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Getting serious about Iran

Every September, world leaders gather in New York for the annual Opening Assembly of the United Nations. The dominant agenda item this year was Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the most memorable moment was that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu literally drawing a “red line” on a sketch of a fused bomb.

This was masterful use of a visual aid to demonstrate to the entire world the urgency of the threat facing not only the Jewish State but the entire planet. The prime minister made dramatically clear why everyone needs to take Iran’s atomic quest seriously.

Israel’s legitimate security concerns
For Israel, the Iranian threat is a question of survival. While many Western leaders still place hope in further negotiations, Israel does not put much faith in this kind of political maneuvering – for good reasons. Israel’s modern history has taught the nation’s leaders to never ignore vows to wipe it out or to “drive the Jews into the sea.” These threats were not mere rhetoric, as the Jewish state has found itself fighting six wars over the past six decades while living under a constant danger of terror attack. Moreover, Iran’s calls for Israel’s destruction have been accompanied by its patronage of two of the most ruthless terrorist organizations in the region – Hezbollah and Hamas. With the cooperation of these proxy militias, Iran is already engaged in an active campaign to eliminate the Jewish state.

An even more tragic lesson for Israel comes from the pre-World War II era. Europe’s leaders were desperate to believe that Hitler was someone they could make a deal with. In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from talks with Hitler in Munich and proclaimed “peace in our time!” Just one year later the world was thrust into the bloodiest conflict in human history, and only four years later the gas chambers and crematories of Auschwitz were in full operation, exterminating six million European Jews. If there is one lesson to be learned from this sad chapter, it is that Israel cannot afford to take Iran’s threats and deadly ambitions lightly.

Iran playing with fire
Yet the nation most endangered in all of this is not Israel but Iran itself. Not because of Israel’s military power, which is significant, but because history has also shown that those rulers who touch the apple of God’s eye – Israel – always come to ruin themselves. This is not only a hopeless undertaking, but also a dangerous one. Regarding the future of Israel, the Bible is crystal clear. God is restoring Zion not to annihilate the Jewish nation but to deliver them even in the midst of perilous times! Israel has returned to stay, to prosper, and to be revived by His Spirit! And the Bible is also clear that those who come against His chosen people will eventually have to deal with the God of Israel.

Still, there is hope for Iran. First, we should understand that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). It saddens me when some of Israel’s friends eagerly hope for Israeli military strikes against Iran and even wish that God would send fire down from heaven to annihilate Israel’s enemy. Jesus challenged his disciples on exactly this attitude in Luke 9:55, saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.”

In spite of the darkening horizon, there happens to be an historic Christian revival in Iran today. According to various institutes tracking global church growth, the church in Iran currently has the fastest growth rate in the world. Iranian pastors we have spoken with recently are so hopeful they believe their nation may be on the verge of a huge political change. One leading Iranian evangelist recently stated on CBN News that if this trend continues, Iran could even become the first Muslim nation to turn Christian.

The prophet Jeremiah makes an astonishing statement regarding the ancient land of Elam, which comprises much of Iran today. It is a powerful declaration of hope! “And I will set my throne in Elam and destroy their king and officials, declares the Lord. And in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 49:38-39)

Call to action
What does this all mean for Christians today? No one single action will bring forth change, but we do need the perspective of God’s Kingdom.

1)  Stand for Israel’s security
Israelis today need to see their friends worldwide taking their concerns about Iran seriously. We must challenge our leaders to do the same and finally stop Iran’s nuclear drive. Nuclear weapons do not belong in hands of a nation whose former ‘moderate’ president Hashemi Rafsanjani once decreed that Israel was a “one bomb country.”

For this reason, we challenged parliamentarians from 17 nations attending this year’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration in October to fully support Israel’s security needs. It was a moving moment when a packed auditorium reached out their hands and prayed for these political leaders gathered on our platform. We need to pray for our leaders to have the strength and wisdom to stand up for Israel’s security and well-being.

2)  Pray for Iran
We must realize that the prayer of faith can have a greater impact in this region than we could have ever imagined. Hebrews 11 is inspiring when it records that great men of faith “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

If the Body of Christ will arise and unite in prayer, we can believe for positive changes in the region. We need to pray for Iran, for a change of leadership, an outpouring of God’s mercy on the people, and a complete halt to its nuclear program.

3)  Pray for Israel
Also pray for wisdom for Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, as he holds one of the most challenging positions on earth and his nation is now moving into a critical election season. If there was ever a time to pray for Israel it is now!

Dr. Bühler serves as Executive Director of 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

Sukkot and the Gentiles

Along with Passover and Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles is one of three major pilgrimage feasts given by God to Israel around which the Jewish calendar pivots. Yet it is unique from the other two annual pilgrimage festivals in that God-fearing Gentiles were also invited to come up along with the Jewish people on this particular holiday to worship God in Jerusalem.

Though not expressly commanded in the Bible, the tradition of the nations taking part in the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, has clear scriptural footing as well as an intriguing prophetic angle. How this tradition developed and where it may one day lead the entire world are fascinating topics to consider.

Passover, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread, lasts for one week and recalls the deliverance of the Hebrew nation from Egyptian slavery. Pentecost, or the Festival of Weeks, marks the last phase of the grain harvest and came to be associated with the giving of the Law at Sinai.

The Feast of Tabernacles, on the other hand, occurs in autumn when the summer crops have been harvested, so it is also known as the Feast of Ingathering. In addition, the Israelites were instructed to build temporary shelters, or booths, in which to live for this one week in order to remember the forty years of wandering in the desert prior to entering the Promised Land.

