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2023 MIDDLE EAST WAR – AN OVERVIEW RESPONSE OF A CHRIST FOLLOWER

This is an unreferenced overview of a longer summary of my response.

How do we/should we respond to the horror of what happened on 7 October 2023 (10/7) in southern Israel and now the war in Gaza and other Palestinian areas?

I respond consciously as a follower of Jesus, from his worldview of God’s kingdom come in his ministry, death, and resurrection. In offering this guidance to think through and respond to the Middle East crisis, I don’t speak for any church, denomination, or organisation.

Our first response as followers of Jesus is to weep and lament.

Soon after 10/7, people began asking me for my response. I repeatedly said, “Jesus wept.” Why? This shortest verse in the Bible shows Jesus weeping with those who weep in the pain and loss of death. The Middle East crisis is very emotional and divisive. We first turn to God and lament the evil that has taken place, weeping with all who weep, processing emotions. We lament for humanitarian reasons: each life is sacred. Lament is the power of prayer that protests in the courts of heaven, invoking God’s justice and salvation. We leave judgement to God, The Judge of all, including the spiritual powers that drive the conflict.  

We cannot keep silent – but we must speak from silence.

We cannot and must not keep silent in the face of the evil that has taken place. It must be condemned. But, we must speak from the silence of listening, learning from all sides of the conflict to discern truth. Then, when we speak, we echo silence, and people hear truth. The divisive nature of this war clouds how we see and hear. Words and names trigger us to label people ‘for’ or ‘against’ to secure our existing narrative. We must sift the information, video clips, disinformation, and propaganda, to distinguish truth from the political ideologies and legitimizing theologies at work – the spiritual powers that condition our thinking.

Give disclaimers – define terms, draw distinctions and degrees.

A responsible response requires disclaimers, defining terms and making distinctions. Truth is the first causality of war. Thus, we give disclaimers like “to the degree this has been fact-checked and verified as true…” To be nuanced is not being ‘neutrally balanced’ or ‘politically correct’, it’s to account for our assumptions. So, we define the ideologies and theologies behind the conflict, and distinguish between key ideas and groups, such as: Jihadist Islam and moderate Muslims; Hamas and Palestinians; Judaism and Zionism; Israelis and the Israeli government; anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism (my summary paper has the details). By conflating/equating these, we stereotype ‘the other’ and treat them accordingly.

Resist the pressure to take sides – side with truth, justice, peace-making.

The pressure to take sides has split the world into pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel. It’s not a matter of, “are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13-14), but are we on God’s side? To side with God in the conflict is to side with truth and justice, as Jesus said, seek first God’s kingdom and his justice. We oppose injustice no matter who perpetrates it. Morality cuts both ways. Jesus and the prophets were not neutral regarding truth and error, right and wrong. What Hamas did on 10/7 was evil. For Palestinians, Israel’s destruction of Gaza to exterminate Hamas is genocidal collective punishment. So, in siding with God, Jesus taught his followers to hunger for justice, make peace, reconcile relationships, transcend “an eye for an eye” by non-violent resistance of evil, as in doing good and loving one’s enemies.

Discern the powers behind – the justifying ideologies and theological legitimizations.

Holy War? Just War? Or Non-violence? We must define and distinguish between these three traditional theologies to see how each side uses them to legitimize what they’re doing. For Hamas, it’s holy war to exterminate Israel. Israel uses just war to legitimize their actions to destroy Hamas. When Israel’s Netanyahu compares Hamas to the “Amalekites”, he invokes Old Testament holy war. Many Christians support Israel on a just war (even holy war) basis. Jesus ended Old Testament holy war in his sacrificial death to defeat evil. He renounced violence, the Law of Just Retaliation (“an eye for an eye”, Matthew 5:38-42), as a means of settling conflict. Jesus lived and taught self-sacrificing non-violence to defeat evil, bringing his reconciling kingdom into places of pain, division, and conflict.     

Liberation Theology. A political theology that uses fixed Marxist categories of social analysis to legitimize the liberation of the oppressed, with a ‘just revolution’ to overthrow the oppressor – by force if necessary. To the degree it is used to legitimize the Palestinian struggle for justice with the use of violence, it serves the ideological powers of Hamas.

Dispensationalist Theology – Christian and Jewish Zionism. Many evangelical Christians support Israel from an underlying dispensationalist theology: God deals with humanity in dispensations, first Israel, then the church, then Israel in the end-times. This gave birth to Christian Zionism, which preceded Jewish Zionism, the ethno-nationalist ideology behind the establishment of Israel in 1948. This theology teaches two people of God in two covenants with two destinies. Jews are God’s chosen people of the Abrahamic covenant with the destiny of the land. Christians are the church of Jesus’ new covenant with a heavenly destiny, raptured into heaven before the Anti-Christ and the tribulation. So, for Christian Zionists, Israel is key to God’s purposes: every event that happens in the Middle East is interpreted as end-time fulfilment of unfulfilled prophecies. The result is uncritical support for Israel and Netanyahu’s far-right Zionist coalition. They label those who don’t support Israel, “replacement theology” Christians – anti-Semites. Besides misinterpreting scripture, it demands loyalty to Israel, giving no room for nuance or critical engagement. That’s a sure sign, among others, of dispensationalist Zionism being in service of ideological power.

So-called Replacement Theology. Traditional theology doesn’t use “replacement”. Christian Zionists use it of their critics, saying Reformed covenant theology teaches the church has replaced/superseded Israel as God’s people. The New Testament uses “fulfilment” in Christ. Paul warned Gentile Christians not to be arrogant regarding Jews, thinking they’ve replaced Israel, calling Jews “Christ-killers”, etc. It’s anti-Semitism, the seeds of the Jewish holocaust. To the degree such ideas are used by Christians to criticise or reject Israel, and/or to support the Palestinian cause, it’s in service of the ideological powers that divide and rule.

Jesus and Apostolic Kingdom Theology

Traditional covenant theology teaches one people of God in one covenant with one destiny, fulfilled in Messiah. “Covenant” is a subset of “kingdom of God”, which was Jesus’ mission of fulfilment and lens of interpretation. He didn’t abolish (replace) Torah and the Prophets but fulfilled them (Matthew 5:17). He fulfilled ALL God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20), including the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants in the “new covenant” of his kingdom, sealed in his blood. It redefined the people, land, city, and temple, transcending the territorial faith of Judaism. God’s people are all who believe the gospel of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. They are Abraham’s children, heirs of the promises. Circumcision is of the heart, not the flesh. Unbelieving Jews are distinguished from believing Israel: they’re cut off and Gentile believers are joined to believing Israel. There will be a revival of ethnic Jews at the end of the age when all Israel will be saved. But that doesn’t imply return to the land. The holy land is God’s kingdom come in Jesus, with the inheritance of the nations, the earth. The temple and its sacrificial system, which ended in AD 70 as Jesus predicted, was his body and ministry of the kingdom. God’s Jewish-Gentile people, the church, is now the temple in which he dwells. The city is transcended in the heavenly Jerusalem, “mother” of believers, while “present Jerusalem is in slavery (to sin) with her children” (Galatians 4:24-26, Revelation 11:8, 21:2).        

The church doesn’t replace Israel but fulfils her calling and destiny in Messiah Jesus. We recognise modern Israel’s right of existence as restorative justice after a long history of suffering injustice. We don’t see Israel as the fulfilment of unfulfilled promises, but evaluate her on the basis of justice, as we do all nations. The only way (politically) to guarantee peace and security for Israel is to also guarantee peace and equality for Palestinians. Thus, we support a negotiated two-state solution, each within agreed secure borders.

Conclusion: Defeat the powers – be God’s people, be peacemakers.

Peace-making. To be God’s people is to be peacemakers, intervening in non-violent ways to break the cycle of violence, seeking a negotiated peace based on (relative) justice.

Presence. Peace-making is bodily presence. If Israeli and Palestinian believers crossed the divide, the wall of hostility that Jesus destroyed in the cross, they could repent, reconcile, and unite as Christ’s one Body in the land. They would then have authority in real terms to intervene to make peace, and thousands of international believers would join them.  

Praying. We make peace by prayer and intercession, our most powerful weapon of warfare to defeat the powers behind, because we address the sovereign God, ruler of the nations.

Prophesying. We do peace-making by proclaiming the good news of the Prince of Peace. And by speaking truth to power, fearlessly challenging injustices on both sides of the divide.

Protesting. We do peace-making by public protest, as and when required. Like Jesus and the prophets, we act out the truth we speak as and when needed for all to hear. Discernment is needed when it comes to public protests, so that we’re not in service of ideological powers.

May the Lord have mercy and bring shalom to Palestine and Israel.

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2023 MIDDLE EAST WAR – A SUMMARY RESPONSE OF A CHRIST FOLLOWER

ABSTRACT (brief description of this paper, which is an expansion of my overview):

How do we/should we respond to what happened on October 7 (10/7) and the war that has followed? Process it emotionally. Examine what happened, including the context and causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sift the tsunami of information, disinformation, fake news, and propaganda, discerning truth by listening to all sides. Discern the underlying ideologies and legitimising theologies, the ‘powers behind’ that form the thinking, speaking, acting. Resist the pressure to take sides, pro-Jewish-Israeli or pro-Palestinian-Hamas. We side with Jesus – the mind of Christ – applied to the crisis. Hence, this is an exercise in biblical social and political ethics: we evaluate and decide based on truth and justice, which morally cuts both ways. We don’t decide based on prophecy: modern Israel is the fulfilment of unfulfilled promises, with the implications that follow. Rather, we challenge legitimising theologies and ethics of war with the teachings of Jesus and his apostles, with their interpretation of Israel, prophecy, the land, temple, city, and the end-times. The resulting response is Jesus’ call to be peacemakers and reconcilers who bring God’s kingdom into the crisis, thereby defeating the spiritual-political powers that ‘divide and rule’. Christ followers respond with/by the power of the gospel of God’s kingdom come in Messiah Jesus, the Prince of Peace, or the lack thereof, depending on the degree of our ideological capture to either side. This paper is a summary of a comprehensive referenced manuscript.

