The Global Peace Index measures peace in 162 countries, covering 99.6% of the world’s population, and has discovered that since 2008, 111 countries have deteriorated in levels of peace which goes against the trend of a reduction in conflict since the Second World War. There are only 11 countries in the world free from conflict. 500 million people live in countries at risk of instability and conflict, 200 million of whom live below the poverty line. Trends in war are shifting from hostility between states, to a rise in the number and intensity of internal conflicts.

The UN Refugee Agency said that in 2013 there were 51.2 million refugees (16.7m), asylum seekers (1.2m) and internally displaced people (33.3m). The figure has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II.

The “Islamic” State

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said of the Islamic State: “This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.”

British Home Secretary Theresa May said in September 2014: “If [Isis] succeed in firmly consolidating their grip on the land they occupy in Syria and Iraq, we will see the world’s first truly terrorist state established within a few hours flying time of our country. We will see terrorists given the space to plot attacks against us, train their men and women, and devise new methods to kill indiscriminately. We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us.”

David Cameron commented: “We are in the middle of a generational struggle against the poisonous and extremist ideology that I believe we will be fighting for years and probably decades.”

The Islamic State has captured advanced artillery, armoured cars, battlefield tanks, anti-aircraft guns and American low altitude FIM92 Stinger manpads (man-portable air defence system). It also has three Russian-built MiG jets. In addition it took control of a large chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, which contained remnants of 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin and other chemical warfare agents. Bodies have been discovered which have no bullet wounds but only “burns and white spots” which indicate the use of chemical weapons.

ISIS documents have been discovered which show the organisation aims to capture nuclear weapons from Iran.

It is now the case that extreme Islamist organisations control an area the size of Britain in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Then there is Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia. Boko Haram is a similar organisation to ISIS in Nigeria.

Radicalisation

One very disturbing factor is the radicalisation of young Muslims, including from western nations, which leads them to join organisations like ISIS. In June 2014 Richard Barrett, former Head of Counter-terrorism at MI6, warned that some 300 foreign fighters from Syria may now be back in the United Kingdom.

The internet is an important new factor. One jihadist website has a slogan “Half of Jihad is Media.” Fundamentalist Sunni jihadists broadcast their propaganda daily through satellite television stations, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Hence they are never short of money or recruits. Hate preachers have huge followings on YouTube.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan

One of the problems is that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have encouraged jihadism but they are important allies of the US. Saudi Arabia is a huge market for American arms. Wikileaks released a cable by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which said: “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorists groups.” The 9/11 Commission Report revealed that Saudi donors were the main financial support for al-Qa’ida but 28 pages of the report relating to Saudi involvement have never been published.

A new Cold War?

Another disturbing factor on the world scene is the growing tension between Russia and the West. This has, of course, been precipitated by the crisis in Ukraine.

Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, without naming him, says that Vladimir Putin (a member of the Orthodox Church) is “under the action of Satan” and is heading for “eternal damnation in hell.” President Obama has pledged $1billion to aid European defence despite warnings from Russia that any build-up of forces in Eastern Europe could lead to an arms race and a new Cold War. Obama responded: “We are interested in good relations with Russia. We are not interested in threatening Russia” but tensions continue.

Nuclear war by accident?

There have been disturbing revelations about the dangers inherent in the possession of nuclear weapons. General Lee Butler, former head of the US strategic air command which controls nuclear weapons and strategy once said that we have survived the nuclear age “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”

This year it was revealed that in January 1961 an American plane carrying two nuclear bombs broke apart in flight dropping the weapons in North Carolina. Both bombs were knocked into ‘armed’ mode as they fell. The second bomb went through six of the seven steps to detonation and only damaged cables prevented that happening.

In 1980 a worker was carrying out routine maintenance on a nuclear missile silo in Arkansas. He dropped a spanner and ruptured the missiles fuel tank. Nine hours later the missile exploded, sending the warhead 50 yards away. Fortunately the safety devices worked.

In 2007 six cruise missiles with live nuclear warheads were flown from North Dakota to Louisiana without authorisation. The loaders confused dummy warheads with the real thing.

