Change Region:ICEJ

Commentary

Two Tendecies

Let us imagine two brothers that are picked on by a big bully. Both are beaten soundly and left licking their wounds. Then the younger brother notices the older is more bullied, bloody and hurt, lying on the floor half dead. What choices are open to the younger brother?

1.  He could help his brother and fight the bully with him. They would live and die together.
2.  He could hide and ignore his elder brother hoping the bully would not notice him and concentrate on the brother.
3.  He could kick his brother in the face and show the bully that he agrees with him, that his elder brother is evil and deserves to be punished.

Let’s explain the allegory. The Church had gone through the persecution of the cruel emperor Nero in around 66 AD. Judea had been invaded and Jerusalem and the Temple utterly destroyed in 70 AD. Both Jews and Christians had an uneasy relationship with Rome. The Jews were especially vexed. What could the Church do? Option two was the main one chosen during the Shoah nearly two thousand years later. But in the first century the other two options were chosen.

There were some in the Church who favored the first option – joining the Jews in resisting Rome. After all, they shared the same Hebrew Bible, as the New Testament had not been compiled yet. They followed the same God and same moral principles. Christians worshipped a Jewish Messiah. Many were themselves Jews who had come from the synagogue. It would have been very difficult for these believers not to look at the wider Jewish community with sympathy. That this was quite common is shown by the venom eventually used by gentile Church Fathers in insisting that Christians abandon the synagogues completely.

This tendency is also shown in a third century document called the didascalia apostolorum, an obscure work by an unknown author, probably a bishop, purporting to be a message from the apostles. In this work, the Jews are called “brothers” and Christians are instructed on how to behave towards them:

… yet ought we to call them (the Jews) brethren; for we have it written in Isaiah thus: Call them brethren that hate and reject you, that the name of the Lord may be glorified [Isaiah 66.5]. For their sake, therefore, and for the judgment and destruction of the (holy) place, we ought to fast and to mourn, that we may be glad and take our pleasure in the world to come; as it is written in Isaiah: Rejoice, all ye that mourn over Zion [cf. Isaiah 66.10]; and again He saith: To comfort all them that mourn over Zion: instead of ashes, the oil of gladness; and instead of a spirit afflicted with pain, a vesture of glory [Isaiah 61.2-3]. [v. 15] We ought then to take pity on them, and to have faith and to fast and to pray for them…  [Translation by R. Hugh Connolly]

To be sure, the work contains other concepts critical of Jews. Yet here the author said that God commands Christians to have compassion on Jews, pray for them, and mourn over Israel’s tragic scattering. It remains a very lonely and hidden voice that feels the pain of its brother, but nonetheless it shows there was a segment in early Christianity which sympathized with Jews well into the second century and that considered praying for them part of the Church’s divine duty. They mourned and fasted for the destruction of the Temple because the Bible commanded it.

This group was clearly at a grassroots level. They were ordinary church members who saw no motive for excluding Jews from their experiences of life, and would soon receive the venomous verbal lashings of early Church leaders like Chrysostom.

Unfortunately, these other leaders had contrary opinions. Starting with the letter of Barnabas and up to Augustine and Ambrose, we see another picture similar to option three. Next time we will look at this attitude.

Rev. Anthony Rozinni is a pastor and Bible school teacher in Italy whose studies for a Master’s degree included extensive reading about the Church Fathers. This is the latest in his series on the rise of anti-Semitism in the early Church.

The Value of a Sharpened Conscience

As we observe “Yom Hashoa,” Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Day, I am transported back several years to an intriguing visit I paid to Chambon sur Lignon in southern France. This village has been granted the status of Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem for the collective actions of its members in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust. As many as 5,000 Jews, mostly children, were hidden from the Nazis by this small community of mainly Protestant Christians.
 
The story of Chambon sur Lignon is the story of ordinary people who displayed courage and uprightness when it was so desperately needed, and yet in such short supply. Everybody in the village was aware of what was at stake. If the Germans had discovered the Jews, the entire village would, most likely, have been wiped out.

Weeks after my visit I watched a documentary about this unique French town and its “conspiracy of goodness.” I well remember the testimony of an elderly lady who had helped many Jews survive.

When asked why she did what she did, she looked puzzled and burst out: “Isn’t this what we were all supposed to do?” This dear woman had grown up with a sharpened conscience that never had to think twice about what was right.

Helping people in need, even at great risk to her own life, was simply what she expected of herself. Listening to her story has made me think long and hard about what went wrong in my native Germany.

How did so many millions of Christians not know “what they were supposed to do” during the Nazi era? One reason was because many Christians in Germany were Germans first, and then Christians. Their ethnic and nationalist feelings overrode any biblical values that might have been instilled into them.

That is why the official parts of the church that collaborated openly with the Nazis called themselves “German Christians.”

That is, first Germans and then Christians.

The villagers of Chambon sur Lignon were largely Huguenot Christians with their own history of persecution.

They saw their identity less in terms of nationality and more anchored in the beliefs and values which had shaped their community for generations.

But something else took place in Germany in the decades before Hitler’s rise to power. German universities became the breeding ground for what was known as “liberal theology.” Scholars actively worked to strip the Bible of its divine authorship. According to them, figures like Abraham or Moses were mere legends.

Miracles became myths, and they developed a flexible concept of God as being shaped in each man’s own image, rather than the biblical view that all humans were created in the image of God. Both Tanach and the New Testament were stripped of everything supernatural and divine.

This opened many doors to abuse and disbelief. With the scriptures downgraded to a mere human document rather than God-inspired, German theologians also purged the Bible of its Jewishness.

An entire institute in the city of Erfurt was established called Entjudungsinstitut (“De-Judaization Institute”) with the sole purpose of “de-Judaizing” the Bible. Christ was transformed from a Jewish descendant of David to a blond Arian national redeemer.

While most liberal theologians of that time did not necessarily subscribe to Nazi ideology, they undermined the foundations of the Judeo- Christian ethic which had served to safeguard society.

Today, we see societies in Western Europe moving even further away from these biblical values. This has even caused concern among some secular intellectuals of our day, like the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas of the Frankfurter Schule. For him, the very idea of man created in the image of God serves as a guarantor of freedom in society, so that even the most ardent atheist can question and criticize God publicly, but nevertheless enjoys dignity and respect from others as being created by Him.

