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Nov/Dec 2016 - All the Families of the Earth

Again we experienced another blessed Feast of Tabernacles. Every year the Lord shows up and blesses beyond our expectations. He is faithful to do so, because the Feast of Tabernacles is not the ICEJ’s feast, but it is the Feast of the Lord.
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Reaching out in many languages through video, radio, print and email, the ICEJ educates Christians all over the world about Israel's unique calling, political situation and social challenges.

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A war made in Iran

Most people wake up to coffee or their favorite morning news show. But four times in the last eight years now, Israelis have woken up to rocket wars.

Some border incident happens around daybreak and by noon there are hundreds of rockets flying in all directions. It can be quite dizzying!

But you do not just wake up to a rocket war. It takes a lot of time and money and manpower and material and expertise to build up such a large rocket arsenal as that now possessed by Hamas. This did not happen overnight! It had to be planned and implemented over a long period of time.

So there is an extensive background behind this latest rocket war between Hamas and Israel. And the explanation for the current hostilities does not begin with the three Jewish yeshiva students kidnapped and killed by a Hebron terror cell in June. That was certainly a spark, but the real cause can be traced all the way back to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.

The bloody conflict between Saddam's battalions and Khomeini's columns lasted eight long years and basically ended in a stalemate. But as with most wars, new tactics and weaponry were introduced and hard lessons were learned, to be studied and applied in the next war.

Two new wrinkles came out of that Iran-Iraq stand-off which are fueling today's hostilities in and around Gaza.

The March of Martyrs

First, Iran started sending indoctrinated soldiers on suicide missions for the sake of Allah. The 'soldiers' in this case were waves of young boys promised a harem of virgins in paradise for sweeping through Iraqi mine fields with their bare feet.

Iran swiftly exported this new/old tactic of martyrdom operations to Lebanon, as demonstrated by the driver who plowed his explosives-laden truck into the US Marine barracks in October 1983, killing 241 American servicemen. In doing so, Tehran passed the practice on to its Shi'ite proxy militia in Lebanon, Hizbullah, who would later school Hamas on its virtues when some 400 operatives of the Palestinian terror faction were temporarily deported to south Lebanon in December 1992.

The day the Oslo Accords were signed the following September, the deal required Israel - at the PLO's insistence - to take back in the Hamas deportees. Within a few short years, Oslo would begin collapsing under the carnage wrought by the march of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Israel finally found ways to confront this threat, but Hamas still employs the tactic in other ways. The population of Gaza today is either brainwashed into viewing death for an Islamic Palestine as life's highest aspiration, or they are held hostage by those who want to force such martyrdom upon them.

Truth be told, most Gazans do not want to serve as human shields to protect Hamas cadres and their military assets. But these poor folks are powerless to prevent it. And how, pray tell, is Israel supposed to distinguish between the willing and the coerced human shields from 5000 feet overhead?

Terror from the Sky

The second innovation of the Iran-Iraq war involved a new/old weapon of mass terror - the ballistic missile. This 'discovery' was not made in the Revolutionary Guards' R&D labs. Instead, it was learned the hard way when Saddam Hussein decided one day to start randomly lobbing his quiver of Russian-made Scud missiles at Iran's major cities.

Some initially scoffed at the idea of using a weapon designed to target an enemy's military bases on non-threatening civilians hundreds of miles from the battlefront. But the impact on the Iranian people was devastating, as the Scuds sowed panic and fear in Tehran and other population centers. The national morale sank and Iran was soon seeking a way out of the conflict.

After the war, the Ayatollahs decided they needed this terror weapon in their own arsenal - and in particular to deploy it in their religiously-driven campaign to eliminate Israel. So they started developing their Shihab series of medium-range ballistic missiles to threaten Israel from afar, plus an array of shorter-range rockets that were then delivered to Hizbullah in Lebanon to deploy along Israel’s northern front.

