Further signs of the End 2 Summary


  •  
  • Turning away from the faith: a pointer towards the End

  •  
  • Jesus said: ‘…you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
  •  
  • Jesus had in mind people who had faith but who have now turned away from it, either because of persecution or because of the “increase of wickedness.” There are, of course, many in ‘Christian countries,’ some of whom had a Christian background, who have turned away from it, although some may never have had a personal faith. As we shall see, the current “turning away from the faith” is in countries where there is little or no persecution. It is a matter of debate as to whether there is an increase of wickedness in these countries (compared with countries where Christianity is strong and growing) as there is evidence on both sides.
  •  
  • Church decline

  •  
  • To listen to some people, including Christians, there is currently a massive decline in Christianity with people turning away from the faith. Some take this as an indication that this prediction by Jesus is taking place. But it is important to see the whole picture.
  •  
  • Church Decline in the US:

  • ·         Americans believing in God in 1940s: 92-98%; in 2010: 80%
  • ·         Americans calling themselves Christians in 1948: 92%; in 2008: 78%
  • ·         Americans claiming religion very important to them in 1958: 75%; in 2008: around 50%
  • ·         Majority of Americans do not attend church weekly
  • Christianity is still a major influence, though.
  •  
  • Church Decline in developed nations:

  • ·         Only 38% of people in developed nations say religion is important to them.
  • ·         In 2007/8 eight of the 11 least religious countries in the world were in Europe
  • ·         In the UK belief in God was 79% in 1960s and 68% in 1990s.
  • ·         About a third of French people don’t believe in God.
  •  
  • Causes of Church Decline include:

  • ·         Cultural factors – secularisation in sexual matters, abortion, gay relationships and gay marriage and divorce; a subjective consumer approach to religion.
  • ·         Political secularisation.
  • ·         Scientific and intellectual factors (but these comments are only relevant to more conservative Christians).
  •  
  • Church decline in the Middle East (some of this is through emigration):

  • ·         In 1948 Jerusalem 20% Christian, now 2%.
  • ·         Until recently Bethlehem was 80% Christian, now 33%
  • ·         Until recently Lebanon had a Christian majority, now 33%
  • ·         In 1946 Syria was about 50% Christian, now 4%.
  • ·         In 1950 Jordan was 18% Christian, now 2%
  • ·         In 1953 Palestinian areas 10% Christian, now 2%
  • ·         Before the 2003 war Iraq had between 800,000 and 1.4 million Christians (5%), now 500,000-600,000.
  •  
  • Church decline in Britain:

  • ·         In 2005 5.8 million churchmembers (12.3%), in 2010 5.5% (11.2%).
  • ·         In 2001 71.7% claimed to be Christian, in 2010 59.3%.
  • ·         Less than 50% of young people claim to be Christians.
  • ·         In 1983 clergy were the most trusted professionals – by 85% of the population, in 2011 they were the 6th most trusted professionals – trusted by 66%. In 2014 a survey discovered that 69% of the UK population do not trust religious institutions. The church came in 7th position after the NHS, police, social services, local authorities, judiciary and government/parliament.
  • ·         British Christians turning away from biblical teaching on sexuality, etc:
  • o   In 1983 31% of Anglicans thought pre-marital sex ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ wrong, in 2012 10%.
  • o   In 1987 of 78% of Anglicans thought people should marry before having children, now 54%.
  • o   In 1983 63% of Anglicans thought “sexual relations between adults of the same sex" were "always wrong,” now 40%.
  • o   In 1983
  •  
  • In 1983 34% of Anglicans thought a woman should be allowed to have an abortion if she didn’t wish to have a child and her health was not endangered by the pregnancy, now 56%.
  • (There are similar figures for Roman Catholics for all the above points).

The majority of UK citizens now believe that religion does more harm than good. The Huffington Post discovered that only 25% of British people think religion is a force for good. Professor Linda Woodhead (Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University) commented “This confirms something I’ve found in my own surveys and which leads me to conclude that religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK.”

