Elizabeth and I just returned from an 11 day trip to Israel that was quite remarkable in so many ways. I am convinced that understanding the importance of Israel and Jerusalem is a central marker for true believers. Just how to process that importance is perhaps subject to disagreement but to not see the importance is to suffer from a significant level of spiritual blindness- if not sub-conscious antisemitism. Antisemitic sentiment has been rampant among Christians since the days of the early church and it is easy to inherit it through various doctrinal traditions. Over the centuries, around the world, multiple noteworthy persecutions have risen against the Jews by Christians- specifically for being the people that put Jesus to death, as they were blamed for “deicide”. It also skyrocketed during the Protestant Reformation as both Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote almost unbelievable diatribes against Jews. Hatred of the Jews hit its infamous apex in Germany during Hitler’s days, but it was not limited to Germany as it was quite wide spread even in the United States, thus contributing to the slow response in stemming Hitler’s attempt to eliminate all Jews, who did kill upwards of 6,000,000. Those who despise Jews for their "hardness of heart" in turning to Christ, rarely comprehend the impact of almost 2,000 years of hatred and persecution at the hands of “followers of Christ”. That “mantle” of hatred is now primarily carried by Muslims but it should be noted that Christians as "friends of Israel" is a relatively recent phenomenon, that even Jews are still trying to assess and digest. As I report on various topics this reality must be understood and will be interwoven into the conversation.
Jerusalem’s 50th Birthday
It was such a treat to be in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day as they joyously celebrated coming back under Israeli rule for the first time since Old Testament days. This happened in the famous 6-day war of 1967, where Israel triumphed after being attacked by many surrounding Arab nations led by Egypt and Syria. Jordan, who controlled Jerusalem and the West Bank, joined in the attack believing the lie from Gen. Nasser of Egypt that Israel was being routed. Israel, at first shocked that somewhat friendly Jordan had also joined the attack, then routed all the Arab nations including Jordan and stunned everyone including powers and principalities, by suddenly finding themselves in possession of Jerusalem again. Israel had suddenly become a nation in 1948, and with no plan of annexing Jerusalem, circumstances dictated that unexpected reality. With that a whole new kingdom era kicked in.
A Brief History of Jerusalem
Jerusalem is almost unmatched in its known history as it goes back to 4000 BC. It’s important history starts in 1000 BC when David takes it from the Jebusites and establishes it as Israel’s capital forever. The city formerly known as Jebus now became Jerusalem or the City of David- a name it still carries as you would see if you visited Jerusalem. King David is clearly the city’s most famous historical figure- that is except for Jesus Christ the ”son of David”. Jerusalem has been attacked at least 52 times, recaptured 44 times, partially destroyed over 40 times, completely destroyed 2 times. It is the city where Jesus Christ gave His life for the world on Passover, where the Holy Spirit showed up in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost, and where there will be yet a future coming of Christ on the Mount of Olives. It is the original capital of the New Testament as it was the apostles' initial hub.
If you lack the discernment just from those details alone, to realize that Jerusalem will never cease mattering- then the Bible has Old and New Testament passages to cure that darkness of understanding. Psalms 122:6 “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.” Ps. 137: 5 and 6 “If I forget thee Jerusalem…if I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth: if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” Is. 2:3 “Out of Jerusalem…shall come forth the word of God..” Is. 31:5 “…the Lord will defend Jerusalem.” Is. 62:7 “Give Him no rest until He make Jerusalem a praise in all the earth.” Plus many, many more scriptures. Furthermore in the New Testament we are told of the “holy Jerusalem from above” and of the “New Jerusalem” that will descend from heaven, letting us know that Jerusalem is a reality in heaven as well. The blood of the God of the universe was shed in only one city and that one city is Jerusalem- this becomes the guarantor that Jerusalem will experience full redemption and become a praise in all the earth.
