We are a Christian Fellowship meeting in North London with a strong interest in teaching
the Bible and understanding our time in
the light of Bible prophecy
Israel and the Messiah - which comes first?
Many years ago I worked as a teacher at Hasmonean Grammar School for Boys, an Orthodox
Jewish school in Hendon, north London. Six months ago, one of my former pupils,
a guy called Mike Isaacson, got in touch with me regarding a series he was writing
about the school on his blog (www.melchettmike.wordpress.com) called ‘Hasmo Legends.’
Mike asked me to write something about my time there. I wrote about my recollections
as a believing Christian working in a Jewish school. Mike put my contribution (in
two parts) onto his blog which created some interesting exchanges.
A little while later there was a contribution from another former teacher called
Osher, which sparked a debate on the website about Israel and Zionism. Osher was
an Orthodox Jew and also anti Zionist. An ex pupil who supported him and identified
himself as ‘ex-Hasmo’ wrote, ‘Osher and all like minded frum (religious) Jews dream
of the return to Zion in the days of Moshiach (Messiah). However do not confuse
the filth that currently permeates Israel as the true Zion. Eretz Israel can only
be built on Torah values.’ When challenged what he meant by ‘the filth’ he said
‘I was not referring to people in anyway but to certain aspects of people’s behaviour-
whether it is gay clubs, mixed beaches etc.’
He had a number of indignant responses, including one who wrote, ‘Brother Jew, there
is a thriving country here with tens of thousands learning Torah and living real
Torah values, far more so than can be done by any Jew living anywhere else.’ Another
wrote, ‘Zionism isn’t about supporting governments in Israel. It is about recognizing
the gift that Hashem (God) has given us back - control of the land that He gave us
– a far better state than it was before the second world war.’ Others were a bit
ruder so I will not repeat them here! I posted a comment asking him, ‘If Israel
is not all that it should be, how should / could it be changed? Ahmadinejad’s way
(i.e. through destruction) or the Messiah’s way?’
His reply was, ‘Ideally through the coming of the Messiah but we have to be on a
level to deserve his coming. According to Jewish Tradition, the Messiah can come
by way of two methods. Firstly if we are deserving and secondly if we have sullied
ourselves so much that our only salvation is the coming of the Messiah. The first
way is a way of peace the second way is not. Ideally the coming of the Messiah should
be the former - that we are on a level to deserve his salvation. How could Israel
be changed? It is not Israel that needs to be changed but people’s mindsets. Once
people accept the yoke of Torah and Mitzvos (commandments) this would change the
whole moral standing of the country and it will experience a spiritual lift.’
This discussion raises a number of issues about Israel, Judaism and the Messiah.
Let us look at some of these.
1. Israel is.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was some hostility between Orthodox
Judaism and Zionism. The goal of secular Zionism was to become ‘a nation like all
others.’ This meant that Jewish identity was to be found in a national identity rather
than a religious one. Because of this, many rabbis condemned secular Zionism as an
attempt to destroy the Torah and traditional Judaism. They taught that first the
Messiah has to come and then he will cause the Jews to return to Israel, rebuild
the Temple and create world peace.
The novel by Chaim Potok, ‘The Chosen’ set in New York just after the Second World
War gives a good insight into this conflict within Jewish thinking. It features
the friendship between Reuven Malter, the son of a Zionist activist campaigning for
the Jewish state in Palestine, and Danny, the son of Reb Saunders, a Hassidic rabbi
who vehemently opposes the establishment of a Jewish state before the arrival of
the Messiah. When Reuven’s father makes a speech at a pro-Israel rally that is printed
in the newspapers, Reb Saunders forbids Danny to speak to Reuven, or even mention
his name. Their friendship resumes after the State of Israel is founded in May 1948;
Danny explains to Reuven that Reb Saunders has relented, since the new nation is
"no longer an issue; it's a fact."
The main influence leading to an acceptance of Zionism by most of mainstream Judaism
was Rav (Rabbi) Kook (1865-1935), the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Palestine during the
British Mandate period. He heard the ‘footsteps of the Messiah’ in the modern movement
to re-establish a Jewish state in the land of Israel. He believed that even the
secular Zionist pioneers could be part of a grand Divine process whereby the land
and people of Israel were finally being redeemed from the 2,000-year exile. As Jews
sacrificed themselves for the cause of building up the physical land, they were laying
the groundwork for the ultimate spiritual messianic redemption of world Jewry. He
once commented that the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate was the first step towards
the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin. Today many Orthodox Jews see modern Israel
as ‘the gift God has given us’ as the Jewish state has absorbed Jewish people from
around the world and become the main centre of Jewish learning.