There is growing ignorance of the Christian Faith in the UK. The Bible Society discovered that:
  • •    25% of children have never read, seen or heard the story of the Nativity.
•    43% of children have yet to hear, see or read about the Crucifixion.
•    29% of children don’t know that the Nativity story is part of the Bible.
30% of secondary school children (aged 12-15) did not know the Nativity story appears in the Bible.
  •  
  • Church decline in Europe:

  • ·         Europeans calling themselves Christians in 1910 94.5%, in 2010 80.2%.
  • ·         However only 52% of Europeans believe in God and 27% believe in a spirit or life force.
  •  
  • However, in the world as a whole, Christianity is growing:
  •  
  • Church growth

  •  
  • ·         The number of Christians worldwide was 600 million in 1910 and over 2 billion in 2010, but still about the same proportion of the whole population: 35% in 1910; 32% in 2010.
  • ·         63% of Christians live in Europe and the Americas in 2010 compared with 93% in 2010.
  • ·         26% of Christians live in Europe in 2010 compared with 66% in 1910.
  • ·         24% of Christians live in Sub-Saharan Africa, 13% in Asia and the Pacific.
  • ·         Christians are a majority in 158 countries (some two thirds of the world).
  •  
  • So, the statistics do not support the idea that we are currently seeing many turning away from the faith and betraying and hating each other, although there is certainly a massive turning away from the faith in Western countries, particularly Europe. That does illustrate that such decline can happen quite quickly and dramatically though, and could do so again in the future, including in places where Christianity is currently strong and growing. So this sign of the End Times could come about quite quickly. One of the main causes seems to be materialism.
  •  
  • However, it has to be said that one of the reasons people are leaving the church is the failure of the church itself. It is not only the failure of very many churches to evangelize and to provide ministry and fellowship up to biblical standards but it is the failure of sections of the church to live up to biblical standards of behaviour. There is all too much nominal faith, hypocrisy and ungodly behaviour. Failings amongst clergy, some of it very serious, have done enormous damage.
  •  
  • There is some growth in the British church:

  •  
  • ·         There are now 500,000 Christians in black majority churches in Britain. Black churches are growing rapidly.
  • ·         Church attendance in London grew by 16% between 2005 and 2012 from 620,000 to 720,000. Membership of the Anglican diocese of London, the largest Anglican diocese in the country, has grown by over 70% since 1990. (But overall London Anglican numbers are declining)
  • ·         There are 140 churches in London with more than 800 members and these attract younger people.
  • ·         One new congregation has been started in York every year since 1980
  • ·         There is substantial church growth in Edinburgh.
  • ·         Cathedral mid-week attendance has mushroomed.
  • ·         Tens of thousands of people attend “fresh expressions” of churches, e.g. Café Churches started in the last 20-30 years.
  • ·         Peter Brierley calculates that 2,950 new churches started between 1989 and 2005. There is some evidence that over 5000 new churches have begun in the UK between 1980 and 2010. He also says that 1248 more churches have opened than closed between 2005 and 2010.
  • ·         60% of Anglican parishes are declining but 40% are growing. Seven diocese grew between 2001 and 2010: Canterbury, Ely, Hereford, London, Newcastle, Southwark and York.

The historian Simon Schama (himself Jewish) believes Britain is becoming more religious. He said recently: “My generation grew up thinking that religion was completely marginal to British life, which, as for the rest of the world, has been proved more and more wrong. We were arrogantly isolated from that, thinking religion was just an ornamental part of Britishness.  Now look at the success of the Alpha Evangelicals, how important Christianity has been to the community of West Indians, the huge place of Islam. Britain is becoming a more religious place, not less.”   A poll conducted by OnePoll in April 2014 found that 35% of non-religious people in Britain believe in God and 43% of them pray at times. Also 32% want a religious funeral.