In my own family, these principles were at work during the Nazi rise to power in Germany.

It was the strong biblical faith of my grandmother, Rosa Bühler, which swayed her to engage in small acts of kindness towards the Jews.

When shops in her hometown refused to sell to Jews, she would go buy groceries for her Jewish neighbors.

When the Gestapo eventually came to pick up Jews, my grandfather stood on the street and declared, “We should be ashamed of ourselves that this is taking place in Germany.”

As a consequence, the Gestapo frequently visited their home and rebuked my grandparents for their Christian actions and for helping Jews. In late 1944, the Gestapo came for one last time and warned, “If you don’t stop your activity you will also end up in a concentration camp!” But my grandmother boldly replied: “Mr. Schmid, you have an eternal soul and one day you will have to give account to God for what you did to our country.”

The Gestapo never came back.

It was my grandparents’ strong belief in a God in heaven which gave them the courage to make the right decisions.

There were thousands more German Christians who stood with the Jewish people. Some wound up in concentration camps and also paid with their lives. But in the end, there simply were too few of them.

When I look today to an increasingly secularized Europe, I pray for a spiritual revival. In our Christian Bible we read: “The purpose of the law [Torah] is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

In Europe, we need our conscience sharpened once again.


Dr. Juergen Buehler serves as Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. 

This article was first published as an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post.

The ICEJ has an official partnership with Yad Vashem to help that institution carry its message about the universal lessons of the Holocaust to the Christian world.

Touching Heaven

The calling of Abraham and its enduring legacy have become one of the most impacting events in world history. This single individual set in motion a redemption process which would transform the world. No wonder the book of Galatians refers to those who have set their trust in the God of Abraham and His Messiah as “sons of Abraham”.

The book of Genesis gives us an important key to understand the unique calling of Abraham. It records that God said: “For I have known him [Abraham], in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” (Genesis 18:19)

One major ingredient for Abraham to succeed – to see all that “He has spoken to him” coming to fruition – would reside in the education and teaching of his children and the generations after them. If Abraham would instruct “his children and his household after him” to walk in the ways and principles of God, this would ensure the promises which God had spoken over Abraham’s life.

Consequently, the education and equipping of youth has become one of the pillars of Judaism until today. Other passages of the Bible strongly encourage the training of children. In fact, the most central confession of the Jewish people, the Shema prayer, relates to the education of children.

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

In the Jewish home it was mainly the father’s task to teach the children about the Bible, but even beyond the home very early in Israel’s history a system of learning and education was established. In the times of Jesus, all of Israel was covered by a network of schools. This emphasis on education was so strong that according to the Talmud a city which did not have a school for children “should be either destroyed or excommunicated”. Some Talmudic sages even declared that part of the reason why Jerusalem fell was because of the city’s “neglect of the education of its children”.

Already in Jesus’ times school attendance for children was compulsory, and by the age of ten a child would have studied most of the books of the Bible. According to the Bible scholar Alfred Edersheim, the starting point of a child’s education was at age 5-6 and would commence with the study of the Book of Leviticus. Paul relates to this in his letter to his Jewish co-worker Timothy, saying “that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures…” (II Timothy 3:15)

This should inspire all of us as parents today, in particular fathers, not only to invest in the academic advancement of our children but to make our homes a place of learning and studying of the word of God. It will shape every child for the rest of their life.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

This ancient culture of learning from a young age is most certainly part of the intellectual success story of the Jewish people. It is no coincidence that 30% of all Nobel prizes in science have been awarded to Jews and that Israel today leads the world in patents granted per capita. Nor is this due to a mere intellectual advantage, but it is based on a biblical culture of study and learning.

This emphasis on education and learning also has become critical to having a long-term impact on developing nations. Investing in education rather than just mere food programs empowers the recipients to take charge of their lives and to uplift families and even whole communities.

For this reason, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has felt the need to put an increased emphasis within our social work towards the empowerment and education of Israel’s youth. It is not that Israel’s education system is in need of much change – on the contrary. But we want to assist youngsters growing up in socially and emotionally challenging situations to succeed in life, and to give talented students opportunities their families might not be able to afford.

Over the years, we already invested in a variety of educational programs in Israel, such as special scholarships for Ethiopian Jewish students and educational grants to needy students at Ariel University. Yet we sense that God is leading us to expand this outreach to another level. And after much prayer, it has been amazing to see over just the past few months some of the new and incredible doors suddenly opening up to us in this area.

Several years ago, the Christian Embassy began sponsoring a program called “Touching the Horizon”. This unique program reaches out to young people from broken and dysfunction families and alters their destinies through a special mentoring program which follows their progress for seven years, even after high school and into army service. This pilot program – the first of its kind in Israel – was so successful that it attracted the attention of the Ministry of Education. It became obvious to ministry officials that after only a few years the prospects for these disadvantaged students had dramatically improved.

As a result, the Ministry of Education asked us to take the “Touching the Horizon” program to as many schools as possible. The ministry agreed to assist with two-thirds of the operating costs of the program and we have committed to sponsor the remaining one-third. Our vision is to expand the mentoring program to 30 schools across Israel and thereby empower hundreds of young Jewish and Arab teens-at-risk to succeed in life.

What is most exciting and unique about this project is that – at our request – the curriculum will include special classes about co-existence between cultures and religions and in particular classes on Jewish-Christian relations.

Another exciting door which has just opened is a possible new partnership with the Center for Excellence in Jerusalem. This premier scholastic center boasts an enrolment of some of the brilliant students from all across Israel and shapes them into future leaders of Israel. Some of these gifted children come from poor families and require financial assistance and the Center has asked the Christian Embassy to partner with them in providing the best education to the brightest students regardless of need.

In coming months we will keep you informed on this and other exciting opportunities opening to us in the area of educating Israeli youths. Please join with us is this inspiring vision and task to shape and impact the future of Israel. It is a great calling which promises blessing to all involved.

Remember that Jesus himself said: “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)

Heaven indeed is watching as we care for the young and underprivileged in Israel! Send your donation today to help us make a difference!

