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Why Israel?

There is no doubt that Israel enjoys growing support from the Evangelical movement today. At times this support is little understood, especially as for centuries the Church struggled to understand the ‘Jewish question’ and even displayed and instigated militant antisemitism against the Chosen people. They taught that God was finished with the Jews. However, this has changed dramatically, yet the question remains: Why do we support Israel today?

I invite you to take your Bible and consider with me ten reasons why all believers in Jesus should support, bless and stand with God’s chosen people, the Jews.

Reason #1 God loves Israel!
The prophet Jeremiah states very clearly: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness...” The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! ….” (Jeremiah 31:2–4). After a season of judgement (‘the sword’), God is motivated by His ‘everlasting love’ to restore Israel. Note that it is an everlasting love… unceasing, never ending! It was this love which birthed God’s plan with Israel (Deuteronomy 7:7) and this love will also bring it to a glorious end (Romans 11:25-28).

Someone once asked me: “How can God love a sinful nation like Israel?” The answer is simple: By the same unconditional love the Lord has towards the Church. Indeed, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So here is a simple rule for all believers: We should love what Jesus loves. How is your love for Israel? Just ask God to give you His love for the Jewish people!

Reason #2 God is a covenant-keeping God!
God affirmed His promise to give Israel the Land of Canaan with a sworn covenant. In Genesis we read how God appeared to Abraham to promise him a land and descendants as innumerable as the stars of heaven. Abraham replied: “How can I be sure You really will do this?” God answered by coming down as a burning torch which passed through sacrificial animals to seal the land promise with Abraham by covenant oath (Genesis 15:17-18).

One of the main character traits of God is that He is a covenant-keeping God. In the past some Christians insisted God changed His mind about Israel, gave up on them and established a new covenant with the Church – the ‘new Israel’. But that would be catastrophic news for every believer today. With our every sin, lukewarmness or lack of commitment, do we need to fear that God will change His mind about us too? No, for “even if we are unfaithful, He remains faithful; since He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13). Thus, the great hope for both Israel and the Church is that God always keeps His covenant promises – forever!

Reason #3 God hallows His name!
The prophet Ezekiel powerfully described in chapter 36 how God will restore the Land and people of Israel in the last days. When he sees them returning from the nations and being filled with God’s Spirit, he gives a clear reason why God is doing this: “I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went.” (Ezekiel 36:21). Then he declares to Israel: “…not for your sake but for My holy name’s sake I will restore you… And I will sanctify My great name … the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:23-24).

It is rather astonishing that the world media is still so preoccupied with Israel even 73 years after its establishment. As the Swiss theologian Karl Barth stated in 1967: “Now you can read it in the newspapers; God is fulfilling His promises.” Or as Ezekiel said it, God is sanctifying His name before the whole world. By looking to Israel, the world can see that God is still alive and He is a promise-keeping God! Therefore, whenever you pray the Lord’s Prayer, ‘hallowed be Thy name’, pray also for Israel and God’s faithfulness to them.

Reason #4 Israel is a key for revival and future blessing for the Church!
According to the Apostle Paul, Israel’s full restoration will release an unprecedented blessing to the Church. In Romans 11, Paul makes two most amazing statements: “Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” (Romans 11:12); and, “For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15).

Paul presents it as almost a mathematical formula. Looking at Israel’s fall or failure and casting away, he still sees blessing released of ‘riches for the Gentiles’ and ‘reconciliation of the world’. Then he looks to Israel’s future fullness and acceptance and foresees an even greater release for the world of ‘life from the dead’.

John Wesley commented on these verses: “So many prophecies refer to this grand event, that it is surprising any Christian can doubt of it. When it is accomplished, it will be so strong a demonstration, both of the Old and New Testament revelation, that will doubtless convince many… It will release overflowing life to the world, which was dead.”

In Acts 3:19-20, Peter also sees that a spiritually restored Israel will release ‘times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord’, and the ‘times of the restoration of all things’ which eventually brings the return of Christ. That means Israel’s restoration is key for everyone who thirsts for the outpouring that God still has in store for the Church. Or to put it another way: If you thirst for revival, pray for Israel!

Reason #5 We owe it to the Jews!
In his letter to the Romans, Paul recounts his time with the churches of Macedonia. They lavishly poured out a love offering for the ‘poor saints’ in Jerusalem. It was such a substantial gift that Paul decided to deliver it personally to Jerusalem. But why did they give so much? Paul explains: “For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” (Romans 15:26-27)
The believers of Macedonia understood an important principle. Salvation came from the Jews (John 4:22), and they were obligated to return a gift of thanks. We need to remember that Jesus was Jewish, the authors of the Bible were all Israelites, and everything that defines our faith today – even the sacrifice of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – took place in Israel through Jews. Thus, Jesus himself declared: “Salvation is of the Jews!” (John 4:22). Have you ever shown your gratefulness to God’s people for administering to us the means of His eternal grace? If not, I encourage you to follow the Macedonian example and express your appreciation to Israel.

Reason #6 Our roots are in Israel!
Romans 11 contains a botanical miracle. Paul identifies a natural or noble, cultivated olive tree and a wild olive tree. Wild olive trees are scrubs that bear inedible fruit. Paul then describes God doing something no farmer would ever do. He cuts off limbs from the noble tree and grafts wild olive branches in their place. Normally, this process is done exactly the other way around: noble branches are grafted onto wild trees. But Paul relates this strange botany experiment to Israel and the Gentile nations. They, the wild Gentile nations, are grafted in to the noble Jewish olive tree by faith in Jesus and are nourished by the rich sap rising from their prophets, patriarchs and kings.

Paul, therefore, tells the Gentile church in Rome to “remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Romans 11:18). We always need to keep in mind that our spiritual roots are not in Rome, Geneva or Asuza Street. Our spiritual roots lay in Jerusalem, with Hebrew Prophets, Jewish Apostles, a Jewish Saviour, and a Bible written by Jews (see also Ephesians 2:11-13). So let us honour our spiritual roots, knowing Paul also declares that one day the original natural, noble branches will be grafted back into their own tree.

Reason #7 Now is the right time to do it!
Psalm 102 is one of the most powerful prophetic passages in the Bible. Whenever I read the first 11 verses of this ‘Psalm of the afflicted’, I see in my mind’s eye the crematories of Auschwitz and the emaciated bodies of Buchenwald. It is a cry of hopelessness, where the Psalmist sees his people withering like grass. But suddenly, the tone of this Psalm dramatically changes and becomes one of restoration, culminating in the Lord “building up Zion” and “appearing in glory” (Psalm 102:16).

The key verse is v. 13, where God suddenly takes action: “You will arise and have mercy on Zion; For the time to favour her, Yes, the set time, has come” (Psalm 102:13). The Hebrew word for ‘set time’ is mo’ed, which also is used for Israel’s annual holidays. They are the set or appointed times of the Lord. We should see them as eternal entries in God’s appointment diary. And here the Psalmist sees that God has fixed a day for the restoration of Israel to arrive.
You do not need to be a prophecy expert to see this set day has arrived. Already for 100 years, the Lord has been busy restoring Zion. God has arisen to actively show mercy to Zion. Therefore, it is also time for us to arise and join what God is doing!

Reason #8 God has changed His way of dealing with Israel!
Now this reason might at first sound almost heretical. In the end we all believe God never changes – right? He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Yet already, centuries before the birth of Christ, the Lord announced that one day He would change the way He deals with Israel. This is best expressed by the prophet Zechariah. “‘But now I will not treat the remnant of this people as in the former days,’ says the Lord of hosts.… ‘Just as I determined to punish you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And I would not relent, so again in these days I am determined to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.’” (Zechariah 8:11–15).