Iran’s thinking involved a move away from confronting Israel with conventional armed forces, since Israel had defeated all such Arab foes over its first three decades by always taking the fight to the enemy’s territory. Rather, Tehran sought to bypass the traditional order of battle against IDF forces and hit straight at Israel’s civilian heartland.

In this strategy’s first real test, Hizbullah used its lethal rocket armory with devastating effect in the Second Lebanon War of summer 2006. In that 34-day conflict, more than 4,000 rockets were fired into northern Israel, keeping over one million civilians huddled in bomb shelters for more than a month during the heat of summer.

Many of the rockets were Syrian-made Grads with extra-lethal fragmentation warheads – a poor man’s cluster bomb meant to rip through human flesh. The casualty count mounted to 165 Israelis dead, including over 40 civilians. The confrontation ended in a draw, but Hizbullah’s popularity soared in the Arab world for striking terror in Israel’s suddenly vulnerable homeland.

With its rocket caches somewhat depleted, Hizbullah has used effective weapons smuggling operations ever since to rebuild its arsenal now to over 150,000 rockets and missiles of various ranges – despite UN Security Council ban on this very activity. This represents a larger weapons stockpile than is possessed by most nations in the world.

Meantime, Hamas also became a major client of Iran in the late 1990s after its political bureau was evicted from Amman and found a new home in Damascus, another ally of Tehran. The Revolutionary Guards began funneling missiles and launchers into Gaza, and helped Hamas develop its own rocket manufacturing capabilities. In pursuing this partnership, Iran’s goal was to eventually threaten Israel’s entire civilian population with overlapping firepower from both the north and south using proxy militias entrenched among civilians living close to its borders.

Thus the home-made Kassams began flying across the Gaza border early in the second Palestinian intifada, and their rate increased four-fold following Israel’s Disengagement from Gaza in 2005.

Eager to increase its rocket range, Hamas has made or smuggled in longer-range munitions, such as the J80 and M305 missile series introduced in the recent fighting. The rocket barrages fired by Hamas into central Israel over recent days mark only the third time ever that greater Tel Aviv has come under serious military attack – the others being the 1991 Gulf War and a couple rudimentary Egyptian air sorties in 1948.

Fortunately, Israel was on to the Iranian plans long ago and began developing with American assistance a multi-layered anti-missile defense system which includes the Iron Dome, David’s Sling (nearing deployment), Arrow II and III, Patriot III, advanced radars and other components. For both sides it has been a race – of Iran’s blunt offensive punch against Israel’s defensive genius. And Israel is coming out just ahead of the game.

After stopping the march of suicide bombers in the West Bank, Israel is now hoping to defang the Hamas rocket threat in Gaza. But to effectively deal with this danger may require a risky and prolonged IDF ground incursion into Gaza to root out the rocket factories, and their storage and launch sites – all hidden in tunnels and bunkers, and under homes, mosques, schools and hospitals.

It used to take a lot of time and effort for Hamas to recruit a single suicide bomber, indoctrinate and train them, and then dispatch him (or her) on an unsavory mission. Families had to be paid, minds warped, cowards culled out.

Today, every rocket fired by Hamas is a cheap version of yesterday’s suicide bomber and it bears the indelible stamp ‘Made in Iran.’ And these missiles are launched from among Gazans who are being involuntarily recruited for martyrdom missions as human shields.

Let’s hope the whole world wakes up to this cruel reality.

The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

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Home at Last!

Smiling broadly beneath a bright woollen cap, Ephraim Manlun readily admitted that he was “totally lost for words”.

“There’s an unexplainable feeling in our hearts, an overwhelming excitement, emotionally and spiritually”, he said. “For over two thousand years, we’ve been waiting for this moment.”

Ephraim Manlun speaks with ICEJ media director David Parsons (Herbert Kelly photo)This “moment” was the arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport of Ephraim and 52 other members of the Bnei Menashe from northeast India on 24 December, aboard the first flight of a renewed wave of aliyah for this ancient Israelite tribe. This meant that – for at least these 13 families – more than 2700 years of exile and wanderings were over.