A 2013 Theos survey reported that:
•    61% of non-religious people believe that “there are things in life that we simply cannot explain through science or any other means.”
•    59% of non-religious people believe in the existence of some kind of spiritual being.
•    52% – think spiritual forces have some influence either in the human world or the natural world.
•    51% believe “prayer works, in the sense that it makes you feel more at peace”.
•    30% believe in God “as a universal life force.”
•    30% believe in spirits.
•    25% believe in angels
•    39% believe in the existence of a soul
•    38% think prayer could heal
•    32% believe in life after death
•    26% believe in heaven
•    16% believe in reincarnation
•    13% believe in hell
•    Only 25% of the non-religious – agree with the statement “humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element”.
•    17%) of people said that prayer works “in the sense that it can bring about change for the people or situation you are praying for.”
•    13% of people say they prayed “daily or more often”, 8% say they prayed a few times a week and 34% said they prayed occasionally.
The Report went on to comment: “For all that formalised religious belief and institutionalised religious belonging has declined over recent decades, the British have not become a nation of atheists or materialists. On the contrary, a spiritual current runs as, if not more, powerfully through the nation than it once did.”

Linda Woodhead said recently: “In culture and institutions Britain is more Christian than not. What is happening is that people are leaving the churches, not faith.”

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, commented: “The evidence is overwhelming that most people in this country by a very substantial margin have religious belief in the supernatural or a deity. To that extent atheism doesn't appear to have made much progress in this country at all …Our state, its ethics and our society are underpinned by Christian values.” He added: “As I go around and look at the way we make laws, and indeed many of the underlying ethics of society are Christian based and the result of 1,500 years of Christian input into our national life. It is not going to disappear overnight. They (the atheists) are deluding themselves.” He also said that he believed people were hesitant to express their religious beliefs because of the “deep intolerance” of religious extremist in British society.

  •  
  • Taking all the evidence into account, the overall picture about the church is positive. The church is growing, despite areas of serious decline especially in the West. This does not support the idea that we are seeing a huge End Time turning away from the faith.
  •  
  • Apostasy (turning away from the Faith)

  •  
  • There is a significant amount of apostasy (turning away from the Faith). Here are some examples:
  •  
  • The Sea of Faith Network, founded by Don Cupitt, an Anglican priest, says: “God has no ‘real’, objective or empirical existence, independent of human language and culture; God is ‘real’ in the sense that he is a potent symbol, metaphor or projection, but He has no objective existence outside and beyond the practice of religion. Non-realism therefore entails a rejection of all supernaturalism - miracles, afterlife and the agency of spirits.”
  •  
  • The Rev Anthony Freeman, another Anglican priest, published a book called God in Us in which he said he had experienced a "reverse conversion experience", after which he stopped believing in an literal, objective, personal God. He would claim he does believe in God as “the sum of our values and of our spiritual experiences: the ideal.” In other words, God is merely an idea or ideal in the minds of human beings. He (or rather it) has no objective existence. When his book was published he was sacked from his job as vicar and as Diocesan Director of Post Ordination Training. Immediately 65 clergy wrote to The Independent condemning the sacking.
  •  
  • In the 1991 World Council of Churches Assembly delegates on their way to the opening worship passed through the smoke of burning leaves - a pagan cleansing ritual. On the second day, with two painted Aborigines dancing in the background, a South Korean theologian Chung Hyun Kyung invoked the spirits of the dead. One delegate, Vijay Menon, a convert from Hinduism, was amongst those who protested. “Pagan culture has infiltrated the WCC. I left that behind to become a Christian.”
  •  
  • We have seen some evidence of apostasy but not on scale to be seen as a sign of the End Times.
  •  
  • False prophets and messiahs

