Friday 13 June 2014

The Outro and the Intro

On 1 July, my role with Christian Witness to Israel will change after more than 11 years in the post of General Secretary.  I'm not retiring. Far from it. In fact, I'm set to be as busy as ever, if not more so, but not as Gen Sec. From 1 July I will be 'General Secretary Emeritus'. I'm sorry if the title appears grandiose but it wasn't my idea.
As I step aside from leadership of the Society, the big news is that on 1 July Joseph Steinberg will join CWI as  Chief Executive Officer! I’ve known Joseph as a friend for more than 25 years and I’m delighted at the prospect of working with him.
Joseph grew up in a Jewish home in the United States and as a teenager, after searching the Old Testament scriptures, became convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
He comes to CWI with an impressive track record. At the age of 18 Joseph became a missionary to his own people and for two years travelled the world and 48 of the 50 US states performing in evangelistic concerts with The Liberated Wailing Wall.
After graduating from the Moody Bible Institute’s School of World Missions in Chicago with a Jewish Studies Diploma in 1988, Joseph joined Christian Witness to Israel as a field-worker with our London team. From 1991 Joseph trained for the Anglican ministry at Trinity College, Bristol before being ordained in the Church of England. While serving as an Anglican minister in Chigwell, Essex he co-authored ‘The Y Course’ – an excellent evangelistic resource that was used by over 6,000 churches in the UK – and its companion book, The Book of Y.
Joseph has taught on the books of Exodus and Leviticus in the All Souls video series Book by Book with Richard Bewes and Paul Blackham. He has also written the Spring Harvest booklet Psalms: Cries from the Heart.
Joseph is a gifted and inspirational communicator and has preached extensively in the UK and globally. He has been a speaker at Spring Harvest, Easter People, the Christian Resources Exhibition and the Oxford and Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Unions as well as at hundreds of churches.
All of us at CWI are thrilled to have Joseph as our new leader and we are looking forward to working with him to make the good news of Messiah known to the Jewish people both in the UK and around the world.
As for me, on 1 July I will become ‘General Secretary Emeritus’, a role in which I will serve as a consultant to Joseph and a coach to our Communications Department. God willing, I will continue to speak at churches and conferences but will also be devoting more time to writing. My first major project will be First Things First, a book on ‘the Jew first’ principle in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. I hope to have the final draft completed by the end of the year.

Please remember Joseph and me in your prayers. Pray that God will grant us wisdom, grace and strength to work together with a single mind and heart for the glory of God and the extension of his kingdom. 

Monday 5 May 2014

Happy Birthday Israel

Yom HaZikaron, Israel Independence Day, begins at sunset tonight. I came across the following essay by David A. Harris, the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee and I agree with every point. Happy Birthday Israel, and many happy returns.

