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

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

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

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

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

On several occasions Jesus says this.

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

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

Similarly, Paul writes:

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

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

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

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

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

The disciples askedWhat will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered: ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Messiah,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains” (Matt 24:3-8).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:16-21).

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

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

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

A Israeli view

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

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

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

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

Is the UK more positive to Israel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2014 BBC World Service Poll found that:

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

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

What is the EU attitude towards Israel?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

 

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

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

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

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

[5] BBC World Service public opinion survey, 2011

[6] BBC World Service Survey May 2012

[7] Ibid.

[8] Friedrich Ebert Stiftung survey results, April 2012

[9] Ibid.

[10] January 2005 Daily Telegraph YouGov Poll.

[11] Ibid

[12] Populus poll – May 2011

[13] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persecution of Christians has greatly increased

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

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

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

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

The 10 countries who are the worst persecutors

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

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

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

Persecution in China

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

Persecution in Israel

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

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

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

The “Arab Spring”

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

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

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

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

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

February 2012 The President of Yemen resigned after protests.

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

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

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

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

International chaos in the Middle East

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

Syria and Iraq

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

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

Egypt

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

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

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

Iran

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

Jordan

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

Kuwait

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

Lebanon

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

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

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

Libya

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

Saudi Arabia

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

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

Tunisia

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

Turkey

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

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

Turkey has accepted 1.8 million Syrian refugees.

Yemen

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

The effects on Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Israeli perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

This article was written in December 2014. Since then we have seen the rise of populism and nationalism. But it would be a mistake to think that this will replace globalisation in our modern global village. There was a growth in nationalism and populism in the 1930s, which led to war and was followed by strong moves towards globalisation. Globalisation will not go away.

 

Globalisation is a fact of life. We live in a global village. But, as always, we need to try to be sure of our facts. There is much debate over the effect of globalisation.

Many say globalisation is the end of the nation state

The idea that globalisation is rendering the nation state irrelevant is held by many people, including scholars. Nation states no longer control financial exchange rates. The world economy or regional economies have taken over. Modern communication enables the movement of huge amounts of money around the world in a moment. International firms can be based in one country, manufacture goods in another, keep their capital in another and hire people in another depending on what seems most advantageous to them.

Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Union made a controversial speech in 2010 in which he said that “the time of the homogenous nation state is over … In every member state, there are people who believe their country can survive alone in the globalised world. It is more than an illusion – it is a lie … The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear. Fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war … Today’s nationalism is often not a positive feeling of pride in one’s own identity, but a negative feeling of apprehension of the others.”

Dr Myrto Tsakatika, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Glasgow presented a paper in 2002 about the legacy of the “Monnet Method.” Jean Monnet was one of the founding fathers of the European Union. Dr Tsakatika described how Monnet worked on the principle that economic and other close co-operation in the EU would lead to “the inexplicit and gradual redirection of competencies from the national centres to a European centre, in the process of which vague amounts of sovereignty would pass from one level to the other.” To put it very simply, through economic and similar co-operation members of the EU would ‘sleepwalk’ into political union. This shows the possibility of the world drifting into globalisation in a way which could undermine democracy.

Prof Jean-Marie Guehenno wrote a book entitled The End of the Nation-State in which he wrote that we are in a new age of economic globalisation and worldwide information technologies. This new age makes boundaries irrelevant. Instead of nation states he believes in a network of networks.

Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery wrote: “The multinational economy, the social media, the fight against deadly diseases, the civil wars and genocides, the environmental dangers threatening the entire planet – all these make world governance imperative and urgent – yet this is an idea whose realization is still very, very far away.”

In December 2102 the US National Intelligence Council produced a report entitled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.” In passing, it is interesting to note that it refers to events which could cause worldwide disruption:
• Severe Pandemic with millions dying within months
• Much more rapid climate change
• Euro/EU collapse
• A democratic or economically collapsed China
• A nuclear war or weapons of mass destruction/cyber attack
• Solar magnetic storms which knock out satellites, the electric grid, and many sensitive electronic devices.
• A collapse or sudden retreat of US power which would probably lead to global anarchy.