  •  
  • Jesus warns against false prophets and messiahs in the End Times (Mt 24:11, 24).  It would appear therefore that Jesus says false messiahs will happen from time to time throughout history and they are reminders that he, the true Messiah, is coming back, but the matter will become more serious in the end times. False messiahs will have more influence and be more deceptive.
  •  
  • There have certainly been false messiahs over the centuries. So far I have discovered 81 people who in one way or another have made significant messianic claims.  There does seem to be some evidence of a growth in the number of false messiahs.
  •  
  • 1st Century                               2 “messiahs”
  • 2nd Century                              2 “messiahs”
  • 5th Century                               1 “messiah
  • 7th Century                               1 “messiah”
  • 8th  Century                              2 “messiahs”
  • 12th Century                             2 “messiahs”
  • 13th Century                             1 “messiah”
  • 15th Century                             2 “messiahs”
  • 16th Century                             3 “messiahs”
  • 17th Century                             5 “messiahs”
  • 18th Century                             4 “messiahs”
  • 19th Century                             10 “messiahs”
  • 20th Century                             39 “messiahs”
  • 21st Century (up to 2012)        7 “messiahs”
  • TOTAL:                                   81 “MESSIAHS”
  •  
  • Conclusion on turning away from the Faith

  •  
  • We have seen that the church is growing, despite areas of serious decline, especially in the West. We have also looked at some evidence of apostasy and false messiahs. But overall the present situation does not support the idea that we are seeing a huge End Time turning away from the faith. However the massive turning away from the faith in Western countries, particularly Europe, does illustrate that such decline can happen quite quickly and dramatically, and could do so again in the future, including in places where Christianity is currently strong and growing. So this sign of the End Times could come about quite quickly.
  •  
  • The return of the Jewish people to Israel – a sign of the end times?

  •  
  • In his predictions about the End Times Jesus said of the Jewish people: “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Some people try to relate this only to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. The first part clearly does refer to AD70: Many Jewish people did “fall by the sword” and the vast majority were “taken as prisoners to all the nations.”  It is also true that after that Jerusalem was trampled on by the Gentiles” i.e. subject to Gentile rule for 2000 years. All of this is literal. But then Jesus predicts that the Jewish people will regain control of Jerusalem (the unavoidable implication of “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”). Are we therefore to see the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem after 2000 years of exile and the re-establishment of the State of Israel (whatever else needs to happen) as a sign of the End Times?  I believe we are (even though much more needs to happen), although I am aware of all the questions that raises.
  •  
  • It is not helpful that some Christians are so supportive of Israel that they show a lack of care, or even negativism towards the Palestinians and Arabs. I believe strongly God is a God of justice, yes for Israel, but also for the Palestinians. (See http://www.prayerforpeace.org.uk/calltojustice.html). 
  •  
  • I have already explained that I do not accept the view known as Dispensationalism (on which I was brought up), namely:
  • ·         That God’s dealings with Israel are totally separate from his dealings with the church.
  • ·         That for the last 2000 years (the “Church Age”) he has only been working with the church, not with Israel. So the current dispensation is the Church Age.
  • ·         That God won’t start working with Israel again until the church is taken out of the way – in the Secret Rapture, which will bring the present dispensation to an end.
  •  
  • Given the amount of prediction of an End Time return to the land in the Bible (not just from Babylon etc.) the most remarkable re-establishment of the State of Israel is, to say the least, a huge coincidence if it is not the beginning (only the beginning) of the fulfilment of those prophecies.
  •  
  • It is important to note that many Christians accept what is called “Replacement Theology,” namely the idea that the church has totally and finally replaced Israel in the purposes of God. This view holds that all the OT prophecies concerning Israel which have not already been literally fulfilled are now to be applied exclusively to the Christian Church.
  •  
  • Just as we must avoid anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian attitudes, we must also avoid anti-Semitism (anti-Jewishness) which, sadly, is alive and well in the world today.
  •  
  • I also want to make it clear that it is legitimate to apply many O.T. prophecies, originally made concerning the Jewish people, to the Church, Jewish and Gentile. But, as we shall see, this is not to deny the continuing relevance of these prophecies to the Jewish people and Israel.
  •  
  • It is true that:
  • ·         Many OT prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus
  • o   He is the servant of Isaiah, the sacrificial Lamb of God, his body is a temple (John 2:19).
  • o   He speaks of a universal kingdom.
  • ·         Jesus reinterprets important OT concepts
  • o   For example he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19)
  •  
  • Some people say:
  • ·         The land “was unimportant to Jesus and the NT writers
  • o   Jesus told the Samaritan woman that worship should be in spirit and in truth rather than in a particular geographical location, even Jerusalem. (John 4:19-26).
  • o   Paul includes no reference to land in his list of Israel’s privileges in Rom 9:4.
  • ·         The land “was replaced by the world in the NT”
  • ·         The return to the land “is re-interpreted by the NT as worldwide success of the gospel”
  • BUT, as we have seen, Jesus does foretell the eventual return of Jewish control to Jerusalem (Luke 21:24 – this is only a brief reference but it is the tip of an iceberg of prophecies in the OT as we shall see).
  • Also, when the disciples ask him in Acts 1:6 if he will restore the kingdom to Israel he doesn’t say they are mistaken to expect that to happen. He only seems to imply only that it is inappropriate to speculate on the timing of that event.

