The economy is struggling to grow and create enough jobs under the weight of 1.3 million Syrian refugees, in addition to masses of Iraqi refugees who flooded into Jordan during two wars and an insurgency.
The government is trying to house, clothe, feed, educate and provide jobs and health care for millions of people who are not actually citizens of Jordan amidst far too little international aid (aside from the U.S. which has been both generous and consistent).
Widespread and angry demonstrations recently brought tens of thousands of Jordanians onto the streets to protest large proposed tax increases the government felt it needed to cover the refugee costs and adhere to IMF-mandated reforms.
The Jordanian military and security services have been aggressively fighting ISIS and other radical Islamist groups for years and working overtime (quite successfully, thank God) to keep terrorism from erupting across the country.
Jordanians are an incredibly hospitable people, but they feel increasingly frustrated by the economic and social burdens of all the refugees.
That said, Jordanians don’t want to become a chaotic mess like Syria or Iraq or Yemen and thus find themselves in a terrible bind on how to move forward.
As I’ve written before, King Abdullah II has not only proven himself to be a wise and resilient captain navigating his country through stormy waters. He has done so in part by making Jordan a model of moderation in the Middle East, a close ally of the U.S. and the West, and a safe harbor for Christians and other minorities where they can feel respected and free to practice their faith without fear of Islamist attacks.
That’s why I was encouraged to see His Majesty awarded with the Templeton Prize for his efforts to advance moderation and a respectful interfaith community. This article in Christianity Today does an excellent job telling the story.
I love this country dearly and I’d be grateful if you would keep the King and the people of Jordan in your prayers, including the Christian community there. I count a number of Jordanian Evangelical leaders as friends and truly faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. Please also pray for the newly-appointed Prime Minister and government as they try to implement reforms that can grow the economy and improve the lives of every Jordanian. Thanks so much.
“I believe in our king,” said Imad Shehadeh, president of the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, following Wednesday’s announcement. “He is a kind, wise, loving, humble, and effective leader.”
Established in 1973, the Templeton Prize is awarded for exceptional contribution to “affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” First given to Mother Teresa, previous winners range from Billy Graham to the Dalai Lama. More recently, Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga and Jean Vanier of L’Arche have won the prize.
But this year, Abdullah was honored as a ruler who has done more promote inter-Islamic and interfaith harmony than any other living political leader, Templeton said.
Islam is the official religion of Jordan, and the constitution guarantees freedom of religion for minorities such as the roughly 2 percent of the population that’s Christian (mostly Greek Orthodox). The Protestant community has commended their king’s efforts for religious unity, though some wish his commitment went even further.
Since assuming the throne in 1999, the 56-year-old son of the beloved King Hussein has rallied scholars against declaring apostasy against fellow Muslims. In 2006, he sponsored the Common Word initiative, inviting Christians worldwide to join Muslims in their joint commandments to love God and love their neighbor. Abdullah is responsible for launching World Interfaith Harmony Week in 2010, generally acknowledged as the first and only UN declaration to cite belief in God.
“Our world needs to confront challenges to our shared humanity and values,” said Abdullah, in videotaped remarks accepting the prize. “They are the very ground of the coexistence and harmony our future depends on.”
For Christians, Abdullah has been a key partner in the Middle East. His Hashemite family has been custodian of Muslim and Christian religious sites in the Holy Land since 1924.
Abdullah provided personal funds to restore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 2016 and donated land to build churches at the traditional east bank site of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. The Muslim king has also supported efforts to safeguard Christians and their historic churches against the threat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The Templeton Award recognized also Jordan’s history of welcoming refugees. Whether early waves of Palestinians or more recently Iraqis and Syrians, tens of thousands of Christians have found asylum in the country.
“Jordan is very tolerant society and is protective of all its citizens,” said Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Christian Palestinian journalist who has lived in Jordan for 20 years. “It provides a comfortable and secure haven for Christians and others, despite their small percentage.”
Despite their small presence in Jordan’s population overall, Kuttab said Christians are well-represented in political and economic circles. Nine of 130 parliament seats are reserved for Christians, though according to the US International Freedom Report, they may not run for the remaining 121. Four Christians served in last year’s 29-member cabinet.
Other Christians are more cautious in their praise, shifting focus from religious rights to the political. An evangelical researcher and political consultant, Philip Madanat notes the king has diminished the role of Islamists. Yet if Christians are tempted to gloat, Madanat warns that a lack of political opposition will strengthen the security hand of the state.