Dr. Jürgen Bühler is the executive director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

For more on the Educational projects in Israel currently being supported by the ICEJ,
CLICK HERE!



 

Reading the Israeli elections

The recent Israeli elections could well go down as a milestone in the nation’s modern history, given its encouraging signs of a maturing within the body politic of the Jewish state. In particular, an unprecedented number of voters looked past tribal loyalties and the traditional hawks-and-doves divide in favour of calls by a new generation of leaders for uniting as one people to solve some of the country’s longstanding domestic problems.

For most of the campaign season these elections seemed headed for a forgone conclusion, with Benjamin Netanyahu widely expected to return as head of a government tilting ever more to the Right. One opinion poll in the waning days of the campaign found that an overwhelming 80% of Israelis were convinced he would retain his seat as prime minister.

Yet that sense of inevitably actually hurt Netanyahu at the ballot box. Many voters valued his veteran leadership and were confident he would still be at the helm, but they also sought to steer him in their preferred direction – by opting for either Naftali Bennett on his right or Yair Lapid to his left.

The surprise results have meant that Netanyahu indeed will preside over the next coalition government but from a weakened position. Yet he is flanked by two fresh voices in Bennett and Lapid who offered a new vision for Israel’s future built on a common national identity and a sharing of national burdens.

Normally, Israelis vote with the nation’s great peace and security issues foremost on their minds, or they simply vote for their respective ‘tribes’.

Peace and security were still important to Israeli voters this time, but as they looked around the region they saw very little that Israelis can do right now to alter their worsening strategic situation.

The majority still supports a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians but they also know there is no genuine peace partner at present on the other side. The Arab Spring continues to wreak havoc in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, but Israel has few means to influence its direction. And the Iranian nuclear threat remains an urgent concern, but the nation was waiting for the second Obama administration to round itself out and begin charting an updated course for the international community to stop Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Meantime, there has been a political stalemate for decades between the five main tribes in Israel – the Ashkenazi (European), Sephardic (Middle Eastern), ultra-Orthodox and Russian Jews, plus the Arab community. Each represents about 20% of the population and they have been perennially locked in rivalries with each other for their share of the collective pie.

The new generation of leaders have now called for an end to this tribalism and a unified focus on trying to solve those things at home which can be solved – such as growing poverty, rising costs of living, the affordable housing crunch, and an equalising of the burden of national service.

As the new undisputed leader of the settler movement, Bennett spoke of the anti-Zionist haredim and even the Arabs as “our brothers”, who must be respected as equal partners in shaping Israel’s future.

Lapid voiced a similar message, explaining that after more than 60 years of nationhood the various competing tribes have realised their rivals are not going to disappear and must be dealt with fairly and equally. The son of a staunch secularist, he even admitted that the ultra-religious Jews had “won” in their battle with the European socialists to define “Israeli-ness”, but that this victory also carries the cost of national responsibility.

“We can’t run the Israeli economy without you as partners”, Lapid recently told a class of ultra-Orthodox college students. “If an Ethiopian child in Netivot is hungry, it’s your responsibility as much as mine. You cannot say: ‘I only give to haredi charities.’”

It remains to be seen whether these new leaders will be able to keep their campaign promises or become like so many other past politicians. But it is already clear that their unifying message resonated with Israeli voters.

In a distinct way, this is reminiscent of the ancient Israelite tribes under Joshua, when Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh had already conquered their allotted lands, yet they still crossed over the Jordan to help their fellow tribes possess their inheritances (See Joshua chapters 1 and 4).

God obviously sought a clear division of tribal lines within ancient Israel. He commanded that one tribe could not take the lands of another, and each could only marry within their respective tribe. So the Almighty wanted to maintain this diversity. Yet He also wanted them to become one nation, knowing that there is strength in unity.

The prophet Ezekiel , in his amazing vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (chapter 37), foretells of a day when God would re-gather the split kingdoms of Judah and Israel from among the nations and “make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all… David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.”
Israel today is indeed a remarkable nation of Jews gathered from over 100 countries around the globe, who have come back as distinct tribes with their own languages, cultures and customs, but God has been slowly forging them back together into one nation. They have a glorious future ahead of them, far more glorious than they even realise. And perhaps the elections of 2013 were a small but encouraging glimpse of His hand at work.

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

The World in 2013

We are living in truly exciting times! Powerful global shifts are occurring which will change our world for decades to come. The former powerhouse of the European Union is struggling even for survival. Entire nations are endangered with bankruptcy, while in parallel Christianity is in decline in our post-Christian Western societies. There are also serious economic struggles in the United States, even while we see nations like China and India on the rise. The Middle East is experiencing major turmoil. For many Christians the future looks bleak.

The future Church

However, positive and exciting developments are taking place which might escape our attention since they are taking place outside the Western world. For Christians in the West, secularism and Islam seem to be taking over on all fronts. But they should look to the Southern hemisphere, which has become the new vanguard for Christianity. American researcher Prof. Philip Jenkins, in his book “The next Christendom”, documents an unprecedented religious revolution which is taking place. While Europe is losing its Christian identity and churches are shrinking, in the global South (Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia) Christianity is alive and growing.

In Africa, Christianity more than tripled, from 140 million in 1970 to 490 Million in 2010. If the recent growth continues, by 2050 Africa will be home to more than 1 billion Christians. While Europe today remains the home to the most Christians (some 590 million), it will be overtaken in the coming years by Latin America and Africa.

The Next Christendom

What unites all these new expressions of Christianity is simple faith in the Bible and the expectation of God moving in supernatural ways. According to Prof. Jenkins, the fastest growing stream of Christianity is the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. What started in 1906 as a small revival has turned today into a global movement which has grown to more than 700 million believers, he concludes. Jenkins predicts that if this dynamic growth continues, we will see in the next few decades the number of Pentecostals and Charismatics swell to more than one billion.

He also foresees a new reformation of Christianity where the centers of world Christendom will not lay anymore in Geneva, London or Rome, but in places like Kampala, Sao Paolo or Manila. Even in Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation in terms of population, the Church is experiencing an ongoing revival for over thirty years now.

