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Trusting God in an unstable world

“For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His Kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can    restrain His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

As global upheavals give rise to ever greater uncertainty, we have to have a firm grasp on what the Bible teaches concerning the sovereignty of God. For if we do not, our lives will be filled with anxiety and fear. Jesus said that days would come upon the earth that would cause men's hearts to tremble with fear (Luke 21:26).

We can understand this today as we hear daily of the effects of global warming, the widening potential for war and conflict even on a nuclear level, the dangers of global financial meltdown, and the threats of famine and inflationary food costs around the world.

Yet the sovereignty of God assures us that He is in control, that His purpose is on track and that His Word is true and reliable. At the center of the challenges facing us today is the nation of Israel. This tiny nation holds a disproportionally prime spot in today’s media. This is God’s way of getting the world’s attention. Things are happening in the Middle East that are bigger than what man and his plans can cope with. There seems to be no end to the struggles that face this region, typified by the so-called “Arab Spring.” One could easily despair, but the Bible gives clarity to these matters.

Israel’s modern-day restoration is not a coincidence but is divinely validated everywhere by scripture (Amos 9:11-15; Obadiah 17-18; Jeremiah 31:35-37). Sometimes this process appears to contradict our natural thinking since, in general, it does not enjoy the approval of the world. Sadly, much of the wider Church does not understand the purpose of God in Israel’s restoration. Herein lies the mystery of the sovereignty of God; His ways are not our ways and we must trust Him fully as His purpose unfolds before our eyes.

Essentially, this means being faithful to His Word and blessing what He is blessing. We are people of faith, like Abraham. We therefore walk by faith, believing all that God has said will be realized. Just as Abraham followed God even though he did not know where he was going! (Hebrews 11:8)

Abraham also believed God even though what He was proposing was impossible, because Abraham and Sarah were well beyond child-bearing age (Romans 4:19-20). We shall likewise inherit the promises of God as regards to ourselves and Israel if we are patient and do not waver in faith (Hebrews 6:12).

Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and therefore it is essential that we know what faith is. Faith is:

*  Believing what you cannot see, touch or even understand (Hebrews 11:1);
*  Believing the Word of God even if it appears to contradict your rational thinking (Hebrews 11:11);
*  Believing that God will answer you when you diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6);
*  Believing that God welcomes you into His presence because of the shed blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19-22).

True saving faith is entirely supernatural and cannot be faked! Faith can also grow stronger and this is done by giving glory to God or describing His greatness (Psalm 68:34). This is what worship is all about. The word was originally “worthship,” meaning the act of describing God's infinite worth.

So as the world enters times that are ever more perilous and uncertain (2 Timothy 3:1-5), we can have great peace and even joy because our God is in control. He will complete His good work in Israel and in our lives (Philippians 1:6). In the end, the nations will be humbled and brought into submission to His will (Zechariah 14:16). On a holy hill in Jerusalem, He will install His Messiah King and all nations will call Him Lord (Psalm 2:1-12). This is humanity's destiny and it is as sure as the rising of the sun. We can thus rejoice and rest in the knowledge that God most definitely has everything under control!

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

Two very blessed centurions

The Bible tells us about two very unusual Roman centurions living in the Land of Israel in the first century. Each was uniquely touched by God through the ministry of Jesus and the early Church. Their stories carry important lessons for us today.

In Luke 7, we learn that the first one approached Jesus asking that he heal his servant, who was gravely ill. Surprisingly, Jesus followed the Roman officer at once. Now this is surprising because Jesus insisted elsewhere that He was only sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This occurred in Matthew 16, when he turned away a gentile woman seeking to be healed. So it was very unusual that Jesus immediately followed the centurion and decided to heal the young boy.

The second centurion, we are told in Acts 10, was greatly blessed by God. In fact, this Cornelius had so caught the attention of the Lord with his faithful prayers and alms that Peter was sent by the Holy Spirit to minister to him in Caesarea, thus opening up the Church to its first gentile convert. As the Holy Spirit fell upon him, the Jewish believers soon realized that the Gospel was meant for all peoples.

Now these two miracles are quite remarkable. The one centurion was blessed by Jesus even though his earthly ministry was directed at his fellow Jews. The second centurion became the first fruit among the nations.

So it is worth asking: What was it about these two centurions that caused God to bless them in such remarkable ways? The Word of God gives us the clear answer.

In Luke 7, when the centurion in Capernaum “heard about Jesus, he sent elders of the Jews to Him, pleading with Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they begged Him earnestly saying that the one for whom He should do this, was deserving, for he loves our nation and has built us a synagogue...”

What a testimony! Jewish elders came to Jesus and begged him to heal the servant because the centurion had befriended the Jews. Consequently, Jesus did not turn him away like he had the Canaanite woman, but immediately came to his aid.

Then in Acts 10, we read that the centurion Cornelius sent servants to the city of Jaffa, where Peter was staying in the house of a local tanner. The servants came to Peter and described Cornelius as “a just man, one who fears God, he has a good reputation among all the nations of the Jews, he was divinely instructed by the holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you...”

Again, this was a Roman centurion with a public testimony of helping the Jews through his many prayers and alms.

These are important details for us to note. Both centurions were touched by God in unusual ways because both of them had a great love and respect for the Jewish people and their God. Both openly supported the Jewish community in ways that caused God and man to take notice. So what we see here is the ancient principle which God decreed in the calling of Abraham, when He promised that “I will bless those who bless you…”

These two centurions may not have known the full impact of what they were doing in blessing the Jewish people, but God saw it and was moved to bless them in return. This does not mean helping support the Jewish people will automatically bring us to heaven.  But what it does mean is that as we bless the Jewish nation and people, God takes notice and will bless us in extraordinary ways, even beyond our understanding.