  • The NT teaches that God has a continuing purpose for the Jewish people.

  •  
He has not finally rejected the Jewish people (Rom 11:1, 2). They did not “stumble so as to fall beyond recovery” (Rom 11:11). Paul looks forward to their “fullness” which, says Professor F F Bruce means: “The large scale conversion of the Gentile world is to be followed by the large scale conversion of Israel”

  • [1] The “rejection” of the Jewish people is temporary and partial (since many Jewish people have come to faith in Christ). Paul says: “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” (Rom 11:15). 
  •  
  • Paul goes on to say: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:  Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And so all Israel will be saved…” (Rom 11:25-26).
  •  
  • Some people have tried to make out that “Israel” in verse 26 really means the church (the new Israel) and not the nation of Israel but scholars disagree. For example:
  • ·          Professors Sanday and Headlam say: “The whole context shows clearly that it is the actual Israel of history that is referred to.”[2]
  • ·         Professor Bruce agreesIt is impossible to entertain an exegesis [explanation] which takes ‘Israel’ (in v26) in a different sense from ‘Israel’ in verse 25.”[3]
  • ·         Prof. C E B Cranfield says the most likely meaning of “all Israel” is “t*he nation Israel as a whole, but not necessarily including every individual member.” [4]
  • ·         Prof. John Zeisler comments: “When Paul says ‘all Israel’ we therefore take it that he means ‘all Jews.’”[5]
  • ·         Prof. James Dunn states: “There is now a strong consensus that ‘pas Israel’ [all Israel] must mean Israel as a whole…”[6]
  •  
  • (There are more details and quotations from scholars in the longer version of this message which is now at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/blog/?p=422. It has a hyperlink index).
  •  
  • God clearly has an important future purpose for the Jewish people and it will be fulfilled when they massively turn to Jesus as their Messiah (and ours).
  •  
  • The biblical teaching on the future significance of the Jewish people and their land
  •  
  • Jesus clearly predicted an end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem (Luke 21:24), which necessarily means the Jewish people regaining control of Jerusalem. This has now happened (I’m not ignoring the claims of the Palestinians to East Jerusalem which must be dealt with justly). He also did not disagree with the idea the disciples had that he would “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). But these verses are the tip of an iceberg of OT predictions of an End Time return to Israel.
  •  
  • 1.    The O.T. teaches that Israel remains the promised land