Interestingly, liberal theologies hardly exist in these regions, and neither does Replacement theology. According to Jenkins, while liberal Protestantism never truly represented mainstream Christianity, it will rapidly lose what significance it has had in coming decades.

ICEJ Rally in Brazil

In our own travels as ICEJ representatives, we have witnessed and experienced this changing dynamic. We see that revived churches of the South not only share a simple trust in the Word of God, they are also united in a deep love and passion for Israel and the Jews. When I asked some years ago a leader of one of China’s underground churches where their love for Israel comes from, he replied: “We just read the Bible.” It is that simple.

All of this carries the potential for major political changes in coming decades. In some countries, revived Christianity already constitutes a significant portion of the population. Sooner or later, this will translate into political influence. Already last year, we saw Nigeria refuse to vote automatically with the Palestinians on statehood in the UN Security Council due to Christian influence on its government. Other nations may soon follow this trend.

If you live today in Europe or elsewhere in the “Global North”, I want to encourage you with the words of Jesus:

“Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’. Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35)

Too often as Western Christians, we have become overly pessimistic and even fatalistic about the future. If God can move mightily in Africa, China and Brazil, then there is also hope for France, Germany and Italy. We are living in times of harvest! Don’t say your country is not ready for harvest yet. The real question is: Are you ready for harvest?

The future of the Arab world

Rally in Cairo

The events which led to the Arab uprisings caught even the sharpest intelligence agencies by surprise. While progressive, freedom-seeking elements sparked the on-going revolutions, it quickly became clear that many in the streets were not thirsting for Western-style democracy but a stricter form Islam. The Egyptian people just voted for the adoption of a constitution rooted in Islamic shari’a law. It is getting more difficult for Arab Christians to stay and many are seeking refuge in Western countries.

In Psalms 18, David called upon God in great distress and the Lord came down from heaven and intervened, yet in a rather unusual manner:

“[He] came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub… He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.” (Psalm 18:9-11)

The end of the story, of course, is salvation and redemption: “He delivered me from my strong enemy…” (Psalm 18:16f). But as God arrived for rescue, He came “with darkness under His feet” and he made “darkness His secret place”.

You might have experienced it yourself. When God comes to deliver, at times it can seem even darker for a short while. Often, this is true for entire nations.

China, which is experiencing a huge revival today, is a good example. By 1948, Christianity in China was making significant progress. Close to one million believers were found in China and the hope and prayers were that this growth would continue. But then came the Communist revolution and all Western missionaries were expelled. For a while, it looked like the end of Christianity in China. The Church went through an extreme time of persecution and hardship. But in the midst of this darkness, revival broke out and just a few years ago the Chinese government set the official number of Christians in China at more than 100 million.

The same is true for Iran today. When the Ayatollahs took over in the late 1970s, it appeared like a thick cloud of darkness was settling upon ancient Persia. Persecution set in and pastors were imprisoned and even executed. But then the churches started to grow. From a few hundred believers, the Church grew to several million today. In fact, Iran at present is experiencing the fastest church growth in the world. Just recently, we received a report from pastors in Iran that 5,000 people are being baptised each month in Tehran alone.

So even though it looks like darkness is descending on many Arab countries today and persecution is increasing, deep in my heart I am full of faith that God is visiting the Arab world. He is answering decades of prayers for revival among the sons of Ishmael.

If you look towards the Middle East, look upon the region with the eyes of faith. Continue to pray for revival in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, as they border directly with Israel. But also pray for all the nations of the Middle East, that God’s Spirit might be poured out in a powerful way on all these lands which used to be the early cradle of Christianity.

Israel’s future

At his annual New Year’s reception for clerical leaders in Israel, President Shimon Peres opened with an astonishing statement. “Never before were Jewish-Christian relations better than today”, he observed.

ICEJ at Christian Allies Caucus

He was referring to the many historic churches in the Holy Land, but mentioned in particular the relationship with the Vatican. Certainly, there has been progress with these churches but the biggest development is Israel’s outreach to the growing Evangelical movement. Many Israeli leaders now recognise the potential of this relationship. That a caucus was formed in the Knesset just to engage with Evangelical Christians speaks volumes.

At the same time, Israel will continue to develop as a hi-tech innovator and a beacon of democracy in the midst of a troubled region. The world chairman of the Jewish Agency, Eliezer “Moodi” Sandberg, just recently shared with me his hope for Israel’s future.

“The first waves of Aliyah were motivated by strong Zionist feelings. Part of the future of immigration will be that Jews will decide to move to Israel because they can be part of a great success story in science and hi-tech”, he said.

What throws a shadow on all this is the still unresolved conflict with the Palestinians. Here, a new and fresh approach is needed which indeed can bring peace for the region. Again, it was President Peres who made an interesting point at the New Year’s reception.

“Our nation is not divided into people who want peace and those who don’t want peace. But it is divided in those who believe peace is possible and those who don’t believe it is possible”, he noted.

As Christians, we need to be committed to peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus proclaimed. Yet true peace will only come when hearts have been transformed. Therefore, what is needed most is an outpouring of God’s Spirit of Grace and Supplication on the people of Israel. That’s why our prayers are so important today.

The ICEJ in 2013

ICEJ Prayer

In Jerusalem, the ICEJ staff started out the new year once again with an intensive time of prayer and fasting. We recognise that if God does not build the house, our work is in vain. God filled us with new expectations for what He will do through us in 2013. Prayer will surely be an important part of our work, and we expect more churches from around the world to join with us in our Isaiah 62 Prayer Campaign.

Another area of ministry which we expect to become more involved in is Israel’s education sector. Just in the past few months, exciting doors have opened for us and we sense that this is an area where we are called to increase our engagement in future.

In the past year, God opened new doors for us to broadcast our message over global satellite TV. On the Daystar channel, we are reaching an audience of millions three times a week with our “ICEJ Report”. We expect this work to expand further, as will our other new media outlets.

As always, we are fully committed to serve the needy and underprivileged in Israel. This coming year, we are preparing for further expansion of our Home for Holocaust survivors in Haifa and to see that the monthly needs of current residents are met. In spite of all the economic growth in Israel, there is still a large part of the population living in poverty.

