The Misguided Teachings of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference
As many of our brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe listen to the arguments and teachings of Palestinian Liberation Theology, we should consider last month’s Christ at the Checkpoint Conference (CATC), which was sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College. Its goal was to encourage evangelical Christians to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But did its organizers actually speak on behalf of Palestinian evangelicals?
As a Palestinian evangelical myself, I disagree with this conference, and I do not believe that I am alone in my convictions. But many of my Palestinian brothers wish to maintain good relations with other Palestinian evangelicals and are wary of being labeled as “Zionists.” It is not my goal to cause divisions, and I love and respect those who disagree with me, but I must point out why many Palestinian believers do not follow Christian Palestinianism.
When we read the Bible, do we come empty to God and pray that he will answer our questions through his word? Do we check our ideas against Scripture to ensure that they are Biblical? These are questions that we should all ask ourselves. From my understanding of the theological arguments of CATC, it is clear that its participants approach Scripture in their own way, in order to make the Bible conform to their preconceived ideas.
According to Palestinian Liberation Theology, Jesus was a leader who was never silent in the face of injustice perpetrated by authorities. In so doing, he changed the way we should interact with government, challenging us to speak against its injustices. But did Jesus really teach that believers have a responsibility to correct the government?
When the Jews asked Jesus if they should pay taxes to Rome – which itself established an occupation in Judaea – did Jesus respond by calling the Roman governance unjust and asking the Jews to use nonviolent resistance? Jesus did not show any interest in the political, but rather showed the clear difference between living for God and obeying government, telling the Jews to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” As we read the New Testament, we can better understand the role of God and the role of the kingdom of this Earth.
Matt Hanna is a Palestinian who was born in the Gaza Strip in an Orthodox Christian family. He moved to the West Bank where he came to know Jesus, who changed his life. He is now a student of Biblical studies and he serves in different christian ministries that all focus on sharing the gospel with Muslims. He is also a peacemaker between Palestinians and Israelis and achieves this by promoting a positive conversation and image about the Jews in his Palestinian society. He also fights the antisemitic mindset that is prevalent throughout Palestine.
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Praying the Psalmist’s bold prayer
Unspeakably and abysmally, pitilessly and cruelly is how we Gentiles have dealt with the Jews through thousands of years.
For centuries before the destruction of Jerusalem, Greeks and Romans violently sought to coerce Jews away from their God and their faith.
Over the 2000 years since, Gentile nations wielded against the Jews the Crusades and the Inquisition, the sword and the stake, the forced conversion and the expulsion, the blood libel and the pogrom – all the way to the ghetto, gas chamber and crematoria of the Final Solution.
Britain’s abandonment of the Balfour Declaration and betrayal of its mandate to oversee the establishment of the Jewish national home; its slamming shut of the gates of the Land of Israel to Jews seeking to flee the Nazis; the refusal of most nations to open their doors to Jewish refugees targeted for destruction by Hitler, thereby aiding and abetting the effort that resulted in the murder of one out of every three Jews on the globe; the incessant Arab attacks on Jews on Arab lands and on Jews back in their own land – all the while, through all of this, God was watching.
Likewise, for the last 70 years, the international community’s treatment of the Jewish people – reconstituted in their own land as the nation of Israel – has been and remains shamefully immoral, iniquitous and unjust.
From the frantic effort to immediately rescind UN Partition Resolution 181 of 1947, to the waging of war against Israel’s rebirth, through the flouting of international law that continues to this day to try and rob the Jewish people of their ancestral lands; from the persistent pushing of Israel to solve the plight of the Palestinian Arab refugees (a consequence of Arab, not Jewish, aggression and rejectionism), to the malevolent modern blood libels leveled at Israel of war crimes and land theft and human rights abuse andapartheid, to the accusation that Israel is in breach of international law by building Jewish settlements – yes, the overall demonization of Israel and the painting of the Jewish people in their land as the bad guys in the conflict … it’s all continuing, and it’s all terribly wrong.
God is watching.
My quarter of a century of living in Israel has taught me that – while I might think them well within their rights to be so – this nation is anything but vindictive. Not out for revenge, the Jews neither call for nor seek payback on our nations for the way we have treated them.
