The doctrine of the “End Times” (eschatology) is, sadly, controversial, with some Christians polarising over different views and (many) others avoiding the subject, perhaps regarding it as a happy hunting ground for extremists. Yet nearly 10% of the New Testament is about eschatology. It is not a fringe subject. We should not neglect it.

 

The problem is that some people have a natural tendency towards naivety – readily believing assumptions about what prophecies mean and how they relate to current events. Others have a natural tendency towards rationalism – being rather cynical about the subject. I am more like the latter group but because of the importance of the subject in Scripture I seek to overcome it. However we do need to be careful in our approach.

 

Yes, there are those who jump to naïve conclusions about the eschatological significance of current events. Nevertheless I do find an approach which regards prophecies as totally symbolical, rather than referring to literal events unconvincing in the light of the evidence. For example, it is difficult to see Jesus’ prophecy of the End Times return of the Jewish people to Israel as symbolical in view of the remarkable event which has happened 2000 years later. In addition, so many of the Old Testament prophecies have come to pass.

 

One of the main areas of disagreement is over the biblical prophecy of the millennium (the future thousand year reign of Christ on earth). Some believe that happens after Jesus returns, others before he returns and others that it is symbolical about the on-going influence of God in the world. Some years ago, we brought together 75 clergy, ministers and teachers from various denominations for three days of intensive discussion on eschatology. Initially, there was a good deal of tension and apprehension. But, as we listened to one another, that disappeared and, whereas there were respectful disagreements, the conference put out a united statement as to what it agreed over (we must avoid falling out over secondary disagreements over eschatology). You can find the statement on my Christian Teaching website at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/ChurchLeadersAgreeReturnofChrist.pdf. It ended with the words “We urge all Christians to recognize that eschatology is a vital context and incentive for growth in holiness and for evangelism.” I personally would now add “and as a motive for prayer for Revival” but that was before the Lord spoke to me about Revival.

 

We are called to live in the light of the Return of Jesus

 

On several occasions Jesus says this.

 

“Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42; 25:13). “‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’(Mark 13:32-37).

 

“‘Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will make them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or towards daybreak. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’(Luke 12:35-40).

 

Similarly, Paul writes:

 

“The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety’, destruction will come on them suddenly, as labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober” (1 Thess 5:2-6).

 

Unfortunately many Christians seem to ignore this teaching. But, the Lord says we need to be eschatological in outlook.

 

We are called to take note of the “signs of the times.”

 

It is also clear that Jesus wants us to note the signs of the End Times.

The disciples askedWhat will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many. 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. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains” (Matt 24:3-8).

He is speaking here of long term, repeated signs pointing towards his return – false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution. They do not mean the End is imminent. They are like motorway signs repeatedly pointing towards a distant destination. But he goes on to refer to later signs which are closer to the destination – the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ antichrist, the great distress (often called “tribulation”), cosmic signs – and he adds “Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it [the End] is near, right at the door” (Matt 24:33). He also speaks of the fall of Jerusalem, the exile of the Jewish people to the nations and their eventual return to Jerusalem. (See the footnote for comment on the controversies surrounding Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians).[i]

 

So Jesus wants us to take note of what is happening in society and the world and to understand its significance vis a vis the End. In other words, we have to be prophetic (although we need to be careful and properly critical, rather than jump to conclusions). But many of us never stand back to see the bigger picture. We have our eyes down on the details of everyday life, including church life.

 

The interesting thing is that some secular scholars do stand back to see the bigger picture in connection with the threats to the future of the world and they speak about it in the ways prophets should do. So there is a secular eschatology over such things as dangers from global warming, viruses, war (nuclear and cyber), genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.

 

Many Christians need to wake up to what is going on. And we need to be discerning because often something developed for good reasons can go wrong and have bad effects. Here are some concerns very briefly:

  • The dangers in globalisation in our ‘global village’ becoming oppressive. (The current moves against globalisation could misfire and are very likely to be reversed by the pressures of inevitable international interdependence in trade, security, etc).
  • The dangers of the development of dictatorships (including through the growth in populism, political leaders on the extremes of politics, surveillance etc).
  • The growing influence of a major world religion, Islam, which believes in a Christ who is not divine, didn’t die on the cross or rise from the dead but who will come to earth in power.
  • More widespread worldwide persecution of Christians than has ever happened previously (Jesus foretells an increase in persecution).
  • Huge problems with water sources, extreme weather, mass migration, starvation, conflict caused by global warming, pollution etc (which seems relevant to New Testament prophecies)
  • The possibility of sudden global economic collapse (foretold in the New Testament in the End Times).
  • Israel becoming more central to world affairs and the nations (particularly the UN) becoming more negative towards her (also prophesied in Scripture). There is also a growth in antisemitism.
  • (I might also refer to the serious concern that NASA etc., have about the possibility of a large asteroid or meteorite colliding with the earth which seems to relate to the prophecies about cosmic signs, even though some of the language may be symbolical).

 

See my Christian Teaching website for detailed teaching on eschatology in both a full version and a summary http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html.

 

I find no difficulty in seeing the relevance of all these issues to biblical prophecy about the End Times and I think this is justified by reasonable thinking, not naïve jumping to conclusions.

 

We are called to hasten the return of Christ by praying for revival

 

We have noted that the New Testament makes it clear that we are not to ignore the “signs of the End.” Nor are we, as some do, just to be excited by the subject. We are to “look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:12). The apparent delay in the coming of the day of God is because God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Similarly, in Acts 3:19-20, Peter says: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.” Hence in the predominantly eschatological Book of Revelation Jesus called the church not just to take an interest in the End Times but to come to repentance (Rev 2-3).

 

So praying for Revival (alongside evangelism and living “holy and godly lives”) is a very important way of speeding the coming of the day of God, the return of Christ.

 

What Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost is very significant:

“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show 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. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:16-21).