These verses describe a total reversal of how God relates to Israel. It is a radical shift in gears – from reverse to fast forward. In previous centuries it might have been difficult to see His ongoing faithfulness to Israel. Looking at a dispersed and downtrodden people, many theologians were tempted to see this as an eternal state of judgement on the Jews. But God never gave up on them. And today, we are without excuse when it is even all over our newspapers that Zion is being restored! And if God has changed His approach to Israel, then He will help you also to arise and bless His people.

Reason #9 The Jews are the family of Jesus!
This may be the most simple yet powerful reason: Jesus is a Jew! Paul puts it thusly… “of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God.” (Romans 9:5)

I spoke about this years ago in a church in Bavaria. A brother came to me after the service saying: “Yes, it is true, Jesus was born to a Jewish mother. But you forgot one thing. When Jesus rose from the dead, he received a glorified body. He stopped being Jewish and now he is the universal brother of all mankind.” I was truly impressed. Jesus, the universal brother of mankind, sounded amazing. But in my Bible, I read in Revelation that Jesus in his glorified body is still the “Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). And the very last words of Jesus in the Bible, often standing out in red letters, are: “I, Jesus … am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:16). So even on the very last page of the New Testament, Jesus reminds us that his great, great, great… grandfather is a Jewish king from Jerusalem. By serving the Jewish people, we serve the earthy family of Jesus. And I truly believe He takes notice when we do so.

Reason #10 The Bible commands us to comfort Israel!
Finally, and most importantly, we need to bless Israel because God commands us to. Isaiah delivers this divine imperative, saying “‘Comfort, yes comfort My people’ says the Lord.” (Isaiah 40:1) This is clearly not a call to the Jewish people, otherwise they would be comforting themselves. Rather, it is a call to a Gentile people to stand alongside Israel and bless and comfort her. It is a command for a time when Israel’s warfare has ended (verse 2), a set time when God is restoring Zion. And Isaiah 40 also is clearly not a suggestion or discussion point where He invites our opinion. God Himself, the Creator of heaven and earth who calls out the stars by name (Isaiah 40:26), tells us to arise and stand with His people in comfort and love.

It is precisely for these reasons why the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was established in 1980 to stand with and comfort Israel, and with God’s help we will continue to do so in the decades ahead. Let us all do this together!

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION on this subject, please watch the ICEJ webinar “Ten Reasons to Support Israel Part 1 and Part 2” hosted by ICEJ VP Operations Barry Denison and joined by ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler.

The dangers of the ICC’s ‘war crimes’ libel against Israel

In case you had not heard, there’s a new sheriff in town.

Two weeks ago, British lawyer Karim Khan was sworn in as the new chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in the Hague, replacing Fatou Bensouda who – just two months before her term ended – launched an official investigation of Israel for alleged war crimes against the Palestinians.

Many are watching closely to see if Khan will dismiss the probe against Israel for being politically motivated and outside the limited jurisdiction of the ICC. This will be an important decision, not only for Israeli political leaders and military commanders who could possibly be arrested while abroad and tried by the Court. It also is crucial for all Israelis who look to the IDF to protect them, as well as for Jews everywhere who are facing a rising tide of antisemitism around the world.

Khan, a Muslim, is an international human rights and criminal lawyer who has been involved in some of the ICC’s most high-profile cases. This includes helping the ICC investigate Islamic State for committing atrocities in Iraq. He also has served as defense counsel for several notorious figures brought before the Hague court on charges of genocide and other war crimes, such as Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto, the son of late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

His predecessor left a number of tough prosecutorial decisions on Khan’s plate. Bensouda worked to significantly expand the jurisdiction of the court, drawing criticism from many quarters and even personal sanctions from the Trump administration for seeking to try American soldiers for war crimes in Afghanistan. But her most controversial decision was to open the war crimes probe against Israel.

A number of key Western democratic nations opposed the move because the Court clearly lacked jurisdiction over both Israel (which is not a member state of the ICC) and the Palestinians (who lack the necessary element of statehood). But Bensouda pressed ahead anyway, covertly collaborating with the Palestinian Authority for six years now to put the case together against Israel. The fact that she framed the probe to start with actions taken since June 13, 2014 is further evidence her decision was highly politicized, as that is one day after Hamas terrorists brutally murdered three kidnapped Israeli teens, drawing a heavy Israeli response.

Meantime, Bensouda failed to keep her promise that before leaving office, she would formally proceed with a probe of Turkey for its war crimes and forced population transfers while illegally occupying northern Cyrus – a case many argue involves similar points of law to the case she was building against Israel over Jewish settlements.

In this instance, there is no way to sugar coat Bensouda’s actions. She openly turned a blind eye to Turkey’s thuggery while pursuing a modern-day blood libel against Israel.

Based on comments he made when assuming office, Khan may be inclined to agree. He suggested that the Court should not be wasting its limited time and resources pursuing so many cases it should not be involved in or cannot win. He also pledged to reach out to nations that are not members of the Court and encourage them to use their own criminal justice systems more to prosecute suspected war crimes committed in their countries.

So we will all be waiting for his verdict on the Israel probe. But it is not too late to weigh in on that decision. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is circulating a global petition addressed to the new chief prosecutor and all the state members of the ICC urging them to drop the unfair and untenable war crimes investigation against Israel. And here is why it is important that the voice of Israel’s Christian friends is heard on this matter.

Ever since the UN’s Durban conference against racism two decades ago, the anti-Israel movement has been driving a very determined agenda against the Jewish state and people. Early on, the goals were to promote divestment from Israel and dismantling of the new security fence around the West Bank. But the agenda expanded over time to include what noted Israeli leader Natan Sharansky identified as the “three Ds” – delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel, and applying double standards to Israel. These were all indicators of not just militant anti-Israelism, but of outright antisemitism.

The Palestinian leadership has always been at the forefront of this twisted international agenda, but they have now seen an opportunity through the ICC’s very compliant chief prosecutor to expand it even further to include yet another “D” – the disarming of Israel.

The Palestinians and their obsessed global allies are wanting to officially label Israelis as ‘war criminals’ in order to justify their violence and terror attacks against the Jewish state as well as Jews abroad. Yet at the same time, they also want to strip Israel of its right to defend itself from these attacks. That is, Israel may have the best military in the region, but they will not be able to use it if the IDF is found guilty of committing genocidal crimes against the Palestinians.

Given the current climate of rising global antisemitism, it does not help to have the Hague court – widely seen as having great moral authority – giving serious consideration to these slanderous accusations that Israel has committed war crimes against the Palestinians. This not only endangers all Israelis, it also gives fuel to the antisemites now stalking Jews in the streets of our cities worldwide.

What a sickening outcome – that the Court set up to prosecute and proscribe inhumane atrocities like the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews is now complicit in placing targets on the backs of every Israeli and every Jew in the world.

We must stand against this hideous attempt to turn Israelis and Jews into ‘war criminals.’ Please sign the ICC petition today, and get your family and friends to sign as well.
 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

The Insanity of Antisemitism

One of the sad outcomes of history is that antisemitism has not just survived in the post-Holocaust era, it has thrived. One would have thought that when the depravities of the Nazi genocide against the Jews of Europe were exposed after World War II, such vile hatred would have disappeared. Alas, it has come back in waves and without any shame.

