In his speech, whilst prime minister, to European security experts about Islamic State, David Cameron said: “It says religious doctrine trumps the rule of law and Caliphate trumps nation state and it justifies violence in asserting itself and achieving its aims. The question is: how do people arrive at this worldview? I am clear that one of the reasons is that there are people who hold some of these views who don’t go as far as advocating violence, but do buy into some of these prejudices giving the extreme Islamist narrative weight and telling fellow Muslims ‘you are part of this.’”

I entirely agree with him about the evil of violence and any justification of it but he clearly doesn’t understand some basic things about religion. Instead he shows his naïve support of the trend towards domination of religious views by the state, including with its vague concept of “British values.” Of course religious doctrine trumps the rule of law when the law seriously conflicts with it. Take, for example, my firm belief that Jesus is the only Saviour and no other religion brings a person to eternal salvation. If, as is possible, that ever becomes illegal because (allegedly) it is causing offence to people of other faiths and creating division, I would have no alternative but to break the law.

I certainly don’t want to see the establishment of the Caliphate (worldwide Muslim state) with its violence but I do believe the church trumps the nation state, where the state seriously conflicts with the church’s beliefs.

One problem is that our politicians don’t really understand religion and how important it is to believers. Of course the state has the right to try to stop violence and therefore to oppose religious beliefs which GENUINELY incite hatred, violence and oppression. But, that apart, it has no right to tell us what to believe and to stop us proclaiming what we believe.

I have often said that I believe we should love and respect our Muslim neighbour whilst we disagree with his religion. So I will publish significant positive news about Muslims when it arises – and it just has.

I commented recently about the very serious implications for Christian freedom of the Belfast pastor being prosecuted for saying Islam was satanic (see http://christianteaching.org.uk/blog/oppression-of-christians/belfast-pastor-to-be-prosecuted-for-saying-islam-is-satanic/). It was therefore encouraging to read the comments on the matter by Dr Muhammed Al-Husseini, a Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute. He said:

“Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is … a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others … In a free and democratic society, we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say. While those of us who hold clerical office as Christian pastors and priests, Jewish rabbis or Muslim imams, should rightly have due care and regard to the leadership role we exercise when we make public speeches, nevertheless our foremost duty remains to express theological ideas in good conscience before God.”

He spoke of his “deep concern and opposition to the criminalising of theological disagreement, at a time when our society should in fact be fostering better quality disagreement.” He added: “I further undertake that if Pastor McConnell is convicted and sent to prison, I shall go to prison with him.”

Pastor James McConnell in Belfast is to be prosecuted for describing Islam as “satanic” and “the spawn of the devil.” Whatever we may think of the details of this case this is a VERY serious development.

I am totally in favour of treating Muslims with respect – of loving our Muslim neighbours. I also believe we should be careful how we speak about other religions in the presence of their adherents. We should express disagreements in ways which do not cause unnecessary distress.

But we MUST be free to express our disagreement just as Muslims disagree with us Christians.

If Pastor McConnell is convicted then the implications for Christians are extremely serious. Presumably they will be forbidden to quote important passages of the New Testament publicly. Let me briefly summarise:

• Jesus said that those who hear the Christian message but don’t continue to believe it have been deceived by the devil (Luke 8:12).

• St Paul says the minds of people who don’t accept the Christian message are blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4)

• St John says those who don’t believe Jesus is God’s Son are condemned by God already. God’s wrath remains on them. He also says anyone who denies Jesus is the Christ is a liar and an antichrist. His belief is not from God (John 3:18-19, 36; 1 John 2:22; 2 John 7; 1 John 4:2-3).

If we reach a point where Christians will be prevented from quoting such passages publicly then that means we will be forbidden to proclaim crucially important aspects of the gospel. The gospel is good news for those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God, but is a serious matter for any who consciously reject him. The result will be serious persecution of Christians in the UK.

The Church of England Newspaper reports that the US government has released information about documents found in the library of Osama bin Laden, the head of ISIS. They include material about David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham, who said the resurrection was a “conjuring trick with bones.” The paper, the only Christian-related paper in his library, argued that doubts about the physical resurrection of Christ could facilitate the Islamisation of the UK. I remember reading the paper in 1984.