 

He uses the term “the last days” and we need to remember that the last days began at the time of Jesus’ first coming. When we use the term we often mean “the end of the last days.” But Joel’s prophecy about the outpouring of the Spirit is definitely related to “the end of the last days” or what we call the End Times. It is associated with cosmic signs of the End e.g. by Jesus in Mark 13:25 and Luke 21:25. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that there will be a major outpouring of the Spirit (Revival) in the End Times.

 

Some Christians who are interested in eschatology focus on doom and gloom and almost seem to be excited about it. Others are fascinated by eschatology but it doesn’t affect their lives or motivate them to greater obedience and witness. But if we are truly eschatological we will seek to do something positive in the light of the doom and gloom, including living holy lives, doing evangelism, but also praying and preparing for revival, which is much more far reaching, in terms of the numbers affected, than our evangelism. In that way, we will be speeding the return of Christ.

 

When the Lord spoke to Patricia (my wife) and me about Revival he seemed to be underlining Luke 1:17 “Make ready a people prepared for the Lord” which was John the Baptist’s calling. And that is an excellent motive for prayer and preparation for Revival. We are praying for the formation of a people prepared for the Lord – a more numerous people than can be achieved by evangelism (although evangelism remains an important priority).

 

So, by the grace of God, we are seeking to hasten the return of the Lord by making ready a people prepared for the Lord through Revival.

 

However we are also seeking to have a positive impact on society and the world by praying and preparing for Revival. It is a historical fact that the Wesleyan Revival had a profound positive effect on 18th century society which previously was described as a spiritual and moral quagmire. How we need that again.

Conclusion

 

Prayer and preparation for Revival is properly related to eschatology. We Christians are not only called by God to
live in the light of the End Times and to take note of the “signs of the times.” We are also called to pray and prepare for Revival in order to “make ready a people prepared for the Lord,” for his return and to seek to counteract the negative “signs” in society and the world.
Tony Higton

 

[i] I am very aware of the justice issues in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I was General Director of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People and Rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem and had contact both with Jewish Israelis and Palestinians/Israeli Arabs. I have seen the conflict first hand (and heard the bombs going off). For years I have encouraged Christians (via a mailing list and website http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk) to pray about the needs, pain and fears of both Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides act wrongly at times. But we must not ignore Jesus’ prophecy about the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem (plus Old Testament prophecies on the issue) as a sign of the End Times.

Some British Christians who believe God still has a purpose for the Jewish people, oppose remaining in the European Union because they believe the EU is much less favourable towards Israel than Britain is.

 

A Israeli view

 

Ironically, there is a strong hope in Israel that the UK will remain in the EU.  Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist, wrote in the “Jewish Chronicle on-line” in March 2016: “Israel does not want to lose Britain – one of its more dependable allies – as a strong voice arguing its case in Europe. Whatever the diplomatic differences between London and Jerusalem, Israel has usually been able to rely on whoever is occupying Downing Street, as well as other senior cabinet ministers, to fight its corner. Post-Brexit, Israel would have less backing in Europe. Notwithstanding occasional disagreements, David Cameron is uniformly seen as one of the most pro-Israel British prime ministers, and has a very good relationship with Mr Netanyahu. The Israeli government would not like to see his downfall following a referendum vote.”[1]

 

Similarly, an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in April 2016 stated: “A Britain outside the EU means Israel will lose an important insider voice and critical traction in the shifting and sometimes hostile EU debates about what policies to adopt toward Israel.”[2]

 

Ilene Prusher, another journalist at Ha’aretz, referred to the UK as “one of the world’s friendliest countries to Israel.”[3]

 

A 2014 BBC World Service Poll discovered that 50% of Israelis have a friendly attitude towards the UK.[4]

 

Is the UK more positive to Israel?

 

It is certainly true that the current UK government is particularly positive towards Israel which is why some Israelis regard the UK as more positive than the rest of the EU and one of its strongest allies. In March 2016 the UK abstained on two UN resolutions on Palestinian rights. It applied pressure to the Palestinians to remove reference in the bill to constructing a list of firms which trade with Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and warned that retaining it could affect aid to the Palestinian Authority. When the Palestinians refused the UK also abstained on another resolution about accountability and international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In October 2015, the Conservative Party said that the government would introduce “new rules to stop politically-motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and against Israel”.

 

The EU, however, tends to be less positive towards Israel. For example, in October 2015 France presented a Security Council resolution on behalf of the Palestinians calling for international observers to be deployed in Jerusalem. Israel and the US opposed it.

 

On the other hand, there is a great deal of negative opinion about Israel in the UK. Recent polls have discovered that:

  • 66% of the British surveyed have a “generally negative” view of Israel.[5] This was the highest “generally negative” view in Europe. Only Spain equalled the UK figure.
  • A year later a similar service found 69% of British people have a negative view of Israel.[6]
  • Israel, along with North Korea, ranks third behind only Iran and Pakistan for “negative influence” in the world.[7]
  • 4% of British people polled agreed with the statement that “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians….”[8]
  • 9% of British people agreed with the statement that “considering Israel’s policy I can understand why people do not like Jews…..”[9]
  • Israel was top of the list of 24 countries where people would “least like to live”.[10]
  • It was also the country considered by those questioned to be the “least deserving of international respect”, and also thought to be among the world’s “least democratic countries”[11]
  • two thirds of British people think that ordinary Israelis reject the idea of a Palestinian state.[12]
  • two thirds of British people think that Israel has never offered to give up land for peace.[13]

 

A 2014 YouGov poll asked people which side they sympathised with in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. 27% of Britons said the Palestinians compared with 18% of French. 12% of Britons and 11% of French said Israel.

 

In 2001 Conrad Black, a member of the House of Lords, strongly criticised the attitude of some British papers towards Israel: “The BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly anti-Israel.” He also wrote that “wittingly or not, are stoking the inferno of anti-Semitism.”

 

Britain’s attitude towards Israel is clearly mixed. Public opinion is often negative but Israelis deem the British government to be more positive towards Israel than the EU.