The problem is that the accidental detonation of a nuclear missile could cause nuclear conflict. The BBC revealed in September 2014 that in 1983 Russia’s early-warning systems registered a missile strike from the United States, and Russia’s nuclear system went onto the highest-level alert. Fortunately, Stanislav Petrov, the officer on duty, decided to disobey the protocol which required a nuclear retaliation. He was reprimanded.

In 1995, after the Cold War had finished, the Russians mistook a Norwegian research rocket for an American ballistic missile. Boris Yeltsin was two minutes away from launching retaliatory nuclear missiles, when the Norwegian rocket fell into the sea.

The turbulent Middle East

Margaret MacMillan, Professor of International History at Oxford University, has recently said that the Middle East is the modern equivalent of the Balkans where World War I was sparked off. She wrote that “A similar mix of toxic nationalisms threatens to draw in outside powers as the US, Turkey, Russia, and Iran look to protect their interests and clients.” She added that if Iran developed nuclear bombs it “would make for a very dangerous world indeed, which could lead to a recreation of the kind of tinderbox that exploded in the Balkans 100 years ago – only this time with mushroom clouds.” Her warning was: “Now, as then, the march of globalisation has lulled us into a false sense of safety. The 100th anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident.”

Amoral Robowar

Another disturbing fact is the development of sophisticated killer robots. Robots, of course, do not have any moral revulsion against unnecessary killing and could not be programmed with any means of reconciliation. The Americans have developed the Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle or UGV which could decide to attack, using a roof-mounted machine gun, without human intervention. They also have drones, which have already killed thousands of people. The South Koreans have developed a robotic sentry which can detect a human up to two miles away and can fire a machine gun or a grenade launcher. Hopefully the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons will lead to a global ban on autonomous weapons.

Christians should first and foremost pray and work for peace and care for victims of war. But we should also remember Jesus’ answer to the question “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” War is not a sign of the imminent End of the Age and Return of Christ but it is a reminder of and pointer towards the End. Sadly, war is still very much with us and could become much worse, not least with terrorists obtaining sophisticated weapons.

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See my main writings on Eschatology  (the End Times: the Return of Christ, Judgment, Heaven etc) at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html for both a Full (more detailed) Version and a Summary Version.

Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and the disciples asked him “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). It seems clear that Jesus spoke of signs of the end of the age in much of the chapter. Initially he speaks of what I call preliminary, repeated signs or reminders of the end. They are like recurring motorway signs pointing towards a distant destination. One of them is “pestilences” (Lk 21:11).

So, Jesus teaches us to take notice of “pestilences” as a reminder of the end. Obviously, our first concern is what we can do to help those affected by them. But we should also remember they are reminders!

Ebola

Ebola is “the most severe, acute health emergency seen in modern times,” said Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization in October 2014. She added that it is a “crisis for international peace and security” and added “I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments in already very poor countries. I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure.”

Others have accused her of alarmism. One such is Ruth Schuster, an Israeli journalist. She points out that whereas several thousand people have died from Ebola, 35 million are infected by HIV, 130 million for hepatitis C and 300 million for hepatitis B. In 2013 1.5 million died of AIDS, over a million from viral hepatitis, and half a million from flu. But then she writes: “The next generation of virologists and immunologists needs to be prepared because in this age of jet travel, a contagious disease could devastate the human species. The flu pandemic of 1918 killed 20 million to 40 million people and that’s before people and their germs were casually climbing onto planes.”

The UK International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, reported that ministers were shocked by the US public health institute that 1.4 million may be infected by Ebola by January 2015 if it is not checked.

Certainly, the Ebola crisis is a solemn reminder of the dangers of “pestilences” in our global village. But it isn’t the only reminder in the news. There have been alarming recent reports about dangerous lapses of security at laboratories containing lethal viruses.

Dangers from laboratory experiments and security failures

In September 2014 scientists discovered old vials containing smallpox, ricin, plague and botulism between 60 and 100 years old in a US laboratory. They were not stored in accordance with security regulations. In July 2014 6 vials of smallpox viruses were found in a cardboard box in a Maryland laboratory. The same month anthrax was discovered in unlocked refrigerators (or refrigerators with a key in the lock) some in an unrestricted hallway. Some anthrax containers were missing and had to be found. Some 75 scientists in Atlanta may have been exposed to anthrax because proper procedures were not followed. Samples were transferred to laboratories not equipped to deal with them.

