WILL THERE EVER BE PEACE FOR ISRAEL & HER NEIGHBORS?
Address to “The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel Conference,” Calvary Baptist Church, New York City, October 5, 2013
Tonight, I have been asked to do three things.
- First, frame what we have learned over the last several days in geopolitical context.
- Second, answer the question, “Will there ever be peace for Israel and her neighbors?”
- Third, not keep you here until midnight.
The State of the Epicenter
Let’s begin by putting this conference in context.
We have gathered from all over the country to consider “The People, The Land, And The Future of Israel” in light of the Word of God.
This could not be a more timely subject, for the people of Israel, the land of Israel, and the future of the State of Israel today face extraordinary peril – existential threats – on a magnitude equal to, perhaps greater than, any the Jewish State has faced since 1948.
In Egypt, we have watched:
- Millions of Egyptians take to the streets calling for Revolution
- the dramatic fall from power of the Mubarak regime
- the terrifying rise of the Muslim Brotherhood — and its leader Mohammed Morsi — to power, determined to impose Sharia law and end the peace treaty with Israel
- And then a stunning reversal — 22 million Egyptians signing a petition calling for the end of the Morsi regime, historic unrest in the streets, and then the military arresting Morsi, removing the leadership of the Brotherhood, and seizing power for itself.
In Syria, we are watching the tragic implosion of a modern Arab state.
- 110,000 Syrians are dead in a bloody civil war that has lasted more than 30 months – including men, women and children who have been gassed to death by their own government
- 2 million Syrians have fled the country
- 5 million Syrians are internally displaced – they have not fled their country but they have fled their homes and villages and are on the run for their lives
In Lebanon, we are witnessing a modern Arab, Sunni state steadily being hijacked from within by an Iranian, Shia-backed terrorist movement known as Hezbollah.
Then there is Iran.
- the only state in human history ruled by an apocalyptic, genocidal death cult
- a regime obsessed with Shia Islamic End Times theology
- feverishly building intercontinental ballistic missiles
- feverishly building the scientific and technological infrastructure to build not just one nuclear warhead, but an arsenal of several dozen warheads.
- Defying one U.N. Security Resolution after another.
- Working hand-in-glove with North Korea, which recently tested its third nuclear warhead
- And yet Iran was appointed this very week to serve on the U.N. Disarmament Committee.
Thus, the stakes are high.
For if the Ayatollah Khamenei and his regime are able to build a nuclear warhead and attach it to a high-speed ballistic missile, Khamenei could do in about six minutes what it took Adolf Hitler nearly six years to do – kill six million Jews.
That’s how many Jews live in Israel today – and this is who the regime in Tehran has vowed to “wipe off the map.”
But Israel is not Khamenei’s main target. Israel, in Shia eschatology, is merely the “Little Satan.” The United States is the “Great Satan” for the mullahs. We are the ultimate target.
Yet most leaders in Washington and at the U.N. seem unable or unwilling to take decisive steps to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat.
This is the state of the epicenter today — and this is what makes this conference so important.
Understanding the people, the land and the future of Israel is not merely an academic exercise. It is vitally important for the Church – especially now.
God loves the Jewish people and the whole house of Israel. He has a plan and purpose for the people and the land. His Word explains exactly what those plans and purposes are. And prophecy gives us advance intelligence on some of the most dramatic and sobering days ahead.
Mitch, I am grateful to you and your team for loving Israel and the Jewish people and the Church enough to organize this conference and call together such fine scholars to consider these important issues from multiple angles.
The Prime Minister’s Declaration
Now, as you know, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in the U.S. last Sunday.
On Monday, he met with President Obama and Vice President Biden and their top advisors at the White House, and later with Secretary Kerry at the State Department.
Later that day, the Prime Minister met with top Congressional leaders, as well.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister delivered the final address to the leaders of the world gathered for the opening Fall Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
It was a powerful and sobering speech, focused primarily on the steadily rising Iranian nuclear threat and the inability of the world, thus far, to neutralize that threat. Mr. Netanyahu warned world leaders not to be beguiled by the election of the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whom he described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing. Mr. Netanyahu also warned that Israel would be willing to take decisive action against Iran alone, if necessary, to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring nuclear warheads.
It was a fascinating speech, and at times quite personal.
But the Prime Minister concluded his address with a sentence I have never heard from coming from the lips of an Israeli leader in the modern era.
Let’s run the clip.
“In our time the Biblical prophecies are being realized. As the prophet Amos said, they shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them,” Netanyahu said. “They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them upon their soil never to be uprooted again. Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Israel have come home never to be uprooted again.”
How extraordinary. An Israeli Prime Minister has just declared to the leaders of the world that Bible prophecies are coming to pass in our lifetime.