Christians need to take this to heart. We need to bless and support Israel in very practical ways, like those centurions who gave alms and built synagogues, and thereby reaped incredible rewards of healing, Holy Ghost empowerment and even eternal life.

Dr. Buehler is executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Refugees Forever

The plight of the Palestinian refugees is a frequent media headliner.  Some people have called on the international community to boycott Israel, blaming the nation for the creation of the refugee issue and for the poor living conditions of nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees spanning four generations. To answer the question of who is responsible for today's refugees a little historical perspective is necessary.

In 1947 the UN passed Resolution 181, The Partition Plan, creating a Jewish and Arab state side by side that looks very much like today's two-state proposal. Israel accepted the resolution and the Arab nations rejected it launching an attack on the newly created state of Israel. Israel defended herself and the war ended with a cease-fire line known today as the green-line which separates the West Bank and Gaza from Israel. 

 About 600,000 to 700,000 Arab Palestinians fled their homes in the war of 1948 and ended up outside the cease-fire line becoming refugees. About the same numbers of Jewish refugees fled or were expelled from Arab lands around the time of the war.  Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees despite the economic hardship it created on the new state. The Arabs refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees.

How did roughly 700,000 Arab refugees turn into 5 million? The United Nations defined Palestinian refugees differently from all other refugees worldwide.  This exclusive treatment has led to a situation where the Palestinian refugees are the only refugee group that is expanding rather than contracting.

 FACTS ON NON-PALESTINIAN REFUGEES

  • In December of 1949 a refugee agency was created by the United Nations called the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They are responsible for all refugees worldwide (with the exclusion of Palestinian refugees). They are held to the legal standards of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Under the UNHCR definition of a refugee, the status of refugee pertains only to those who have lost their home and occupation in their country of nationality. They cannot pass down their refugee status to the next generation once they have been relocated and integrated in another nation providing safety and citizenship.
     
  • The UNHCR seeks to solve refugee issues in three ways they term as "durable solutions": (1) Repatriation – returning to one’s country (2) Integration – becoming citizens of the nation to where they have fled and (3) Relocation – moving to another nation that welcomes refugees and grants citizenship. If any refugee is granted one of these solutions his status as refugee is terminated.
     
  • The UNHCR is held to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and has helped an estimated 50 million people to restart their lives. They have a staff of just 6,300 people in more than 110 countries helping 36.4 million refugees and displaced people.

 FACTS ON PALESTINIAN REFUGEES

  • Palestinian refugees are under the administration of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA was established in December 1949 to “alleviate the conditions of starvation and distress among the Palestinian refugees” with “a view to the termination of international assistance for relief” at an early date – set for no later than December 1950. However, rather than ending its emergency assistance, UNRWA began development programs for the Palestinian refugees. UNRWA is now the largest UN operation in the Middle East with a staff of over 30,000 – most of whom are Palestinians themselves.
     
  • UNRWA's programmes include: education, healthcare, micro-financing, infrastructure development and emergency needs. The original "relief" programme accounts for only 10% of the budget with 90% dedicated to development goals. Many refugees throughout the world today are not getting adequate food and shelter while Palestinian refugees receive among other benefits, business loans, after school tutoring and university scholarships.
     
  • Under UNRWA's mandate, Palestinians continue their status as refugees even if they integrate or relocate to a safe country and are granted citizenship. As of current international law, the only way for Palestinians refugees to lose their status is for them to return to their lands or until a “just solution” is agreed upon. The UNHCR (for world-wide refugees) requires “durable" solutions to the situation of the refugees, whereas UNRWA (for the Palestinians) requires a "just" solution which is deeply political rather than humanitarian.
     
  • UNRWA is not held to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and is constrained by very few international or local governmental laws. They staff over 30,000 to care for just 5 million refugees and have yet to remove one Palestinian refugee from their roles except upon death.

The Palestinians as a group therefore are under a different set of rules to every other refugee in the world today.

So who is responsible for the situation of the Palestinian refugees?

Firstly, had the Arab nations accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan providing for both a Jewish and Arab state side by side, there would have been neither war nor Palestinian refugees.

Secondly, had the UN dealt with the Palestinian refugee situation as it has with all other refugee s throughout the world, there would be fewer than 700,000 in contrast to today's 5 million. And had the Arab nations absorbed the refugees in accordance with the 1951 Convention on Refugees, as Israel did the Jewish refugees, there would not be one Palestinian refugee today.


Kasey Bar is a freelance writer, living in Israel. She is a former co-ordinator of the ICEJ's Young Adults Ministry: Grafted. This article was first published in the January 2012 edition of Grafted's quarterly newsletter.

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The Forgotten Refugees

When referring to the Arab-Israeli conflict the word refugee is nearly synonymous with Palestinian. The reality is that when Israel became a modern nation in 1948 there were more Jewish refugees than Palestinian. As five Arab nations launched a regional war against the state of Israel, an estimated 670,000 Arabs fled the war and an estimated 860,000 Jewish refugees were expelled from Arab lands.

Historically this process is considered a “population exchange.” Arabs fled to neighboring Arab states and Israel became the beacon of hope for hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands losing substantial assets and the historical heritage of their families. Israel also became the haven for 600,000 European Jews who survived the holocaust.

