Sign of the times
The Church is in danger of not recognising God’s hand in Israel’s restoration
By Charles Gardner
Previously published October-November 2018
As rockets and other explosives are rained upon Israel from enemies on their borders, anti-Semitic activity is also on the rise abroad.
The Jewish people are under siege – both in their own land and around the world – and it is the duty of the Church to come to their aid.
But this is clearly not happening as it should. For just as the Jews were punished with exile to the nations for not recognising the time of God’s coming to them (Luke 19.44), the Gentile world (especially Christians) will be judged for not perceiving God’s hand in bringing them back.
Israel and Jesus are among the major themes of the Bible, trusted by millions as God’s authoritative Word.
Much of it contains prophecy about things to come (at the time they were written) and, of these, top of the list are the frequent references to the coming of Messiah who would save his people from their sins and bring peace to men on earth.
But this would happen in two stages – he would appear first as the suffering servant and sacrifice for sins and a second time as King of Kings and settler of all international disputes.
However, most Jews of Jesus’ time failed to grasp God’s two-part agenda and were looking only for a king to rescue them from Roman oppression. They overlooked the ‘servant’ aspect of his role so clearly foretold in the Scriptures (e.g. Isaiah 53, Psalm 22).
And yet, in fulfilling Scripture, he received a royal welcome from the Palm Sunday crowd of disciples when they exclaimed: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19.38, Psalm 118.26)
But in the midst of all this adulation, he was not taken in. He knew the fickleness of humanity and wept over Jerusalem, saying: “If you had only known this day what would bring you peace…” (Luke 19.42)
He went on to prophesy the destruction of the city and the massacre of its inhabitants (which took place within a generation), adding: “They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19.44)
But the good news for God’s chosen people is that he is not finished with them. For he also prophesies the welcome he will receive from his people on his return when he says: “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.” (Matthew 23.39)
But before that, just as a loving father disciplines his son, he will make good on his promise that, if his people forsake him, they will feel the sting of his severe reprimand (Deuteronomy 8.5,20).
Which brings me to the second most frequent tranche of prophecies in the Bible – those relating to the restoration of Jews dispersed throughout the nations to their ancient homeland.
For example, Ezekiel (speaking for God) writes: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36.24) And he adds: “I will give you a new heart…and I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (v26f)
Jeremiah confirms this, referring to a new covenant God will make with the people of Israel when he would “put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31.31-33). And he adds that their restoration to Israel – “out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them” – will be seen as a greater miracle than the crossing of the Red Sea (Jeremiah 23.7f).
I believe the watching world’s involvement (or lack of it) in this great miracle prophesied so prolifically in the Scriptures is a litmus test as to whether they are for or against the purposes of God.
This is borne out by Jesus’ teaching, in the section of Scriptures addressing the last days, on the sheep and the goats.
According to theologian Frank Booth, his hearers would have linked this with Ezekiel’s reference to judgment among God’s own flock (Ezekiel 34.17) as well as to Joel’s reference to judgment of the nations for what they have done to his inheritance, Israel, “because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.” (Joel 3.2)
Well, the nations have been busy dividing up the land of Israel for the past 100 years, ever since Britain was given the mandate to prepare the Jewish people for statehood.
Not content with having lopped off 78% of the territory originally earmarked for the Jews at the Treaty of San Remo in 1920, the nations are still demanding that further so-called Palestinian land be conceded.
But the flock of God (those who claim to follow the Chief Shepherd) will also be answerable for how they either helped or hindered Jewish restoration – both physically (to the Land) and spiritually (to the Lord).
So we see that, in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 25), Jesus warns that many in the Church will not be ready for his return (parable of the ten virgins), others will not use the revelation they have been given (the talents) and this will be summed up by their attitude to Israel (the sheep and the goats).
Where has the Church been while this amazing miracle (of Jewish restoration) has been enacted before the eyes of the world, particularly over the past 70 years since Israel’s rebirth? Have they been prayerfully, financially and spiritually supportive? Have they regarded the least of Jesus’ brethren with compassion? Have they considered the enormous debt we owe them as recipients of the gospel that has set us free? (Romans 15.27) Have they prayed for the peace of Jerusalem, as the Scriptures command us to do? (Psalm 122.6)
Booth writes: “We are now in the middle of the second biggest prophetic event in history, yet sadly too many in the Church seem unable or unwilling to recognise it.”
And he adds: “If, 2,000 years ago, Israel missed out by being unable to recognise what God was doing in their generation, the Church is in exactly the same danger today.”
Israel is not a peripheral matter for the church, something only for ‘Christian Zionists’ to get excited about. Tragically, too many preachers see it as a ‘political hot potato’ and so avoid it like the plague in order not to rock the boat. But this is a dereliction of their duty as servants of Christ. As with the mark of the Beast (see Revelation 14.9-11), neutrality is not an option on this issue.
Jewish restoration is the great sign to the Gentile world of Jesus’ soon return. (Isa 49.22) And I will let Frank Booth have the final word: “The return of Israel to the Land is the biggest prophetic event since the coming of Messiah; it loudly and clearly heralds his return, but many in the Church are not listening.”