Back from the dead

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“The nation of Israel are a wonderful witness to the Living God. Back from the long dead. But although as a nation they thrive, in God’s sight they are just lifeless bodies, waiting for the One who can bring life. The Lord Jesus Christ will return to save the nation in their darkest hour and in Him they will find abundant life.”

Whatever horror movies might depict; zombies staggering around, wall-eyed living dead, skeletons grinning evilly – we know that this is the stuff of make-believe. Life requires heartbeat, brain function, muscles and a multitude of complex interdependent systems to continue. Once a human being has been dead for any length of time, the recollection of what they once were – warm, living flesh and blood, able to move of their own accord, speak, listen and function as a living being – becomes increasingly difficult to visualise let alone become a reality.

So the question put to the Prophet Ezekiel, author of one of the longest prophecies of the Old Testament, is a strange one.
Confronted with a vision of dried, scattered bones strewn around a valley, Ezekiel is asked;

“Son of man, can these bones live?”     
(Ezekiel 37v3)

Had the question been posed by anyone else, Ezekiel would undoubtedly have replied; ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ or words to that effect. The bones were not only very dry; they were dispersed all around the valley floor. Thousands of bones – it would take a team of forensic scientists years to assemble each skeleton together again and the end result would be no more alive.

But Ezekiel is asked the question by Almighty God for whom nothing is impossible. So Ezekiel elects to play safe:

 “O Lord GOD, You know.”

The rest of the vision is astonishing, terrifying even. Upon being commanded to speak to the bones, there is a great rattling and an unseen force drags the desiccated remains together, bone to bone until each is matched to its skeleton. Then the same force restores muscles, tissues, eyes, blood vessels, organs and skin to each so that now Ezekiel is looking upon a great army of dead men.

Like every prophecy in scripture, you cannot be slap-dash with the details. Look at what God said would happen:

“I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin… (verse 6)

Which is the point we have reached. Then it continues:

…and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.”

A two stage process. The assembly of a chaotic disarray of bones into ordered but dead bodies is followed by the breath (or Spirit) of God energising and resurrecting them into a mighty army that stands upright.

As prophecies go, this one is strikingly clear. Its interpretation is found in the next few verses.

Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, ‘Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!’’ (verse 11)

Taking a very simple viewpoint of this whole episode we can say with confidence the following:

  • The vision relates to the nation of Israel.
  • It predicts that they will find themselves in a helpless and hopeless condition, scattered over a wide area with no prospect of being restored to nationhood.
  • But God will intervene in two stages – firstly to restore the nation of Israel to a semblance of life, then in a second stage to cause them to truly live and crucially to know:

‘that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.’ (verse 13)

Could there be a clearer sign for our day and age? In the course of eighty years the Jewish people have gone from being the ragged, emaciated survivors of the concentration camps to amongst the most advanced culture and nation on earth. Industry, expertise, ingenuity – these are the hallmarks of the collective nation called the State of Israel – a concept that for nineteen centuries was little more than a forlorn prayer on the lips of the faithful.

What does it mean, though, when God declares:

‘I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land’?

The answer is found on the lips of the greatest Jew of them all;

‘I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.’ (John 10v10)

The nation of Israel are a wonderful witness to the Living God. Back from the long dead. But although as a nation they thrive, in God’s sight they are just lifeless bodies, waiting for the One who can bring life. The Lord Jesus Christ will return to save the nation in their darkest hour and in Him they will find abundant life.

An unseen force did this, just as it assembled the bones in the vision. A force that defies human logic, crushes all opposition and relentlessly achieves its aim. The force is God. As the LORD said to Jeremiah:

‘You are My witnesses,’ says the LORD. (Isaiah 43v10)

So it remains for Israel to truly live. Presently they exist, clinging on to their precious tract of land surrounded by fierce and implacable hatred. But God has decreed that one day they will recognise Jesus as their Messiah and live in peace and harmony with their Creator in the land that God promised to their first ancestor, Abraham.

‘Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the LORD. (verse 14)

Dead bones don’t come to life again. It is a ridiculous idea. But we are talking about the God who created the Universe. He can, and does what He likes. He can give you true life as well.

Come and find out more:

Jerusalem, whose capital?

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‘The land is mine, [says the LORD God] for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.’ (Leviticus 25v23)

With big anniversaries this year, we have talked a lot about Jerusalem in our blog, but here it is again, taking centre stage in the news headlines. The Bible gives us signs, referred to as ‘signs of the times’, that God is in control and bringing about his purpose with the earth, culminating in the return of his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to set up God’s Kingdom. What we see happening regarding Jerusalem and that part of the world is prophesied in the Bible, as the signs of Jesus’ soon return – it is time for everyone to take note!

