‘… One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, demanding that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. Jesus replied, “You know the saying, ‘Red sky at night means fair weather tomorrow; red sky in the morning means foul weather all day.’ You know how to interpret the weather signs in the sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the signs of the times!’’ (NLT)
It is just as important today that church leaders and active Christians are aware of and can ‘interpret’ the ‘signs of the times’ in which we are now living. This knowledge should act as a ‘spur-on’, a motivation to fulfil Jesus’ commission; to preach the ‘good news’ to all who will listen, to support the needy and then to baptise, disciple and mentor believers.
However there are two serious pitfalls or mistakes that we can unwittingly fall into when dealing with the subject that we are now going to consider:
1. Taking sides, rather than looking to see prayerfully what God is doing! After all politics is man-made! When people start to look at Israel and the Middle East, far too many Christians try to become more Zionist, more Jewish than the Jews; OR more Palestinian than the Palestinian Arabs and then adopt entrenched views about one side or the other. We must avoid this and look prayerfully to see what God is doing in the Middle East!
2. Becoming obsessed with the subject and the ‘end times’ and then embracing and developing our own preferred theories about current and future world events i.e. our favourite Biblical passages – prophecies and interpretations.
Both of these pitfalls/ mistakes can cause within the Christian body hurt, offence, division, ‘elite’ factions with ‘superior’ knowledge, vocal pressure groups and can cause us to take our eye off what Jesus commanded us to do – that is ‘’…to preach the ‘good news’ to all who will listen, to support the needy and then to baptise, disciple and mentor believers’’.
We must always remember that Jesus told us very clearly that even He did not know the time of His return, neither did the Angels, only His Father knows – and that should be good enough for us!
Read: Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32.
We should all be working flat out making sure that we are obeying Jesus’ commission when He returns! However, it is important for each of us to be ‘aware of’ and ‘interpret’ the ‘signs of the times’ in which we are now living! An understanding of this, God’s heart, will motivate and inspire us to fulfil Jesus’ commission!
Read: Matthew 28:16-20.
1. God’s purpose for Israel
Because of the massive worldwide controversy and the entrenched views surrounding modern day Israel and the Palestinian Territories, many Christian leaders perhaps understandably avoid the whole subject and prefer to stick to the safer less controversial ground of the New Testament and the Biblical principles of evangelism, Christian living and compassion.
However, if we are really to know God’s heart, we cannot avoid looking at ‘the signs of the times’, what is currently happening on the ground i.e. what God predicts in the Old Testament, recorded there under the inspiration anddirection of the Holy Spirit. After all a simple study of the quotations of Jesus shows that He clearly believed and quoted the Old Testament, often referring to prophecies about Himself. He made it very clear that He came to the Jewish people as their Messiah, fulfilling numerous Old Testament prophecies.
So why did God choose a group of people the Jews, descendants of one man and from them create a mighty nation that exists to this day; despite the attempts of despots such as Hitler and many others to annihilate them, both historically and even sadly to this day?
Why did God use the Jewish people to make salvation freely available to the world?
• God’s purposes revealed to Abraham
Read: Genesis 12:3; 15:6; 17:4-7; Exodus 6: 3-4; Leviticus 26:42; Genesis 22:17-19.
• God’s purposes revealed to Moses
Read: Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 28:1-10.
• God’s purposes revealed in the Psalm and the prophets
Read: Psalm 67:1-2; Isaiah 43:1-13; 2:1-3; 60:1-3; 61:4-6; Zechariah 8.
• Israel’s failure
Read: Leviticus 26: 21-28; 44-45; Psalm 14:7; Isaiah 43; 62:11-12; Jeremiah 33:7-8; Ezekiel 39: 25-29.
2. What does the New Testament mean by the term ‘Israel’?
Before we try and deal with this question, it would be helpful to state some key but fundamental beliefs about the Bible itself:
• The scriptures both Old Testament and New Testament make clear that God is three unique persons, but united three in one. They have always existed and will always exist unchanged.
Read: Hebrews 8:8-9; Malachi 3:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 3:17; 2 Corinthians 13:14.
• That the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is a cohesive, consistent whole.
Read: 2 Peter 1:20-21; Luke 24:27; 2 Peter 3:15-16.
• The Bible teaches us that God is: Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent.
Read: 1 Kings 8; Psalm 139; Matthew 10: 29-31; 1 John 3:19-20.
A search of the New Testament by Bible software reveals 70 uses of the same Greek word for Israel in 68 scriptures in the New Testament. Although a few of these are marginal, it can be seen that the Greek word clearly refers to the nation of Israel. Paul makes this very clear in Romans chapters 9-11 where he is talking about the Jewish people, an ethnic group with whom God made an everlasting covenant.