It also is tragic Theodor Herzl’s hope that the rebirth of a Jewish state would be a cure for antisemitism has failed to materialize. In fact, the restored nation of Israel has become a lightning rod for antisemites worldwide, and a pretext for them to demonize and attack Jews everywhere.

This was borne out once more in recent weeks when another surge in Jew-hatred swept the globe in the wake of the latest Hamas rocket war with Israel. With every escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here in the Land, Jews abroad have had to brace for the inevitable hate-filled protests and venomous attacks in social media and even on their persons.

While rockets rained down on Israel from Gaza, Jews wearing kippahs were openly assaulted on the streets of American cities. Corporations came under renewed pressure from their own employees to divest from anything Israel. And equally worrisome, Jews were widely pilloried on the Internet. In one high-profile example, supermodel and mega-influencer Gigi Hadid recently told her tens of millions of Twitter followers: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. For me, this is not about religion or one against the other — it’s about the greed,” adding the hashtags “Free Palestine” and “Free Gaza.”

A similar outrageous missive was recently uncovered dating back to 2007 and the eruption of hatred of Jews and Israel in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War the previous summer. It turns out that Kamau Bobb, head of diversity at Google, is not so tolerant and inclusive after all – writing in a blog post that year: “If I were a Jew I would be concerned about my insatiable appetite for war and killing in defense of myself… Self-defense is undoubtedly an instinct, but I would be afraid of my increasing insensitivity to the suffering [of] others.”

The problem is that when Bobb was recently outed for making these odious comments, he was not fired but merely reassigned to another department. Saying something racist about blacks or native Americans will get you not only fired but completely ‘cancelled’ these days, yet spouting offensive remarks about Jews only means a lateral move at the top of one of the world’s most powerful tech giants.

One of the most odious sources of unrestrained and unchallenged antisemitism today is Palestinian textbooks. A study commissioned by the Europe Union recently concluded that books and teachers’ manuals used in Palestinian schools, including those run by the United Nations, are filled with anti-Israel incitement and denigration of Jews, thereby seriously undermining efforts for a ‘two-state solution.’ But the EU has tried to keep the report under wraps for four months now. And even though it was finally released late last week, the mainstream media has ignored the story, largely because it does not fit their narrative of the Palestinians as the eternally innocent victims of Israeli aggression.

So what did the EU study find in those textbooks? That the Palestinian curriculum repeatedly encourages and glorifies violence against Israelis and Jews, who are depicted as inherently evil and deceptive. One textbook reminds students of an Islamic hadith (tradition) which maintains that treacherous Jews made numerous attempts to murder the prophet Muhammad. Another schoolbook presents Muhammad’s aunt, who clubbed a Jew to death, as a model of strength and ‘resistance’ for Palestinian women to emulate today. Do you think those little factoids will be reported in the New York Times?

Scholars have tried to understand why antisemitism remains so persistent and rampant in our day, and although they can identify and explain it to a degree, it still remains a mystery. Speaking at the gates of Auschwitz last year, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor and chairman of Yad Vashem, described antisemitism as a “spiritual madness.”

This strikes at the core of the problem regarding this ancient and irrational hatred. Antisemitism is indeed a spirit, and we all have a choice to either agree with it or not. Some revel in it. Others simply blame all their problems on the Jews, using them as a convenient excuse to escape taking responsibility for their own lives.

Many Christians are rightly sensing an urgency and need to stand up and combat the pandemic of antisemitism in our day, before things get totally out of hand. But we must realize that we cannot cure every antisemite from this malady. We can, however, educate and enlighten those coming under its creeping influence in hopes they can be delivered before it’s too late for them.

When we become frustrated that this is seemingly a losing battle, remember we can always try to at least comfort Jews around us by reassuring them that they are not alone. The spirit of antisemitism seeks to make Jews feel isolated and afraid. But this gives us the opportunity to make them feel appreciated and surrounded by a God-given love. And that is a great victory over antisemitism.

Finally, we must remember that to hate the Jews is to curse oneself. In waging this spiritual battle, it is important to consider that even while we are being blessed for blessing Israel, there is a flip side to the equation – namely, those who curse the Jews end up cursed themselves and thereby separated from God. Ever since God declared His divine election over Israel for the purpose of world redemption, the demonic realm has targeted the Jews for destruction. And these dark forces know that if they can turn someone into a Jew-hater, it alienates that person from God. People need to know that – and to be warned and delivered from the scourge of antisemitism for their own sake and sanity. 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

FOR MORE INFORMATION on this subject, please watch the ICEJ webinar “Antisemitism in Europe”, from Thursday, 24 June, hosted by ICEJ VP of International Affairs Mojmir Kallus who was joined by special guests Christoph Shwarnweber and Dr. Shimon Samuels.

 

Have a little respect for Israel

Over the past 30 months, the Israeli public has staggered through four very frustrating national elections. I live right across the street from a polling station in Jerusalem and have watched my neighbors dutifully line up to vote each time, only to end up befuddled once again by the inconclusive results. By the fourth round of balloting in late March, most Israelis came away numbed by the whole experience, as this most recent election turned out closer than ever. The political deadlock has been simply mystifying. And even though I had my own preferences, I wound up just praying for mercy that someone, anyone, would finally secure a clear victory and mandate to govern.

Alas, the impasse lingers. True, a new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was sworn in this week and it deserves a chance to prove it is up to the task. But it was approved by the slimmest of margins, 60 to 59, and is in constant peril of collapse.

Having toppled Benjamin Netanyahu from power after twelve long years in the premiership, the new ruling coalition is a loose collection of eight very diverse parties primarily held together by their common desire to now keep him from returning as prime minister. It took four elections to pry him out, and even then it was by a single vote in the Knesset. The outcome last Sunday was so in doubt that one lawmaker from the Right was in a serious car crash in the Galilee that morning and still rushed to Jerusalem to vote, while a parliamentarian on the Left was stretched out on a gurney receiving medical treatments in the Knesset chamber so she could be there to cast her critical vote.

Netanyahu managed such an historic run as Israel’s prime minister because of his diplomatic and economic acumen, his mastery of Israeli politics, and above all his reputation as “Mr. Security.” Most Israelis had come to trust him to keep them safe, and for the most part he did. After facing a couple rocket wars with Hamas in the early 2010s, Netanyahu has overseen a relatively peaceful period for Israel, with the fewest ever number of deaths from the conflict and terror attacks in recent years. He kept the brutal Syrian civil war from spilling over into Israel even while successfully striking at Iranian and Hizbullah targets deep inside the country. He oversaw a series of clandestine operations that effectively set back Iran’s nuclear program by years. And he steered the country past the coronavirus threat faster and more effectively than any other national leader around the world.

But a new generation of leaders has arisen in Israel who are insisting it is their time to take the reins of power. They are younger, forward-looking, and care deeply about the future and well-being of the nation. And even though it carries great risks to turn out such a competent and experienced leader as Netanyahu, I am not so worried for Israel. For the Ancient of Days is also the “Rock of Israel” (Genesis 49:24; 2 Samuel 23:3; Isaiah 30:29). He was watching over Israel and her destiny long before Netanyahu was born, and He will be there guarding over Israel until His eternal purpose with this restored nation is completed.