How many pastors and theologians in our day even believe this, much less are proclaiming it to be so?
Mr. Netanyahu was correct. The miraculous rebirth of the State of Israel – and the dramatic re-gathering of Jews back to the Holy Land from all over the world – are central examples of End Times prophecies found in the Bible being fulfilled.
What’s more, the Prime Minister also alluded in his speech to the Biblical prophecies of a Persian king named “Cyrus” would rise up one day and set the Jewish people free from captivity.
“The Jewish people’s odyssey through time has taught us two things: Never give up hope, always remain vigilant. Hope charts the future. Vigilance protects it,” Netanyahu said. “Today our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction. But I want you to know, that wasn’t always the case. Some 2,500 years ago the great Persian king Cyrus ended the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. He issued a famous edict in which he proclaimed the right of the Jews to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. That’s a Persian decree. And thus began an historic friendship between the Jews and the Persians that lasted until modern times.”
It was the Hebrew prophet Isaiah who foretold the rise of a great Persian king named “Cyrus” would emerge one day to bless the Jewish people, release them from captivity, send them back to the land of Israel, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. (See Isaiah 44:28 through 45:13.)
Sure enough, a Persian king named “Cyrus” did, in fact, emerge to fulfill Isaiah’s startling prophecies, as we read in 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra chapter one. Mr. Netanyahu’s interest in the Scriptures has been growing significantly in recent years, and is increasingly an element in his public statements.
At a speech at the Auschwitz death camp in 2009, for example, Netanyahu declared that the prophecies of Ezekiel 37 — the dry bones of the Jewish people coming back together miraculously to form the State of Israel — had come to pass in his lifetime.
- “The most important lesson of the Holocaust is that a murderous evil must be stopped early, when it is still in its infancy and before it can carry out its designs. The enlightened nations of the world must learn this lesson. We, the Jewish nation, who lost a third of our people on Europe’s blood-soaked soil, have learned that the only guarantee for defending our people is a strong State of Israel and the army of Israel. We gave learned to warn the nations of the world of impending danger but at the same time to prepare to defend ourselves. As the head of the Jewish state, I pledge to you today: We will never again permit evil to snuff out the life of our people and the life of our own country…”
- “[After the Holocaust,] the Jewish people rose from ashes and destruction, from a terrible pain that can never be healed. Armed with the Jewish spirit, the justice of man, and the vision of the prophets, we sprouted new branches and grew deep roots. Dry bones became covered with flesh, a spirit filled them, and they lived and stood on their own feet. As Ezekiel prophesied: ‘Then He said unto me: These bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed.’ Prophecy, therefore, and say to them: Thus said the Lord God: I am going to open your graves and lift you out of your graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel.’ I stand here today on the ground where so many of my people perished — and I am not alone. The State of Israel and all the Jewish people stand with me. We bow our heads to honor your memory and lift our heads as we raise our flag-a flag of blue and white with a Star of David in its center. And everyone sees. And everyone hears. And everyone knows – that our hope is not lost.”
The question for Israelis and for people everywhere now is this: If the prophecies of Ezekiel 37 have come to pass in our lifetime, isn’t it possible that other major Bible prophecies will come true in our lifetime as well?
The Pew Foundation Survey
On the very same day as the Prime Minister’s address to the United Nations, a landmark survey of the American Jewish community was released with startling new insights.
“The first major survey of American Jews in more than 10 years finds a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish — resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox,” reported the New York Times.
The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.
Excerpts from the Times article:
- The intermarriage rate, a bellwether statistic, has reached a high of 58 percent for all Jews, and 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews — a huge change from before 1970 when only 17 percent of Jews married outside the faith.
- Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue.
- One-fourth do not believe in God.
- One-third had a Christmas tree in their home last year.
- “It’s a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” said Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York.
- 69 percent say they feel an emotional attachment to Israel.
- But only 40 percent believe that the land that is now Israel was “given to the Jewish people by God.”
Perhaps the most striking finding of the survey, the Times reported, was that “34 percent said you could still be Jewish if you believe that Jesus was the Messiah.” That’s right, one-in-three American Jews believe you can believe in Jesus as Messiah and still be Jewish.
Out of an estimated six million American Jews, that’s some two million people who no longer think it is an act of betrayal to the Jewish people to embrace Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and hope of Israel.
A Few Observations
In a world that is lost and dark and seeming to get darker, there are reasons for hope.
- Yes, evil is on the march — but the Lord God Almighty is holy and sovereign. He, too, is on the move.
- Yes, most Israelis do not know the Word of God, or study it, or have a desire to study the Word – but the Prime Minister of Israel is studying the Bible on Shabbat with his son, and having occasional Bible studies in his official residence, and citing the Scriptures in his speeches, and increasingly interested in the role of Bible prophecy in our current times.