Ephraim said his fellow travellers were all aware of the historic weight they were carrying.

“We know that we represent the hopes of many generations”, he explained. “We are the ones who have the privilege of finally stepping foot back in the land of Israel.”

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem also was privileged to be involved in the return of this special group of Bnei Menashe by sponsoring their flights home to Israel.

Check out our photo gallery of the Bnei Menashe's journey home »

The Bnei Menashe (“Sons of Manasseh”) are a people living in northeast India who claim descent from one of the ten “Lost Tribes” of Israel. In 732 BC, their ancestors were exiled by the Assyrians into the region of today’s Iran. From there, they journeyed eastward along the Silk Road to China, where for centuries they formed part of the community of Kaifeng Jews. They later wandered southward and eventually settled in the states of Mizoram and Manipur, located in an isolated enclave of India laying between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

From there the Bnei Menashe continued to cling to their biblical traditions and identity. They kept the Sabbath and observed kosher laws, celebrated the Jewish festivals, and practiced sacrificial rites.

Bnei Menashe arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport in December (Herbert Kelly photo)Rediscovered in modern times, their Israelite ancestry was officially recognised by Israel’s rabbinic authorities in 2005. This allowed an initial wave of 1,700 Bnei Menashe to make their way home, but their aliyah was stopped two years later.

Michael Freund, head of the organisation Shavei Israel, has been working tirelessly ever since to reopen the way for them to reconnect with Israel and the Jewish mainstream. At his urging, the Israeli government recently approved a process which will enable the remaining 7,200 Bnei Menashe to come home in groups of around 250 at a time.

The first group of 274 Bnei Menashe are currently arriving on weekly flights from India to Israel via Tashkent, and the next group is expected to start arriving in March. The Christian Embassy is sponsoring their journey home by covering the costs of their airline tickets.

“Our support for the return of the Bnei Menashe is based on God’s promises to Israel to ‘bring your descendants from the east’, as we read in Isaiah 43:5”, said Dr. Juergen Buehler, the ICEJ Executive Director. “We are thrilled to partner with Shavei Israel in making this dream come true for these precious sons and daughters of Zion.”

When the initial flight landed on Christmas Eve, ICEJ representatives were there to greet them, along with some 100 members of the Bnei Menashe community already living in Israel for several years. Though still a distinct looking people, the crowd of relatives and friends waiting anxiously in the Arrivals Hall also reflected the diversity of Israeli society. Amid the eager welcoming party could be seen one Bnei Menashe man wearing the pressed uniform of an IDF officer while another sported the long trademark side-curls and white garments of the Breslov Hassidic sect.


CBN News report on the Bnei Menashe's return

There were many tearful embraces as brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces all joined in the happy family reunions.

Tzvi Khante, one of the earliest Bnei Menashe pioneers to arrive in Israel nearly 13 years ago, explained that the veteran community can now help the newcomers adjust to life in Israel a lot easier than they did. He noted that the early arrivals had already proven to the Israeli public that the Bnei Menashe are close-knit families instilled with a good work ethic, and they also make patriotic citizens.

“This is about returning to our land, our people and our Torah”, insisted Tzvi, who coordinates the Bnei Menashe aliyah efforts for Shavei Israel. “It also means we are moving that much closer to the redemption of Israel.”

“This is one of those moments where you really feel the hand of God at work in history”, noted Michael Freund. “Despite the long exile and wanderings of the Bnei Menashe, they never lost sight of who they are or where they came from, or where they one day dreamt of returning.”

“This is a development of profound historic significance. God is re-gathering the children of Israel from some of the most remote places on earth. No one can deny this.”

“Another thing we cannot overlook is that Jews and Christians are joining together to make this happen, just as the Hebrew prophets foretold”, added Freund. “This is a miracle as well. We deeply appreciate the assistance of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and our other Christian friends.”
 