The regime—though less so the king—is also irked by secular political development, he said. Madanat cited the difficulties faced by the Civil Alliance, a nascent party seeking registration, which includes the former deputy prime minister Marwan Muasher, a Christian. “Christians are good,” Madanat said, “as long as they stay within their accustomed alliances.”
Christians believe too readily that the Hashemites, Jordan’s ruling family since the British Mandate of 1921, are the only refuge from radical Islam, he also said.
As king, Abdullah is the 41st direct descendent of the prophet Muhammad. Promoting religious harmony is part of the king’s legacy, Madanat believes, but also his international legitimacy.
“The king’s objective is to portray himself as an advocate of tolerant Islam,” Madanat said. “But he is reforming without upsetting society.”
Still, the top-down initiatives do not sufficiently influence the street, he said, though seminars do try to reach the youth. Abdullah has also paved the way for a contested curriculum reform in Jordanian schools, removing verses that speak ill of non-Muslims and adding references to Christian contributions in the Islamic era.
Heather Dill, granddaughter to John Templeton and president of the foundation, positively celebrated these reforms. “King Abdullah offers the world the true definition of a spiritual entrepreneur,” she said, “who holds both the belief and free expression of religion as among humankind’s most important callings.”
Madanat has reservations about tolerance, lest a Western-style multiculturalism creep into Jordan, contradicting his biblical worldview. But he agreed with Dill in regard to freedom of belief, as persecution of converts to Christianity tends to be social rather than official. Jordan also tests a Christian before allowing conversion to Islam, to make sure he is sincere.
Jordan ranks number 21 on Open Door’s World Watch List of Christian persecution. The country assigns personal status to religious courts, which do not recognize conversion from Islam, and may revoke the family rights of apostates.
Even so, Shehadeh advises Christians to be thankful for the privileges Jordan affords their community, and to be patient in seeking rights they find lacking. Under Abdullah, the religion field was removed from official IDs in 2016, though it remains in government records.
King Abdullah II will be formally awarded the Templeton Prize in a public ceremony in Washington, D.C. on November 13.
“Our king has been the first to protect Christians, and deserves this prize,” Shehadeh said. “Congratulations to his majesty.”
Recently, Lynn and I had the opportunity to have dinner in Jerusalem with our good friends, Tom and JoAnn Doyle. Among other things we talked about two important trend lines in the world of Gospel ministry to Muslims — persecution and harvest.
Below is an article on this subject that I asked Tom to write specifically for this blog. It’s very informative and encouraging. I hope you’ll not only read it but share it with others.
By way of context, Tom was a senior pastor in New Mexico and Colorado for more than two decades. Then, in the summer of 2001, the Lord called he and JoAnn to serve the persecuted Church in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. Little did they know the horrific events of 9/11 were coming. Nor could they have possibly imagined that the greatest era of church growth in the Muslim world in fourteen centuries was about to accelerate even faster, deeper and wider. In recent years, Tom has written some excellent books on what God is doing among Muslims. Among them are Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where It’s Not Safe to Believeand DREAMS AND VISIONS: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World? I commend them both to you.
Is There Any Good News In The Middle East? Yes, despite intense persecution, we’re also seeing a great harvest of Muslims turning to Christ. Here’s the latest.
By Tom Doyle
When you think of Christianity in the Middle East, the first word that probably comes to mind is persecution.
But another word should come to mind – harvest.
The year 2015 was certainly a year of persecution for followers of Jesus Christ in the Muslim world. But one of the reasons for this is the large number of Muslims who have left the religion of Islam and now embrace Jesus as their Savior.
That said, persecution is not stopping the spread of the gospel. To the contrary, the killing of Christians is accelerating the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church. In fact, over the centuries, oppressors have never recognized that the persecution of Christians is always a failed initiative. It doesn’t destroy the church; it makes the church grow.
Welcome to the New Middle East. Muslims all over the region are coming to faith in Christ. What’s more, they’re willing to suffer persecution for the Lord Jesus Christ in part because they see a great harvest of other Muslims and want to be faithful in proclaiming the good news of salvation in a world of such darkness.