Replacement Theology and Jerusalem
It is important here to talk about Replacement Theology (sometimes called Supersessionism or Covenant Theology) This is a doctrine that states that Israel and Jerusalem lost their covenantal promises and that “the church” has replaced Israel and Jerusalem as being the target of all Biblical promises made them. It is an ancient antisemitic doctrine that made some sense- if you ignored Romans 11:1, “Has God rejected His people? By no means!”- when it picked up steam in the 1900’s, seeing that Israel hadn’t existed as a nation in 1900 years. But then there has to be unbelievable blindness not to see the rebirth of Israel and the restoration of Jerusalem to Israel, as impossible to come about apart from the miraculous handiwork of God. Replacement Theology pulls out select scriptures from the Bible and combines it with residual unconscious antisemitic sentiment to come up with a dangerous conclusion- while ignoring the overall weight of scripture on the subject and the self-evident truth being played out in front of us on the present world stage. Yes, many of the promises are the church's as well, but in no case where a promise is made to Israel or Jerusalem- does it now bypass them. Remember, Jesus did not shed symbolic blood in Jerusalem, it was His actual blood. He was born in Bethlehem- right next to Jerusalem, He was crucified in Jerusalem, He rose from the dead in Jerusalem, He ascended into heaven from Jerusalem, and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to Jerusalem. It is impossible that natural Jerusalem not have any of the redemption, resurrection and empowerment that was released there. If His blood and the Holy Spirit has no power to change the place it started from then it has no power at all. This the enemy has known better than anyone for a long time and thus has overplayed his hand. God is again trumping the enemy’s cards and hanging him on his own gallows.
Should Jerusalem Be Israel’s Capital?
President Trump made huge news before the election when he stated that he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This, of course, a decision with huge political ramifications- which he has found out about now as President, having been visited by several Arab and Palestinian leaders, who have seemingly made him rethink the matter- at least on the short run. I personally think he will miss a key part of his commission if he doesn’t eventually make that pronouncement. President Trump may just be waiting to see if there is any good faith on the Palestinian side of the peace bartering before deciding to move forward with that declaration.
On the one hand, who ever heard of a nation being so meddled into by the international community that they can’t make whatever city they want as their capital? On the other hand, we saw firsthand the complicatedness of the matter. Our taxi driver to the airport was a Greek/Arab young man named Christos- who went to school and is identified with the Palestinians. He let us know that he lives in the Old City of Jerusalem (annexed in 1967) and that his family has been there for 70 years. When you hear something like that it can sound like it is not fair if people like them should get dispossessed. But then there is the truth that most seem to ignore- it already is Israeli territory and Israel is not dispossessing them- and their life is better in Israel proper than in Palestinian run territory (which of course is also Israel's). The layout of the land is very complicated in Israel, with this tiny nation made up of their traditional recent territory, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Much of the international community has declared that they don’t recognize Israel's right to East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip because it was not their land between 1948 and 1967. Essentially all of the land was ancient Israel’s (say in the day of King David) but the international community has decided that Syria and Jordan should be given a free pass for joining in attacking Israel in 1967- an attack designed not to annex territory but to eliminate Israel and Jews.
Can you imagine the international community deciding to come to the United States with the same ethos of thought? You “took" much of California, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico - and it now needs to be given back? United States has by far less moral right to these territories than does Israel to theirs. But then who did Mexico take it from - and where do we stop with that train of thought? Who has original rights? Remarkably, there is only one nation on the planet given specific geographic territory by God- and that is the one nation everyone else wants to meddle with their right to even exist. Jerusalem being recognized as Israel’s eternal capital would say once and for all, that Israel and Jerusalem together are here to stay forever. Here is the deal, God has already decided that and whether anyone else drags their feet in recognizing that or not it is the truth and will ultimately be defended by God. President Trump can look to agree with God whenever he deems it prudent - but He should agree with Him using the original inspiration he used to make his original declaration prior to the election.
Should There be a Two-State Solution?