Word from Jerusalem - August 2008Thus, in 1948 over a million Jewish refugees found security in the state of Israel. The infant state welcomed the refugees and sacrificed as a corporate community to provide housing, food, and even education to quickly transform their feeble refugees into functioning, prosperous members of society.

The Arab nations did exactly the opposite. Believing their armies would soon destroy Israel, they made a calculated decision not to absorb the Palestinian refugees as citizens or to re-establish their lives in any way. Untouched by the suffering of their fellow brothers, they chose to exploit the misery of the Palestinians as a political weapon against Israel continuing the war they began in 1948.

Sixty years and four generations later, the Palestinian refugees have grown to a number of over 4.4 million. Still all Arab nations continue to refuse citizenship to Palestinians.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the definition of a refugee pertains to an individual who has lost both their home and livelihood. The status of refugee is not transferred to his/her descendants. The UNHCR is responsible for all refugees worldwide, except for the Palestinians.

Under the pressure of several Arab nations, on December 8, 1948, the UN formed the agency of UNRWA, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The only agency in the UN dedicated to just one group of people, the Palestinians.  Under UNRWA the definition of a Palestinian refugee is different from all other refugees worldwide in that the status of refugee is transferred indefinitely from generation to generation. Because of this the Palestinians are the only group of refugees whose numbers are growing rather than shrinking.
 
The US taxpayer supports 40% of UNRWA’s annual $300 million budget while the oil rich Saudi Arabia contributes a token 2% to the care of its Arab brothers in refugee camps the Arab League refuses to dismantle. The best solution is simply to shut down UNRWA and to transfer its responsibilities to UNHCR in order to break the refugee cycle and to provide Palestinians with the ability to build a brighter future.

UNRWA’s mandate, however, keeps being extended year by year and will continue to be so until enough people cry out against the injustice of the Arab nations toward Israel and the disenfranchised Palestinians in their midst. According to that same mandate the descendants of those Arabs displaced in 1948 will remain refugees until they are able to build communities inside all of Israel.

Under these terms there will be no end to the Palestinian “refugee” issue until there is an end to the State of Israel, a nation built by over a million forgotten Jewish refugees. 


Kasey Bar is a freelance writer, living in Israel. She is a former co-ordinator of the ICEJ's Young Adults Ministry: Grafted. This article was first published in August 2008 in the US edition of the ministry's flagship monthly magazine, Word from Jerusalem

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The Real Root of the Christian Exodus

With his recent segment for 60 Minutes, CBS News reporter Bob Simon has once again stoked the perennial debate over why so many native Palestinian Christians have been leaving the Holy Land in recent decades. Sadly, he addressed this important issue with a very superficial brand of journalism. The report relied mainly on one local Palestinian cleric – notorious Israel-basher Rev. Mitri Raheb – to single out the “Israeli occupation” as the scapegoat for this Christian flight. There was no need to dig deeper, since Simon knew the report was sure to be a sensation from the moment Israeli ambassador Dr. Michael Oren caught wind of the production and intervened with his bosses at CBS News.

If Bob Simon had truly wanted to know why Arab Christians have been fleeing in droves from Palestinian areas, he should have asked those émigrés now living in Toronto, Sydney and Santiago. Because that is where the majority of Palestinian Christians now reside – in dispersed communities in Canada, Chile, Australia, Germany, the United States and elsewhere.

The disturbing truth is that more than 60% of the Arab Christians born in Palestinian areas over the past several generations now live abroad. Yet the same holds true for Lebanese Christians, as a similar 60% of their beleaguered community now live in foreign lands.

Indeed, there has been a widening Christian exodus from all the surrounding Arab countries, with Iraq’s ancient Assyrian Christian community collapsing from 1.5 million to as few as 250,000 since the Second Gulf War commenced in 2003. The Coptic Church in Egypt is also losing tens of thousands of parishioners in the wake of the Arab Spring.

So it is indisputable that Arab Christians are fleeing all across the Middle East, and surely the Israeli occupation is not to blame. Rather, this flight has been primarily due to local conflicts and the rise of Islamic militancy, as noted by Ambassador Oren, and the Palestinian Christians are no exception to this trend. The lone exception, in fact, happens to be the state of Israel, the only place in the entire region where Arab Christians are growing in number and are afforded their democratic rights.

Still, some Palestinian clerics insist that Muslims and Christians would co-exist in perfect harmony if not for the Jews and their settlements. That, sadly, is a living portrait of a people in denial. How else to explain that Palestinian Christian flight from the Holy Land predates the “occupation” by decades?

For instance, the last British census in 1948 recorded 29,000 Arab Christians living in Jerusalem, while the first Israeli census in eastern Jerusalem in 1967 found only 11,000. That means two-thirds of the Arab Christian population had fled during the 19 years of the Jordanian occupation of east Jerusalem.

The real root of the current exodus actually lies in the historic interplay between Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East ever since the Islamic conquests began in the seventh century. The region’s Christians and Jews became dhimmis – suppressed minorities living under Muslim dominance. They could keep their faith but had to accept second-class status. To survive, both communities adopted a code of silence which dictated that they never challenge the system nor say anything bad about Islam in public.

This system of dhimmitude basically held until modern times. The Crusades may have brought temporary relief for some Christians, but only terror for the Jews.

When Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, the dynamic finally began to change. The Great Powers of Europe moved into the region, each concluding deals with the Sultanate in Istanbul to provide protection to various imperiled Christian denominations. Western missionaries also brought with them schools, hospitals and other modern institutions. With their better education and job skills, Arab Christians became more mobile and many began to migrate to the West to escape the prison of Islam. Thus the modern-day Christian exodus began.