It was this statement by David Jenkins on Radio 4, shortly after he was appointed bishop, that made me realise God was calling me to take a very public stand against such unbelief. It led to a national campaign, writing to all 10,000 clergy in England about it (and similar issues) and eventually campaigning about them on the C of E General Synod.

I have always stood by what I did in those days but this revelation confirms how important it was. We Christian leaders have an awesome responsibility and will stand before God one day to answer for our behaviour and beliefs. This statement by a bishop did enormous harm and clearly encouraged the enemies of the Faith.

We can learn a number of things from this remarkable event in 2015:

1. It shows how quickly social attitudes can change. Homosexuality was only legalised in Ireland in 1993 (and divorce in 1996). The main factor is the dramatic loss of influence of the Catholic Church and the other the great improvement in Ireland’s economy since it joined the EU which encouraged secular attitudes.

2. It underlines the huge responsibility resting upon the church and the very serious consequences of its failure to meet those responsibilities. The paedophile scandals amongst Irish Catholic priests, the repressive Catholic schools and the failure of the hierarchy to deal with these problems adequately have had a devastating effect. Attendance at mass on Sundays was 90% in the 1970s but by 2013 it was 34% and around 18% in Dublin. The Irish Catholic Church has lost credibility and, although 94% of Irish people identify as catholics, many of them voted for gay marriage. The failures of the Church of England are not as bad as the Irish Church but there have been paedophile scandals and the church has confused the nation over its view of homosexual practice. This contributed to our government suddenly approving gay marriage.

3. The great joy and exhilaration expressed at the result by those who voted yes has a powerful and insidious emotional effect (I found it moving myself). Suddenly gay couples who had been together for years could enjoy the prospect of getting married. One man held a placard saying: “Thank you Ireland. This means everything. At last at the age of 60 I’m an equal citizen.” Another man was moved to tears as he said: “It’s an emotional day. I’m gay and I had two relationships for 20 years each. My partners both died and I would have loved to marry them.” This emotion is dangerous ….

4. The emotion over the gay marriage decision is dangerous because it will have the effect of further marginalising the church and applying pressure to Christians who don’t agree with same-sex marriage. On the other hand, it will lead some Christians to move away from biblical teaching and approve homosexual practice and gay marriage. So, with these Christians it won’t lead to marginalisation but to a partial departure from the faith. Both persecution and departure from the faith were prophesied by Jesus.

5. However, the issue is not one of emotion but of what God has said. We need to go back to the Bible on the issue and ensure we understand what it says about it. The following papers I have written may be helpful

What about Gay Marriage? (a short paper). See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/Whataboutgaymarriage.html

Homosexuality and the Church: a study guide for churches. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf

What does the Bible say on Homosexuality (a more detailed study). See
http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf

6. We should not only adhere to the clear teaching of Scripture about same-sex relationships but we should also have the right attitude to homosexual people. One of the factors driving the gay lobby is the wrong attitude that all too many Christians have – one of contempt for homosexuals as people. Ironically, the tables are now going to be turned on Christians as the gay lobby gets the upper hand. We are called to love our homosexual neighbour. That means we should respect them as people and be grateful for their companionship and care for one another whilst disagreeing with their sexual behaviour. In other words, we love our homosexual neighbour (like any other neighbour) but we don’t love his/her behaviour. We should also remember that homosexual behaviour is not the only sin! We are all sinners – but that doesn’t justify any wrong behaviour.

We are seeing massive social change at breath-taking speed. The consequences for Christians who uphold the teaching of Scripture will be very serious. We need to watch and pray.

A Christian bakery has been fined £500 plus costs for refusing to make a cake for a customer which bore the logo “Support Gay Marriage.” How should we respond?

1. We have to recognise that society is increasingly secular, including in its laws.

2. We can argue democratically (and strongly) for society to respect God’s law.

3. But we have to accept the reality of what society democratically decides, even though we disagree with it.

4. The balancing of opposing human rights is a complex matter. This is illustrated in the opposing rights present in the Belfast Cake controversy – gay rights afforded by society, on the one hand, and the right to religious freedom, on the other.