Over 7,000 members of the tribe of Mahasseh are waiting in Northern India to return home to Israel. You can join us in being a part of the fulfillment of prophecy and help finance more flights for these precious people.


 

German Christians recall Wannsee

On Friday, a delegation of prominent German and Austrian Christian leaders gathered under the auspices of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem for remembrance ceremonies at Yad Vashem marking the 70th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, the infamous meeting of Nazi officials which plotted the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.”

The high-ranking Christian delegation included a broad array of 70 pastors and ministry leaders representing all the Protestant and Evangelical movements of Germany and Austria, including Lutherans, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Pietists, and Adventists.

“We came here to continue the repentance of our nation for the enormous crime of mass murder of Jews committed in the name of a wicked ideology,” said Dr. Jürgen Bühler, the Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. “The Church in Germany still has so much more to do to amend for our deafening silence in those dark days.”


Watch CBN's coverage of the ceremonies

The two-day gathering in Jerusalem culminated on Friday with a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square and observances in the Hall of Remembrance to honor the Jewish victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Delegates from 32 major Christian denominations and ministries in Germany and Austria, representing millions of followers, laid wreaths at today’s event.

“The Christian nation of Germany some two generations ago gives us an example of the evil which can flow when a people turn their back on a God of goodness Who loves all humankind,” said Rev. Ingolf Ellßel, Chairman of the Pentecostal European Fellowship. “To remember this causes a deep shaking in our hearts.”

Hall of Remembrance (Sasson Tiram)Dr. Uwe Graebe, the German Lutheran Probst in Jerusalem, noted that “the Nazi officials who met at Wannsee were all well educated. Some were doctors, some were theologians, and one was even the son of a Protestant pastor. They knew the Bible and what it said about the value of every human life. Yet they blocked out the sacred concept that we are all created in God’s image. Instead, they dealt with human lives as mere statistics.”

“Wannsee was one of the darkest days in the history of the German people,” added Gottfried Bühler, National Director of ICEJ-Germany and the initiator of the event. “Seventy years after, we bow down in deep sorrow. And we also promise to keep this remembrance alive. That is why many of us brought our children along, so the next generation can witness these ceremonies. Yet remembrance alone is not enough; it must go hand-in-hand with responsible deeds of goodness.”

The ICEJ then handed over a $60,000 check to Yad Vashem for its Holocaust studies and education center, to sponsor special seminars for Christian leaders to train them in teaching the universal lessons of the Holocaust.

Expressing gratitude for the support which the Jewish people receive today from millions of Christians worldwide, Dan Diker, Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress issued a call for “vigilance in the face of the next genocidal plot against the collective Jew – the state of Israel.”

“Today’s ceremonies at Yad Vashem are the answer to Wannsee,” Diker stated. “The lesson is to be vigilant. This is about preventing the next Wannsee, which is already here in the Iranian threat to eradicate Israel. Yet we hear once again the silence of the international community. Who will demonstrate? Who will speak out? I believe you will!”

Villa Wannsee outside BerlinThe Wannsee Conference was held on January 20, 1942 at a lakeside villa outside Berlin and was attended by 15 high-ranking Nazi bureaucrats who set in motion the implementation of a plan to eradicate the Jews of Europe. The meeting was convened by Reinhard Heydrich, assistant to deputy Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler, who led a discussion on methods to be used for the systematic, industrial murder of all Jews within Germany’s reach. A chart compiled by Adolf Eichmann for the Wannsee Conference listed all of the estimated 11 million Jews of Europe and northwest Africa as potential targets.

During their two days in Jerusalem to mark 70 years since Wannsee, the delegation of German and Austrian Christians also paid a visit to the Knesset, meet with Israel’s Chief Rabbi (Ashkenazi) Yona Metzger, hold special prayer services at the Western Wall and the King of Kings Prayer Tower, and attended a memorial concert at Mishkenot Sha´ananim featuring performances by the noted German Christian Music Academy of Stuttgart. The series of events ended on Friday evening with a reception at the global headquarters of the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

To learn more about this historic event, CLICK HERE!