Here are some of the things my wife and team and I have been seeing as we travel in and out of the region:
In November 2015, I took a team to a country in the Middle East and witnessed something phenomenal: 25 former Muslims baptized as new believers in Jesus. The city where we were has a steadily growing underground church – indeed, they’ve seen 90 Muslims receive Jesus recently. And that’s just in one city. One was a woman who is married to a Muslim Imam (religious cleric). When she embraced Jesus, her irate husband found out and threw her out of the house and kept their three children. He vowed that if she were baptized he would kill her. But there she was, one of the 25 lining up to be baptized, and when she came out of the water there was overwhelming relief and joy on her face. By the world’s standards, she has lost everything, but she was not willing to deny Jesus and her love for Him.
In Syria, Farid – a pastor and national Christian leader – says: “We’ve never seen Muslims come to Jesus like this. The ongoing civil war in our country has soured many to religion since this is essentially a religious war. Jesus brings something that religion can never deliver. He brings hope and reconciliation.” Farid says that the Syrian underground church is growing rapidly and in some home groups Alawites and Muslims worship together. “In the streets of Syria, they are killing one another, but when they find Jesus and reconcile with the Father, only then can they reconcile to one another. Jesus is the only hope for Syria. We have seen more than 1,000 Muslims come to faith in Christ in Syria in the last few years. This brings us great joy in Syria.”
A pastor in Jordan named, Amir, says: “The amazing occurrence of dreams about Jesus seems to be even growing. Of the hundreds of Muslims that we are working with, the majority of them claim to have had one or more Jesus dreams. Jesus tells them in the dream how He loves them. What a message Jesus has in this sea of hatred all around us.”
In February of 2015, ISIS killed 21 Christians on the beach in Libya and released the horrific footage of their beheading. The video showed 20 Egyptian men and one man from Chad walking onto the beach in orange jumpsuits and an ISIS terrorist with their covered, in all black, leading each prisoner. The picture summarized the year of persecution for the church. In fact, it became a defining moment for the persecuted church in the region, much like the image of the lone Chinese dissident standing in front of a column of oncoming tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In October of 2015, I took a small team to Egypt to meet the wives of those brave martyrs. Before we left, I happened to mention on a national radio program in the States what we were going to do. I said that we were going to Egypt to encourage these dear widows and bring letters that our e3 Partners team had written. We were so surprised but encouraged when listeners began to write letters to the martyrs for us to take with us. Over 2,000 from around the world poured in within two days. A kindergarten class from a Christian school even drew pictures and sent them in since they were too young to write. Emails came in from countries around the world. What a blessing these messages of solidarity were to these faithful Christian women.
During the research I did for my book, Killing Christians, I came to believe that persecuted believers have become the face of genuine Christianity around the world. As Evangelicals, we may not agree with every element of theology of the Coptic Church that these men came from. But in meeting their families and hearing their stories, there is no question in my mind that these men truly loved the Lord Jesus with their whole hearts, and I was moved that they were more than willing to die for Him.
We visited their widows in their simple poverty-stricken villages. They told us how their husbands had been held captive and tortured for 45 days but they never gave in to the free ticket out that was promised to them if all they would do is convert to Islam. One widow shared this: “How is it that we were given this privilege and honor to have someone in our family die for Jesus? We are just humble village people in an insignificant village in Egypt. But yet Jesus selected my husband for the most important thing we could ever do in life-to die for Jesus!”
So why is it that Muslims are now coming to faith in Christ in significant numbers? One of the reasons is that Islamic terrorists are killing violently for their faith, while followers of Jesus are dying peacefully for their faith. Muslims are watching the violence and it has soured them towards their religion. It has also opened them up to the possibility that there may be something to this Jesus after all. They see hate in Radical Islam and love among the Jesus followers, even as they are taken to be executed. What a contrast.
Yes, Christians are being persecuted openly in the Middle East. But they are standing strong, and this has served to spread the gospel even more rapidly. In a world of bad news, that is very good news.
Let us thank God for this – and let us be faithful in praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters, that the Lord would give them strength and courage and boldness to keep living for Christ and keep preaching the Gospel, come what may.
Despite the persecution, killing, and terrorism in the Middle East, this is one of the Church’s finest hours.
Tom Doyle is the Vice President of e3 Partners, focusing on evangelism and equipping the Church around the world, including in Muslim countries.
You can get real-time prayer requests from your brothers and sisters on the frontlines and in harms way at the face book page called 8thirty8.
(Washington, D.C.) — An unprecedented spiritual revolution is underway in the Islamic world.