This, of course, is the other big question as it relates to Israel and the Palestinians. Biblically by covenant, Israel has rights to all the land they are in- and even substantially more. Palestine never existed as a nation at any time. The name was given the region by Emperor Hadrian after he destroyed Israel in 136 AD, crushing the Jews' final revolt against the Romans. Hadrian razed 985 villages, killed 580,000 fighters- and over a million Jews are believed to have been killed at that time. Whatever "end times" horror, as described in Matthew 25 and then Revelation, that didn’t happen to the Jews in the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem- did in fact happen at this time. “Christian” Jews were caught in the middle in both time periods and suffered tremendously. Hadrian renamed the entire region Palaestina, after Israel’s ancient enemies the Philistines, intentionally as an attempt to erase the memory of Israel, Jerusalem (which he also renamed something else) and the Jews from the region, believing it would finally end the nationalistic revolts of the Jews that were unending. He was right, as Israel’s name remained off the map until 1948 when they suddenly became a nation. The Palestinians were a nomadic, more tribal and feudal people who essentially hold the same culture and characteristics as the Jordanians. They were an Arab nomadic people who began coming to the Israel region as Jews returned bringing economic opportunities with them. (During the 18th and 19th centuries the whole area of Palestine was repeatedly described as “desolate.") They were “Palestinian” because they chose to settle in an area last named by Hadrian 1,800 years before. They are clearly predated in being in the land by Israel and the Jews.
Now what is true is that in recent generations the Palestinians have gained an interest in being a defined people group in a defined territory, which is both reasonable and understandable. If you get a chance to interact with them you might quickly see that they are a people worthy of having an improved identity and lot in life. What is amazing is that even most Israeli’s are compassionate towards Palestinian humanitarian concerns and, because of that, are remarkably open to things like a two-state solution and even East Jerusalem being Israel's capital. Now understand that Jews are perhaps the most non-monolithic thinking people on the planet and so it is actually impossible to ever speak for them as a people. By their own admission they have 11 opinions for every 10 people in a room. However, in their own surveys they find more compassion towards the plight of the Palestinians than what is assumed. This, of course, is remarkable because they are almost across the board hated by most Palestinians and they are regularly attacked by Palestinians who even officially desire them to be “driven into the sea”.
The other wild card factor in the whole picture is that Palestinians, same as Jews, also look to Abraham as their father and you see that, in essence, even this “dispute” is one among “brothers”. There is even similarity in the looks between many Israelis and Palestinians (at least enough so that I can’t easily tell). If one looks at the promises made to Abraham as inclusive of Palestinians then the equation to everything is different as well. All this to say that, though I do not support or believe a two-state solution is really viable, yet it is not totally out of the realm of a temporary possible solution. What is ultimately noteworthy is that when you are in Israel you see Jew beside Arab, beside Christian, living, walking, and functioning together in everyday life in peace. Yet the moment you cross into Palestinian Authority territory you immediately find large signs that essentially state “if you are an Israeli citizen- do not enter- as your life is endangered”. The reality is that anywhere that Israel will rule they will grant protection, freedom and rights to whomever, and that anywhere Palestinian Authority or Hamas (Gaza Strip) rule, your life is endangered if you are anything but a Muslim. Even if you are Muslim your quality of life will be substantially below what it is in Israeli ruled areas. Because of that I see the best solution still being Israel having total rule while benevolently providing the Palestinians with opportunities for housing, working, life and liberty.
Jerusalem, City of Peace
What is so amazing about Jerusalem is that, for all its contention, its name means City of Peace. This is its ultimate destiny. The Prince of Peace was born, crucified, resurrected from the dead, ascended into heaven from this very place. The city is amazing. Muslims, Jews and Christians all look to Jerusalem as a spiritual headquarters of sorts. In the heart of the Old City is the most contested over geographic area on the planet. The Wailing Wall, Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Mt. Moriah, site of Solomon’s Temple, Mt. Zion are all either the same place by another name or right next to each other. The same spot is believed by Muslims to be where Mohammed ascended into heaven. It is actually where Abraham offered Isaac and where Jesus ascended after His resurrection. Furthermore, within a stone’s throw is the pool of Bethesda, the Upper Room, the Via Dolorosa, Mary’s birthplace etc. etc.