It goes on to predict possible world scenarios in 2030. Firstly, it includes the possibility of large scale conflicts leading to a “complete breakdown and reversal of globalisation.” Secondly, it includes the possibility of the US, Europe and China co-operating to stop a large scale conflict “broadly leading to worldwide cooperation to deal with global challenges.” Thirdly, it includes the possibility of a world where inequalities dominate leading to political and social tensions.

Finally, it describes the possibility of “a Nonstate World.” It adds: “In this world, nonstate actors—nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), multinational businesses, academic institutions, and wealthy individuals—as well as subnational units (megacities, for example), flourish and take the lead in confronting global challenges. An increasing global public opinion consensus among elites and many of the growing middle classes on major global challenges—poverty, the environment, anti-corruption, rule-of-law, and peace—form the base of their support. The nation-state does not disappear, but countries increasingly organize and orchestrate “hybrid” coalitions of state and nonstate actors which shift depending on the issue …. Even democratic countries, which are wedded to the notion of sovereignty and independence, find it difficult to operate successfully in this complex and diverse world multinational businesses, IT communications firms, international scientists, NGOs, and others that are used to cooperating across borders and as part of networks thrive in this hyper-globalized world where expertise, influence, and agility count for more than ‘weight’ or ‘position’.”

Robert Kaplan, who was a member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, wrote in 1994 about the “increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders” in much of the developing world. It is caused by “disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations” (often caused by environmental factors such as deforestation, soil erosion, water depletion, air pollution and rising sea levels). He spoke of “the withering away of central governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains … and the growing pervasiveness of war.”

He says that the world has been moving from nation-state conflict to ideological conflict and then to cultural conflict. The real borders are seen as those of culture, religion and tribe and they do not coincide with existing state borders. So, for example, much of the Arab world will undergo alteration, as Islam spreads across artificial frontiers. It is interesting that he adds that “Israel is destined to be a Jewish ethnic fortress amid a vast and volatile realm of Islam.”

Immanuel Wallerstein who was Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, believes that the nation-state system no longer works and that it will break down in the next 25 to 50 years and there will be a time of great conflicts and disorder.

Others say globalisation won’t eradicate the nation state

On the other hand, Professor Kenneth Waltz calls globalisation “the fad of the 1990s” and points out that ‘globalisation’ is leaving out most of Africa and The Middle East. He claims that there was no greater economic interdependence in 1999 than in 1910. He added “The range of government functions and the extent of state control over societies and economies has seldom been fuller than it is now.”

Martin Wolf, associate editor and chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, writes: “Contrary to one common assumption, the modern form of globalisation will not spell the end of the modern nation-state.” He adds: “Globalisation does not make states unnecessary. On the contrary, for people to be successful in exploiting the opportunities afforded by international integration, they need states at both ends of their transactions. Failed states, disorderly states, weak states, and corrupt states are shunned as the black holes of the global economic system.”

Professor Peter Drucker writes: “Since talk of the globalisation of the world’s economy began some 35 years ago, the demise of the nation-state has been widely predicted. Actually, the best and the brightest have been predicting the nation-state’s demise for 200 years, beginning with Immanuel Kant in his 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace,” through Karl Marx in “Withering Away of the State,” to Bertrand Russell’s speeches in the 1950s and …Despite all its shortcomings, the nation-state has shown amazing resilience … So far, at least, there is no other institution capable of political integration and effective membership in the world’s political community. In all probability, therefore, the nation-state will survive the globalisation of the economy and the information revolution that accompanies it. But it will be a greatly changed nation-state, especially in domestic fiscal and monetary policies, foreign economic policies, control of international business, and, perhaps, in its conduct of war.”

He added: “There is certainly need for moral, legal, and economic rules that are accepted and enforced throughout the global economy. A central challenge, therefore, is the development of international law and supranational organizations that can make and enforce rules for the global economy.”

What, then, is the effect of globalisation?

We have noted that the idea that globalisation is leading towards the end of the nation state is controversial. But it is clear that globalisation is going on. The real controversy is about how much it has undermined the sovereignty of the nation state. Despite what Kenneth Waltz writes, it seems clear that there is growing interdependence between nations and there has been a growth of transnational and international organisations. There is also an increasing amount of international law. Modern communication and travel have made the world a global village.