 

The 2014 BBC World Service Poll found that:

  • 64% of the population of France
  • 61% of the population of Spain
  • 67% of the population of Germany
  • 72% of the population of Britain

were “mainly negative” to Israel’s influence.[14]

 

What is the EU attitude towards Israel?

 

Israel has had a special economic relationship with Europe since the 1960s and signed an economic agreement with the European Economic Community in 1975. In 1996 Israel and the EU signed a trade and cooperation agreement. Also in 1995 Israel was accepted as the first non-European member of EU’S Fourth Framework Research and Development programme. Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner.

 

However, one factor is that the EU practises realpolitik – an approach based on practical rather than moral considerations. So it seeks to maintain a good relationship with Arab countries despite the lack of democracy, civil liberties, oppression of women etc., in these countries. This approach can, of course, strengthen an anti-Israel approach.

 

The UN Human Rights Council has virtually passed more resolutions condemning Israel than it has on the rest of the world combined!  In July 2005 Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, commented: “Europe’s voting record at the United Nations shows a longstanding anti-Israeli bias. Every year the UN General Assembly passes between 18 and 22 anti-Israeli resolutions. …. The Europeans abstain in some cases, but mainly support these resolutions …” He added: “The European collective is frequently neutral on issues at the UN. Then often in meetings of the EU diplomats the French ambassador tries to break the consensus and move the entire group in an anti-Israeli direction. Rather than pressure France, the Europeans tend to be dragged along with its position. Therefore, France plays a particularly negative role in the formation of an anti-Israeli European position at the UN.”[15]

 

Allison Kaplan Sommer, an Israeli journalist writes:When asked by Israel for an explanation of their votes, the Europeans say they feel a responsibility to balance the pro-Israel stand of the United States and to defend what they believe is a distinction between armed struggle and terrorism.”[16]

 

Conclusion

 

Influenced by the media, a high percentage of the British population holds negative views towards Israel, sometimes in excess of the percentage in other EU countries. However, because the current UK government is quite positive towards Israel it is viewed by Israelis as one of the more friendly countries and they hope it will stay in the EU to counteract the anti-Israel views held by members, particularly France.

 

 

 

 

[1] Anshel Pfeffer, “Why Israel wants Britain to stay firmly inside the EU,” Jewish Chronicle on-line, March 3rd 2016

[2] Jacques Lafitte and Denis MacShane, “Why a British Exit From the EU Should Worry Israel” Ha’aretz 04.04.16

[3] http://time.com/3506269/israeli-palestinian-conflict-british-vote/

[4] BBC World Service Poll 3rd June 2014. See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf

[5] BBC World Service public opinion survey, 2011

[6] BBC World Service Survey May 2012

[7] Ibid.

[8] Friedrich Ebert Stiftung survey results, April 2012

[9] Ibid.

[10] January 2005 Daily Telegraph YouGov Poll.

[11] Ibid

[12] Populus poll – May 2011

[13] Ibid.

[14] BBC World Service Poll 3rd June 2014. See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf

[15] http://jcpa.org/article/europes-consistent-anti-israeli-bias-at-the-united-nations/

[16] http://bama.ua.edu/~afi/monthly_article.htm

No, I don’t believe the (ultimate) Antichrist predicted in the New Testament has been revealed. But I do believe that many Christians (and others) do live under antichrist rule today. In fact, around a quarter of the world’s population does.

John writes: “You have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come … whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ … is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son … every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world … many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7).

In the days when John wrote Rome, which persecuted Christians, would have been seen as an antichrist power. Others through history have been in the same tradition. And today there are many antichrists in the world including those who persecute Christians.

Persecution of Christians has greatly increased

A report presented in March 2015 to the United Nations in Geneva by the World Evangelical Fellowship, a global network of 160 million Evangelical Christians, estimated that over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.

The Pew Research Center found that Christians face harassment and persecution in 102 countries – more than any other religion. Pope Francis commented: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” John Pontifex, a leader in Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic campaign group monitoring persecution said: “The persecution of Christians is at a level we’ve not seen for many, many years and the main impact is the migration of Christian people. There are huge swaths of the world which are now experiencing a very sharp decline in the number of Christians.” For example, The Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, has said that “if the war continues, as seems likely . . . all the Christians will leave Syria.”

Lisa Pearce, chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland said that in general, persecution of Christians is increasing, “and the rate of increase is accelerating.” She added that the nature of persecution has changed: “It used to mean several years in a forced labour camp. Now it means watching your loved ones being beheaded.”

The Pew Research Center concluded: “Restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39 percent of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77 percent of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76 percent in 2012 and 68 percent as of 2007.”

The 10 countries who are the worst persecutors

The 10 most dangerous countries for Christians are
• Laos where the government is openly hostile to Christians.
• Uzbekistan where there are raids on churches.
• Iraq where attacks on Christians are growing.
• Yemen which practises Sharia law.
• Maldives where all citizens must be Muslims.
• Somalia which has no effective central government and Christians are in particular danger.
• Saudi Arabia which has no religious freedom. Public non-Muslim worship is banned and conversion to
Christianity is punishable by death.
• Afghanistan
• Iran
• North Korea where being a Christian is one of the worst crimes possible.

A 2014 Aid to the Church in Need report stated that conditions had deteriorated in 55 countries, and significantly so in six countries: Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria.

Lord Alton of Liverpool said we will see at least half of the 12 million Christians in the Middle East either gone or killed by 2020.

Persecution in China

Persecution of Christians is at an all-time high in China. One of the reasons is that there are 100 million Christians in China and only 87 million members of the Communist Party. In 1947 there were only 4 million Christians and under Mao tse Tung 500,000 Christians were martyred. Yet the Christian community has grown phenomenally. Since China has a one-child policy for families, this growth has almost all happened as a result of conversions. This seriously worries the Communist government. By 2030 China will have the largest number of Christians of any country in the world.

Persecution in Israel

Sadly, some Israeli extremists have also joined the ranks of persecutors. Benzi Gopstein leads an organisation called Lehava which means “[Organization for] Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land. Gopstein has called for the removal of churches from Israel. “We don’t have a place for churches here…. It’s Jewish law. This is what God told us.” He condemned “the state of Israel’s great sin of allowing idolatry – churches and monasteries abounding in the Land of Israel.” In June 2015 the historic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee was burnt. Sixteen religious Israeli Jewish students were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the arson.

