questioned about divorce He refers to when He made Adam and Eve at the BEGINNING ( Matthew 19:4). John 5:47: “If you do not believe his [Moses] writings, how will you believe Mine?” Answers in Genesis.org is a great website providing sound apologetics on this topic.

 

My reply: What God says is obviously infallible but our interpretation of it is not. Sometimes the two become confused and we rate our interpretation too highly, as if our interpretation is God’s word, when it might be mistaken. The way we understand if a passage is literal or symbolical is to relate it to other knowledge we have, including scientific knowledge. Therefore, among many other things, we need to examine carefully what science has discovered about the origin of the universe and of life on earth. This is not ‘shoehorning’ the Bible into science, it is a necessary and legitimate part of interpretation. We may decide science is unproven or even invalid but we need to do that after careful consideration of the facts. All truth, including scientific truth, comes from God.
When Jesus refers to the “beginning” in Matthew 19:4 he is referring to the beginning of humanity, not the absolute beginning of creation. Genesis says humans were created on Day 6 – the end of creation – not Day 1. The question remains: are the days literal or do they symbolize a long period of time. The latter would mean humans were created long after the creation of the universe, Earth etc. Nor does Matthew 19:4 mean Jesus took the whole of Genesis 1-3 literally. He could just as easily have quoted the verses about God breathing, walking in the garden or having a rest on the seventh day which are clearly non-literal. After all, he used symbolism in his teaching and he told parables, the content of which may well not have been actual historical occurrences. We are still faced with the need to decide whether the Genesis account is literal or a wonderful symbolical ‘parable’ which teaches a great deal of theology.

 

Sue Hooper: Another interesting man to listen to on this subject is Grady McMurtry – a scientist who was an evolutionist and now totally believes the Genesis account of creation. A very clever guy and challenging.

 

David Sax: I would agree with Tony that we must show love and understanding in these matters as Christians together. Amen. However, in my view, there is so much conventional science really does not know. For example after 68 million years in the ground you wouldn’t expect to see blood vessels and DNA. This link is NOT creationist, and discusses how soft tissue and DNA was found in dinosaur remains. Makes you think eh? http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur.html

 

My reply: Thank you, David and Sue for your interesting messages. Let me re-iterate my position. My concern is to counteract the very damaging idea that belief in evolution is incompatible with belief in God, which has encouraged people to give up believing in God. I firmly believe that to say evolution is incompatible with belief in God doesn’t make sense. Some scientists seem to treat Natural Selection as a god but it is merely a process. It can’t explain the origin of the universe. It can’t even explain its own existence. I don’t believe in a god-of-the-gaps. I am simply interested in the process God used to create the universe and everything in it.
It wouldn’t bother me one scrap if evolution were proved untrue tomorrow and I know there are unanswered questions about it. On a superficial level, watching the fascinating recent documentaries on penguins, I asked the slightly tongue-in-cheek question: “What was Natural Selection doing? Life would have been a lot easier for them if they could fly!!” But, of course, we could ask the question “What was God doing – not allowing them to fly?!” I’m not a scientist and so am not competent to comment in any depth on the scientific arguments for (or against) evolution, although I can learn from the debate between scientists. Nor do I have the time to go into the matter in great depth. It is not amongst my priorities. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what method God used and I’m quite convinced Genesis doesn’t rule out evolution. I was brought up as a young earth creationist but there are very serious problems with that position also and I discovered ‘scientific’ arguments used (and still used) to support it (and creationism in general), which I once accepted, are either inconclusive or invalid. However I am interested (and certainly not threatened or dismissive) when new arguments arise which might challenge evolution. In fact I would be very interested to read any NON-CREATIONIST scientists who critique evolution – so long as it doesn’t take too much time. I’ll follow up the sources you both mention.

 

My reply: Dear David and Sue I have followed up the sources you mention. Sue you mention that Grady McMurty is a scientist who was an evolutionist and now is a creationist. I have no reason to doubt that he is a good man but my research shows his academic qualifications do not give him particular scientific expertise on the subject of evolution (he is not a biologist, paleontologist, anthropologist etc.). His BS degree is in agriculture. His master’s degree is in forestry. His doctorate is in theology from a non accredited private college. I have found this before that sometimes creationist scientists do not have expertise in biology or other subjects related to evolution.
David you mentioned palaeontologist Mary Schweitzer’s recent discovery of blood vessels and DNA in dinosaur remains which couldn’t have survived if it really was 68 million years old and so this must be an argument for dinosaurs being only a few thousand years old. However Schweitzer, who is a practising Evangelical Christian and overt about her faith, strongly disagrees with this and fully accepts the geologists’ dating of the site at 68 million years old. She and her scientific colleagues are clear that what it proves is that such tissue can survive for such long periods, which is a new and very unexpected discovery. Again, this is what I have often found, creationist claims based on scientific evidence are open to evolutionist conclusions and so are, to say the least, inconclusive.

 

John Hagger: 190 million years – that’s nothing against the age of the Universe! 13.77 billions years for that!

 

Binyamin Sheldrake: Just a thought Tony… if evolution is correct and the age of the earth as you say, then how is that compatible with your teaching on eschatology? If the start reaches back that long, then the end of the universe, again according to science, is millions of years ahead, so no panic just yet then. If your end times teaching includes a ‘catastrophism’ (can’t think of a better word to talk about a violent interruption of the natural) then why not the start too? Just a thought.. seems to be allowing one without the other, especially when it comes to the time frames involved?