Meanwhile, the Zionist movement arose with a dream of restoring Jewish sovereignty back in their ancient homeland. Israel’s emergence in 1948 challenged the system of Muslim dominance over Christians and Jews, an achievement the Arab world has never truly accepted.

For many Christians in the Middle East, the rebirth of Israel actually stands as a light and model of freedom from Muslim tyranny. But for Palestinian Christians, the conflict that seeks to destroy the Jewish state has been too close for comfort. They are powerless to end it and struggling to survive.

Thus many Palestinian Christian leaders have taken to patriotically waving the flag of Palestinian nationalism higher than even their Muslim neighbors, in the hope such loyalty to the cause will safeguard their flocks. They rail against the Israeli occupation and the settlements as the reason for their dwindling presence. The checkpoints and security barrier may create hardships for them, but it is not the core reason why proud Christian families who have weathered many turbulent centuries here are now pulling up roots.

We must all understand that they are employing an ancient survival mechanism ingrained through centuries of Muslim oppression. Unable to name the real culprit, Palestinian Christians often deflect Muslim anger away from themselves by directing it at the Jews. Meantime, Ambassador Oren is giving voice to the very things they cannot say.

 

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The Question 60 Minutes Forgot to Ask

A question NOT asked by the champions of gotcha television who put together the item on the situation of Palestinian Christians that aired on the CBS Sixty Minutes programme on Sunday April 22, was this fairly obvious one: Why are Christians fleeing from every corner of the globe INTO Israel?

Israel is the only polity in the entire Middle East in which Christian numbers are growing absolutely. They have in fact increased 400 percent since 1948. Today there are about 163,000 Christians in Israel -- about 2.1% of the total population of around 7 million. This number is growing as Christians flee into Israel from all the nearby African states,  such as Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia Somalia, Kenya and beyond. They are fleeing also from the states of the former Soviet Empire and from Muslim-majority communities around the world.

Incidentally, the Muslim population of Israel is also growing – from 100,000 in 1948 to 900,000 today –from 9.5% of the whole in 1948 to 14.8%. These Muslims vote in Israeli elections and have always held a significant role in the brokering of interests that go into forming Israeli governments. How can this reality be squared with the Arab cartoon-denunciation of life under the Israeli boot? It would have been good to hear Bob Simon ask this fairly obvious question.

Among many other realities that were overlooked is that Israel does not rule in the Palestine Authority. The Palestine Authority does. The State of Israel does assume responsibility for keeping individuals dedicated to liquidation of the Jews out of the Jewish state. Some of these are local Palestinians; others are Muslim zealots who have come to the bosom of the PA on commission from al-Qaeda, from Iran, from Hezbollah and other terrorists organizations. The wall* is certainly an eyesore, and inevitably it has made life significantly more difficult for everybody. But it has served its purpose: since it was completed, loss of civilian lives by terrorist deeds has been reduced by at least 80%.

Since 1995, all aspects of daily life in the PA – economic policy, legal realities, schooling, and so on -- are presided over by the Palestine Authority.  Simultaneously, persecution of Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Arabs has increased – a circumstance attested to without exception by all disinterested journalists and qualified scholars, and most thoroughly documented in the published books and articles of Justin Reid Weiner. The best clue to what life is like under that benign aegis is that between 1995 and 2004, 45,000 Arabs moved out of the PA and into Israel and that of this number four to one were Christians.

Israel does assume responsibility for the welfare of Arabs who live within her own borders. The most recent statistic surveys reveal that “Christian Arabs are Israel’s best-educated and most prosperous demographic group."(Donna Rosenthal, The Israelis (New York: Free Press, 2003), p. 315.)

With their feet, the Christian Arabs and a goodly portion of Muslim Arabs are declaring their preference for Jewish rule over Muslim-Arab rule. They are not alone in this: Throughout the Middle East Christian population has been declining steadily and dramatically for over a century. Of the handful of Christian communities still extant at the beginning of this century, most of these have been moved out of intensive care and onto their death-beds. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, an estimated one-third to one-half of the Christian population of Iraq has been displaced from cities and towns where they have lived for centuries, some fleeing to the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, others abroad. Many of these are now resident in Israel. In Egypt, 100,000 have already left since the so-called Arab Spring began.

The bottom line (says Giulio Meotti, who is among the best informed European scholars of this phenomenon), “The Christian era in the Middle East is over.” Everywhere, that is, except in Israel. The one feature that distinguishes Israel from all these other nations is that the former is the nation-state of the Jews, governed by Jewish laws, its government and other institutions reflecting Jewish character. As for all the others, Jews are either totally absent  -- 800,00 of them having been driven out by Muslim mobs following the 1948 war --or present today only in miniscule numbers and living under constant threat of extinction.

The premise governing the Sixty Minute script was that the flight of Christians from the Holy Land is owing to intolerable conditions imposed upon the Palestinian Arabs by Israeli rule. The leaders of the various local churches, all of them Arab Palestinians, pulled out all the stops as they heaped blame for everything that is unhappy in the daily life of the Arabs of the land upon the fundamentally inhumane character of the Jews. Why then is all the traffic out of the lands where Arabs rule and into the only corner of the world in which Jews rule?

*The Security Barrier: only 8km of the 140km consist of concrete sections (wall) to prevent direct shooting
 



Paul C. Merkley is an ICEJ Canada Board Director, Professor Emeritus in History from Carleton University and the author of several scholarly academic books on Christians and Israel and recently of Those That Bless You I Will Bless: Christian Zionism in Historical Perspective, Mantua Press, Brantford Ontario, 2012.