Whatever motivated Donald Trump to make the announcement that, in the eyes of his administration, Jerusalem is to be recognised as the capital city of Israel, there can be no doubt it was a contentious decision.
Dismay and anger spread across the world in the aftermath of the US president’s statement that their embassy would relocate from Tel Aviv, where most diplomatic delegations are located, to the ancient city of Jerusalem. Outrage not only from hard-line enemies of the Jewish State but even amongst moderate world leaders. It is a polarising move.

But is it historically sound, to declare the ancient city of Jerusalem a candidate for the capital city of a modern state of Israel, bearing in mind the conflicting claims on the territory and the city itself? Thereby hangs a problem.

Historical claims abound. The city of Jerusalem, then named Jebus, has its roots in the early Canaanite peoples who inhabited the area of land. Rejoicing in many and varied tribal names such as Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and a host more, they were dispossessed by the fledgling Jewish nation recently freed from centuries of slavery in Egypt. God declared that He would give Israel the tenure of the land on certain conditions. In a chapter containing a list of forbidden carnal practices God tells the nation of Israel that the indigenous peoples of the land were being ejected from the land because of their abhorrent behaviour. (The expression used in Leviticus 18v28 is ‘vomited out’ which demonstrates graphically how disgusting God regarded their practices to be.)

So, an agreement was entered into. Israel were allowed freehold of the land on condition that they did not do the same things as those nations before them. Had they abided by this agreement and kept God’s laws then the land was theirs. However, they dismally failed to keep their part of the bargain and so the same measure was eventually served on them. Assyrian and Babylonian superpowers from the North and East attacked, degraded and finally destroyed the nation of Israel and the people were forced into exile. Their land, as they believed it to be, was left to run wild, its infrastructure fractured and its capital city, Jerusalem, broken down and overgrown.

That was, in essence, the problem. Israel forgot that the land belonged to God and was theirs on conditional loan. They thought they could do as they pleased with God’s land and suffered the consequences of their presumption.

The same pattern was to repeat itself over the next four centuries. The end of the second Jewish era was brought about by the Roman Empire in AD 70. Once more the Jews were exiled, this time far further afield and for considerably longer. The end of the second Jewish exile only really finished in 1948 and then in 1967 the Jewish armed forces recaptured Jerusalem marking a seminal moment in world history.

Jesus prophesied; ‘Jerusalem shall be trampled by the Gentiles UNTIL the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.’ (Luke 21v24)

With this thumbnail history, maybe the obvious answer is that Jerusalem is the indisputable capital of the Jewish nation? They are returning to a land they once owned, to a city declared to be the capital by no less than King David, one of the most charismatic and successful rulers of their nation. Surely this trumps all other more recent claims by virtue of longevity and Divine promise?
Not so. The land is, and will remain the rightful property of Almighty God and the city under His protection:

‘Like birds flying about, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem. Defending He will also deliver it, passing over He will preserve it.’ (Isaiah 31v5)

God has a special role for Jerusalem in His plan and purpose. Not as an erstwhile capital city of a secular Jewish state, or even divided amongst competing claims. No, God will preserve this place and city as a capital city of the entire world. He will use it as the first base for a global kingdom ruled over by His Son, Jesus Christ. God’s laws, disregarded by the Jews, held in contempt or largely ignored by the overwhelming majority of mankind will be taught from its streets. The world will be invited to learn a better standard of life that does not involve squabbling and greed.

‘For out of Zion [the hill on which Jerusalem is founded] the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.’ (Micah 4v2)

Maybe in that day the incumbent President of the United States will recognise and submit to the authority of the new ruler of mankind. In place of ambassadorial and trade delegations a new kind of international interaction – men and women from all over the world will be summoned to the Capital to receive once again the ancient but still relevant instructions and laws given by God with which they are to be governed. The once battle-scarred walls and streets of this divided city will resound to a new sound, the sound of rejoicing and the sounds of peace and guaranteed safety.

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the Lord.”
Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of the Lord,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For thrones are set there for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
Because of the house of the Lord our God
I will seek your good.
(Psalm 122)

Jerusalem – City of Peace?

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Still not sure about the relevance of Israel? Still just think it is another country, just one with a lot of problems? Well…

In our last blog, ‘Israel – A Year of Anniversaries’, we wanted to highlight that there is a bit more to it than just that. We are running a two-talk series to mark two significant anniversaries coming up for Israel, with the first titled “Jerusalem – City of Peace?”, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the re-unification of Jerusalem on June 7th. All are warmly invited to join us for this at 7.30pm but to get you ready, we thought it might help to set the scene…

This anniversary takes us back to what has become known as the Six Day War because it lasted for six days from June 5th – 10th 1967.

On paper, it is a war that Israel should not have won.

A BBC article quotes the President of Egypt, Abdel Nasser, on 27 May 1967, who declared: “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.”