First, the Jewish people's identity is built on three legs -- a faith, a people, and a land.
The land is inextricable to the equation. Even when Jews were forcibly removed from the land, as they were more than once, they never, not for a single moment, lost the connection. It was core to their prayers and their belief systems. Jerusalem, physically and metaphysically, is at the center of Jewish existence. The determination of Jews to reaffirm that link, over literally thousands of years, is awe-inspiring.
Second, those who lived in or returned to the land before the rebirth of the state in 1948 faced indescribable challenges.
Those challenges could easily have defeated less determined people. The terrain itself was harsh and unyielding. The swamps were disease-infested. Water was scarce. Marauding Arab bands put them at risk. But they persisted.
Third, these pioneers, against all the odds, gave birth to field after field, tree after tree, job after job (for Jews and Arabs alike), and neighborhood after neighborhood.
And, equally, they gave birth to Modern Hebrew. They took an ancient language and rendered it contemporary, which in turn became the lingua franca of the new state.
Fourth, the politics of statehood were not uncomplicated.
It took 50 years from Theodore Herzl's vision of a reborn Jewish nation to the UN Partition Plan of 1947, which called for Jewish and Arab states to emerge from British-ruled Mandatory Palestine. During those five decades -- and all the global ups and downs, governments' sleights-of-hand, and power politics -- Jewish leadership in the land persevered. They were undeterred.
Fifth, that same Jewish leadership understood that half a loaf was better than none. While the Jews would have wished for a bigger state, and believed the historical facts warranted it, pragmatism prevailed over maximalism. And therein lies the fundamental difference between Jewish and Arab leadership at the time, and since.
The 1947 Partition Plan could have solved the national aspirations of Jews and Arabs alike (i.e., Palestinians, though the term was not then used by the UN). There would have been two states for two peoples, living, ideally, side by side in peace and cooperation. But the Arab insistence on the whole loaf triggered war. The war in turn created a refugee problem, and that dream of the whole loaf continues to be nurtured by too many Palestinian leaders.
Sixth, the 1948 war to annihilate the new state might have been Israel's first and, yes, last war, but it wasn't.
Vastly outnumbered and outarmed, the 650,000 Jews could have been vanquished by the five attacking Arab armies, including the British-trained Jordanians. But they dug in, fought on with often hard-to-acquire weapons, and eventually won, while losing one percent of their entire population -- the first of several wars Israel was to win to defend its very right to exist.
Seventh, Israel's ability to defend itself is nothing short of extraordinary. A country the size of New Jersey, and without a favorable military topography, has withstood repeated assaults of every kind -- wars, missile barrages, suicide bombings, kidnappings, lawfare, and modern-day blood libels.
The morale and commitment of Israelis to fulfill their national obligations -- when, no doubt, they'd much rather be studying, socializing, and traveling -- is remarkable. Alone, having never asked for the help of other nations' troops, they defend the state. And Israel's technical ingenuity in meeting each new challenge head-on has served as an object lesson for other countries. From Entebbe to Iron Dome, from Osirak to the Syrian nuclear plant, Israel has come up with viable answers to seemingly insurmountable threats.
Eighth, Israel has forged a far more cohesive, vibrant society than many predicted.
How, the skeptics asked, could Israel absorb Jews from scores of countries with different languages, political traditions, cultural norms, and religious practices? How could Israel forge a democratic state when so many refugees came from non-democratic Arab lands and communist societies -- and in a region, the Middle East, where there was absolutely no tradition of free, open societies? How could religious and secular Jews coexist? How could Israel absorb over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews, who hailed from villages that had no electricity or other modern accoutrements? And how would non-Jews, especially a large Arab community, fare as citizens of the State of Israel?
These are all works in progress, but, 64 years after the rebirth of Israel, it can be said that the centripetal forces binding the state together far outweigh the centrifugal forces at work -- and that's no mean feat, given the magnitude of each of the challenges.
Ninth, in the face of unrelenting threats and dangers, Israel could have turned inward, abandoned hope, and given up on peace, but it most assuredly has not.
Instead, Israel has embraced the world, sharing its vast know-how with developing countries and often being among the first on the scene when disaster strikes. It has affirmed life in a way that outsiders can hardly imagine. And, despite one spurned peace effort after another since the landmark treaties with Egypt (1979) and Jordan (1994) -- not to mention the experiences of withdrawal from southern Lebanon only to have Iranian-backed Hezbollah step in, or from Gaza only to have Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, take control -- Israel still clings to the belief that peace, based on major territorial compromise and a two-state solution, is possible.
And tenth is what travelers see for themselves when they come to Israel.
As many first-time visitors have commented, they had no idea that Israel was so small or its security challenges so complex.
They had no clue that Arabic was an official language and Israeli Arabs, even those opposed to the state's very existence, have been elected to the Israeli parliament.
They were unaware that churches and mosques are found everywhere, with full freedom of worship protected.
They had no sense of how ancient and modern, at one and the same time, the country is.
They had no understanding of what a full-throttled democracy Israel is, including a feisty press, an independent judiciary, an array of active NGOs, political parties galore, and an argumentative, self-critical culture.
And they had no hint how proud of their country -- and optimistic about the future -- are the vast majority of Israelis.
For nearly 2,000 years, Jews could only dream of, and pray for, the rebirth of Israel. Today, it is a living, breathing, and pulsating reality. And I count myself among the lucky ones to see it unfold before my very eyes.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Yasmine Perni Cries Out

I’ve just come back from a screening of Yasmine Perni’s film The Stones Cry Out. I didn’t actually see the film on account of the fact that, because of adverse weather conditions, it took me five hours to drive from Nottingham to Tunbridge Wells. The film started at 7.30pm and I arrived an hour late in a very spaced-out condition. But I was in time for the Question and Answer session.