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ICEJ marks Christmas, Hanukkah

Last month the celebration of Christmas fell within the same week as the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem marked both holiday seasons by sponsoring a series of festive events and gift distributions. Following are reports on some of these activities, accompanied by photo galleries.
 

Christmas/Hanukkah Reception

On December 23rd, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem marked the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah by hosting  a “Festival of Lights” reception for both Christians and Jews at our global headquarters in Jerusalem. Israeli officials, veteran diplomats, Jewish and Christian clergy, and numerous community leaders were among the guests in attendance. Retired Israeli ambassador Raphael Gvir did the honors of lighting the candles for the evening on the Hanukkiah menorah, which stood alongside a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.

The ICEJ’s Executive Director, Dr. Juergen Buehler, welcomed the guests of both faiths and noted the links between the two historic events being celebrated. Pastor Wayne Hilsden also delivered a devotional on the meaning of Christmas. The evening included traditional Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs accompanied by a string quartet. The Patriarch of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem’s Old City, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, also came to enjoy the evening and was accompanied by a local priest who sang a traditional carol in the Armenian language.

View the photo gallery »

Christmas Banquet in Bethlehem

The Christmas season in the Holy Land is particularly busy in Nazareth, Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem. Many Arab Christians living in these towns take special pride in holding celebrations marking the Nativity and the ICEJ joins in every year by funding special gift distributions and festive holiday meals for local Arab Christians. In one instance, the Christian Embassy once again helped to sponsor a Christmas Banquet organised by the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem that was attended by over 800 local Arabs, both Christians and Muslims.

After church choirs from Bethlehem and Jerusalem led a rousing time of worship and carolling, Pastor Naim Khoury delivered a powerful Christmas message that drew many to the Lord. At Pastor Khoury’s invitation, Vesna Buehler, wife of ICEJ Executive Director Dr. Juergen Buehler, along with ICEJ Music Director Ray Ramirez also performed a medley of songs in English and Arabic.

The evening concluded with a festive meal as well as a separate program for some 200 children that included Nativity plays, games and Christmas gifts for everyone.

View the photo gallery »

Hanukkah Parties for Holocaust Survivors

In December the ICEJ sponsored a series of Hanukkah parties for needy Jewish communities, including for Holocaust survivors. Delegations from the ICEJ AID department also attended several Hanukkah parties held for Holocaust survivors assisted by the Christian Embassy, including at the ICEJ’s new home for survivors in Haifa. Another Hanukkah celebration attended by ICEJ representatives was held in Katzrin, on the Golan Heights, where around 40 Holocaust survivors “adopted” by Christian supporters were joined by local high school students and soldiers from a nearby army base.

The ICEJ delegation was able to express holiday greetings on behalf of Christians from around the world. One survivor introduced himself by saying, “Shalom, I am Shlomo from Auschwitz…” Another elderly survivor, Rosa, was deeply touched by the support and care of Christians, saying “you are so loving, like angels!” The students and soldiers were also grateful to be there. One soldier said, “we ask ourselves many times why we are actually serving in the army. But after having met and talked to these Holocaust survivors, it gives us a different perspective. Through them we know we have no other country and we now want to do the best job possible to defend our land.”

View the photo gallery »


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ICEJ Feast peaks with Jerusalem March on ‘Schalit Day’

The annual Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, came to a rousing conclusion on Tuesday with the colorful Jerusalem March through the streets of the capital and a Grand Finale’ service featuring Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon.

“As a Jew and a representative of the Government of Israel, I welcome you here – Christians from all walks of life – to celebrate your faith, to praise God, and to bless Israel,” Minister Ayalon said in a powerful send-off address last night.

“There is a great awakening here in Israel and around the world of the need for the 'coming together' of Jews and Christians to keep God’s commandments,” added Ayalon. “God is sending you home as watchmen of Israel, so that His purpose will be fulfilled.”

