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

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

Ebola

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

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

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

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

Dangers from laboratory experiments and security failures

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

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

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

Antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’

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

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

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

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————

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

 

 

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.

There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:

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

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

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

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

  • See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29 “I ask then: did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew … As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

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

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

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

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

The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two attitudes we need to avoid:

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

     

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

There are two attitudes we need to have:

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

Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians?

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