I bought a DVD of the film afterwards and will post a review after I’ve found the time to watch it. But what follows are my comments on the après-film session.

First of all, although the views of Ms Perni on the Israeli-Palestinian problem are poles apart, I was impressed by her evident sincerity and concern for the plight of Palestinian Christians. Most pro-Palestinians I encounter (particularly those of the female persuasion) tend to be loud, aggressive and a little too fond of the F-word for my delicate taste. But not Ms Perni.

She defines herself as a Christian who believes the Bible ‘one hundred percent.’ She is gently spoken, highly articulate and, it seems to me, passionately and genuinely concerned about the Palestinian people, particularly Christians.

The audience, as you would expect in Tunbridge Wells, was predominantly white, middle class, civilized and well educated. And the questions and comments were the kind you would expect from such an audience. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the film had reminded one urbane gentleman of the way Nazi Germany treated the Jews and, in his considered opinion, no peace would come in the Middle East until America ‘shed the shackles of the Jewish Lobby.’ To her credit, although Ms Perni thinks Israel is ‘torturing’ Palestinians, what the Palestinians are enduring is not as bad as the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust.

A lady who, by her own confession, had never been to Israel or ‘Palestine’ was nevertheless of the opinion that Bethlehem was becoming a ghetto and unctiously likened the barbed wire on the Security Wall to the crown of thorns on the head of Christ. Another lady likened Israel’s Security Fence to the Berlin Wall and wondered how long it will take to bring it down. It was also clearly implied that Israel is an apartheid regime. The willingness of otherwise intelligent people to publicly trot out these trite clichés and pious platitudes was frankly depressing.

There can be no doubt that in 1948, for the thousands of Arabs who obeyed their leaders and fled the country, the founding of the Jewish state was a Nakba, a disaster. According to Arab pastor Shmuel Aweida, however, for him and his family, and for all Arabs who remained in the land, the founding of the state of Israel was the best thing that could have happened to them because they found themselves for the first time living in a democracy. They’d never had it so good. Which is why today Israeli Arabs, although they might complain about the government (and who doesn’t?) would rather live in Israel than in Gaza or the Palestinian Authority.

When I pointed out in the question time that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where the church is growing, Ms Perni informed me that in Israel it is illegal to convert to Christianity. It’s amazing how many people believe this enduring urban myth. In Muslim countries, of course, you can be killed for converting but in Israel freedom of religion is written into the constitution.

Yasmine Perni told me after the meeting she believes the Palestinian people want peace. But why would a people that wants peace name their streets after suicide bombers? Why would a people that want peace display pictures of terrorists on the walls of school classrooms in the same way that our school classrooms display pictures of the Periodic Table? Why would a people who want peace publicly welcome hundreds of murderous thugs released from Israeli jails as though they were heroes? Why would people who want peace send their children to summer camps where they can be trained to shoot automatic weapons and to blow themselves to smithereens? Why would a people who want peace teach their children in school and on TV shows that the Jews are apes and pigs?

If the Palestinians want peace, why doesn’t PA President Mahmoud Abbas accept Israel as a Jewish state? And why does he continue to say that a future Palestinian state will be Jew-free while insisting Israel will have to open its gates to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians?

Yasmine Perni also supports the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, believing BDS to be a ‘peaceful and non-violent’ to force Israel to less inconsiderate to the Palestinians. I’m sure she genuinely believes that but from my experience of the PSC and BDS movement I’m not so sanguine. I know a Jewish man who had his nose broken by a female BDSer he was shadowing in a supermarket. She and her comrades regularly loaded shopping trolleys with Israeli products before dumping them in the store car park, and he was going to prevent her from doing so. She turned suddenly, uttered some very naughty words and drove her delicate little fist into the centre of his face. I’ve stood with pro-Israel demonstrators singing Am Yisrael Chai and Hava Nagila while just yards away pro-Palestinians demonstrators were angrily chanting anti-Israel slogans.