Some Muslims also make life difficult for Christians in the West Bank and the Christian sector of the Old City of Jerusalem. Areas which previously had a majority of Christians now have a majority of Muslims and many Christians have emigrated, partly because of persecution.

We need to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. What they are experiencing is a foretaste of what is to come, as Jesus predicted.

The “Arab Spring”

The so-called Arab Spring was a remarkable series of events including the following:

December 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire because the authorities had confiscated his produce. This was the culmination of many years of such maltreatment and it sparked protests in Tunisia and elsewhere, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Syria and Yemen.

January 2011 The Tunisian President fled to Saudi Arabia. A few days later protests in Egypt forced the Egyptian President to resign.

March 2011 Protests against President Assad began in Syria leading to a prolonged war with many atrocities.

October 2011 Lybian President Gaddafi was killed after a 9-month conflict.

February 2012 The President of Yemen resigned after protests.

June 2012 Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was elected President of Egypt.

July 2013 Millions of Egyptians demonstrated against Morsi forcing his resignation.

May 2014 Former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was elected President of Egypt

Many people saw all this as a positive revolution which would establish democracy in the Middle East. But it was not to be. Instead, there were many sinister developments. One early example happened in August 2013 when Muslims set fire to over 70 Christian churches in Egypt. Since then extreme Islamists have come to the fore, especially in Iraq, Syria and Lybia. The most prominent is, of course, the so-called Islamic State (Isis). The removal of dictators has opened the way to far more extreme leadership taking over. This had happened much earlier when the Shah of Persia (Iran) was overthrown in 1979 and replaced by hard-line Islamists. On June 29th 2014 Isis announced that it had re-established the Islamic Caliphate (global Islamic state) led by the Caliph Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. One Iraqi politician said that the Arab Spring had become an Islamic Spring.

International chaos in the Middle East

Isis seems to be aiming at weakening Arab states and their armies so that it will be able to gain more influence and make it easier to ‘liberate’ the Palestinians from Israeli control. Turkey, Iran and Israel are the only strong states in the Middle East.

Syria and Iraq

Syria and Iraq are, of course, deeply divided and largely ungovernable. They are well on the way to becoming failed states. Isis (which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is now in control of more than half of Syria and controls all the border crossings between Syria and Iraq. Their intermediate aim is a Middle East Islamic state which includes the territories of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Israel. Syria is crucially important for Isis because they see it as the heart of the Islamic State on the border of Palestine. They see it as the road to Jerusalem. Isis is known to have some chemical weapons but there is fear that they will gain more from Syrian sources. Israel is afraid that Hezbollah, the Islamist group based in Lebanon, also could get hold of Syrian chemical weapons and smuggle them into Lebanon. Some experts are afraid that people could be exposed to biological weapons such as anthrax, plague, and cholera which could cause pandemics that are very difficult to control.

Iraq is divided between a Shia Muslim majority and a more traditional Sunni minority. But Isis (which is Sunni extremist) also holds large areas of the country and at times the Iraqi army has shown it is not up to withstanding it.

Egypt

Egypt initially accepted 300,000 Syrian refugees but since Morsi was deposed has turned against them. President Sisi is authoritarian and there have been unfair trials and an increasing number of executions. Morsi has been sentenced to death and the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed.

Militant Islamists have mounted attacks particularly in North Sinai. Hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed. One terrorist group called Sinai Province has links with Isis.

Egypt receives financial support from the Saudis and the Emirates. It is regarded as supporting Israel against Hamas in Gaza which is seen as a terrorist group.

Iran

Iran is an oppressive regime which restricts human rights. It is strongly opposed by the Saudis and the Gulf States. It co-operates with Hezbollah in Lebanon to support President Assad of Syria. The US is, of course, seeking to ensure that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons. President Obama stated in April 2015 that Iran will accept “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear programme in history. If Iran cheats, the world will know it. This deal is not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification.” However Israel is very suspicious of the agreement and believes Iran will not keep to it. Clearly the Saudis share this suspicion.

Jordan

Jordan has received 600,000 Syrian refugees. This, together with the surrounding chaos in Iraq and Syria is creating a serious crisis in Jordan and fears that the conflict could spill over into its territory.

Kuwait

Kuwait is an oppressive regime which curtails freedom of speech. David Cohen, Deputy Director of the CIA, once described Kuwait as the “epicentre of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria” However Kuwait is regarded as an important ally by the West.

Lebanon

Lebanon has suffered by being caught up in battles between countries such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia and it fears that the Syrian conflict could spill over into its territory. Fears are also raised by the strong connections between Iran and Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon and is regarded by many as a terrorist group.

It is a country where citizenship is only available to members of one of 18 approved religious groups. Power is shared out between these groups and, especially in the context of a weak state, this leads to an acceptance of compromise.

Lebanon has one million Syrian refugees, the equivalent of one fifth of the Lebanese population. The presence of the pro-Assad Shia group Hezbollah in the country has caused violent reactions from the Sunni community

Libya

Since 2014 there has been civil war in Libya. Central government has collapsed and the numerous militias are out of control. The country is moving towards being a failed state. Libya is very dangerous and journalists tend not to go there. Isis has moved into territory which is not controlled by the state and set up training centres for extremists. It was from there that the recent massacre in Tunisia was mounted.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is dominated by Wahhabism, a very strict version of Sunni Islam. It is repressive and carries out severe punishments, including many beheadings. No political parties are allowed. The Saudis, assisted by Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have funded Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq. However Saudi Arabia has 25% of the world’s oil supplies so western governments want to maintain good relationships with the country despite its bad human rights record. Hence Saudi Arabia has recently hosted a conference on Human Rights run by the UN Human Rights Council. The country is also the British arms industry’s largest customer.

