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Israel & Christians Today
Biblical understanding about Israel
Since the so-called “Arab Spring” broke out in 2010, the Middle East has been thrown in utter chaos, and with it, the rest of the world. Recent months have witnessed a growing flood of refugees fleeing violence, war and terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and many other countries. Europe is now confronted with what some describe as the greatest demographic upheaval since WWII. Just when the EU narrowly staved off a possible implosion caused by a threatened “Grexit”, Germany’s “open door” decision to take in hundreds of thousands of immigrants has led to new tensions within Europe. Opinions differ widely about how to deal with this phenomenon, and very few seem to have an understanding of the underlying causes. Some even fear that Europe has lost control over her own destiny.
We should not for one moment downplay the enormity of the current humanitarian crisis facing Europe. We all have a responsibility to respond with compassion to those who are in need. But at the same time we do well to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. What is actually going on here? Why are so many nations in the Middle East seemingly exploding? How are we to interpret these momentous events? Is it legitimate to point the finger at Islam as the cause of all our problems? Does the Bible give us any direction?
When Jesus rose from the dead, He spent 40 days teaching His twelve Apostles “about the Kingdom of God”. We can assume that He taught everything He had learned from His heavenly Father – the same God who had spoken through the prophets of the Old Testament. He would have taught about His own return in glory to reign as Messiah, to usher in an era when nations shall train for war no more (Isaiah 2). No doubt He spoke about the events leading up to the Kingdom, including the restoration of Israel, and God’s dealings with nations.
In the days prior to His death, He had taught His disciples to understand that when the fig tree (Israel) and all the trees (the nations) sprout their leaves, this will be as sign of the coming of the Kingdom (Luke 21).
At the end of these 40 days, the disciples had only one question: “When are you going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replied – it is not for you to know the times and dates, which the Father has determined in His own authority. You are simply to wait for the Holy Spirit, before going out into the nations in power to preach the gospel.
The prophets of the Old and New Testaments teach us that there are a number of reasons why Jesus will come back to earth with His saints to establish His Kingdom on earth.
The first reason Jesus will return will be to reveal Himself to His own people Israel, who will have been (at least partially) restored to the land. The story of Joseph’s emotional reconciliation with his brothers (Genesis 45) can be read as a deeply moving account of how Jesus and His brothers will weep loudly when the blindness is finally removed from their eyes, and they will recognize Him as the brother they had sold. This would seem to be the context in which the Lord will pour out His Spirit of “grace and supplication” upon them, and they will mourn for Him as for their firstborn (Zechariah 12).
Second - equally important - the Son of God will come to deal with the nations who have rebelled against Him. The prophets Joel, Zachariah and Ezechiel – amongst others - reveal that the nations (or at least some of them) will consummate their enmity towards God by gathering against Jerusalem. It is in that context that God’s anger for their iniquity (lawlessness) and injustices will be poured out on the nations.
In this respect, God will apparently deal in a special way with the nations immediately surrounding Israel: Moab, Edom, Philistia, Damascus, Egypt. Today we know them as Egypt, Lebanon, Gaza, Syria, and Jordan. Not to forget Assyria (Iran) and Babylon (Iraq). Jeremiah 12 suggest that just as the Lord has uprooted and dispersed Israel, so will He will “uproot” those “wicked neighbors” that have “trampled” on His inheritance Israel. In Zechariah 12 we read that when He turns again in compassion to restore Israel, Jerusalem will become a “cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling”, and an “immovable rock for all the nations”.
Third, we are reminded that God’s anger is not the end of the story for the nations. Having “uprooted” and executed judgment on those nations who oppose Him, He will turn again to the nations in compassion. The Messiah’s coming will be in order to train the nations in the ways of justice, equity and mercy.
To sum up – it seems we are witnessing some profound events or trends that are inter-connected:
The fulfillment of prophecy does not mean God over-rules our freedom of choice. He gives us all – as individuals and as nations – the freedom to decide how we conduct ourselves and respond to the world around us. But we do well to remember that God is in control. He stands above it all, bringing all things to the fulfillment of His eternal purposes, through Jesus Christ – the Alpha and Omega, who was with the Father from the beginning and through whom all things were made (John 1), and to whom every knee will bow in heaven and on earth (Phil. 2).
How should we respond? Let us live more and more in Jesus. We need to feel His heart and allow His life to dwell in us. Then we will be able to do the works He has prepared for us, understand the times we are living in, and be ready for His coming. “For it is the spirit of prophecy that bears testimony to Jesus” (Revelation 19:10).