I was concerned at the Palestinianisation of Christianity. We were informed that Christianity was born in Palestine and that Jesus was born in 'Palestine' and that the first Christians were Palestinians. According to Matthew 2:20-21, Jesus was born in 'the land of Israel,' not the land of Palestine.

I was also bemused at Ms Perni’s objection to Israeli companies operating in the Palestinian Authority, even when they are helping Palestinian farmers and providing gainful employment to other Palestinians. It’s true, for example, that SodaStream is defying international law by setting up shop in the Palestinians Authority to provide well-paid work for over 500 Palestinians. But give me a break! If international law supposes it’s better for Palestinians to be out of work than earning good wages in a Jewish factory built on the West Bank then international law is a ass!

The meeting was not helpful. It reinforced the myth that Israel is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East and it was clear that at least some in the audience see Israel as a Nazi state and an apartheid state that must be brought to its knees if there is to be peace in the Middle East.The most depressing aspect of the evening was that at the screening of a film by a professed Christian film-maker, chaired by an Anglican clergyman, with a panel that included a bishop, no mention was made of the gospel as the solution to the problems of the Middle East.

Monday 20 January 2014

Blood Moon Rising

The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LORD. (Joel 2:31)

As a rule, I don't do prophecy but in the last few months I’ve been told about, or asked about, four ‘blood moons’ that are going to appear over Israel during the next two years. The excitement began to mount last year after the publication of John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change. Hagee – the founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church, a Texas megachurch that boasts more than 20,000 ‘active members’ – was turned onto the blood moon teaching by Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries, who challenged Hagee to study ‘the sun, moon, and stars as a source of prophetic revelation.’

Hagee writes that during the years 1493/94, 1949/50 and 1967/68, at the festivals of Passover and Tabernacles, a series of ‘tetrads’ – four consecutive total lunar eclipses – took place. Close to the time of each of the tetrads, momentous events occurred in connection with the Jewish people. In 1492, a year before the first of the listed tetrads occurred, the Jews were expelled from Spain. In 1948, a year before another tetrad took place, the modern state of Israel was founded, and in June 1967, between the first and second lunar eclipses of a tetrad, the Six Day War occurred in which the Israelis, for the first time in 2,500 years, gained sovereignty over Jerusalem.

In any given century a tetrad consisting of four consecutive total lunar eclipses, spaced six months apart may happen fairly frequently or not at all. In this century, we are set to experience a total of eight tetrads but a growing number of Bible teachers believe the upcoming sequence of lunar eclipses to be particularly significant because the eclipses coincide with Passover and Tabernacles. The first total lunar eclipse will take place this year on 15 April at Passover, and the second at the Feast of Tabernacles on 8 October. Next year, full lunar eclipses will occur at Passover on 4 April and at Tabernacles on 28 September. John Hagee believes that during the tetrad the moon will be ‘turned to blood,’ thus fulfilling Joel 2:31; therefore the next two years will herald a time of change for Israel. However, John Hagee circumspectly steers clear of predicting the kind of ‘change’ we ought to expect, except that the blood moons confirm that Jesus is coming again and we’d all better be ready.
Not every tetrad watcher is as coy as Hagee about the significance of the coming series of lunar eclipses. Some have gone so far as to state that a third temple will be constructed in the next couple of years!

By the light of the not-so-silvery moon
Because speculation about the events of the next couple of years is growing, and because I’ve been asked what I think about the teaching, and because there will be fallout from the failure of the growing speculative prognostications, I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring.

