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.

Matt 2:4-6 “When [Herod] had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: ‘“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”’

Matthew, quoting Micah 5:2, is predicting that, as messiah, Jesus will restore the kingdom of David. He will rule over Israel. We don’t see that happening yet. That is the ‘high peak’ of the fulfilment of prophecy. But, as is common in climbing a mountain, a nearer peak obscured a valley between it and the high peak. In other words, Micah saw the two peaks: the first was the coming of messiah and the second his ruling over Israel. We now live in the ‘valley’ between the two. The Lord has redeemed us through the cross and resurrection but soon we shall reach the ‘high peak’ when Jesus returns.

 

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

We have also noted that early in Holy Week Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple (which was brought about by the Romans 40 years later in AD70). But he also prophesied the End Times and urged his disciples to look out for both early (recurring) and later signs of his Return (see Matthew 24). We then quoted various scholars who agree with this interpretation. 

 

Jesus’ prophecies here are typical of biblical prophecy:

·         Prophecy can have an early and a later fulfillment.

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

 

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

 

1.      Joel 2:28-3:2 is seen as a prediction of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2: “And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”  But the prophecy goes on beyond the Day of Pentecost to the future day of the Lord: “I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls ‘In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will put them on trial for what they did to my inheritance, my people Israel, because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.”

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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



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

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

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

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

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

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.