Professor Yoshiro Kawaoka has been researching mutated forms of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu virus. He has been accused of risking creating a new pandemic not least because his laboratory does not have adequate biosecurity. Kawaoka has also created copies of the virus which caused the deadly Spanish Flu pandemic which killed some 50 million people in 1918.

Robert Kolter, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, was quoted as saying: “The scientists doing this work are so immersed in their own self-aggrandisement, they have become completely blind to the irresponsibility of their acts. Their arguments in favour of such work, i.e. increase ability for surveillance, remain as weak as ever.”

Antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’

David Cameron spoke to the press about the emergence of untreatable bacteria. He said: “This is not some distant threat, but something happening right now … If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine, where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again. That simply cannot be allowed to happen and I want to see a stronger, more coherent global response.”

Dr Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organisation’s assistant director general for health security said that unless adequate international action is taken, once-beaten diseases will re-emerge as global killers and common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades will once again kill people. It is regarded by experts as a threat equal to climate change and global terrorism.

We need to pray for those affected by disease and for those seeking to combat these dangers. But we should also note that pestilences are a reminder of His coming and the end of the age. There will be no pestilences in the new heaven and new earth..

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See my main writings on Eschatology  (the End Times: the Return of Christ, Judgment, Heaven etc) at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html for both a Full (more detailed) Version and a Summary Version.

 

UPDATED 17th August 2013

 

“RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ARE LESS INTELLIGENT THAN ATHEISTS”

 

So claims a recent research report. Most intelligent people will conclude that this is self-evidently untrue. Dr. Frank Furedi, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent is an atheist and he thinks the report is invalid. He calls it “‘scientism’ at its worst.” He points out that comparing the intelligence of different groups is very difficult. He adds:

“At most what the majority of papers reviewed in this analysis show is that because smart people spend more time in education and because high schools and especially universities tend to be secular institutions they will produce proportionally more atheists people than those who drop out. Secularism and atheism is part of the cultural script of higher education to which a significant minority readily conform.”

 

He goes on to point out that the report is significantly motivated by anti-religious prejudice and

concludes: “I don’t think that atheism can be equated with intelligence any more than religion with stupidity. Why? Because the experience of life shows that the ranks of atheists have their fair share of idiots.”

See http://www.independent.co.uk/biography/frank-furedi-8192062.html

 

QUEEN’S SPEECH ON NUCLEAR WAR HAVING BROKEN OUT

 

Under the 30-year rule, a draft Queen’s speech from 1983 which would have been broadcast if nuclear war broke out, has been published.  The speech said:

“Now, this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds …. Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me. But whatever terrors lie in wait for us all, the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength.  My husband and I share with families up and down the land the fear we feel for sons and daughters, husbands and brothers who have left our side to serve their country …. As we strive together to fight off the new evil, let us pray for our country and men of goodwill wherever they may be. God Bless you all.”

My comment is: “Don’t throw the speech away. The terrorists and rogue states could still use nuclear weapons. ‘You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.’” (Matt 24:6). 

 

ARCTIC METHANE CATASTROPHE

Recently I posted a piece which I related to Matthew 24 on the alarming quantities of Methane being released from the Arctic (due to global warming) which, if it continues will cause catastrophic damage in terms of extreme weather, damaging rise in sea level and spreading of deserts.  Inevitably some people have criticised the Report, saying it won’t have catastrophic results. If you’re interested see the article “Arctic methane catastrophe scenario is based on new empirical observations” in The Guardian which states that these criticisms are based on outdated assumptions. Methane levels are at unanticipated record highs. Prof Peter Wadhams, head of Polar ocean physics at Cambridge University said critics were unaware of unique and unprecedented factors. See http://www.theguardian.com/environment/earth-insight/2013/jul/31/artic-methane-catastrophe-empirical-evidence

AN OPEN LETTER TO ARCHBISHOP TUTU

Dear Archbishop Tutu, I respect you for all you have done to promote racial justice and equality. I also agree with you that homosexuals, as people, should be treated with respect. However I want to ask a few questions about your comments that you wouldn’t want to worship a homophobic God and would prefer to go to hell rather than a homophobic heaven.