Apparently, not every Christian shares this confidence in God. In fact, one well-known Evangelical figure was so anxious about the prospects of a post-Netanyahu Israel that he publicly tried to goad wavering Knesset members on the Right to abandon Bennett’s incoming coalition. This brought to the fore the question of just how much pro-Israel Christians should be involved in Israeli politics. I was encouraged that the vast majority of Evangelical leaders worldwide felt this was a step too far. Here is why they are right.

First, Israel has been plagued for decades by outsiders wanting to meddle in their internal political life. It starts with Jews in the Diaspora who feel deeply attached to the nation and want a say in what happens here. Most Israelis understand that sentiment from their relatives abroad but respond that Jews should go ahead and move here if they truly want to get involved in deciding the existential questions facing this nation.

Then there is the international community, which has been massively prying into Israel’s domestic affairs for seventy-plus years now. The United Nations tries to bully the Jewish state. European governments are directly funding all manner of leftist causes inside Israel. The US State Department has its own long history of ordering Jerusalem around.

Most Israelis resent such outside meddling, and Christians should steer clear of it as well. As Evangelicals, we indeed have a unique bond to the nation of Israel because of all the spiritual blessings we have received from the Jewish people. We owe them our prayers. We owe them political support within our respective countries. But we should leave the tough decisions they face to those who live in Israel, pay taxes here, and serve in the IDF.

Instead, Evangelicals should be standing on the firm principle that the entire world ought to respect Israel as a democracy, and let Israelis decide their own fate and future borders with their Arab neighbors, free from foreign pressure and intrusion. This still leaves plenty of room for us to express our love and concern for this embattled nation, to voice our opinions as friends, and to encourage biblical faith among Israelis.

Yet some Christians have the mistaken notion that our being “grafted” into Israel, as the Apostle Paul describes it in Romans 9-11, means we ought to even become citizens of the modern-day nation of Israel. However, the Bible draws a distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘spiritual’ Israel, and we should understand and maintain that distinction.

God called ‘natural’ or ‘national’ Israel into being to birth ‘spiritual’ Israel – the one family of the redeemed worldwide. As Gentiles, we are added to or enlarge spiritual Israel when we come to faith in Christ (Romans 9-11; Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:4-6). Yet we are still told to respect and honor natural Israel (Romans 3:2, 9:4-5, 15:26-27; John 4:22).

We also are promised that one day natural Israel will converge with spiritual Israel (Romans 11:25). Until then, Christians are to love the Jewish people and nation, befriend them, and defend them – but all from one very respectful step away, trusting that God is fully able to deal with them and bring them to their redemptive destiny in Him.

The past two-and-a-half years of political deadlock in Israel has been painful to watch, especially up close, and I am afraid it is not quite over yet. It has been such a most unusual time as to be inexplicable. But I do sense that God is dealing with His people through it all, and we should give Him room to do so. Rather, our role is to be very careful and prayerful observers. As friends should be! 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

FOR MORE INFORMATION on this subject, please watch the ICEJ webinar “The New Israeli Government” from Thursday, 17 June 2021, moderated by David Parsons, and featuring Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.

The mystery of Evangelical support for Israel

The historically fraught relationship between Christians and Jews has undergone dramatic change in the past century. The low point for our two religions was undoubtedly reached in 1945 when the chimneys of Auschwitz were exposed and the world learned of the horrendous crimes carried out by Germany in the heartland of Christian Europe. The six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were the nadir of almost 2000 years of animosity between Christians and Jews. The antisemitic atrocities committed by many Church fathers, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the countless pogroms across Europe, all paved the way for the greatest crime in human history – the Nazi genocide against the Jews, which was perpetrated by my home country.

Fast-forwarding seventy years, I well remember the late President of Israel, Shimon Peres, addressing a New Year’s reception for local Christian leaders in Jerusalem by stating: “Jewish-Christian relations have reached an historic high. They have never been better than today.”

Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly stated: “Evangelical Christians are Israel’s best friends today.”

And former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, just recently upset many in the Jewish world by suggesting that Evangelical support for Israel today is more important than that of the Jewish community abroad. Whether this is true or not, we do need to consider the mystery of why so many Christians suddenly care so deeply about Israel and the Jewish people after so many centuries of antisemitism.

First of all, it is important to understand that Evangelical zeal for Israel did not just start with the Trump administration in Washington – as some media would have you believe. The founding of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem occurred in 1980 as an expression of the global groundswell of Christian Zionism rising already in those days. Even before that, Israel’s founding leader David Ben-Gurion engaged with friendly Evangelical leaders like Oral Roberts, Billy Graham and W. A. Criswell. Yet it dates back even further than Israel’s national rebirth in 1948, and can be traced to an unlikely figure – Martin Luther.

Yes, that’s right! The reformer Martin Luther, known for his notorious book “On the Jews and Their Lies”, later cited by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to defend their crimes against the Jews. This same Martin Luther, despite the antisemitism of his later years, single-handedly set in motion the forces that birthed the modern-day Evangelical, pro-Israel movement.

First, he ‘democratized’ Christian like no one before him by emphasizing the priesthood of the believer – that every person is responsible for own faith walk. Second, his greatest accomplishment was his translation of the entire Bible into a common German language. Others had translated the Bible before, but his efforts were the first to succeed as they came in parallel with the advent of the information super-highway of the 16th century, the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. His newly translated Bible became the very first bestseller in Europe, making it into every German home that could afford it, defying all efforts to ban the book by the Catholic Church.

You see, for centuries most Christians in Europe could not read, and those who could were not encouraged to read the Scriptures, which were in Latin. Only the learned could understand it and they said only priests and theologians should expound on it. Martin Luther’s German Bible would change that forever. Soon, new Bible translations emerged across Europe, giving everyone broader access to God’s word in English, French or German. It not only reformed the Christian faith, as many doctrines held by the traditional churches were quickly exposed as unbiblical, but also it revolutionized how those new ‘Bible reading Christians’ saw Israel and the Jews.

Already in the late 16th century, Puritan theologians in Great Britain found that the Bible was not against the Jews – as the Church had always taught. They also discovered that almost all the Hebrew prophets foresaw a future restoration for the Jews in their ancestral homeland – a theme that was echoed by Jesus himself (Matthew 19:28; Luke 21:24) and by Paul, the most influential of the early apostles (Romans 11).

John Wesley, possibly the greatest Christian revivalist of recent centuries, stated in his commentaries: “If there is one thing promised in the Bible, it is the restoration of the Jews!” And the so-called prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, repeatedly predicted in his Sunday sermons that one day “the Jews would return back to their land, and they will have a king and rebuild the ancient cities.” Similar teachings existed among the German pietists, whose traces can still be seen in Jerusalem’s German Colony. The famous Balfour Declaration of 1917 was made because Lord Balfour believed in the biblical promise of a restored people of Israel, as did Orde Wingate, who trained the early Jewish underground forces that later became the IDF.

It is upon these believers and church movements that modern Christian Zionism was built. While these streams of Christianity always existed, they historically represented only a minority of Christians. But this has changed dramatically over recent decades. Prof. Philip Jenkins was one of the first to document the historic growth of Evangelical Christianity in our times. From several tens of millions of adherents in the 1970s, their numbers have grown in recent decades to around 700 million worldwide. And the face of Evangelicalism is ever changing. While in the past the average evangelical Christian lived in London, Dallas or Geneva, today they can be found in large numbers in Beijing, Manila, Lagos or Sao Paulo. Yet they all have one thing in common: The Bible is their source of inspiration and guidance, and with it usually comes a love and concern for the ‘People of the Book’ – the Jews.