- Yes, there is much resistance to the Gospel in Israel and throughout the epicenter – but the fact the Lord is drawing more Jews and more Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ in the last few decades than in the last twenty centuries, and He is also preparing the hearts of many more to come to faith in Jesus as Messiah in the weeks and months and years ahead.
- Yes, it’s true that many pastors and Christian ministry leaders in the U.S. and around the world do not understand God’s love and plan and purpose for Israel – but you have gathered to study and learn more about this vital Biblical subject, and I believe God is waking up a remnant here and around the globe to rediscover the purpose and power of Bible prophecy and all of God’s Word with regards to Israel, and the nations, and many other topics.
These are the times in which we live. This is the context of this conference.
Will There Ever Be Peace?
Which brings us to our second objective tonight – asking and answering the question: Will there ever be peace for Israel and her neighbors?
To find the answer, let’s begin by opening our Bibles and turning to Luke 12:51-56.
Here Jesus asks a question: Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on the earth?
It’s a simple enough question, and His Jewish audience would have considered the answer to be simple enough, as well.
Of course. The Messiah is supposed to bring peace on earth. Ergo, if you claim to be the Messiah, then you will bring peace on earth. After all, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah told us in Isaiah 9:6 — “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
The next sentence – the first part of verse 7 – reads: “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace….”
Furthermore, the Hebrew prophets told us that the Messiah would bring judgment upon Israel’s enemies and establish a kingdom of righteousness, justice and security. Of course the Jewish people of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to bring peace – that’s how the job description of the Messiah reads. He brings peace, pure and simple.
So how did the Lord Jesus answer this question?
Back to Luke chapter 12 — “‘Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter, and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ And He was also saying to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘it will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?”
Jesus surprises everyone by saying:
- He did not come to bring peace on the earth.
- He came to bring division.
- He came to nations.
- He came to divide families.
- He will bring division so obvious everyone will be able to see it.
That’s not all.
- In Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
- In Luke 14:27, Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
- In Luke 14:33, Jesus says, “None of you can by My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”
- In Matthew 24, Jesus says, “you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars….nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes….they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many….”
This is the world Jesus promises.
So how can Jesus be Messiah? How can He possibly be the Anointed One? How can He be the Prince of Peace, if He brings division and war and tribulation and persecution?
Fortunately, the Bible clarifies this for us. The Scriptures define three kinds of peace:
- Peace with God.
- Peace from God.
- Peace amongst all people and all nations.
The Good News is that the Scriptures make it clear that Jesus came the first time to bring the first two kinds of peace, and He will come the second time to bring the third kind of peace.
Peace With God
First and foremost, Jesus came to bring us peace with God.
Ephesians 2:8-18 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast….Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace….And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”
The Lord Jesus Christ makes peace between us and the Father.
By His death and resurrection, He has paid the penalty for all our sins – past, present and future.
He offers this forgiveness to us as a free gift, which anyone can receive by faith.
We can’t earn it. We can’t buy it. We don’t deserve it. But when we receive it, we have peace with God.
The Bible says we are transformed – we are born again – we are new creations. The old has gone. The new has come. We are adopted into God’s family. His Holy Spirit indwells us. He is not just Immanuel – God with us. Now He is Christ in us, the hope of glory. How blessed is the man who knows such peace.
But that is not all Messiah came to bring us.
Peace From God
Second, Jesus came to give us a supernatural peace from God – a peace that gives us a supernatural calm and a joy in a hostile and chaotic world that can only come from God.
- John 14:26-27 – “[T]he Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
- John 16:33 – “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”
- Philippians 4:6-7 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
This is what Messiah Jesus brings us – a supernatural peace, a divine peace, a peace that doesn’t make sense, an inner peace and calm and joy that that the world cannot comprehend, an inner peace that even we cannot fully comprehend. This is the kind of peace of which the Hebrew prophet Isaiah spoke.
Isaiah 26:3 – “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on Thee.” (KJV)
Peace amongst all people and all nations.
What Messiah has not yet come is peace amongst all people and all nations.
We do not have global geopolitical peace – not yet. But the Scriptures promise that in the eschatological future the Messiah will eradicate war and establish peace.
As we read in Isaiah 2:2-4 — “Now it will come about in the last days….and He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation and never shall they learn war any more.”
This is what the Jewish people await. This is what you and I await. This is what the nations await. This is what the United Nations organization seeks to establish.
Consider this quote from the U.N. website:
“The United Nations garden contains several sculptures and statues that have been donated by different countries. One is called “Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares” and was a gift from the then-Soviet Union presented in 1959. Made by Evgeniy Vuchetich, the bronze statue represents the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand and, in the other, a sword which he is making into a plowshare, symbolizing man’s desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind.”