Question 1: Are you aware that the word “homophobic” is an irritating propaganda word meaning “fear of homosexuals”? The God of the Bible clearly disapproves of gay sex, but surely you do not mean he is homophobic by that definition.

Question 2: Since the God of the Bible clearly disapproves of gay sex, are you really saying he must change his mind in order to have Desmond Tutu worship him and be with him in heaven?

Question 3: Since Hell means eternal separation from God how can you possibly say you would prefer to go there. Don’t you feel you should take hell more seriously, especially as you have a lot of influence over many people?

WILL JESUS RETURN BY 2070?

 

A YouGov/Times poll has just found that only 4% of Britons believe Jesus will return to earth by 2070. This is similar to another YouGov poll in 2010 which found that only 5% of Britons believe the Second Coming would happen before 2050.

However more do believe there will be another world war (28%), there will be a major terrorist attack in the UK involving a nuclear weapon (28%) and that an asteroid will hit earth causing massive loss of life (9%). If they happen, these would all be what Jesus calls “the beginning of birth pains” of the Messiah.

 

Belief that Jesus would return by 2070 came at the bottom of a list of 39 results which also included:

 

The world will face a major energy crisis        71%

China will overtake the United States as the world’s main superpower            59%

Astronauts will land on Mars   48%

We will find evidence of life elsewhere in the universe          42%

The member states of European Union will become one unified country        20%

We will make contact with alien life    15%

The British Monarchy will be abolished          14%

Jesus Christ will return to earth            4%

 

We don’t know when Jesus will return but we should be looking forward to it and speeding its coming (2 Peter3:12). These statistics could encourage people to ignore it.

ISRAEL PROVIDES HOSPITAL TREATMENT FOR INJURED SYRIANS

 

You will probably know that, after years working in Israel, I am deeply concerned about the needs, pain and fears of both Israelis and Palestinians and seek to facilitate informed prayer for them. I am a critical friend of Israel, in the sense that I am concerned about her faults, for her own sake as well as the sake of the Palestinians. One example is the current discussion in Israel about expanding the West Bank settlements, just after the peace talks have re-started.

 

However, Israel gets a bad press and some Christians seem unable to say anything positive about her. In the light of that, how about 13-year-old Zeinah, a Syrian girl, injured in a blast? She regained consciousness in an Israeli hospital. Over 100 injured people, including children, have been transferred to Israeli hospitals for treatment since February 2013. The transportation back and forth is done in complete secrecy – when the patients arrive not even the doctors know much about them, sometimes not even their name or age.

An Israeli doctor commented: “For the Syrians, we are monsters. On this side of the border, there are monster- Jews. You probably saw some of the propaganda – of Jews cutting pieces of Arabs and eating them, all the blood and stuff. So they grew up on this feeling and their anxiety is even greater, especially if they arrive alone. It’s really heartbreaking to see.”

However Zeinah commented: “Everyone is worried about me and is helping. But I miss my parents and siblings, friends and my country. These doctors saved my life; if I was not cared for, I would not be alive right now.”

In June, one patient arrived with a handwritten note in Arabic from a Syrian doctor asking his Israeli counterparts to save the patient’s life, outlining the previous medical care the injured man had received and thanking the doctors for the help.

 

See the (secular) report in http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/i-lost-consciousness-in-the-blast-when-i-woke-up-i-was-in-a-hospital-in-israel-casualties-of-syrias-war-find-salvation-in-an-unlikely-place-8752933.html

 

When I was working in Jerusalem I became very concerned about the need, pain and fears of both Israelis and Palestinians. My concern for Israelis had predated our move to Israel but I learnt a great deal about the Palestinians whilst we were there. I was CEO of a ministry to Jewish people and became convinced that fostering reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians was a major spiritual responsibility. Hence I started circulating an email newsletter which seeks to encourage Christians to pray in an informed and unbiased way. During my time as Rector of Christ Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem prayers for reconciliation, justice and peace became very prominent. This did not endear me to some of my more right wing Zionist colleagues and others.

I disapprove of some manifestations of Christian Zionism. But equally I disapprove of some manifestations on the pro-Palestinian side. It is from this background that I write to make strong criticism of the recent statement by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches entitled “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East.” It was circulated at the end of May 2013 after a meeting at the Notre-Dame du Mont Monastery in Lebanon.