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The Folly of Fulfillment Theology

In recent years a new form of Replacement Theology has arrived on the Christian scene called Fulfillment Theology. Like Replacement Theology it ends up contending that, since the time of Jesus, the Jews no longer enjoy a god-given national destiny in the land of Canaan. This time around it is not the Church that replaces Israel and takes over all her promises in scripture but in fact Jesus. He fulfills in His life and redemptive work all the promises that God ever made to the Jews; even the promise that Canaan would be the everlasting possession of the Jewish people! Jesus is the Promised Land. This allows the proponents of this theory to distance themselves from the awful evil (as in the Apartheid State) and anti-Semitic consequences (as in the Christian pogroms of history) of Replacement Theology. However, they end up believing the same thing!

God and Israel’s modern day restoration

Much of the above is backed up by scripture but falsely so! For these people it always comes down to the same thing and that is to find a way to disinvest the Jews of any divine action or biblical significance in Israel’s modern day restoration. Once this position has been taken Israel can be viewed as any other nation state entangled in an internal conflict. This usually means that any people can lay claim to the Holy Land and they do. Israel is an occupying bully robbing other peoples of their land and refusing to hand over to them the old biblical city of Jerusalem as their Capital. The Jews occupy the city even though they have a three thousand year unbroken relationship with it and will again this year, as they have for centuries, pray “This year in Jerusalem.”

Today many Christians back this thesis and even some evangelicals are beginning to abandon their traditional pro-Israel biblical position in favor of Fulfillment Theology. Also the fact that some leading Christian academics and Ministers have thrown their weight behind it is giving added momentum to its dissemination and acceptance. Nevertheless it remains a flawed theological thesis.

Jesus and Fulfillment

“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all is fulfilled.” Matthew 5:17-18

When Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Law He meant just that! That is, He would perfectly fulfill in His life the moral demands of the Law on behalf of a fallen world. He would thus prove to be perfect man and would give His life on the cross so as to remove the curse of the Law from our lives. (Galatians 3:13) Jesus thus saves us by the power of an indestructible life! (Hebrews 7:16) So, in Matthew five, six and seven He was not talking about the Covenant that God made with Abraham but about the Covenant that God made with Moses! The context of these chapters proves this overwhelmingly. Jesus was expounding the inward nature of the Law and our failure to keep it. He would thus fulfill the demands of it by living in us! This is the very essence of the New Covenant. (Jeremiah 31:31-35; Romans 8:3-4) This, and only this, is what He fulfills! To suggest then that He was in some way by this statement debunking the Abrahamic Covenant is a giant leap into error!

Moses and Fulfillment

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” Deuteronomy 18:15

Moses, referring to Jesus, said that God would raise up a Prophet like unto himself. Again Moses was the great Lawgiver of Israel and this Prophet (Messiah) to come would be unique, one of a kind and fulfill the obligations of the Law on behalf of a fallen world. Moses was not undermining the Abrahamic Covenant by this statement. He was in fact giving it “executive authority.” Abraham’s Covenant is God’s decision to save the world (Galatians 3:8) but Moses’ Covenant is God’s decision to teach the world that it needs to be saved! (Romans 3:20) Moses empowers Abraham! That is, the world must be convicted of sin (Moses) before it can be saved from it (Jesus). The Apostle John put it this way…”For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

The fact that Jesus’ life was in some measure a re-enactment of Moses’ life does not imply that God has torn up His covenant with Abraham. This is a leap of total presumption and those who make it are not on “biblical territory”. Rather it implies that God is going to “tear up sin” in our lives and that Israel would identify the Prophet by His likeness to Moses! They have no excuse for not recognizing Him. So, Jesus:

  1. Lived under the Law (Galatians 4:4)
  2. Was circumcised according to the Law (Luke 2:25-28)
  3. Was taught by the word of the Law (Luke 2:46)
  4. Was for forty days in the wilderness proved by the Law (Luke 4:1-13)
  5. Went up to a mountain to deliver the Law (Matthew 5:1-2)
  6. Died to fulfill the demands of the Law on behalf of all people.(Romans 8:3-4)

This proved that He was Moses’ successor but it did not abolish, in any way, the promises of God made to Israel in the Abrahamic Covenant. These promises set aside the Jewish people as the “vehicle of world redemption” (Romans 3:1-2; 9:1-5) and they designate Canaan as the everlasting possession of the people of Israel (Genesis 17:7-8) Indeed the writer of the book of Hebrews holds up the Abrahamic Covenant, and God’s faithfulness to it, as proof that He will not fail believers in Jesus who have been saved by the New Covenant; (Hebrews 6:13-20) this, years after Jewish rejection of Jesus’ Messianic credentials. To suggest that these promises have been somehow abolished or are fulfilled by Jesus is just not true. The Hebrew Prophets clearly “see” a day of restoration for the Jewish people that goes beyond the Babylonian return. (Amos 9:11-15; Isaiah 2:1-4; Zechariah 14)) It is passages like the one in Amos that confound “fulfillment proponents” and lead some of them to state that these scriptures need to be “de-zionized!” That is, altered because they contradict their position! This in itself is a defeat for them.