I will never forget meeting several years ago a group of church leaders from the growing Evangelical community in China. In the city of Wenchou, I was enthusiastically welcomed as the first person to teach them coming from Jerusalem. I gave a message on the ABCs of Christian support for Israel. Yet I marveled to see that what I shared was nothing new to them. “Who taught you?” I asked them. I will never forget the puzzled face of the main Chinese leader: “Why do you ask? It’s all in the Bible,” he replied.

The good news for Israel, therefore, is that there indeed is a rapidly growing Evangelical movement around the world which stands firmly at Israel’s side. We see them every year at our Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem, as thousands of Christian pilgrims join us from China, the Philippines, Brazil, Bolivia, Nigeria and Ivory Coast – among so many other nations.

Now what is most noteworthy, their support is not tied to any political party or agenda in Israel but in their belief in God’s faithfulness to His people no matter who is prime minister in Israel. When this was called into question this week, I personally reached out to a number of prominent Evangelical leaders and they all confirmed their unconditional support for Israel.

This included spiritual giants like Nigerian pastor Enoch Adeboye, who oversees the fastest growing church movement in Africa with tens of millions of active members. “Our support for Israel is based on the bedrock of God’s word and not on daily changes in politics,” he told me.

This also includes Apostle Rene Terra Nova from Brazil, who oversees a church network of more than three million Evangelical faithful across Latin America. He has committed his movement not only to always pray for Israel’s elected government, but they cannot wait to visit Israel after coronavirus recedes, no matter who is sitting in the prime minister’s seat.

The same is true for the huge Word of Life movement, which has thousands of churches across the former Soviet republics.

Troy A. Miller, currently CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters association in America, has confirmed the same thing on behalf of his group’s millions of listeners, viewers and readers. This week he wrote us: “Throughout NRB’s 77-year history its membership and Board of Directors have always supported Israel. NRB recognizes that Israel’s history, including the creation and continued existence of the modern state of Israel, reveals the providential hand of God and His commitment to fulfilling His promises in His Holy Word, the Bible.”

It does need to be said, however, that the steadfast Christian support for Israel in Western countries is being challenged among the younger generation as many can now be found in social justice movements and other liberal causes. But the fact that Israeli lawmakers are inviting for the first time an Arab party to join a governing coalition can potentially win over even some of these younger critics.

In conclusion, I can attest that Evangelical support for Israel is not going to disappear. On the contrary, from our unique vantage point here in Jerusalem we see the movement growing faster than ever all around the world. This unique bridge of engagement between Jews and Bible-believing Christians has a great future. And one final point: These Evangelicals have no intention of meddling in Israeli politics. This is the Christian Embassy’s proven track record for the past four decades and it will not change.
   

Jerusalem in Islamic Eschatology

“Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old… This Mount Zion where You have dwelt. Lift up Your feet to the perpetual desolations. The enemy has damaged everything in the sanctuary. Your enemies roar in the midst of Your meeting place; They set up their banners for signs.” Psalm 74:2-4

 

When Hamas recently launched its latest rocket war against Israel from Gaza, it named the operation “Sword of Jerusalem.” They simply could not stand idly by after Fatah had been staging riots on the Temple Mount and inciting violence against Israel over alleged violations at the al Aqsa mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Like so many times before, these rival Palestinian factions were stirring jihad over Jerusalem in hopes the Arab/Muslim world would join them in their relentless war against the Jewish state. And indeed, they do believe that one day the Islamic world will mobilize en masse to help them in one final, victorious battle to retake Jerusalem and eradicate Israel.

Interestingly, Jerusalem plays a central role in the eschatology of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. All three faiths believe the end of this age will culminate in a global confrontation over Jerusalem, yet each respective religion foresees itself as emerging triumphant in the age to come. So how did this common view on Jerusalem in the end of days come about?

The Old Testament scriptures are undisputedly the original source of this end-time scenario, and the Hebrew prophets all agree the present age ends in a climatic battle over Jerusalem, after which the promised Messiah will rule over all the earth in righteousness and peace.

For instance, Zechariah 12 says the Lord will make Jerusalem a “cup of trembling” and a “burdensome stone” for all nations, while in chapter 14 the same prophet envisions a final battle involving half the city which ends with the Lord Himself intervening by standing on the Mount of Olives to deliver the Jewish people from disaster. Joel 3 says the Lord will gather all nations to the Valley of Jehoshaphat (the Kidron Valley in eastern Jerusalem) to enter into judgment with them there over the way the Gentiles have never respected the divine calling and election over Israel. Psalm chapter 2 also provides a clear end-time vision of the enraged nations plotting against God’s plan to set the Messiah, Israel’s eternal King, on “My holy hill of Zion” – meaning the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This final confrontation ends in a good place, however, as the humbled nations flow to and from an exalted Jerusalem to worship Messiah, even as they beat their swords into plowshares and learn war no more (see Isaiah 2; Isaiah 11; Micah 4; Zechariah 14:16-21, etc.).

The Christian scriptures then affirm these prophetic passages about the final confrontation over Jerusalem in the last days, while introducing the figure of the Antichrist, who seeks to supplant the Messiah as the ruler of the nations on the Temple Mount (2 Thessalonians 2; Revelation 11). But the Apostle John, in Revelation 14:1ff, ultimately sees the Lamb (Jesus the Messiah) enthroned on Mount Zion with his elders, just as Isaiah the prophet saw in Isaiah 24:23.

Islam then came along six centuries later and borrowed much of its eschatology from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Muhammad was illiterate but learned about the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity from others, and often he confused certain facts and beliefs from the Bible in authoring the Koran. For instance, the Koran identifies Miriam, the sister of Moses, as also being Miriam (Mary), the mother of Jesus. And although Jerusalem itself does not appear even once in the Koran, Islam does view the city as playing a central end-time role, as seen in certain hadiths – or traditions – established by Muhammad and his followers.

One hadith that has greatly influenced Muslim thinking about Jerusalem involves Muhammad’s supposed mythical night journey to the masjid al haram al aqsa – or the “outer-most mosque”. All of his early followers clearly understood this to be a reference to certain mosque in Arabia which represented the furthest extent of Islamic rule at that time. However, a generation or so after Muhammad died, the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus lost control of Mecca and its lucrative pilgrimage trade to a rival ruler in Baghdad. So they sought to elevate Jerusalem and draw Muslim pilgrims there by suddenly claiming al Aqsa – the farthest mosque – was located on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

This inauthentic claim became the source of Islamic veneration of Jerusalem over the centuries, elevating the city to the third holiest site in Islam in the view of many Muslims. Yet not all streams of Islamic thought accept this altered view, as they know it is a later hadith which did not originate with Muhammad or his “closest companions.” Thus, for instance, most Shi’ites consider Najaf in Iraq (where their founder Ali died in battle against the Sunnis) or Qom in Iran (where the twelfth imam disappeared and will reappear as the Mahdi) as more sacred than Jerusalem.

Yet, ever since Jerusalem came back into Jewish hands in modern times, the city has suddenly become important and even paramount to Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims everywhere. From Morocco to Indonesia and even in Western cities, nothing enflames Muslims more than the Jews ‘desecrating’ the holy al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. And this fiery passion over Jerusalem also is inspired by another key Muslim hadith and the teachings of Islamic Supremacy and Triumphalism.

When the followers of Muhammad first came streaming out of the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century, zealously conquering everything in sight for Allah and their prophet, he had taught them that Islam was a superior revelation to Judaism and Christianity. He insisted that Jews and Christians had both falsified portions of their respective scriptures, but he had restored the correct truths through the Koran and thus they were the vanguard of a superior religion which Allah had destined to rule supreme over the entire world.