 

My reply: Thank you, Binyamin. Yes, in theory, the universe could go on for billions of years but that does not mean God will allow it to do so (without the transformation Scripture foretells). It is well known that scientists accept that life on earth could be wiped out at any stage, e.g. by a massive asteroid strike or the like. Astronomers are already urgently searching for such near earth asteroids. So even secular science accepts the possibility of the early demise of humanity. God normally works through the “changes and chances” of life. But I don’t believe God just leaves the universe and the earth to ‘get on with it.’ He is constantly working out his purposes. So he may work out some of the fulfillments of eschatological prophecy through natural events (e.g. “signs in the heavens”). Some of the prophecies sound remarkably like possible scenarios envisaged by science.
However, I certainly don’t believe that God ONLY works out his purposes through the “changes and chances.” God specially intervened in the past. The main example is, of course, the incarnation. But I also have great difficulty in believing that the spiritual nature of humanity just developed ‘naturally.’ It seems to me that this required divine intervention. (However, I don’t see those past interventions – creation and incarnation – as a catastrophic “violent interruption of the natural.”) So, just as God specially intervened in the past, I have no difficulty with believing he will specially intervene in the future, fulfilling eschatological prophecy. In particular, Jesus will return and we should watch for the signs he foretold. As far as I understand, the age of the universe has no relevance to the eschatological ‘timetable.’

 

David G Lazell: I’d like to close my case with 2 thoughts, if I may, Tony:

 

1. The world that God made was”very good” (Genesis 1:31). Therefore evolution is not compatible with the Bible because nature, “red in tooth and claw,” was needed for the world to have come to where it is today. How could the LORD in His infinite wisdom and righteousness have made an imperfect world?

 

2. What is Science? It is about examining the evidence, conducting tests and making an hypothesis. I teach Science to children and they know that theories are very hard to prove; even with lots of testing. I am yet to hear of a scientist who successfully tested the theory of (macro) evolution in a laboratory! Evolution is not testable Science – it is a belief system based on faith in a supposed historical event; historical science, if you like.

 

My reply: On point 1, David, I have dealt with this in depth in my article “How does the Genesis account of the Fall of man relate to Evolution” (see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=186). I seek to show that ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ before the Fall is not inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture as understood by creationists. It is a substantial article but here are a few very brief points which are substantiated in the article:

  • Satan pre-existed the Fall, so all was not well
  • Evangelical commentators, say Scripture indicates there was a state of travail in the pre-human world (i.e. carnivores etc) which man was to “subdue” – a strong word implying opposition.
  • The Hebrew word for ‘wild animals’ includes carnivores (and many animals are clearly designed to be carnivores/predatory – surely creationists are not saying that developed after the Fall).
  • Scripture does not say there was no animal death before the Fall.
  • God clothes Adam and Eve in skins and calls for sacrifice, implying the death of animals is not evil in itself.
  • Adam and Eve must have had some concept of death for God’s warning to mean anything (“You will surely die”).
  • Evangelical commentators say when God called creation ‘good’ it means fit for purpose and that does not rule out suffering and death.
    (If anyone wishes to respond to these points, please read the article first).

 

On point 2, I am not a scientist so I don’t feel competent to comment on this point. Thank you for your contributions, David, which I have found stimulating. Having said that, I didn’t intend to discuss Evolution. All I said was I’d found an old fossil!

 

David G Lazell: Dear Tony, Sir, from reading the article above, it is clear that your mind is already made up concerning Evolution:” It does seem beyond reasonable doubt that nature “red in tooth and claw” evolved over many thousands of years, culminating in homo sapiens.” You say you are not a scientist. Do you think a man in a lab coat with a different degree to you is infallible? When was evolution ever proven? What evidence is there that it is reasonable? You say you cannot comment on the science and yet you are so convinced this theory is true. God-willing, I will respond to your points in due course, my motive being to defend God’s word in its entirety as you taught me when I was a member of your church as a boy.

 

My reply: If I came across an objective scientist (i.e. neither a campaigning creationist, nor a campaigning evolutionist) who could provide convincing evidence that, say, evolution between the species clearly did not take place, I would be very interested. I have no axe to grind. As I said above, it wouldn’t worry me if evolution were disproved tomorrow. I have, however, read many creationist arguments and found them unconvincing or inaccurate.
To answer your question, I do not regard any scientist as infallible but I think one has to take a very wide consensus of science seriously. I do not see how evolution is unreasonable, as you imply.
I too seek to “defend God’s word in its entirety” as you put it – I have done so very publicly in the Church of England – and I am quite convinced that there is no conflict between evolution and the teaching of the Bible, let alone belief in God. The issue is how we interpret the Bible. I repeat what I said earlier: What God says is infallible, but our interpretation of Scripture (yours or mine) is not infallible. In particular, a literalistic interpretation of the OT runs into some serious problems, including in areas not to do with creation/evolution. One has to take figures of speech: similes, metaphors, hyperbole, idioms, and cultural factors seriously.