ICEJ Feast 2013

We also are planning for another exciting Feast of Tabernacles celebration this year. Last October’s gathering was characterised by much prayer and a strong presence of God. We expect that as well this fall, along with new and exciting events that will bless our pilgrims greatly. The Feast theme of “Harvest” is so timely, as it reflects what is happening around the world.

I truly believe that 2013 will be a year of challenges but also one of great blessings. My prayer is that God would allow us to carry out great exploits for Him and for His glory. Much is still to be done but His resources are limitless. Remember, we serve a Lord who declared about Himself:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18)

This means that if He is with us, who can be against us! Let us lift up our heads and do the work of the Lord together!


Dr. Juergen Buehler serves as Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

The Tower of the Flock

One of the most powerful statements in the biblical narratives on the birth of Christ is the proclamation made by the angel to shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem.

“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

It was a first declaration of the euangelion, the Good News of the redemptive Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is remarkable to see that this first declaration made to Israelites outside the immediate family of Jesus was not given to the religious or political rulers of Israel but to shepherds keeping their flocks.

The shepherds’ fields outside Bethlehem, to this day, play a central role in the Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land. Countless tourists have visited the fields between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The church historian Eusebius linked these fields to a unique biblical location called Migdal Eder, which translated means the “tower of the flock”.

The first time Migdal Eder is mentioned in the Bible is in the account of Rachel, who died after giving birth to Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. “Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder”, records Genesis 35:21.

This area on the outskirts of Bethlehem is also mentioned in the Talmudic writings. According to the Talmud, all cattle found in the area surrounding Jerusalem “as far as Migdal Eder” were deemed to be holy and consecrated and could only be used for sacrifices in the Temple, in particular for the peace and Passover sacrifices. There was thus a special, consecrated circle around the city of Jerusalem.

This means the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem who first heard the Good News from the angels were not ordinary shepherds but served the sacrificial system of the Temple. These men served the Mosaic covenant, a foreshadowing of the new covenant. And these men were now confronted with the reality of the eternal light to which their ministry had been pointing all these centuries. It was declaring a new era of salvation!

The Hebrew prophet Micah also refers to Migdal Eder. “And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8)

Based on that prophecy, prominent Jewish writers concluded in the Midrash that from all of the places in Israel, it would be the Migdal Eder where the arrival of the Messiah would be declared first.

That means when the angels appeared that night to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, it was not just a declaration of the Good News to simple shepherds. It was a powerful prophetic sign to all of Israel. The news of that night must have spread like wildfire through the surrounding villages.

Luke records: “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:17-18)

What does this all mean for us?

1)  First, it is always beneficial for the Church to see that Jesus did not arrive into a vacuum, but was born into an entirely Jewish context. When Christ came in the flesh, he was born first-and-foremost to the Jewish people but would then also bring his favour and good pleasure to all men. Even though the celebration of Christ’s birth has become a feast marked almost exclusively by the gentile Church, it is important for us to see it in its historic and biblical context – as a message intended to give hope to Israel. As Zacharias prophesies at the birth of John the Baptist, this all happened to “perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham…” (Luke 1:72f).

2)  Second, already from the moment Jesus entered the world the ultimate reason for his arrival was alluded to. These were the shepherds who took care of the sheep and cattle offered in the Temple – in particular the Passover sacrifices. And it was they who were confronted with the announcement that the ultimate sacrifice, which would carry away not only the sins of Israel but of the whole world, was born. Just thirty three years later, no further sacrifice was to be needed, as all those who believe in him have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

3)  The angelic announcement gave these simple shepherds a profound revelation of who this Messiah would be. He was proclaimed to be both King (born in the city of David) and Priest. That he was both Christ and Lord, the son of man but also the son of God. He would be the saviour of humanity but also the shepherd of all those who would follow his voice.

It was truly good news which the angels proclaimed that night long ago. But as with the shepherds, the mere knowledge of this news is not enough. They needed to act upon it and they did. They went personally to see that child and then proclaimed his birth wherever they could.

Let us follow the example of the shepherds of Bethlehem and rededicate our lives afresh to that great saviour who was born in Bethlehem. He is the shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) who died for our sins and who redeems us to reign and rule with him for eternity! This is Good News indeed!

Hooray for the Golden Agers!

The low, flat tone of the Shabbat horn was a familiar sound on a recent Friday afternoon in Jerusalem. Time to enter the Sabbath rest!

Minutes later, however, residents of the capital city were surprised to hear a second horn – this one higher-pitched and disturbingly urgent. After a moment of hesitation, everyone realized it was warning of incoming rockets from Gaza. For the first time since the 1991 Gulf War, air raid sirens in Jerusalem were sounding a real alert. Hamas had targeted the holy city. Time to find shelter!

For households all across town, the siren was a shocking wake-up call. Half of Israel is now within range of the terror militias in Gaza. But even more shocking was the sound that followed – fireworks, hours of them, set off just blocks away by east Jerusalem Arabs celebrating the bombing of their own city.

Never mind that the rocket had landed in an Arab village east of Bethlehem, shattering windows in nearby homes. For these Jerusalem Arabs, it was time to dance in the streets and hand out sweets in solidarity with the thugs of Hamas. And that should be an even greater wake-up call for all of us.

Western apologists for Islam insist it is a religion of peace and that only a small number – 10 percent at most – are radical Muslims bent on our destruction. But the truth is radical Islamists have a lot of fans like these ordinary Jerusalem Arabs, content to sit on the sidelines and root for those actively engaged in jihad against Israel and the West. But if the radicals ever seize the momentum and start winning, the fans are going to pour out of the bleachers and join the fight.

Right now, there are three main champions vying to win their loyalty. There are the radical Salafists led by al-Qaida, the more mainstream Muslim Brotherhood now in charge in Egypt, and the Shi’ite clerics in Iran.

All three share the dream of one day reaching the promised “Golden Age of Islam,” when Muslims will finally rule the entire world and place it under the dictates of shari’a law. But each champion wants to be the one that leads the rest of the Muslim world into that blessed age. And each espouses different paths for getting there – all of which must pass through Jerusalem.