5. Society cannot accommodate every religious opinion (for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal of blood transfusions for their children) but it was surely possible to prevent the infringement of Christians’ rights in a trivial case like this one.

6. It is sad that the legal case was mounted but the situation is complicated by anti-gay prejudice (as opposed to reasonable disagreement) and the danger of gay people wanting to get their own back.

7. The church should stand firm for God’s law (although always remembering to show compassion and respect for people themselves) but it has given confusing signals over homosexuality. For example, the official position of the C of E is that agreed by a 98% majority of General Synod based on my private member’s motion in 1987 which stated that “that homosexual genital acts … are … to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.” But since then the church has confused society as to its position on the matter. It has also given the impression that we shall come round to society’s view in the end. The church therefore must bear a very serious responsibility for what is now happening.

8. As various people have said, the Belfast decision opens the way for similar prosecutions such as over:
• A Muslim printer refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed
• An atheist web designer refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days
• A printing company run by Roman Catholics declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.

9. I wish I could be confident that the government will sort out this situation where the law is an ass but I am concerned that the very beginning of real persecution of Christians in the UK has happened, although it is almost nothing compared with what is happening to Christians elsewhere.

10. I have long felt that approval of homosexual practice would eventually become a test of acceptability in society, failure in which would lead to serious consequences.

11. But how long will it be before the Christians come into much more serious conflict with the anti-extremism laws planned by the UK government? These, of course, uphold “British Values” (whatever they are) and particularly tolerance and avoiding causing distress to others. I anticipate that before long exclusive claims that Jesus is the only Saviour and even sensitive references to judgment and hell will be deemed illegal. Then we will be getting into deep water over persecution. In March 2015 Sajid Javid Culture Secretary made a very significant comment when he opposed the governments revived censorship proposal. He said it would be used “otherwise than intended, not least given the difficulty of defining extremism, and the consequent likelihood of the government being seen to be interfering with freedom of speech without sufficient justification”.

12. Christians need to learn now which are the primary issues of the Christian Faith, and which are secondary issues. If the law requires us to deny the primary issues, we have to obey God rather than the state.

13. We are in a very serious situation and many Christians, churches and church leaders are quietly snoozing through it.

There are some very significant serious things happening in the world today regarding persecution of Christians etc. Persecution is a sign of the End Times:

1. Christians ridiculed and oppressed in modern Britain

Michael Gove, former UK Education Secretary said that British Christians are ‘openly derided’ and ‘coolly dismissed.’ British culture belittles Christianity on a daily basis. He added that “To call yourself a Christian in contemporary Britain is to invite pity, condescension or cool dismissal. In a culture that prizes sophistication, non-judgmentalism, irony and detachment, it is to declare yourself intolerant, naive, superstitious and backward.

“Far from enlarging someone’s sympathy or providing a frame for ethical reflection, Christianity is seen as a mind-narrowing doctrine. Where once politicians who were considering matters of life and death might have been thought to be helped in their decision-making by Christian thinking — by reflecting on the tradition of Augustine and Aquinas, by applying the subtle tests of just-war doctrine — now Christianity means the banal morality of the fairy tale and genuflection before a sky pixie’s simplicities.

“The suspicion was that Christians helped others because they wanted to look good in the eyes of their deity and earn the religious equivalent of Clubcard points securing entry to Heaven. Or they interfered in the lives of the less fortunate because they were moral imperialists — getting off on the thrill and power of controlling someone else’s life and impulses. Or, most disturbingly of all, they were looking to recruit individuals — especially in our schools — to affirm the arid simplicities and narrow certainties of their faith.

“This prejudice that Christian belief demeans the integrity of an action is remarkably pervasive. And on occasion singularly vehement.

“One of the saddest moments during my time as Education Secretary was the day I took a call from a wonderfully generous philanthropist who had devoted limitless time and money to helping educate disadvantaged children in some of the most challenging areas of Britain but who now felt he had no option but to step away from his commitments because his evangelical Christianity meant that he, and his generosity, were under constant attack.