2. Israel should be.
‘Ex-Hasmo’ wrote about the ‘filth’ of modern Israel which he typified by gay bars
and mixed beaches. He says that Israel can only be built on Torah values. However
establishing modern Israel on Torah values is not so easy. When the Jews returned
from the first exile after a relatively short period in Babylon, they were a unified
people who did return to Torah values as we see in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The Temple was rebuilt and the sacrificial system re-instated. Ezra read from the
‘book of the law of Moses’ and explained it to the people and instructed teachers
who were able to ‘give the sense and cause people to understand the reading.’ (Nehemiah
The second restoration of Israel in our time has come from Jewish people being dispersed
around the world over a very long period of time. During this time they were exposed
to a false and persecuting form of Christianity in Europe and at various times discrimination
in the Muslim world. They suffered the holocaust at the hands of the Nazis and an
anti God society under communism in the Soviet Union. Responses to these experiences
vary from ultra Orthodoxy to secular humanism.
As a result there are different views on what should be the foundation of modern
Israel – Torah values or a modern secular state. What we have ended up with a mixture
of both. Often the Orthodox are indignant at the behaviour of the secular and the
secular are indignant at the behaviour of the Orthodox.
‘Ex Hasmo’ calls for people to accept ‘the yoke of Torah’ which would change the
whole moral standing of the country.’ He says, if Israel and Jewish people world-wide
did this then they would deserve the Messiah and he would come by the way of peace.
But many Israelis are disillusioned with religion and have no belief in the coming
of the Messiah. Much of Israel does give the impression of being a country like
any other absorbing influences from the rest of the world. I remember standing in
Tel Aviv bus station with McDonalds on one side, a bookstall with semi pornographic
magazines on the other side and rock music blaring out from another stall, and thinking,
‘This is a country like any other.’
But then there are other things which show that Israel is not a country like any
other. These tie up with the prophecies of the Bible – the restoration of the land
with trees planted on the hills and the deserts blooming, the ancient cities being
repopulated with Jewish people coming from the four corners of the earth, Israel’s
deliverance in wars seeking her destruction. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and other
prophets foretold this happening.
Ezekiel wrote: ‘For I will take you out from among the nations, gather you out of
all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water
on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and
from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you;
I will take out the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you shall
keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to
your fathers; you shall be my people and I will be your God.’ Ezekiel 36.24-28.
Studying passages like this in the Hebrew prophets (Jeremiah 30-31, Ezekiel 36-39,
Joel 2-3, Zechariah 12-14) led a number of Christian Bible scholars in the 19th century
to the conclusion that there would be a return to Zion of the Jewish people in the
last days of this age. Among them was David Baron (1857-1926), who came from Orthodox
Judaism to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. He attended the first Zionist conference
in 1897 and saw there the beginning of the ‘dry bones’ of Ezekiel 37 coming together.
He believed that Israel would first be ‘born of the flesh’ (come into being as a
nation) and then be ‘born of the spirit’ (experience a spiritual rebirth).
In the Gospel of John chapter 3 we see the connection with this passage where Jesus
speaks with Nicodemus, a leader of Israel, about being ‘born of the flesh’ (natural
birth) and being ‘born of the spirit’ (spiritual rebirth). Jeremiah 31.31-34 prophesies
the new covenant through which sin is forgiven and God’s law is written on our hearts.
In the New Testament we see how we can receive this spiritual through the new covenant.
According to David Baron the spiritual rebirth of Israel would come through repentance
and faith in Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, not through a return to ‘Torah observance’.
Today there are Jewish believers (Messianic Jews) living in Israel who have come
to know God through faith in Yeshua. They are often rejected and may face persecution
for their faith, but they have the witness in their hearts that they are walking
in the truth.
3. Israel should not be.
According to Zechariah 12-14 the spiritual rebirth of Israel would follow a time
of trouble and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Jewish people leading to a
recognition of one who has been ‘pierced’ as the ‘only Son’. Messianic Jews identify
this one with Yeshua, Jesus, as the Messiah, who would return to the Mount of Olives,
just outside of Jerusalem and begin His reign on the earth.