Professor Dani Rodrik writes that the idea that globalisation has condemned the nation-state to irrelevance is a myth. It was national governments who bailed out the banks in the 2008 financial crisis. National governments are re-writing the rules on financial market supervision and regulation. He adds: “Indeed, the erosion of the nation-state ultimately does little good for global markets as long as we lack viable mechanisms of global governance.”

However he continues: “We should not entirely dismiss the likelihood that a true global consciousness will develop in the future, along with transnational political communities. But today’s challenges cannot be met by institutions that do not (yet) exist. For now, people still must turn for solutions to their national governments, which remain the best hope for collective action. The nation-state may be a relic bequeathed to us by the French Revolution, but it is all that we have.”

Jayantha Dhanapala, who was Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations, writes: “Globalisation is an ongoing process, not a completed condition. Against the grand tapestry of history, it has arguably just started. It has grown from a purely economic or technological concept and now implies evolutionary change on a cultural dimension as well. Information communicated through modern print and electronic media is not just affecting commerce, but shaping world-views, relations inside families, and attitudes of citizens to the state. The process, however, has still not significantly touched an extraordinary proportion of humanity and hence has not yet truly earned its title, globalisation …. Nor has globalisation ushered in a golden age of world peace. In the decade since the end of the Cold War, over five million people have been killed in armed conflicts around the world — that is about a million more than the entire population of the state of Colorado. Today, the world is now spending around $800 billion on defence expenditures, over 90 percent of the levels spent during the Cold War. There also remain an estimated 30,000 nuclear weapons that, if used in a global conflict, could eliminate all the various gains of globalisation in just a few minutes.”

Professor Richard Brinkman wrote: “It appears arguable that “[w]hile the nation-state is far from finished, there is good reason to doubt that states hold the monopoly power within the politics of globalisation” (Holton 1998, 106-07). This is not to deny that currently the sovereignty of the nation-state is on the wane and while not dead is experiencing decline.”

How should we regard globalisation?

It is not necessary to see all trends towards world government as part of some sinister conspiracy but it could lead to oppressive results. As Dr Seth Baum, Executive Director of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, says: “A global government might begin benevolent, but it could turn sour, even becoming the oppressive disaster that the conspiracy theorists fear. And if it does, there would be no other government out there to keep it in check … if we do end up with an oppressive global government, it would probably follow from an initial, benevolent global government.”

The possibility of world government being oppressive and undemocratic is one of the main concerns and we are seeing growing power of the state over its citizens. Martin Wolf writes: “Ironically, the technology that is supposed to make globalisation inevitable also makes increased surveillance by the state, particularly over people, easier than it would have been a century ago. Indeed, here is the world we now live in: one with fairly free movement of capital, continuing (though declining) restrictions on trade in goods and services, but quite tight control over the movement of people.”

Threats to Democracy: Surveillance

Recent developments are a cause of concern. One report is that MI5 and GCHQ have been allowing their staff to intercept communications between clients and their lawyers. Yet the right to confidentiality between client and lawyer is one of the most long-standing and has always been regarded as inviolable in English law.

In September 2014 the UN received a report from Ben Emmerson QC the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. It stated that the fact that intelligence and law enforcement agencies could have access to the communications of every internet user “amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications, and requires a correspondingly compelling justification.”

The report stated that “Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is the most important legally binding treaty provision guaranteeing the right to privacy at the universal level. It provides that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home and correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation”. It further provides that “everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Emmerson goes on to say: “The suggestion that users have voluntarily forfeited their right to privacy is plainly unwarranted … It is a general principle of international human rights law that individuals can be regarded as having given up a protected human right only through an express and unequivocal waiver, voluntarily given on an informed basis. In the modern digital world, merely using the Internet as a means of private communication cannot conceivably constitute an informed waiver of the right to privacy under article 17 of the Covenant.”