Nonetheless – just as in the past their Psalmist Asaph called on the Lord to visit His judgment on the enemies of the Jews for the sake of His great name, I believe that, before the Lord, we His sons and daughters can call on Him to deal with Israel’s enemies today, for the sake of His name which those opposing Israel are treading beneath their feet, and for the sake of His name which the enemies of Israel are laughing to scorn as they try everything to destroy His reputation by thwarting His promises to the Jews.
In Psalm 79 we read how Asaph prays after Israel’s enemies have destroyed their land, city and Temple, and butchered their people.
Can we, I wonder, pray right along these same lines? I believe yes, with the following caveats:
We know that God loves all men and that it is not His wish that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9)
It is our prayer that even in His wrath He will remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)
He has always withheld His wrath way past patience and longsuffering. To Noah He gave a building plan for a vessel that would take a full one hundred years to build. For no less than a whole century, He extended mercies and opportunities to people to repent, to stop pouring scorn on Noah, and to agree to go with him into the Ark. (1 Peter 3:20)
Just as the psalmist is not malicious, but rather fiercely opposed to the wreaking of pain and destruction on his people, likewise we do not wish evil on evil, but we fiercely oppose the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that has led, and threatens to lead, to more pain and destruction on the Jews. We simply want it to stop, so that it will not exist anymore. If that takes destruction, so be it – even though we would wish for it to be another way. We don’t like souls being caught up in the middle.
But we also do not pray sweet blessings on those who hate Zion. (Psalm 129:8)
God is furious, and that fury is being and will be poured out upon nations, including against the people comprising them.
THIS, THEN, IS HOW I CHOOSE TO PRAY THE ESSENCE OF ASAPH’S PRAYER:
1. O God, (I pray), the Gentiles have lined up against Your inheritance; Islam defiles the site of Your holy temple; the world has divided your land and your city Jerusalem, and seeks to divide them once again.
2. The dead bodies of Your Chosen People they have marred and desecrated, dropping them as corpses into the fire pits and sending them as smoke into the heavens.
3. Your people’s blood they have shed like water, all over the nations where they sought refuge, and with barely any to pity them or protect them.
4. Your Jewish people have become a reproach to their neighbours, a scorn and derision to those who are around them.
5. How long, Lord? Will You be angry with the Jews forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire?
6. Pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not know You, and on the kingdoms that do not call on Your name.
7. For they have devoured Your people, and sought to steal from them the dwelling place you gave them.
8. Oh, do not remember Israel’s former iniquities against them! Let Your tender mercies come speedily to meet them, for they have been brought very low.
9. Help the Jewish people, O God of their salvation, for the glory of Your name; and deliver them, and provide atonement for their sins, for Your name’s sake!
10. Why should the Gentiles say, “Where is the God of Israel?” Let there be known among the nations in Israel’s sight the avenging of the blood of Your people which has been shed.
11. Let the anguished cries of the Jewish victims of terrorism, the wounded and the bereaved, come before You; according to the greatness of Your power preserve those who are appointed to die and comfort all those who mourn in Zion;
12. And return to Israel’s enemies among the Gentiles sevenfold into their bosom their reproach with which they have reproached You, O Lord.
13. So the Jews, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will thank You forever; they will show forth Your praise to all generations. And we, Your people among the Gentiles, will rejoice with them, and be exceedingly glad with them. We will join them in giving You praise.
This article originally appeared on Jerusalem Watchman, March 27, 2016.
Stan has lived in Israel for half of his life even though he was born to a Gentile couple serving on the mission field in the small kingdom of Swaziland. Following three years volunteering on Israeli collective farms in the 1980s, he worked as a political reporter for the South African newspaper, The Daily Dispatch – where his pen had its training during apartheid’s waning years. He has traveled to various nations, speaking to Christians about developments in Israel. In 2011 he was accredited by the Israel Ministry of Tourism as a tour guide, and takes individuals, small groups, families, busloads and helicopter-loads of Christians around God’s Land.
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Four Levels of Paul’s Self-Description
When we truly understand both the greatness of our spiritual identity and calling, and at the same time our own weakness and failings, it can make us feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. The Apostle Paul (Saul) felt the same way; he referred to himself on four different levels from highest to lowest.
