Tag Archives: israel

Tip of the iceberg

A week or so ago, I was talking with a relative about the recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas. His response was that he was thankful to live in Canada.

This seems like an innocent enough response. It’s the kind of thing Canadians often say, especially around Canada Day.Yet for me it’s not so simple.

I am privileged to live in a prosperous and peaceful country, and recognize that much is required of those to whom much has been given. My primary identity is not that I am Canadian, but that I belong to Jesus. And so, I can’t simply hide behind the safety of my Canadian identity and ignore events elsewhere. As someone who prays regularly both for Israel and for the Muslim world, such events touch me deeply.

At one level, it’s a simple human tragedy. Both the Jewish young people who were murdered, and their murderers, are people for whom Jesus died. Their lives, and the lives of their families, matter to God. And so, I lift them up before the Lord and ask for justice, mercy and reconciliation.

At another level, I recognize that this particular act is a provocation. There is little doubt that Hamas was trying to elicit a retaliatory response from Israel, which will in turn serve as a pretext for further attacks on Israel. The Hamas charter is straightforward and unapologetic about its intent to destroy Israel and see it replaced by a Palestinian state.

I believe that we are approaching the End of the Age. I believe this for many reasons, which I won’t take the time to spell out in detail in this post. My study of Scripture, and observation of world events, has led me to expect that as the end of the age draws near, several trends will accelerate. Persecution of the people of God will increase, and followers of Jesus will be hated by more and more people, and blamed for all kinds of evil. Increasing opposition, as well as the pleasures, worries and pressures of life in this age, will cause many who once professed Christ to fall away as their love grows cold. An enemy of God’s people will arise and will become a focal point for this persecution, especially in Israel. At the same time, those who truly love the Lord will be drawn to Him more and more, setting aside other allegiances, and will be increasingly transformed by His glory, power and love. The good news of the Kingdom of God will be proclaimed in every nation. Israel will be regathered to her land (this has already begun and is continuing), will go through a time of intense trouble, and the remnant of Israel will turn to her Messiah. At just the right time, the Lord Jesus will return on the clouds of heaven and will establish His Kingdom openly on the earth.

I believe the Scriptures are clear that while salvation – for both Jew and Gentile – is through the blood of Christ and faith in Him, God has a particular purpose for Israel which is not yet complete. He also has purposes for other nations, of course, and it is right and good that we should pray for our own nation and seek its welfare. I have recently been convicted in a fresh way (by Anne Graham Lotz’s 7-7-7 call to prayer for the USA) of the need to pray for national awakening in Canada. But I also believe that as a follower of Jesus, I must pray for the salvation and protection of Israel. If you are a praying person, I urge you to do the same. Because I live in a free country, where I have a voice, as the Spirit of God leads I must also use my freedom to be an advocate for Israel as she is increasingly scorned and hated by the nations and even by many in the church. And yet, at the same time, I must also keep my heart open to everyone who is sincerely seeking God, specifically including my Muslim neighbours. Lovers of Jesus must hate nothing but sin, while asking the Holy Spirit to give us genuine love for all people, even our worst enemies.

I am convinced that this attack on the three teenagers is the tip of the iceberg. Israel’s enemies are looking for any excuse to destroy her. Ultimately, only Messiah Yeshua can bring peace to Israel – and all who put their hope in Him, including Palestinians and people of every nation. But until that Day, we can expect a roller-coaster ride of both glory and trouble, both tests and blessings, both upheavals and miraculous deliverances.

In the relative safety of North America, such talk may seem extreme. We prefer our comfort. But our comfort is lulling us to sleep. It is time for us to wake up.

 

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Messing with your head

This post has the potential to mess with your head. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In this post I want to focus on something you may not have thought about in concrete terms before. I want to talk about the return of the Lord Jesus to earth to rule as king.

Yes, you may have heard that Jesus is coming back. But if you’re anything like I used to be, you have only a very foggy idea what this means. I used to picture Jesus meeting risen believers in the air and being king in the sky somewhere. But the Bible not only says he is coming back, it says he will reign openly as king on the earth.

This isn’t just something I made up. Isaiah 11 clearly describes an earthly reign of the Messiah on an earthly throne. This is one of many prophecies in the Old Testament which point forward to the end of the age.

In case you need to be convinced, the expectation that Jesus will reign in Jerusalem on an earthly throne is not just an Old Testament idea. Don’t just take it from me. Take it from Jesus himself. He should know. According to His own words, at the end of the age he will return to Jerusalem by invitation of her leaders to be their king. “You (Jerusalem) will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’ ” (Matthew 23:39).

I realize that at this point some of you may think I’ve really lost it. For years, even after I gave my life to Jesus, I was reluctant to talk in detail about the end times. There are many reasons for this but probably the most honest one is that I did not want to be thought a fool. There’s a word for that. It’s called pride. Well, now I am repenting of my pride and coming out of the closet, so to speak. Yes, I am one of those people. Yes, I take the Bible at face value when it talks about the end times. Yes, I believe Jesus, John, Paul and the others actually meant what they said about these things.

