Monday, June 9, 2014

If Prophecy Is More About "Who" Than "When"

Like many in the modern church, I grew up learning an unspoken doctrine called "replacement theology," a big phrase meaning that the birth of the New Testament Church replaced the nation of Israel in God's eyes.  In essence, Jews were cut off from God's blessings when they rejected His Son at Calvary, opening up the door for Gentiles to come into the fold as adopted sons and daughters.  This new family of God' became the new owners of any prior blessings or promises made to the nation of Israel .

Less than a decade ago, though, I opened the pages of the Old Testament and studied it--really studied it, not just browsed the stories as historical accounts.  Not only did I find Jesus foreshadowed in every book, but I learned that God wasn't finished with Israel, that there was still a remnant of God's promised people yet to play a part in end-times prophecy.  In other words, Israel and the Jewish people were still important to God and were still privy to God's promises.

At that time, my heart began to soften my heart towards the nation of Israel.  I began learning about the Jewish Feasts of the Lord and how, although as a Gentile, I was not required to celebrate them, that I was missing out because of my naive belief that they were Jewish and, thus, unimportant to me.  In truth, the traditions so much a part of each Feast or Holy Day pointed straight to fulfillment in Jesus, the Messiah. This knowledge, though, was not part of my childhood upbringing in church.  I was quickly learning that there was a gap in my theology, one that completely ignored the Jewishness of Jesus. 

Pastor and author Ray Bentley states, "When the church became disconnected from her Jewish roots, Christians lost the fullness of God's glory" (p. 40).  This disconnectedness traces back even to the Council of Nicaea, typically seen as a solidifying marker for modern Christianity, but which actually "furthered the alienation of Christianity from its Jewish roots" (p. 83).  Wanting to distance the church from the Jews, Constantine both changed the date for celebrating Jesus' resurrection and  "planted in the heart of the church the seeds of contempt for Jews and a clear separation from them as the only proper Christian attitude" (p. 84).

The historical persecution that followed--and that is still at work today--is well-documented.

This ancient history lesson is how Bentley begins his newest book, The Holy Land Key: Unlocking End-Times Prophecy Through the Lives of God's People in Israel.  It's a catchy title sure to draw in numerous people from the modern church looking for a "key" to understanding the prophecies concerning Christ's return.  Yet, this isn't a book about Revelation or anything to do with the when or how of Christ's return.  Overall, it has to do with the who of Jesus' return and how both the New Testament Church and the nation of Israel both play a part in that prophecy.

In short, to understand Biblical prophecy hinges on our understanding not the what or the when but rather the who God's people are.

As the author states, "Israel is people--not just a prophetic clock on the wall, revealing a prophecy timetable" (p. 21, my italics).

He then defines this "who" as including Israelis, Palestinians, and Arabs, not what I typically think when I picture God's chosen children in my mind.  Yet, by exploring God's covenant with Abraham and his two subsequent children Isaac and Ishmael, along with where those peoples settled down, my own heart was convicted much like the author's who stated, "In my zeal to get to know the Jews, I almost ignored the children of Abraham's other son, Ishmael" (p. 58).

When I consider the children of God, I don't automatically think of Palestinian Christians.  And I certainly don't think of Arab Christians, even though "Arabs were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2). Arabs accepted the new faith from the beginning, and Arab Christian tribes thrived in the Middle East from the earliest days of Christianity...[until today] as a struggling minority of second-class citizens for generations" (p. 61).

To ignore Palestinians or Arabs as God's children and only accept the Israelite is to house prejudices within our hearts, racist tendencies we may not have even known to exist within our breast.

Bentley does give several chapters to explaining how God's people seek patterns in prophecy and how the seasons and feasts in the Jewish Calendar can open our eyes to God's work.  But overall, his thesis remains that God is calling the Church to "step into the prophetic story": "God is inviting the church to travel with His chosen people, to bless Naomi's descendants, to build the bridge" between Gentile and Jew, Palestinian and Jew, Arab and Gentile, one in which we all join God together where He is working to fulfill prophecy (p. 200, 57).

From The Nehemiah Project and American Friends of Ariel to The Joshua Fund and Hope for Ishmael, Bentley gives several ways in which American Christians and the New Testament Church can begin getting involved in fulfilling Romans 1:16-17: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'The just shall live by faith.'"

The warning is clear--learning prophecy is unimportant if we are unwilling to place ourselves within prophecy: "It is not enough just to read a book or study prophecy the way we might study American literature or the history of ancient Egypt.  This is God's work we learn about in the Bible from the mouths of the ancient prophets. And it is His work we see unfolding today in the Middle East. As the prophesied events continue to unfold, the entire world will be affected...To understand God, His work on earth, history, and the future--including God's plans for the end of the age--we must understand and stand in support of Israel. It is our opportunity now to get involved in advance of the warfare that will precede God's judgment" (p. 201-202).

Let us not be guilty of being interested in the end times just for curiosity sake.  And may our hearts not be prejudiced such that we fail to see our Palestinian, Arab, and Israelite Christian brothers and sisters working within that prophecy until its fulfillment.

I challenge you as I challenge myself to find a way to plug in to God's work in the Middle East. God's Kingdom is coming. 

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