“I Will Shake The Nations”
Why then do we not yet have geopolitical peace?
When we study the “whole counsel of God” as revealed in the Scriptures, we can discern the answer. Establishing geopolitical peace may be our top priority – but it is not God’s. Helping men establish peace with God – and experience peace from God – is most important to the Messiah.
What’s more, God will allow wars and revolutions and persecution and natural disasters to intensify as we get closer to the return of Christ precisely in order to shake individuals and nations into realizing that they will never have true peace until they get right with the Living God through the Messiah, through the Prince of Peace.
- In Haggai 2:6-7, we read: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake the nations.”
- Then Haggai 2:21-22 — “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations…”
- In Amos 9:9, we read: “I will shake the house of Israel among all nations.”
Time and time again, the Hebrew prophets, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostles, warn us that God is going to shake the nations – and He will shake Israel – in the last days of human history.
To get our attention. To wake us up. To persuade us to let go of anyone and anything and any religion and any philosophy and any political ideology other than faith in Jesus Christ for peace in this world, or peace in the next.
Which brings us back to our central question: “Will there ever be peace for Israel and her neighbors?”
A careful study of the whole counsel of God from the Old Testament and the New reveals a sobering answer: Yes Israel and her neighbors will eventually experience true, full, comprehensive and lasting peace, but not in your lifetime, or in mine.
- Will we have peace in the Millennial Kingdom? Yes.
- Will there be peace in the new heavens and the new earth? Absolutely.
- But can we hope for real and lasting peace in the near future? Unfortunately, we cannot.
The Hebrew prophet Daniel warns us that a false peace is coming for Israel. (Daniel 9)
The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah warns us that there will be false prophets saying, “‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
The Bible teaches that overall, things are going to get worse between now and the Second Coming of Christ.
Like the birth pangs of a woman in labor, there will be “contractions,” and “release.” We will see occasional periods of “release” – but as mankind gets closer and closer to the Second Coming, we will see longer and more intense contractions, and shorter periods of release.
The prophets tell us of some of the contractions that are coming:
- The War of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38-39)
- The destruction of Damascus (Isaiah 17 & Jeremiah 49)
- The judgment of Elam/Iran (Jeremiah 49)
- The judgment of Babylon (Isaiah 13-14, Jeremiah 50-51
- The Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16)
- The Final Battle of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12-14)
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul indicates that is during one of these “release” moments that the Rapture will occur.
The Lord will come for His Church “like a thief in the night” (I Thessalonians chapter four, and 5:2)
“While they [the people of the world] are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child…” (I Thessalonians 5:3)
But again, as the world marches closer and closer to the end of this age, the “contractions” will be getting longer and more intense, and the moments of “release” will become shorter and less frequent.
On the surface, that’s the bad news – wars, rumors of wars, persecution and trauma for as far as the eye can see.
The prophets and the apostles paint a particularly sobering picture for Israel, which will become more and more isolated in the last days.
But as we carefully analyze and prayerfully seek to understand the times in which we live, we must not let ourselves become fixated on the bad news.
There is also much good news: Yes, Satan is on the move. But the Lord is moving with great powerful and great effect.
- The number of Muslim converts to Christianity is growing exponentially.
- The number of Jewish believers in Jesus is growing steadily.
- What’s more the openness of Jews and Muslims to hearing the Gospel is at an all-time high.
As I conclude, let me make three brief final points.
First, the leaders and the people of this world are going to isolate, accuse, and then turn on the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the last days. This is what prophecy teaches, and current trends are remarkably consistent with this Biblical truth.
Second, the leaders of the Church are called to embrace the Jewish people and the whole house of Israel, to love them with unconditional love, to bless them in every possible way, and do so in the name of Jesus.
Third, the leaders of the Church are also called to embrace the Arab and Persian and Kurdish and Turkish people, and love them with unconditional love, and bless them in every possible way, and do so in the name of Jesus.
This is the heart of the Abrahamic covenant – to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
This is the purpose of the Great Commission – to go and make disciples of all nations.
Not every pastor and theologian and lay person understands this, but we must not lose heart.
Indeed, let us be filled with hope, knowing the Lord is coming to save His people and establish His kingdom. This is the blessed hope of Israel, and it shall come to pass. Let us teach the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit and with authority. Let us preach the Gospel without fear or shame. Let us live the Gospel by living lives of great love and compassion. Let us do so with patience and humility and gentleness.
And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time, by the grace of God, we will reap a great harvest. The Word is clear – we are heading towards a Romans 11:26 world. We are heading towards a time in which all Israel will be saved.
Let us be faithful in doing our part, that in the end we will all hear from our Savior’s lips, “Well done, My good and faithful servant. You were faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
– END –