Covenant and contract – the differences:
• ‘…a contract is legally binding, a covenant is a voluntary agreement… A contract is an agreement between two or more parties while a covenant is a promise or pledge by usually one party… You can opt out of a contract while a covenant is about having the strengths and determination to uphold your part of the promise.’
• God has declared over and over again in the scriptures, that He will uphold His covenants for ever – no matter what!
Read: Genesis 17:7-8; Jeremiah 32:40 – 41; Psalm 105:8-11; Hebrews 9:15.
Any suggestion that ‘the church’ is the exclusive ‘new’ Israel is simply not sustainable, as it implies that God has broken His covenants with the Jewish people….He has said that He will remain faithful. If God has broken His covenants with the Jewish people because of their failings, what chance have
Christians got? Look at the church’s many many serious failings over the last 2,000 years and remember we Christians have the full revelation and the Holy Spirit! God will keep His covenants!
Read: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Romans 9-11.
3. The use of the word ‘Jew’ in the New Testament
In the New Testament the word ‘Jew’ is used 180+ times in the gospels, The Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters.
• The scriptures refer to ‘believing’ Jews, ‘unbelieving’ Jews, ‘believing’ Gentiles and by implication ‘unbelieving’ Gentiles.
Read: John 8:31-32; Acts 21:20; John 9:18; Acts 14:2; Acts 21:25
• Paul also talks about the ethnic or ‘physical’ Jew and the ‘spiritual’ Jew. An ethnic Jew can be both ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual’, but a Gentile Christian can only be a ‘spiritual’ Jew – if his heart has been circumcised! This was also referred to in the Old Testament.
Read: Romans 2:25-29; 9:24-29; Deut. 30:6; 10:12-16.
• What is interesting is that Galatians 3:26-29; Romans 2:28-29 probably refer to what Paul calls ‘Spiritual Jews with circumcised hearts’ and thus reinforcing the point that Christians are included but not the Jews excluded!
In Romans 11 Paul both asks and then immediately answers the key question:
‘…I ask, then, has God rejected his own people, the nation of Israel? Of course
not! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the
tribe of Benjamin. No, God has not rejected his own people, whom he chose
from the very beginning…’ (NLT)
Read: Romans 11:1-4
4. Is Israel still relevant today?
The modern day re-birth of Israel 70+ years ago is such an unprecedented act in world history it could be considered a miracle in the full sense of the word. It could only have been achieved by God’s intervention.
Remember God made an eternal covenant with the Jewish people.
Read: Genesis 17:7-8; Jeremiah 31:35-37; Romans 11:28-33
There are some amazing Bible references about the final return of the Jewish people to Israel:
• Amos 9:14-15; Jeremiah 30:3; Ezekiel 36:24; Isaiah 11:11-12; Isaiah 43:5-7; Jeremiah 23:3; 31:8; Zephaniah 3:20.
• Isaiah 66:7-9 ‘…can a nation be born in a day?’
On Friday, May 14 1948, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art; at 4 pm the declaration of independence was read to the world by David Ben-Gurion and Israel became an independent sovereign nation again after 2,000+ years, formed in a day. The ‘birth pains’ came later, as within hours of the declaration (the birth) the new nation was attacked by the trained well equipped regular armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Israel’s minute ‘army’ of largely untrained, ill equipped volunteers, many recently from the German concentration camps, miraculously defeated them all!
Jesus wept over Jerusalem and prophesied about its fall – it fell in 70 AD to the Roman army led by Titus.
Read: Luke 19:41-44.
• Jesus also prophesied that Jerusalem would be controlled by Gentiles for many years. Jesus prophesied: ‘….and Jerusalem will be trampled down by the Gentiles until the period of the Gentiles comes to an end.’ (NLT)
Read: Luke 21:24.
• On 7th June 1967 the Israeli (Jewish) army fully conquered and unified Jerusalem and so after in excess of 2,500 years of being ‘trampled down by various Gentile armies’, Jerusalem returned to Jewish sovereignty.
• The Old Testament prophet Zechariah predicted that in the last days just before Jesus’ return, God would make Jerusalem a ‘stumbling block’ to the world. A prediction made in 520 BC about Jerusalem is so relevant today, with that small city at the very centre of world tensions/disagreements!
Read: Zechariah 12:2-4.
5. God’s purpose for Israel OR Israel’s failure and God’ salvation.
Although Israel failed as a nation to recognise Jesus their Messiah and were as Jesus predicted ‘cut down’ and scattered worldwide; within living memory, as scripture prophesies God has brought them back – home.
• Matthew 24; Zechariah 12:3-5
• He has promised that He will protect them.
We must remember that the Old Testament is Jewish as is most (maybe all) of the New Testament.