 

David Sax: Putting the science to one side, creationist arguments are in the minority. However IMHO it doesn’t make them wrong. I would say (as a non scientist) there are many ambivalent and unanswered areas in conventional science. Like David Lazell I find the evolutionist circle very hard to square indeed. But of course the torrent of evolutionist thought is accepted wholly by media, society generally and of course most of science itself. Having said that the soft tissue and DNA found by (non creationist) scientists over the last 10 years is VERY hard to explain (I posted this evidence earlier in this thread). I see strong evidence for a recent massive global catastrophe, whether it was 5,000 or 10,000 years ago is not relevant. But as we said earlier the Bible is NOT a science book and I would also be careful how I disagree with folk (like my brother Tony) and ensure it is with great love and respect. This is important as we are to show love to our brothers in Christ and also to non believers also. I cannot accept evolution and there has been the rise of what we could call ”scientism” which is much broader than honest science. C.S. Lewis foresaw the rise of this arrogant and usually atheistic aggressive form of crusading science. The other area evolutionists rather wouldn’t speak about is the adoption of evolution and 20th century eugenic and later fascist theories. There was a strong acceptance of evolution by early fascist thinkers and there is plenty of evidence for this. Take a look at this You Tube clip about the rise of ”scientism”. It is worth a watch………..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPeyJvXU68k

 

Stephen Brown: Tony wrote in his original post that the Jurassic Coast “spoke to him”. My personal view is that this Dorset coastline didn’t physically speak. I think we will find a deeper and more helpful interpretation of the post if we try to interpret the poetry and picture contained in the words. I would suggest the fossils within the coastline prompted Tony to remember the size, extent, diversity and richness of creation.

 

Angela Harverson: God created the species ..all different

 

My reply: Thank you, Stephen for your helpful comment. And thank you, Angela, I agree – there is nothing God didn’t create.

 

My reply: Thank you, David (Sax). I do, of course, agree that science, including evolution, has been misused including in the eugenics movement. I took seriously your earlier reference to the recent soft tissue discovery but, equally, I took seriously the reaction of the (Evangelical Christian) scientist who discovered it that this did not conflict with evolution. Thank you for being gracious, as always. All those involved in this discussion have been gracious, by and large. Just as there is the danger of what you call an “arrogant and usually atheistic aggressive form of crusading science” there is a danger of obsessive, judgmental creationism (of which you are not guilty!). We should avoid either like the plague. They are ungodly – even where they might be scientifically or theologically accurate.

 

My reply: David (Lazell), I’ve given more thought to your latest message and have concluded that if you are going to respond in detail to one of my website/blog articles it would be far better on the blog, rather than Facebook. The reason for this is that I want people who read your response to be able to read my original article alongside it. That will mean I don’t have to try to repeat any of the points made in my article on the rather limited facilities of Facebook. It will also mean that you can write at greater length than would be practical on Facebook. So, by all means respond to my article – that’s partly what it’s there for – but I’m moving that particular discussion to the blog http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/ Thanks.

 

David G Lazell: Will do, sir. Thanks very much.

 

Peter Gray: Read: Ps 119:126 It is time for thee, LORD, to work: for they have made void thy law. This is a powerful word for today. 130 Million years? Have a look at http://creation.com/.

 

My reply: Thank you, Peter, please see the discussion elswehere on this page (which begins “On holiday last week we walked on England’s famous Jurassic Coast and I discovered a couple of fossil Ammonites” which has been expanded since you wrote. You will see some of the main points in my position. You will see that I think the choice is simply about which method God used to create the universe and, like many Christians who have a high view of Scripture, I believe that evolution is not incompatible with the Bible. (However, it wouldn’t bother me if evolution were totally disproved tomorrow!)

 

Peter Gray-Read: Thank you Tony I appreciate your position re creation. The KJV rendition of Ps 119: 126 is a call to intercession don’t you think… The NIV says ‘broken your law’ But ‘made void’ reminds me of the ‘tow ho v’boho’ (Hebrew) ? ie ‘without form and void’ of Genesis 1. We need God to work again. In this land.

 

My reply: Yes, Peter, we need nothing less than a revival by the Holy Spirit on a level with the Wesleyan

 

 

DISCUSSION ON THE BLOG

 

DISCUSSION WITH DAVID G LAZELL: MY RESPONSES (INCLUDING HIS POINTS)

 

A. I wrote: Satan pre-existed the Fall, so all was not well” [i.e. nature was ‘red in tooth and claw’] You responded that Satan’s ejection from heaven “must have been after day 6 of creation week because God pronounced everything very good (Genesis 1:31). Otherwise, God would have pronounced Satan’s rebellion very good.”

 

MY RESPONSE
1. Scripture does not say when Satan was ejected from heaven so we are speculating.
2. It seems highly likely that angels existed long before the creation of the universe. They are not part of the space-time universe.
3. It seems highly likely that if something as significant as the ‘fall’ of Satan had happened within the ‘seven days’ of creation it would have been recorded, especially if they were seven literal days).
4. The words: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31) are clearly referring to the physical time-space universe God had created, not the spiritual realm of angels. The time-space universe was fit for purpose. There is nothing inconsistent with the existence of evil in the spiritual realm.

 

B. I wrote: “Evangelical commentators say Scripture indicates there was a state of travail in the pre-human world (i.e. carnivores etc) which man was to “subdue” – a strong word implying opposition”, and, “The Hebrew word for ‘wild animals’ includes carnivores (and many animals are clearly designed to be carnivores/predatory – surely creationists are not saying that developed after the Fall).”