Those early Muslim armies indeed enjoyed great success, but eventually they fell short of world conquest. Still, the belief remained that one day Islam would triumph over all other religions and rule throughout the earth. Exactly when that will happen is not clear, but a certain hadith holds that there will be perpetual war between Muslims and infidels, and especially Jews, until Judgment Day, and that day will not come until Muslims fight and thoroughly slaughter the Jews.

This hadith expressly states: “The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. The stones or trees will call: ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ Except the Gharqad tree.”

Over recent decades, Palestinian leaders and clerics have repeatedly cited this Islamic tradition concerning the end-times battle against the Jews in order to fuel jihad against Israel. This hadith has been invoked by the Fatah-appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. It is inscribed word-for-word in the Hamas Charter. And even the late PLO chief Yasser Arafat positioned the Palestinian people as that certain tribe of Muslims who are one day destined to lead the Islamic world in the final vanquishing of the Jews, thereby ushering in Judgment Day.

The truth is that it has been extremely difficult for the Muslim world to accept that Jews should be in control of Jerusalem once again. How could one of the holiest cities in Islam ever be allowed to fall into the hands of a detested people who follow an inferior faith? Thus, many Muslims are willing to wage holy war for Jerusalem, and the Palestinians know this and exploit it to gain global support, sympathy and funding. Palestinian leaders even depict their national struggle against Israel as the endgame of the perpetual war which Muslims must wage against the Jews.

The Palestinians have been playing the ‘Jerusalem’ card for some 100 years now, with great effectiveness. They have turned the al Aqsa mosque into the core symbol of Palestinian nationalism and a rallying point for tens of millions of Muslims worldwide. Today, there are actually three Palestinian factions competing to outdo each other over defending al Aqsa – Fatah, Hamas and the little-known but growing Tahrir movement. Hizbullah, Iran and many other Islamic nations and elements are poised for the same battle over Jerusalem. And they seem to have the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and much of the international community aiding and abetting their cause.

And yet, does the Bible not say that in the last days God will draw all nations up against a Jerusalem restored to Jewish hands, and that He will judge and humble the nations there?
 

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

FOR MORE on this topic, make sure to watch the ICEJ Webinar, “Jerusalem in Islamic Eschatology”, from Thursday, 3 June, featuring ICEJ Vice President & Spokesman David Parsons, Johannes Gerloff, Author & Journalist on the Middle East..

The Rockets of Rejection

As usual, one of the first casualties of war is truth.

Many would have us believe the latest Palestinian rocket war against Israel was triggered by the land dispute in Sheikh Jarrah and the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. But those are just a pretext to hide the real agenda behind this campaign of Palestinian violence and terrorism. The riots and rockets causing mayhem and loss across the Land of Israel right now were a message from both Fatah and Hamas that they continue to reject peace and particularly the dramatic move towards Arab-Israeli normalization embodied in the Abraham Accords.

For the record, tensions indeed were building in Jerusalem over recent weeks until a convergence of events brought them to a boiling point. Small groups of Arab and Jewish agitators were facing off almost daily at the site of the disputed homes in Sheikh Jarrah – nothing new there. But this time the dueling protests came as Muslims were observing the month of Ramadan, a time when Islamic passions and prejudices can easily be stirred against Israel and the Jewish people – especially over Jerusalem. A number of Jerusalem Arab youths then began slapping Orthodox Jews walking through the Old City and posting video clips of the humiliating slaps on TikTok. A group of far-right Jews responded by accosting Arabs on Jaffa Road one evening last week, forcing Israeli police to repel them with anti-riot gear. Meanwhile, the police also barricaded the entrance to Damascus Gate, where Palestinians were congregating to stage their own attacks. Palestinian leaders cried foul at Israel and incited their people to even more violence.

Then came the last Friday of Ramadan – decreed ‘Al-Quds Day’ by Iran’s late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to provoke jihad for Jerusalem. Right on cue, Palestinians stashed piles of rocks in the al-Aqsa mosque at the south end of the Temple Mount for use in stoning Jews praying at the Western Wall down below. Israeli forces intervened, the rock-throwers retreated into the mosque, and the standoff escalated from there over the weekend.

It was on Monday that Hamas, feeling sidelined down in Gaza, decided to enter the fray and trigger an explosion – which also was timed to spoil Israel’s annual celebration of Yom Yerushalayim. The military wing of the Islamist terror militia issued an ultimatum, calling for the removal of Israel’s security forces from the Temple Mount compound and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the release of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails – all by 6:00 PM that evening. When its conditions were not met, Hamas fired seven rockets at Jerusalem, and the fourth Hamas rocket war with Israel was on.

Yet the current conflict must be viewed in a much wider context.

Ever since the Trump administration forged the Abraham Accords between Israel and four Sunni Arab states (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco), the regional momentum towards peace has been growing, leaving the Palestinians isolated and under pressure – including from Arab leaders – to finally start coming to terms with Israel. Even Israeli Arab members of the Knesset were joining in, as the Ra’am party was poised to break a long-standing political taboo by joining a coalition government as an outside partner.

Trapped by the push for peace, the Palestinians initially tried to escape by calling for elections – their first in sixteen years. But when Fatah realized they would likely lose to Hamas, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas called off the elections (while falsely blaming the delay on Israel). This led to growing discontent at home, and Palestinian officials figured the only other way out was to play the Jerusalem card – something they are experts at doing. For 100 years now, Palestinian leaders have repeatedly fed their people and the entire Muslim world the lie that Israel is endangering the al-Aqsa mosque. And sadly, this false accusation always seems to find an audience.

For weeks now, both Fatah and Hamas have been ratcheting up the rhetoric against Israel, especially on Jerusalem. Increasingly during Ramadan, they have openly called for confrontation with Israel in the city and “on the roads,” while also amplifying their appeals for martyrdom. They also have urged the ‘48 Arabs (Israeli Arab citizens) to join the battle – which, tragically, many have. This deliberate incitement campaign has all been meticulously documented over recent weeks by the monitoring group Palestinian Media Watch. Hamas then instantly leapfrogged Fatah in their internal rivalry by launching rockets at Jerusalem to “defend al-Aqsa” – something Fatah (thankfully) is not able to do right now.

The truth is that the Sheikh Jarrah land disputes have been winding their way through the Israeli courts for several years now, and they involve private litigants seeking legal recourse in delinquent rent cases, rather than any draconian Israeli government demolition orders, as is widely portrayed. In addition, Israeli authorities had already decided to postpone any court decisions on the properties until after Ramadan as a means to lower the temperature.

And concerning the al-Aqsa mosque, it was Palestinian rioters and rock-throwers who desecrated the mosque (yet again) by amassing stones there for pre-calculated use against Jewish worshippers and Israeli police, and then by seeking refuge in the mosque to evade arrest for their blatantly criminal behavior.

Thus, neither the Sheikh Jarrah disputes nor the Palestinian scam at al-Aqsa could ever justify the current wave of violence and terror which Fatah and Hamas have now unleashed upon all the peoples of this Land. Viewed in proper perspective, these riots and rockets were simply a means for both Palestinian factions to express their unwavering rejection of peace with Israel.

The shame is that Israelis were coming so close to a genuinely historic breakthrough of reconciliation with their Arab neighbors – both in the region and within their own borders. But alas, those hopes are now badly battered, the pressure is off the Palestinians to make peace, and who knows when these raging flames they ignited will be extinguished.