- Highest –Like a “Super Apostle”: In arguments between Paul, Peter, James, John, Apollos and Barnabas concerning the work that he had done in European and Asia Minor, Paul felt he could not yield. This was not so much an issue of ego but of defining spheres of authority. He did not want others to confuse what God had done within his area of responsibility. In this context, Paul considered himself and his authority at the same level as those who were considered as “pillars” among the apostles (Galatians 2:6, 9) or even “super apostles” (II Corinthians 11:5;12:11).
- Medium High – “Least of Apostles”: When describing the witness of the resurrection and the fact that Yeshua had personally appeared to him, he needed to state his position as an apostle; but at the same time there was nothing to defend in comparison to anyone else. It was an issue of testimony for the gospel. So here he mentioned that he was part of the apostolic witness but at the same time referred to himself as the “least of the apostles” and even unworthy of that position (I Corinthians 15:9).
- Medium Low – “Least of Saints”: In describing God’s glorious plan for all of those who love Him, Paul gives divine descriptions of us being filled even with “the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). In this context, the promises are for everyone who believes. The inheritance is for all within the ecclesia, for all those being sanctified by the Spirit of God. Here there is no need for any explanation of position, so he simply refers to himself as “the least of the saints” (Ephesians 3:8).
- Lowest – “Worst of Sinners”: In describing God’s grace towards us in salvation and the forgiveness of sins, the emphasis is again different. Here we see the greatness of Yeshua’s sacrifice for us on the cross despite our own unworthiness. In deep repentance for his previous sins—especially persecuting the believers- Paul recognizes the depths of his own sinful nature and therefore describes himself as “the worst of sinners” (I Timothy 1:13-15).
So we live in a paradox: God’s grace grants to us supernatural significance, identity and destiny, yet our own frailty and lack of ability lead us to the painful awareness of our own unworthiness and selfishness outside of God’s grace. So, “Just who do you think you are?” Well, with respect to God’s calling, it is “super.” With respect to our own abilities, it is “the worst.”
This article originally appeared on Revive Israel, March 31, 2016.
Asher Intrater is the founder and apostolic leader of Revive Israel Ministries, and oversees Ahavat Yeshua Congregation in Jerusalem, and Tiferet Yeshua Congregation in Tel Aviv. Asher was one of the founders of Tikkun International with Dan Juster and Eitan Shishkoff, and serves on the board of the Messianic Alliance of Israel and Aglow International.
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Can We Be Zionists and Not Racists?
Sadly, much of the world makes Zionism synonymous with racism. In fact, one of the many UN resolutions condemning Israel made that association in Resolution 3379, adopted on November 10, 1975.
Zionism has been defined in numerous ways, but it’s essentially the longing of and actualization of the Jewish people’s return to their ancestral homeland. Over time, beginning 125 years ago, this meant the mass migration of Jews from all over the world to what at the time was an Ottoman province of Palestine and then later the State of Israel. Without doubt, it is by far the most successful re-unification and nationalization of a people in world history. Israel now holds the largest Jewish community in the world. If demographic trends continue, the majority of world Jewry will live in Israel within twenty years, for the first time since the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE.
Numerous Biblical passages, including portions of most of the Prophets, portend the return of Jews to their homeland. In my view, it’s the most visible example of God’s existence and activity in the world today. Nevertheless, many Zionists inadvertently contribute to racism.
When statements are made that few, if any, Arabs lived in then Palestine during the early Aliyah movements (end of the 19th century), it shows ignorance, at best, and a form of racial devaluation, at worst. There were at least 400,000 Arabs living in Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century, with maybe 50,000 Jews. By 1920, there were over 600,000 Arabs, with 80,000 Jews. Rather than strengthening the cause of Zionism, false statements utilized to support the Zionist cause actually undermine it.