This statement shows extensive support for the Palestinians in their needs, which is good. However:

It shows great insensitivity against the background of the  history of Christian anti-Semitism

 

It includes the statement: “We believe that the Gospel calls us always to love God and love our neighbours and all people, as did Jesus Christ, the revelation of divine love. In Him, the whole of humanity is reconciled and united in the bond of God’s plan of salvation.” But it does not show such an attitude towards Jewish Israelis. It mentions that “Christians, Muslims and Jews all experience the destructive effects of [current negative] trends.” It also recommends “engagement with Jewish partners also working for peace and justice.” But these 22 words are the only positive references to Jewish people in the whole 2,600 word document.  There is, however, strong condemnation of Israel. Is the WCC not aware of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism which undermines the credibility of the church with respect to the Jewish people? Is it not aware of Jewish sensitivities? Does it not understand that such a biased statement will cause damage to Christian-Jewish relations?

The report states: “Christians must reject Islamophobia, which mischaracterizes Islam as an undifferentiated whole, and undermines decades of cultivation of co-operation with Muslims, and must refuse the temptation to amalgamation, generalization, and sensationalization of our Muslim brothers and sisters.” I agree with that statement. But where is the equivalent statement about anti-Semitism, which is very much alive and well in the world today?

It shows insensitivity to Israeli insecurity

 

The report speaks of : “The persistence, after sixty-five years, of continuing dispossession of Palestinian people—Christian and Muslim alike—from their land by Israeli occupation, continuing settlement of land inside the 1967 borders by a nation empowered by overwhelming military strength and external alliances and influence….”  This is an important statement. The current Israeli government is not acting properly with respect to the Peace Process.

 

But where is the statement about the threat which Israel feels because of anti-Semitism, persecution over the centuries, the Holocaust and threats from some of its neighbours, especially Iran and groups like Hezbollah and Hamas which are dedicated to its destruction?

It makes Israel a scape-goat for the problems of the Middle East

The report states: “Palestine continues to be the central issue in the region.  Resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine in accordance with the UN resolutions and international law, will greatly help resolving the other conflicts in the region.”   “Jerusalem today is an occupied city with a government which has adopted discriminatory policies against Christians and Muslims alike.”

It is quite incredible that the report doesn’t make a more balanced statement including the Arab “Spring” with all the ensuing problems, the Syrian civil war, extreme Islamists, Iraq with its serious problems and Iran with its nuclear intentions. Instead it just says: “This is a time of crisis with special intensity here in the Middle East … an intensification of religious tribalism, increasing fundamentalism in many of the world’s religions, dispersion of the influence of radicalized Islamist groups.”

It is also totally insensitive and biased to say the whole of Jerusalem is an occupied city. The report actually states: “Jerusalem today is an occupied city.”.

It makes an uninformed and insensitive blanket condemnation of Christian Zionism

I attended a week’s conference in Jerusalem on “Christian Zionism” organised by the Sabeel Palestinian Liberation Theology Movement (which takes a theological approach to political liberation for the Palestinians). I listened carefully to the speakers but could not recognise the “Christian Zionism” they were describing. It certainly didn’t describe my views which would be regarded as moderate Christian Zionist. I began to realise that they were describing extreme Christian Zionism in the United States, with which I would have serious disagreements.

The report says: “Christians who promote “Christian Zionism” distort the interpretation of the Word of God and the historic connection of Palestinians—Christians and Muslims—to the Holy Land, enable the manipulation of public opinion by Zionist lobbies, and damage intra-Christian relations.” I totally deny all those accusations as would many Christian Zionists.  The WCC which is supposed to be knowledgeable about and tolerant of all the different Christian traditions has shown its lack of research and dialogue, its ignorance and its prejudice about Christian Zionism.

The report calls on the WCC to “Convene the spiritual and academic resources of the WCC and ecumenical partners in consultations to address Christian Zionism, disclosing its sources, its use as a political weapon against the Palestinian people, and its effects on intra-Christian relations.” I suggest they discuss with moderate Christian Zionists who are very careful in their interpretation of Scripture and very concerned for the strong biblical emphasis on justice, including for the Palestinians.