OUTLINE:

Weep – lament before God.
Don’t remain silent – but speak from silence.
Give disclaimers – define terms, draw distinctions and degrees.
Don’t be pressured into taking sides – side with truth, justice, peace-making.
Discern the powers behind – the justifying ideologies and legitimizing theologies.
Holy War? Just War? Or Non-violence?
Liberation Theology.
Dispensational Theology – Christian and Jewish Zionism.
Replacement theology.
Jesus’ kingdom theology and the apostles’ interpretation.
Conclusion – Be God’s people, be peacemakers.

INTRODUCTION

I respond to the horror of 10/7 (7 October 2023) and its destructive aftermath as a follower of Christ (meaning Messiah/King). Jesus’ worldview of God’s kingdom come in his ministry, death, and resurrection, is my reference. I offer this summary as guidance to think through the Middle East crisis. I don’t speak for any church, denomination, or organization.

Soon after 10/7, people began asking me for my response. I repeatedly said, “Jesus wept.” Why? The context of this shortest verse in the Bible (John 11:35) is human death and grief. Jesus, as a man, weeps with all who weep in the pain and loss of death. But he gives hope, bringing reconciliation and resurrection out of the darkness and devastation of death for those who believe, seen in the story of John 11.

OUR FIRST RESPONSE AS FOLLOWERS OF JESUS IS TO WEEP AND LAMENT

What happened on 10/7 and what has followed is horrific. It’s very emotional. If we don’t process our feelings, we explode over others or implode within ourselves. So, we first turn to God and weep with the victims of such evil. We lament for humanitarian reasons because every life that is lost is sacred. Every person killed is made in God’s image, precious to God, precious to a mother, a father, a family. God, in Christ, weeps with those who weep.

Lament is the power of prayer that protests in the courts of heaven, invoking God’s justice and salvation. The Judge of every person, nation, and spiritual power (Psalm 82), will avenge perpetrators and vindicate victims (Deuteronomy 32:35-36). Paul says, don’t take revenge, but to “leave room for God’s wrath… it is mine to avenge” (Romans 12:19).

WE CANNOT KEEP SILENT – BUT WE MUST SPEAK FROM SILENCE

When Hitler invaded Poland, a reporter said, “he ripped the lid off hell”. Hamas did it again on 10/7 when they massacred Israelis and took hostages. Hell has broken out in Gaza, in its death and destruction at the hands of Israel going after Hamas. We cannot keep silent – either way. Evil is not selective. Neither can we be. But, we must speak from the silence of listening, learning, discerning… truth. Then, when we speak, we echo silence. Not selective righteous anger. Nor hateful vengeance. But truth. I could only respond with more words than “Jesus wept” after weeks of prayerful processing of my emotions and thoughts, listening, and learning from all sides of the conflict, discerning truth.

The emotive nature of this war and the divisive views of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, clouds how we see and hear. Words, names, news outlets, etc, trigger us to label people “for” or “against”, then we hear what they say via that label. Or we switch off (please read this entire paper before deciding). In so doing, we secure our narrative and reinforce our prejudice: “don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up”. Our views are formed by valid information, disinformation, and propaganda, on divided sides of social identities, political ideologies, and legitimizing theologies. They are the “the powers behind” that the Bible speaks of – to be discerned, challenged, and defeated. They condition us into group thinking and loyalty, blinding us to truth, to reality on the other side. The first casualty of any war is truth. Everything must be fact checked and verified. To discern truth, we hear all sides, establish facts, and examine underlying justifications – political and theological. Truth is inconvenient, but it sets us free (John 8:31-32). We follow truth over tribe.

GIVE DISCLAIMERS – DEFINE TERMS, DRAW DISTINCTIONS AND DEGREES

Memes, short statements, and Bible verses don’t do justice to the complexity of the war and its causes. There is so much ‘static’, mixed truth, and bias when sifting through all the news, video clips, views of experts, etc. Thus, a responsible response requires disclaimers, defining terms and making distinctions. To be nuanced is not to be ‘neutrally balanced’ nor ‘politically correct’. It is to use words precisely, accounting for our assumptions and reasoning.

For example, ideologies are sets of ideas and beliefs (political, economic, cultural, religious) that give group identity by rationalising and legitimizing group interests, over against other groups. When group interests clash, ideological war begins, leading to material conflict if a just peace is not negotiated. Signs of ideological conditioning and capture are conformity to group thinking, divisive solidarity, irrational defensiveness, rigid prejudice, and the violence that erupts. People and public protests that use violence to make their point reveal their ideology is a spiritual power. Ideologies are ‘isms’ (Marxism, Nazism) that become totalitarian if not confronted by truth and justice (as the Hebrew prophets did). They are “the gods” that God judges (Psalm 82), “the rulers and authorities” (Ephesians 6:12) behind nationalist political, economic, cultural, and religious systems. The battle is not against “flesh and blood”, but against the evil spiritual forces that use systems and the people within them.

Religious theologies (Jewish, Christian, Islamic) can legitimise socio-political ideology and racist-national identity. White Christian Nationalist theology undergirded Apartheid in South Africa. It was unbiblical, heretical, evil. Theologies can kill. History shows ideological powers rise and fall. Sooner or later, God judges and disciplines them. The same applies to the Middle East war: what are the powers that drive each side? Christ followers must discern ideological powers and their legitimizing theologies and defeat them. To the degree we’re conditioned by them and under their power, we fail to recognise them. We only discover that in the ‘dialogue of opposites’, seeing reality from the other side of the divide. We must decisively break with ‘the powers’ to prophesy to them, to enforce the defeat they’ve already suffered at the nail-pierced hands of Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-16, Colossians 2:15).

To do this we must also draw distinctions, as in distinguishing between Islam, Muslims, and jihad. What drives Hamas is jihadist ideology. They exist to irradicate Israel as their charter states – seen in their 10/7 attack. They’re part of fundamentalist militant Islam in contrast to moderate Muslims. By conflating them, we treat all Muslims as evil, feeding Islamic phobia and hatred. Hamas is the political organisation representing Palestinians, but only in Gaza. Not all Palestinians are, or support, Hamas. Some Palestinians are Christians, to whom we must listen, and learn from their experience in Palestinian territories.          

We must distinguish between Judaism, Israel, and Zionism. The ideology behind the state of Israel is Jewish Zionism, the founding ethno-nationalist ideology of modern Israel. Christian Zionism legitimizes it, teaching modern Israel is the fulfilment of unfulfilled prophecy (more below). Biblical Israel was a theocracy; modern Israel is a liberal democracy. Ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t recognise the modern state of Israel, saying Torah teaches God exiled Israel in AD 70 and only Messiah can re-establish Israel as a theocratic state. They reject Zionism and oppose Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian territories. To be anti-Zionist is not to reject Israel’s right to exist, but to be critical of Israel’s governing ideology. That does not mean you’re anti-Semitic, which is racism, discrimination against Jews because they are Jews, which led to Hitler’s holocaust of 6 million Jews. Also, you can disagree with aspects of the Jewish faith (which some call anti-Judaism) without being anti-Semitic.

We must also distinguish Jews (ethnicity, 15 mil. worldwide) and Israelis (citizens, 7 mil. Jews and 2 mil. Arabs). Israel is divided. Half of Israelis (in Peace Now and Democratic Movement for Change) oppose Netanyahu and his far-right coalition of religious Zionists. They have reduced the powers of the Supreme Court so they can appoint their own judges and build more illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied territories – a means of ethnic cleansing. Again, it’s not anti-Semitic to be critical of Israel’s government for unjust policies. In fact, it’s loving Israel to speak truth to power, as Hebrew prophets did (and were killed). Jewish critics of Zionism and Israel’s government (like Noah Harari, Gideon Levy, Gabor Mate, Norman Finkelstein, Ilan Pappe, etc), are called “left wing socialists”. Jews who label them “anti-Semites” because they examine the context and causes of the conflict, and mourn the death of Israelis and Palestinians, reveal their Zionist ideological capture.   

If we don’t define words, draw distinctions, and recognise nuances, we conflate/equate the concepts. We generalise and stereotype ‘the other’, labelling and treating them accordingly. That further blinds us, reinforcing our existing ideological conditioning and prejudice.    

RESIST THE PRESSURE TO TAKE SIDES – SIDE WITH TRUTH, JUSTICE, PEACE-MAKING

The pressure to take sides is enormous, either way. Legitimizing theologies enable groups to claim God is on their side. If you don’t side with them, you’re against God. If God is on our side, we can kill our enemies in his name, believing they are God’s enemies.

Joshua asked a man with a drawn sword, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” The man replied, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence (Joshua 5:13-14). So, the question is, are we on God’s side? Taking God’s side is to let God be God, not playing God. It means siding with (God’s) truth and justice. This is exactly what King Jesus said, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his justice” (righteousness, Matthew 6:33). Then God will act and provide – trust him.  