 

MY RESPONSE: You referred to an article which says that all animals were originally herbivores based upon Genesis 1:29-30 “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.” My comments are as follows:

1. This is part of a highly symbolical account of creation which shows the original intention of God that creation should be paradise but that this was ruined by sin. The story of the garden of Eden and the picture of the original world being without bloodshed are important parts of this.
2. Some of the wording is clearly not to be taken literally – not “every” seed-bearing plant or tree is suitable for human consumption. Not “every” plant is suitable for every animal to eat.
3. Some animals (and plants) are clearly designed for a carnivorous diet. Surely creationists are not saying they evolved into that state after the Fall.
4. I am quite convinced that the days of Genesis 1 are not to be taken literally and that the universe is not a mere few thousand years old. The evidence for the latter is overwhelming. And there is plenty of evidence of carnivores pre-dating the arrival of homo-sapiens. We decide whether a passage is literal or symbolical partly by relating it to relevant clear knowledge we have from other sources (including science). Hence I cannot take the reference to universal herbivorous diet as literal. (That is not to say that God will not bring that about in the future – which I think will be the case – but the evidence points to the conclusion that that was not the case in the past).
5. What the passage is saying is that ultimately all life depends on vegetation and, more important, divine provision.

 

C. I wrote: “Scripture does not say there was no animal death before the Fall.” You responded: But Scripture does say that in Adam all die (1 Corinthians 15:22).

 

MY RESPONSE: This is referring to human beings.

 

D. I wrote: “Adam and Eve must have had some concept of death for God’s warning to mean anything (“You will surely die”). “ My response: “You will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) The Hebrew for the word die here means (among other things) destroy. Adam experienced the LORD’s creation of Eve, and so to be warned of the destruction of life would have been understood as the undoing of His work. And anyway, we don’t know how Adam responded to this word from God because Scripture does not tell us. My son says he does not want to die and yet he has not witnessed any death in the family. He understands the concept as a child, why wouldn’t Adam as a man fathered by Almighty God?

 

MY RESPONSE: I think we must stick to the threat of death ( as the text says), not some vague destruction. Your son understands the concept of death because he has been told or learnt about it. Death has to exist in order for that to happen, which is what I’m saying with respect to Adam and Eve.

 

E. I wrote: “Evangelical commentators say when God called creation ‘good’ it means fit for purpose and that does not rule out suffering and death.” You responded that the Hebrew word means “fine, beautiful, best, loving etc. It may not rule out death and suffering, but it certainly is not included within the meaning of this word.”

 

MY RESPONSE: As you say, David, the word may not exclude death and suffering. That is what I’m saying too.

 

F. You asked: “The biblical book of Genesis: what genre is it?”

 

MY RESPONSE: One can’t give a simple answer to that. Genesis includes various genres. There is literal history, for example. One has to assess each passage. Genesis 1-3 is theological symbolism. I will say, though, that all of it (Genesis) is the Word of God.

 

FURTHER DISCUSSION WITH DAVID G LAZELL: MY RESPONSES (INCLUDING HIS POINTS)

 

G. You write: Genesis 1:1 cites, “In the beginning God created.” In its plainest meaning, this was the beginning of all of creation; including when He made angels.

 

MY RESPONSE: Even a literal interpretation doesn’t have all creation completed instantaneously, so it is not clear when in that process (be it six days or billions of years) angels were created. To say it is clear is an argument from silence.

 

H. You write: As for the genre of Genesis, it is law/history. When Jesus was questioned on divorce (Mark 10:1-6) – a legal matter – He referred to the beginning of Genesis, calling it, “from the beginning of creation.” (verse 6)

 

MY RESPONSE: It simply isn’t true that Genesis is only “law/history.” For example, I do not believe the following are literal but are rather symbolical representations of important theological truths:
• The light and darkness of day and night being created days before the sun.
• Vegetation being created before the sun.
• God being heard walking in the garden (presumably his footsteps being heard).
• God not knowing where Adam and Eve were.
• God having a rest day.
• Woman being made out a man’s spare rib.
• God bringing all the wild animals and birds to Adam for naming (In view of the millions of species).
• A tree which gives eternal life and God having to prevent Adam and Eve eating from it and so living for ever.
• A talking snake.
• The garden of Eden presumably still being there with an angelic guard, since Genesis doesn’t say it was removed. (If it would be removed why the angelic guard of the tree of life?).

 

I.  You write: If you argue the first three chapters are symbollic, how do you justify the genealogy of mankind? When do people become real? For example, was Noah the 10th in line from Adam or not? When does “symbolism” become history? Was Adam the first person? To accept your theory in terms of genre would muddle original sin and the Last Adam (was He symbollic?).

 

MY RESPONSE: I have no problem with the idea of God taking an original human couple and bringing them into spiritual relationship with him. In other words I have no difficulty with a literal “Adam and Eve” couple. Nor do I doubt the existence of Noah. As for original sin and the Last Adam I take those literally and don’t really understand your criticism.