Earlier in the day, the week-long Feast gathering peaked as more than 6,000 Christians from over 80 nations paraded in traditional costumes through the center of Jerusalem. Seated on the official viewing stand outside the King David hotel, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was among the tens of thousands of Israelis lining the streets to greet the Feast pilgrims and witness the incredible display of solidarity, which came on the day that Israel welcomed home IDF soldier Gilad Schalit after five years of numbing captivity in Gaza.

A number of Feast pilgrims were holding signs which said, “Welcome home Gilad” and “Israel is not alone.” Others handed out small national flags, candy and other gifts to smiling children.

“We are so grateful about Gilad Schalit’s release! It’s been a prayer that has been going on for a long time and we are so thankful. That’s fabulous news during this great week,” assured Shay Kasper of Los Angeles, California.

“All the Jerusalem marches have been wonderful. We see more and more love going from both sides, from the Christians and the Israelis together,” added Kasper, who has attended every Feast since 1981.

“We had fun as a group, showing our support for Israel and basking in the atmosphere coming from the Israelis watching the parade,” said Sybille Hochuli from Switzerland. “The march is the highlight of the Feast, because we get a chance to see the ordinary people who live in this city.”

“It is good for our Feast pilgrims from around the world to be here to express our solidarity on such a momentous day, as they will also see and experience first-hand what Israel is going through as Gilad Schalit returns home,” said ICEJ Executive Director Dr. Juergen Buehler. “We share the relief and joy of the Schalit family and all Israel that Gilad has come back alive. We also share the pain of so many that the price for his return has meant having to set ruthless murderers free. Our pilgrims will no doubt return to their own nations with a deeper appreciation of Israel’s unique challenges and an even stronger commitment to standing with the Jewish state and people.”

Mayor Barkat relished his role as parade marshal, diving into the waves of Christian pilgrims on several occasions to shake hands and embrace his city’s visitors from around the globe. When the lead banner of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem passed by, he jumped to his feet again and marched alongside it to the roaring approval of Christians and Israelis alike.

On Monday evening, the ICEJ hosted its annual Israeli Guest Night at the Feast, with a record 2,000 Israelis in attendance.

“Anyone who doubts that Israel has incalculable Christian support in at least 70 countries should have heard the cheers and loud, long blowing of shofars each time MK David Rotem, chairman of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, mentioned Jerusalem as ‘the undivided city of David, the undivided capital of the State of Israel,’” wrote Jerusalem Post social columnist Greer Fay Cashman in her report on the event.

Rotem said that all over the world there were people trying to take part of Jerusalem away from Israel, “but your presence here is because you know that the covenant between God and Abraham is real and no one can work against this covenant.”

The Christian Embassy’s Feast celebration has once again maintained its status as the largest annual solidarity mission to Israel, and the nation’s largest tourist event this year.
 

Iran’s leaders foresee end of Israel, ‘Islamic awakening’

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Hamas chief Khaled Mashal last week that the world is slowly becoming more favorable to a Palestinian state and the bid for statehood at the UN Opening Assembly in two weeks will mark the beginning of the end of Israel. Ahmadinejad also praised the Arab Spring, even as Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, referred to it as an "Islamic Awakening." Ahmadinejad is expected to show up once again in New York for the annual fall opening of the UN General Assembly and deliver speeches full of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic diatribes.

Nevertheless, former CIA director Leon Panetta said on Tuesday that it was only a matter of time before the revolutionary spirit sweeping the Middle East would reach Iran as well. “The Iranian reform movement is learning from the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria,” he said. “The fact is when people decide that that moment has come, that's a moment when tremendous change is about to happen, and I think it's true, not only in the Middle East. It's going to be true in Iran as well."

In related news, the hard-line regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad continues to crack down on civilians demanding democratic and social reforms and even his ouster. On Monday, Syrian forces killed seven civilians in the city of Homs. According to human rights groups active within Syria, forces loyal to Assad have clamped down on at least three neighborhoods in the city, which is located some 165 km north of the capital Damascus.