In this twisted competition for Muslim hearts and minds, the Salafists preach “Jihad Now” – a puritanical form of Islam that tolerates only that which was taught and practiced by Muhammad and his closest companions. They know that Muslim veneration of Jerusalem is a later hadith (tradition), and thus they reject it. Yet they also know the hadith prophesying a final, end-time battle between Muslims and Jews will be centered on this city.

Most of their fellow Sunnis are closer right now to the Muslim Brotherhood, which takes a more patient, measured approach. They seek to prepare the Ummah (Muslim community) through education for the day when the Caliphate is restored, providing the proper vehicle needed to conquer the world and impose shari’a law. The Arab Spring has opened the door for this stream of radical Islam to seize the reins in Cairo, Tunis and elsewhere. But the Salafists are breathing down their necks, urging the Muslim Brotherhood to do more with their new-found power.

Meanwhile, the ayatollahs in Tehran await the coming of the Mahdi, a mythical messianic figure who will lead the world out of a great apocalyptic battle focused around Jerusalem and into the desired Golden Age of Islam. But they face a dilemma, as Shi’ites constitute only 15 percent of the Muslim world. So they want to leap frog ahead of their larger Sunni rivals by acquiring nuclear weapons. These nukes will ensure that not only are the Jews wiped out in the apocalypse, but that the Shi’ites will be the ones leading the Muslim world into that Golden Age.

The sinister competition between these three brands of radical Islam is extremely unhealthy for Israel and for the world. But for all those millions of moderate Muslims out there, they always seem to have plenty of fireworks and candy on hand for whoever is striking a blow at the infidels.

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

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

Lost in Ephraimite Doctrine



 One of the teachings currently sidetracking many Christian supporters of Israel is the Ephraimite doctrine, which is rooted in a false historical narrative and irresponsible exposition of Scripture. Some Gentile Christians even see in this teaching an opportunity to identify themselves as Jews! But we should give heed to the warning of the Apostle Paul.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” 1 Timothy 4:1

The Ephraimite teaching is essentially a form of Replacement theology reminiscent of its older manifestation known as “British Israelism,” which asserted that the British Commonwealth of nations are in fact the mythical Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. They insist the word “British” actually comes from the Hebrew words for “Covenant Man.” The British Royal Family is thus said to be the perpetuation of King David’s Throne, since after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC the prophet Jeremiah supposedly brought the “Crowning Stone”, otherwise known as the “Stone of Scone”, and the royal princesses to the British Isles.

In its more recent incarnation, the Ephraimite doctrine also takes the names of “The House of Joseph” or the “Two Sticks” teaching. Two scenarios are posited to support this theory:

1. That Gentile Christians replace the Ten Tribes of the once Northern Kingdom of Israel and are thus very much part of Israel and as such have the right to make Aliyah (that is, return to Israel and become citizens). They assert that the Northern Kingdom was judged and exiled because of their rebellion against God and subsequently cast away.

2.  That Gentile Christians really are direct descendants of the ancient House of Israel and that Jesus’ atoning work only extends as far as them. They fully misunderstand the mission of Jesus, in that the Kingdom first had to be offered to Israel, and thus they wrongly apply to themselves Matthew 15:24, where Jesus says, “…I was only sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” Thus, they believe in a limited atonement. They teach that Jesus did not die for every man on earth (Hebrews 2:9) but only for the house of Israel. Thus a Zulu man living in the one thousand hills of Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa, if he comes to faith in Jesus, proves that he is in fact a descendant of the ancient house of Israel! How he got there they cannot tell you!

All of this turns Paul’s references to the Gentiles in the New Testament upside down. They are, in fact, Israel Gentiles! Jesus never really died for real Gentiles, like those in the Amazon jungle, as He only came for the lost Israelites. This also makes nonsense of the Great Commission and the fact that one day in Heaven there will be people from every tribe and nation gathered at the great Throne of God (Matthew 28:19-20; Revelation 5:9-10).

And yet, this false doctrine continues to take root everywhere, deceiving untaught, unsuspecting Christians. It brings valid biblical ministry to Israel into disrepute and ministers are rightly reluctant to open up to Israel-related ministry because they fear that Ephraimite crazies may well move in and infect their flocks with this nonsense.

The truth is all the tribes of Israel were integrated by division and dispersion.That is, with the division of the Davidic Kingdom into two entities after Solomon’s reign, a mass migration from the northern Kingdom of Israel to the southern Kingdom of Judah took place because of the Temple in Jerusalem and the significance of the city itself. To stop this migration, the northern king Jeroboam built a rival temple in Samaria complete with pagan rituals. Scripture affirms that he caused Israel to sin thereby (1 Kings 12:25-33). Therefore in the south members of all the tribes mingled, lived together and finally integrated. Slowly but surely, the term “Jews” became a synonymous term for all Israelites.

In 722 BC, the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and its remaining peoples were taken into exile beyond the Euphrates. When the Southern Kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 BC, its citizens were carried off to the same region. Here again, they all mingled and integrated and eventually became known as Jews (Esther 3:6; Nehemiah 1:6). So, the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were lost only in the sense that they lost their tribal identity. They were never lost in the sense that they vanished from history.

Proof of this is found in Jesus recognizing that in preaching to the Jews of His day, He was in fact preaching to all of Israel (Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24). Also, James addresses his epistle to the… “twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” He would not write in this way if the twelve tribes were lost!

So the Jews that have returned to Israel today contain substantial remnants from all twelve tribes of Israel and truly – just as Ezekiel predicted – they have returned to the land of their forefathers as “one stick” and not two! (Ezekiel 37:15-19)

The Book of Hosea also is incorrectly expounded by Ephraimite teachers.Hosea warns Israel that she will be judged for her iniquity and that a people who were “not My people” will be invited into fellowship with the God of Israel (Hosea 2:23). Ephraimite teachers wrongly assert that these “not my people” are Christians called to replace Israel or at a later date, some 2030 years later, are the lost tribes mysteriously recovered in the Christian Church! This is sheer nonsense.