As for genealogies, it is well known that the ancient world’s approach (including that of Israel) is not the same as our modern approach. I will quote B. B. Warfield whom you will probably know was a conservative theologian who argued strongly for the inerrancy of Scripture. He wrote:

“These genealogies must be esteemed trustworthy for the purposes for which they are recorded; but they cannot safely be pressed into use for other purposes for which they were not intended, and for which they are not adapted. In particular, it is clear that the genealogical purposes for which the genealogies were given, did not require a complete record of all the generations through which the descent of the persons to whom they are assigned runs; but only an adequate indication of the particular line through which the descent in question comes. Accordingly it is found on examination that the genealogies of Scripture are freely compressed for all sorts of purposes; and that it can seldom be confidently affirmed that they contain a complete record of the whole series of generations, while it is often obvious that a very large number are omitted. There is no reason inherent in the nature of the scriptural genealogies why a genealogy of ten recorded links, as each of those in Genesis v. and xi. is, may not represent an actual descent of a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand links. The point established by the table is not that these are all the links which intervened between the beginning and the closing names, but that this is the line of descent through which one traces back to or down to the other.”

UPDATED 23.06.13 MESSAGE 8

 

This Post only contains shorter messages. There are separate articles on Eschatology which are listed on the Welcome Post above.

Message 1

Richard Dawkins says religion “peddles false explanations” but he hasn’t a credible clue about what caused the Big Bang and why we are here.

Message 2

Government Minister Lady Warsi says “People who do God, do good.”

 

Archbishop Welby says the church has the greatest opportunity since 1945 – to fill the void caused by a dwindling welfare state

 

In the light of eternity it isn’t enough to do good. The church must also major on prayer and proclaiming Jesus as Saviour. It often doesn’t.

Message 3

Congratulations to our son Mike who has just been appointed Professor of Theology and Ministry at Durham University. He went to Cambridge to do Maths but eventually switched to the family business (theology – Patricia and I met whilst we were studying for a degree in theology). Part of his new job will be academic research and writing. But the other part is a strategic role within the Church of England (and partner churches). In co-operation with the Archbishops’ Council’s Ministry Division, he will take a lead in advising over ministerial education and formation, i.e. ordination training. Durham University has been awarded the sole contract for the Church of England Ministry Training and Validation in the UK, and Mike will lead this on behalf of the University. It will validate ministerial qualifications at certificate, diploma, degree and master’s level. He will be working with staff at theological colleges and facilitating those staff members doing higher degrees. Other denominations and international partners may also join the validation scheme. We are thrilled about this and so grateful to God for giving Mike such opportunities to serve him.

Message 4

Canon Giles Fraser, writing in the Guardian, cynically wrote off the Evangelical emphasis on having a “personal relationship with Jesus.” I know that can be used as a cliché and could, in some people’s minds, turn Jesus simply into an innocuous friend. But to me it is incredibly meaningful. I want to ask Giles: “How can you love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength without having a personal relationship with him? We might express ourselves in different ways but if we are not at least beginning to be aware of having a personal relationship with God we are not experiencing the real thing as far as Christianity is concerned. The relationship is there for the asking. Jesus is more ready to become a Friend than we are to ask him to be.

Message 5

On Good Friday, as I do every day, I checked the TV programme list to see if there was anything worth recording. I didn’t find anything connected with Good Friday (except an old film about Barabbas). I found this sad and yet, somehow, meaningful. I was reminded of the words: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering…?”

Message 6

Michael McCarthy, environment editor of The Independent, has written an article entitled “Man is fallen and will destroy the Earth – but at least we greens made him wait” (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/man-is-fallen-and-will-destroy-the-earth–but-at-least-we-greens-made-him-wait-8554548.html)   McCarthy is not a Christian but he has come to doubt the liberal secular humanist opinion that humanity is basically benign and says our maltreatment of the environment has made him conclude: “that there is something fundamentally wrong with Homo sapiens himself. Man seems to be Earth’s problem child.”  He refers to: “our terrible potential for destruction, for causing suffering to others and, indeed, now, for destroying our own home (all of which liberal secular humanism prefers not to look at). In the Christian world view, humankind is not basically benign. People are not good.” I agree with him over the environment and commend him for discovering the Fall of Man

Message 7

I might write something down when I’m angry but I never convey it to other people until I have calmed down and re-examined my comments. But I’m still angry about something in today’s Guardian even eight hours later. Before continuing, let me say that I have enjoyed and valued some of the things Canon Giles Fraser writes. But today he began his article with: “I hate Jesus. Yes, you read that right. I do. I hate Jesus.” He then continued with some psycho-babble about ambivalence and contradictory feelings and a mother hating her over-demanding baby, which she also loves (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2013/mar/29/jesus-not-destroyed-by-our-hatred) .

 

He finished by asking: “How could Christians not hate Jesus” because he challenges them to take up their cross and follow him, which they would hate doing.

 

I have two comments:

It is deeply offensive for a Christian Minister to say, let alone write in a newspaper, that he hates Jesus. Nothing can justify it, including psycho-babble.

If the daunting challenge of “taking up our cross and following Jesus” causes us to hate Jesus, we haven’t even begun on the Christian path. We might waver, run away and fail but how on earth can we hate the One who loved us enough to endure infinitely worse suffering for us even if he asks us to sacrifice for him?

Message 8

 

CURRENT AFFAIRS: ARCHBISHOP ON GAY MARRIAGE

I know and respect John Sentamu, Archbishop of York but I am disturbed at what he said in the House of Lords on Monday, namely: “What do you do with people in same-sex relationships that are committed, loving and Christian? Would you rather bless a sheep and a tree, and not them? However, that is a big question, to which we are going to come. I am afraid that now is not the moment.”  If I understand him correctly, I need to say: “We can’t bless in God’s name what God doesn’t approve of.” (I am talking about same-sex sexual activity, not homosexual people).