Ignores the Messianic Believing (Jewish Christian) community

The report speaks of Christians in the Middle East but it totally ignores the significant and growing Messianic Movement in Israel. (These are Jewish believers in Jesus). Yes, sometimes believers in Jesus can be oppressed in Israel. But this omission is typical of this report which only pays token respect to the Jewish people.

The New Testament teaches that God still has a purpose for the Jewish people and that this will involve them in a massive turning to their Messiah and ours, Jesus Christ, in the End Times. This will have a major impact on the world but will lead to persecution (for both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ). The church should therefore avoid anything which will hinder Jewish people coming to Christ. Fair criticism is acceptable but the insensitivity and bias of this report is not.

I pray for justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel. I encourage prayer for both sides of this conflict, because God loves both people groups and wants the best for them.

However I suggest that the best destination for this report is the shredding machine.

 

We have noted the “Now and the Not Yet” of biblical prophecy. This speaks of lesser and greater fulfilments of prophecy.

We have also noted that 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). We then quoted various scholars who agree with this interpretation. 

 

Jesus’ prophecies here are typical of biblical prophecy:

·         Prophecy can have an early and a later fulfillment.

·         Prophecy can “concertina” future events widely separated in time to appear close together.

 

There are other examples of the dual reference of biblical prophecy:

 

1.      Joel 2:28-3:2 is seen as a prediction of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2: “And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”  But the prophecy goes on beyond the Day of Pentecost to the future day of the Lord: “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, 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 dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls ‘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.”

 

2.      Sometimes people, events or statements in the Old Testament are seen as symbolizing and prefiguring Jesus, and events in the New Testament. Traditionally the Old Testament symbol or prefiguring has been called a “type” and the New Testament equivalent the “antitype”. So Jesus sees Jonah as a “type” of himself and his death and resurrection: “He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:39-42).

 

3.      A similar approach is described in the IVP NT Commentary series, referring to Jesus on the Mount of Olives speaking of both AD70 and the still future End of the Age in Luke 21. It refers to how divine history was read by the Jews, as well as by the prophets in the 1st century AD.

“The belief was that God’s judgment followed certain patterns. How he judged in one era resembled how he would judge in another. Because God’s character was unchanging and because he controlled history, such patterns could be noted. Thus deliverance in any era was compared to the exodus. One event mirrored another. Exilic judgments, whether Assyrian or Babylonian, were described in similar terms. This ‘mirror’ or ‘pattern’ interpretation of history has been called a typological-prophetic reading of the text, with the ‘type’ reflecting a basic pattern in God’s activity. This way of reading history sees events as linked and mirroring one another. Sometimes the events are described in such a way that we modern readers would not readily notice that distinct events are being discussed. Sometimes a text offers clarifying reflection after more events detailing God’s program have been revealed.

Jesus’ eschatological discourse links together two such events, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the events of the end signaling his return to earth. Because the events are patterned after one another and mirror one another, some of Jesus’ language applies to both.”[i]

 

However, some scholars are critical of the idea of the dual reference of biblical prophecy. Some of this has been focused on Isa 7:14 “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  This was an immediate historical reference. King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel had attacked Jerusalem and the Lord spoke to King Ahaz of Judah through Isaiah, urging him to seek a sign that he (the Lord) would protect him. But Ahaz refused ‘to put the Lord to the test.’ Isaiah said this refusal was trying the patience of God and the Lord would give him a sign. Such a sign would be fulfilled within a year or two. The word “virgin” could be translated “young woman” and the name Immanuel could be another name for Isaiah’s son Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, whose birth is recorded in Isaiah 8:3, see 8:8.

 

Matthew understands Isa 7:14 as predicting the virgin birth of Jesus: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matt 1:22-23).

Some scholars say this is not a second fulfilment but it is Matthew using Isa 7:14 as a parallel, an association of ideas. This would have been quite an acceptable thing to do in Matthew’s day. The same could be said of 1 Cor 14:21 “In the Law it is written: ‘With other tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.’”  Paul is, of course, referring to speaking in tongues and he is quoting Isa 28:11-12. But Isaiah is saying God will “speak” to rebellious Israel through the Assyrians, i.e. through an invasion by Assyria. It does not seem likely that Isaiah had in mind what the New Testament calls ‘speaking in tongues.’