The origins of Tabernacles can be found in the Five Books of Moses, where we are told that the Lord commanded all Israelite males to appear before him three times a year at the place he would designate (first Shiloh, and then Jerusalem). They could not come before their God with empty hands. So one common aspect of all three Feasts centers on acknowledging the ultimate provider, the Lord, by visiting the location of His presence and providing timely sacrifices to Him from their most recent harvests.

The Feast of Tabernacles was actually considered the most significant feast for Israel. One way we see this is in its name. In several verses in the Hebrew Bible, it was referred to as the “festival of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:39; Hosea 9:5; Judges 21:19). But it became common to refer to it simply as “the festival” (1 Kings. 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chronicles 5:3; 7:8; Nehemiah 8:14; Ezekiel 45:25).

In these passages, there are other textual clues that make it clear that “the festival” refers to the Feast of Tabernacles. For instance, Ezekiel tells us “the feast” is celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh month, which parallels Leviticus 23:34.

The sheer numbers of sacrifices offered at Sukkot also attest to the centrality of this feast. According to Numbers 29:12-34, over the course of the seven-day feastival some 70 bulls, 14 rams, 98 lambs and seven male goats are to be sacrificed, in addition to grain and drink offerings for each one. The significance of 70 bulls has been debated by scholars, but many rabbinic authorities came to view it as part of Israel fulfilling its role as a priestly nation offering sacrifices on behalf of the Gentiles, who were then thought to consist of 70 nations.

Dr. Yaacov Vainstein, in The Cycle of the Jewish Year, states that the 70 bulls were “offered for the welfare and well-being of the seventy nations of the world.” Vainstein goes on, “It was a call to the human race to take note that without the Law of G-d, without G-d’s kingship and partnership in man’s destinies, the world cannot survive.”

This unique connection between the Feast of Tabernacles and the Gentile nations becomes unmistakably clear in the later Hebrew “Writings.” For instance, after Solomon completed the construction of the First Temple, he chose the Feast of Tabernacles to move the ark of the covenant from the City of David into the Temple on Mount Moriah, as recorded in 1 Kings 8.

Before all the elders of Israel – the Levites, priests and leaders of every tribe and family – Solomon offered a dedicatory prayer in which he mentions the foreigner who comes from distant lands to pray in Jerusalem toward the Temple (1 Kings 8:41-43). He asks God to hear and answer the prayers of the foreigners so that all peoples would know His name and fear Him.

Implicit in Solomon’s prayer is that God-fearing Gentiles had celebrated this feast in Israel prior to the completion of the First Temple. Furthermore, Solomon envisioned this as continuing during his reign and into the future. Might there have been just such Gentiles in Jerusalem on this very occasion to celebrate “the feast” and witness this marvelous event?
 

The Feast of Tabernacles continues to have significance in later time periods. After the Babylonian exile and before the Second Temple was completed in 516 B.C., the Jews living in the land assembled in Jerusalem at the beginning of the seventh month. After Ezra read the book of the Law to the people, the Israelites built an altar and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (Ezra 3; Nehemiah 8).

Interestingly, a glorious future is forecast for this particular feast by the prophet Zechariah, a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah who ministered to the Jewish remnant in the land between 520 and 480 B.C. In chapter 14 of his book, the prophet Zechariah looks into the distant future when both a tragic and beautiful day emerges. It is both a day of judgment and deliverance – judgment on the nations and deliverance for Israel – which culminates in the Lord’s enthronement as King in a Jerusalem that is finally safe and secure.

He also foresees an amazing time when Gentiles who manage to live through the Lord’s vengance on the nations will flock annually to Jerusalem to worship the King and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

“Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:6)

Gentiles from nations who sought to subject Jerusalem and its inhabitants to themselves will be destroyed and those who will survive will be subjected to the Lord. They will worship Him in the city of Jerusalem every year during the Feast of Tabernacles. Just as it was an “appointed time” for the Jewish people, so Zechariah envisions this festival as a yearly memorial for the entire world.

Today, some rabbinic authorities view this verse from Zechariah, along with other prophetic passages, as a promise of future mass Gentile conversions to Judaism during the Feast of Tabernacles. Thus many are intrigued by the increasing number of Gentile Christians showing up in Jerusalem each year for Sukkot.

Meanwhile, there is a growing school of thought among Christian scholars that the Feast of Tabernacles indeed is linked to the coming enthronement of the Son of David in Jerusalem. This view maintains that just as Jesus fulfilled the prophetic purposes hidden in the spring festivals of Passover and Pentecost at his first coming, his second advent will somehow fulfill the prophetic purposes hidden in the fall High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Tabernacles.

This will culminate in the Messiah taking up the throne of David during an appointed future Sukkot, and this majestic moment will then be celebrated by all nations on its anniversary each year throughout the Millennial age.

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

Principles of Prayer

The recent Olympics Games in London contained many dramatic moments, and none were more exciting than the sprint races in track-and-field. They serve as reminders of a key spiritual principle taught to us by the Apostle Paul concerning our devotional and prayer life as Christians.

Purpose in prayer
Paul explained that his own ministry was characterized by purpose and vision. “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.” (1 Corinthians 9:26)

The Greek word for ‘uncertainty’ (adelos) describes somebody running a race without a fixed goal or purpose. If we have no fixed goal ahead of us, we are in danger of merely beating the air and our prayers accomplish little. The Olympic sprinters had a clear goal – to be the first to reach the finish line.