“I suspect that one of the reasons why any suggestion of religious belief — let alone motivation — on the part of people in public life excites suspicion and antipathy is the assumption that those with faith consider their acts somehow sanctified and superior compared with others. ”

Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian, agrees with Gove and asks why this has happened over Christianity. He puts some blame on militant atheists but adds: “But the real problem is the slow drift of religion into a category separate from the rest of life and thought. Religions that work have nothing to do with faith: they are about habit and practice, and the things that everybody knows. Gove quotes the Book of Common Prayer, which I also was brought up on, and love deeply. But it’s gone now. It will never again be a book of common prayer. The more that any religion becomes distinct from the culture around it, the weaker and weirder it becomes. Of course it can flourish as an embattled and angry sect. But Christianity in England has not been like that for at least 1,000 years. Seventy years ago, TS Eliot could write that dogs and horses were part of English religion, as much as bishops were part of English culture. That’s now very much less true, and it’s hard to imagine a conservatism that could ever bring it back. ”

More recently Victoria Wasteney, a senior NHS occupational therapist, was suspended for nine months for trying to convert a Muslim colleague, Enya Nawaz. Victoria offered to pray for her Enya who spoke of her health problems. Enya agreed and Victoria prayed for her with the laying on of hands. She also gave her a book about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. Then Enya complained to their employer. A disciplinary panel accused Victoria of “bullying and harassment.” The case was taken to an employment tribunal which upheld the panel’s verdict.

Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, commented on similar cases: “There remains a clear reluctance to tackle infringement of freedom of conscience and the emergent hierarchy of human rights, which has left people of faith firmly at the bottom and often wondering whether in practice religion and belief is a protected right at all. There is a long way to go to achieve parity and equality on a fair playing field with other rights. When rights conflict, the test of equality legislation is whether it results in genuinely fair outcomes for everyone. If one group of protected rights is consistently trumped by others then equality is not working. Equality is important, but unless it is expressed fairly in the context of recognised diversity then it can become oppressive and end up being wielded as a blunt weapon to silence those we disagree with.”

2. The level of persecution of Christians is higher than ever, much of it by Muslims.

There continues to be an increase in the persecution of Christians worldwide and it is becoming more intense in more countries of the world.

According to Open Doors (an international ministry serving persecuted Christians and churches worldwide) “Overwhelmingly the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries in Open Doors World Watch List is Islamic extremism. The most violent region is the states of the African Sahel belt where a fifth of the world’s Christians meet one seventh of the world’s Muslims in perilous proximity.”

Open Doors continues: “In 80 per cent of the 50 countries in the [Open Doors] World Watch List, Islamic extremism is a key persecution engine. Islamic extremism has two global centres of gravity: one in the Arab Middle East and the other in sub-Saharan Africa.”

We are all aware of the evil activities of extreme Islamists, Isis, Boko Haram etc. But Open Doors makes the following important statement: “The most violent persecutor of Christians in Northern Nigeria in recent years is the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, who have bombed churches and shot pastors. It’s an unsubtle attempt to smash the church. But in fact, for most Christians, the greatest threat comes from a creeping cultural Islamisation which has been stealthily progressing since the 1980’s, until Christians suddenly realise they are second class citizens in a culture that was once hospitable to them, and is now hostile to them. This ‘squeeze’ is as much a denial of freedom of religion and belief but cannot be tracked by monitoring specific incidents.”

Christians have faced increasing levels of persecution in the Muslim world. Muslim nations in which Christian populations have suffered acute discrimination, persecution and in some cases death include the following according to Emily Fuentes, communications director at Open Doors USA:
• Countries with extreme persecution: Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Maldives.
• Countries with severe persecution: Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Kenya, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Djibouti.
• Countries with moderate persecution: Palestine, Brunei, Jordan, Comoros, Tanzania, Algeria, Tunisia, Malaysia, Oman.
• Countries with sparse persecution: Mali, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Morocco, Niger, Bahrain, Chad.

It was disturbing to read a Sky News “British Muslims Poll” dated 20th March 2015 which found that 39.8% of British Muslims (and 46% of women) did not believe it was the responsibility of Muslims to condemn terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam, while 28% of all Muslims (including 33% of women and 32% of under-35s) said that they had a lot or some sympathy with young Muslims who had left the UK to join fighters in Syria.