Paul clarifies what Hosea really meant in his epistle to the church at Rome. The Northern Kingdom’s rebellion against God removed its people, for a period, from the grace of God. To make them jealous God will call a people to a place of faith and salvation who historically were never His people (Romans 9:30). These people are real Gentiles from all over the world, according to Paul. They are not lost Israelites, nor a replacement of them. They are Gentiles called out of darkness into the light of Jesus and they share in Israel’s spiritual things (Romans 9:25-26; Romans 15:27). Moreover, they are grafted into Israel’s spiritual olive tree of Messianic faith and thus are equal citizens in the Kingdom of God without having to prove Jewish or Israelite descent (Romans 11:17-22).

So to infer that Gentile believers have a secret Israelite identity or replace natural Israel is a blatant contradiction of Paul’s teaching. Enough said! The argument is over!

The New Testament affirms that Jews in the Dispersion are in fact the twelve tribes of Israel. The Ephraimite teaching also is offensive to Jews as it constitutes yet another attempt to rob them of their identity. The doctrine is a deception built on the falsification of history and the twisting of the Word of God. It attacks the biblical notion that God loves the whole world (John 3:16). It also undermines the completeness of Jesus’ work as its disciples often demand observance of Jewish rituals, Sabbaths and feasts. All of this is warned against by Paul (Colossians 2:6-10; 11:16-19).

Jesus knew he was sending out his disciples to preach to the twelve tribes of Israel and said as much in Matthew 10:6. James writes to the Jews in the dispersion and calls them the twelve tribes (James 1:1). And Peter does the same by addressing his first epistle to the “pilgrims of the dispersion.” (1 Peter 1:1)

Let me add that the Jews today are a people comprising all the original tribes of Israel. These tribes are not lost by any means and in the end they will appear among the redeemed before the Throne of God (Revelation 7:4-12). God seals them and numbers them! The message could not be clearer.

Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Annihilation or redemption?

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was spot on in denouncing as “a disgrace and a stain on humanity” the appearance of so many world leaders in Tehran for the recent summit of the Non-Aligned Movement . Given Iran’s relentless demonization of Israel and its renegade quest for nuclear weapons, the attendance of dozens of kings, presidents and diplomats – not to mention UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon – indeed showed the post-Holocaust pledge of “Never Again” is hollow.

The nadir came when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lashed out at Israel as a state of “bloodthirsty Zionist wolves” and no one left the room.

The episode harkens back to the Évian Conference held in France in July 1938, when representatives from 32 free, democratic nations met to discuss the plight of increasing numbers of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Convened just days after the Nazis annexed Austria, the gathering was meant to find safe havens for endangered German and Austrian Jews. Yet every nation present – save the Dominican Republic – slammed their doors shut to Jewish immigration, sealing the fate of countless Jewish souls.

“Nobody wants them,” screamed the German newspaper Völkischer Beobachter. A gleeful Hitler responded, “It is a shameful spectacle to see how the whole democratic world is oozing sympathy for the poor tormented Jewish people, but remains hard hearted and obdurate when it comes to helping them.”

By attending the NAM summit in Tehran, far too many nations told the Iranians that their campaign to vilify and eliminate Israel is acceptable, tolerable, inoffensive... within bounds. For the mullahs, the message once again was, ‘They don’t care what we do with the Jews. Nobody wants them.’

The growing Iranian nuclear threat against Israel has reached a critical stage. No one knows for sure whether Israel will respond by launching strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities soon, as multiple media reports suggest. My sense is that we are sitting on a powder keg and even the smallest accident could set things off, but neither side is intentionally planning just yet to light the fuse.

Rather, Israeli leaders are still pursuing the “gunslinger strategy” – making a lot of commotion as if they’re ready to fire away in order to get the lethargic West to take action. This approach has produced tighter sanctions on Iran, but those measures have yet to slow Tehran’s advance towards nuclear capabilities. Only a clear threat of US military action might be able to halt Iran in its tracks, and this is what Israel is angling for at present.

Meanwhile, Iranian leaders have stepped up their direct verbal assault on Israel in order to make this appear more of an Iran-Israel conflict, so that the region’s Arab states will equate opposing Tehran with taking Israel’s side. They also hope their bellicose threats will deter Israeli and Western pre-emptive actions, and draw global anti-American sentiment into their corner.

This confrontation will likely keep building for many more months to come and could eventually force all nations to choose one side or the other. This is exactly what Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been pushing for over recent years. And yet ironically, the Bible says God also wants to bring the nations into the “valley of decision” over Israel and a Jerusalem restored to Jewish hands (Joel 3:14).

The prospect of a thermonuclear device being detonated in Israel’s crowded coastal plain is frightening. But I do not believe it will actually ever happen. Somehow, Israel will be delivered from this peril! I can say this with confidence because I do not believe that God has re-gathered the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel for mass annihilation in some mad nuclear holocaust.

Instead, the Bible is clear that the restored nation of Israel is destined for redemption, not annihilation. There are just too many Scriptures which assure us of this.

Isaiah 60 and 62, for instance, promise that even amid “gross darkness” covering the earth, the glory of the Lord will arise upon this nation because His presence will abide here. Isaiah 2 and Micah 4 concur that even though many nations may conspire to destroy Israel, God will exalt this nation to a place of prominence in the earth, and “no one shall make them afraid.”

Zechariah 12 agrees with these passages that Israel is headed for glory and the nations for judgment. For the purpose of God is to use a restored Israel as a magnet to draw up the nations against Jerusalem as a means to judge them for their rebellion against Him.

In the process Israel may become imperiled, but she will never be annihilated, because “in that day the Lord will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 12:8)

Joel 3:16 also affirms this will be a time when, “the Lord will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel.”

In one overarching verse, Jeremiah 30:11, this is all put in proper perspective. “‘For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to save you; Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.’”

That is, Israel does not totally escape the corrective hand of God but she will not share the fate of the other nations, who are finally brought low under His mighty power. And in fact, Isaiah 40:1 suggests that Israel may have already “received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

Now all of these biblical promises are reassuring, but it does not mean that we can just sit back and wait for things to happen. Rather, Christians have a positive moral duty to stand up against evil plots like those being concocted by Ahmadinejad and his cohorts in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The overwhelming Christian silence in the face of the Holocaust demands that we take genocidal threats against the Jewish people seriously in our day and speak out forcefully against them.