If you’re not “pro-Palestinian”, you’re labelled “pro-Israel”, and vice versa. The pressure to take sides does not allow for nuances, only condemnation of ‘the other’, which feeds hateful divisions. Then you can’t speak truth to ‘the powers’ on your side: you become a court prophet blessing and legitimizing them. To side with God is to oppose wrongdoing, not matter on which side it is. We don’t have to justify which is the greater evil so that we can take the ‘better side’. Neither do we have to equate ‘the one is as bad as the other’ (moral equivalence) to be ‘neutral’ or ‘balanced’. Evil is evil, sin is sin, no matter the degree or agency. Morality cuts both ways. The Hebrew prophets, including Jesus, were not neutral or balanced when it came to truth and error, right and wrong, good and evil.  

We condemn Hamas for their barbarous 10/7 massacre of 1400 Israelis, taking 240 hostages (including women and children). We can list all their atrocities, to the degree they’ve been verified as factual. However Hamas justifies them, it is evil. Jesus wept. And we condemn Israel’s destruction of Gaza, displacing 1.9 million, killing 21,672 (70% are women and children), with over 7000 missing under rubble, and over 56,000 injured (as of 29 December 2023). To the degree these are verified as factual, the justifications by the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) don’t make it (morally) right: “In our right to exterminate Hamas we warned everyone to leave. They are unfortunate collateral damage of human shields for us to destroy Hamas in tunnels under civilian buildings. Hamas is to blame”. For the Palestinians in Gaza, it’s genocidal collective punishment. They’ve lost everything. Jesus wept.

It’s demonic to use a child as a human shield. It’s also demonic to bomb a child to kill a killer – killing a child, on average, every 15 minutes. And to smash a child’s skull in a kibbutz, or by bombs in Gaza, moves one beyond good and evil into the rule of gods and demons. Their “blood cries out to God from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). Crying out to God for justice is a biblical theme. God always hears and answers, sooner or later (Exodus 22:21-24). Jesus said, “Will not God bring about justice for those who cry out to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7).

To “seek first” God’s rule of righteousness is to side with truth and justice in any situation, to intervene to make peace, to reconcile, heal, and restore. Whenever I hear, “Pray for Israel”, I say, “YES, but pray also for Palestinians”. Because people are dying, hatred is deepening, and we’re called to be peacemakers – like Jesus. Applying his teachings to his Jewish followers in the context of brutal Roman occupation, we learn his response (a sample from Matthew 5):

  • “Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth” (5). Not just ‘the land’, Psalm 37:11.
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (righteousness), for they will be filled” (6). The cries for justice from both sides of the divide – God is The Judge of all.
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, they will be called children of God” (9). They express God’s nature/character, whose Son reconciles human relationships with God and each other. Hebrew shalom (peace) is God’s wellbeing based on right relationships.
  • “You’ve heard it said, ‘Do not murder’; but I say, if you’re angry with your brother or sister, you are subject to judgement… go and reconcile with them” (21-24). Unresolved anger leads to hatred and name-calling which murders dignity long before the body.
  • “You’ve heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’; but I say, don’t resist an evil person” (38-42). Jesus teaches ways of response that don’t damage the person in return. If we follow theLaw of Just Retaliation (Exodus 21:24-25) we will all become blind and toothless, unable to see how to respond in non-violent ways that defeat the evil behind the perpetrator(s). We will then take a head for an eye, a body for a tooth, which is happening. And evil triumphs. Distinguish between people (God loves) and the evil (God hates) that works through them and the systems they create.
  • “You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’; but I say, love your enemy and pray for them…” (43-47). Strict Pharisees, Zealots, and Essenes taught love of “neighbour” as your own kind (Jews) and hatred of “enemy” as the other (Romans). Israeli right-wing religious parties and Jewish settlers do the same today. Jesus defined “neighbour” as anyone in need, even your enemy (Samaritans, Luke 10:29-37). Jesus’ “love your enemy” was from Torah: “Do not hate… love your neighbour… the foreigner among you” (Leviticus 19:17-18, 34; Exodus 23:4-5, Proverbs 25:21-22). This was the governing law in Israel as witness to the nations of God’s rule. Christ-followers must continue to live this ethic as witness to a world divided by enmity – Jesus offers peace and reconciliation based on (his) justice. How can this become a political ethic?

DISCERN THE POWERS BEHIND – THE JUSTIFYING IDEOLOGIES AND THEOLOGICAL LEGITIMISATIONS

We all think, speak, and act based on underlying ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. They must be examined and evaluated (our justifying ideologies and legitimising theologies) to decide on a biblical-ethical response to the Middle East crisis. We look at theology and violence, Liberation Theology, Christian Zionism, Replacement Theology, and Jesus and his apostles’ teaching on Israel, prophecy, the land, temple, city, and the end-times. Essentially, it’s about how we interpret scripture. I can only give very brief explanations in this summary.  

Holy War? Or Just War? Or Non-violence?

These are the three traditional views on the use of violence. There is also violence that does not justify itself as either just or holy. We must define and distinguish them to know how they’re used to legitimise what has happened and continues to happen.

Holy war is an ideology of death motivated by a religious cause. We can kill others in God’s name because our enemies are God’s enemies. To the degree this theology drives groups to violence against civilians, they are terrorists by modern international law. Holy war in Islam is jihad (Arabic), meaning ‘struggle’ against ungodliness in oneself and others (moderate Islam). Using violence to ‘struggle’ against Allah’s enemies is radical Islam (e.g., Hamas). They shout Allah Akbar, “God is great”, as they murder enemies. Holy war theology in the Old Testament (OT) ended in Jesus’ war against evil by self-sacrifice, which defeated ‘the powers’ on the cross. He renounced violence to achieve that end. Christians have also used holy war theology at times, e.g., to legitimise the 11th century Crusades.

Just war is a political-ethical theory seeded by Aristotle (4th cen. BC) and developed by Augustine (5th cen. AD Christian theologian). It took the ancient Lex Telionis, Law of Just Retaliation, “eye for eye, tooth for tooth”, to a new level: the right of self-defence to conduct war under certain agreed conditions. But only “as a last resort”, after all non-violent ways have failed. In Israel’s right to self-defence, Netanyahu and his government justify the IDF operations in Gaza to “exterminate” Hamas as just war. However, he compares Hamas and Iran to the “Amalekites”, invoking holy war (1 Samuel 15:2-3). Commentators cite IDF violations of international law with Gaza reduced to a human catastrophe. Many Christians use just war to support Israel. Some use holy war, as in Netanyahu’s “Amalekites”. As we have seen, Jesus rejected the Lex Telionis, transcending it in the law of love.

Non-violence (also called pacifism) is the use of peaceful means, not force, to bring about socio-political change. Violence only begets more violence. Killing is the problem, not the solution. Non-violence pursues negotiation for peace-making based on justice. Most peace treaties in history were based on compromise, on relative justice. Pursuit of absolute justice perpetuates conflict indefinitely. Jesus taught and lived non-violence through self-sacrifice, as the means to defeat evil. He taught his followers the same: lay down your life, don’t take up the sword or you will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52). Tertullian (2nd cen. theologian), famously said, “The Lord in disarming Peter, thenceforth unbelted every soldier”. Christians did not serve in the Roman army for the first two centuries after Christ.         

Liberation Theology

This theology turns the biblical theme of liberation into a socio-political ethic of activism for the oppressed. A novelty in church history, it began in Latin America in mid to late 1960s via Catholic theologian, Gustavo Gutiérrez, among others. They used the Marxist categories of social analysis, “oppressor” and “oppressed”: God takes the side of the oppressed to liberate them from the structural sin and systemic evil of the oppressor, by violent ‘just revolution’ if necessary. This legitimized revolutions in Latin America and elsewhere. The Catholic Church (Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI) rejected the ideological framework of Liberation Theology while affirming the wholistic (biblical) liberation of God’s kingdom come in Jesus Christ. Palestinian Christians are now a small minority, but to the degree Liberation Theology is employed to legitimize their struggle for justice, with the use of violence to free Palestine, it serves ideological powers – as in Hamas and Hezbollah.

Dispensationalist Theology – Christian and Jewish Zionism

Christians, generally, sympathise with Jews. They are against anti-Semitism, which is racism. They support Israel as a Jewish homeland in her right to a secure existence, as justice after a long history of suffering. While affirming the recovery of the Jewish roots of our faith, they don’t interpret the political developments in Israel as fulfilment of end-time prophecy. They evaluate what happens based on justice, having the same concern for Palestinians, who’ve also suffered since the conflict began. Thus, the only way (politically) to guarantee peace and security for Israel is to also guarantee peace and equality for Palestinians. So, they would, generally, support a negotiated two-state solution, each within secure borders.

Some evangelicals (Pentecostals/charismatics included) support Israel as the fulfilment of unfulfilled promises: modern Israel, founded in 1948, is key to God’s purposes being fulfilled for Christ’s return. That means supporting Israel as God’s chosen people and nation. If we don’t, we’re against God’s purposes and are (seen as) anti-Semitic. Underlying this ‘Israel theology’ is dispensationalism, which began in the 1830s. John Darby, an Anglo-Irish leader in the Plymouth Brethren, taught dispensationalism from his interpretation of Daniel’s final ‘week’ (seven years) in 9:24-27. He was inspired by Margret MacDonald’s vision (1828) of Christians raptured into heaven before the Second Coming. A pre-tribulation rapture must take place before the Anti-Christ rules for seven years, then Jesus will return to Jerusalem to establish his millennial kingdom. God deals with humanity in dispensations: in short, the dispensation of Israel up to Christ’s first coming, then the church dispensation from Christ to the rapture, then back to Israel for the last seven years and into the millennium.