Jesus teaches us that believers united in prayer can transform the most difficult situation. “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19)

So as we pray, we need to do so with purpose and a clear strategy in mind.

Power in prayer
Prayer is also a powerful agent of change. Doors which seem to be closed can open, necessary resources are released, and needed expansion takes place if we draw near to God. Lingering needs, the lack of growth, or waning influence can often be traced back to an absence of prayer. “You do not have because you do not ask”, says James 4:6.

Jesus challenges us to ask the Lord of the harvest to provide the means to bring in the harvest (Matthew 9:38). We need to dedicate ourselves to spending more time in prayer. There are Christian supporters of Israel all across the globe. What a power this represents if we agree in prayer.

Persistence in prayer
Working for and defending Israel often allows us no rest as her enemies are relentless and new challenges crop up daily. But we should never blame a busy schedule for our lack of prayer. Martin Luther once said that if he had a busy day ahead he actually needed to spend more time in prayer.

Jesus also gives us the example of regularly withdrawing – often late into the night or well before sunrise – to converse with the Father. Let us not grow weary in these busy days to find time to commune with our God, just as Jesus did. We must dedicate certain times each day to prayer, especially for Israel.

Perception in prayer
Finally, we need the “mind of Christ” as we pray (1 Corinthians 2:16), and here is the good news! As we draw close to Him, we are transformed and we start thinking like He thinks, and perceiving the world around us like He does. The mind of Christ has more to do with understanding who God is than of the specific details of our prayers.

David overcame Goliath not by using heavy armor, but by realizing he served an all-powerful God. His victory was based in a child-like faith. Saul and the other Israelites were more impressed by Goliath than by the God of Israel. But not David! He knew he served a mighty God.

Together, let us also carry out great exploits as we all draw closer to God!

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

Dangerous ground

The recent Levy Report delivered to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which reaffirms Israel’s legal rights in Judea and Samaria, has re-invigorated the national debate over the wisdom of retaining what has proven to be dangerous ground to hold on to. This debate was left smoldering in recent years because most Israelis realized there is no peace partner on the other side right now, so why waste time and emotional energy bickering with each other over this issue.

During the Oslo era, this land dispute raged around the recipe of “land for peace,” which inherently put opponents of Oslo on the defensive by suggesting they were anti- peace. Embracing hope, many Israelis bought into this formula even though the threat of Palestinian terrorism was growing, not waning. Opponents argued that Oslo was only endangering more Israeli lives.

The best insight I ever received on why so many Israelis were “fooled” by Oslo came from the late David Bar-Ilan – former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and senior policy adviser to Netanyahu in his first term as premier. He explained that during their centuries of exile, Jews were constantly threatened wherever they wandered. Largely landless, they instinctively learned to flee rather than stay and try to hold on to what little they did possess.

This instinct of placing self-preservation above all else, acquired during the painful Diaspora experience, is what drove Oslo. Yet David Bar-Ilan concluded that this debate, which he couched in terms of “land versus life,” had been rendered “academic” by Palestinian intransigence. He was right!

Today, this land dispute still centers around Jewish self-preservation but in a different context. It has more to do with maintaining Israel’s democracy and its good relations with the United States, which is so crucial to Israel’s security, especially in light of the growing Iranian nuclear threat. So proponents of territorial concessions now offer the simplistic “land for centrifuges” formula.

But most Israelis know it would be a foolhardy move at present, as it would only make Israel a more vulnerable and inviting target given the Iranian threat and the rise of radical Islam amid the chaotic Arab Spring. Meanwhile, the true hawks among them say Israel has to retain all the land to defend itself and because the land belongs to the Jews, period!

I agree that the Jewish people have a superior claim to sovereignty over all the Land of Israel, but by definition “sovereignty” includes the right to give land away. Through Oslo, Israel unfortunately impaired its own title – though not beyond repair. The Levy report represents an effort to reassert Jewish rights in the territories so long as the Palestinians remain stuck in their maximalist demands.

Yet there is a larger question here and that involves the “land promise” – the fact that God vowed to give the Land of Israel to Abraham’s descendants as an “everlasting possession” (Genesis 17:8). This promise has never been truly fulfilled and it must be or God will prove to be untrustworthy, according to the teachings of the Apostles (e.g., Hebrews 6).

Now some Christians have so spiritualized the land promise that they say Abraham was actually meant to inherit the cosmos. Yet the Land of Israel is still a piece of real estate in the Middle East which can be plowed, built upon and paved over like any other. And the Bible is clear that God meant a certain tract of land, even giving us several “metes and bounds” descriptions.

But many Christians argue that we should not get hung up on the “land question”; that it is not an essential doctrine of the faith; that land is not as important as salvation. The way they see it, this debate is about “land versus eternal life” and we all should know what wins out there.

Yet the land question matters greatly because it goes to the very nature and character of God: Can He be trusted to keep His promises? Hebrews chapter 6 basically tells us that the same unchanging God who swore by an oath to Abraham to multiply his descendants and give them the Land of Israel (Psalm 105:7-15), likewise swore that Christ is our High Priest forever (Psalm 110:1-4). So those who say the land promise no longer matters to God are also suggesting He could change His mind about the blood of Jesus. And that is dangerous ground for any Christian to be on!

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

Serious times are upon us

The Bible states that Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, are located at the center of the world. This is a world that is in chaos. Its financial systems are failing and secularism has bred violence, rape and sexual perversion on a scale never imagined before. Our technology, while impressive, is totally unable to deal with the human heart, which according to the Bible is “wicked above all things.”