  •  
  • (a)                I counted that on 109 occasions the O.T. refers to the land as given or promised to the Jewish People.
  • (b)               In addition on a further 36 occasions it states that God swore a solemn oath to give them the land.[7]
  • (c)                And on a further 15 occasions the land is promised ‘for ever.[8]
  • (d)               So strong is the emphasis on this in the O.T. that it is clear that the people and the land are very deeply and closely associated.  If the two are separated something is seriously wrong.
  • (e)                The Lord states that Israel does not deserve the land (Dt.9:4-6) and each generation of Israel will only keep and enjoy the land if they are obedient to God. This is made clear on 22 occasions.[9]
  • (f)                However, although the Lord threatens judgement and eventually the people are exiled for their disobedience, yet he constantly assures them that, even then, he is willing to forgive and restore then.  He says this on 24 occasions.[10]
  • (g)                The Lord is so merciful that although he lays down repentance as the condition of restoration yet he doesn't seem to keep strictly to this.  The Israelites had already returned to the land before Ezra led them in repentance in Nehemiah 9. 
  •  
  • Would it not be strange if God decided against fulfilling his strong and numerous promises to Israel about the land? If God breaks such promises, how reliable is he in other promises?
  •  
  • Also the O.T. stresses that the people and the land are so deeply and closely associated that only persistent disobedience will separate the two.  Is it not therefore reasonable to expect that when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25) they will be restored to the land.  We have seen that such restoration could precede such turning to Christ. (point g. above).
  •  
  • 2.    The O.T. foretells the return of the Jewish people to Israel in the last days:

  •  
  • It is important to distinguish prophecies referring to a return from exile in the Last Days from the prophecies (now fulfilled) of a return from the exile in Babylon which took place in O.T. times. 
  •  
  • Isaiah prophesies about the coming messianic rule over the whole earth and states: “In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from lower Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.  He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.” (Isa 11:11-12). Scholars agree that this is not the return from Babylon but a wider future return. He gives a similar prophecy in 60:4, 9, 21, 22, 61:4.5.
  •  
  • Jeremiah gives similar prophecies in Jeremiah 3:12-18 and 23:7-8 and scholars again see this as an End Time wider return. In 32:37-41 God says: "I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banished them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let then live in safety.”  (cf. 31:8).
  •  
  • Jeremiah also writes: “This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is his name: ‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.’ This is what the Lord says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:35-37). It seems clear to me that this can only be interpreted as God having a future purpose for Israel as a nation.
  •  
  • In a prophecy generally accepted and describing the Messianic Age, Ezekiel describes an attack by ‘Gog’ on a restored Israel under the reign of the house of David. This amounts to a massive coalition of world powers to destroy God's kingdom.  The children of Israel are gathered from among the nations and resettled in their own land (Ezekiel 38:8, 16, 39:25-29).  In Chapter 39:25-29 God says: I will now bring Jacob back from captivity ... when I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will show myself holy through them in the sight of many nations.  They will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind.”  Scholars relate this to the End Times.
  •  
  • Joel prophesies “The Day of the Lord”, i.e. the End Times (2:28-32 quoted in Acts 2:17-21). He then proceeds to describe the End Time judgements.  The Lord says, “In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgement against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land. Then you will know that I, the Lord your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy; never again will foreigners invade her. Judah will be inhabited for ever and Jerusalem throughout all generations.” (Joel 3:1-2, 17, 20). These words fit only a description of the restoration of Israel in the End Times, and, as we have seen, Joel puts them in the context of the Day of the Lord.
  •  
  • Amos prophesies that Israel will finally be settled back in their own land “never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them (Amos 9:14-15). These words only fit the restoration of Israel in the End Times.
  •  
  • Zechariah foretells a time when “all the nations of the earth are gathered against [Jerusalem]” (Zech 12:3 cf. 14:2). This has not happened in history but, even at the present time, Israel’s ability to create widespread disapproval in the world makes such a possibility hardly seem farfetched. One can imagine a situation where Israel has turned to her Messiah (“all Israel will be saved”) and in the time of the Antichrist (a subject to which we shall return) there is great antagonism towards her (Zechariah 12:2-3, 10-11; 14). Scholars see this as an End Time prophecy.
  •  

  • But what about the way in which the State of Israel was re-established?