First of all, the epithet ‘blood moon’ is not a term used by astronomers. The red moons that are frequently observed at the vernal (spring) and autumnal equinoxes are known by astronomers as the ‘hunter’s moon,’ and the ‘harvest moon.’ There is no obvious reason why the term ‘blood moon’ should be associated with the tetrads because it is far from certain that the moon will actually turn red at the four lunar eclipses. Ecliptic moons turn blood red only sporadically. Instead, they range in colour from dark brown and red to bright orange and, sometimes, yellow. Just how red a moon in eclipse appears depends on the atmospheric conditions at the time. If there is a lot of dust and ash from a volcanic eruption, for instance, the moon may turn dark brown but if the atmosphere is clear the lunar surface may indeed turn blood red. But it’s far from easy to predict how the moon will look during a total eclipse. The term ‘blood moon’ appears to have been coined by John Hagee for dramatic effect.
Second, contrary to what some of the blood moon alarmists are predicting, none of the moons in the upcoming tetrad will appear ‘over’ Jerusalem or Israel. According to the NASA web site (, the total eclipse of the moon on 15 April will be visible only in North America and parts of South America, and you will be able to see the Feast of Tabernacles eclipse on 8 October only if you are on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Next year, the total eclipse of the moon that occurs at Passover will be visible only in Australia, New Zealand, Eastern Russia and Alaska. The only eclipse of the tetrad visible in Israel will be the last in the series. It will take place at the Feast of Tabernacles on 28 September 2015 but when it is visible it will have almost set on the horizon and will be over in a matter of minutes. If you’re in Israel and you blink, you’ll miss it!
Bad moons rising?
Third, the astronomical phenomenon of ‘blood moons’ has been occurring throughout human history and although in the last 500 years tetrads occurred at or close to significant events in Jewish history there was absolutely no consistency about them. The series of total lunar eclipses that occurred at Passover and Tabernacles in 1493/94 took place after the Jews had been expelled from Spain, a terrible event. The tetrad of 1949/50, however, took place after a good event: the rebirth of the Jewish state. When the sequence of four lunar eclipses took place at Passover and Tabernacles in 1967/68, the Six Day War during which the Israeli Defence Forces recaptured Jerusalem, occurred between the first and second ‘blood moons.’
Depending on whether you are reading Joel or Matthew and Mark, none of the tetrads proved to be harbingers of the Day of the Lord in the sense John Hagee understands the Day of the Lord, nor did any of them occur immediately after the great tribulation!
Although Hagee, Blintz and others are warning of dramatic changes relating to Israel and the Jewish people, some of the most momentous events in Jewish history have occurred when no tetrads took place. No tetrads occurred, for example, at the time of the Exodus, or the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians in 587BC, or the crucifixion (the most momentous event in Jewish history), or the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD and the exile that followed, or the last stand of the Jewish rebels at Masada, or close to the Holocaust.
Furthermore, tetrads occurred during Passover and Tabernacles in 162/63AD, 795/96AD, 842/43AD and 860/61AD, during which nothing of significance relating to the Jewish nation occurred. It is only during the last 500 years that significant events of Jewish history occurred close to lunar tetrads, which is no doubt why Hagee and Blintz highlight them.
Fourth, according to Joel 2:31 – the key text of tetrad enthusiasts – not only will the moon be turned into blood before the coming of the day of the Lord, but also the sun will be turned into darkness. Tetrad watchers appear to be ignoring that equally significant celestial phenomenon.

Fifth, in Matthew 24:29, Jesus informed his disciples that the sun would be darkened, and the moon would fail to give its light ‘immediately after the tribulation of those days.’ The tribulation of which Jesus spoke was ‘the great tribulation’ (Mt 24:21), therefore since the first total lunar eclipse of the tetrad will take place at Passover on 14 April, and since the moon is to turn to blood after ‘immediately after,’ are we to expect the great tribulation to start and finish sometime in the next six weeks?

As we try to get our heads round the prophecies of the moon turning to blood it is crucial to bear in mind that the language of the Olivet discourse in Matthew 24 is symbolic. If that sounds like theological liberalism, remember that the most die-hard literalists interpret the terminology of the moon turning to blood and the sun being turned to sackcloth and the stars falling from heaven. No one actually believes the moon will literally turn to blood, or that the sun will literally turn into sackcloth or that stars will literally fall from the sky.
‘Let the reader understand’
It is said with monotonous frequency that the prophetic scriptures should be read with the Bible in one hand and a daily newspaper in the other but it is worth asking how the Bible understands its own terminology. Each of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record the Lord’s teaching on the Mount of Olives in significantly different ways. John, who, records more of the Lord’s discourses than the other three, interestingly records no Olivet discourse. Instead, the events foretold by Jesus on the Mount of Olives, appear in a greatly expanded form in the book of Revelation.