Meanwhile, a group of Syrian Kurds recently met in Stockholm, home to a large community of Syrian Kurds, in order to unite behind a strategy to help speed the removal of Assad. So far, the 1.7 million-strong Syrian Kurdish population still living in the country have stayed out of the mass protests against Assad’s regime, fearing it would be used as an excuse to devastate the minority community. Since he came to power, Assad has continued his father Hafez Assad’s policy of suppressing the Kurdish population, depriving them of their land and rights to full citizenship. It is estimated that Syria’s Kurdish population makes up roughly 10% of the country’s 17 million citizens.

Israel’s tent protests not folding up yet

Thousands of tent protesters who have spent the summer camped out in public places across Israel are not yet ready to fold up their movement for social reforms and will continue this autumn to demand urgent government action on stemming the high costs of living and lack of affordable housing.

On Tuesday, activists behind the movement held a press conference in Jerusalem where they laid out the way forward after their protest movement peaked last weekend with the “March of the Million.” The numbers were not that high, but an impressive 400,000 Israelis gathered for demonstrations in several large cities on Saturday evening, with Tel Aviv drawing the largest crowd and Jerusalem recording a respectable 50,000 demonstrators in Paris Square.

With most of the country settling back into the normal routine of work and school following the summer break, the tent protesters are looking for other ways to keep the momentum for social reform going. One method presented on Tuesday is to focus on the 2012 state budget, and make sure that the government earmarks enough funds for important issues such as housing, education and health care. This coming Saturday, a new approach called “1000 round tables” will be tried out, as a thousand tables will be set up all across Israel for people to sit down and discuss the way forward.

Barak Segel, a lead activist in the social protest movement, was satisfied with the large number of demonstrators this weekend. “The entire people of Israel have stepped out of their houses to protest. This is one small step for the people of Israel, one giant step for the country,” he said.

“From my point of view, the atmosphere is amazing here,” added Roee Neumann, an informal spokesman for the tent protesters. “It could be that the campsites become more concentrated and consolidated, but they won’t be folded up. The protest will keep on going and only get stronger until our demands are met.” He also noted that while the mass protests may not be sustainable, there are many different ways to get the message across, such as boycotts.

While many of the tent protesters were typically portrayed as carefree young adults, the events on Saturday evening drew a wide mix of people from different age groups and cultural backgrounds, including teenagers, mothers, and grandparents, along with both religious and secular Israelis.

A special committee has been set up by the Netanyahu government to hear public complaints, study the growing gap in rich and poor, and recommend to the cabinet within the next couple weeks what actions need to be taken to bring down the spiraling costs of living and put more affordable housing on the market. Meantime, even many Arab commentators have been noting how peaceful the Israeli democratic protests were in comparison to the mass protests and rioting in the Arab world this year.

The Second Coming of Jesus

Even a brief glance at the New Testament will reveal that the Second Coming of Jesus was never far from the mind and hearts of those earliest Christian believers. The question we have to ask some two thousand years later is, “Were they wrong?” Did they have an expectation of the soon return of Jesus that was misguided? For instance, even Paul, when writing to the Corinthian church about marriage, stated that in view of the “impending distress” it is better not to marry. He felt that time was short and that therefore the believers needed to fix their hope fully on the soon coming of Jesus.

Progressive prophetic fulfilment

From Jesus’ Olivet discourse, the disciples recognised that certain signs in the region and in the world would indicate the soon coming of Jesus. These are: a temple would be standing in Jerusalem; a global world power would invade the city of Jerusalem; the Holy of holies would be desecrated; great distress would befall the region; and believers would have to flee and find shelter. Then, Jesus would come!