Although the Saudis have funded Islamic fundamentalists around the region, it has now rebounded on them as extremist groups are threatening the Saudi leadership. They are also very threatened by the extensive influence of Iran in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. They have made it clear that if the US is not successful in preventing Iran developing nuclear weapons they will acquire them too. It is thought that the Saudis funded 60% of the development of the Pakistan nuclear weapons on the basis that they would be allowed to obtain some of those weapons if necessary. Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal has said: “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too.”

Tunisia

Many Tunisians have joined Isis to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey

Anxieties in Turkey about growing Islamisation and the authoritarianism of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister led to riots and in 2015 Erdogan did not do too well in the election.

Turkey is very concerned to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state by both Syrian and Turkish Kurds. They are sending troops to fight against the Syrian Kurds. The Turkish Kurds live in SE Turkey.

Turkey has accepted 1.8 million Syrian refugees.

Yemen

There has been an undeclared civil war in Yemen for some time. Iranian-backed rebels gained control of government institutions. The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is close, not least because about half the Saudi army is of Kuwaiti origin. The Saudis are afraid of the Iranian influence in Yemen and they are also afraid that Kuwait will become a failed state controlled by terrorists. So in 2015 a Sunni Muslim coalition of nine Arab countries plus Pakistan invaded Kuwait.

Summary

Much of the conflict in the Middle East is between the more traditional Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. They are at war with each other in Iraq, Syria and Kuwait. Isis is an extreme form of Sunni Islam.

Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are torn by war. They are becoming failed states. Egypt is facing serious division. Saudi Arabia is an oppressive, anti-Christian regime. Jordan and Lebanon feel threatened and Turkey intends to prevent the Kurds establishing a state by violence if necessary.

In March 2015 a joint Arab military force was set up to face the unstable situation in the Middle East. The 22 states involved in the Arab League are to combine forces.

Many refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Other refugees are crossing the Mediterranean to find safety in Europe – causing problems within the EU.

The effects on Christians

One thing that complicates the position of Christians in Muslim countries is military action by western nations which are seen as Christian nations. Consequently, Muslim countries persecute Christians. The Arab Spring and the growth of Isis has led to much greater oppression of Christians in the Middle East.

In Egypt, where there is a long-established Christian community, the removal of President Morsi in 2013 led to the worst persecution of Christians in 1400 years. It was against Coptic Christians and 65 churches, Christian bookshops, schools and convents were burned down, looted or destroyed. There has been some similar persecution since then.

In recent years in Syria over 450,000 Christians have fled and hundreds of thousands are in hiding. Christians and Christian leaders have been abducted, ransomed or executed.

Since the 2003 Gulf War over a million Christians have fled from Iraq. In 2014 when Isis captured Mosul and much of the traditional Christian area around Nineveh 200,000 Christians fled to Kurdistan.

The chaos in Libya has meant that persecution has increased, with Christians being afraid to meet together. The only religious gatherings allowed are Islamic. Isis has executed Christians.

Saudi Arabia officially bans churches and Christian meetings, even amongst ex-pats. Sometimes the authorities take oppressive action to enforce this ban against Christians meeting in homes. Bibles are prohibited. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the death penalty. Nevertheless for economic and political reasons the Saudis are treated as respected allies by western countries.

The Israeli perspective

I write as a friend of Israel but I am a genuine friend who, unlike some Zionist Christians, faces up to her failings as well as defending her when appropriate. She is not treating the Palestinians justly and currently she is becoming increasingly isolated in the world through the unwise leadership of her present government.

However, some of the criticism of Israel is unjust and there is some which is based on thinly veiled anti-Semitism. In fact, some Christians have decided that Israel is in the wrong and don’t wished to be confused by the facts. There is a growing movement to boycott Israeli goods but, as Israel points out, there is no such boycott of other countries deemed to be guilty of injustice – Saudi Arabia, for example. It is essential that we seek to look at the world through Israeli eyes, as well as through Palestinian eyes.

Israel is still affected by centuries of persecution and the trauma of the Holocaust. She also knows that a large number of people dispute her legitimacy and would like to see her destroyed. Against that background she looks at the chaos in the Middle East around her – the extreme Islamism, the wars, the advance of Isis (which is now speaking of taking over from Hamas and ‘liberating’ Palestine), the threat of Iran, which wants Israel destroyed, gaining nuclear weapons after all (which is perceived as possible by the Israelis and others) and the danger the Saudis would follow suit. Yes, Israel should provide justice for the Palestinians but she also needs to protect herself. After all, Isis is getting too close for comfort.

It is all very well for the Christian armchair critics in the West to be calling for justice for the Palestinians. But they must also take the fears of the Israelis seriously. Yes, of course, sometimes politicians over-emphasise threats for political reasons but the fact is that Israel is seriously threatened – and things will get worse.

We need to pray for the countries of the Middle East, for Israel and for Christians in that region facing grave difficulties, persecution and violent death. We should also recognise that the growing persecution of Christians and the increasing threats to Israel are in harmony with the New Testament’s teaching on the End Times.

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.

 

I don’t believe Christians are called to be unduly negative, or to be paranoid or to jump to critical conclusions about society whilst longing for the ‘good old days’ which actually weren’t quite so good.  But nor do I believe we are called to be naive and undiscerning.

There is much that is good in the world: creation itself, human love in all its manifestations, much of human culture and human research. Science, medicine and technology often makes our lives better than the ‘good old days.’  Good government, national and international, as well as NGOs and charities make the world a better place. The church is growing in many non-western nations and there are bright spots even in the west. There is some good Christian leadership and a lot of courageous, even sacrificial, Christian discipleship.

However, there are also some very serious trends and developments which Christians, who are amongst other things called to be prophetic, cannot ignore. [I recommend that this article be read with my article “Can we ignore what the New Testament says about signs of Jesus’ return?” which is at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf].

Post-Christian Britain

 

Britain is an increasingly post-Christian country. We are seeing massive decline in Christian belief. We need to remember that turning away from the faith is a sign of the End Times. That doesn’t mean that the End is about to happen because other things have to take place too. But we need to keep watching for the signs and reminders Jesus taught about.