 

NOTES

PS 1: In my 15 years on the C of E General Synod I did a great deal of study, discussion, writing and speaking on the issue of homosexual sexual behaviour (alongside such matters as bishops denying the virgin, birth and resurrection, churches undermining the uniqueness of Jesus as the only Saviour etc.,). This included a major debate on sexuality on my private members motion in November 1987 when the synod reaffirmed by a 98% majority that fornication, adultery and ‘homosexual genital acts’ are sinful. I think I’ve said all I want to say on the morality of homosexual sexual activity and I don’t want to be involved in that particular discussion any more, not least because there are many other sins which need to be taken seriously. But I will comment on the wider issues, e.g. the effects on society of same-sex marriage, unhelpful ‘leadership’ in the church on the issue, the oppression of Christians who take an orthodox view, etc.

For those interested, my considered views on the morality of ‘homosexual genital acts’ are available at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf and http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf. It is quite clear to me that both the Old and New Testaments teach that homosexual sexual activity is wrong. It is not just to do with procreation. After all, it is perfectly acceptable for a couple to marry if they either can’t have or decided against having children. It is to do with the same-sex aspect which the Bible teaches is fundamentally contrary to God’s order for human beings. I have heard many, many arguments and been involved in endless discussions but the arguments in favour of ‘homosexual genital acts’ are thoroughly unconvincing.

 

PS 2: We should love our homosexual neighbour as we should our heterosexual neighbour. That means showing the fruit of the Spirit to them and seeking to draw them to Christ. Rejection of homosexuals as people is wrong. However we cannot bless wrong behaviour. The problem with equality law is that we are not just asked to regard people as equal (which is right) but we are asked to regard certain wrong behaviour as equal to right behaviour.

 

PS 3: we remember that Jesus in his infinite love for EVERY human being died for their sins. We must all therefore repent of our sins, including homosexuals.

 

I write as someone who believes God, in his love, has brought Israel back to her ancient homeland and has a purpose for her, and all Jewish people, in Jesus the Messiah. (I also believe God loves the Palestinian people, cares about their welfare and longs for them too to follow Jesus).

 

Some Christians believe that after the Cross and Resurrection God now deals with the whole world and has no more special purpose for the Jewish people or any physical land, particularly the land of Israel. They say the church has replaced the Jewish people (hence ‘replacement theology’). This is a very neat and tidy view but I do not believe it is in harmony with the New Testament.

 

Jesus says of the Jewish people in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations [this happened from AD 70 onwards]. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” In harmony with the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) he was predicting an End Times return to the land.

 

When the disciples asked Jesus after the resurrection “‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6) he didn’t say: ‘You’ve totally misunderstood. I’ve finished with a physical land and kingdom, I’m only interested in a spiritual kingdom throughout the whole world.” No, he said: “‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.” The direct implication of this reply is that he would restore Israel but they were not to speculate on when he would do it. Rather they were to get on with world evangelism in the power of the Spirit.

 

(Later Paul taught that God had not forsaken the Jewish people but that there would be a future massive turning of the Jewish people to Jesus – Rom 11:11-31 – but this does not refer to the land).

 

Someone may say that the Luke 21 and Acts 6 passages are very short and isolated but we must not drive a wedge between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament prophesies an End Times return to the land.

 

However, some Christians believe that because God promised the land to Abraham for the Jewish people it is wrong to support any division of the land to achieve the two-state solution with the Palestinians. There are various issues to be considered;

1.      The “Promised Land” included much of what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

 

In the original promise to Abraham God said: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” (Gen 15:18). This is thought to mean between the Wadi al-Arish on the Egyptian border in Northern Sinai to the Euphrates in Northern Syria, fairly near Aleppo. The only time Israel has controlled virtually the whole of this territory is in the time of Solomon (although some dispute that Solomon controlled the whole territory since, for example, the Philistines seemed to retain their independence and Damascus was controlled by Rezon).[i]


So Israel has had the whole of the Promised Land for only some 40 years during the last 4000 years, i.e. 1% of the time.  There are several implications:

  • It has not seemed too important in God’s purposes for Israel over the last few thousand years for it to possess the whole of the Promised Land.
  • It is difficult to imagine Israel controlling much of what is now Syria, Jordan and Lebanon (which is not to say God could not fulfil the original promise again if it is ultimately important to his purposes – even if the two state solution is worked out).
  • During the 1900 years when the Jewish people had no homeland God worked out his purposes of preserving them, despite much persecution, and of ultimately providing a very necessary relatively safe homeland for them at the end of that period, especially after the Holocaust.

 

So it seems clear that God’s purposes for Israel are not frustrated by their not possessing the whole of the Promised Land.

 

(We should note in passing that God made it clear that possession of the land was conditional on obedience, Num 14:24-36; Deut 4:25-27; 11:16-17; Josh 23:15-16; 1 Kings 9:6-9; Neh 1:8; Jer 7:3-7. It is interesting that Jer 7:6-7 states: “ If you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, ….. 7then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave to your ancestors for ever and ever.” See also Jer 9:13-16; Ezk 33:23-26).