I used to think people who focussed on the end times were weird. It’s true enough that much of what has been taught over the years on the end times is overly complicated and sort of flaky. The pre-tribulation rapture theory that was popularized by the Left Behind series is an example of a complex, contrived theory that consists of Scriptures stitched together into a sort of patchwork quilt that doesn’t hold together if you examine it carefully. People like Harold Camping who predict the return of the Lord on a specific date are likewise not very helpful because they indulge in baseless speculation and violate the clear word of Jesus that no-one can know the exact day or hour of his return. People get disillusioned by this sort of stuff and conclude that anyone who takes end-times teachings seriously is a bit of a nut case. But if you just take the Bible at face value, it’s not that hard to understand, especially with a little help from scholars and teachers who follow some basic principles of straightforward interpretation. The first time I ever heard someone teach on God’s prophetic time clock I only listened to him because he was my friend, but I have to admit he was pretty convincing. It helps if you combine Bible study with a discerning look at the signs of the times as Jesus advised (Matthew 16:2-3).

Here’s a very brief overview of what I have come to believe about the end times. All of this is quite clear and straightforward in Scripture though it is not always taught this way. Although in a sense you could say the last days began when Jesus rose from the dead and the Holy Spirit was poured out on Pentecost, the New Testament writers were unanimous that a final crisis was coming, and that this would bring about the end of the present age and the beginning of a new age when God’s Kingdom would come to earth visibly. The Bible plainly teaches that at the end of the age, there will be three and a half years of peace followed by three and a half years of intense tribulation and struggle culminating in a final attack of the nations on Jerusalem. Israel will turn to the Lord (Romans 11:15,25-26), Satan will be cast into the pit, those who have died in faith during the great tribulation will be raised up, Jesus will reign as king in Jerusalem for a thousand years, and his reign will be glorious (Revelation 20:1-6). This will be followed by the final rebellion of Satan, ushering in the last great battle, the Great White Throne judgement, and the coming of the new heaven and new earth.

This helps to explain why Satan hates Israel so much. He hates the plan of God, because it means his doom, and he knows the Jewish people are crucial to that plan. If he succeeds in killing all the Jews, there will be no nation of Israel to welcome Jesus back to Jerusalem, and Satan won’t have to go into the pit. Of course that’s not going to happen, because God is going to have the victory, but He wants our participation. It is so crucial for the people of God to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), especially as the final crisis draws near. Those who love Jesus need to ask the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of Orthodox and secular Jews and turn their hearts to their Messiah, to bless and protect the rapidly-growing Messianic remnant (Jews who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah), to give wisdom to Israel’s leaders, and to prepare our hearts and wills to stand with Israel when the storm of her final desolation comes, as it surely will. I believe that it will be in the midst of the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), when Spirit-empowed Christians are offering sanctuary to Jewish refugees and praying for Israel in power with signs and wonders during a time of great hardship, that Israel will finally be provoked to jealousy in large numbers, and will at last recognize her Messiah and be saved as prophesied by Paul in Romans 11:25-26.

So why do I have to be difficult and address such a controversial issue? So many of my Christian brothers and sisters think that Israel has no further significance in the plan of God. Couldn’t I have written a nice blog post on some non-controversial topic?

Let me ask you a different question. Why is it that Islamic leaders around the globe – when speaking in Arabic, to their own people – call for the destruction of Israel, call the Jews apes and pigs, blame all sorts of evil on them, and speak openly of their intent to capture Jerusalem, kill all the Jews and make Jerusalem the centre of a new Islamic Caliphate? Doesn’t that send chills up and down your spine? If it doesn’t, it should, because these Islamic leaders are deadly serious. This hatred for Jews is not a feature of some extremist version of Islam. This is mainstream Islam, preached openly in mosques around the world, coming straight from the Qur’an.

People who say they love Jesus need to love the nation from which he came. Gentile Christianity has a very spotty history in this regard. There have been some – like the ten Boom family in the Netherlands in the 1940s, featured in the book and film The Hiding Place – who stood with the Jews of Europe in their hour of need. Sadly, a much greater number down through the ages have participated gladly in the persecution of Jews, labelling them Christ-killers, forcing them to convert to Christianity (though how a forced conversion can have any value is beyond me), and stereotyping them as sinister schemers who were responsible for all manner of evil.

It is true that Israel is not innocent. Her rejection of the Messiah, added to a history of other sins, has left her subject to the wrath of God. If we take Scripture at face value, it is clear that God has both prophesied and enacted judgments against Israel because of her rebellion, and those judgments are not yet complete. Yet when God warns his people of impending judgement, it is because he loves them and wants to see them return to Him so that judgement can be turned aside. All the more reason to pray for Israel and stand with her in her hour of coming trouble, that all who love Jesus may see Israel come through to glory, and share in that glory with her as the one people of God.