Humankind needs a Savior and indeed has one but despises Him. It’s popular to ridicule Jesus, but those doing so will never do the same to Islam’s prophet. They are cowards and their end will be sorrowful.

The United Nations is inept and powerless in the light of global violence and war. It has breathed disgust at Bashar Assad’s war on his own people but has done absolutely nothing as hundreds of Syrians are murdered daily. The normal diatribe of “show restraint” has become a joke, as Assad may even use his arsenal of chemical weapons against Israel.

All the while Jews are being attacked all over the world and a wave of global anti-Semitism is upon us. Israel is in the ‘sights’ of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and many other militant Islamic forces. Tehran has not fully duped the world about the malevolent nature of its nuclear program, yet it has discovered that the West is all talk and does not have the stomach to really confront it. The Iranians are laughing all the way! If nothing is done soon Israel will have to go it alone, and it will!

The wider Middle East is falling into the hands of Muslim radicals who consider their success at overthrowing Western-aligned Arab regimes to be evidence that Allah is with them and will prosper their march to Jerusalem and towards a new global Caliphate.

Whenever Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu speaks, one gets the sense he knows what he is talking about and is one of the few politicians around who tells it like it is. Thank God (and I mean that reverently) he is in charge of Israel at a time like this. His analysis of the Middle East region has been astute and a breath of fresh air compared to the lunatic predictions of the liberal elite that touted the Arab Spring as a great harbinger of peace and democracy. Netanyahu needs our prayers as the ‘winds of adversity’ blowing around him must be immense.

Indeed, Israel is in grave danger of being attacked from the North by Hezbollah, to deflect attention away from Iran’s nukes or perhaps to salvage Assad’s regime in Syria. The possibility increases every day that Israel will have to launch pre-emptive strikes on Iran or Hezbollah. The immediate days ahead will be serious and could change our world as never before.

The United States is increasingly under a determined assault designed to weaken it as a world power and to break its close alliance with Israel. There are now powerful people in America who have been seduced by this narrative. The coming elections in November will determine the direction in which the nation will go and therefore they are the most crucial in years and need much prayer.

Finally, many churches in the West are generally weak, carnal and powerless. There are no doubt pockets of blessing and strength but, in my mind, we are witnessing a great falling away. Just as Isaiah predicted, darkness is covering the earth. More and more biblical positions that were once the bedrock upon which our nations were built have been cast aside. Christians who stay true to God’s word will be smeared as bigots. Now is the time to strengthen the things that remain and to determine that “love of the truth” is more important than political correctness. This love of truth includes standing with Israel and speaking out against anti-Semitism.

Despite it all, the God of the Bible has not lost control of His world. He is handing humanity over to great delusion because of its wickedness and rebellion against Him, and divine judgment will follow. Those who stay close to Him will know His joy and love. Let us not be down-hearted but boldly proclaim His word.

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

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

The fiasco at UNESCO

In Washington they joke that no one is safe so long as Congress is in session, but nothing can compare to the “Flat Earth” society operating within the UN system.

At its recent annual gathering, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization made a series of decisions regarding religious sites in the Holy Land that are both patently absurd and woefully unhelpful in the search for peace and mutual understanding in this fractured region.

First, UNESCO followed up on last year’s admission of “Palestine” as a member state of the world body by listing the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a World Heritage site located in this non-existent country of Palestine. Incredibly, the traditional place of Christ’s birth and the pilgrimage route leading to it were also added to the list of endangered World Heritage sites.

In pushing for this decree, the Palestinian Authority argued that the Church of the Nativity was in danger because the “Israeli occupation” was preventing them from repairing a leaky roof in the church as well as blocking access to this revered site.

Ahead of the vote, a team of UNESCO experts had visited Bethlehem and determined that the church, in fact, was not endangered and did not even qualify yet for World Heritage status. The Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox clerics who oversee the Nativity compound concurred with these findings in a letter sent to PA president Mahmoud Abbas in April, which urged that the site not be turned into a political football.

Yet a majority of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee did just that at its annual session in St. Petersburg last Friday. Ignoring the pleas of the clergymen and the advice of their own experts, 13 of the 21 member states on the Committee voted to prematurely grant the church World Heritage status and simultaneously blame Israel for endangering it.

Now Israel was not opposed to listing the Nativity Church as a place of great significance to the entire world. But it did object to the politicizing of the process and to the finding that it is endangered. After all, nothing is stopping the roof repairs and over two million Christian pilgrims managed to safely visit the Church of the Nativity last year.

In another swipe at Israel, the same UNESCO gathering also endorsed a Jordanian declaration from some 30 years ago that accused Israel of endangering the Temple Mount and walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Amman managed to add Jerusalem’s walled city and the Temple Mount to the World Heritage list in 1981 and then to the endangered list in 1982. But according to the Petra news agency, UNESCO has now accepted the Hashemite Kingdom’s claim that it has jurisdiction over these areas and that the Israeli occupation is harming the cultural heritage of the city.

The issue of Jerusalem is back on UNESCO’s agenda because Israel is trying to repair a rickety foot bridge to the Mughrabi Gate, the only access to the Temple Mount compound for Jews and Christians. It has been in danger of collapsing in recent years due to local earth tremors and heavy winter rains, and Israeli authorities have developed plans to replace the wooden bridge with a sturdier structure.