This theology was unknown in church history before Darby. It spread through the Scofield Reference Bible. Most reputable evangelical scholars rejected it as unbiblical. It birthed Christian Zionism, which preceded and supported Jewish Zionism in the late 1800s. Jews must return to Palestine to (re)build their homeland for God’s end-time purposes to be fulfilled. Zionist politicians in Britain motivated the Balfour Declaration in 1917, for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people… it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. That was achieved in 1948, but it led to the ongoing conflict. The history of the conflict is painful and complex – Jewish and Palestinian versions of the history are worlds apart. There are facts of history, interpretations of the facts, and ideological revisions of history. Facts and truth can be – and are – known.

Christian Zionism teaches two people of God: Israel and the church. Each has their covenant and destiny. Israel has the Abrahamic covenant for an earthly destiny: the holy land and the millennial kingdom. The church as the “new covenant” for a spiritual destiny: the rapture and ruling from heaven. The Abrahamic covenant is eternal: possess the land God promised in Genesis 15:18-21. If we bless Israel (Abraham’s seed, Genesis 12:3), God will bless us. If we oppose Israel, God will curse us. The prophecies of Israel’s return to the land are applied partially to the first exile (5th/4th BC) and fully to modern Israel, bypassing Jesus and the New Testament (NT) interpretation of the promises. God turned back to his chosen people in 1948, marking “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”, more so in 1967 when Jerusalem was liberated from Gentile control (Luke 21:24). That’s when “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). Hence, some leading dispensationalists said the rapture would take place in 1988, a generation after 1948. Then it was revised to 2007, 40 years after 1967. Other dates that were predicted have come and gone. No rapture, no Anti-Christ.

The fruit of Christian Zionism is, a) finding end-time prophetic fulfilment in every event that happens in the Middle East; b) uncritical support for Israel and the present government with its ethno-nationalist-religious Zionist ideology; and c) labelling Christians who don’t support Israel as “replacement theology” Christians – in other words, anti-Semites.

A full study is needed to do justice to dispensational Christian Zionism. But, beside misinterpreting scripture, it leaves no room for nuanced critical support of Israel, demanding loyalty – a sure sign that it’s in the service of ideological power.

So-called Replacement Theology and traditional Covenant Theology

I say “so-called”, as traditional theology doesn’t use “replacement” of Israel. Christian Zionists use it (and “supersessionism”) of their critics, saying Reformed covenant theology teaches that the church has replaced/superseded Israel as God’s chosen people. “Replace” and “supersede” are not in the Bible and reputable evangelical scholars don’t use them. They use the NT “fulfilment” of God’s promises in King Jesus (more below). This is different to both replacement theology and Christian Zionism – though my personal experience is that Christian Zionists only hear “replacement” when one talks of “fulfilment”.

However, we humbly acknowledge there has been ‘crossover’ in traditional theology from respect for ethnic Jews and biblical Israel, to arrogance and presumption, even labelling Jews “Christ-killers”. Paul warned Gentile believers against such attitudes of “conceit”: God joined us to believing Israel, not the other way round – we’ve not replaced Jews (Romans 11:17-21). If we believe that God abandoned the promises made to the Jews and replaced Israel with the church as his chosen people, we develop anti-Semitic attitudes that lead to acts of racism. For example, Martin Luther’s ‘anti-Judaism’ attitude (critical of Judaism, seeking to convert Jews to Christ) in later years crossed into anti-Semitism. He made it racial against “the Jews” in his treatise, On the Jews and their Lies. This treatise is seen historically as the seeds of the German Lutheran church’s support for the Shoah (Jewish holocaust).

Thus, to the degree Christians use replacement theology to criticize or reject Israel, and/or support the Palestinian cause, it is in service of the ideological powers that divide and rule. We must distinguish between this kind of replacement theology and covenant theology that teaches there has always been only one people of God, in one covenant, with one destiny. The biblical covenants were added to and fulfilled in subsequent covenants: the Abrahamic covenant (people and land), in the Mosaic covenant (Torah and temple), in the Davidic covenant (Messianic Son), and in the promised “new covenant” of Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36. They’re all fulfilled in/by Messiah Jesus in his ministry, death, and resurrection, with the destiny of God’s eternal kingdom, where God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. Jesus taught his followers to pray and live that reality of Kingdom come (Matthew 6:10).

JESUS AND APOSTOLIC THEOLOGY

“Covenant” is part of the biblical theology of God’s kingdom – Jesus’ mission, message, and ministry. The OT promise is now NT fulfilment, in which we live, awaiting the consummation of the kingdom in Jesus’ return. The kingdom was their worldview, the lens of interpreting both the Hebrew Bible and “the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3). Hence, we follow their interpretation of prophecy, Israel, the land, temple, city, and the end-times, e.g., Matthew used “fulfil/fulfilled” sixteen times of Jesus in his gospel to Jewish readers.

Jesus, the Jewish King, brought God’s kingdom to Israel – most leaders and people rejected him. He saw those who believed as people of the kingdom, the remnant of true Israel. He chose twelve apostles as patriarchs of the renewed Israel of the new covenant, who will sit on thrones judging Israel (Luke 22:20, 29-30). They didn’t replace Israel but were believing Jews who, with King Jesus, fulfilled Israel’s call and destiny. All the promises and covenants were not only fulfilled but transcended and universalised in Christ’s kingdom come.

  • The promised “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) was fulfilled in Jesus’ kingdom, sealed in his blood sacrifice (Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25).
  • The Davidic covenant is fulfilled in the Messianic Son (2 Samuel 7 cf. Psalm 2:6-7). Jesus inherits not only his father David’s kingdom – land in the Middle East – but “the nations” and “ends of the earth” (Psalm 2:8). The earth is holy, belonging to God (Psalm 24:1).
  • The land in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15:18-21) was interpreted as: “Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, through the righteousness that comes by faith” (Romans 4:13). “The land” inheritance is “the earth” (Psalm 37:11 cf. Matthew 5:5). In the prophets, the land becomes the new earth with new heavens (Isaiah 65:17f, 66:22f), the ultimate destiny of God’s people.
  • Circumcision in Abraham’s “everlasting covenant” (confirming the land as an “everlasting possession”, Genesis 17) marked God’s chosen people. It symbolised circumcision of the heart, as Moses said (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6). That was fulfilled in Messiah’s death and resurrection (Colossians 2:11-12). So, “the Israel of God”, the true Jew, is defined by that inward circumcision of the Spirit by faith (Galatians 6:12-16, Romans 2:25-29).
  • So, God’s people, the children of Abraham, are defined by faith in God’s promises fulfilled in Messiah, who is “the seed” of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). All believers are “children of God… neither Jew nor Gentile… if you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29). Paul is emphatic: all God’s promises are “yes” and “amen” in Christ – he fulfils them all (2 Corinthians 1:20). In Romans 9 to 11, Paul quotes the prophets to distinguish between believing Israel (children of faith, “the remnant”, 9:27) and unbelieving Israel (ethnic Jews who reject Jesus).
  • The Mosaic covenant Torah was fulfilled in Messiah – he didn’t come to abolish or replace the Law or the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). Jesus’ kingdom teaching was the Messianic Torah that Moses prophesied (Deuteronomy 18:17-19), which fulfils and enables all that God required of Israel and the nations, for his will to be done on earth as in heaven.
  • The Mosaic tabernacle and later temple were interpreted as Jesus, the real temple in which God dwelt (John 1:14). He forgave sins (Mark 2:5-6) based on his “once and for all sacrifice” that ended sacrifices for sin (Hebrews 9:12-14). He predicted, a) true worship of God will not be linked to a holy mountain or temple (John 4:21-23), b) the temple will be destroyed (AD 70, ended the sacrificial system), c) the temple of his body will die and rise again (John 2:19-22). The apostles taught that believers – the church in which God dwells by his Spirit – is the restored temple (Ephesians 2:19-22). It fulfils Ezekiel’s (47) vision of a universalised new temple flowing with living water. Ultimately, the temple is “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” that fills the new earth (Revelation 21:22).    
  • The city of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, was the place where Messiah must die (Luke 9:30, 13:33-35). Everything moved toward Jerusalem. After the cross everything moved from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:6-8). Jesus predicted Jerusalem’s destruction along with the temple. For Paul, “the present city of Jerusalem… is in slavery with her children”, while “the Jerusalem above is free… our mother… of the children of promise” (Galatians 4:23-28). Abraham looked for this city, the heavenly Jerusalem to which we come to worship (Hebrews 11:10, 12:22). The last NT reference to earthly Jerusalem is “Sodom and Egypt, where the Lord was crucified”, while God’s people look to “the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 11:8, 21:2). Thus, the city is spiritually universalised.    

This evidence from Jesus and his apostles shows how “holy” (people, land, temple, city) has been transcended beyond locality and territory, fulfilled in the universalised and heavenly reality of God’s kingdom, already come in Messiah.

The question arises: does this mean that Israel (ethnic Jews) has no place in God’s purpose for humanity in salvation history? No, not at all. In Romans 9 to 11, Paul uses the olive tree image to affirm Israel’s role in God’s plan. God’s people – Abraham and his descendants (of promise) – are the olive tree. “Natural children”/“natural branches” (9:8, 11:21) that did not (do not) believe are cut off. Hardening of the Jewish heart allowed wild branches (believing Gentiles) to be grafted into (believing) Israel. However, “for the sake of the patriarchs”, God’s calling on Israel remains (11:28-29). Ethnic Jews will respond when Gentiles have “fully come in”. It means, “natural” Israel will repent and turn to faith in Messiah Jesus at the end of the age – as do all who enter God’s Kingdom (10:12-13). God will graft them back in, “and so all Israel will be saved”, Jews and Gentiles, the one olive tree (11:25-26). Thus, Paul’s view of Israel is ‘subtraction and addition in fulfilment theology’, not replacement theology. He does not indicate that the end-time regrafting depends on Israel’s return to the land. Jews come to faith in Messiah Jesus anywhere – and they are – to enter the promised kingdom.