Well, this has been longer than I intended, and there’s a lot I didn’t say. Feel free to challenge, or contact me with questions or feedback. Israel is not all that matters to Jesus. He calls those who belong to him in every nation to share the good news of Jesus in word and deed with our neighbours. But salvation comes from the Jews (John 4:22), and as a Gentile believer in Jesus, I am so grateful that I have been grafted into the vine of Israel and made a partaker in the covenant promises. I’m also very grateful that Jesus is coming back to reign as King from Jerusalem. I want to be among those who greet him with joy when he appears on the clouds of heaven. My choice to love and pray for Israel is one of the choices (not the only one) that I can make now, so that when he appears I will be able to greet him with joy, with no need to be ashamed (1 John 2:28).

God bless you.

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What my Jewish brother taught me

Some of my best friends are Jewish.

To start with, there’s Jesus. You know, the one they crucified so that you and I could be born anew into resurrection life.  He’s my friend. He’s Jewish.

Oh, and then there’s Paul. You know, the one who told Gentiles (non-Jews) about Jesus, and wrote all those letters explaining what Jesus had done that was so important, and what it means to belong to Him.  I’ve never met Paul, but I have read what he wrote about Jesus — quite a few times in fact — and I’ve learned a lot from him. His writings are one of the reasons I believe in Jesus. I think that makes Paul my friend, even if not in the usual way. By the way, he’s Jewish too.

But Jesus and Paul aren’t my only Jewish friends. Let me tell you about Jean-Claude, who has been a friend and mentor to me for over two decades.

When I first met Jean-Claude, I didn’t know he was Jewish. Neither did he. I thought of him as a gentle French-Canadian pastor with a gift for building bridges between people of different languages and cultures, and an uncanny ability to see into people’s souls – well, mine anyway. I often found myself telling him things that I probably wouldn’t have said to anyone else, and he always seemed to understand.

A few years ago, Jean-Claude learned through genealogical research that several of his ancestors on both his father’s and his mother’s side were Jewish. They had hidden their Jewish identity to avoid being persecuted by the Gentile church. History shows that this was not an unfounded fear. So, they lived as Jews at home, observing Shabbat in secret every week, hiding their Jewish identity behind a Catholic exterior as they attended Mass every Sunday.

I was in high school (where I had several Jewish friends) when Fiddler on the Roof  had its first run on Broadway. Although the story is fictional, it is based on events that were repeated many times over, throughout many centuries, in “Christian” Europe. When I first saw the film version, I remember being deeply ashamed of the hateful actions of the Tsarist soldiers towards the Jews of their village – actions they justified by labelling the Jews as Christ-killers.

When Jean-Claude first told me of his Jewish roots, he seemed unsure what response to expect from me. I didn’t call him a Christ-killer. I gave him a hug and told him how delighted I was to discover that I had a Jewish brother.

It is true that the leaders of Israel rejected Jesus, and conspired to have him killed. But that does not make me – a Gentile – innocent of his death. I am as guilty as they, and like them I am declared innocent through His sacrifice, not because of my own righteousness. As a Gentile believer, I live only because He shed his blood and rose again for me, as does every believing Jew. And I cannot overlook the fact that while a majority of the Jewish people rejected Jesus as Messiah, there were also many in Israel who received his message with joy. Most of the first generation of apostles were Jewish. They took the gospel to many Gentile nations, often at great cost. Without their testimony, none of us who believe in Jesus today would ever had heard his name.

True, Jesus prophesied great wrath and distress against Jerusalem because of her rejection of her Messiah.  But he spoke these words more in sorrow than in anger, weeping over this city which he so dearly loved. And even in his warnings of wrath and desolation, there was also a promise that one day Jerusalem would again welcome him and bless his name.

And what about Paul, the Jewish apostle whose main ministry was to the Gentiles? What did he have to say about his own people, Israel? On the one hand, he called his people enemies of the gospel because of their rejection of Jesus. On the other hand, he yearned for their salvation, called them beloved by God and affirmed that they had not been rejected by him. And he looked for a time – a time for which my Messianic Jewish friends still yearn, and for which they labour – when all Israel would be saved.

There are many issues regarding Israel that are beyond the scope of this post. My only goal here is to stir up love and prayer in the hearts of Gentile believers towards the people of Israel, from whom our Messiah, the Son of David, was born. Christians may legitimately differ on many things, but when it comes to love, we are not given any option.

It is true that Israel is not innocent. Nor is any people group on the face of the earth. But it’s not up to me to judge Israel. I am deeply grateful for the people of Israel, through whom the blessing of the gospel has come to all nations of the earth. As a Gentile believer in Jesus, I am instructed by Paul, my Jewish brother, not to be arrogant over Israel’s failure, but to walk in humility and love towards this suffering, hardened, blinded people until that glorious and long-awaited day comes when their eyes are opened and they receive the mercy of God.

It is my belief that this day is fast approaching, though it will not come without turmoil and suffering. So I will continue to pray for my Jewish brothers and sisters who love Jesus as I do, and believe with them for the day when the rest of their long-suffering people receive their Messiah.

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