• We Gentile Christians worship the Jewish God and Jesus the Jewish Messiah.
• Paul tells us that Christian Gentiles are wild olive branches grafted into the Jewish cultivated olive. The grafted branch gets its nourishment from the Jewish root!
Read: Romans 11: 16-24
• Before Jewish believers told us about Jesus, Gentiles had no revelation about the one true God!
Read: Ephesians 3:3-6; 3:8-11; Colossians 1:26-27.
The Acts of the Apostles tell us that many Jews including religious leaders, did become believers in Jesus after His resurrection. This is confirmed by the Roman/Jewish historian Josephus.
Read: Acts 4
Christians have much to be grateful to the Jews for.
God’s secret plan is to break down the wall of hostility that has sadly existed between Jew and Gentile over the millennia.
Read: Ephesians 2:11-18
The Old Testament as well as the New Testament predict that Israel will have an important role in the future or ‘the end times’.
• In Acts 1:9-11 it talks about Jesus returning to the Mount of Olives.
• In Zechariah 14 and Revelations 19 it talks about Jesus returning to save the Jewish people from the intended slaughter by the ‘man of lawlessness’.
• Jesus will reign with His church from Jerusalem.
• The Jews who are not believers, will recognise ‘the one they have pierced’.
“Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer on the family of David and on the people of Jerusalem. They will look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died.’’ Zechariah 12:10. (NLT)
Note: Today in Israel and around the world there is a rapidly growing number of Jewish believers in Jesus (they mainly call Him by the Hebrew name Yeshua). These Jewish believers call themselves Messianic Jews (not Christians) because of the bad history, the terrible persecution and cruelty by much of the Christian church towards Jews over the last two millennia. They also call their ‘churches’ Congregations for the same reason.
• One day maybe soon the Bible predicts that there will be mass turning to Jesus/Yeshua by the Jewish people.
• In all of this we must not forget about the Arab people. Many Arab Christians in the Middle East have suffered terribly for their faith. For example Christians not so long ago accounted for 90% + of the population of Bethlehem – today it is less than 8% and falling.
• What is encouraging however, is that God is also working with and has not forgotten the Jews’ ‘cousins’ the Arabs, including both Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs.
Read: Genesis 16:7-12; 17:20-22; 21:17-18.
• To witness Messianic Jews and Arab Christians loving each other as brothers in Jesus is very moving. To see them increasingly working together despite many practical difficulties and differences, supporting one another is exciting. To witness Messianic Jews bravely standing with their persecuted Arab Christian brothers in a number of difficult regions in the Middle East is humbling.
Read: Matthew 23:37-39; Psalm 118:22-26
• In Zechariah 14:6-9 it tells how at this time the whole world will recognise who Jesus is, as He rules worldwide with His church from Jerusalem.
• Thus will begin Jesus’ millennium rule of this world.
• At the end of the millennium after judgement, the Father will create the new heavens and the new earth as He has promised in Scripture.
Hallelujah!! (From the Hebrew – ‘praises to God’)
By Norman Fisher © The Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund 2020
For those who want to explore this subject or aspects of it a little further, a number of references are listed below. As always it is wise to read a number of different opinions prayerfully so that a balanced and Biblical view is developed. The list below reflects this and is not restricted to one view or opinion. It is an attempt to help provide a ‘stereo’ effect in terms of a deeper balanced understanding of the subject!
1. Brickner, David. ‘Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles’, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006
2. Burnett, Ken. ‘Why Pray For Israel?, Lancaster: Sovereign World, 2009
3. Crombie, Kelvin. ‘For the Love of Zion’, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008
4. Fisher, Julia. ‘What is God Doing in Israel’, Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2016
5. Fisher, Julia. ‘Meet Me at the Olive Tree’, Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2012
6. Fisher, Norman. ‘The Essential Survival Guide for the 21 st Century’, Carlisle Cumbria: Paternoster, 2001
7. Lambert, Lance. ‘The Uniqueness of Israel’, Eastbourne: Kingsway, 1980
8. Lambert, Lance. ‘Battle for Israel’, Wheaton Illinois: Tyndale House, 1976
9. Pawson, David. ‘When Jesus Returns’, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995
10. Pawson, David. ‘Israel in the New Testament’, Bristol: Terra Nova, 2009
11. Pearce, Tony. ‘Countdown to Calamity or Hope for the Future?’, Chichester: New Wine Ministries, 2010
12. Prince, Derek. ‘The Destiny of Israel and the Church’, England: Derek Prince Ministries, 1999
13. Prince, Derek. ‘In Search of Truth’, Tonbridge Kent: Sovereign World, 1989.
Note: Books can go in and out of print from time to time. All of the above are
available either new and/or on ‘Amazon used books’ and on other UK and US
‘used books’ web sites.