From 1960 to 2010, the number of Muslims who have converted away from Islam and become true followers of Jesus Christ has skyrocketed, from fewer than 200,000 to some 10 million people. Amidst persecution and even genocide, the Church in the Middle East is growing in ways never seen in fourteen centuries of Islam. And there is now scholarly documentation backing up these numbers.
Yesterday, I had the honor of addressing the pastors at the “Watchmen on the Wall” conference organized by the Family Research Council. Tony Perkins, president of FRC, asked me to brief the gathering on the latest on the persecuted Church in the Middle East and it was my joy to do so — especially to share this exciting news.
Here are notes I used for my presentation. You’ll find details regarding the soaring number of Muslim conversions under point #4, including a link to the peer-reviewed journal article where these data are found. Hope you find them helpful.
1.) The sobering reality is that 2015 was the “worst year in modern history for Christian persecution.” This was the finding from the most recent report on global persecution from Open Doors. Some 7,100 Christians were killed for their faith last year. up 50% from the previous year. Some 2,400 churches were destroyed or damaged last year. According to the president of Open Doors, “The level of exclusion, discrimination, and violence against Christians is unprecedented, spreading and intensifying.”
This doesn’t mean that all Muslims are dangerous or are persecutors of Christians. The vast majority of Muslims do not intend us harm. However, this does mean that empirical evidence confirms that wherever the forces of Radical Islam — and Apocalyptic Islam — are highly active or in control, followers of Jesus Christ are in grave danger.
The Scriptures repeatedly warn believers to expect persecution, especially as the return of Christ approaches (see Matthew 24:8).
The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “Everyone who lives a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
The Lord Jesus told His disciples in John 16:2, “an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” That hour has now come.
2.) The Church in Syria and Iraq today is not simply facing persecution — it’s facing genocide. What is genocide? Jay Sekulow, head of the American Center for Law and Justice, and his team note, “The Holocaust gave rise to the necessity to define what ‘genocide’ is, and Article 2 of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) did just that,” defining it as:
any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Tragically, this is exactly what is happening in Syria and Iraq. The forces of the Islamic State are beheading, crucifying, torturing, starving and enslaving Christians, and trying to forcibly convert them to Islam. Many Christians are dying. Many are fleeing. Some, sadly, are converting away. This is genocide. Consider the facts:
On Sunday evening in Jerusalem, I had tea with the Vicar of Baghdad — Anglican Canon Andrew White — and some pastors and friends. For years he lived in the capital of Iraq, ministering to Christians from many denominations and trying to be a witness to Muslims of Christ’s love and mercy. He explained to us that in 2014 he finally had to evacuate from Iraq because it had just become too dangerous. The stories he told us of ISIS atrocities he knew of first hand were horrific. He described a father forced by ISIS jihadists to renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam or watch his children beheaded. He told another story of several young Christian children threatened by ISIS to convert to Islam or their parents would be murdered. But the children refused to convert saying they loved Jesus, and Jesus loved them and cared for them, and they had to always stay close to Jesus. Their parents were murdered in front of them.
To be clear, ISIS is waging genocide not just against Christians — seeking to destroy all followers of Christ and to physically destroy all Christian houses of worship. They are also seeking to destroy the Yazidis (a minority sect in the region) and Muslims who don’t share their same theological and eschatological views. Indeed, it is Muslims who are dying most at the hands of ISIS. And, of course, ISIS continues to threaten to invade Israel and murder all the Jews. Why? Because they believe that such genocidal actions will help accelerate the coming of their so-called messiah — the Mahdi — and the return of Jesus (to be the Mahdi’s deputy). They also believe this will usher in the global Islamic kingdom or Caliphate and bring about the End of Days.
3.) By the grace of our sovereign God, the two safest places for Christians in the Middle East today are Israel and Jordan.
Israel is a Jewish State. It’s a democracy (where Christians can vote and Arabs can vote and serve in government; we have an Arab Supreme Court Justice and 17 Arabs serving as Members of the Knesset, up from 12 in the previous elections). Israel does not have a particularly large population of Christ followers (thought the numbers of Jewish, Arab and international believers is steadily growing). Still, Israel is an oasis of religious freedom and personal safety and security for Christians in a sea of fire.