In May 1967 Egypt had instructed the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to leave the Sinai Desert and then mobilized its forces along the Israeli border. Syria and Jordan, too, moved into a state of alert and announced that they would not sit by idly if Israel attacked Egypt. Israel were outnumbered, outgunned and surrounded.

It is even more remarkable because of the speed and scale of the victory.

By the end of the first day, half the Egyptian Air Force had been destroyed, without even taking off, and most of the Royal Jordanian Air Force and Syrian Air Force has also been wiped out.

In only six days Israel tripled the area under its control, seizing Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt in the south, the Golan Heights from Syria in the north, West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan.

For the Bible student, it is momentous because Jerusalem, divided since 1948, was re-unified under the control of Israel for the first time since the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in AD 70.
So what?

We are watching for the time when Jesus will return to this earth to set up God’s Kingdom and the Bible gives us signs of when that is going to happen. A big sign is that Israel will be back in the land and that Jerusalem will be a “burdensome stone”.

“…in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces…” Zechariah 12v3

This is the  great irony – the result of the reunification of Jerusalem, is that it has never been more divided! The rift and conflict between Israel and Arab nations was intensified and 50 years on, that has only got worse. You only need to read and watch the news each day to see how burdensome Jerusalem has become with the affects rippling through world affairs.

It’s also why some of the events of this war are so interesting. Forget the human politics, we don’t get involved in that, but from our understanding of the Bible Israel needed to win – they will be in the land when Jesus returns. Now look at a few examples of what happened during those 6 days:

A critical part of the victory was gaining aerial superiority. Jordanian radar picked up the Israeli attack but the Egyptians, having changed radio frequencies the day before, were unable to receive the warning!

Directives from Egyptian leaders were incoherent and disorganized, and at times, non-existent. Israeli ground troops advanced in Sinai to find that, for no apparent reason, Egyptian forces had abandoned bases and destroyed or left their equipment. Similarly, later in the Golan heights against Syria.

Sound familiar? “Then Saul and all the people who were with him assembled, and they went to the battle; and indeed every man’s sword was against his neighbor, and there was very great confusion.” 1 Samuel 14v20

Political pressure was mounting from leading nations for Israel to accept a ceasefire proposed by King Hussein of Jordan. However, at the last minute, the ceasefire fell through due to the unwillingness of King Hussein to comply with the terms of the ceasefire he initiated!

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” Proverbs 21v1. Verses like this remind us that ultimately it is God that is in control, not men and women.

We can see God’s hand at work as he continues to progress his plan and purpose with this earth, culminating in the return of Jesus to set up his Kingdom. We know from the Bible, that there will be more trouble to come for Jerusalem but eventually it will be God’s City of Peace at the centre of his Kingdom.

“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, …and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem… nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2v3-4

Israel – A Year of Anniversaries

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Have you ever wondered why Israel is in the News so often? Why there is always conflict in the middle east? Well, if you haven’t you should because the answer affects us all.

In the Bible we read that Israel are an important people in God’s plan so watching what is happening in that part of the world is also important to us. In Isaiah 43, God said to Israel “You are my witnesses…”, meaning that Israel are a witness to the existence of God. When we see things that the Bible has said about this nation coming true, we can have confidence and belief in God.

For example, this year marks the anniversaries of 2 extraordinary events, that relate to the establishment of the State of Israel.

• 7th June is the 50 year anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem (1967), during the ‘Six-Day War’.

• 2nd November is the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour declaration (1917)

The Balfour Declaration was a single paragraph in a letter from the UK Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. In the letter, support was given for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, whilst committing to maintain the rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.

For hundreds of years Israel were scattered across the world. The Balfour Declaration was a significant turning point and against all likelihood we had the start of them returning to the land of Israel. No other nation in history has been through similar experiences over such a timespan and survived – and yet here Israel are.

When you look at the events that led to the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, during the 6 day war, they are mind blowing. All human logic and reasoning says that Israel should have been utterly defeated and yet not just did they survive, they came out of it with even more territory than before. A truly miraculous outcome?

God said about Israel “Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, Yet I will not make a complete end of you.” (Jeremiah 30v11) and “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36v24)

There is no doubt that during this period and continuing to today, there are some terrible things being done by all sides involved. Sadly, such acts only bear witness to the hopelessness of human nature. Despite this troubling human side, the remarkable part is that what we see happening is exactly what God said would happen.

God willing, we plan to hold 2 public talks as part of these anniversaries. We do not take any political views or sides in any of these events so cannot offer anything on that but we would love to see you there to instead share how these events are a miraculous witness to the truth of the Bible and of God.

Our first presentation is titled “Jerusalem – City of Peace?”, to be held at 19:30 on Wednesday 7th June 2017 at Christadelphian Hall, Hill House Road, Downend. BS16 5RR.