Why Israel?


One of the primary concepts of theology, one that many probably do not realize or think about much, is that . . . for us humans, God . . . exists only in the present. We may recall the past and we may plan for the future, but it is in the ‘here and now’ that we will find our connection to God and with each other.
In today’s gospel; we again heard the story of the transfiguration of Christ. We wonder . . . was this a vision of the future or did it actually happen in the present of those times when Jesus walked with his disciples. Jesus warns the disciples not to tell anyone what they saw until after the resurrection. Do you suppose that had they told, that somehow the plan of salvation would have been changed . . . or perhaps ruined for them . . . or for us? We know that the future is not normally revealed by God in great detail, but at the same time we know that it is laid out for those who have eyes to see it.
The transfiguration was given to the core disciples in order to build their faith for what was about to come. They were given a vision of the future showing them what had become of the past and how the future was to be shaped in God’s hand. The specific people who appeared, of Moses and Elijah, were telling. These were the only two prophets in the Old Testament that no one knows what happened to.
Elijah, as you may recall was swept up in a chariot of fire into heaven, never to be seen again. The scripture tells us that he will return as one of two final witnesses in the end days. That is one of the reasons that the people who heard Jesus from the cross calling “Eli, Eli . . .” on the cross assumed he was calling out for Elijah. And that is also, I believe why Jesus did not want anyone to know that Elijah had come in this vision.
Moses, as you may recall, was unable to enter the promised land due to a lost temper while working God’s miracle of cleaving the rock for water. Scripture informs us that he died, but that God himself only knows where his body is. The Kabala (an ancient Jewish mystic book) relays a story that Moses refused to give the angel of death his soul and that God himself came from heaven to collect it. God placed the body of Moses in a special place where it would not see corruption until the day of the resurrection of the dead. Moses, we are told is the second witness who is to come at the end of time.
It is not all that clear that the disciples who witnessed this event were aware of the implications of what the transfiguration meant. But they were as startled as anyone would be if it happened to any of us.
So what does it mean for us in the present? For me it is a significant sign that all is as it should be. It is a sign from the past that links the present with the future work of God and the redemptive plan for all mankind. The fact that Jesus called three men to witness this event is also noteworthy. You may not believe one person who has seen a vision of eternity . . . two people who see a vision might also be untrustworthy as a sympathetic psychosis . . . but for three people to see the same thing and report back has to be either true . . . or . . . a conspiracy; but to what end?
The transfiguration is truly a lamp shining in the darkness as Peter describes. It was given, not for the people of that age, but for you and all others that have followed Jesus into the future holding on to the truth and life of Christ’s church throughout its generations. It was a sign that all was ready . . . all is right . . . and all will be carried out according to the plan of life and salvation.
As you know, I leave for Israel in a few days. This trip has been on my bucket list pretty much my entire life, and it is only by God’s grace that I am able to go at this time. So why Israel you might ask? Why not Rome or London or somewhere more ‘safe’ in the world?
Israel is important to me obviously because it was the birthplace of Jesus, our Lord; but more importantly it is the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity. As you know, Jesus and his apostles were Jewish and that Christianity was an early Jewish sect of Jewish people who came to believe that the messiah had come in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. That, in fact, the apostles and nearly all the early believers could rightly be called ‘fulfilled’ or messianic Jews. This is very important to our understanding of what the nation of Israel and the Jews of our time have to do with the Church in these last days. For believing Jews of the 1st century (that is Christ believers or Christians) were hunted down and tried as blasphemers by the Jewish leadership of the day. And because of this and the fact that the Jewish leadership originally rejected the notion of Jesus as being the Christ, their eyes have been blinded for centuries from the truth.
In today’s epistle Paul explains this phenomenon to the Greeks in Corinth when he explains . . . “But their minds (that is the Jews) were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
But though the veil has been cast in front of the eyes of the Jews for centuries, we know that in the last days, this veil will be lifted when the Jews see their messiah first hand. For though we will see Jesus upon his second coming, the Jews will see him at his coming for the first time. The bible tells us that when the Jews see the marks of the nails in his hands and on his feet, the veil will finally be lifted and all (both Jew and Gentile alike) will finally be of one mind, of one faith and with one Savior.
So why Israel? Israel is at the heart of the gospel and also at the heart of the history of the world. It is here where Abraham offered his only son to God, and it is here Jesus walked and taught, lived and died. And it is here where he will come again – specifically upon the Mount of Olives near the eastern gate of Jerusalem. For this is the prophesy and a certainty that will one day be that upon his second coming, upon the touch of his foot upon the Mount of Olives there will be an earthquake that will divide the mount and out of the midst of the quagmire the gush a spring of the water of life will flow from Jerusalem and will begin to cleanse the polluted land and water of the whole earth thus beginning the millennial reign of Christ on earth. This is the blessed hope of all Christians and it is the reason that Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular is so reverenced in both the old and new testaments.
Today hundreds of thousands of Jewish people and their families are either on their way to Israel or planning to return to Israel . . . soon. Why? For many years now God seems to have been suggesting a way forward for the Jewish people to return, but today for an inexplicable reason, God appears to be demanding his people to come home – as quickly as possible. We knew of course, that this prophesy would one day be fulfilled. But why now? We know that anti-Semitism is on the rise world-wide. We also know that many countries in the world have opened their borders to Islam – Judaism’s fiercest enemy. For this reason and for many others, the Jewish people are leaving the U.S., Europe, Africa, South America and Asia and . . . it is the remnant of the Christian Church who are helping them to escape.
Why the ‘remnant’ of the Christian Church, and not the whole Christian Church. It is because it is only the remnant who has kept the faith and has not strayed – it is only the remnant who remembers and has kept the promise – and it is only the remnant of the Church of God who will be the fulfillment of Christ’s true Church on earth when the time finally comes for it to be taken away.
I would tell you that outside of the witness of the apostles at the coming of Jesus, his ministry his death and resurrection and his transfiguration so long ago, there has never been a time more exciting as this to be alive and to be walking the Christian path of life. You and I are so deeply blessed to be part of this revelation and to be an integral part of the plan of creation. Please pray for my group as we travel to Israel over the next two weeks. Pray also for the Jewish people as they hear and respond to the word to return to the land of their forefathers.
O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.