Paul and Fulfillment

“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.” Galatians 3:16

In Galatians three Paul is not arguing for or suggesting that the Abrahamic Covenant has been reconstructed or entirely fulfilled in Jesus. Indeed he is not referring to a “post coming of Jesus new reality” but to an aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant that was enshrined in it when God first made it with Abraham two thousand years before! That is, while the Covenant has clear promises to Abraham’s descendants (plural) (Genesis 17:7) it also holds a promise in a descendant (singular) (Genesis 22:18). In other words, from the very beginning a promise of land and purpose is given to the descendants but, at the same time, a promise of salvation and reconciliation to God is given in a descendant; Jesus! The two promises are mutually interdependent. That is, the one cannot do without the other. (Luke 1:54-55;71-75)

The real point that Paul was making is that salvation is not by works of the Law, that convict of sin (Galatians 2:16; 3:24)), but by faith in the finished work of the “seed” to come. This promise was made 400 years before the Law was given (Galatians 3:17-18) Paul was not tampering with the Abrahamic Covenant and suggesting that it has been reconstructed.

It must be remembered that the promise to the Seed, as of one, was made two thousand years before Jesus came. If this was the full extent of the promise in the Abrahamic Covenant then God would never have led the “seeds” out of Egypt into the Promised Land because no promise was made to them!  One cannot and should not read Galatians three like that. This is the absurd position of those who hold to fulfillment theology. The Bible itself debunks this nonsense! It is a false theology just like its sister called Replacement Theology.

Conclusion

It must be remembered that in Paul’s time there was only one cannon of scripture; the Hebrew Scriptures or, what many call the Old Testament. It was to these scriptures that Paul was chiefly referring when he wrote that “all scripture is inspired and given of God” etc. (2Timothy 3:16) The same goes for Peter when he wrote that scripture is given by holy men who were “moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2Peter 1:21) In other words the New Testament, though equally inspired, is in fact, a faithful exposition of the Old Testament scriptures. When we realize this we honor all of scripture and recognize that no “prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation.” Those who seek to disinvest the Jewish people of a biblical significance to their modern day return to Zion are in essence seeking to re-write great God-given and holy covenants that God has given to them. They are thereby ‘playing with fire” and placing themselves in conflict with the purpose of God. In all of this it is good to remember that we can do nothing against the truth. (2Corinthians 13:8) This should make us all tremble!


Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

A Passover foretold!

As we approach the Passover season, the reliability of the Gospel accounts concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are once again under rigorous assault. A new book by a prominent American rabbi now hitting the best-seller lists has totally called into question the New Testament scriptures concerning the sacrifice of Christ and the manner in which his followers came to revere him as God incarnate. It is important that we “defend the faith” from such antagonistic challenges.

Kosher JesusKosher Jesus is the latest work by Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, a popular author, columnist and relationship guru to Hollywood stars who admits to growing up with a typical Jewish “chip” against Jesus. But Boteach says he became curious as a teenager about the central figure of the New Testament and Kosher Jesus is the result of his life-long search for the real story of the man from Galilee. He unflinchingly promises the reader that “in these pages… you will discover the authentic story of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Yet by the time Boteach embraces Jesus, he has been radically reduced to just another patriotic Jewish agitator against Roman oppression, an ultra-nationalist rabbi cruelly slain by the enemies of his nation and only later deified by a misguided pseudo-Jew named Paul.

Boteach relies heavily on the controversial Jewish historian Hyam Maccoby as well as certain liberal German theologians who developed a novel theory of “Christology”, namely that Jesus never claimed divinity and it was Paul who decades later turned him into a god-man under Hellenistic influence. Boteach also blames Paul for spearheading a deliberate effort to rewrite Christian scriptures in order to sanitise the Roman occupation, demonise the Jews, and thereby make the Gospel message more appealing to potential converts from Greco-Roman culture.

His assault on the integrity of the New Testament is not the disciplined science of textual criticism, but a wholesale shredding of these sacred texts. Shockingly, even John 3:16 is deemed Pauline embellishment.

In answering this challenge, it first should be noted that although the New Testament has been under relentless academic assault for decades, there is no credible scholarship which should give us pause concerning its authenticity. Even leading Orthodox Jewish experts on the Second Temple era, such as the late Prof. David Flusser of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, have defended the Gospels as reliable and among the most important Jewish “sources” from antiquity.

Flusser also acknowledged that Jesus himself claimed to be God. We see this, for instance, in his seven great “I AM” statements, in which Jesus invoked the name of God given to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:13-14.

Thus, Jesus said “I am the bread of life (John 6:35); “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12);  “I am the door” (John 10:7-9); “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25); and “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Finally, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”  (John 8:58)

Jesus also claimed for himself divine attributes only ascribed to God in Scripture, such as his response to the high priest’s pointed question: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?”

 Jesus answered, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

In John 10, he is again asked: “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered “I and My Father are one” – here employing the same Hebrew word that appears in the She’ma: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is one.”

In truth, Jesus was humble, like Moses, and did not go around boasting about who he was. In fact, he was quite careful to hide it from most people. But he did want his disciples to understand who he was, and it was Simon Peter who first gave voice to this revelation in Matthew 16:16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Indeed, Peter – rather than Paul – should be rightly credited with first recognising the full divine nature of Jesus. And Peter had two very interesting things to say concerning this revelation in his later epistles.

The first has to do with his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. In 2 Peter 1:16-21, he insists that his belief in the divinity of Jesus was not some fable he had made up, but that he heard God confirm it in a loud audible voice from heaven on that holy mountain, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5).

Secondly, Peter’s earlier letter tells us that the Holy Spirit also spoke to the disciples through the prophetic Scriptures concerning the eternal significance of what they had witnessed in the death and resurrection of Christ.