There are armed security people everywhere. I saw about 5 or 6 different uniforms plus pistols in the backs of people's pants everywhere. Young adults who look like teenage boys and girls are everywhere in uniform with machine guns and serious firepower. They are considered the first line of defense should a war or a serious security matter break out. For all Jews there is a mandatory 2 and a half year military service for boys and 2 years for girls. It was almost unnerving as I kept seeing so many girls that looked like my daughters at security points throughout the city. If war should suddenly break out all men under 40 would be the instant back-up army because they are the seasoned veterans of Israel’s unique climate of security. Yet if you were to go to Jerusalem what might surprise you is just how calm and peaceful the city feels. Muslims, Jews, and Christians walk freely everywhere and guns are seen everywhere, but a feeling of peace is prevalent. We stayed the last week at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near the city center and it was so peaceful. Elizabeth and I walked for hours at daytime and nighttime all over the place, feeling safer than one would in a large city in the United States. The peace was so intense for me that I found myself getting 10-12 hours of sleep every night- and I wasn't even especially tired. I also remember looking out from our little porch high up in the hotel and sensing that there were huge letters saying PEACE above the Jerusalem sky. In the Spirit, I saw an enormous invisible dome over the city that I knew would ensure that Jerusalem will never experience a nuclear bomb. Smaller fire may get in under it, but there is a Spirit shield over Jerusalem that is quite impressive. I am sure all the prayers of intercession over Jerusalem have a significant role.
President Trump in Jerusalem
It was quite interesting as well to be in Jerusalem when our President visited. We actually were able to see his motorcade head towards the Western Wall, before he historically went there and prayed. It was beyond coincidence that a President named Trump would be in Jerusalem for their Jubilee celebration. In Leviticus 25, the protocol for announcing to the people their year of Jubilee was for the trump to be blown all over the land- and here we had Trump as the headline news in Israel while Jerusalem’s Jubilee was being celebrated. Again, you have to be God to draw up these kind of “coincidences”. We were in Bethlehem the day before President Trump was there and, for those who don’t know, it is literally a 5 minute drive from Jerusalem - yet there is a high security wall all around it. Bethlehem is run by the Palestinian Authority and is where President Trump met with President Abbas. President Trump was able to see the wall that has literally been the life-saver for Jerusalem and its citizens. Before the wall was built there were car and bus explosions by terrorists almost every week in Jerusalem. After the wall was up, the bombings stopped. (This is not to speak into whether we might need a wall or not in the United States.) Honestly the security challenge is at a whole other level in Israel.
The Chinese Are Coming to Israel
As you may know, we were invited to Israel on this particular trip by a group of over 500 Chinese believers primarily from China, but some from Taiwan and also the United States. Being with them and sharing with them was amazing. They are so hungry for God and they also have such a love for Israel. One night we were out as a group (500+) on the Sea of Galilee in 5 large boats gathered together in the middle of the lake. It was a prophetic ceremony where we were all presenting ourselves to God as the Bride of Christ and so everyone was dressed in white. It was a prophetic act the Chinese leaders had felt we should do. All 5 boats worshipped loudly while wildly waving Chinese and Israeli flags with the Israeli flag placed in the higher position. The locals seemed astounded at the display of it all. It is quite something the way the Chinese believers are touching Israel. There was another group of over 500 Chinese in Israel at the same time. Also, a few months ago a group of 4,000 were in Israel. The influx of Chinese believers visiting Israel is so great that the government there has asked the tour guides to learn Chinese as their new highest priority. There is a unique effectiveness of the Chinese in Israel as their language restriction makes them essentially incapable of proselytizing, which is appreciated by Israeli's. American believers are generally seen as too aggressive in that way and it is viewed as an attempt to exterminate Judaism. From the Chinese they just get smiles, hugs and business. The growing Chinese church is a game changer on the world scene and they may already have more true believers than in America. By 2030, Christians in China will be pushing 300 million. It was a highlight for me to speak to them on the first day of Shavout (Pentecost) and have the joy of the Lord hit them in mass during ministry time. At the conference I had the pleasure of ministering with other speakers at the Chinese conference - Tom Hess, Dennis Balcombe, Rick Ridings, and Calev Myers.