In the TV programme “Killing Christians” Nadine, a 13 year old Iraqi girl said very movingly (with obvious depth and sincerity): “The Christian religion is about love and peace. I feel very sad because the devil has taken Islamic State over. I will pray to God to enlighten their minds. Whatever happens, we will not give up our religion. We will not abandon Christianity, never.”

3. Islam is projected to be the largest religion in the world by 2100.

The Pew Research Center, an American think tank which provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends, has recently published the first formal demographic predictions about “The Future of World Religions.” Together with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, it has gathered data from more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers, which has taken six years to complete.

It reports that, at present rates, Islam will grow faster than any other religion (twice as fast as the world population), partly due to fertility rates, and by 2050 will nearly equal the number of Christians in the world. Muslims, which numbered 1.6 billion in 2010, will then number 2.8 billion, or 30% of the population, and Christians 2.9 billion, or 31% of the population. In Europe, where 5.9% of the population are Muslim currently, 10.2% of the population will be Muslim by 2050. By 2070 the number of Muslims will equal the number of Christians (32% of the world population). By 2100 1% more of the world’s population would be Muslim than would be Christian

Between now and 2050, according to present rates, 40 million will convert to Christianity but 106 million will leave Christianity, most of them joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. For example, in the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050. The population of Europe is projected to decline and the number of Christians is expected to decline from 553 million (three quarters of the population) to 454 million (two thirds of the population).

However elsewhere in the world the number of Christians is expected to grow, although as a percentage of the population the number will decline except in Asia and the Pacific.

So Islam will grow increasingly dominant in the world, doubling in numbers by 2070 and becoming the biggest religious community in the world. Muslims will almost double in number in Europe too. Christianity will continue to grow but a massive 106 million are projected to leave Christianity by 2050. Incidentally, this is hardly the love of most [Christians] growing cold (Matt 24:12) but it is a massive turning away from the faith.

4. We must remember that Islam is an antichrist (alternative Christ) religion.

I know I’m on sensitive ground. I’m not agreeing with those who resent Muslims being here or having equal rights and equal respect. Such attitudes are wrong. I am concerned about the implications of the spiritual dominance of Islam.

I always want to show respect to people of other religions and, where possible, to show respect for what they believe. Nevertheless I do believe it is right to make necessary criticisms of their beliefs too. This is the case with Islam. My most serious criticism of Islam is that it is an antichrist religion (“anti” in the original meaning of “in place of”):
• It has a false view of Jesus (Isa): he is not divine, did not die on the cross and so did not rise from the dead.
• But this Jesus will return to kill the Antichrist (as viewed by Muslims) and to set up a short period of peace and justice before dying.
• This Jesus will be a committed Muslim. Christians and Jews will join him in the Islamic faith. All religion other than Islam will be wiped out.
This Jesus is antichrist, i.e. an “alternative” Christ who ends up opposing the true church.

5. Israel under Netanyahu is likely to provoke very strong reactions from around the world isolating her.

Another significant factor in the current situation is the political situation in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected as Prime Minister of Israel. Just before the election he stated that if he was elected there would be no Palestinian state. His subsequent attempt to back off from that position is not seen as convincing by many people. He has also seriously upset President Obama and the US government. It seems clear that Israel is going to suffer much more political pressure and to become more isolated in the world. The Palestinians are likely to take Israel to the International Court of justice for alleged war crimes. In view of the bleak prospects over the peace process it is also inevitable that violence from some Muslim sources will erupt. Anti-Semitism is growing. The re-establishment of the State of Israel is itself a sign of the End Times but the prospect, prophesied in Scripture, of the nations eventually turning against Israel is, to say the least, increasingly credible. However, one must be aware that one (but only one) factor is Israel’s current political intransigence over Palestine.

6. Conclusion

So we have a situation where:
• Christians are being ridiculed and oppressed in Britain.
• The worldwide level of persecution of Christians is higher than ever, most of it by Muslims.
• Islam, the fastest growing religion, is projected be the largest and most dominant religion in the world by 2100.
• Islam is an antichrist religion.
• The re-established State of Israel is being increasingly isolated, pressurised and in danger of violent attack.