It is interesting to compare Luke’s account of the Lord’s teaching on the Mount of Olives with those of Matthew and Mark. Where the first two Evangelists record the Hebraic symbolism in the words of Jesus, Luke interprets the colourful imagery for his readers. Where Matthew and Mark, for example, speak of Daniel’s ‘abomination of desolation,’ and add, ‘Whoever reads, let him understand’ (Mt 24:15; Mk 13:14), Luke 21:20 helpfully interprets Jesus’ apocalyptic terminology for us: ‘But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near.’

Jewish readers familiar with the apocalyptic language of the fall of Babylon in Isaiah 13:10 – ‘For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine’ – would hardly be likely to interpret Jesus words in Matthew 24:29 and Mark 13:24-25 as simply a prediction of astronomical phenomena that occur frequently so that, in effect, the Lord was saying no more than: ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days there will be a solar eclipse, a lunar eclipse and a shower of meteors.’

In chapter 21 of his Gospel, Luke explains the references of Jesus to the sun, moon and stars for those who might be confused about biblical symbolism: ‘For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’ (Lk 21:23-24).

Taking Matthew, Mark and Luke together, the sun failing to give its light, the moon turning to blood and the stars falling from heaven dramatically and powerfully foretell the fall of Jerusalem. The fate of Jerusalem, ironically, will be that of Israel’s archetypical ancient foe Babylon. There was a time when pop songs used to describe the break-up of romances in apocalyptic terms The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore; Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me; The End of the World and the public bought those songs not only because they liked the tunes but also because they identified with the lyrics. If losing your ‘baby’ is the end of the world, what must it have been for the people of God to lose Jerusalem and the Temple and be ‘led away captive into all nations’?
Whatever their prophetic understanding, most Christians would say we are in the ‘Last Days’ but when Peter addressed the crowds in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, he stated that the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy of all God’s people prophesying was proof that the ‘Last Days’ had arrived. But by the time John wrote his first letter over thirty years later, it was the ‘last hour’ (1 Jn 2:18)!
One of the great New Testament Scholars of the twentieth century, F. F. Bruce, wrote in his commentary on Acts, ‘The “Last Days” began with Christ’s appearance on earth and will be consummated by his reappearance; they are the days during which the age to come overlays the present age. Hence the assurance with which Peter could quote the prophet’s words and declare “This is it.”’
Bruce specifically refers to Acts 2:19-21: ‘I will show wonders in the heaven above and in the earth below. . . the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood.’ He writes, ‘The wonders and signs to be revealed in the world of nature may have more relevance in their immediate setting than is sometimes realised More particularly, little more than seven weeks earlier the people of Jerusalem had indeed seen the darkening of the sun, during the early afternoon of Good Friday, and later that same paschal afternoon the paschal full moon may well have risen blood red in the sky in consequence of that preternatural gloom. These phenomenal are now interpreted as harbingers of the day of the Lord – a day of judgement, to be sure, but more immediately the day of God’s salvation to all who invoked his name.’ (F. F. Bruce The Book of Acts, pp.61-62).
On the day Jesus died, the sun was almost literally turned to darkness but Colin Humphreys points out that a solar eclipse does not last for hours and suggests that the darkening of the sun can be attributed to a khamsin or sirocco, one of the frequent sandstorms or dust storms that occur in the Middle East in the spring. The dust in the atmosphere may well have turned the full moon that night blood red and Humphreys cites Cyril the Bishop of Alexandria who lived in the late fourth and early fifth centuries who recorded that on the day of the crucifixion, the moon ‘seemed to be turned to blood’ (Colin J. Humphreys, The Mystery of the Last Supper pp.86).
Last of all, although in one sense I’m reluctant to be hard on ‘tetrad watchers’ because they take the Bible seriously (whether they interpret it correctly is correct is another matter, of course) but I find it deeply disconcerting that Mark Biltz should encourage John Hagee and others to study ‘the sun, moon, and stars as a source of prophetic revelation.’

Biltz and Hagee quote Genesis 1:14 as a their authority for looking to the heavens as a source of revelation: ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years,’ which the ancient Targum of Jonathan paraphrases: ‘. . .let them be for signs and the times of the feasts, and to reckon with them the number of days, and, sanctify the beginnings of the months, and the beginnings of the years, and the intercalations of months and years, the revolutions of the sun, and the new moons, and cycles.’ The ancient Jewish sages did not see the heavenly bodies as a source of prophetic understanding so, it’s little wonder that God warned his people in Jeremiah 10:2: ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them.’