Andrew Perriman writes about Jesus reference in Matthew 24 back to the prophet Daniel (for example Matthew 24:30 and Daniel 7:13) and says this is not a case of two fulfilments but “that Jesus would have understood perfectly well the original historical frame of reference [in Daniel’s day] but intentionally re-uses the symbolism to interpret an analogous state of affairs [in the 1st century AD] …. Jesus, therefore, does what prophets often do: they retell biblical stories and arguments in a new context in order to give faithful but troubled Israel understanding and hope …. He saw the historical relevance of the analogy and creatively retold Israel’s story, centred on himself, in light of it. That cannot be understood to mean that Daniel 7-12 intrinsically has two fulfilments. Nor does it mean that we can take any prophecy willy-nilly and claim that whatever relevance it may have had under the particular historical conditions of the first three centuries, it still has relevance for the church today. That cannot be ruled out, but it must be done with prophetic and scriptural discrimination.[ii]

Perriman believes that Matthew 24 refers only to the AD30-70 period which, as I have already said, I believe to be a mistaken view. However he does allow for biblical prophecies to have “relevance to the church today” so long as the relevance is worked out “with prophetic and scriptural discrimination.”

 

Professor John Walton[iii] makes some interesting comments. He is quite clear that, strictly from the point of view of language, there is no strong argument for understanding the Hebrew word in Isa 7:14 as “virgin.” He goes on to point out that in ancient Israel prophecy, as a word from God, was regarded as not just predicting a future event but as having an important effect on the future. This effect would not necessarily be foreseen by the prophet. It would develop as time progressed. So Isaiah wouldn’t necessarily have foreseen the virgin birth and the child who really was “God with us” but he would have been quite happy with Matthew’s use of his prophecy. Isaiah would have expected that the fulfilment of his prophecy might have developed

Peter speaks of this – Old Testament prophets expecting a major future fulfilment but not knowing what it would be. He was referring primarily to prophecies like Isaiah 53. Peter writes: “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

However, it must be borne in mind that the New Testament writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Old Testament prophecies as they did. We must be very careful if we do the same because we don’t have that special inspiration.

A good number of scholars do accept the dual fulfilment of prophecy. Professor R V G Tasker, speaking of the Virgin Birth, says Matthew “is led to see in it a fulfilment of the words spoken by God through His prophet and recorded in Isaiah vii. 14. …. this prophecy was in fact more far-reaching than the prophet himself was aware.” It was not limited to the historical fulfilment in the 8th century BC.[iv] Professor Herman Ridderbos says Isaiah was not speaking of a miraculous birth but that nevertheless the prophecy obtained its essential fulfilment in Christ.

 

Commenting on Ridderbos, Professor G C Berkouwer wrote: “Thus the event in Mathew 1 (this birth) is not simply a “coming true” of an earlier prediction but a fulfillment which, on the one hand, is related to the faith in Ahaz’ day and with the name “Immanuel.”[v]

Speaking of the Book of Revelation, Professor Robert Mounce writes: “The predictions of John, while expressed in terms reflecting his own culture, will find their final and complete fulfillment in the last days of history. Although John saw the Roman Empire as the great beast that threatened the extinction of the church, there will be in the last days an eschatological beast who will sustain the same relationship with the church of the great tribulation. It is this eschatological beast, portrayed in type by Rome, that the Apocalypse describes. Otto Piper notes that many modern interpreters overlook the distinction between the historical fulfillment of prophecy and its eschatological fulfillment. The pattern of imperceptible transition from type to antitype was already established by the Olivet Discourse, in which the fall of Jerusalem becomes in its complete fulfillment the end of the age.”[vi]

 

It seems quite acceptable to believe in the dual fulfilment of biblical prophecy whilst accepting that the Old Testament prophets did not necessarily have the second (main) fulfilment in mind, even though they may have been “trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing.” However the New Testament writers, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recognised the second fulfilment. The same thing applies to New Testament prophecies. The writers made predictions which sometimes referred to 1st century events and did not necessarily have a second major fulfilment in mind. Similarly Jesus made predictions which his hearers may have applied only to 1st century events. But it is clear that some of these predictions do have a second major fulfilment which is still future. We have to be careful, though, in seeking a correct understanding of these predictions.