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.” 1 Peter 1:10-12

That is, the same Spirit that was in Christ was in the Hebrew prophets of old foretelling of his suffering and atonement for the sins of the world. In addition, these prophets knew the words they were uttering were meant to minister to us today as we now look back on the Cross.

These are incredible thoughts! And it means that if Paul or anyone else wanted to come along and falsify the Gospel accounts concerning what the original Apostles taught about Christ, they also would need to go back and rewrite entire portions of the Old Testament, such as Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and so much more. And this, we know, never happened!

Parsons is an ordained minister who serves as media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

The Power of the Cross

During the Passover season each year, we are reminded of the most powerful event which ever took place in human history. At exactly the moment when thousands of Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus – the Lamb of God – died on the Cross and carried away the sins of the world. This perfect fulfilment of the Paschal sacrifice on a Roman cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem has become the primary symbol of Christianity.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth that if he had to condense the Christian faith into one single message, it would be the message of the cross of Christ. When visiting the church in Corinth, he was “determined not to know anything… except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). For all eternity, the Cross declares an eternal and powerful message to the world.

The Cross is a mighty demonstration of God’s character...

A demonstration of God’s love
At Calvary we see more than anywhere else the character of God. Paul declares: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  If there is one place where God’s love can be seen and understood best, it is at the foot of the Cross. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...”

No matter how noble the cause, would any among us consider giving up our children for it? No, family comes first! And of course, this is our first realm of responsibility as good parents. But this was not the case with God. He was willing to give His Son, not to redeem a noble company of saints, but Jesus died for wretched sinners like you and me.

This is the exciting news; God did not wait for the human race to improve until He decided to offer the incredible redemptive gift of His Son. He did so while humanity was hopelessly lost and in open rebellion against Him. This love was not deserved and it remains beyond our understanding. This also gives us hope. Paul uses that very truth to assure the status of the believer. If God was willing to offer the incredible gift of the death of His only Son while we were still sinners, Paul urges us to consider how much more will He now give us everything as His children. God will never come to a point that He is finished with you. He literally is willing to do whatever it takes to finish the good work He started in you (Romans 8:32, Philippians 1:6). So never give up on yourself!

A demonstration of God’s righteousness
The Cross also demonstrates God’s righteousness. “Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed…” (Romans 3:25)

The Cross is a powerful display of the righteousness of God. The German theologian Erich Sauer wrote: “All the patience of the past was only possible in foresight of the Cross and all grace of the future is justified in hindsight of the Cross.” It is there at the Cross where every single righteous requirement of God is being met. It is only at the Cross where God’s righteousness can become our very own righteousness. It is this glorious exchange at the Cross which allows us to enter freely into the presence of God, knowing that all our sins past, present or future are being met by the grace of God.

The exaltation of the person of Jesus
It was the unconditional obedience of Jesus to his heavenly Father which exalted him above all measure. When Jesus is introduced by John in the first chapter of his Gospel, the Apostle sees “the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18; see also Proverbs 8:25-31). After the Cross, Jesus returned to his Father, yet not to His bosom but “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God”, with “angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (Hebrews 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22). What an exaltation!

Paul described this in the following way: “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)

This does not mean that Jesus through the Cross attained a more divine nature or a higher heavenly status. He already was the all-powerful Creator (John 1:3). Yet the Cross has earned him that glorious name of Jesus which is worthy of all our praise and adoration forever.

The transformation of humankind
The great impact the Cross on the human race is that it is not just a means to avoid punishment and hell. Jesus did not die to just save the sinner from certain death (even though this would have been reason enough to thank God for all eternity). Rather, the Cross delivers to us something far greater. The death and resurrection of Christ make us part of God’s eternal family! When Jesus died on the Cross, an incredible exchange of identity took place.

It is not only Jesus who died on Calvary, but everyone who places their faith in his hands died with Christ and is resurrected to a new identity (Romans 6:6). Or as Jesus put it, we are “born again” (John 3:3). And once this transformation takes place, our new identity is that of a son or daughter of God. Jesus brings us into such an intimate relationship with the Father that we can call him “Abba” (Romans 8:15). Jesus has become our all-powerful elder brother and he himself “is not ashamed to call [us his] brethren! (Hebrews 2:11)

We have become co-heirs with Jesus and one day we will rule and reign with him! What a wonderful redemption!

Therefore let us rise up from the all our lethargy and misery. The Cross has become our victory for today and the gateway to a triumphant future. Let us live according to that glorious destination and let us give thanks to God for His saving love!
 

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

The Abrahamic Covenant

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  Genesis 12:1-3

The Abrahamic Covenant is a God-given promise that has influenced the very course of human history. The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Galatians, was clear that it could never be annulled (Galatians 3:17). Many preachers have tried to annul it in some form or fashion, in an attempt to deny the Jewish people a national destiny in their ancient homeland of Canaan. That God would displace peoples in order to restore Jewish national sovereignty offends them, since they regard this as unjust. But God does not see the world as we see it and therefore He harmonizes His judgment of peoples with the return of His people to the Promised Land.

Thus He only brought His people into Canaan four hundred years after the Exodus, when the wickedness of the nations living there was “ripe” for judgment (Deuteronomy 9:4-5). This idea of God judging people and nation groups is rejected by many theologians today. Michael Pryor, an Anglican minister, so fully rejected this notion that he referred to Joshua as “the patron saint of ethnic cleansing.” This ignores the fact that a loving God, who does not change, called for the judgment that Israel’s possession of the land brought on the peoples who were already living there.