He concludes: “The prevention and suppression of terrorism is a public interest imperative of the highest importance and may in principle form the basis of an arguable justification for mass surveillance of the Internet. However, the technical reach of the programmes currently in operation is so wide that they could be compatible with article 17 of the Covenant only if relevant States are in a position to justify as proportionate the systematic interference with the Internet privacy rights of a potentially unlimited number of innocent people located in any part of the world. Bulk access technology is indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy and impinges on the very essence of the right guaranteed by article 17.In the absence of a formal derogation from States’ obligations under the Covenant, these programmes pose a direct and ongoing challenge to an established norm of international law.”

At around the same time, the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, addressed the Tory Party Conference about the danger of Islamic State militants even seizing nuclear weapons. She said she wanted to revive the Communications Data Bill requiring companies to keep records of people’s internet, email and mobile phone activity, but not their contents, which was abandoned by the government in 2013. Commenting on that Bill, Dominic Grieve, ex-Attorney General, said: “Any restriction on freedom of expression of individuals outside the criminal law is something that has to be approached with very great caution.” Also David Davis, the former shadow Home Secretary said: “These are quite incredible powers to limit democratic rights, rights that people have had for 200 years in this country. It will have real trouble both getting through the House of Commons and indeed real difficulty standing up in front of the court.” It is disturbing, therefore, that the government is persisting in trying to pass such a bill into law.

In July 2014 the House of Commons approved The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill which 15 academic experts in technology law, in a letter to MPs, described as “a serious expansion of the British surveillance state.”

Andrew Caplen, President of the Law Society, commented: “We are concerned that introducing emergency legislation does nothing to enhance the rule of law or address the fact that we are increasingly becoming a ‘surveillance society’.”

In June Vodafone, revealed the existence of secret wires that allow government agencies to listen to all conversations on its networks, saying they are widely used in some of the 29 countries in which it operates in Europe and beyond.

Tony Porter, the UK government’s Surveillance Commissioner, commented on the 50,000 government controlled roadside cameras: “There is a very real risk that if systems aren’t adhered to, innocent members of the public could be put at risk of having their privacy impacted upon… There are other concerns that have been expressed … the large data-grab of information and the period of retention of that information.”

So, alongside the development of globalisation we have governments challenging established norms of international law by their sweeping surveillance programmes.

Threats to Democracy: Changes in world politics

In September 2014 Amol Rajan, editor of the The Independent, wrote an editorial in which he said “We have entered a post-American age. Two of the biggest and best ideas that the United States has stood for – liberalism and democracy – are in retreat around the world.” He continued that since the late 20th century “Democracy has taken a pounding. Illiberal powers such as China and Russia are in the ascendant; the Arab Spring was a crushing disappointment; Turkey’s increasingly despotic leader has left Indonesia as essentially the last big Islamic democracy; and a deep antipathy towards political elites has taken hold in Britain, France and America, making governing them very difficult.”

Threats to democracy: Political use of the threat of terrorism

There is, of course, a serious threat of terrorism but there is also a danger of such a threat being used, deliberately or unintentionally, to undermine the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens. In 2010, the all-party parliamentary committee on human rights concluded the following: “Since 9/11, the government has continuously justified many of its counter terrorism measures on the basis that there is a public emergency threatening the life of the nation…we are concerned that the government’s approach means, that in effect, there is a permanent state of emergency and that this inevitably has a deleterious effect on the public debate about the justification for counter terrorism.”

Conclusion

The main problem with world government, however positive the motives for setting it up, is that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 published by Transparency International “paints an alarming picture. Not one single country gets a perfect score and more than two-thirds score below 50, on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Corruption is a problem for all countries.” The UK gets a high score (78) but there have been stories of corruption in the Westminster Parliament in recent times. We have noted the dangers inherent in growing surveillance, and in seeking to combat the threat of terrorism. We have also seen that illiberal powers such as Russia and China are in the ascendency.

It seems clear from the teaching of Scripture that, however altruistic their motives may be for setting it up, human beings cannot be trusted with world government. The trend towards it in our global village can be seen as preparing the way ultimately for the Antichrist. We have looked at both trends towards and hindrances to world government but conclude that in the long term the trend towards it will dominate. Despite current controversies and Euroscepticism it does seem possible that, in the long run, the “Monnet Method” (drifting into globalisation in a way which could undermine democracy) could prove successful, even on a global level, driven by the need to co-operate over economics and security etc.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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