It seems obvious to me that all this mainly recent news has relevance to what the NT predicts about the Signs of the End.

Is the idea of robots taking over the world just the stuff of fiction? Not according to people like Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates. It is interesting to take notice of what is called Secular Eschatology. Some secular scholars take more notice of the future and its dangers than some Christian scholars. Hawking told the BBC in December 2014: “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” He added: “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.”

In May 2014 Stephen Hawking with two other Professors of Physics and a Professor of Computer Science wrote an article in which they said: “So, facing possible futures of incalculable benefits and risks, the experts are surely doing everything possible to ensure the best outcome, right? Wrong. If a superior alien civilisation sent us a message saying, ‘We’ll arrive in a few decades,’ would we just reply, ‘OK, call us when you get here – we’ll leave the lights on’? Probably not – but this is more or less what is happening with AI. Although we are facing potentially the best or worst thing to happen to humanity in history, little serious research is devoted to these issues.”

Elon Musk, founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), said: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon.”

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, commented on Artificial Intelligence (AI): “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

Hawking, Musk and Gates, alongside hundreds of computer scientists and technologists, signed an Open Letter on “Research Priorities for Robust and Beneficial Artificial Intelligence.” The letter, referring to AI, stated: “The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable. Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls … We recommend expanded research aimed at ensuring that increasingly capable AI systems are robust and beneficial: our AI systems must do what we want them to do … we believe that research on how to make AI systems robust and beneficial is both important and timely.”

Other scientists take a different line. Professor Mark Bishop says that understanding and consciousness are fundamentally lacking in so-called ‘intelligent’ computers so “a human working in conjunction with any given AI machine will always be more powerful than that AI working on its own.” He believes this will prevent the dangers Hawking and others are warning of.

Dr Dan Handley believes that a computer could not enslave humans unless it had a desire to do so “but computers rely pure on logic, not emotion.” He thinks computers can only be taught to feign emotion, not actually to be emotional.

Professor Alan Winfield believes that the risk of computers bringing about the end of human civilisation “while not impossible, is improbable.”

Maciamo Hay, a researcher in genetics, points out that an AI is a computer which cannot act beyond the digital realm. It could modify its software (computer programmes) but not its hardware (machines). To do the latter without human involvement would require robots which could get raw materials and build machines without human assistance. He added that the computer would need to transfer its data to another machine if it was to avoid slowing down as it got older. Some researchers think it would be possible to achieve such conditions.

The power of computers

What is certain is that computers are becoming more and more powerful. Ramez Naam, Director of Program Management at Microsoft, said “It appears that a super-computer capable of simulating an entire human brain and do so as fast as a human brain should be on the market by roughly 2035 – 2040. And of course, from that point on, speedups in computing should speed up the simulation of the brain, allowing it to run faster than a biological human’s.”

Meanwhile robots are becoming more sophisticated. Kodomoroid, a Japanese android can read the news, recite tongue-twisters, speak multiple languages and interact with people. There are also ‘women’ robots with silicon skin and artificial muscles, which look eerily human.

There are robotic surgical systems. A robotic-assisted surgical platform is being developed. This would assist surgeons in “minimally invasive operations” giving them greater control and accuracy. Experts are working on robotic systems which could highlight blood vessels, nerve cells, tumours, etc., which would be difficult to see otherwise.

Another Japanese robot can understand facial expressions, gestures and tones of voice. The manufacturers claim: “For the first time in human history, we’re giving a robot a heart, emotions.” Another robot can play the violin and football and has opened the New York Stock Exchange. In 1950 Alan Turing said that a computer could be understood to be thinking if it convinced 30% of human interrogators in five-minute text conversations that it was human (the Turing Test). He predicted this would happen in about 50 years and there are controversial claims that this has been achieved.

Conclusion

Obviously the danger from Artificial Intelligence is not mentioned in Scripture. This is Secular Eschatology. Whether it will play a significant part in the future drama is unclear. But it is certainly something we ought to be aware of and to pray about.