But Jordan has objected, insisting it alone has the right to make the repairs. The Palestinians also exert a claim to being the proper guardian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, yet the PA backed the recent Jordanian effort at UNESCO. This is because the Israeli plan calls for first conducting an archeological excavation of the embankment underneath the Mughrabi bridge and the Palestinians are afraid even more artifacts will be uncovered there proving the ancient Jewish connection to the area.

So it is clear that the Palestinians are once again manipulating UN forums like UNESCO, where they enjoy automatic majorities against Israel, to further their political campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state. In this instance, they have portrayed Israel as a reckless and uncivilized destroyer of cherished Christian and Muslim holy places, and thus unfit to be included in the family of nations.

In addition, the PA is once again circumventing direct talks with Israel to achieve peace or cooperation at any level and instead trying to impose solutions from the outside.

UNESCO should not be lending itself to such machinations, as this undermines its own stated goal of contributing to the building of peace among nations and peoples through an intercultural dialogue based upon respect for commonly shared values.

Yet UNESCO members have now entrusted a revered church to a Palestinian regime that has compiled an appalling record on safeguarding Christian and Jewish religious sites. For example, PA police stood by in October 2000 while a Palestinian mob looted and razed Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Upon orders from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, PA security forces also assaulted and forcefully removed Russian Orthodox priests and nuns at monasteries in Hebron and Jericho.

Perhaps the most egregious example of the PA’s lack of credibility when it comes to safeguarding holy sites occurred at the very Church of the Nativity now entrusted to the Palestinians. In a dramatic April 2002 stand-off with IDF troops, gunmen from Arafat’s own Fatah faction truly endangered the historic Church by commandeering the building and wiring it throughout with explosives.

In contrast, it cannot be stressed enough that Israel has a far better record on safeguarding and allowing access to holy sites than any other sovereign who has ruled the Holy Land over these many centuries.

Yet the fiasco goes on! And the latest UNESCO decisions will only whet the Palestinians’ appetite to encroach on more religious sites within Israel. In 2010 it was Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem, which was deemed to be a Palestinian mosque. Next, we could see the PA exerting through UNESCO its claim to the Western Wall, which the Palestinians insist is a Muslim holy site known as the al-Buraq Wall where Muhammad tied his winged horse in his mythical “Night Journey.” After all, it lies just inches away from the “Israeli occupied” Mughrabi bridge.
 

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

Staying the Course

Spiritual life is maintained by dedication and placing oneself in a position that exposes one to the will and purpose of God. That is, we should be people of prayer and of the Word of God (Philippians 4:6).

Paul likens the believer’s journey to that of an athlete, a farmer and a soldier (2 Timothy 2:1-7). All this tells us that we should endure, sow patiently and be ready for conflict. In short, we must “stay the course.”

To be sure, the road we walk as Christians is not an easy one. It has many twists and turns. Therefore, we must learn to persevere. This means we must get our personal walk with God right so we are free to pursue His wider agenda.

Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Sadly, most Christians are ensnared with their own problems and never get to the place where they are available to serve the wider interests of Heaven. A South American preacher once called this “the eternal child-hood of the believer.” He was right! Today, the Body of Christ has been immobilized by this problem. All the while the world burns and becomes more dangerous, especially the Middle East.

The Arab Spring has taken a turn for the worse, as Islamists everywhere exploit longing for democracy to seize power and pursue a renewed Caliphate that aims to eliminate Israel and eventually dominate the world. Syria will be next on the list and then no doubt Jordan. When this process ends it will set its sights on Israel. About this we should have no doubt. Scripture counsels that this battle is not simply a physical or political one but indeed a spiritual one, meaning that it will be won or lost in the place of prayer (Ephesians 6:12).

Daniel, the Hebrew Prophet, was extremely busy administering the empire but he still gave himself to urgent intercession on behalf of his people Israel. He stayed the course and lived to see his people released from exile and re-established in Jerusalem. His prayers are still impacting events today and will do so for decades to come. What a testimony to the power of prayer and to a single life that was free to pursue the will of God.

Israel needs our dedicated prayers, as does the Church. God is looking for those who will give themselves as a sacrifice to His will (Romans 12:1-2), and with supplications and thanksgiving (1 Timothy2:1-2). Prayer is indeed hard work and for this reason the prayer meetings of any church in the world is always the least attended! It requires staying the course and dying to self. This is not easily done but it must be, because prayer is the real power behind all that is done in the Kingdom of God.

All prayer must be made according to the Word of God. When Daniel learned the Prophet Jeremiah had foretold that the Babylonian exile would last only seventy years, he held up this passage before the God of Heaven and prayed for its fulfillment (Daniel 9:1-2). God heard him, honored his sacrifice and sent an Angel to confirm this.

We, too, have magnificent promises concerning Israel that we can hold up before the throne of God. Isaiah 62 states that we have been placed as watchman on the walls of Jerusalem, to give God no rest in reminding Him of His promises until He “establishes Jerusalem as a praise in the earth.”

There are many more promises like this, but the question is “Who will stay the course?”

Iran is now well placed to manufacture a nuclear weapon thanks to the dithering of the international community. Teheran has threatened to annihilate Israel. What will stop her? The answer is found in the Bible, but who will believe this and apply it in prayer and action? Truly, in this urgent time, God again is looking all over the earth for people who will arise, stay the course and seek His face as never before. The hour is late! But Jesus said watch and prayer. It is a powerful tool able to bring down mighty strongholds, but it is also the most neglected tool in our arsenal of spiritual weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

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

 

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

Entering Our Rest

The biblical credentials for Israel's modern-day return to her ancient homeland are overwhelming, yet some Christians continue to deny the obvious. In particular they insist the New Testament is devoid of any reference to the continuing validity of the land promise to Israel.