The Abrahamic Covenant is also everywhere affirmed as an everlasting Covenant (Genesis 17:7-8; Psalm 105:9-12). Most theologians agree that it was unconditional, but if it were not it was conditional upon Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. This he completely fulfilled and thus God affirmed that henceforth He would keep the terms of the Covenant; a fact that David acknowledged in the Psalms.  Note the words of Genesis 22:15-18:

 “Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son – blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.’”

So this forever settles the debate! The Abrahamic Covenant is everlasting, cannot be changed and even the New Testament scriptures affirm this (Hebrews 6:13-20). Why is it so hard for Christian leaders to get this? Especially since the fruit of seeking to reconstruct it has been rotten to say the least. It has brought arrogance and prejudice against the Jews, taken the Church down a pathway to anti-Semitism and birthed pogroms, expulsions, persecutions, Apartheid and the Holocaust. This is undeniable! Worst of all, those who deny the everlasting nature of the Covenant accuse God of lying!

Because they cannot accept that God has returned Israel to Canaan in our time, they concoct elaborate theories all designed to undermine the truth of the Abrahamic Covenant. So Catholic and Protestant prelates declare that the Abrahamic Covenant has been abolished, and even Evangelicals are constructing elaborate theological theories to disavow the efficacy of this everlasting promise.  Some Palestinian Christians have called for the Bible to be “de-Zionized!” Those who affirm its efficacy are smeared as working against peace in the Middle East. They are called hateful warmongers always advancing the Zionist plots of the Jews!

So, what is the Abrahamic Covenant?
A.  It is the watershed of redemption history in that it constitutes God’s decision to save the world from sin (Galatians 3:8).

B.  It has many aspects or facets, like a diamond;

(1)  A promise of custodianship
That is, it will be through an ethnic group called Israel that God will bless the world. This nation will exist as long as the stars are in the sky above us! (Genesis 12:1-3; John 4:22; Romans 3:1; 9:1-5; Jeremiah31:35-37)

(2)  A promise of land
Those who “mess” with this land and seek to disinvest the Jewish people of it can expect divine judgment (Genesis 17:7-8; Joel 3:1-3). This promise, in spite of Israel’s disobedience, has been fulfilled time and time again through the course of history.

(3)  A promise of a saving Messiah
In Genesis 22 we have the story of the “binding of Isaac”, which Christians view as a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus (Hebrews 11:17-19). The Abrahamic Covenant always held a promise to the descendants of Israel and to the “seed” – Jesus  (Genesis 22:17-18). To believe in the one does not deny the other. In Galatians three, Paul was pointing to the “one” – Jesus – and was not denying the promises to the “many” – the people of Israel. Manipulators of the Word of God, anti-Semites and Replacement adherents emphasize one aspect of the promise and claim the promises to the many have been abolished. They have absolutely no biblical grounds for doing this.

(4)  A promise of blessing (Genesis 12:1-3)
That is, God has promised to bless those who defend Israel’s existence, recognizing the unique role she is playing out for the sake of the world. This does not mean “blind support of Israel,” but it does mean standing against those who seek her liquidation and deny her claim to the Promised Land. Israel’s servant purpose on behalf of the world was not finished with the coming of Jesus in the first century. She will yet mediate, in its fullness, the final great covenant of redemption history to the world; the Davidic Covenant (Ezekiel 37:24-28; Revelation 22:12-17).

(5)  A promise of cursing (Genesis 12:1-3)
All the nations who resisted the plan of God for world redemption through the Jews have become the wreckage of history. We would do well to learn from this as it is the same as resisting God Himself (Psalm 83). The Book of Esther is a stark reminder of this as, if Haman had destroyed the Jews, Jesus would never have come. The same is true of the Egyptians in Moses’ day and all the other ant-Semites of history, including the wicked thugs of the Third Reich and their children today, the radical Islamic jihadists. A rude and humbling awakening is awaiting our world (Psalm 2).

(6)  A promise of salvation (Galatians 3:8)
Israel’s ultimate and great purpose given to her in the Abrahamic Covenant was to mediate eternal life to the world through her great son Jesus Christ. We owe her a great debt of gratitude and our God-given role is to appreciate her, pray for her and provoke her to jealousy (Romans 11). God loves all people the same but He did make Israel His servant to the nations; a role that she has ultimately and uniquely carried out.

C.  This Covenant has been uniquely validated by the return of the Jews to Canaan in our day and by a living Church that is found in almost every tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9-10). This return of the Jews is no coincidence and is quite remarkable. As in the past, it has aroused the anger of the surrounding peoples. Even some in the Church are angry, and yet Scripture everywhere gives testimony to this return (Luke 21:24).

Jeremiah gives testimony to a return from the “north country” that will surpass that of the Exodus (Jeremiah 16:14-15). We have witnessed this in that well over a million Jews have returned to Zion from the former Soviet Union.

Israel will be judged and corrected but the nations will be made a full end of before the age closes (Jeremiah 30:11). Israel will not be uprooted ever again (Amos 9: 13-15); she will be redeemed and all nations will flow toward Jerusalem to acknowledge her role in history and rejoice in her God! (Isaiah 2:1-4; Zechariah 14:16-19; Revelation 21:22-27)

In the end, Israel will radiate all the truths and promises God made through her to a fallen world (Isaiah 62:11-12; Romans 11:25-26). All of this will happen because of a promise that God made with the man Abraham 4000 years ago. What an incredible God we serve!


Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

 

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