Israel will be delivered, but who knows whether that deliverance will come through our voice – whether in prayer to an Almighty God or in urging our leaders to make the right and just choice when it comes to Israel.

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

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

‘The worst I’ll ever do!’

There is little doubt that the renegade Iranian nuclear program is the gravest threat facing the Jewish people since the rise of Nazism.

Today, nearly half the world’s Jews are re-gathered back in their ancient homeland and Iran could potentially do in only minutes what it took the Nazis several years to accomplish – the extermination of six million Jews.

This is a chilling thought, but for the radical Shi’ite clerics in Tehran it is actually a welcoming idea. They are driven by a hadith which holds that Muslims must kill Jews en masse in order to bring on Judgment Day, which also heralds the coming of their mythical Mahdi.

In founding the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini declared he was even willing to sacrifice his own country to reach this unreal moment.

“We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah,” Khomeini proclaimed. “For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [of Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.”

Thus, the Iranian regime has been developing the means with which to carry out their madness. They have not been deterred by tightening economic sanctions and covert cyber-ops, and will stop at nothing to advance their clandestine nuclear capabilities, including lying at every turn.

Tehran may insist it is pursuing the “peaceful atom,” but there is only one known use for uranium enriched to 90% purity – and that is for military applications.

And Iran has been quite clear who will be the target of their nuclear prowess. Former Iranian president Ali Rafsanjani, considered a ‘moderate’ cleric, once stated that “Israel is much smaller than Iran in land mass, and therefore far more vulnerable to nuclear attack.”

On Al-Quds Day in December 2001, Rafsanjani also warned: “If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the Imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.”

So it is “rational” in their minds to contemplate the instantaneous destruction of Israel. Further, the ayatollahs and their allies also have rationalized that their efforts to stop the return of more Jews to Israel may have failed for a reason. For instance, Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah explained in 2002 that, “If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

This is not just a twisted Shi’ite fantasy. A leading scholar of Sunni Islam, Prof. Mustafa Muslim from the United Arab Emirates, told a Saudi TV channel in 2005 that Allah actually has been gathering the Jews in Israel to make it easier for Muslims to fight and destroy them in one place on Judgment Day – citing the very same hadith.

With that dark Islamic vision in mind, we have to ask the same pivotal question posed in this column last month: Has God indeed re-gathered Israel for annihilation or for redemption? That is, has Israel been restored only to be wiped out in some mass nuclear holocaust – as some Iranian and Hizbullah leaders have portended? Or is Israel’s destiny to be delivered from such calamity and instead redeemed by her glorious King, the Son of David – as the Bible promises?!

Now we have to start out by admitting that, sadly, even some Christians – including many who genuinely love and support Israel – also believe the Jews have come back home in order to go through one more mass annihilation, whereby two-thirds are wiped out during the Great Tribulation so that one-third will finally get on their knees and call on Jesus.

Now this is a cruel theology and it is not how most of us got saved. It also gives Jews great pause to hear Christians declare their love for Israel while knowing some of us actually expect them to face one final, massive convert-or-die scenario.

One dear Christian lady even told me recently that the “two-thirds teaching” had always left her anxious about helping Jews make aliyah to Israel, due to fears she might be leading them to the gallows. Yet this teaching is based on a poor exegesis of prophetic scripture and needs to be vanquished from our thinking.

The two-thirds teaching is based largely on Zechariah 13 and Ezekiel 5. In Zechariah 13, the prophet foresees a time when two-thirds “in the land” will be “cut-off” while the remaining one-third will go through “the fire” and come to know the Lord as their God.

The overall context of this passage is an end-of-days prophecy, yet the verses immediately before it state: “Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will scatter” – which the New Testament writers applied to Jesus and his followers in the First Century. So there is nothing that demands we read this two-thirds reference as a Tribulation event.

Meanwhile, Ezekiel 5 contains a much fuller exposition of the two-thirds scenario. Here, the prophet is speaking straight from the Law of Moses, specifically Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, where God sets out exactly how He would deal with Israel for rebelling against Him.

The “curse” of the Mosaic Law always starts with Israel being caught in sieges on her cities that get so bad the Israelites turn to cannibalism, and the end result is always exile. Then once God returns Israel to the land (which He is duty bound to do under His covenant with Abraham – see Genesis 17:8), if they rebel again the curse becomes seven times worse.

Ezekiel 5 actually describes with chilling accuracy the events which led up to the Second Exile. The prophet warns that one-third of the Israelites would soon die by the sword, one-third by famine and disease, and one-third would be scattered to the four corners of the earth. And yet the Lord promised Ezekiel that this was something He had never done before to Israel and that He will never do again, “and so shall My wrath be spent.”

This is exactly what happened in the Jewish uprisings against Rome in the First Century, and we have exhaustive historic accounts by Josephus to verify this. One-third of the Jews died in battle, one-third fell to disease and starvation, and one-third were exiled to the nations.

Jesus also relies heavily on the Ezekiel 5 passage in his Mount Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, in which he warns his disciples that horrific events are coming to Jerusalem in their lifetime. He knew the Law, he knew the Prophets, and he knew the worst that God would ever do to His own people was about to take place.

The key to understanding the prophetic outlook of Jesus is to realize he does not confuse the “tribulation’ and “days of vengeance” that God was bringing upon the Jewish people in those days with the Great Tribulation at the end of the age. The latter is presented in the Bible as chiefly a divine judgment upon the Gentile nations for their own rebellion against Him. This does not mean Israel will totally escape the perilous times ahead, but it does mean God already spent His harshest wrath against Israel during their long exile from the land.

Ultimately, those who maintain the two-thirds judgment on Israel is still to come face an insurmountable problem, because Ezekiel 5 is clear that it ends with the surviving one-third in exile, not redeemed. Yet the Bible speaks of only two exiles and two returns before Israel’s final redemption. Isaiah 11, for instance, says God would “set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people,” while in Amos 9:15 we have God vowing to “plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them.”

In other words, Israel’s exiles are over. And so is the worst God would ever do to them!

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

This article was first published in the November 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition; www.jpost.com/ce

 

Share this: