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Commentary

The Folly of Fulfillment Theology

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

God and Israel’s modern day restoration

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

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

Jesus and Fulfillment

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

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

Moses and Fulfillment

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

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

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

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

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

Paul and Fulfillment

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

A Passover foretold!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Abrahamic Covenant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

On the Winning Side

Every Purim in late winter, the Jewish people remember one of the greatest miracles in their history. It is the story of Esther, the Queen in ancient Persia whose courage and entreaties delivered the Jews from certain destruction.

Esther came from a Jewish family carried into exile in the Babylonian conquest. Young and beautiful, she was chosen to be the bride of the most powerful man in the world at that time – King Ahasuerus of Persia.

But during her time as Queen, things took a turn for the worse. The evil Haman, then prime minister of the realm, was plotting when and how to annihilate all the Jews in the vast Persian Empire. Esther was safely hidden in the royal palace, her Jewish identity yet unknown, but her uncle Mordecai came and pleaded with her to intervene with the king and save her people. His urgent appeal is recorded in the book of Esther:

“And Mordecai told them to answer Esther: ‘Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:13-14)

Esther heeded his warning, saying “if I perish, I perish! (Esther 4:16)”. She made good use of her audience with the king, the Jews were allowed to defend themselves, and their enemy Haman was hung on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai. Esther and Mordecai led the Jewish people into a time of great influence and blessing within the provinces of Persia.

This extraordinary appeal of Mordecai still rings powerfully today in light of the new Hamans that are arising, even once again in Persia. It teaches us two very important lessons:

God wins!
First of all, Mordecai boldly declared, “if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place.” What powerful declaration of faith! It teaches us that Israel and the people of God will never be annihilated but will surely survive. Many evil figures have risen up in the course of the history with designs to wipe out Israel. Two generations ago, it was Hitler. Today it is the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yet God assures us that they will not succeed.

The prophet Isaiah makes this very encouraging statement: “Behold, I Myself have created the smith who blows the fire of coals, and brings out a weapon for its work; and I have created the destroyer to ruin. No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54:16-17)

All the nuclear scientists and military experts which scheme to wipe out Israel were also created by God, and they cannot surprise or outsmart Him! The God of Israel, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, watches over His people. Indeed, Psalm 121:4-5 assures that “He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper.”

The question of survival
Mordecai’s appeal also contains a very sobering message. Deliverance will always come to the Jews from some quarter. But silence in the face of peril to the Jews could mean “you and your father's house will perish”. Therefore, to stand up for God’s people has less to do with Israel’s survival and more to do with our own survival. If we remain silent, we are endangering ourselves.

Paul echoes this warning in his epistle to the church in Rome: “Do not boast against the branches [the Jews]. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:18)

If Christians fail to recognise the eternal and irrevocable calling of Israel, we are endangering and undermining our very own root system. Nobody can survive without nourishing roots.

For such a time as this
Finally, Mordecai reminded his niece that there is a purpose in her high calling as a great Queen. “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Her uncle challenges her to consider her royal position not as a luxurious privilege but as a calling from God.

Too many times we as Christians like to enjoy our privileges and cherished moments as children of God, and we do not recognise that the world around us is lost and in desperate need of rescue. God never called us to be passengers on a luxury ocean liner called the Church, but rather as crew members on a rescue vessel operating in stormy seas. Let us never forget our high calling of God to Israel and the nations.

One of the most regrettable aspects of the Holocaust was the prevailing silence of the churches. Too few spoke out too late. Early in Hitler’s rise, some pastors and theologians saw prophetic significance in so many Jews fleeing Europe to Palestine. They sensed it was the first sign of the restoration of Zion and of the Lord’s return. Yet they failed to speak out and assist God’s chosen people in their hour of need.

Today as well, many Christians realise the promised restoration of Israel is happening, along with the nations being gathering against her for judgment. Yet they fail to take any real action to stand with the purposes of God. Too many Christians sit back in silence as Israel faces new threats once again from Persia, which is today’s Iran.

So let us remember that God will surely deliver Israel – even if we are silent. The question is: Will we take a stand for the sake of God’s purposes, and for our own sake? Let us resolve to work together to ensure that the Church will never be silent and passive again.

To listen to a teaching on Purim please click here. Part 1. Part 2.

The writer is Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Israel’s warning flashers are on

In the charged atmosphere hanging over Israel in 2012, rumors of imminent war with Iran are flashing by at supersonic speeds.

In early January, the US announced plans to deploy an unprecedented 9,000 troops in Israel for an annual joint military exercise known as ‘Austere Challenge’, with some of the forces likely remaining behind until autumn. Many in Israel and abroad instantly read it as a sign of both countries bracing for the fallout from a looming Israeli attack on Iran’s renegade nuclear program.

But then the mass air raid drill was postponed indefinitely. And yet suddenly, this too was seen as a signal of impending war – since Washington was apparently worried that so many American boots on the ground in Israel would be taken as a US ‘green light’ for the approaching Israeli strikes on Iran.

The latest warp-speed rumor concerns recent comments by US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that he fully expects Israel to launch pre-emptive strikes on Iran sometime this year, even as early as April. That was quickly translated as an attempt to deter Israel from taking a course of action already decided upon.

Window closing
The question of how to deal with Iran’s tenacious drive for nuclear weapons has been hanging over the West for over a decade now and soon the time for guesswork and civil academic debates will be over. During this year, the world indeed will know whether the Iranians finally relent due to tightening international sanctions and efforts at regime change, or if they have ventured beyond the point of no return in their alarming quest for atomic weapons.

Until now, Israel has cooperated with its global allies on a five-front strategy for stopping or delaying Iran’s nuclear program short of overt military action. This has entailed the use of political pressure, covert measures, counter-proliferation, sanctions and efforts at regime change. The ayatollahs are still entrenched as ever, but bans on the purchase of Iranian crude oil are beginning to sink the economy, while computer viruses and hits on nuclear scientists have also taken a toll.

So far, these efforts have managed to slow Tehran down some and extend the time frame for more drastic actions. Yet Iran has continued to make steady progress, displaying an astonishing resiliency and determination to overcome every obstacle thrown in its path.

According to a revealing article published recently in The New York Times, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak claimed that the Netanyahu government has yet to order a military operation against Iran but he has concluded that such a decision will have to be made in 2012 to prevent Tehran from entering its “immunity zone.” By that he meant the stage at which Iran’s accumulated nuclear know-how, enriched uranium stockpiles, ballistic missile production lines, and other key atomic facilities can be taken fully underground and made impervious to conventional military strikes. In effect, Barak just turned on Israel’s warning flashers.

Tellingly, the Iranians have just announced that its uranium enrichment facility buried over 200 feet inside a mountain at Fordo will soon be operational. Israeli leaders estimate that there are only six to nine months left to pull the trigger.

Until now, US intelligence estimates on when Iran will cross the nuclear threshold have been two to three years beyond the Israeli assessments. But that gap appears to be closing, with Panetta now factoring in 15 months at most for the other options to work. Even then, he too is coming to realize the window for decisive action essentially closes in 2012.

Chilling replay
In a recent briefing in Jerusalem, former CIA director James Woolsey told The Christian Edition that Israeli and American leaders are facing the toughest decision the West has confronted since the late 1930s and the rise of the Nazi menace over Europe – thereby buying into the analogy repeatedly drawn by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“The world is moving towards a situation which is extraordinarily tense, extraordinarily important and a strategic moment of choice like what the world reached in the mid to late thirties when it chose to cave in to Hitler instead of to stand up against him,” Woolsey assessed.

“Iran is committed to two overarching objectives,” he continued. “I am afraid it’s rather parallel to what Hitler was writing and saying in the late 1920’s and 30’s. Number one, kill the Jews! And second, dominate the region!”

Regarding how much time is left to decide on the military option, Woolsey cautioned that while it may still take Iran a couple more years to fit a sophisticated plutonium warhead on a Shihab missile, it could easily cobble together a crude atomic device within months and float it into Haifa or New York harbor inside the hold of a fishing trawler.

“Even if they can’t get a nuclear bomb on a missile for a few years, once they detonate one, even a very simple one somewhere in the desert, the politics for this part of the world changes immensely. It becomes a lot harder for countries to stand up to them, and they will not hesitate to throw their weight around,” he warned.

Woolsey contended that whatever Israel eventually decides to do, the US should “take responsibility” for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat because it is a “world problem.” If and when it comes to military action, he advocated taking out not just Iran’s nuclear facilities but also all the assets of the Revolutionary Guards, particularly to weaken its ability to launch revenge attacks.

Still, Woolsey expressed grave doubts that the current US administration would take the lead, especially in an election year. “I don’t predict at all that this course of events will be something that President Obama will choose,” he said dryly.

So if Israel has to go it alone, to prevent what Netanyahu has described as the specter of another Holocaust, can and will the Israeli military be capable of pulling it off?

The risk of over-extension
To answer that seminal question, it is first worth noting that the Israeli air force has already practiced for such a complex, long-range mission, sending squadrons of jets and refueling planes all the way to Gibraltar – the same distance as Tehran. But these exercises were done in such a public fashion, they were seen more as sending a message to the West to take tougher measures than as an actual dry run for an “Operation Fordo.”

Second, it should also be noted that Israel has carried out such pre-emptive missions before, in the case of both the Iraqi and Syrian atomic reactors. But this assignment would be much more complicated due to the greater distances involved, the difficulty of surprise, and the measures Iran has taken to defend its nuclear facilities based on the lessons of these earlier pre-emptive raids.

Third, these earlier operations demonstrate that for Israel, pre-emption is not an option but an established policy. Israel has always made clear it will not allow a regional enemy bent on its demise to possess weapons of mass destruction.

Fourth, Netanyahu has become much more vocal on the Iranian threat than his predecessor Ehud Olmert, but he had the ear of a sympathetic US president. That is not necessarily the case with Obama.

Finally, several reputable analysts have concluded that the Israeli military has the capabilities to deal a significant blow to Iran’s nuclear program, which the IDF brass has gauged to be a three to-five year setback. They would be able to dispatch long-range fighter-bombers, refueling and air command planes, and advanced super-drones than can loiter over targets for 48 hours, plus land and submarine-based Jericho missiles.

However – and this is a huge however – Israel simply would not be able to deal on its own with all the expected fallout from any such pre-emptive strikes. Tehran has threatened to unleash a wave of retaliatory attacks that would include strikes against American forces in the region, raids intended to close the vital oil shipping passage through the Strait of Hormuz, and activating dozens of sleeper terror cells worldwide. World oil markets would shudder, and you-know-who would be blamed.

Israel itself presently faces 200,000 missiles and rockets of various ranges and payloads in the arsenals of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas all aimed at its civilian heartland, and would be too tied up defending the homeland to put out fires elsewhere.

Thus, Jerusalem undoubtedly prefers to be part of a joint international action to stop Iran. Only time will tell if it is able to force America’s hand in that regard.

Until then, brace yourself for more warp speed rumors of war.

The writer is Media Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

In the Spirit of Elijah

The Jewish people have a long-held tradition that the coming of the Messiah will be preceded by the return of Elijah, one of Israel’s most extraordinary prophets. This tradition is evidenced on the night of the Passover Seder meal, when the doors to Jewish homes are left open and an empty place reserved at the table for Elijah. While the tradition is mentioned many times in the Talmud, its inspiration comes from the prophet Malachi:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and I strike the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:5-6

Jesus himself affirmed this Jewish expectancy in Matthew 17:10-13, saying, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already…” This he told his closest disciples on the way down from the Mount of Transfiguration, where they had just encountered Elijah as well as Moses. Here, Jesus makes a clear reference to the ministry of John the Baptist, who went before Him “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17) to prepare the way of the Lord. Yet Jesus also attested to a future appearance of the prophet, which will be marked by such incredible results that “he will restore all things.”

While this promise will be fulfilled through a single person – like John the Baptist – there is also a calling upon the end-time Church to operate in the “spirit of Elijah” and to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Isaiah 40:3).

According to Malachi, the major thrust of this ‘last days’ Elijah ministry will be “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” What does this mean? It surely includes the restoration of broken relationships within families and between generations. However, the Word of God offers us an additional insight which is just as important today.

‘THE FATHERS’
In the New Testament, the word “fathers” (pater in Greek) is used mostly in a very particular way. Out of 52 passages which contain the word “fathers,” it is used only five times in the context of a natural parent, as in Ephesians 6:4: “…fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.”

In all the other passages, it is used in reference to the Hebrew Patriarchs and to our Jewish forefathers in the faith. Here are some examples:

'Our Father Abraham', by Dr. Marvin Wilson“…to perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham”. Luke 1:72-73

“Our fathers ate the manna in the desert…” John 6:31

“The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers…” Acts 3:13

“The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers…” Acts 28:25

“who are Israelites …of whom are the fathers…” Romans 9:5

“beloved for the sake of the fathers…” Romans 11:28

Stephen, even in martyrdom, addresses the hostile crowd of fellow Israelites as “brothers and fathers” (Acts 7:2). In much the same way, we find Paul addressing an angry Jewish crowd as “brothers and fathers” (Acts 22:1).

Therefore, we see that the various New Testament figures and writers – including Jesus – use the word “fathers” as a term of respect for the biblical Patriarchs and in a broader sense for all the elders of Israel down through the generations until their time.

‘THE CHILDREN’
Less obvious is usage of the word “children,” which appears more then 100 times in the New Testament. In most instances, it describes children in the literal sense. But it is interesting to note that in all the books and letters of the New Testament, the body of believers (which were by majority Gentiles by the time the New Testament was compiled) is regularly referred to as “children” or “little children” (see for example: 1 John 2:1; Galatians 4:19; Hebrews 2:13; 1 Corinthians 4:14; 2 Corinthians 6:13).

We find this understanding early on when John the Baptist says, “For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Matthew 3:9). Most Bible scholars take this as alluding to God’s plan to one day bring the nations into the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant alongside Israel.

The Apostle Paul then writes in Galatians 3:7 – “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” (See also Romans 9:7)

In other words, the New Testament makes a clear distinction between the natural seed of Abraham as being the “fathers” and the Church as being their spiritual “children”.

THE NEED FOR RECONCILIATION
Returning to the prophetic utterance of Malachi, we understand that before the coming of Messiah a work of deep reconciliation would take place which will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and vice versa. It is interesting to note that the Christian order of Scripture differs from the Hebrew Bible in that we end with the book of Malachi, instead of II Chronicles like the Jews. Thus, the very last verse of the Old Testament commands a profound work of repentance, “lest I come and strike the earth with a curse”.

Nowhere is this more needed today than in repairing the historic breach between Israel and the Church, a work of reconciliation that would bring change and repentance on both sides. From the very beginning, the early Church leaders were met with stiff resistance from their Jewish brethren and were even persecuted all across the Roman Empire. Later, as the Church became predominantly Gentile, they started to retaliate and the dark and bloody history of Christian anti-Semitism began. The atrocities this produced have spanned the centuries and continue to cry out for deep repentance and the fruit thereof.

For centuries, churches failed to keep the biblical commandment that one “honour your father and mother” by our dismal failure to honour the Hebraic roots of Christianity and the natural family of Jesus.

HISTORIC CHANGES
Yet today, we indeed are witnessing a unique phenomenon in that Jews and Christians are reconciling at many levels and in many ways. The true Church and Israel are beginning to recognise the unique bond between them, and this is all very encouraging.

For instance, there have been tremendous changes in the way Christians view Israel and the Jewish people. The Puritan movement, for instance, started to rediscover scriptural truths about Israel through their study of the Bible in its original Hebrew, leaving a lasting impact which today can be found within the powerful Evangelical stream of Christianity found all around the world. Vast numbers of Christian believers today have refuted the erroneous teachings of Replacement theology. We are exploring and recapturing the Jewish roots of our faith. Whole denominations are praying for and becoming active supporters of the people of Israel.

On the Jewish side, one can point to the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – which has opened its doors to Christians via the Knesset Christian Allies’ Caucus. Today, it is the largest such caucus in the Knesset. The revered institution Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust Memorial and Museum, has opened a truly historic desk for Christian Friends of Yad Vashem in full partnership with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. For the past six years, the world’s leading Jewish daily, The Jerusalem Post, also has partnered with the ICEJ to publish a special monthly magazine for Christians, called “The Christian Edition”.

These are all developments which only a decade ago would have been considered impossible. It shows that an increasing number of Jews today realise there have been profound changes in Christian doctrines and attitudes towards the Jewish people. A growing segment of the Jewish world no longer views us as enemies and perpetrators, but as trustworthy friends and partners.

CONCLUSION
Years ago, Pope John Paul II declared that the Jewish people are “our elder brothers”. It would be much more accurate to call them our “fathers”, as our faith was birthed out of a biblical, Jewish belief system. We believe in a Jewish Messiah, we read a Jewish Bible, and we expect the king of the Jews to return to Jerusalem, the City of David.

Consequently, we should honour the “fathers” who went before us and brought forth the knowledge of the one true and living God. May the Lord continue to turn our hearts towards one another “in the spirit of Elijah.” For in this ministry, we prepare the way of the Lord.


The writer is Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Who do you say that I am?

 

This Book Review of 'Jesus' by Professor David Flusser was first published in the ICEJ's monthly newsletter 'Word from Jerusalem' in September 1997. It is being reposted here in as part of the wider debate surrounding the publication of 'Kosher Jesus'; by Shmuley Boteach (Gefen Publishing House, 2012)

Read David Parson's 2012 review of  'Kosher Jesus' »

 


Matthew 16, Jesus privately asked his disciples: "'Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?' Sothey said 'Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, 'But who do you say that I am?'"

A recently published book, "Jesus" by David Flusser, contains opinions on this and many other crucial questions which are sending ripples throughout the Christian and Jewish worlds. Flusser, Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is widely considered the leading Israeli scholar on the Second Temple period, the life of Jesus, and the history of the early Church. In this updated version of his 1968 book, Prof. Flusser (an Orthodox Jew) draws on his lifetime of research into the Gospel accounts and ancient Jewish, Christian and other classical sources (together with recent archeological finds) to present a remarkable biography of the Galilean sage who Christian-ity has proclaimed to be the Messiah. His insights and conclusions are surprising academics and laymen alike.

For example, Flusser notes the disciples' response to the first question posed by Jesus (in the scripture above) reflected popular beliefs in Judaism in those days -that the raptured Elijah or Enoch would return, that Moses or Jeremiah also may not have died or would be resurrected, as perhaps would also happen with the beheaded John the Baptist.

But it is in relation to the second question -"Who do you say that I am" -that Flusser's work is most compelling. Flusser writes:

"I am convinced that there are reliable reports that the Crucified One 'appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time ... Then he appeared to ]ames, then to all the apostles.' Last of all, he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus ... When Jesus answered the high priest's question about his Messiahship with the words, 'From now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God,' did he believe that he too, would escape the fate that threatened him. Or, as is more likely, did he believe that he would rise from the dead? In any event, the high priest correctly understood that by jesus' words he was confessing that he was the Messiah.'' (pp. 154-155)

Flusser's conclusions must be seen in the context of the heated theological debate over Jesus' "self-awareness"; in other words, who did Jesus say or think He was? In the sheltered world of academia, liberal Christian scholars have held for decades that "Christology" (the belief that Christ is the eternal Son of God who was made flesh to suffer for sins and then return to His throne as judge over all) was a product of the emerging Gentile Church around 3 the time of the third century. Flusser refutes this notion, presenting evidence that belief in a Messiah who, for instance, is to be judge over all at the end of days (to "separate wheat from tares and sheep from goats," as Jesus put it) was common in Judaism during the Second Temple period, and thus was not necessarily unique to Jesus or His early Jewish followers. Further, the apostles' teachings that He was the promised Messiah was based firmly upon Jesus' own view and teachings about His mission on earth.

Flusser sees the teachings of Jesus as revolutionary (in terms of His contemporaries in Judaism) on three points: the radical interpretation of the commandment of mutual love, the call for a new morality, and the idea of the kingdom of heaven. On this third count, Flusser points to Jesus as

"the only Jew of ancient times known to us who preached not only that people were on the threshold of the end of time, but that the new age of salvation had already begun ... for jesus, the kingdom of heaven is not only the eschatological rule of God that has dawned already, but a divinely willed movement that spreads among people throughout the earth ... an expanding realm embracing ever more and more people ... both great and small... We do not mean to assert that Jesus wanted to found a church or even a single community, but that he wanted to start a movement.'' (pp. 110-111)

Flusser's lifetime of work will probably prove controversial on many issues of great import to Christians and Jews. In describing Jesus' relations with the four main sects of Judaism of that time (the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and Zealots), Flusser's findings should prove invaluable in exposing the historic error behind the Christian view that Jews share a collective guilt for killing the Son of God, and thereby help heal the regrettable rift between Jews and the followers of Jesus.

Flusser maintains Jesus rejected the Zealots' call to take up arms against Rome and disagreed on major points with the Essenes -the so-called "sons of light" in the Dead Sea Scrolls ("For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light." Luke 16:8 ). Flusser then analyses relevant ancient texts to recount how the small but powerful band of Sadducees mistakenly judged that their exclusive control of Temple worship (by Roman consent) was threathened by Jesus' talk of "destroying the Temple" and thus were the ones who conspired with the ruthless Pilate and Herod Anti pas to crucify Jesus.

Ultimately, Jesus is seen as closest to the Pharisees of his day-despite all the criticism of their hypocrisy and traditions of men-who represented the mainstream of universal, non-sectarian Judaism. In fact, Flusser points to the actions of the Pharisees Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus (who both helped bury Jesus) and Gamaliel (who defended the apostles before the council -Acts 5:34) as reflecting the sympathetic views of the majority of Pharisees, and indeed most Jews, to the sufferings of Jesus.

With regard to the work of the Embassy, we may be finding ourselves ever more grateful for the ground-breaking work of Israel's leading Jewish scholar on the life of our Lord. In his preface, Prof. Flusser states:

"I have not written this book to describe Jesus from the "Jewish standpoint." The truth of the matter is that I, am motivated by scholarly interest to learn as much as I can about Jesus, but at the same time being a practicing Jew and not a Christian, I am independ-ent of any church. I readily admit, however, that I personally identify myself with Jesus' Jewish 'Weltanschauung,' (world view) both moral and political, and I believe that the content of his teachings and the approach he embraced have always had the' potential to change our world and prevent the greatest part of evil and suffering." (p. 15)

Dr. R. Steven Notley, the head of the Jerusalem University College's New Testament Department and Director of the Jerusalem School for Synoptic Research, assisted Flusser in rewriting his earlier work. Notley senses that although most Jews acknowledge Prof. Flusser as the expert in his field, they tend to keep Flusser at arm's length because of his provocative views. Flusser admits it was 4 the positive image of Jesus conveyed early in life by Bohemian Brethren and later Mennonite acquaint~nces that led him to immerse himself in the study of the person and message of Jesus, which in turn influenced his understanding of his own Jewish faith. As for Christian scholars, Notley notes that most do not know what to do with Flusser at this point.

Nonetheless, Prof. Flusser has challenged all to take another look at the origins of Christianity, and at their own faith as well. In the foreword to "Jesus" (p.ll), Notley relates the following personal note on the author:

"Flusser had a student who went to study at the University of Zurich. When a professor there discovered that he was Flusser's student, he jailed: him without warrant. The jailing mark ruined the student's academic career. A few years later, a student of that same professor was studying in Flusser's class. He turned in a paper, the content of which was mediocre. Flusser instructed Brad, who was his ·teaching assistant at the time, to give the student an "A". When Brad inquired why, he related the story of his own student and then repeated his instruction, "Give the student an 'A'. This I have learned from Jesus."


The Jewish and the Christian Messiah

by Dr Joseph Klausner, former professor of modern Hebrew literature and Jewish history of the Second Temple era, at the Hebrew University.

"Jesus was a Jew and a Jew he remained till his last breath. His one idea was to implant within his nation the idea of the coming of the Messiah and, by repentance and good works, hasten the "end"...

In all this Jesus is the most Jewish of Jews ... more Jewish even than Hillel ... From the standpoint of general humanity, he is, indeed, "a light to the Gentiles." His disciples have raised the lighted torch of the Law of Israel ... among the heathen of the four quarters of the world. No Jew can, therefore, overlook the value of Jesus and his teaching from the point of view of universal history. This was a fact that neither Maimonides nor Yehuda ha-Levi [medieval Jewish scholars] ignored."

Excerpt from "The Messiahship of Jesus: What Jews and Jewish Christians say" compiled by Arthur W Kac. p50. 

 


David Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; This review was first published in the September 1997 issue of The Word from Jerusalem

The Israel Test

Arab army invading Israel in 1948. (benatlas.com)

As we enter another turbulent year, it is high time to challenge the increasing antagonism against Israel. This small nation has “unhinged” the integrity of many world leaders and led them to side with tyrants and terrorists. Naturally, all of this is uniquely concealed in the “double speak” of diplomatic language.

Here we have a tiny people, with a unique and ancient relationship with the land of Canaan and the city Jerusalem, who have returned from the four corners of the earth, forged a genuine democracy, and built their nation into a global technological and military power! In sixty brief years, and against all odds, they have carved out a nation that is hundreds of years ahead of its regional neighbors! This is a miracle!

Yet sadly, the world has surrendered truth and joined the anti-Israel caravan for the sake of Arab oil! So more resolutions have been passed in the United Nations condemning Israel than any other nation. How can this be? The world is filled with rogue regimes like North Korea, Syria, Iran and Zimbabwe, but they get a pass.

Four millennia ago, the God of the Bible stated that Israel would be a “test nation.” Her unique global mission, her central placement among the nations, and her very existence would challenge the world.  God said, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

This truth has been verified through the centuries. The ruins of many nations, small and great, that have risen up against Israel can still be observed today. But Israel lives!

Still, many nations have not learned from history and are destined to repeat it! Will they ever pass the Israel test?

A Theological Test:  People who claim biblical faith are challenged by Israel. Many church leaders deliberately twist the word of God in order to suit their bias against Israel. The Bible is clear that a final restoration of the Jewish people will take place (Luke 21:24). This final restoration is from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 43:5-7). When it happens the nation will never be uprooted again (Amos 9:13-15). So Israel’s modern-day restoration is the hand of God and yet many who claim to know and love this same God are denying it! Instead, they want to de-Zionize the Bible, taking out any references to this final great ingathering of the Jews. Quite simply, they want to re-write Scripture to favor the Palestinians. They have failed the test!

A Moral Test:  Like the Nazis, the agenda of radical Islam is the total destruction of Israel. This agenda is embraced by Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran and yet the politicians of our world ignore it or play it down all the time. The textbooks of Palestinian children continue to demonize Jews and call for the destruction of the Jewish State. Their leaders call for the same when speaking in Arabic. Many Western leaders know this but still play the game of denial! Why? Because they need oil and need it badly! They will happily sell the truth to fuel their hungry economies, buying petrol from totalitarian rulers. This is moral bankruptcy! They, too, have failed the test!

An Historical Test:  From the UN Partition Plan of 1947 to the present, Israel has made great and painful sacrifices in order to make peace with its Arab neighbors. But from the outset, the Arabs invaded in a bid to destroy the young, fragile nation of Israel, even though it’s founding had been approved by the international community. The Arabs did manage to seize control of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem for nearly twenty years. In other words, they had everything they say that they want now for a Palestinian state, but never made any attempt to create such a state back then. The PLO was formed in 1964 to eliminate Israel, not to build a Palestinian state in these areas. This is the truth of history! Yet many world leaders will never acknowledge this. They also fail the test!

In the end, how we treat the Jews reflects how we treat the one true God. This is the great test of Psalm 83:1-4, and most fail it. Here the Psalmist declares that rebellion against God is manifested by a hatred of Israel and an attempt to destroy her. This is the great test of all human history!


 Rev. Hedding is vice chairman of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and former Executive Director.
 

Mideast Christians the litmus test of Arab Spring

Left: Egyptian Coptic Christians demonstrate outside an Alexandria church bombed by Muslim extremists on New Year's Day last year, killing 23 people.

Late in 2010, it seemed a pair of brutal terror assaults on Christian congregations in Egypt and Iraq had finally brought the plight of the Middle East’s embattled Christian minorities to the fore, at least to the point where Western leaders could no longer ignore this abysmal problem.

An al-Qaida cell’s shocking raid on a Baghdad cathedral in late October had murdered 44 Christian worshipers, two priests and seven Iraqi security personnel. Then on New Year’s Day, a powerful car bombing targeted a Coptic church in Alexandria, killing twenty-five parishioners and wounding nearly 100 just as they were finishing midnight Mass.

As a long-time observer of the Middle East, I held out hope at the time that these tragedies would prove to be a tipping point, and the West would finally come to the rescue of the dwindling and battered Christian communities of the region. But then the Arab Spring erupted and realpolitik took over. Sadly, there was no time to deal with radical Muslim attacks on Christians when the entire Middle East was convulsing with unprecedented massive political protests.

Still, the vicious slaughter in Alexandria had left Egyptian Copts with an uneasy sense that the Mubarak regime was no longer able to protect them. So many withdrew their traditional support for the government and joined the mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

Yet now that the Muslim Brotherhood and an even more militant Salafist faction have won some 70% of the seats in the lower house of parliament in Cairo, many Copts are having second thoughts. Already facing discrimination and harassment from a secular regime, they realize things could actually get a lot worse under the Islamists.

An ancient Christian community that according to tradition was introduced to Egypt by Saint Mark in 42 AD, the Copts today comprise nearly 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. They are a proud faith community – proud that they have survived centuries of Muslim persecution and repeated attempts at forced conversion to Islam. This pride of identity goes even to the point that many Copts have small green crosses tattooed on their wrists.

Yet they are faced with a dilemma under the emerging new order in Egypt. The nation’s laws require that everyone over age 16 must carry an identity card containing their personal details, including their religion. The card in necessary for employment, education, access to public services, and even to be married and buried. Thus for good reason Copts want to be identified as Christians. Yet holding such a card means facing certain discrimination in job opportunities, education and other pursuits in life.

As a result, the Copts are anxious to see whether the new constitution being drawn up for the country will guarantee them both equal rights as citizens and full religious freedoms as a distinct faith community. They also are fearful the army and courts will no longer be there to shield them from Muslim agitators and terrorists. Some have serious doubts on both accounts and Western embassies in Cairo are already reporting an increase in Coptic Christians seeking to apply for emigration abroad. Some estimates claim as many as 100,000 Christians have already fled Egypt since the Mubarak regime fell last February.

Similar bouts of Christian exodus have been seen in other Arab countries, with Iraq’s ancient Assyrian Christian community collapsing from 1.5 million to as few as 250,000 since the Second Gulf War commenced in 2003.

So as the Arab Spring runs its course, the litmus test of whether democracy truly is taking root in Egypt and elsewhere in the region is if the emerging rulers respect the rights of their Christian minorities and secure their place in society.

Now there is good reason to seriously doubt that this will come about naturally. In fact, it is wholly dependent on Western leaders becoming vocally outraged at any manifestations of Christian persecution and a determined diplomatic campaign to ensure the rights and safety of the Middle East’s indigenous Christians, including political intervention when necessary.

There is clear historic precedent for such outside intervention in the Arab/Muslim world to protect Christian communities. As Ottoman rule over the Middle East began to wane, the Great Powers of Europe moved into the region, each concluding deals with the Sultanate in Istanbul to provide protection to various imperiled Christian denominations. British envoys arrived to safeguard Protestant interests, France the Lebanese Christians, Russia the Orthodox folds. The Vatican also stepped in to aid certain Eastern sects, producing the unique hybrids of the Maronite and Greek Melkite churches which are loyal to the papacy but retain many Eastern Orthodox beliefs and practices.

Along with private American initiatives, these Western interlocutors brought with them schools, hospitals and other modern institutions, thus vastly improving the education, health and job opportunities of the local Christians. With this benevolent influx also came advances for all peoples of the region.

Some locals are sure to object to any renewed Western intervention on behalf of Mideast Christians as a form of neo-colonialism. But no one has territorial designs here anymore. It is just a matter of plain human decency.

The emerging Islamist regimes must not be coddled! Sanctions should be imposed if necessary to safeguard the rights and even the lives of Christian minorities in the Middle East! Something has to be done to stop the endless bleeding of Eastern Christianity at the hands of radical Islam.

Yet beyond the urgent need for Western diplomatic intervention, there are signs of hope that revival is hitting the Christians of the region. Reports out of Egypt, for instance, maintain that churches there are indeed persecuted but they are also thriving. “Our pews are fuller than ever on Sundays”, one Protestant ministry leader stated last year.

A video recently posted on YouTube captured a remarkable scene of some 70,000 Egyptian Christians from Coptic, Catholic and Evangelical backgrounds who had gathered several months ago for an outdoor worship service which lasted all night. Their collective sense of joy and pride in their faith was clearly evident.

At present, the general trend of the Arab Spring is that Islamist factions are sweeping into power across the region, as seen in recent elections in Morocco, Tunisia and now Egypt. These are political parties which declare that Islam is the answer to all the region’s problems. But many Arabs know that Islam will not solve the social, economic and even spiritual ills of the Middle East. They are looking for other answers and many are turning to Christianity.


 The writer is Media Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; This article was first published in the February 2012 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition.

 

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