The bottom line of John Hagee’s Four Blood Moons is that Jesus is coming; with that much we can agree. But is it necessary to sensationalise fairly common events such as lunar eclipses in order to press home that truth? An article once appeared in the magazine of the denomination in which I served as a pastor in which the writer bemoaned a waning interest within the denomination in the Second Advent. In the next issue a reader someone suggested that the lack of interest in the End Times was a reaction to repeated dogmatic statements from the pulpits that every crisis in world events indicated that the Lord’s return was just around the corner. Human-kind cannot bear too much unreality and instead of a state of perpetual excitement, a state of apathy had set in.

In October 1973, when the Yom Kippur War broke out, a pastor I knew told his congregation that the Lord ‘could be here by Christmas.’ The following year, prophecy experts predicted the imminent return of the Lord following the publication of John Gribbin and Stephen Plageman’s best-seller The Jupiter Effect. After reading Gribbin and Plageman, another pastor terrified his congregation week after week over a three-month period with a series of homilies – illustrated in vivid detail on a vast wall chart – in which he described in graphic detail the horrors that were about to be unleashed on the world through the coming alignment of the planets of the solar system. Around the same time, a rumour began to spread that in Frankfurt or some other German city there was a super computer called ‘The Beast’ that occupied the whole of a large office block. In ‘The Beast,’ it was said, were the personal details of every single person in the world and everyone had been allocated a number and each number was a variable of 666. Or something like that; I forget the precise details.
At the same time, Hal Lindsey, Barry Smith and other prophecy buffs were confidently predicting that Jesus would return by 1988, the final year of the ‘generation’ that saw Israel reborn. Lindsey was so confident of the truth of his position that in 1980 he wrote The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. By the mid eighties, however, it was getting dangerously close to the deadline the prophetic pundits had set for the Lord’s return and some of them, notably Barry Smith, began pushing forward the date from 1988 to 1998. Smith even claimed that ‘the rabbis in Jerusalem’ had announced that their Messiah was going to ‘return’ in 1998!
Nothing new under the moon
History is littered with failed predictions of the Second Advent and Armageddon. And it’s not only the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and the Worldwide Church of God who are culpable in this respect; a number of Fundamentalist writers have done the same. In 2011, so-called Bible teacher Harold Camping gained notoriety with his widely publicised prediction that the Rapture would take place on 21 May and, after he and millions failed to fly away, he rescheduled the momentous event for 21 October. Atheist and sceptic groups across America ridiculed not only Camping but also the Bible. ‘The issue is the Bible is mythology,’ stated Larry Hicok of American Atheists, and Time magazine's website listed Camping's End Times prognostication as one its ‘Top 10 Failed Predictions.’

Some years ago a certain publication justified its repeated false predictions of the Lord’s imminent coming on the basis that people needed to be kept on their toes. Apart from being a form of false prophecy a steady diet of sensationalist claims that fail to deliver tends to engender cynicism, apathy or gullibility, all of which are corrosive of true faith.

On the night of 15 April this year, hundreds of thousands of tetrad watchers will wait for the spring full moon to turn blood red and will be disappointed. There is no guarantee that even in America, where the lunar eclipse will be visible, that it will be red. Many disappointed moon gazers will comfort themselves in the knowledge that three more full lunar eclipses will take place in the following eighteen months but none of them will be visible in Europe and it is more than likely that none will feature a blood red moon.

John Hagee’s reluctance to specify the kind of changes we should look for will be his ministry-saver. In the next three or four years tetrad enthusiasts will follow the news intently for announcements of ‘changes’ relating to Israel. And find them they will, for when is Israel ever out of the news! It might be a peace deal with the Palestinians; it might be a worsening of the situation between Israel and its neighbours; it might be a breakdown in relations between Israel and the US or a strengthening of ties with a post Obama administration; Israel might strike at Iran or Iran might step up its nuclear enrichment programme.