A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times in March 2013 found that:

·         Only 30% believe in God (although 21% who don’t believe in God believe in a higher power) [The 2012 ComRes/Theos Cathedral Study figures were 36% and 14% respectively]

·         66% of Britons think religion is not important

·         Only 29% think the UK is a religious country

·         Only 7% only say they attend a place of worship weekly [The 2008 ComRes/Theos Darwin study said 10%]

·         Only 30% believe Jesus was the Son of God

·         Only 31% believe in the resurrection of Jesus (cp some 50% in the 1990s and 2000s)

·         69% think the Church of England is out of touch (including 53% of Christians).

Other research revealed that 5.3 million fewer British-born people called themselves Christians – a decline of 15% in a decade.  The 2011 National Census 2011 found that between 2001 and 2011 the number of people calling themselves Christians fell by 4.1 million. Peter Brierley’s research has the number of people calling themselves Christians reducing by 6% i.e. a third of a million per year.

Gay marriage

 

Little wonder, then, that we have crossed a Rubicon by approving gay marriage. (Some people think the decision could still be torpedoed, but this seems unlikely). I am not getting involved in the debate over homosexual sexual behaviour (having campaigned about it for some 15 years in the 1980s and 90s). My views are recorded in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf and http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf. But this decision is a very serious error as I have pointed out in http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=237.

It is contrary to the fundamental meaning of marriage because it is obvious that marriage is related to procreation. Children need a father and a mother. Even though there are many single parent families where the parent does an excellent job that is not the ideal situation. Children need the input of both loving male and female role models. Research shows that children benefit most from being in a family led by biological parents of both sexes who are in a loving relationship. Approval of ‘gay marriage’ will undermine the institution of marriage. It re-defines marriage as basically about emotional fulfilment of adults rather than about procreation and the care and nurture of children. And such an emotional definition of marriage will lead to even more marital breakdown – when the positive feelings decline.

These considerations are bad enough but the worst thing is the breathtaking and ill-thought-out arrogance of our politicians in rejecting the “givenness” of marriage which has been recognised by society and by all religions through the millennia. Marriage is ordained by God and David Cameron and the majority of MPs and Lords have taken it out of God’s hands and radically changed it. I wonder what they will say, especially Cameron, when they meet God, as they will one day have to answer to him for their behaviour (as we all will).

It is clear from recent history that such legislation tends to lead to new evils. Divorce law was changed because women were so oppressed but the long term effect is divorce on demand and massive breakdown of marriage. Abortion law was amended to prevent women having to go to dangerous back street abortionists. But the long term effect is abortion on demand with hundreds of thousands of unborn humans being killed. Homosexuality was merely legalised in 1967 but it has led on to the serious situation in which we are now.

Now marriage has been radically changed despite it being wrong, and unnecessary (as even some of the gay lobby have said) and it will lead not only to the damage outlined above but to calls for legitimization of multi-partner sexual relationships or “small group marriages.” There are people practising and advocating “polyamory [several/many loves], polygamy, polyandry, ….  multipartner relationships, sharing their mates with others, open marriage, and/or group marriage.” Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology and Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California advocates polyamory and group marriages (of any number or gender). If gay marriage is approved on the basis of removing discrimination, why should these other practices not be approved, to remove discrimination from those who want them?

UPDATE

I have already said the same-sex marriage decision will have very serious consequences including being a major cause of oppression – even eventually persecution – of Christians who oppose it (a good eschatological theme). Today I read the Independent newspaper which is very supportive of same-sex marriage. They cover a new Centre for Social Justice report:

“Some of the poorest parts of the country are becoming ‘men deserts’, the report found, because there are so few visible male role models for children …. One of the problems is the dearth of male teachers in primary schools …. For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom … This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development …. There are ‘men deserts’ in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong.”

Yet the need of both a male and a female role model being important for children is one of the main reasons for rejecting same-sex marriage. What planet are people like the editor of the Independent living on?

Serious oppression of Christians

As if all that was not enough, there are other very serious results which will flow from this decision. It has long been clear to me that approval of gay sexual relationships will become a social ‘password’ without which individuals will be rejected, excluded and oppressed. 

It may be that certain safeguards will be put in place, just as the Church of England has been legally exempted from taking same-sex weddings. But these will not last. We shall see legal action being taken against churches, clergy facing demands to celebrate same-sex weddings and restrictions on church activities. We shall see Christian teachers facing a crisis of conscience over endorsing gay marriage in the classroom (Labour is proposing an amendment calling for teachers to teach about gay marriage and same-sex relationships). Christians who cannot say they favour homosexual relationships will also be unable to foster children. Christians will be excluded from becoming registrars, etc.

I do not believe we should use the word ‘persecution’ of the current oppression of Christians in British society but this decision (and others) will ultimately lead us to where the word ‘ persecution’ will be appropriate. And persecution is a sign of the End Times. It is, of course, already happening in numerous countries.

The failure of the church

 

I hold the Church of England to be significantly to blame for this crisis. To quote Paul “if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”  And there has not been a clear call by the Church of England trumpet. Church leaders seek to have their cake and eat it. They say they disapprove of gay sex but always some say they approve. They use unclear language which confuses the uninitiated, i.e. the vast majority of the population. Take the events surrounding the decision in the House of Lords over same-sex marriage.

 

26 bishops sit in the House of Lords but only 14 turned up to vote on the issue and five of them abstained.  The Bishop of Salisbury broke ranks with the House of Bishops and spoke strongly in favour of gay marriage. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has spoken against it, said in his Lords speech: “The House of Bishops of the Church of England has also expressed a very clear majority view –  although not unanimous, as has been seen by the strong and welcome contribution by the Bishop of Salisbury.”

He added: “And I have to say that personally I regret the necessity of having to deal with the possibility of a division at this stage, on a bill passed by a free vote in the other place [the Commons]…. It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” He then made criticism of the bill before saying the church was “extremely hesitant about the Bill.” He ended by saying he couldn’t support it.