Interestingly ‘Ex-Hasmo’ wrote about two possibilities for the coming of the Messiah
– either he comes to a deserving people or he comes at a time when ‘we have sullied
ourselves so much that our only salvation is the coming of the Messiah.’ The second
alternative would presumably be a coming in conditions of catastrophe. The possibility
of catastrophe in relation to modern Israel is clear to all.
Restoring Israel in our time meant establishing a Jewish state in the Islamic Middle
East. As far as Muslims are concerned this land is the Dar al Islam (house of Islam)
and should remain so until the end of time. In the ‘Dar al Islam’ Jews and Christians
should be ‘dhimmis’ (protected / subject) people who may have their communities but
should be subject to Islamic rule. Israel’s victories over Arab armies in 1948 and
1967 and particularly its occupation of the Old City of Jerusalem goes against this
Islamic world view. With Islam resurgent and influential throughout the world, Israel
has faced continual hostility from its neighbours and continues to do so.
The radical Islamic forces of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas make no secret of their desire
to make an end of the Jewish state. Today the big issue facing Israel is what to
do about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. There are two bad options – bomb Iran’s nuclear
facilities and risk sparking a massive conflict in the Middle East or allow Iran
to continue to work towards nuclear weapons and face the possibility of being targeted
by them. Ephraim Sneh, Israel's deputy defense minister until 2007, said Israel will
attack Iran's nuclear facilities before the end of the year if the West has not launched
an attempt to destroy the regime with crippling sanctions. (Jerusalem Post 17/9/09).
In this case there is no doubt that Iran would counter attack.
At the same time Israel is being pushed by the UN, EU, USA and Russia to accept a
‘land for peace’ deal with the Palestinians which would mean re-dividing Jerusalem
and facing the possibility of having a hostile Palestinian state within a stone’s
throw of Israeli populated areas. On 27/4/09 Jordan’s King Abdullah II declared that
Israel faces all-out war within 18 months if it does not come to terms with the Arab
world and allow the establishment of a new Palestinian state with its capital in
Jerusalem. However when he was in London on 25/8/09 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
stated that ‘United Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jews’ and that Israel
will not accept to relinquish its sovereignty over the city. This points to an
apparently irreconcilable position between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world over
According to the Bible prophecies the last days’ restoration of Israel will be accompanied
by a time of unique trouble, described in Jeremiah 30.7 as ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble,
but he shall be saved out of it.’ A number of biblical passages of the last days
speak of a time of trouble. In Psalm 83, Ezekiel 38-9 and Zechariah 12-14 speak
of a widening circle of nations coming against Israel, but God saving Israel until
the coming again of the Messiah who will stand on the Mount of Olives and defeat
4. Israel will be.
In Jeremiah 30.11 God says: ‘For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to save you; though
I make a full end of all the nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make
a full end of you. But I will correct you in justice and not let you go altogether
unpunished.’ God promises to save, but also to correct Israel. What will he correct
in Israel? Its secular state and gay bars and mixed beaches? Its conflicts between
different branches of Judaism? Its relations with the Palestinian Arabs? Or the
long held rejection of Yeshua, Jesus as the Messiah?
In Zechariah 12.10 we read about Israel in the last days of the time of trouble as
the nations come against Jerusalem: ‘And I will pour on the house of David and on
the inhabitants of Jerusalem the spirit of grace and supplication; then they will
look on Me whom they have pierced. Yes they will mourn for Him as one mourns for
His only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.’
The Holy Spirit is poured out and causes a recognition of Yeshua, Jesus, as the pierced
one, the Messiah who has come once as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and is
now coming again to judge the world in righteousness. Jesus spoke of this coming
event when He said to Jerusalem, ‘You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed
is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’
(Matthew 23.39). This is the greeting for the coming of the Messiah and means that
Jesus will be welcomed as the Messiah by His Jewish people at His return.
Zechariah 14 goes on to describe the Messiah coming to stand on the Mount of Olives,
just outside Jerusalem, the same place Jesus ascended into heaven from according
to Acts 1. Then He will rule the restored earth from Zion fulfilling the words of
Isaiah 2.1-4. ‘Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of
the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted
above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in
His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from
Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people. They shall
beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation
shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah
Israel will be at peace and the centre of world government of the Messiah during
the Millennium / Messianic Age. The question God wants Israel and the whole world
to answer now is ‘Who is the Messiah?’ Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah who has come to
fulfil the prophecies of the Suffering Servant and who is coming soon to fulfil the
prophecies of the Reigning King.