Another common claim is that prior to Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 most of the Arabs living in the area fled at the behest of invading Arab national armies. While this may be partially true, the reality is that many, if not most of the fleeing Arabs, were displaced due to the war itself, as Israel successfully defended its borders and captured areas not originally given to Israel as part of the UN Partition Plan. Because most Arabs were deemed enemies of the State, many were forcibly displaced by Israel’s armies. This is not to suggest that the displaced peoples should be entitled to return. Rather, for the sake of fairness, a clear conscience and to further undergird a “righteous” Zionism, the historic record needs acknowledgment.
Today, there are 1.6 million Arabs in Israel proper, most of whom are Israeli citizens. Another 1.7 million live in Gaza and another 2.5 million in the West Bank. Those living in Israel have equal legal rights with Jews, although there is clear discrimination against them and their communities. Those in Gaza live under a terrorist regime of Hamas. Those in the West Bank live under a joint arrangement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
As more Jews immigrate to Israel, and Jews continue to build settlements in the West Bank, a real question arises as to what will happen to the Arabs living there. As I’ve written before, I don’t see a viable solution other than two states, but the current situation is intolerable.
Another unhelpful statement to the Zionist cause is that Palestinians never existed as a separate people or nation. Thus, their claim to a national homeland called Palestine on the lands of the West Bank and/or Gaza have no historic basis. Yet, the same argument can be made about Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the smaller Gulf states. Before World War I most of these countries were part of the Ottoman Empire, and before that, the Islamic Empire. With the rise of nation-states in the 19th century, many ethnic groups formed their own nations or collaborated with other groups to establish a nation. The reign of most empires ended in the 19th and 20th centuries. When World War I ended, the Ottoman Empire collapsed, and the Americans, British and French divvied up the Middle East, and at the request of leaders from various regions, recognized the establishment of new nations.
One of those nations they recognized was the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. While the borders of the future Jewish homeland were constantly changing, the reality is that Arabs lived within the borders of whatever homeland would be created for the Jews. In the 1947 UN sponsored Partition Plan, an agreement was reached to provide for a state for Arabs living in Palestine, alongside a Jewish state. We all know the history, but it doesn’t change the facts on the ground. There are still millions of Arabs who live in a stateless condition. Quite frankly, what they want to call themselves or any future state that is established is up to them. But it’s a form of racial discrimination to claim an ethnic group has no right to its own nation, especially when it’s not part of another nation nor does it want to be part of another nation.
I believe we can be fervent Zionists and still care for the Palestinian people and seek a solution for their and our well-being. To devalue and delegitimize another group is racist and, quite frankly, ungodly. While blame for a political quagmire certainly can be laid at the feet of Palestinian leadership, what good does it do to constantly raise the issue without also seeking a just and fair solution? Let’s be a people who fervently support the Jewish state, but who also call for ultimate justice for all people, including Arabs living under Israeli rule.
Jamie Cowen is a Partner at Cohen, Decker, Pex, Brosh Law Offices, Petach Tikvah, Israel; Former Rabbi, Tikvat Israel Congregation, Richmond, Viriginia; Former President, Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations; Former Chief Counsel, US Senate Subcommittee 1978-1986
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A Window into Israel’s Spiritual Climate: Desperately Seeking
I recently finished reading the current #1 best seller in Israel, Catch the Jew!, by Tuvia Tenenbom. It was recommended to me by one of our young leaders. The book is sometimes bawdy, crass and indeed irreverent. And yet, this man of letters does provide a window into the reality of Israel and the Palestinians today. Even some reviews that take issue with the book note that it reveals some very important things. Tenenbom goes incognito to search out leftist non-government Peace Organizations (NGOs) in Israel, Israeli leftist news writers, Palestinian leaders and agitators. He also interviews ultra-Orthodox and modern nationalist Orthodox leaders including conservative political leaders. He attends ultra-Orthodox gatherings as well. I recommend the book for its amazing information.
Tenenbom was raised as an Ultra-Orthodox Jew in Israel but left the fold to live as a man of science then later as man of letters, writing for a German periodical and leading the New York Jewish Theater. He returned to Israel after years of absence in order to search out the reality of the present day situation. He mostly hides his identity so that he can do the research for this book unhindered. Most of the time he pretends to be Toby the German reporter.
The book conveys little hope for the future of Israel. Here is what he finds.