The New Testament is quite clear that God has a continuing purpose for the Jewish people in Christ. Paul predicts that “All Israel will be saved.” Scripture also foretells attacks on Israel in the End Times. The continuation and even growth of anti-Semitism is a clear pointer to all this. It is a pointer towards the End Times.

A new anti-Semitism IS growing

The idea that anti-Semitism is growing, including in Europe, is controversial. Some surveys have been criticised as unreliable. What is the truth? I found it helpful to read what Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi says because he is a man of great integrity and intellectual ability. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in October 2014 he said: “This year, Europe’s Jews entered Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, with a degree of apprehension I have not known in my lifetime. Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe within living memory of the Holocaust. Never again has become ever again.”

He instanced a French synagogue congregation being surrounded by “a howling mob claiming to protest Israeli policy;” four people being murdered in a Jewish museum and a synagogue being firebombed in Brussels; a London supermarket feeling forced to remove kosher food from its shelves and a London theatre refusing to stage a Jewish film festival because it had received a small grant from the Israeli embassy.

He added: “More than once during the summer, I heard well-established British Jews saying, ‘For the first time in my life, I feel afraid.’ And Jews are leaving. A survey in 2013 by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that almost a third of Europe’s Jews have considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism, with numbers as high as 46% in France and 48% in Hungary. Quietly, many Jews are asking whether they have a future in Europe.”

Lord Sacks explained that in the Middle Ages Jews were hated for their religion, in the 19th and 20th century for their race and today for their nation state. “Israel, now 66 years old, still finds itself the only country among the 193 in the United Nations whose right to exist is routinely challenged and in many quarters denied. There are 102 nations in the world where Christians predominate, and there are 56 Islamic states. But a single Jewish state is deemed one too many.”

He believes the new anti-Semitism was started at the U.N. Conference against Racism at Durban in 2001 where “Israel was accused of the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.”

Lord Sacks concluded: “Human rights matter, and they matter regardless of the victim or the perpetrator. It is the sheer disproportion of the accusations against Israel that makes Jews feel that humanitarian concern isn’t the prime motive in these cases: More than half of all resolutions adopted by the U.N. Human Rights Council since 2006 (when the Council was established) in criticism of a particular country have been directed at Israel. In 2013, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a total of 21 resolutions singling out Israel for censure, according to U.N. Watch, and only four resolutions to protest the actions of the rest of the world’s states.”

There were a record number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK in 2014, many of them related to the Israel – Gaza conflict. The Community Security Trust recorded 1168 incidents compared with 535 in 2013. This was the highest number since records began in 1984. Most were verbal abuse but 81 involve physical abuse.

In France synagogues were firebombed and Jewish shops attacked. Gangs roam the streets shouting “Death to Jews.”

In September 2004, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, a part of the Council of Europe, gave examples of anti-Semitic comments on Israel:
• Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour;
• Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation;
• Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis;
• Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.
Howard Jacobson recently wrote in the Independent: “A calm, responsible view of Israel, which includes understanding the rationale of its existence, might not make you like it or agree with it, but it will make you halt before the malicious caricature of it as a country unlike any other in its blood-thirst and intransigence, a caricature so reminiscent of the medieval figuration of Jews as Christ killers and child murderers that either the medieval imagination had it right and the Jew is indeed uniquely evil, or else the Jew, personified by Israel, is uniquely maligned.”

A 2013 poll of Jewish people for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that 76% thought anti-Semitism had increased over the last five years, and 46% said they worried about being verbally assaulted or harassed in public because they were Jewish. A third were worried about being physically attacked, and 57% said they had heard or seen someone claim over the last year that the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated.

John Mann, chair of the UK’s all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, was shocked by the poll and commented: “It is extraordinary that 75 years after the terrible events of Kristallnacht, Jews are again living in fear. The inaction of the European Commission in combating anti-Semitism is inexcusable.”

Danny Cohen director of television at the BBC has said he has “never felt so uncomfortable as a Jew in the UK” as it was revealed that anti-Semitic incidents in Britain hit record annual levels in 2014. He added that levels of hatred were on the rise across Europe. “You’ve seen the number of attacks rise, you’ve seen murders in France, you’ve seen murders in Belgium.”