  •  
  • How can we be sure that what has happened in the last few decades is a fulfilment of prophecy? Even some Jewish people do not accept the setting up of the modern secular State of Israel as being a divine action because they believe only the Messiah can lead the people back to the land. The recent return was a secular not a Messianic action.
  •  
  • After all, the Jewish people have gone back in unbelief, as far as faith in Jesus as Messiah is concerned and they are largely secular nation with all the failings of a modern secular Western democracy. What is more, look at the injustices meted out on the Palestinians?
  •  
  • My response is as follows: The return of the Jewish people is either:
  • a.       a most remarkable coincidence, or
  • b.      an unacceptable human attempt to fulfil biblical prophecy by political manipulation and aggression,
  • c.       or it is the beginnings (no more) of a genuine fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
  •  
  • I find a. incredible and b. doesn’t explain the most remarkable process, with many people praying for a return to the land, especially after the Holocaust, which led to the UN vote to partition Palestine. God does overrule the changes, chances and wrong actions of human life so that they fulfil his purposes.
  •  
  • It does not seem impossible therefore that, for all the deplorable human failure involved, the return of the Jewish people to the land is the beginnings of a fulfilment of biblical prophecy. To believe such a thing does not imply wholehearted support for all the actions of the secular state of Israel.


  • Current Anti-Semitism


    The NT is quite clear that God has a continuing purpose for the Jewish people in Christ. Paul predicts that “All Israel will be saved.”  Scripture also foretells attacks on Israel in the End Times. The continuation and even growth of anti-Semitism is a clear pointer to all this. The idea that anti-Semitism is growing, including in Europe, is controversial. Some surveys have been criticised as unreliable. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, is a man of great integrity and intellectual ability. In 2014 of Jewish people having “a degree of apprehension I have not known in my lifetime …  Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe within living memory of the Holocaust. Never again has become ever again.” He added that a French synagogue congregation was surrounded by “a howling mob claiming to protest Israeli policy” and that four people were murdered in a Jewish museum and a synagogue was firebombed in Brussels.

    He quotes “well-established British Jews saying ‘For the first time in my life, I feel afraid.’ A survey 2013 survey showed almost a third of Europe’s Jews have considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism (France 46%, Hungary 48%). He continued that in the Middle Ages Jews were hated for their religion, in the 19th and 20th century for their race and today for their nation state. “Israel is the only country among the 193 in the UN whose right to exist is routinely challenged and in many quarters denied.”  In 102 nations Christians predominate and there are 56 Islamic states “but a single Jewish state is deemed one too many.”

    Rabbi Sacks believes the new anti-Semitism started at the U.N. Conference against Racism at Durban in 2001. “Israel was accused of … racism, apartheid, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and attempted genocide.” He said that human rights matter but added that “the sheer disproportion of the accusations against Israel” show mixed motives. Over half the U.N. Human Rights Council resolutions since 2006 criticising a particular country have been directed at Israel. In 2013, the U.N. General Assembly passed 21 resolutions against Israel and only 4 criticisms of the rest of the world. In 2004, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) gave examples of anti-Semitic comments on Israel:
    •    Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination e.g. claiming the existence of Israel is a racist endeavour
    •    Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation
    •    Historical libels e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or using Christian blood in the Passover to characterize Israelis
    •    Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
    •    Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

    In 2013 the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that:
    •    76% of Jews thought anti-Semitism had increased over the last 5 years,
    •    46% of Jews were worried about being verbally assaulted or harassed in public because they were Jewish.
    •    A third of Jews were worried about being physically attacked
    •    57% of Jews said they had heard or seen someone claim over the last year that the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated.
    Danny Cohen director of TV at the BBC said he has “never felt so uncomfortable as a Jew in the UK”

    Anti-Semitism is deceptive: concerns for justice for the Palestinians and legitimate criticisms of Israel can mask unwitting anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism (“the world’s longest hatred) is an underlying racist attitude and spiritual problem - a pernicious and widespread form of racism. The only explanation for anti-Semitism’s prevalence is that it’s a demonic influence opposing God’s continuing purpose for the Jewish people. When Israel recognises her Messiah & proclaims him the world will be affected. Satan plans to prevent this by destroying the Jewish people. Those of us who, like me, are deeply concerned about justice for the Palestinians must be very careful not to fall into anti-Semitic attitudes. Those of us who do have legitimate criticisms of some of Israel’s actions must be very careful not to fall into anti-Semitic attitudes.