Hang on a minute: the House of Bishops is against same-sex marriage but are only “extremely hesitant” about it. They’re against same-sex marriage but only half of them turn up to vote, and five of them abstain. They’re against same sex marriage but one bishop who breaks ranks gives a “strong and welcome” contribution. Same sex marriage is wrong but “stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.” Boy – am I confused and I was on General Synod for 15 years. Actually, I’m not confused. I’m used to this poor leadership. The bishops have failed the church and the church has failed the nation.

Little wonder the church is declining. We seem to be living in cloud cuckoo land with declining congregations, priests having to look after, say, ten parishes and 40% of the stipendiary clergy retiring in the next few years. Try as I have, I can’t find any plan as to how the Bishops are going to deal with this challenge. The C of E will see massive decline and retreat into increasing irrelevance, the way things are going. All of this relates to the Jesus’ words about the End Times “Many will turn away from the faith” and the church is contributing to this.

Then there are the bigger issues:

The Middle East situation

 

The Arab Spring has turned to winter. The Syrian civil war continues. Iraq is very corrupt and everywhere there are violent Islamists. The strife between Sunni and Shia takes many lives. Now Turkey seems to be facing a dangerous situation as is Egypt. In the midst of it all is Israel, the sixth most powerful military state in the world, and a nuclear power. Israel feels threatened at the best of times but now almost all around her it seems that Islamists are coming to power or regimes are unstable. Syria seems dangerously close to drawing Israel into conflict. Hezbollah, regarded by many as a terrorist group in Lebanon, is involved in the Syrian conflict and could obtain weapons which could seriously threaten Israel. Already Israel has attacked arms convoys in Syria to prevent the arms reaching Hezbollah and has threatened to attack future Russian attempts to provide weapons. An international attack on Israel is part of the End Times scenario and it is not difficult to imagine it, given the present and developing situation.

The rise of Islam

 

I am not anti-Muslim and I believe it is wrong to be so.  Islamophobia is to be deplored and racism is contemptible. It is true that there are Islamist extremists but most Muslims are peaceful people. I have had a lot to do with them, and reached out to them in reconciliation in Jerusalem. I have been involved in Christian-Muslim dialogue. I also encourage prayer for justice for the Palestinians (most of whom are Muslims) alongside prayer for Israel.

 

However, we must be discerning and honest. Muslims respect Jesus as a great prophet. But the Islamic view of Jesus (Isa) is a false view. For example, the Islamic Jesus is not divine and did not die on the cross. This is a false christ. They expect this false christ to return and to further the cause of Islam around the world.

Islam is already a powerful and growing force in the world.  It is also growing rapidly in the UK. In the same period that people calling themselves Christians declined by 15% the number of Muslims in England and Wales increased by 75% (including almost 600,000 Muslims moving here from overseas). Between 2001 and 2011 the Muslim population grew by 1.2 million.

 

Almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, whereas a quarter of Christians are over 65. The average age of a British Muslim is just 25, not far off half that of a British Christian. The implications of this for the future are clear.

I am well aware that right wing and right of centre sources warn of this from political, Islamophobic and sometimes racist motives.  I do not approve of that and would feel profoundly unhappy about being associated with it. But we do have to be realistic and to face up to the fact that the religious future of Britain will be increasingly Islamic.

Prof David Coleman, Professor of demography at Oxford University, said of these statistics: “This is a very substantial change – it is difficult to see whether any other change in the census could have been remotely as big.” He added: “The ethnic transformation implicit in current trends would be a major, unlooked for, and irreversible change in British society, unprecedented for at least a millennium.”

Coleman also said that Christianity was declining with each generation: “Each large age group, as time progresses, receives less inculcation into Christianity than its predecessor ten years earlier.” But he added: “We have a Muslim faith where most studies suggest adherence to Islam is not only transmitted through the generations but appears to get stronger. Indeed, there seems to be some evidence that the second generation Muslims in Britain are more Muslim than their parents.”

From the point of view of the Christian gospel that is a serious problem because Islam promotes a false christ and a false gospel and expects this false christ to return. This has to be significant in terms of the End Times.

Hints of ‘Big Brother’

 

I am well aware of the paranoia which is associated with the idea of World Government and the Antichrist, etc. Recent American statistics show that:

·         13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ!

·         4% of US voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power!

·         15% of voters say the US government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals!

·         5% believe the vapour trail seen in the sky behind planes is actually chemicals sprayed by the US government for sinister reasons!

 

This all brings talking about the dangers of world government into disrepute. Also international co-operation obviously benefits the world in many ways.

 

However, I repeat what I said above about decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as made for  good reasons, and which may lead to good results, but which also tend to lead to new evils. We cannot turn the clock back and escape from the global village. It would be a profound mistake to opt out of the United Nations and many other forms of international co-operation as we face enormous problems: world poverty, global warming, terrorism, economic recession, etc. But we would be very foolish not to be aware of the dangers inherent in such co-operation.

Another statistic is that 28% of US voters believe a “secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.” These statistics were published at a time when the Bilderbergers were meeting in England, and they are the focus of conspiracy theories.  We may react cynically to all this but I would ask two questions:

·         Do we really think that there are no private power groups seeking to influence world affairs?

·         What do we make of the New Testament predictions of “man of lawlessnesswhowill oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped” only to be destroyed by the returning Christ?

 

I think it would be very naïve (and cynical) not to believe there are private power groups seeking to influence world affairs. I also believe that, whilst avoiding paranoia and simplistic conclusions, we should take note of moves towards world government, discerning the sinister from the beneficial.

 

I am writing this a day or two after the publication in the Guardian newspaper of a top secret document about the US National Security Agency’s Prism programme which allegedly has allowed officials to monitor the internet via Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Skype, Yahoo, Facebook etc since 1995. This includesemail content, search history, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, internet phone calls, file transfers, video conferencing, social networking, etc.   The Guardian also alleged that GCHQ (the UK security agency in Cheltenham) has used the Prism programme to spy on thousands of Britons.