The deceptive nature of anti-Semitism

Some anti-Semitism in various right wing political groups is quite deliberate and blatant. But a lot of it is more deceptive. Rabbi Sacks clearly shows how laudable concerns for justice for the Palestinians and legitimate criticisms of some of Israel’s actions can very easily mask or lead to perhaps unwitting anti-Semitism. The problem is that anti-Semitism (“the world’s longest hatred) is an underlying racist attitude and spiritual problem. It is a particularly pernicious and widespread form of racism. I have said before that the only explanation for its prevalence is that it is a demonic influence opposing God’s continuing purpose for the Jewish people. God has an End Time purpose for the Jewish people in Christ. The time will come, says Paul, when “All Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26) and this will have a dynamic influence on the world when Israel recognises her Messiah and proclaims him as such. The devil’s plan is, quite simply, to prevent this happening by destroying the Jewish people.

Consequently, we, especially those of us who, like me, are deeply concerned about justice for the Palestinians and do have legitimate criticisms of some of Israel’s actions, must be very careful not to fall into anti-Semitic attitudes. That does not mean that we should cease criticising Israel when appropriate. (I believe those who are really positive towards Israel will be critical of her at times. Christian Zionists who don’t make fair criticism of Israel are failing her). But it does mean we need to be self-critical so we don’t fall into an unbalanced, unfair criticism of Israel.

We also need to try to enter into the mind-set of Jewish people in general and Israelis in particular. Whereas history is a long time ago for us British Gentiles, the Jewish people are one of those groups who feel history is much ‘closer.’ To put it simply, the Holocaust happened yesterday. Not only that, some 2000 years of persecution preceded it. This ‘closeness’ of history engenders insecurity and in some cases understandable paranoia. Israelis have this insecurity. It’s obviously not altogether to do with history. There are countries and political groups today who are determined to destroy Israel. If we don’t understand this sensitivity we shall not understand Israelis and we won’t communicate effectively with them.

The evil of anti-Semitism is a clear sign of God’s End Time purposes for the Jewish people.

It should go without saying that our prime concern should be to pray for and, where possible, assist those affected by such traumas. It is, of course, a Christian responsibility to love one’s neighbour. This means we must defend and rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed and set them free; oppose injustice; provide food, shelter, clothing for the needy, hungry and oppressed (Psa 82:2-4; Isa 58:6-10). All this includes the foreigner (Zech 7:9-10). See also what Jesus says in Luke 12:33a and 14:13.

However, there is another reaction we should have to these traumas. The disciples asked Jesus: “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). Jesus replied at length but he first of all mentioned wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilences and he called them “the beginning of birth-pains.” This is a technical term meaning the birth pains of the Messiah, i.e. the traumas which will herald his return. He made it clear that they were early signs. Some Christians regard them as irrelevant but Jesus didn’t and, as you will expect, I’m going to agree with Jesus!

Someone will say: “But these things are always happening and have done throughout history. They will get worse just before Jesus returns (Luke 21:25-28) and it’s only at that stage they will be signs.” However, Jesus makes another very significant statement. He urges us all to keep watch – not at some time in the future but now – day by day.

He says: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matt 24:42-44). He goes on to tell the parable of the ten virgins to confirm his command to watch.

Mark reports him as saying: “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).

How do we keep watch for the Lord’s return? I have noted elsewhere that Jesus wants us to think and live eschatologically. We are to pray regularly “Your kingdom come.” We are to celebrate communion and so “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We need to live our lives in the light of the coming judgment (a very neglected truth today) and redemption.

Part of this keeping watch is to note the signs “the beginning of birthpains” which Jesus mentions in the immediate context of his command to watch. We must avoid naivety – thinking these very early pointers mean the Lord will come imminently, because many more things need to happen. But we are to see them as reminders of the Lord’s coming. They jog our memory. They help us to keep watch. This would not work if we only think of future signs. The signs will grow in intensity in the future. But we need to notice the lesser signs now.

The Lord’s command to us is to keep watch. Are we doing so, and, if so, how?