Beliefnet
Is it the End of the World?

Especially in light of the barbaric murders of Israeli Jews in Tel Aviv yesterday—by Palestinians—it was appropriate that my daily Bible reading landed on Ezekiel 36. In this lead-up to the great Israeli “Declaration of Independence” that follows in Ezekiel 37 (the famous “Dry Bones” prophecy), we find several critical pieces of information that explain God’s actions.

Interestingly, He goes to great lengths to make sure everyone understands that His restoration of the Jewish people to their homeland in the last days is not primarily for them. It is about making the nations aware of His glory, reserved for Him alone. In verses 22 and 23 we read:

“Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.'”

For centuries, the nations where the Jews were scattered during their great exile have looked at them with contempt, and have had contempt for the God of their forefathers. After all, the thinking goes, even He could not “keep them in their land.”

That is a misreading of the situation, and a false perspective.

As God’s overall plan for mankind unfolds, we see Him working exactly as He promised He would. That we live in the moment in which He has restored the Jewish people is no small thing. In fact, we are witnessing one of the great events in history. It is even more than that: it is undeniable proof that God exists and the Bible is true.

Elsewhere in Ezekiel 36, God also explains that the long suffering of the Jewish people will come to an end. Attention will be turned instead to the crimes against Jewish humanity committed by the nations, or, as we would say today, the international community. In verses 6,7, and 15, we read what God has planned for them:

I speak in my jealous wrath because you have suffered the scorn of the nations. Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I swear with uplifted hand that the nations around you will also suffer scorn.

No longer will I make you hear the taunts of the nations, and no longer will you suffer the scorn of the peoples or cause your nation to fall, declares the Sovereign Lord.

This is no small thing, either, and very soon the nations and all Israel’s tormentors will answer for the evil they have committed against the Jewish people.

The Mount of Beatitudes, northern Israel

The Mount of Beatitudes, northern Israel

One more proof that the Return of the Jewish people to their ancestral land has begun is the promise in Ezekiel 36 that the Lord will cause the land to bloom with fruit and vegetation, so that it resembles the Garden of Eden.

Truly, today, Israel looks that way. Even the moonscape of the south is being reclaimed with palm and date groves. From Jerusalem to the Golan Heights, Israel is indeed like the Garden of Eden.

So what is the point of this particular passage? It is that God keeps His promises, always and all the time.

The Jews are living proof of that.

Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali in 1964.

The man who broke down barriers during the volatile Civil Rights movement was a “conscientious objector” to service in the Vietnam War, and his Muslim faith was an oddity to a country that didn’t know much about it.

We still don’t.

I will be in the minority this morning, as we hear about the passing of the heavyweight boxing champion.

I am not a fan of the man who stood over a vanquished Sonny Liston and later proclaimed, “I am the greatest!”

I am astonished this morning at the number of public figures who identify as conservatives that are lavishing praise on Ali. People are lighting candles for him, placing flowers, weeping.

His natural arrogance provided the backdrop for the type of self-preservation practiced by other change agents of that era (such as Bill Clinton). He made sure there was no chance he’d go to Vietnam.

More troubling to me was his misguided attacks on Christianity and the Bible.

Do people not remember?

In a September 9, 1996 interview with Newsweek’s John Leland, Ali showed either his ignorance of Scripture, or his wily propaganda techniques. From my book, It’s the End of the World:

“In their quest for meaning, people often look to other religions.
A Newsweek interview with Muhammad Ali reveals that
the former heavyweight champ thinks he has found the truth,
but in my humble opinion, his own bias keeps him in the dark.
Ali, never challenged by the reporter, alleges that mistakes and
contradictions abound in the Bible—but not in the Quran, of
course.

“’Nothing could be more controversial than this,’ Ali says.
He then points out the verse from Matthew 26:34: Before the
cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Now Ali refers to a verse
in Mark 14:30: Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me
thrice. Both passages refer to the same thing, but the second
verse adds the detail that the denial won’t happen until the cock
crows twice.

“Ali lights up at this ‘discrepancy.’ He claims there are many
such biblical contradictions, and his bold claim will have weight
with people who don’t realize he doesn’t know what he’s talking
about.
DSCF6269

“Is there really a contradiction between the accounts of the
two apostles? In the reference to Peter’s betrayal found in
Matthew, indeed Jesus tells Peter that before the cock crows, he
will deny Him three times. In Mark’s account, Jesus tells Peter
that before the cock crows twice, he will deny Him three times.
Mark simply added the detail ‘twice.’