2.      Israel is not obeying the law which is a condition of possessing the promised land

 

In Leviticus 25 the Lord commands Israel to observe a “Sabbath year” for the land every seventh year. There should be no sowing or pruning but people may eat what grows by itself. He also commands that every 50th year should be a “Year of Jubilee” when everyone is to return to their own property. Land is to be returned to its original owner (which means land “sold” is actually conveyed on an up to 50-year lease arrangement. Also debts are to be cancelled. The penalties for not obeying these (and other) laws are severe and include exile among the nations (Lev 26:33). Those who argue that the divine promise of the whole land to Israel must be strictly observed must surely argue that the accompanying divine commands must also be strictly observed. But Israel does not follow the Jubilee year law. The rabbis argue that it is impossible in modern Israel to know who the original owners are, but surely, on the analogy of ancient Israel when they first took over the land from the Canaanites, they could call the Jewish owners in 1948, when Israel took over from the Palestinians, the original owners. Since Israel is not observing this divine commandment because they are in a new situation since 1948 it does not seem unreasonable to argue that only having part of the promised land (and allowing the two-state solution) is also acceptable in the new situation since 1948, especially as the penalty for not obeying the commandment includes exile. Only having part of the promised land is far preferable to exile.

3.      Israel has a God-given responsibility towards the Palestinians

 

Some Christians concentrate almost exclusively on God saying to the Jewish people that he has promised them the land. But that is not the only thing he has said to the Jewish people. Equally important is what he has said about justice and loving one’s neighbour.

 

God commands us all to love foreigners, people from another tribe, race, social or religious background as ourselves, to treat them as our native-born and help them where necessary: “When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19.33-34). “Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow” (Deut 27: 17, 19).

 

God’s law applies to everyone, including Palestinians, but we are thinking here of the welfare of Israel so we must stress Israel’s responsibility to God. God rules out unjustified and indiscriminate violence, such as Palestinian suicide attacks or irresponsible Israeli attacks which can be expected to injure or kill innocent civilians. It also calls for honesty and reliability in political and economic co-operation or negotiation. Justice also requires the two people groups to respect the national concerns of each other – the Israeli need of a secure homeland and the Palestinian yearning for their own state.

 

Zionists need to realize that the same Scriptures which they believe foretell the final return of the Jewish people to the land also strongly call Israel to justice. By the nature of the situation, Israel has much greater power and influence than the Palestinians. Consequently it has greater moral responsibility.

 

The Jewish (Hebrew) Scriptures show that God requires Israel, in its relationship with the Palestinians, to:

  • Regard Palestinians (and Israeli Arabs) as loved by God as much as they themselves are.
  • Care for the welfare of the Palestinian people
  • Treat Palestinians as they would fellow-Israelis, as far as practically possible.
  • Use only justified violence against legitimate Palestinian targets.
  • Act justly in all financial matters to do with the Palestinians.
  • Respect Palestinian land rights.
  • Protect the livelihood of Palestinians.
  • Be generous towards the poor and needy.
  • Uphold justice for Palestinians in the court system.
  • Provide compensation where Palestinians have been treated unjustly.
  • Avoid humiliating Palestinians.
  • Avoid maltreating and humiliating Palestinian prisoners.

 

If Zionists (Jewish and Christian) love Israel they should, where possible, urge Israel to fulfil these biblical obligations. If God has brought the Jewish people back to the land it is partly so that they can practice justice and righteousness. So Israel has to take seriously the yearning of the Palestinians for their own state.

4.      The single-state solution is not really viable for Jewish Israelis

 

It might seem ideal to those who feel strongly about Israel possessing the whole of the Promised Land. But the Jewish people are, understandably, very concerned about their security. They have suffered centuries of persecution, culminating in the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism is, sadly, alive and well in the world today. Some nations and political groups are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. So the Israelis see it as vital that they are in control of their own country and its security systems. However there are already some 1.5 million Arab Israelis (20% of the Israeli population). If Israel were to incorporate the 3.76 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and give them citizenship, that would mean an Arab population of over 5 million which is almost equal to the Jewish population. Given that the Arab birthrate is higher than the Jewish birthrate, very soon, if Israel remained a democracy, the majority of the population would be Arab.  That would be the end of a Jewish (controlled) state, a fearful prospect for Jewish Israelis. Christians could hardly support Israel becoming undemocratic, let alone an apartheid society with Palestinians as second-class citizens, as this would be against God’s law.

5.      If Israel does not make peace with the Palestinians the world will turn against her

 

This is already beginning to happen because of the peace process being frozen in the last two years. It has to be a concern for genuine friends of Israel. Israel is becoming isolated at a time when the Arab Spring in the surrounding countries seems to be turning into an Arab winter with hard-line Islamists taking power.  Some Christians might say that Scripture foretells such a turning against Israel. But it is important for Israel not to bring unnecessary or premature trouble on herself just because of some ‘prophetic’ resignation or fatalism. Rather she should act in the right way, in obedience to God.

But what about Joel 3:1-3? Doesn’t that show God’s condemnation on those who divide the Promised Land? God says through Joel: “In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat.There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel, because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine to drink.”

Verse 2 needs to be seen in context. It is referring to a time when the nations scatter the people of Israel among the nations and abuse them like slaves, then divide up the land. What happened in the 20th century is the opposite of this. The world, through the UN, provided a homeland for the scattered people of Israel and facilitated their return to that land, or at least to part of the Promised Land, which they had not possessed for 2000 years. The Joel passage cannot therefore be applied to the present situation and to the prospect of Israel (not the nations) giving land to the Palestinians who already live in that land.