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

FOR MORE on this topic, make sure to watch the ICEJ Webinar, “The Escalation Over Jerusalem”, from Thursday, 13 May, featuring ICEJ Vice President & Spokesman David Parsons, Amb. Paul Hirschson from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and Shmuel Bowman of Operation Lifeshield.

Why is Jerusalem important to Christians?

As we mark Yom Yerushalayim in the coming days, it is vital to understand why Jerusalem holds such a central place in Christian thinking. The importance of Jerusalem to Christians is rooted in the significance attached to Jerusalem in the Bible.

One way to determine the importance of a subject in the Bible is to see how often it is mentioned. By this measure, Jerusalem appears to be quite significant, as it is directly mentioned 660 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and 146 times in the New Testament. If we add synonyms and endearing terms, such “Zion”, we get another 165 times. That is almost 1,000 verses which mention Jerusalem – the only city declared “holy” in the Bible.

However, this is just a quantitative answer. It is more essential to ask the qualitative question: What is it that makes Jerusalem so prominent? You may have seen the medieval painting in which Jerusalem is depicted as the center of the world. It is actually based on a scripture from Ezekiel where God declares that He has set Jerusalem in the midst of the nations (Ezekiel 5:5). So, again, what makes the city so special?

First of all, Jerusalem is close to God’s heart. God makes some strong statements about Jerusalem which reveal His desire, His emotions. The prophet Zechariah declares that the Lord has chosen Jerusalem (Zechariah 3:2), and that He is zealous for Zion with great zeal (Zechariah 1:14). A key passage is found in the Book of Psalms: “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.’” (Psalm 132:13-14)

So, Jerusalem is a dwelling place for the presence of God. He is omnipresent, and we can experience His presence anywhere in the world. Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is present. When the Holy Spirit fills us, we experience the presence of God. Yet God presence rests in Jerusalem in a special way, because God chose this place.

God makes choices; He draws distinctions. Just as He loves all nations, He also has chosen one particular nation as a “special treasure, a special possession” (Exodus 19:5). God made a covenant with the Jewish people and set them apart for His redemptive plan to bring blessing to all mankind. This plan appears already when God first called Abram, saying: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The New Testament affirms this, such as when Paul explains that the advantage of a Jew is “much in every way, mainly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). All the world owes a debt of gratitude to the Jewish people, because they brought us the very word of God. And from them came the Messiah, Jesus our Savior.

So, we can see that God makes choices for a purpose. He chose Israel to be the vehicle through which to bring salvation and blessing to the whole world. Likewise, He chose Jerusalem for a special purpose. And again, we see that it is meant not only for Israel but for all nations. Isaiah declares: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).

It was in this city that His Son also was sentenced, crucified and put into the grave. It was in this city where Jesus rose from the dead, demonstrating the power of God, which overcomes even death. It was in this city where the Holy Spirit fell upon the first disciples and where the Church was born.

This alone explains why Jerusalem is so important to Christians. Different denominations may have their particular centers – some look to Rome, others to Constantinople, Moscow, Geneva or Wittenberg. These locales emphasize their differences. But when Christians all look to Jerusalem, we emphasize what we have in common. Focus on Jerusalem brings unity – or at least it should. It has been my experience that when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we are united despite our differences.

But there is more to Jerusalem than just the past. The Lord has chosen Jerusalem for a central role in His still unfolding plan. The Hebrew prophets spoke of a future time when Jerusalem will be prominent once more. Jeremiah foresaw Israel being gathered “out of the land of the north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to your fathers”, and “at that time Jerusalem shall be called the Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts.” (Jeremiah 3:17-18)

So we see in this city a unique connection between Israel and the nations. When the Jewish people return to their land, all nations shall come to Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah explained that after a great conflict over the city, the nations shall come at one particular season of the year: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16)

It has been the mission of the ICEJ to make the global Church aware of this prophetic call, and thus we started a Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) more than 40 years ago.

This connection between the Jewish return and Jerusalem exalted among the nations is being confirmed by history. When the first waves of Aliyah started in the 1880s, Jerusalem turned from a neglected provincial town to a highly coveted place. In those days, all the major powers insisted on having a foothold in the city. Until today, we have a German Colony, a Russian Compound, an American Colony, a French Quarter, etc.

And as the Jewish nation grew, so did the global importance of Jerusalem. The United Nations tried to make it an international city. The Arabs ignited a war in 1948 which tragically left Jerusalem divided. In 1967 it was reunited under Jewish sovereignty, but the world has largely refused to recognize this. Jerusalem is the only national capital in the world which is not recognized by most governments. US President Donald Trump broke from the consensus and moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but the pressure on other nations not to follow is enormous. It all confirms the special importance of the city. It is as if the whole world is irrationally fixated on Jerusalem, which brings to mind the words of the prophet Zechariah:

Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it. (Zechariah 12:2-3)

There were so many UN resolutions about Jerusalem, and yet no peaceful resolution over its fate. Indeed, Jerusalem seems to have an intoxicating influence over people. Recall all the major Arab/Muslim riots in recent decades over minor Israeli moves in the city.

The prophets foretell of a coming conflict over Jerusalem which will involve all nations. This is one of the signs of the coming of the Messiah. The disputed status of Jerusalem is an indication of our prophetic times. If you want to discern the times, look to Jerusalem. Jesus said: “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Jerusalem was occupied – trampled - by the Gentiles from the Roman destruction in 70 AD until June 1967. With the liberation of Jerusalem, a paradigm shift occurred. Jerusalem is now at the center of world attention. And God is restoring Israel. We are moving towards the fulfilment of all the remaining prophecies, of salvation for Israel and judgement on the nations. And then His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. Jesus will come to reign from Jerusalem. And all nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship Him. And in the end, there will finally be a ‘New Jerusalem’ coming down from Heaven – pure and holy.

So, Jerusalem is close to God’s heart. It is the place where significant events in the salvation history occurred, and it is the future throne of God to rule over all nations.

One final thought on why Jerusalem is so critical role. In Genesis 14 we find the story of Abraham coming back from defeating five kings and meeting Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem), as well as the king of Sodom. They represent the very opposite. Melchizedek is a righteous king and priest of the one true God. He offers bread and wine to Abraham, who accepts the gifts and offers back a tithe of his increase. In contrast, the king of Sodom offers him the ill-gotten spoils of war, and was refused (Genesis 14:17-23).

Abraham was put to a test. He had to make a choice. Would he choose material possessions from Sodom, or a humble life of righteousness and peace before God? Abraham understood the choice perfectly – and chose well!

I believe Jerusalem represents this choice for all peoples and nations. This city demands a decision. God chose Jerusalem to be a measuring stick by which He is going to judge all nations. May Jerusalem never lose its spiritual importance to us.

 

FOR MORE on this topic, make sure to watch the ICEJ Webinar: Why is Jerusalem Important to Christians?, from Thursday, 6 May, featuring Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Ms. Fleur Hassan Nahum and ICEJ Vice President for International Affairs Dr. Mojmir Kallus. 

 

Give an Honorable Man His Due

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just a few days left to try to form a coalition government before the mandate gets passed to a political rival bent on driving him from office. His chances of success are narrowing by the hour, and thus we may be looking at Netanyahu’s last days in power. But the fact that it has taken four successive elections to pry him from the throne will only add to the legendary status of this formidable Israeli leader and statesman.