1. Israel is inundated by NGOs that profess to seek peace and pursue human rights, but are really anti-Israel and supported by people affected by anti-Semitism. The NGOs manifest a stunning imbalance. They also are naïve consumers of “made up Palestinian narratives” about events that are staged or interpreted to make Israel look oppressive. They spend untold millions of Euros for their causes. The funds – of dubious legality – are mostly from Germans but other European contributors are significant.
2. Palestinians in general have no real desire to make real peace or pursue a just two state solution. This is just propaganda for the West. The real goal was and is to destroy Israel. Palestinians are continually taught hatred for the Jewish people and their leadership is beyond corrupt, living in luxury and siphoning off the money intended to help the people. The status quo brings them great wealth. Their identification with Hitler and their desire for the annihilation of the Jewish people is amazing, yet they accuse the Jewish people of being Nazi like.
3. Many ultra-Orthodox show themselves to be dangerous cultists fixated on purity laws that oppress women and create a backward society within Israel. He finds some leaders who are frauds and manipulate their own people for money!
4. The Israeli right wing is unrealistic about the prospects of ruling the non-citizen Palestinians.
5. The Israeli leftist peace camp is full of self-haters who no longer believe in Israel.
The details of Tuvia’s interviews and experiences with a host of characters are most impressive. He gets people to open up in amazing ways. Yet, what comes out in the book is a great vacuum of hope due to the lack of a compelling worldview that would give courage for being in and preserving Israel. Preserving the Jewish people for some nebulous special quality of our culture is not sufficient for the pressures we face. Nor is standing firm for our nation’s survival so Hitler does not gain a posthumous victory. The ultra-Orthodox are often non-Zionists, caught up in their own ghetto existence and not caring if the State survives or not. In addition, they are mostly a drain on Israel’s resources.
As a Messianic Jew, I see only two world-views that are compelling. One is that of the modern Orthodox or the nationalist Orthodox. The other is that of Messianic Jews or Messianic Judaism. Here are the common features of our worldviews, which overlap due to the content of the Bible. We both believe:
1. The return of our people to the Land of Israel is a work of God.
2. The purpose of the Jews is to see the redemption of Israel and the nations of the World.
3. The fullness of this redemption will only take place when the Messiah comes.
4. We are to live lives of obedience to God in the Land so as to move history toward the climax of redemption. This includes worshiping God and making intercession (in Judaism through the synagogue prayers). For Orthodox Jews this includes the many additions of Rabbinic Law. For Messianic Jews this is a New Covenant way of Jewish life that is faithful to the Scriptures and reflects our Jewish tradition and identity.
5. We fulfill an important spiritual responsibility by living in Israel.
However, Messianic Jews believe that the redemption of Israel and the nations depends on our people turning to Yeshua. We must receive His atonement for our sins and undergo a death and resurrection in Him (Romans 6). All this without losing our Jewish identity. We are in Israel that we might be a light to our people concerning the Messiah. Our being in the Land is especially justified since we have turned to Him.
In Israel, we are under enormous pressure. Israel is desperately seeking a compelling worldview and reason for existing – to enable us to withstand this pressure. I predict that both the nationalist Orthodox worldview and the Messianic Jewish worldview will grow in numbers and provide hope for people. They will give us the reasons for the importance of our being in the Land. However, there will be a great clash between these worldviews in spite of their overlap due to the question of questions. It is the question Yeshua asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” We have been restored to the Land so that we might be brought to the knowledge of Yeshua!
This article originally appeared in Israel’s Restoration Newsletter, April 2016.
Dr. Daniel Juster, founder and director of Tikkun International, has been involved in the Messianic Jewish movement since 1972 and currently resides in Jerusalem, Israel, from where he serves and supports the Messianic movement worldwide. Dan was the founding president and general secretary of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations for 9 years, the senior pastor of Beth Messiah congregation for 22 years, and a co-founder of the Messiah Bible Institute in several nations. Dr. Juster serves on the board of Towards Jerusalem Council II, provides oversight to 15 congregations in the USA as well as overseeing emissaries in Israel and the Former Soviet Union. Daniel has authored about 20 books on topics ranging from theology, Israel and the Jewish people, eschatology, discipleship, and leadership.