Now there are many sound ways to answer this challenge, and one of these New Testament “proof texts” can be found in the book of Hebrews.

The writer of Hebrews spends much of chapters three and four urging us to “enter” the rest provided in Jesus, drawing an analogy to the failure of the Israelites in the wilderness to enter the rest promised them in the land which lay ahead.

Hebrews first quotes verbatim from Psalm 95: “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me... So I swore in My wrath, “They shall not enter My rest.”'  (Hebrews 3:7-11)

The passage later continues: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it... For we who have believed do enter that rest... Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, 'Today,' after such a long time, as it has been said: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.' For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God...” (Hebrews 4:1-10)

Now this promise of rest originates in an emotional conversation between God and His servant Moses in the days between the giving of the first and second tablets of the Ten Commandments. The Lord is still angry over the sin of the Golden Calf and tells Moses he and the people should go on ahead to Canaan without Him, lest He “consume” them along the way.

But Moses intercedes and God relents, vowing: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

This promise of rest in the land is then repeatedly affirmed elsewhere in the books of Moses, including in Deuteronomy 3:20, 12:9 and 25:19.

Well, some Christians contend that this promised rest was fulfilled when Joshua led the people in conquering the land, citing such passages as Joshua 21:44: “The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers...”

Yet the writer of Hebrews insists that if Joshua had truly given them the rest intended by God, then there would have been no need for David to speak of a future day of rest in Psalm 95:9-11.

Taken together, these verses clearly indicate that God intended for Israel to one day enter a permanent rest in the Land promised as an “everlasting possession” to Abraham and his natural descendants (Genesis 17:8). It is a rest whereby the nation of Israel never again has to struggle to possess the land and finally rests from their “works” - meaning striving for righteousness through the law – just as God rested from His works.

And the writer of Hebrews affirms this in the simplest of terms: “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:10; see also Hebrews 4:1)

To this day, the promise of an abiding rest for Israel back in the land given to them by God has never been completely fulfilled. But we are witness to a process of restoration in our day which will ultimately end in Israel as a nation entering that rest, in what the Bible refers to as the Millennium.

Now as a Christian, I believe this will be realized when the Jewish people cease striving for righteousness through their own works and finally rest in the atonement which the Lord has provided for both the land and the people (Deuteronomy 32:43).

In any event, here we have in Hebrews another unmistakable New Testament affirmation of the land promise in the context of a future restoration of Israel.

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

Staying on God's Side

There is a growing trend among evangelical Christians of turning against Israel, as can be seen in the increasing number of screenings of the anti-Zionist film With God on Our Side in Evangelical churches and seminaries across North America. The movie, which was released two years ago and is still gaining steam, attempts to refute the biblical position held by Christian Zionists. Yet, it is very weak theologically, relying mainly on a false accusation that pro-Israel Christians subscribe to dual covenant theology (believing in two ways of salvation).

The weakness of this charge is self-evident, as great Christian leaders down through the centuries have held Zionist views and yet were in no way dual covenant in belief. If the truth be told, the film's main contributors could not even give a reasonable theological answer to Genesis 12:3! Yet many Evangelicals are getting deceived because the duality charged is coupled with a strong emotional appeal for the poor Palestinians.

More troubling still is the fact that the film's producers are guilty of outright lying! I and several other pro-Israel Evangelical leaders were approached to appear in the production based on their misrepresentations that it was a totally different type of documentary. Given that these were fellow Christians from respected churches and ministries, I granted them an interview. Naturally, if I had known their real purpose, I would never have done so. Scripture teaches that lying is not a small matter as those who do so will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (Revelation 21:8).

Ultimately, With God on Our Side contains a long litany of faulty assumptions and conclusions. For instance, the film presupposes:

1.  That all Christian Zionists subscribe to the “Greater Israel” theory. They do not!
2.  That all Christian Zionists are Dispensationalists. They are not!
3.  That Christian Zionists love Jews but hate Palestinians. They do not!
4.  That Christian Zionists believe in “dual covenant.” They do not!
5.  That Christian Zionism goes back to John Nelson Darby in Scotland in 1830. It does not!
6.  That Christian Zionists want to trigger “Armageddon”. They do not!
7.  That Jesus taught “Fulfillment theology.” He did not!
8.  That the modern state of Israel has no international legitimacy. It does!
9.  That radical Islamic theology has no influence on the conflict. It does!
10.  That the Abrahamic Covenant has been, in part, abolished. It has not!
11.  That biblical Judaism was never about land but ethics. It was not!
12.  That the Jews of today are somehow not the Jews of the past. They are!
13.  That only those people holding the views put forth by the film are full of godly compassion. They are not!

The Exposition of Scripture
Many of the Evangelical 'stars' in With God on Our Side hold a twisted view of Scripture that does not give the Old Testament equal billing with the New. But when the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy that “all scripture is inspired and given of God,” he was referring to the Hebrew Scriptures! (II Timothy 3:16)

Also, when Jesus assured “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17), he was referring to the same Hebrew Scriptures. The New Testament is not a filter of the Old Testament but a faithful exposition of it!

Thus the early Church did not subscribe to the “Fulfillment Theology” being preached by the anti-Israel Evangelicals in the film. Surely, the Apostles did not teach that the Land of Israel in the Old Testament was merely a metaphor for Jesus. Nor did they teach that the Abrahamic Covenant had been abolished or reconstructed so as to disinvest the Jews of a national destiny back in the Land.