“There is no contradiction, you see. Jesus tells Peter that he
will deny Him three times. Peter denied Him three times. Jesus predicted that Peter would do this before the cock crowed. That
is exactly what happened.

“I mention this because it shows the lengths the Bible’s critics
will go to in order to discredit the book, the book that has the
answers to the great questions of life. For Muhammad Ali, the
implications are clear. If he is wrong about the Quran and the
Bible, he is on the wrong side of reality and will face a God he
doesn’t know.”

Ali mocked opponents, took the worship of self to new heights, mocked Christianity, and helped mainstream Islam, serving as an ambassador for a religion that seeks to subjugate all people.

Today, Muhammad is lauded by people everywhere as a man of compassion, tolerance, and love.

I don’t know who they’re talking about.

For the sake of Jacob my servant,
of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honor,
though you do not acknowledge me.
(Isaiah 45:4)

One of the most confounding chapters in all the Bible for critics (including those who have slithered into the church) is found in Isaiah 45. Actually, the story begins in chapter 44.

The Lord announces that He has called-out a ruler…who is to come. This ruler will aid God’s people, the Jews, who have been in captivity for years, having been conquered by the Babylonians.

Cyrus is a man that history to that time does not know. He is not known because he has not yet been born! In fact, the prophecies concerning this coming king of the Medo-Persian empire are given 150 years before he arrives on the scene.

The Lord is preparing His people for the end of their captivity. In history, 150 years future from this prophecy, Cyrus issues a decree, allowing conquered inhabitants to return to their national homes and rebuild.
P1010429 (1)

The Jews were included in this release.

Today, in the British Museum, the famous “Cyrus Cylinder” resides; it is a barrel-shaped clay tablet with the decree recorded. A copy exists in the Old City of Jerusalem.

In a bid to attack the veracity of the Bible and thus undermine the faith of many, scores of scholars for more than 100 years have claimed that the prophecies concerning Cyrus were in fact added later, by another, “anonymous” Isaiah. This is their way of trying to get rid of predictive prophecy.

Put another way, it is their pitiful attempt to eliminate the supernatural from Scripture, a task man has not been granted.

Honest scholars will accept the correct placement of the prophecies in Isaiah 44 and 45.

In Isaiah 46, the Lord declares that He alone knows the end from the beginning. He has told us in general ways what is to come.

It is then up to us whether we accept Him for Who He is, or not.

I read recently a few paragraphs from Hal Lindsey’s landmark 1970 book, The Late Great Planet Earth. In the years since its publication, Lindsey has had his critics. Hindsight has given many a license to pick the book apart.

Yet, I believe Lindsey was largely correct in many of his assessments, namely that we are living in the last days. The last seconds, as one wrote on Facebook today.

Among the things Lindsey had right was the prediction that the American church would, in general, slide into apostasy. He astutely noted that the “downgrade” had been going on for decades, but many had not noticed.

Hal Lindsey

Hal Lindsey

One of the insidious attacks on biblical faith has centered-on the Old Testament. It has been popular in seminaries and in pulpits for a long time to deny the historical nature of various biblical accounts. Many years ago, researcher Herman Otten noted one important factor in this reality:

“Christ accepted the book of Jonah as a factual account of something that actually happened. If the book of Jonah is not factual, why should we expect anyone to believe that Christ really rose from the dead? He compares his own burial with Jonah’s experience.”

Decades ago, churchgoers realized the Church by and large did not really believe the Bible. Many left. Today, even the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is losing members at an alarming rate. SBC heads would deny strenuously that they’ve abandoned serious Bible teaching, but the fact is, when they tolerate (and even promote) a “pastor” like Steven Furtick, the leadership is not serious about relying solely on the sufficiency of Scripture.

The ancient seaport at Jaffa, Israel. It was here that the prophet Jonah departed for Nineveh.

The ancient seaport at Jaffa, Israel. It was here that the prophet Jonah departed for Nineveh.

I contend this is primarily because the mega-church model has been adopted. “Church growth” is all the rage, and yet ironically, it is also responsible for many leaving churches in droves. The SBC is not adopting a return to real, serious Bible study and preaching, by and large, and so no doubt the exodus will continue. They aren’t the only ones, by a long shot.

(Denominational heads would, of course, seriously object to my view.)

Lindsey, 45 years ago, predicted that, based on New Testament prophecies, the Church would slide into irrelevancy one day. Apostasy is not on the horizon; it is here.

That day is here.

Hal Lindsey was right.

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