They saw all of these signs flashing and growing with each passing day. The “Day of the Lord” was surely upon them! They were therefore both right and wrong, since it is clear from Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21 that the events about which Jesus spoke entailed two fulfilments. One occurred in AD 70 and another was yet in the future. Paul is clear, as is John, that the Anti-Christ who desecrates the Temple is destroyed by the visible real coming of Jesus a second time. We are dealing here with what Bible scholars refer to as “progressive prophetic fulfilment.” That is, one vision having two fulfilments over time! These same circumstances have not come together again until our day!

The signs of the end

While there have always been wars, rumours of wars, conflicts and natural upheavals, it was not until 1948 that the crucial building block of a Jewish return to Jerusalem fell into place again. Jesus cited this as the validating sign of the His near coming (Luke 21:24). Now today, as it was in AD 70, there is once again a growing global campaign against a Jewish Jerusalem and indeed a campaign to delegitimize Israel and dismantle her. Conflict and wars are everywhere and great earthquakes and natural upheavals are a familiar occurrence. It is the first time in 2000 years that these “signs” are manifesting again. Like the disciples of Paul’s day, we should look up because our “redemption draws nigh” (Luke 21:28). Jesus is coming and about this we should not have any doubts at all!

The miracle of Israel’s restoration is the validating sign heralding the return of our dear Lord. It is also true that the Word of God portrays Israel’s restoration as taking place amidst great international resistance to it. The nations will eventually mobilize, as they did in AD 70, against Jerusalem and they will try to remove it from Jewish hands (Zechariah 12). They will be thwarted and Jesus will return in glory and splendour to set up His throne in Jerusalem and from which He will rule the nations with a “rod of iron” (Revelation 19:15).

The hope of the Church

This glorious hope of Jesus’ return (Titus 2:11-13) serves to keep the Church pure and clean. It is when we lose this hope that we sleep spiritually and begin to get entangled in the worldly affairs. Jesus warned about this in His parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13).

It is always fascinating to note that every time scripture refers to the Second Coming of Jesus, it invites us to embrace an appropriate spiritual response. So Jesus says, “watch and pray” (Mark 13:33-37).

John, in his first epistle, also tells us that if we hold the hope of Jesus’ return in our hearts, we should “purify ourselves” (1 John 3:1-3). That is, live clean and godly lives!

In his first epistle, Peter writes that because the “end of all things is at hand”, we should be loving, prayerful and engaged in the Lord’s business (1 Peter 4:7-10).

Finally, Paul not only greets his readers with the words Maranatha (“the Lord is coming” – 1 Corinthians 16:22), but he also exhorts believers, who have lost believing loved ones, to fix their hope on the Second Coming of Jesus when they will be resurrected to meet Him in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

The Second Coming of Jesus thus keeps the Church spiritually healthy and when we ignore it we do the people of God a disservice. Now more than ever, Christians should be gazing into heaven and preparing their lives to welcome Jesus back.

“Behold He is coming and every eye will see Him.” These words greet us in the very first chapter of the book of Revelation. This passage goes on to say that “all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him” (Revelation 1:7). Why would they mourn over such a wonderful event? Because they never embraced Him or prepared their lives to welcome Him on the day of His return.

Jesus also warned in his Olivet discourse that the love of many would grow cold (Matthew 24:12). This can only be a reference to Christians who have taken their spiritual eyes off His soon return! May he not be talking about anyone of us!

The mode of His coming

Though many so-called theologians have tried to deny it in recent years, the Bible teaches that Jesus will come visibly and physically to the Mount of Olives. As He went, so He will come again and thus His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives which is to the east of Jerusalem (Acts 1:9-11).

His visible coming will be with great glory and the whole world will see this glory as it flashes from the east to the west (Matthew 24:27). As He descends from Heaven in triumph to reign and rule over the nations, a great trumpet blast will take place and the dead in Christ and all believers then alive will rise to meet Him (Matthew 24:30-31; Revelation 2:27-28, 12:5). What a wonderful day this will be and so no wonder we are to get ready as we now see it approaching! (Hebrews 10:25)

 

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