 

Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, wrote to the Home Secretary (who is currently seeking to introduce her own “snooper’s charter”) “I am astonished by these revelations which could involve the data of thousands of Britons. The most chilling aspect is that ordinary American citizens and potentially British citizens too were apparently unaware that their phone and online interactions could be watched. This seems to be the snooper’s charter by the back door.” I note in passing that there is a huge amount of surveillance – CCTV and the like – in Britain anyway.

Even if the organisations claim they have not done what is alleged many will be unconvinced because they are organisations which act in secrecy. In any case, it is clear that they have the ability to do what is alleged and this has disturbing prospects for the future.

Again, we have another example of the principle of decisions and legislation, which may be perceived as for good reasons, and which may lead to good results, also tending to lead to new evils. The first motive for surveillance is to combat crime and terrorism, but it can turn into an unwelcome and dangerous invasion of the privacy of innocent individuals.

UPDATE

As good citizens Christians should be concerned about government surveillance because of the danger of it leading ultimately, in the long run, to a world dominated by “Big Brother” which relates to some of the predictions in the New Testament. Obviously, some surveillance is important to combat the threat of terrorism and other crime. Putting it rather negatively, such surveillance is the lesser of two evils and we have to accept that. However, surveillance must be controlled and must not cross the line into becoming Big Brother. That is not an easy line to draw. A former chief of GCHQ (the UK government surveillance centre) has written in the Guardian today giving six ethical principles on which surveillance should take place. He says it must be for the right motive, with sufficient cause, proportionate and with reasonable prospect of success. It must be a last resort and be governed by lawful authority. This is good.

However he writes that surveillance “involves computers searching through a mass of material, of course, and that might include your and my emails and data on our web traffic, but it is only the legally requested material that ever gets seen by a human being. These computers are not conscious beings: they will only select that which they are lawfully programmed to select. To describe this process as monitoring all our communications or ‘the surveillance state’ or a ‘snooper’s charter’ is wholly misleading and a perverse reading of the situation.” He concludes: “Let us respect the work of our intelligence agencies in keeping us safe, and be glad that in our democratic societies they are subject to the rule of law.”

The problem is that we live in a world of sinful human beings where “money, sex and power” have great influence. We live in a world of dishonest politicians, dishonest business leaders, dishonest bankers, dishonest media moguls, etc. So the reassurances of surveillance chiefs and their politician colleagues leave serious questions.

 

[For my detailed article on trends towards world government see http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/CanWeIgnoreSingsOfJesusReturn.pdf pages 23-32]

Conclusion

 

The rapid decline of Christianity in Britain (and in Europe), the increasing number of laws which are inconsistent with traditional Christian morality, the increasing discrimination against Christians, the failure of the church to speak with a clear voice, the rise of Islamism in the Middle East and the increasing spread of Islam, including in Britain, and the trends towards intruding on the freedom of individuals all pose serious threats to society and also reflect biblical warnings of End Time trends.

 

Tony Higton

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.

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.

When we lived and ministered in Jerusalem we met many wonderful Christians of many different denominations both living in the land and from many other nations. There is a rich Christian kaleidoscope in the Old City of Jerusalem, where we lived, and in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth. It was a wonderful experience to go round to a different church every evening for two weeks for united prayers for peace, mainly with Palestinian and other Arab Christians.  It was moving to meet with the same people for a Unity Week service on the site of the Upper Room.

But there are real problems facing Middle East Christians. Almost half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the first Gulf War, most of them since the invasion in 2004. It is almost unbelievable that the Bush-Blair coalition was ignorant of the crucial role of religion in Iraq. Now, partly because of the highly publicised threats to burn the Koran on the part of the foolish American pastor, there is even more persecution of Christians.  Half of Lebanese Christians have left the country. Coptic Christians in Egypt now form less than 10% of the population. Jordan has a record of protecting Christians but they are only 6% of the population. Then, of course, Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia.

In Israel many of the local Christians are Palestinian and so experience the pain and fears of the Palestinian people.  One piece of good news is the remarkable growth of Jewish Christians in Israel, who normally call themselves Messianic Believers.

Although there are many supporters of both Israeli and Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land – I am one of them – there are those who have polarised. Some, fired up by a legitimate concern for justice, fall into the injustice of being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Such people need to be careful of unconscious anti-Semitism. They harm the Christian cause in Israel.

Others are Christian Zionists, people who believe God hasn’t finished with the Jewish people and has brought them back to a safe homeland after the centuries of anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust. I accept a moderate form of Christian Zionism myself, alongside a passionate concern for justice for the Palestinians and peace in the Holy Land.  However, some Christian Zionists are a pain. We ourselves suffered from some of them – expatriates – who made trouble because they wanted us to soft-pedal evangelism lest it upset the Israelis. Mind you, some of them were more concerned that they didn’t lose their visas than they were that Israelis should be won for Christ. I was well aware we were walking on egg shells, but there didn’t seem to me to be much point in being there if we weren’t doing sensitive evangelism, especially as I was General Director of a 200 year old evangelistic ministry in Israel.  There was also trouble because we stressed reconciliation (which, of course, is at the heart of Christianity). These folk – again expatriates – were afraid we’d become anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.

Perhaps, therefore, you can understand my negative reaction to a recent news story. Christian pilgrims from the US, Canada and Finland joined with right wing Israeli settlers to celebrate the resumption of settlement building on the West Bank (which threatens the peace process).  They rattled tambourines and released thousands of blue and white balloons, the colours of Israel’s flag, into the sky. They also waved banners reading: “We love Israel.” One young Canadian Christian said in an interview: “We knew this was happening today, and we wanted to stand in support for all of Israel and God’s land. We love the Israelites, we love God’s way.”  When asked if she supported a land for the Palestinians, she admitted she was “not familiar” with the politics.

This sort of misplaced Christian fervour confirms the idea widespread in the Middle East that Christianity is a western religion, when, of course, it originated in the Middle East. It adds to the burden of our Christian brothers and sisters there.