If you're planning to do any ministry in China or simply want a better understanding of how Christianity has advanced in China, I highly recommend Dennis Balcombe’s book "One Journey, One Nation" (or "China’s Opening Door", which I am still reading). There is so much insight into the nation, the culture and the history of God at work that comes from his books. Dennis Balcombe is a legend and hero of the faith for matters in China and Hong Kong. He has been a missionary to China for over 40 years and is in truth more Chinese than American. It was such a pleasure having some time together with him as he is such a genuine and humble man.
Final Thoughts: Visit Israel
If you haven’t made it to Israel yet, consider doing all possible to make it there sometime. It is a life changing experience that if processed correctly can put a spiritual compass in you for everything else you do and are. Furthermore, there is an undeniable Israel-USA connection. Approximately 85% of the world's Jews are in either Israel or the USA, with each having about 6 million Jews. There is also an unmistakeable connection between Israel and California. Los Angeles alone has around 1 million Jews. Furthermore, the landscape, layout, produce and arid climate are quite similar. Dates, almonds, grapes, pomegranates, olive trees and fig trees are just some of the overlapping crops and produce. There is no doubt that some original storyline from heaven has been written that has Israel, California and the United States on the same page. I have also extensively researched and believe that the Native Americans of the United States were originally Jews. This is something that was believed for over 200 years in America until some faulty DNA reading challenged that.
There is no doubt in my mind as well that Jews are designed to be the people group that best informs us when we are finally getting the right message of the kingdom. They have a built-in truth detector that they don’t even know about- that is designed to cause them to continue rejecting cheap imitations of a kingdom message and kingdom people. Ultimately their “hardness of heart”, I believe, will be softened by believers who walk in unconditional love, that care for their present world and planet, and that carry the presence of the Holy Spirit. Jews as a people are about 20% atheist and that is just about the highest of any people group. They also have a high rate of agnosticism and both of those markers tell us not just that they are "hard hearted" but that it is going to take the real-deal kingdom gospel to win them over to their Messiah. Israel has a growing Messianic believer population of about 15,000, but even in that group it is more the exception than the rule to find those that care about things such as quality of life now and planet stewardship- which are things that are very high on the agenda for Jews in general. In other words, an advancing church with a proper 7 mountain reformation mindset has a real chance of touching their hearts in new ways. I have already seen this in remarkable ways.
So I challenge all to ask God to help you be able to make a trip to Israel. You will learn so much, particularly if you don’t go thinking you already know everything. So much of the world’s terrorist and security challenges have to do with nations unjustly and unfairly criticizing Israel over her security practices and they are reaping the consequences of “as you have done to Israel it will be done to you.” What is also eye opening in Israel is the self-loathing, self blaming and cynicism that pervades the nation and then comes out in local Israeli newspapers such as the Haaretz - which is in some kind of partnership with the New York Times. I have never read a newspaper that agrees with the enemy more than Haaretz. I suggest reading instead The Jerusalem Post for a more balanced perspective- but yet one that still second guesses Israel at every turn. It is a society desperately needy and ready to encounter their Messiah and the emotional impact of that not yet happening is intense.
Finally, if you go to Israel find a way to connect and/or assist with anything that Calev Myers is doing. He is President of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice and has done so much for the cause of the kingdom in that nation and has yet important assignments ahead. He has significant projects going on that are very worth connecting to and the type of work he is doing is key for the church moving forward in Israel. May all of our hearts further burn for properly honoring God’s firstborn- Israel (Exodus 4:22). It is not about God having favorites, but it is about honoring the first vessels God chose, as well as the unilateral promises He made to them. Furthermore, He is telling a great story and Israel is at the epicenter of it all.