Israel is by no means perfect. Like every country, our government and society has many flaws. Still, it never ceases to astound and grieve me when I see some Christians around the world — including some liberal, mainline denominations — attacking Israel as a country of “apartheid” and “racism” and using all kinds of other epithets and announcing boycotts and divestment from Israel as if it were some pariah state, rather than acknowledging that for all our flaws this is the safest place for Christians to be in the entire Middle East.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, meanwhile — our next door neighbor — is a Muslim monarchy. Like Israel, Jordan does not have a huge Christian population (though the numbers of Christ followers is steadily increasing). That said, King Abdullah II has created the safest political and cultural environment for Christians in all of the Middle East. He and the Royal Family and the Jordanian government show great respect for the Christian community. Churches operate freely. Attacks by Islamic extremists are not countenanced. The King even created a national park along the Jordan River several years ago, allowing 13 Christian denominations to build church facilities and perform baptisms in the River. This is unimaginable in almost any other Muslim-majority country.
Let us, therefore, pray for the people and leaders of these two countries. Let’s thank them and seek to bless them for the blessings they are to Christians, even though most of their leaders disagree with what we believe.
4.) Despite the worst persecution in the modern history of the Church (or maybe because of it), we are seeing the greatest harvest of souls in the Muslims world in the history of the Church.
As sheer savagery has been unleashed in the Middle East, the Spirit of the living God is moving in power and great glory. Satan is on the offensive, but so is Christ. Darkness is falling, but the Light of the gospel is shining in the darkness.
To this end, I commend to your attention the following: “Believers In Christ From A Muslim Background: A Global Census” is a 19 page peer-reviewed article written by two respected Christian scholars, Dr. Duane Alexander Miller, a professor at St. Mary’s University in Texas, and Patrick Johnstone, the long-time editor of Operation World (a series of books that carefully documented the state of Christianity in every country on a planet and which sold more than 2.5 million copies.)
Their study, published 2015 in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (out of Baylor University) examined all the research that has been done on Muslim conversions to Christianity from 1960 to 2010. They carefully analyzed country-by-country data and tried to take special care to weed out double-counting, possible exaggerations, and a range of other issues and variables. Their conclusions were stunning.
From 1960 to 2010, the number of Muslims that have converted to faith in Jesus Christ has grown from fewer than 200,000 to some 10 million people.
In their analysis, the 10 million figure is actually a mid-range. They conclude the number of conversions could be as low as around 6 million or even as high as around 17 or 18 million. To be sure, it’s impossible to get absolutely precise numbers of conversions out of Iran or Saudi Arabia, among other countries. And one must keep in mind that the data they looked at does not include 2011 to the present, though there is evidence of continued — perhaps even accelerated — conversions in recent years. That said, the scholars conclude 10 million is a solid conservative estimate based on the data they obtained.
The chart above is from their article. It shows the surge of conversions in recent decades.
To date, this is the most definitive data I have personally seen verifying the Great Awakening that is underway in the Muslim world.
True, in a world of 1.6 billion Muslims, 10 million conversions does not seem like many. But in nearly fourteen centuries of Islam, there were almost no conversions to Christians. Some, but not many. Now there is a civil war inside Islam. Muslims are questioning what they believe, why they believe it, and whether they have the truth or not. Many are looking at the “purist” Islamic regimes in Iraq and ISIS and concluding, “If that’s Islam, I can’t be a part of it.” They’re searching satellite TV, radio and the Internet for answers. They are reading the Bible and examining the claims of Christ. Some are even seeing dreams and visions of Jesus — and they are coming to faith in numbers we’ve never seen.
To me what’s important is not the number per se — it’s the dynamic. It’s the trend lines. And they are moving in a positive direction for the first time since Islam was founded in the seventh century.
To read specific examples and testimonies of “Muslim Background Believers,” consider reading my 2009 book, Inside The Revolution. My friend, Tom Doyle, has told more examples in his books Dreams & Visions and Killing Christians. I highly encourage you to read these, as well.
The Vicar of Baghdad shared with me even more examples, including the story of an ISIS jihadist recently having a dream in which he saw “the man in white” — realized it was Jesus Christ, realized that faith in Christ was the only way to be forgiven of his sins and find true hope and peace and truly get to heaven — and converted away from Islam to Biblical Christianity and became born again.
Yes, darkness is falling on the modern Middle East. But the Hebrew prophet Isaiah told us that “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine upon them.” (Isaiah 9:2)
This was true when the Lord Jesus came to Israel the first time 2,000 years ago. Today, the Light of Christ is again dawning on the people living in great darkness as the persecuted Church shows the love of Christ and shares the Gospel message.