I’m neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet but, as the Jewish wise man Bob Dylan once said, ‘You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.’ So here’s my forecast for the next couple of years. Changes will occur in the Jewish world and when they do tetrad watchers of the world will unite to say, ‘See. We told you so!’

Tuesday 10 December 2013

First we take Syria, then we take 'Palestine'

There's no denying that some Christian Zionists come over as extreme and, not to put too fine a point on it, as nut cases. But to claim as some do that they are to blame for the troubles in the Middle East is crazy.

Watch this clip from Memri of a Saudi Jihadi Leader tearfully but creepily pray  to his god for martyrdom and slaughter. His only reasons for living are to take Syria, shoot Jews in the head and to behead unbelievers.

I've yet to see John Hagee or any Israeli settler preach the beheading of Arabs while waving knives.

Monday 2 December 2013

Palestinian Child Sacrifice

During the Cold War, Sting hoped 'the Russians loved their children too.' Sadly, if Australian Darly Johns is right, Israel cannot entertain the same hope about their Palestinian neighbours .

Johns was so affected by media pictures of dead and wounded Palestinian children, allegedly the victims of Israeli aggression that she decided to do something about it. She went as a volunteer peace activist in the Palestinian Authority but when she arrived she was greeted by a far different reality. Johns discovered to her horror that Arab children are actually the victims of child abuse from their own society.

The following video is one of the most moving and disturbing I have ever seen. In it, Johns tearfully recounts how she came to realise that many of the children whose pictures she had been presented as evidence of Israel's cruelty had in fact died while attacking Jewish men, women and children at the behest of their elders.

The video includes clips of Palestinian children reciting hatred for the Jews and expressing a deep desire not for peace, but for war and Israel's demise.

Subtitles are all in French and Hebrew, but the following is a translation of most of the statements by the Arab children and where they can be found on the six-minute film:

1:38 - [Announcer] Her uncle was a martyr and went to Paradise. He's now in heaven! [To the young girl] Your uncle?

1:45 - [Girl] He's in Paradise.

2:42 - [Boy] We should show how our fighters resist. Like the young engineers Mohammed Sawimih and Abu Gnadl.

2:50 - [Interviewer] What did they do?

2:53 - [Boy] They are young engineers who set death traps. They blew up tanks of the Jews.

3:03 - They threw stones on the tanks. We went to see when they buried the martyrs. And a tank arrived and we threw stones at it, and the soldiers fled.

3:22 - It's true that we are a small country, but we have young engineers who can make grenades and bombs to blow up the tanks and cause the [Israeli] soldiers to flee.

3:37 - [Boy] We don't want peace!! We don't want peace!! We want war! We don't want peace. We want to die like all the martyrs in Jenin.

3:51 - [Interviewer] What chance is there for peace, if the children are educated to die? The youth do not forget those who died as martyrs?

3:54 - [Boy] How can we forget them? We do not forget them. We do not forget the blood of the martyrs. It is a martyr, he is with Allah. We do not forget him. We fight until we [also] die as martyrs.

4:44 - [Boy] Allah willing we will have a future, and I will be just like Sheikh Mahmud. That is my future.

4:52 - [Interviewer] Who is this Sheikh Mahmud who you want to be like?

4:55 - [Boy] He was an engineer of planes and everything. He built bombs and sent martyrs to blow up everything, buses and everything.

5:03 - [Interviewer] Do you see your future as a martyr?

5:06 - [Boy] No, that's not my future... [Interviewer] Then what is your future?

5:09 - Our future is for Israel to disappear. That is our future. That Israel will disappear, Allah willing.

In the interview Johns expresses her opinion that the willingness of Palestinian parents to encourage their people to die is like the ancient pagan practice of sacrificing virgins. She concludes the interview with the observation that the Palestinians 'never had any other intention except to eliminate Israel.'

Friday 8 November 2013

Clash of the Titans

On Saturday 9 November (tomorrow), at 9:00am EST (3.00pm GMT) Michael Brown will be debating Stephen Sizer on the subject of ‘How Christian Is Christian Zionism?’
Stephen Sizer is the leading UK evangelical opponent of Christian Zionism and Israel, and Michael Brown has wanted to engage him in debate for some time.
For listening information, click here