Texts that might indicate otherwise: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24), could mean an end-time restoration of the city (thus, the land) to Jewish control. Most scholars say Jesus was referring to the end of the age when the gospel has been preached to all Gentiles (Matthew 24:14). Matthew placed Jesus’ words to Jerusalem, “you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (23:39), after his triumphant entry (21:9). Again, it could imply Jews in a restored Jerusalem. But, in Matthew’s placing, it referred to Jesus’ Second Coming when Jews who believe will welcome him as Messiah (Zechariah 12:10) and those who did not (do not) believe, will be damned.

What is clear:
1. The OT prophecies of return from exile to the land were fulfilled between 538 – 445 BC.
2. And completed in Jesus calling Israel to “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15), which meant: return to God (exiled from God) and enter the kingdom (the Promised Land). Beside Israel being ruled by Rome, Jesus saw her in slavery to sin and Satan (John 8:33-47). Also, Paul saw Jerusalem (Israel) “still in slavery with her children” (Galatians 4:25). Thus, Jesus fulfilled the OT promises of “the return” by leading a new exodus into the new land of the kingdom, with a new Shepherd, by a new covenant (Ezekiel 34, 36 cf. Jeremiah 31).
3. So, the olive tree, “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), is already a restored theocracy under King Jesus, ruling at God’s right hand. The timing of the kingdom’s consummation on earth is in the Father’s hands (Acts 1:6-8). Our priority is to take the gospel of God’s kingdom in the Spirit’s power to all nations, including Israel, so that the end may come (Matthew 24:14).
4. This doesn’t mean that God can’t work sovereignly to give Jews a homeland as an act of historical reparative justice. But we should not make it ‘holy’, as in ‘the chosen nation’ of prophetic fulfilment, endorsing whatever they do. We evaluate modern Israel like any other nation (e.g., Palestine), based on God’s justice and truth, needing Christ’s gospel.

CONCLUSION: DEFEAT THE POWERS – BE GOD’S PEOPLE, BE PEACE-MAKERS

Peace-making. To be God’s people in this situation – in any context of division and conflict – is to do what Messiah Jesus did. The “war of the Lamb” is to “wage peace” in self-sacrificing non-violence while others wage war with violence to resolve conflict. Peace-making does not take sides, the more moral or the lessor of two evils. It sides with truth and justice against wrongdoing to defeat the evil behind. Continued violence will not lead to peace but will sow seeds of deeper hatred to reap a greater harvest of violence – we’re on the edge of a third world war. To make peace means to intervene in non-violent ways to break the cycle of violence. It seeks negotiated peace based on (relative) justice, involving forgiveness and compromise, with assurance of security for both sides. If a side refuses to negotiate peace, rejecting all efforts to that end, till a ‘victory’ of annihilation by one or other side, then death triumphs. God historically allows that as an ultimate form of judgement. But that does not morally justify the supposed ‘victor’. God will hold all concerned accountable.

Presence. We do peace-making by incarnation, by the bodily presence of God’s reconciled people in the context of the conflict. Imagine if Christ-followers from both sides – Israeli and Palestinian believers – crossed the divide that Jesus destroyed in the cross when he tore down the wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16). They could free each other from ideological capture by coming together to tell their stories, pray, repent, reconcile, and decide on a united response as Christ’s one Body in the land. They are first citizens of God’s kingdom before citizens of Israel or Palestine. Their loyalty is first to King Jesus and his rule, and to one another as brothers and sisters, above their nationalities and respective governments. This would recover the authority of the gospel of the Prince of Peace. Reconciled Israelis and Palestinians, the “one new humanity” under Christ’s government, will show the “rulers and authorities” on both sides God’s “manifold wisdom” (Ephesians 3:9-10). That enforces their defeat in King’s cross (Colossians 2:15). Instead of being a copy of society, of the ideologies that ‘divide and rule’, believers will be a model of God’s reconciling kingdom. They will have real authority to speak truth to both sides of power. Like Jesus, they put their bodies on the line in united non-violent action to make peace. Christ-followers around the world, equally divided by the ideologies and their theological legitimizations, will see their example and support their peace-making as the one pierced Body of Messiah in the Middle East.

Praying. We do peace-making by prayer and intercession, which includes lament, our first response to the conflict. Prayer is our greatest weapon as Christ-followers because it deals directly with the God who rules the nations, the judge of all spiritual powers. Daniel 9 & 10 show the mysterious power of prayer (repentance, fasting, intercession) in defeating the spiritual powers that oppose God’s kingdom purpose. Prayer opens the way and empowers the bodily presence of all who work for peace. We must “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6) and for the peace of Gaza. Pray for shalom, for negotiations to end violence and engage in reconciliation talks for a sustainablepeace based on right relationships (justice). And pray for all who suffer and have suffered tremendous pain and loss.

Prophesying. We do peace-making by proclaiming the truth of the good news of the Prince of Peace. Don’t lose sight of the power of the gospel, let alone that of prayer. Having spoken to God, we speak to people. To prophesy is to preach the hope of salvation and lasting peace in King Jesus. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, as we courageously proclaim it (Romans 10:17). Imagine if, out of this enormous pain on both sides, multitudes turn to faith in Jesus. The entire area will change for humanitarian good. To prophesy is also to fearlessly speak truth to power on both sides of the divide. Not to confront wrongdoing and injustice is to enable evil to destroy. Our authority in confronting the powers is effective to the degree it has lived integrity in an incarnate life of the gospel of peace. By focusing on end-time prophecy, as many dispensational Christians Zionists do, we cease to be prophetic. Christ-followers stand in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets – fulfilled in Jesus – who lived and spoke the truth in self-sacrificing martyrdom, which defeated the evil behind the people and political systems that perpetrate wrongdoing.   

Protesting. We do peace-making by public protest, as and when required. The prophets, Jesus included, acted out their prophetic message from time to time, in forms of public demonstration so that political-spiritual powers, and society at large, could see the truth God was speaking through them. It generally included a call to repentance to avoid coming judgement. Christ-followers who join secular organised public marches, even if for a just cause, are in danger of siding with partisan ideological power, unmasked when the protest becomes violent. So, we must differentiate between a pro-Israel march and an anti-Semitism protest; between a pro-Palestinian march and protesting Israel’s destruction of Gaza, killing over 21000 to kill Hamas killers. Imagine if all believers, Israeli and Palestinian, refuse to use violence, refuse to serve in their military formations. This civil disobedience, in Jesus’ name, refusing to be servants of ideological power – of unjust policies, of violent enforcement – will confront and disarm the evil behind. There are ways we can protest for justice in service of the peace-making process without partisan support for ideological powers.

May the Lord have mercy and bring shalom to Palestine and Israel.

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3. HUMAN IDENTITY:  Paul on New Creation Identity

This is the third of three talks – the notes for the video recording of Talk Three

3. HUMAN IDENTITY:  Paul on New Creation Identity

PAUL ON (CHRISTIAN) IDENTITY:

His earliest letter (AD 48), Galatians, is about identitySON/DAUGHTER OF GOD.

The Galatian believers had been deceived: acceptance in Christ was conditional on one’s ‘works of righteousness’, a return to legalistic Judaism. Paul confronts and corrects them by teaching we are unconditionally accepted and justified in Christ by grace and faith. That comes with a new identity.

Paul’s climactic statement is Galatians 3:26-29, recalling Jesus’ baptism: In our baptism, on confession of faith in Jesus, we are clothed with Christ, i.e., we take on a new identity that transcends previous ‘labels’:

1) Cultural: “neither Jew nor Gentile” – racial reconciliation – neither white nor black.

2) Social: “neither slave nor free” – class reconciliation – neither master nor servant, rich nor poor.

3) Sexual: “neither male nor female” – gender reconciliation; it does not mean that our sexual-gender identity is removed in Christ, and nor does Paul’s statement justify non-binary identity as some use it to mean. Nor is our ethnic identity removed – it is transcended in Christ. People from every language, tribe, and nation will still be identifiable in heaven, as we see in John’s vision of God’s people around the throne (Revelation 7:9).

“Clothed with Christ” means we are heirs with Christ as God’s sons & daughters (Galatians 4:1-7).

THAT is our new identity, no longer a ‘slave’ – to sin, to the Law, to identities – but a ‘child of God’. Because “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts that calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’  So, you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:6-7).

Paul expanded on this a few years later (AD 52) in his letter to the Corinthian followers of Jesus.
He explains our identity as God’s
NEW CREATION. So, in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21:

“From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” – through the above identities.

“We no longer even regard Christ in this way” – as Jewish, male, rabbi – rather as The Messiah.

“Therefore, anyone in Messiah is a new creation, the old has passed, the new has come” – therefore, all the labels/identities we carry, that people gave/give us, that we ourselves choose, are transformed and transcended in Christ. We see ourselves and others as God does in new creation. The old labels through which we see and relate are passing away. The new has come.

God identifies us as his “Beloved” son/daughter… as “a new creation” (v.17), as “reconciled” with God (v.18), as “ambassadors of Christ” (v.20), as “the righteousness of God” (v.21).