The Battle Ground
The core battleground in this debate is none other than the Abrahamic Covenant. The people who produced With God on Our Side want you to believe that this covenant has been abolished or reconstructed to mean something else. There is no proof of this in the Bible! In fact, it is the New Testament scriptures which entirely validate the Abrahamic Covenant and hold it up as proof of God’s faithfulness to all His people – including New Testament believers. This Covenant has many aspects:

1.  It is one of the first proclamations of the Gospel (Galatians 3:8);
2.  It bequeaths to the Jewish people (“seed” as in plural) the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:7-8; Psalm 105:7-12);
3.  It promises a unique blessing of salvation for the world through the “seed” (singular) of Israel (Genesis 22:16-19), and
4.  It gives a stern warning and promised blessing depending on how we respond to it (Genesis 12:3).

When Abraham believed what God was saying to him through this covenant, it was accounted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). That is, he was saved by faith since the covenant, apart from all its other aspects, focused on Jesus! This is precisely the point that Paul makes in Galatians, chapter three.

His readers were in danger of returning to the Mosaic Law as a means of salvation since they were being influenced by “Judaizers” (Galatians 3:1-9). Paul was merely pointing out that the Law, which was given 400 years later, did not nullify the promise in this Covenant that God would save the world through the promised “seed” – Jesus (Galatians 3:15-16). This provoked the question: “Then why did God give us the Law?”

Paul answers by saying, “As a teacher to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). That is, the Law convicts us of sin (Romans 3:20). This alone is the context of Galatians three. Indeed, Paul goes on to validate and confirm the efficacy of the Abrahamic Covenant by stating that if you “belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s children according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). Paul was expounding on the Abrahamic Covenant as it was originally given, not changing it!

Thus to use Galatians three as a means to somehow invalidate or debunk the Abrahamic Covenant is nothing short of presumption! Yet, this is what the producers of the movie set out to achieve in order to biblically delegitimize Israel’s modern-day restoration. There is no doubt that they are accusing God of lying, since this Covenant is sworn to by God Himself (Hebrews 6:13-20) to be everlasting in all its aspects. Indeed, it was the reason that John the Baptist and Jesus came! (Luke 1:54-55; 72-75)

Yet the Abrahamic Covenant has both conditional and unconditional aspects, and herein lays the theological confusion. That is, the promise that the Land of Canaan would be the “everlasting possession” of the Jewish people was unconditional and unalterable (Genesis 17:8). But the question of the Jewish people’s right to live on the land so promised to them was later conditioned upon their living in reconciled relationship with God (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). Failure at the latter would result in warning, correction, judgment and exile. This was the ministry of the major and minor prophets.

The challenge of the modern-day restoration of Israel to her ancient homeland remains in her continuing disobedience to the Lord, but He has promised to change this! (Zechariah 12:10-14; Romans 11:25-26)  We just need to remain patient with God and realize we are living in a “time of favor” on Zion, whereby He is bringing the Jews home for His redemptive purpose, whether they deserve it or not.

So the land is theirs forever but the privilege of living upon it is conditional upon their righteous standing before God! In other words, a holy land is for a holy people! This also means they should be kind to the stranger in it and deal with him justly (Exodus 22:21). This was the true message being conveyed to Joshua by the Angel of the Lord as he prepared to lead Israel into the Promised Land (Joshua 5:13-15). God is indeed on His own side and that is the side of His grace, love and mercy but also the side of His holiness and righteousness.

The real truth about With God on Our Side is that the producers think that God is on their side! Sadly, this film is so distorted and biased that it is incapable of making any positive contribution for the Palestinians because for them it’s all Israel’s fault. How narrow-minded can one get!

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

Israel and the Spirit of God

The theme for this year’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration is “The Spirit of Grace and Supplication”, which is taken from Zechariah 12:10 and touches upon one of the most exciting and still outstanding biblical promises for the Jewish people. It was the common understanding of the Old Testament prophets that the end-time restoration of Israel would not only be a restoration to their land but also – and more importantly – a return to their God.

Two of the great prophetic chapters on this restoration, Ezekiel 36 and 37, both foresee two phases in this restoration process for Israel. The first phase will be a physical return back to the Land of Israel. The ancient cities will be rebuilt, barren ground will become fertile fields, and an exiled people will re-gather in their homeland. But God also promises a second phase of restoration which will bring forth a spiritual restoration of the entire nation.

As the prophet Ezekiel is confronted with the vision of Israel as a hopeless field of dry bones, God twice tells him to prophesy. After the first prophetic proclamation a massive miracle unfolds as the dry bone start to move, rearrange themselves into skeletons, and finally become covered with flesh and sinews. The bones turned into a large number of restored bodies, yet they were still dead!

Then God tells him to prophecy a second time: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” (Ezekiel 37:9)

As Ezekiel begins to speak, life enters into the stiff bodies and they rise to become “an exceedingly great army”.

This second phase of the restoration of Israel is repeatedly spoken of by most of the Hebrew prophets. A look at some of these passages reveals an exciting divine program which unfolds as the Spirit of God starts moving upon Israel. This program of the Holy Spirit affects each individual member of God’s people. It affects the entire nation of Israel, its immediate neighbourhood and eventuallythe entire world.