Conclusion

 

It seems clear to me that, in view of God’s faithfulness to Israel despite her not having the whole of the Promised Land throughout most of history and not having a land at all for many centuries, we need to take the way of faith in our thinking. God has shown with abundant clarity that he can fulfill his promises to Israel despite all the anti-Semitism and persecution and, one might add, her rejection of God’s Messiah. The way of faith includes obeying what Scripture teaches about justice and loving one’s neighbor, which must be applied to foreigners and those from another people group. It means trusting God to protect Israel (although this does not, of course, rule out taking proper precautions). The two-state solution seems the best for Israel as well as the Palestinians, although I don’t think it will mean an end to all danger and strife. But Israel will regain support from powerful allies against those seeking to destroy her. If it is God’s purpose for her ultimately to have more of the Promised Land, God is not limited by Israel agreeing in the near future to the Palestinians having their own state. One thing is certain, he would reward her obedience.

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[i] 1 Kings 4:21 “Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon’s subjects all his life.”  2 Chron 9:26 “He ruled over all the kings from the River Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt.” Some interpret this as meaning Solomon did not control the Philistine territories and that the Philistines kept their independence.
 
See also 1 Kings 11:23f  “God raised up against Solomon another adversary, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, Hadadezer king of Zobah.  When David destroyed Zobah’s army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Damascus, where they settled and took control. Rezon was Israel’s adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad. So Rezon ruled in Aram and was hostile towards Israel.” Damascus was within the territory ruled by Solomon.

(This is an article version of material I have circulated on Facebook)

 

There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:

  • Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) – the only explanation for this huge phenomena is that it is demonic.
  • Lack of compassion for the Jewish people (not understanding the effect of centuries of persecution, much of it from the church).
  • Uncritical support (the idea that Israel is always wonderful and can do nothing wrong).
  • False eschatological views (the idea that God will deal with Jewish people totally separately from Gentiles, and on the basis of the Law, not faith in Jesus).

 

I have given the subject much thought and prayer over many years

  • I was General Director of the Churches Ministry among Jewish People for 7 years and on its Council for 20 years.).
  • Over the years I have met and discussed with many Jewish people, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have also met and discussed with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have met and discussed with many Christian Zionists, some of whom had extreme views.

 

God has not simply replaced the Jewish people with the church, his calling of them is irrevocable.

  • See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29

 

God still has a purpose for the Jewish people in Jesus.

  • “All Israel will be saved” (through Jesus) when “the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27).

 

The return of the Jewish people to Israel is prophetically significant.

  • However controversial it is and however much Israel fails the Lord, the Old Testament foretells a worldwide return in the Last Days (see Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14).

 

The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign

  • The NT assumes knowledge of the OT which does speak of a worldwide return of the Jewish people to the land so there are not many references to it in the NT, but here are two.
  • Jesus says the end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem is a sign in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
  • Jesus does not disagree with the disciples when they speak of the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

 

We must oppose anti-Semitism and be compassionate towards the need, pain and fears of Jewish people.

  • Memories of persecution and especially of the Holocaust are very strong. Israelis fear the loss of the land because of all that, whatever their military strength.

 

However, God loves the Palestinian people as much as anyone.

  • He wants the best for them
  • He wants them to be treated with dignity and justice, which is all too often not the way they are treated by the Israeli government.

 

The Torah (Law) commands Israel to love the Palestinians.

  • This teaching is about foreigners (non-Jews) in the land and applies to the territories under Israel’s control. It is particularly relevant to Zionists who believe the Palestinian areas should be and remain Israel proper.
  • The Lord loves and defends the foreigner (Deut 10:18-19; Psa 146:9).
  • The Lord forbids Israel to ill treat, oppress or deprive the foreigner (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Deut 24:14, 17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezk 22:7, 29; Zech 7:10).
  • Anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner is strongly condemned (Deut 27:19; Mal 3:5).
  • The people of Israel must love foreigners as they love themselves (Lev 19:33-34).
  • Israel must provide for needy foreigners (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21; 26:12; Ezk 47:21-23).

 

The Palestinians are responsible to act justly with respect to Israel, which is all too often not the case.

 

There are two attitudes we need to avoid:

  • An excessive appreciation of Israel:
    • I know what it is to have a deep love and a profound concern for Israel. It first happened to me in 1983 and I believe it is God-given. But the danger is that it leads to an uncritical and very biased support for Israel – ‘Israel can do no wrong.’

    • A unconsciously anti-Semitic carping criticism of Israel:
      • This can be deemed to be a proper concern for justice for the Palestinians. There is such a thing as righteous anger over injustice but this isn’t it. Katrina Lantos Swett wrote recently: “While no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe).

 

There are two attitudes we need to have:

 

  • A true friend will be a critical friend and will share constructive criticism
    • I want to be a true friend of Israel (and also of the Palestinian people).

 

  • We must always listen to both sides of the story
    • Anyone with any experience knows one must listen to both sides of a story, however convincing one side is. This is true in the realm of personal relationships. It is true in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides use propaganda. Both sides can make overwhelmingly convincing cases.

 

Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians?

  • Because although the re-establishment of Israel is an End Times sign, I cannot talk about it without compassion for both people groups, not only for reconciliation, justice and security but also for them to come to know Jesus. It may surprise you to know that many Jewish people think Christian Zionists are only interested in them eschatologically because they will be killed in the Battle of Armageddon. We need to show that is not our position