Paul expanded on this later (AD 60) in Ephesians 1:3-14:  Our SEVENFOLD IDENTITY ‘IN CHRIST’.

We are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ” (v.3). Paul then lists seven spiritual ‘blessings’ in Christ, which constitute our new identity.

  1. I am chosen in Christ (v.4): ‘known and chosen’ by God before the creation of the world.
  2. I am holy and blameless in Christ (v.4): ‘set apart for God’ as his ‘saint’, i.e., made righteous in Christ, without guilt or shame or blame.
  3. I am predestined in Christ (v.5): ‘marked out before-hand’ by God for his eternal purpose.
  4. I am adopted in Christ (v.5): ‘into God’s family… I am God’s son/daughter’, with all the privileges of “grace, which he freely gives us in his Beloved” (v.6, his Agapetos Son).
  5. I am redeemed in Christ (v.7): ‘bought out of slavery with a price’ – the ransom that Jesus paid for our redemption and freedom, through his precious blood.
  6. I am forgiven in Christ (v.7): ‘forgiven & cleansed of all sin’ (but, we keep clean and forgiven by walking in the light and confessing any sin we commit, 1 John 1:4-9).
  7. I am sealed in Christ (v.13-14): ‘marked by the indwelling Holy Spirit’, who is God’s ‘down-payment’ that guarantees my full inheritance as God’s beloved daughter/son. Our full inheritance is the future resurrection of our bodies to rule and reign with Christ.

HOW TO LIVE INTO THIS IDENTITY IN CHRIST:

Decide that it is true. God knows better about you than you do! We hold onto lies about ourselves that we carry since childhood. Jesus said that if you “hold to my teaching, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).

Choose to believe it! Faith is a choice. God is more trustworthy that your feelings or what others say about you. He declared you his ‘Be-Loved’… trust him… believe it!

Confess and speak it over you many times a day. This is how, practically, you receive and make it subjectively real. Speak God’s truth over you, over your mind, emotions, body, and relationships. Memorise and learn by heart Paul’s sevenfold identity and repeat it often.

Keep rebuking all internal voices and external messages that come at you in your mind, emotions, body, relationships, encounters with others, social media, etc. Resist anything that challenges your ‘new creation’ identity in Christ as God’s Beloved daughter or son.

Embrace your ‘Be-Loved-ness’! To be ‘Beloved’ is to be loved… to allow yourself to be loved. We don’t easily receive love due to our experience of (conditional) ‘love’ that has hurt us and broke us. We hold people, even God, at arm’s length, for self-protection. Consequently, we don’t know how to receive unconditional love. We fear pain, manipulation, and rejection. We cannot be vulnerable and trust and embrace true love. So, we have to learn to allow God to love us… in the silent whispers of our heart, through our times of prayer and scripture meditation, through caring others God has placed in our lives, and through being with him in creation.

From Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved. Hear these words from God in the centre of your being:

“I have called you by name from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests. I have moulded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness, and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch over you. You know me as your own, as I know you as my own. You belong to me.”

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2. HUMAN IDENTITY:  Found in Jesus’ Human Identity

This is the second of three talks – the teaching notes for the video recording of Talk Two.

HUMAN IDENTITY:  Found in Jesus’ Human Identity

NEW CREATION – (re)identified in/through Messiah Jesus – the Kingdom Story:

The New Testament reframes human identity in New Creation, in the gospel of God’s Kingdom. Paul’s language is “in Adam” and “in Christ”: all who are born “in/of Adam” are “sinners”; all who are born again (from above) “in/of Christ” are “saints” and “new creations” (1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

Jesus brought ‘Kingdom identity’ to humanity in his own humanity as God’s son – in his conception, water baptism, ministry, death & resurrection. We find our identity in Jesus’ human identity.

JESUS’ IDENTITY:

1) ‘Illegitimate’ conception: He was conceived before his mother’s wedding – deeply scandalous. Thus, he was known as a ‘mamzer’ (illegitimate/‘bastard’), suffered rejection. He had identity issues, as in “who’s my father?” This dogged him in his ministry (John 8): they asked him, “Where is your father?” (John 8:19), “Who are you?” (John 8:25), “We are not illegitimate children” (John 8:41), “Aren’t we right in saying you’re a Samaritan? (John 8:48, a half-breed). Jesus embraced God (“Abba”) as his real Father (Luke 2:49).

2) Identity confirmed and affirmed at his baptism: “You are my Son, my Beloved, in whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). All that Jesus dared to believe as he grew up – in his 30 years of formation in Nazareth, that God was his real Abba and he was his son – was declared and confirmed from heaven. “Beloved” is Agapetos, an intense term of endearment, belonging, affection, and intimacy.

More than that, God declared, “You are my Beloved, in whom I am pleased”. The last phrase is also translated, “in whom I delight”, and “on whom my favour rests”. Thus, in Christ, YOU are God’s Agapetos daughter/son, his dearly loved one, in whom he delights. God delights in you! He’s pleased with you! His favour rests on you! Do you believe this about yourself? Do you receive it?

3) Tested by Satan:  Matthew 4:1-11, The devil questioned Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved son, tempting him to use his newly confirmed identity in… and to shift his identity towards….

a) Doing (Matthew 4:3). To speak his own words, not the words of Abba – even to do miracles to meet human need. Jesus only spoke and lived by every word from God’s mouth, “You are my Agapetos Son”.

b) Performing (Matt 4:5-7). To be spectacular and heroic, for acceptance and popularity – by presuming on God – getting God to back him up, even to perform for him.

c) Power (Matthew 4:8-9). To have all the power and be in control – to be defined by power and ownership.

Are you tempted to find your identity in any or more of these three? How do you resist that?

Because Jesus knew he was loved – before he did any ministry for God – he was deeply secure in Abba’s love. Therefore, he could love and give his life away in love… NOT to impress or please God, or to prove anything, or to be accepted and popular, or to feel good about himself, or to gain power, etc.

As followers of Jesus, “in Christ”, we too need to know and live from our identity as ‘Be-Loved’. “He brought me into his banqueting house and his banner over me is LOVE” (Song of Solomon 2:4).

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1. HUMAN IDENTITY:  Creation Design & The Fall

This is the first of three talks given at Freedom House Church, in Salt Rock, South Africa. These are the notes for the video recording of Talk One.

HUMAN IDENTITY:  Creation Design & The Fall

HUMAN IDENTITY 

Definition:  Identity is our sense of self, in relation to others, decided and formed in a mix of beliefs, values, culture, personality, gender, ethnicity, social status, achievements, and even hurt/pain.

Process:  Identity is given, but also formed, and/or chosen, and even imposed (if one accepts it).

The Question is:  Who are you?  Post-modern confusion (dysphoria) is not knowing who we are. We identifying with what we feel/sense about ourselves, what we think others think of us, and so on.

Way of the world:  ‘Self-identifying’ – the basis of ‘expressive individualism’, i.e., to be my authentic self, and thus to be happy, I must self-identify as I choose, as suits me, and be free to live it out.

Biblical view of identity:  God-identifying’ – the basis of ‘fulfilled personhood’, i.e., God identifies us in creation and in new creation, to fulfil our true nature and destiny as God intended for us.

FIRST CREATION – Identified in/through Creation Design – the Genesis Story:

1st Human identity:  Genesis 1:26-27, “let us make ha adam (the human) in our image and likeness”. Human identity is God’s image – to reveal God’s likeness as his image-bearers.

2nd Sexual identity:  Gen 1:27, “male and female created he them” – man or woman image-bearers.

3rd Personal identity:  Gen 2:20,23; 3:20, “he named them…” – names identify the person; they call forth and describe the nature and purpose of the person (“Eve” = “living”, mother of all living).

It has been the same, in the same order, throughout history. The wife first says to husband, “we’re going to have a baby!” Then, “it’s a girl (or boy)!” And then, thirdly, “her (or his) name is….”

That means: “Let US (Trinity) create ha adam in our image” = we’re born and identified in relationship, by relationship, for relationship.  Mom + Dad = me!  Gabriel Marcel said, “The ‘I’ is the child of the ‘We’”, i.e., community defines personhood. The individual (individualism) does not define community.  We are defined by those to whom we belong, by those who love and form us for life.

This is embodied in the Semitic idea of naming and the use of names.

1) “Simon bar Jonah” = Simon the son of Jonah:  we are known by those who whom we belong.

2) Names embody identify and call forth (prophetically) the nature and destiny of the person. “You shall call his name Yeshua, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). God changes names of people if needed, ‘Jacob’ to ‘Israel’ (Gen 32:27-28). What does your name mean?

‘THE FALL’ RESULTS IN BROKEN IDENTITY – human rebellion against God:

Man’s identity. Genesis 3:17-19, his ‘bent’ (identity) will be toward work (the earth): he was taken from the earth and ‘in pain’ he will toil the earth to bring forth food. Thus, male identity since ‘The Fall’ of humanity in the garden has traditionally been: Provider, Protector, and Procreator.

Woman’s identity. Genesis 3:16, her ‘bent’ (identity) will be toward man (her husband): she was taken from the man and ‘in pain’ she will bring forth children for the man. Thus, female identity since ‘The Fall’ has traditionally been: Wife, Mother, and Home-maker/keeper.

Creation design identity reversed: now broken and illegitimate identity, not derived from our being (being God’s image), but from our doing (doing work, performing, achieving, etc).Biblically, ‘being’ precedes ‘doing’, which is natural outflow of being. To find our identity in our doing is broken creation, having to be the protector, provider, procreator, etc. It is ‘The Fall’ from “Simon bar Jonah” to “Simon the fisherman”, from “Alexander son of God” to “Pastor Alexander”, or “Apostle…”, “Doctor…”.