Personal Transformation

It is again the prophet Ezekiel who describes best the personal impact which the spiritual restoration will have on Israel (Ezekiel 36: 24-27). God promises the cleansing of all past sins, to remove the hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. Then God promises to fill them with His very presence, with the Spirit of God. A nation which throughout their history struggled to meet the righteous requirements of God will now become a nation of shining saints.

“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:27)

Already, Moses foresaw this development even before Israel had entered the Promised Land.  Moses understood that Israel would be exiled but also return to their land, where God would “circumcise their heart… to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

In John chapter 3, when Jesus talks to Nicodemus – one of the greatest rabbis of his time – he compares this process with somebody being “born again”. Everything will become new, regenerated from within.

Personal relationship with God

Unlike Christianity, Judaism traditionally sees relationship with God not so much from the individual perspective but as a community experience between the nation and God. It is more a corporate understanding of “We and our God”, rather than “I and my God”. According to most rabbis, God deals with Israel as a nation rather than with the individual Jew.

The prophet Isaiah suggests that this collective national experience with God will be expanded into a very individual and personal relationship with God.

“For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, … One will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’; Another will call himself by the name of Jacob; Another will write with his hand, ‘The Lord’s’, and name himself by the name of Israel.” (Isaiah 44:3-5)

And this is exactly what characterizes the new covenant relationship which the prophet Jeremiah foresees for a restored people of Israel: “No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

Herein lies a significant lesson for each one of us. Being part of the Kingdom of God means each one of us is privileged to enjoy a very personal relationship with God. Yes, we are part of a large family with many members, which always has and needs a communal expression. But at the same time each one of God’s children should personally hear the voice of our Heavenly Father. As is promised to Israel, everyone who has the Spirit of God needs to be able to say very personally, “I am the Lord’s!” And on our hands it should be written, “The Lord’s” – meaning each one of us belongs to the Father in heaven.

Peace and security

Another direct result of the outpouring of the Spirit of God will the ushering in of righteousness, peace and safety. The prophet Isaiah (in 32:10-14) describes a rather distressful picture for Israel: unfruitfulness, the palaces are forsaken, the city deserted, Jerusalem had became “a joy of wild donkeys a pasture of flocks”.

But God places a time limit to this time of trouble for Israel. He declares that this disturbing situation will last “until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high” (Isaiah 32:15). And this changes everything! The words which then describe the time after the Spirit of God has been poured out are: “justice”, “righteousness”, “peace”, “quietness and assurance forever”, “secure dwelling”, “quiet resting places”, “peaceful habitations” (verses 16 and following).

Now this is exactly what both Jews and Arabs have been longing for over so many decades. This means God’s roadmap for peace in the Middle East is revival – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit!

National and personal deliverance

The prophets also saw a very unusual result of a Holy Spirit outpouring: deliverance from their enemies! Isaiah sees the enemies coming upon Israel “like a flood”, but then beholds “the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19).

Already in chapter 10, when Israel is being suppressed by the Assyrian army, God promises Isaiah that this yoke will be broken “by the anointing oil” – a powerful symbol of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 10:27).

In addition, the prophet Zechariah is reminded by God that in Israel’s time of need the ultimate deliverance will not come through an almighty army. Instead, God declares: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts”. The Lord also adds that there is no mountain or challenge too big for Him: “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!” (Zechariah 4:6-7)

What powerful and encouraging declarations for Israel!

The recognition of Messiah

Another of the amazing results of this outpouring of the Spirit will be that they will “look upon him who they have pierced” and that they will “mourn for him as of an only begotten son” (Zechariah 12:10).

It is worth noting what the Talmud has to say regarding this passage. On the question of why there was such mourning in Jerusalem, the Talmud declares: “It is on account of the Messiah, the son of Joseph, who was killed.”

This refers to the two types of Messiah in Jewish tradition. One is Mosiach ben-David, Messiah the Son of David, who will liberate and rule the nation. But there is also the suffering Mosiach ben-Yoseph, referring to Joseph, the son of Jacob, who suffered at the hand of his brothers, saved the nations from starvation, and later reconciled with his family. It is fascinating to consider that the Talmud and the New Testament understanding agree that the outpouring of the Spirit of Grace will lead in Israel to a national recognition of the Suffering Messiah! May that day come soon!

A promise for Israel

Large parts of the Christian world see the Holy Spirit as an exclusive gift to the gentile Church. The above passages should remind us that also the Spirit of God is promised “to the Jew first”.

Speaking of the “gift of the Holy Spirit”, the Apostle Peter told a Jewish audience in the Temple courts in Jerusalem: “For the promise is to you and to your children…”  (Act 2:39)

If there is any nation which has a legitimate right to expect the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, it is Israel!

That being said, I want to encourage all of us to hunger for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit for ourselves. These promises reviewed here are true for all those who through faith in Jesus Christ became part of the family of God.

Invite the Holy Spirit to transform your life. Allow the Spirit of God to empower you afresh. Expect the anointing of the Spirit to break the yoke which stops you from fulfilling the calling of God on your life. Invite the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus more fully to you. And allow the Spirit of son-ship to bring you into more intimate relationship with our Father in heaven. It will change your life!

We also want to invite you to join us for this year’s Feast celebration in Jerusalem, as we gather the last of September expecting a fresh outpouring of His Spirit under the theme, “The Spirit of Grace and Supplication”. We are making arrangements for special prayer and body ministry, and you will most assuredly be blessed.

Finally, please pray with us that God’s spirit of Grace and supplication will be poured out soon on the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the House of David! Join our Isaiah 62 Prayer Campaign! By His Spirit, we can remove mountains!

 

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