After holding four elections in the past two years, Israel remains stuck in a political quagmire. Netanyahu and his Likud party again have the largest number of seats in the new Knesset (30), but he has found it hard to enlist enough partners to form a coalition government supported by a 61–seat majority in parliament. The parties on the Right hold 72 Knesset mandates, but several of these factions are refusing to sit in a government headed by Netanyahu while he is on trial for a series of fraud and breach-of-trust cases.

Netanyahu has until next Tuesday, May 4th, to pull together a governing coalition, but reports suggest he has already given up due to the stiff resistance he is encountering in his own nationalist camp from former-colleagues-turned-adversaries Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beiteinu and Gideon Sa’ar of New Hope.

There is still a narrow path back to the premiership for Netanyahu if Naftali Bennett’s Yamina faction and the three conservative religious parties (Religious Zionism, Shas and UTJ) would be willing to sit in a minority government under him that would be supported from the outside by Mansour Abbas and his small Arab/Islamist party Ra’am. However, Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right religious nationalists, has deliberately torpedoed such an alignment by repeatedly disparaging Abbas and his pragmatist Arab faction.

Meantime, the anti-Netanyahu bloc also will have trouble forming a majority government should they receive a mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to try to form a government. The reason is that they too would need conservative Jews on the Right to accept outside support from the same Arab party. Netanyahu himself has legitimized such a move by first proposing Ra’am as a possible coalition partner. This could be a breakthrough for societal reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in Israel, but it still would require breaking a political taboo by both sides.

The most viable options for resolving the electoral impasse in coming days involve Bennett serving as prime minister first – either in a rotation deal with Netanyahu and the Right, or in a rotation with Lapid as part of a unity government with the Center/Left. The latter alternative is being vigorously discussed even before Netanyahu’s mandate expires. But Bennett is demanding that the parties on the Right receive most of the prime cabinet postings (Foreign Affairs, Defense, Finance, Judiciary, Education) even if they are a minority within the coalition, since 60% of Israelis voted for parties on the Right. This demand remains a sticking point with Lapid and his leftist allies. Of course, a third option would be going to an unthinkable fifth election, which everyone is vowing to avoid but may prove inevitable.

Most noteworthy in these various scenarios is that the odds for Netanyahu to remain prime minister for now are slim to none. He would have to wait his turn while serving as an “alternate prime minister” – much like Gantz has been doing over the past year. And in such a case, he could try to trigger a new election a year or so down the road if the polls are more favorable. This all means he is unlikely to retain the premiership at this time, yet his political career may be far from over.

Seeing the writing on the wall, some within Likud have been offering ideas for giving Netanyahu an “honorable exit” due to his stature and many achievements for the nation. After all, he did just win the largest number of Knesset seats – by far. One idea would have him voted in as the next president to replace Rivlin this summer, while other suggestions would allow him to stay in the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street while someone else takes the first turn as head of the government. So far, he has not been too enthusiastic about any of these proposals and seems prepared to fight on, even in the Opposition – and in the courtroom as well.

However this all plays out next week and beyond, Netanyahu certainly is due more honor and respect for all he has done for Israel than the way some want to hoist him on a pike.

 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Make sure to also watch the ICEJ Webinar on the topic “Can PM Netanyahu Stay in Power”, hosted by ICEJ VP & Spokesman David Parsons and featuring Josh Reinstein, Director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, from Thursday, 29 April 2021, on the ICEJ’s YouTube channel. 

 

The Christian Role in Israel’s Rebirth

As we mark the miraculous rebirth of Israel 73 years ago, it is important to also recall some of the unheralded Christians who assisted the Zionist movement in that critical moment when the Jewish State miraculously re-emerged on the world scene.

For more than a century prior to modern Israel’s establishment, well-known Christian politicians and clergy had laid the moral and historic foundation for the Zionist movement’s eventual successes. In fact, it was British diplomatic chaplain William Hechler who befriended Theodor Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement, and became its ‘foreign minister’ by introducing Herzl to many of the leaders of Western Europe in their day. Also notable are a trio of British military officers who helped restore the Jewish fighting spirit in the years between World Wars I and II – Col. John Henry Patterson, Col. Richard Meinertzhagen, and finally Col. Charles Orde Wingate.

There were, however, two lesser known Christian pastors who played key roles in the UN’s decision to partition Palestine on 29 November 1947, which paved the way for Israel’s independence some six months later.

In February 1947 the United Nations appointed 11 member states to the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) to conduct an inquiry and propose a solution to the “unworkable” British Mandate. The committee came to the Land that summer to investigate the deteriorating situation first-hand.

They were impressed with Jewish advancements in the land. The plight of some 250,000 Jewish refugees stuck in European refugee camps also weighed heavily on the committee. Desperate efforts to bring them to Palestine were blocked by Britain’s pro-Arab policies and naval blockade along the coast. The sad ordeal of the Exodus-1947, a ship packed with 4,500 desperate Holocaust survivors, caught UNSCOP’s attention that summer.

Rev. John Stanley Grauel, a Christian sympathiser with the Zionist cause, had volunteered as the vessel’s only non-Jewish crew member and witnessed the British assault on the Exodus off Haifa. He rushed to Jerusalem and gave compelling testimony before the committee; how the ship was rammed seven times, then boarded by armed sailors who shot and clubbed to death defenceless boys.

“The Exodus had no arms,” Rev. Grauel insisted. “All they fought with were potatoes, canned goods, and their bare fists.”

The refugees eventually were returned to Germany. The tragedy stretched out several months before a worldwide audience, fuelling the committee’s growing sense of its humanitarian mission.

Rev. William Hull also impacted UNSCOP that summer, especially Canadian delegate Justice Ivan Rand. Also from Canada, Rev. Hull had ministered in Jerusalem since 1935 and knew first-hand of the injustices visited upon the Jewish community by British and Arab alike. Over dinner one evening, Justice Rand listened to Hull’s views and later admitted their encounter clarified his understanding of the dispute and gave him new appreciation for Zionist endeavours. Rev. Hull also submitted a letter to the full committee setting forth in a powerful way the case for Biblical Zionism.

Since Canada was part of the Commonwealth, Justice Rand’s anti-British leanings held great sway. In a sense, he became “the conscience of the committee.”

Following his lead, the majority of UNSCOP recommended partitioning the Land into separate Jewish and Arab states. The Partition Plan (Resolution 181) was adopted by a vote of 33 to 13 in the UN General Assembly. The Jewish Agency accepted the decision, but Arab leaders rejected it and immediately launched hostilities. By the time the British Mandate ended on 14 May 1948, Arab-Jewish fighting had resulted in a de facto partition and the Jewish people were poised to declare the rebirth of their ancient nation.

When David Ben-Gurion declared the independence of Israel in late afternoon on 14 May, the conflict between Jews and Arabs escalated as five Arab armies launched an invasion seeking to “drive the Jews into the sea” and claim the land for themselves. The struggling Jewish forces were joined by foreign volunteers, including a number of Christians who came to help defend the new-born Jewish state. One of them, Derek Bowden, was a veteran British paratrooper during World War II and went on to train the victorious IDF’s elite paratrooper’s brigade.
 

David Parsons is an author, attorney, journalist, and ordained minister who serves as Vice President and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org/

Make sure to also watch the ICEJ Webinar on the topic “Christian Role in Israel’s Rebirth”, featuring David Parsons, Jerry Klinger and Sam Philipe, from Thursday, 15 April 2021, on the ICEJ’s YouTube channel.

 

 

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