To be known (called and identified) by our doing, as in our achievements, position, title, social class, etc, is false identity. To find our identity in our ministry, or work, or in what others say or don’t say about us, is a disaster waiting to happen. Jesus rejected titles, dress codes, preferential treatment, positions of prominence, etc, as a means of identity and honour in his Kingdom (Matthew 23:5-12). That is the way of the world, not the way of Jesus.

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Reliving Jesus’ Resurrection & Seven Sayings

Gill and I had a wonderful Passover-Easter weekend and were invited to teach three services at Immanuel Church in Umhlanga Rocks (South Africa). What a joy and privilege to do the theme of “Reliving with Jesus…”. 

On Thursday night I taught “Reliving the Passover Meal and Gethsemane with Jesus and his Apostles” 
https://youtu.be/yFmpU5yoDZg

On Friday morning I taught “Reliving the Crucifixion with Jesus
https://youtu.be/Y7m1N7aaHyA

And Sunday morning I taught on “Reliving the Resurrection with Jesus
https://youtu.be/MhddUFXk91A

You are welcome to watch these three (3) videos if you like and to pass on the links to whoever may be interested.

As followers of Jesus, God’s (Jewish) Messiah, we relive the Passover meal (Pesach) with Rebbe Y’shua HaMoshiach and his disciples (see Mark 14:12-26, Matt 26:17-30, Luke 22:7- 23, 1 Cor 10:15-17 cf. 11:23-26) – when he enacted the prophesied the new covenant (Jer 31:31-34, Ezek 36:24-27), which he made with YHWH for all who believe through him.

Download the Messianic Passover Seder to follow along.

Seven Saying of Jesus on the Cross

The Gospels record that while hanging on the cross for six hours, until his death, Jesus spoke seven times. We do not know the exact order in which each of his ‘sayings’ took place. But reading the context of each of them, I have put them in a possible/probable order from nine till his death at three in the afternoon.

In your time of meditation, picture the entire scene. See yourself standing there before the cross with John the beloved disciple, and Mary, Jesus’ mother. Relive what happened during those six hours. Listen carefully… hear what Jesus says. Receive his words from the cross… what do they mean to you? What is he saying to you… personally? What is your response to him? Do you need to do anything? Use your imagination by the Spirit to be with Jesus, hanging on the cross… how you can be with him in his suffering.

Whichever saying ‘speaks’ to you, or grabs your attention, stay with it, meditate on it. Answer Jesus… dialogue with him… do what you must to do to respond to him. Read the particular text and its context in your Bible so as to personalize it more.

You could also print out a PDF copy to use during meditation…

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”
Luke 23:34. Words of Forgiveness.

“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”
Luke 23:43. Words of Salvation.

“Dear woman, here is your son… and… here is your mother”
John 19:26-27. Words of Relationship.

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46. Words of Rejection and Abandonment. 

“I am thirsty”
John 19:28. Words of Distress

“It is finished”
John 19:30. Words of Triumph

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”
Luke 23:46. Matthew 27:50. Words of Reunion.

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Blessing Same Sex Couples – The Big Church Split?

Some friends asked for my response to the division taking place in the Anglican Church over the blessing of same sex legal unions. I write in my own capacity, not on behalf of any church or denomination.

I have been saying for years now:  History will prove that the challenge of human sexuality will be the issue of our time. It has been brewing since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, to throw off traditional religious and moral constraints. It has now evolved into the ‘sexualized-political self’ with the LGBTQ+ agenda for social recognition and human rights. Same sex ‘marriage’ and religious ‘gay ordination’ are high on the agenda.

This will split Christian denominations and organisations, churches and followers of Jesus, like few other issues have in church history. Why? Because it’s about human morality. It’s not about agreeing to disagree philosophically on human sexuality, then blessing each other to do our own thing. It’s about sexual ethics, which assumes the biblical vision of human sexuality as God designed and intended for the flourishing of society and creation. 

The Anglican split – the prophetic symbol?

The past few decades have seen debate and disagreement in this regard in denominations and churches. Often acrimoniously so. No less in the Church of England (C of E). Founded in 1867 in London, the global Anglican communion of the C of E has 85 million adherents. It is made up of 42 member Churches, also called provinces.

On 20 February 2023 this issue reached a head. Ten primates (Archbishops) of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), representing 22 provinces in Africa, Asia, and South America, sent a statement to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and to the press. “With great sorrow” they informed him that they reject him as head of the Anglican communion, “as the C of E has departed from the historic faith passed down from the Apostles by this innovation… she has disqualified herself” as the mother church. They called for repentance from “taking the path of false teaching.” The Secretary General, Anthony Poggo, acknowledged receipt of the letter “with sadness”.

Why has GSFA done this?  Because on 9 February Welby presided over the acceptance of a controversial motion in the C of E’s General Synod. While keeping the orthodox meaning of ‘marriage’ (between one man and one woman), the C of E will allow their clergy to bless same sex legal unions, as long as the prayer-ceremony is not done ‘in church’. This was done in the name of equality for LGBTQ+ people, after years of pressure. Welby said he himself will not bless same-sex couples; however, for the sake of unity in the Anglican Church (between conservatives and progressives) he proposed this compromise. He was “extremely joyful” it was accepted. But ironically, it has made the division open and official.  

This is hugely significant because GSFA claims to represent up to 70% of global Anglicans. It is like an earthquake sending seismic shock waves throughout Anglicanism – even in the broader Church of Jesus Christ. Since the communion’s founding in 1867, there has never been such a rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is, in my view, a prophetic symbol, warning all Christian denominations and churches everywhere to proactively face this issue. There is no neutrality or middle ground. Let me explain.

Biblical authority and interpretation – Biblical sexual ethics.

For Christians, this is about biblical sexual ethics for human flourishing. Dallas Willard has shown how moral knowledge has disappeared in academic institutions and in society. What is true or not true? Right or wrong? How do we know that? On what basis or authority do we decide what is true and reliable knowledge of reality? Is human rationalism our authority? Or science (‘research says…’)? My sexual feelings as knowledge of my gender self? Socio-political correctness? Cultural pressure?

Christians, historically, believe the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, our authority and rule for life and faith. Jesus said, if we hold to his teachings we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32). Scripture, however, must be correctly interpreted because we can make texts mean whatever we want them to mean – the challenge of hermeneutics, principles of interpretation.

At the end of the day, the Anglican split over blessing same-sex legal unions – and the issue of gay ordination, and the explosion of gender dysphoria with (now) 72 gender identities – is about the authority we give or do not give to the Bible, and how we interpret the texts. This is where orthodox-evangelical and liberal-progressive hermeneutics part ways.

It is essentially about how we interpret the eight key texts referring to homosexual practice: Genesis 19:4-5, Judges 19:20-23, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:24-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:8-11, Jude 1:5-7. I summarise the positions without exposition of the texts.

Orthodox-evangelical hermeneutics holds to the way Jesus and his Apostles and the Church throughout history interpreted and applied the texts. The texts teach that homosexual practice in whatever context is moral/ethical sin, disordered desire that destroys God’s creation design for human sexuality, defacing God’s differentiated image of male and female. God’s loving prohibition on all homosexual practice is universal, for all time, for flourishing society. And God’s loving power is available for sexual redemption, healing, and transformation, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “such were some of you, BUT you were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” To deny this is to deny the (power of the) gospel of Jesus Christ. It means working compassionately with the very real subjective struggle of same sex (LGBTQ+) orientation.  

The recent development of liberal-progressive hermeneutics regarding human sexuality and marriage is a novelty in church history. It emerged from the 1960s sexual revolution, developing a theology that affirms LGBTQ+ practice, with chosen self-identities, justifying beliefs and legitimising ideology. They interpret the above texts to affirm and bless LGBTQ+ practice in consenting adult, romantic, erotic, monogamous relationships.

Among their principles of interpretation, the most common is ‘irrelevance’. They argue that the narrative texts (Genesis and Judges) are about inhospitality and social injustice of forced rape, thus irrelevant to loving same sex relationships today. The Leviticus texts are about Israel’s ritual purity and impurity laws in light of the idolatrous sexual practices of the Canaanite tribes, thus not relevant to loving same sex relationships today. The Jude text is about sex with angels, not relevant to today. The three Pauline texts are about coercive and exploitative homosexual sex – men with boys and masters with slaves. Paul and the Greco-Roman world did not know about sexual orientation and loving consenting adult same sex relationships (which is simply not true), so his three texts are irrelevant.  

One would need to go into much more detail to do justice to how these and other texts are interpreted to affirm current LGBTQ+ orientation, identity, belief, and practice.

It logically follows that…

First, if one upholds the authority of scripture that teaches same sex erotic practice is morally sinful, in whatever context it takes place, then one cannot bless same sex couple legal unions, wherever it may take place. It would be endorsing their sinful lifestyle choice; the most unloving thing to do if one lives by the biblical understanding of God’s love. Jesus didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery, but said, “leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  

Second, to allow blessing of same sex legal agreements and maintain the biblical meaning of marriage, is contradictory and untenable. Orthodox-evangelical hermeneutics says that same sex legal unions destroy God’s creation design in his image of male and female, where sexual erotic practice is purposed exclusively for marriage between a man and woman, for the flourishing of human society. Marriage is an ‘ordinance’ of creation.