    We need to try to enter into the mind-set of Jewish people in general and Israelis in particular. For them the Holocaust happened recently. Centuries of persecution preceded the Holocaust. The ‘closeness’ of history causes insecurity. Israelis feel insecure because of the history of persecution and because countries and political groups today are determined to destroy Israel
     
  • Conclusion

  •  
  • So I believe that:
  • ·         God has a (corporate) purpose for the Jewish people (Rom 11). This purpose is to be fulfilled only in Christ. It is only as they are saved through turning to him.
  • ·         Jesus foretold Jewish control of Jerusalem in the End Times (Lk. 21:24).
  • ·         The people and the land are inseparable except in a time of persistent disobedience.  (It is therefore reasonable to expect that when "all Israel will be saved" - Rom. 11:25 - they will be restored to the land).
  •  
  • I also note the following very significant facts:
  • ·         The remarkable, unique of the survival of the Jews for 2,000 years
  • ·         The remarkable, unique re-establishment and preservation of Israel
  • ·         The hatred of the world against the Jews and Israel. What is the reason for the world’s longest hatred? There are secondary causes but it seems inexplicable except from a supernatural point of view. God’s remarkable past salvation purpose, leading to the Incarnation and his future purpose (Rom 9-11) seem to be the real target.
  • ·         The deep intercessory concern which millions of mature Christians have for Israel.
  •  


[1] F.F. Bruce, Tyndale Commentary on Romans (Tyndale Press, London, 1963) p 216.

[2] Sanday and Headlam, International Critical Commentary on Romans (T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1960) p. 335.

[3] Bruce, op. cit. p. 221.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, International Critical Commentary, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1979)  pp.576f

[5] Prof. John Zeisler, Paul's Letter to the Romans, TPI NT Commentaries, SCM, London, 1989, p.285

[6] Prof. James Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol.38, Romans 9-16, Word, Waco, 1988, p.138

[7] Gen. 26:3, 50:24, Ex 6:8, 13:5,11,  32:13,  33:1, Num 11:12, 14:16,23, 32:11, Dt.1:8,35, 6:10,18,23,  7:13,  8:1, 10:11, 11:9,21, 19:8, 26:3, 28:11, 31:7,20,21,23, 34:4 Josh. 1:6, 21:43, Judg. 2:1, Neh.9:15, Jer. 11:5, 32:22, Ezk. 20:28.

[8] Gen 13:15, 17:8, 48:4, 32:13, Ex. 32:13, 1 Chron.16:15-18, 28:8, 2 Chron. 20:7, Psa. 37:29, Isa. 60:21, Jer.7:7, 25:5, 33:17-26, Ezk. 37:21-28

[9] Lev. 18:28, 20:22, 25:23, 26:32-35, Dt. 16:20, 28:36,63,64, 29:22-27,28, 30:18,20, Josh. 23:15-16, 1 Kings 9:5-9, 14:15, 2 Kings 17, 2 Chron. 7:14 Psa.37:29, Isa 57:13, Ezk. 33:24-26

[10] Lev 26:40-45, Dt. 30:1-10, 1 Kings 8:46-53, Jer. 12:14, 24:6-7, 27:22, 29:14, 30:3,10,11, 31:4-5,10, 16,17,23, 33:7, 42:12, Ezk. 11:17-18, 28:25, 34:12-16, 36:21, 37:21-28, Zech. 8:7-8, 10:9



© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page