[ii] Andrew Perriman, How many times is a prophecy fulfilled? http://www.postost.net/2010/10/how-many-times-prophecy-fulfilled

[iii] John H Walton, Isa 7:14: What’s in a name? Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, (September 1987) 289-306,  http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/30/30-3/30-3-pp289-306_JETS.pdf

[iv] R V G Tasker, The Gospel according to Matthew, Tyndale, London, 1961, p. 34.

[v] G C Berkouwer, The Work of Christ, Studies in Dogmatics Eerdmans Grand Rapids 1965, p. 115

[vi] Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, New International Commentary on the NT, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1977, p. 44f

 

Our attitude towards Muslims in Britain is a sensitive issue and so I want my position on the matter to be very clear.

I believe we must treat Muslims with respect and kindness. In other words, we must love our Muslim neighbour. It is wrong to be anti-Muslim. Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. I have had a lot to do with Muslims:

·         I have been involved in dialogue with Muslims on several occasions at a British university. I observed their worship and found it quite moving at times.

·         I spoke by invitation at the Muslim College in Ealing, London.

·         Whilst Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem I reached out in reconciliation to local Muslims, inviting them to a reception and on another occasion sending many of them a card marking the Muslim New Year.

·         I have had dialogue with an imam who is a Professor of Islamic Studies.

·         I also run an international mailing list which encourages prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

I mention all this to back up my statement that I am not anti-Muslim. In fact, I respect Muslims and enjoy conversation and dialogue with them. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people.

 

However, respecting Muslims does not rule out making reasonable criticism of Islam. To try to forbid such criticism as Islamophobic is wrong. I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources criticise Muslims and Islam from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it.

 

Obviously, Muslims and Christians disagree. We disagree over fundamental issues such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the fact that Jesus died on the cross and rose again. The Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is fundamentally contradictory to the Christian view. It is true that Muslims believe Jesus will return one day, but this is the Muslim Jesus not the Christian Jesus. Therefore, from a Christian point of view, this is a false Christ. That is a theological disagreement not an anti-Muslim (let alone Islamophobic) comment.

 

Similarly it is not anti-Muslim (or Islamophobic) to express concern that Christianity and its influence on society is waning seriously and Islam and its influence on society is growing quite strongly. Clearly, as a Christian I want society to be influenced by a Christian view of Jesus (and eternal salvation through him) not a Muslim view. That is a theological disagreement with Islam, not a statement against Muslims. As a Christian evangelist I would also love Muslims to come to know the true Jesus and salvation through him.

 

This position does not, of course, rule out friendship and co-operation on community issues. Nor does it rule out respectful and honest dialogue.

 

I have recently defended my understanding of Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the End Times in Matthew 24, including by quoting various scholars. Here is an outline of Jesus’ teaching (plus a little from Paul and Revelation):

 

We might call the preliminary signs “Reminders of the End” because they are repeated and Jesus said when we see them “The End is not yet.” However they can and should remind us that the End is coming. Obviously when they occur, our first concern should be to pray and show compassion for those adversely affected by the occurrences.

       I.            THE PRELIMINARY (REPEATED) SIGNS (OR REMINDERS OF THE END)

                Wars, uprisings (Matt 24:6-18)

                Famines (Matt 24:6-18)

                Earthquakes (Matt 24:6-18)

                Pestilences (Luke 21:11)

    II.            THE INTERMEDIATE SIGNS

Persecution (Mt 24:9ff)

Turning away from the faith (Mt 24:10)

False prophets and messiahs (Mt 24:11, 24)

Worldwide evangelism (Mt 24:14)

 

 III.            THE IMMINENT SIGNS

Cosmic disturbances (Mt 24:29)

The Jewish people regaining control of Jerusalem (Lk 21:24).

The rebellion and deceptive ‘signs and wonders’ of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist) who proclaims himself to be God (2 Thess 2:1-12)

The sudden financial collapse of the world system (‘Babylon’) (Rev 18)

 

As you may know, I have written an important article on all this, entitled “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is available at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf. It is a quite long article, so I plan to summarise it on Facebook for the benefit of those who might find that helpful. This will be my policy, to put articles on the blog and summaries on Facebook.

However, from time to time I will comment on current events relating them to the signs of the End, because that is what Jesus encouraged us to do. The first one is now written and I will add a description of it very soon.