Whatever one calls it, whichever way one looks at it, same sex couples are both functionally and legally redefining 6000 years of the meaning of marriage. It is their right to have civil legal agreements with all the benefits that accrue, but it is not marriage and never will be. To ‘bless’ it in any shape or form is to permit and empower its redefinition of marriage.     

Third, this is an either/or issue, mentioned earlier. To straddle both sides or stand in the middle holding both sides together, or to propose and accept an ethically compromising motion – all with the honourable motivation to keep unity – is unreality, as we’ve seen with the Anglicans. It is, in reality, a pacifying of one side that alienates the other.   

Fourth, the GSFA are nothomophobic provinces”, as a Labour MP called them. The meaning of homophobia has been changed to ‘cancel’ anyone who disagrees with same sex practice. It has always meant ‘fear of the same sex’ – for various reasons. Since the sexual revolution it has been used to mean irrational dislike, fear, hatred, and prejudiced discrimination of gays. Google the word and see. Personally, I disagree with same sex practice from a biblical understanding and ethical conscience, yet I know I don’t have any irrational dislike, fear, hatred, or prejudice against gays. Does that make me a homophobe?

Last, it is ultimately a matter of worldview and authority, of true or false teaching, as the GSFA say. Because blessing same sex legal unions in God’s name is a denial of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which saves, heals, and transforms us. The gospel re-identifies us as God’s male and female image bearers, restored in God’s (new) creation design.

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‘Neutrality’ in the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict?

Utter and complete shame on the South African ANC (African National Congress) government for its so-called ‘neutrality’ in the Russian-Ukraine conflict while recently receiving Putin’s foreign minister Lavrov on an official visit, and planning military exercises with Russia. 

President Ramaphosa and his team have no moral integrity by siding with the dictator-murderer Putin, who said at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine his goal was to “demilitarize and deNazify Ukriane”. In so doing he has militarised and Nazified Russia. It’s been his plan all along.

But it’s been 11 months of genocide and mindless destruction of the infrastructure. He has murdered over 7000 innocent civilians, as verified by the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (Google it).

As a pastor and spiritual leader in South Africa, I am ashamed of my government and I cannot be silent. As God said to Israel through the psalmist, “You do these things and think I remain silent, taking me as one just like yourself, BUT now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you” (50:21). 

The LORD rebuke you, Ramaphosa and the ANC, and Putin and all who endorse and support him.

Putin’s primary endorser and empower-er is his spiritual patron, the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, whom God will hold accountable. 

This is what Lazar Puhalo, retired Archbishop of the Orthodox Church in America,  recently said:

“Heretical Patriarch Kirill of Moscow continues with his Messianic delusions about ’Ruskii Mir’ (Mother Russia) and continues to support the mass murder of Ukrainian civilians and the genocide of the Ukrainian people, the unspeakable war crimes of dictator Putin. This is the true face of theocracy— a Church which thought to manipulate the State but was enslaved by the state in a manner that even the Soviet Union could not accomplish. Russia has been invaded by no one but is committing literal genocide on a peaceful, democratic nation. Theocracy is not ‘rule by God’ but madmen, deluded dictators, presuming to speak for  God. The Moscow Patriarch has taken his place with the leaders of the Taliban and the savage dictators of Iran, to the humiliating shame of Orthodox Christianity. Thank God for the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I of Constantinople (who speaks out against Kirill and Putin)”
Though the quote is not taken directly from this article, click here for Lazar Puhalo’s analysis of ‘the Messianic delusions about Mother Russia’ of Kirill.

As Barbara Brown Taylor said, “Human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God”

Lord have mercy!

Christ have mercy!

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Discernment

If you could ask for anything – yes, anything – what would it be?

Imagine if God appeared to you saying that he will give you whatever you ask. Above all else, what one thing do you want?

That’s what happened to Solomon after he became King of Israel at about 20 years old. God came to him in a dream at a place of worship, saying, “Ask for whatever you want me to give to you” (1 Kings 3:4-14).

Kings commonly asked for long life, or wealth, or the death of their enemies (1 Kings 3:11). Kings and Queens and national leaders embody their people, representing their hopes, wishes and desires. Everyone wants happiness, health and long life, riches, peace and security with no enemies. It’s the equivalent of the ‘Health & Wealth’ gospel – the quest for power, miracles, prosperity… the good life!    

Not Solomon. What he wanted most was “a discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:9). In Hebrew, literally “a hearing heart”. Able to listen deeply and patiently to all sides of an issue. Including God. Hearing God’s whispers – God’s word and will in each situation. The ability to listen, evaluate, and know what is right and wrong. To distinguish between good and evil.

God responded, “I will give you a wise and discerning heart” (1 Kings 3:12). The Hebrew lev hakam wenabon is “a heart of wise discernment” – the wisdom to discern truth from untruth.

This is, arguably, the greatest need in our postmodern world of post-truth, where lies and fake news are the order of the day. Where lying presidents lead the way. “Truth is nowhere to be found… truth has stumbled in the public square, honesty cannot enter” (Isaiah 59:14-15). The battle for truth, for reliable and true knowledge of reality.

The crisis in our world is (due to) the failure of leadership, which, in turn, is the failure of character. The failure of ethics and truth in leaders, and in people in general. The way of the leader is the way of the people. We live with narcissist, power-hungry, nationalistic leaders.

We don’t know what truth is anymore. How do we know what is true? What can we trust as reliable knowledge of reality? More so, WHO can we trust for truth? WHO is true?

Accurate knowledge of reality is not enough. We need wisdom. Wisdom is the skilful application of knowledge to make the correct decisions in each situation, by discerning good from evil, right from wrong, for the wellbeing of all concerned. The Truth sets us free (John 8:31-32).

What Solomon asked and received was the character quality most associated with good godly kings, as in Isaiah 11:1-5. This text was prophetic of the Messiah-King, Jesus, who lived by God’s “Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and power… to judge with righteousness… with justice he will give decisions for the poor and needy…”

Such wise discernment is both given and acquired. Discerning wisdom is both gift and training. Solomon says we acquire it by treasuring God’s Word within us, by inclining our ear to God’s Wisdom, by literally crying aloud for insight and discernment, seeking her as for hidden treasures – because God gives wisdom, from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:1-9).

Do you cry out for discernment and wisdom? How much do you want it?

Hebrews 5:14 says that the spiritually mature in God are those who have trained their faculties, by practice, to distinguish good from evil. How mature are you?

Solomon’s purpose in asking for wise discernment was to lead and govern his people well (1 Kings 3:9). It was not for his own sake, for his ego, popularity, or success. It was for the people’s wellbeing and prosperity.

And his posture was not that of entitlement or presumption because he was king. He identified himself before God as “your servant” (1 Kings 3:7-8). He saw himself as God’s servant to serve the people by listening to God in the silence of his heart, as he listened to the people in their need, challenges, issues, etc. That is how he discerned what was really happening, where truth lay, what was good and right – the will of God in each situation.  

Finally, in asking for discernment and wisdom, God also gave Solomon long life, wealth, and the defeat of his enemies. As Jesus told his followers, “Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and all the other things you need will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).

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Those who Grasp for Power

Grasping for power divides people, especially leaders.
It reveals character – both bad and good character.

This was the essential message of my morning meditation today, from 1 Kings 1:5-10.

Adonijah was 35 years old when he made himself king.
Why? Because, the text says, he was…
a) “very handsome”,
b) and next in line (King David’s fourth son, 2 Sam 3:4, after Absalom).

What did he do? Promoted himself by…
a) public displays of power (getting chariots and horses, and sending 50 men to run ahead of him),
b) manipulative lobbying with leaders,
c) threw a coronation party, inviting those whom he knew would support him.

BUT some respected leaders did not support him. The two ‘buts’ in v.8 & 10 show that Zadok the chief priest and Nathan the prophet, among other leaders, did not support Adonijah. They sought to confront and undo his wrongdoing.

Adonijah’s ego-driven attitude and actions divided the people, especially the leaders in Israel. This exposed bad character (those who supported him) and good character (those who did not). That’s what happens whenever anyone, especially leaders (spiritual, civil, business, and political), grasp for power. And God allows it to reveal character, exposing people for who they are.

The Hebrew name Adonijah means “my Lord (Master) is Yahweh (God)”. In 35 years of formation, Adonijah had not learnt to submit his will to God, to make Yahweh his real Lord and Master. Adonijah’s father, King David, “never interfered with him by asking, ‘why do you behave the way you do?’” (v.6, sadly, a lack of fathering). By grasping for power he rejected his God-given identity and purpose embodied in his name. His self-serving behaviour showed that he ‘self-identified’ as “my Lord is Me”.

Have you been tempted to power, to make yourself a leader, to be king?

IN GOD’S KINGDOM, power and leadership is always given, never ever taken. One is only and always invited and appointed by others, those above you, by God. There is NO self-promotion, let alone self-appointment, in God’s Kingdom.

Adonijah followed Lucifer, who grasped for ultimate position and power: God’s throne, to be God. All who grasp for power and all who support such leaders reveal the character of Lucifer, whether they know it or not. Such leaders and people do the will of Satan on earth as it is in hell.

The ultimate reversal – undoing of this corrupt and evil way – is through Jesus. Though equal with God, he did not consider equality with God something to grasped or held on to. Rather, he stripped himself of position and power and made himself nothing. Taking on the nature of a slave, he selflessly served, obeying God all his life: “not my will but yours be done”. To the point of death. Even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him, giving him all authority and power in heaven and earth. He is the true Adonijah, “my Lord is (really) God”. All true followers of Jesus do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.