Our job is to come along side our persecuted brothers and sisters and love them, encourage them, pray for them, visit them, resource them, help them stand strong and courageous for our Lord and King.
The Lord Jesus told us in Matthew 5 to rejoice when we are persecuted. So many of our brothers and sisters in the Mideast are rejoicing. They are full of joy because Jesus is all they have. They’ve lost everything else, but they have never felt spiritually and emotionally wealthier than they do today.
As one Iraq pastor told me, “We are living similar lives to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Yes, the fires here in Iraq are seven times hotter than they were. But Jesus is here with us, walking with us in the fire.”
I’m so grateful for men like the Vicar of Baghdad who are living in the region, among suffering people, loving them, serving them in the name of Jesus.
My wife and sons and I are honored to be living in the epicenter and having the chance to meet and encourage and serve our brothers and sisters who are serving heroically against the odds.
And I’m so grateful for my colleagues at The Joshua Fund who are so dedicated to providing humanitarian relief for the poor and vulnerable in Israel, both Jews and Arabs, and for refugees fleeing from Assad and ISIS. They’re passionate about strengthening the Church in the epicenter to boldly preach the Gospel to all, to teach the whole counsel of God, and to make disciples and raise up new pastors. I love these guys, and I believe their ministry is more important than ever given what’s happening in the region.
Hormoz Shariat, the “Billy Graham of Iran,” and I discuss the Gospel — the good news of how Muslims, Jews, and all people can be forgiven and go to heaven — on live satellite TV broadcast into Iran.
(Washington, D.C.) — In 1979, there were fewer than 500 Muslim converts to Christianity in all of Iran. Today, there are over one million Iranian who love Jesus Christ, have become His followers, and are celebrating Easter.
In fact, this Easter millions of former Muslims throughout the Middle East, North Africa and central Asia are celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Whereas they once saw Jesus as merely a prophet, now they are convinced that He is God, and they have renounced Islam and chosen to follow Him no matter what it costs them.
In my 2009 non-fiction book, Inside The Revolution, I wrote several chapters about this extraordinary trend of Muslims leaving Islam and becoming Christ-followers. In the book, I described my travels from Morocco to Afghanistan, interviewing “MBBs,” Muslim Background Believers in Jesus.
One of the leaders of this movement that I profiled in the book is Dr. Hormoz Shariat. He was a Shia Muslim in Iran in 1979 shouting, “Death to America!” on the streets of Tehran with his Muslim wife. But within a few years, they were actually living in the U.S. and had both become Christians after dramatic conversion experiences. They started sharing the Gospel with friends and leading them to Christ. In time, they started planting churches of Iranian believers, and eventually founded a satellite TV ministry to broadcast the Gospel and discipleship training into Iran and the Persian speaking world.
In the book, I dubbed Hormoz “the Billy Graham of Iran,” because God has raised him up to preach the Gospelto millions in their native language of Farsi. Now, a Christian magazine has just profiled Hormoz. I was interviewed for the article and was honored to discuss my friendship and respect for him.
Please be praying for Hormoz and his family and team, as well as for all MBBs this Easter season. They face intense spiritual opposition, and persecution. But they have see the great hope and freedom and forgiveness and peace that comes from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and most are eager to share the good news of God’s amazing grace and love with the Muslim world, regardless of the challenges and dangers they face.
Not long after the Iran hostage crisis, the authorities arrested Hormoz Shariat’s 16-year-old brother, Hamraz, on a minor political charge. At the time, Hormoz was a new believer in America and was confident his brother, a political activist who had a small role with the Mujahedeen, would be released. But in 1984, after two years in jail, Shariat’s brother was executed by a firing squad.
Shocked by the news of his brother’s death, Shariat broke down crying, asking God why He let it happen. He felt anger toward God and the people who killed his brother. A few days later, Shariat told God he wanted revenge—but then he recalled the Bible’s words that say, “Vengeance is Mine” (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). Shariat told God he hated those who had killed his brother—but then he remembered Jesus said anyone who is angry with their brother has already murdered them in their heart (Matt. 5:21-22).
He says he felt the Lord saying to him in prayer, “You know who your enemy is? These people—the clergy and the leaders of Iran—are not your enemy. They are lost children. You have only one enemy. Satan has been working to bring about this injustice. If you want to hurt Satan, evangelize. It hurts him really bad when you bring people to Christ.”
As Shariat tells it, that’s when he committed himself to sharing the gospel the rest of his life.
“I had a vision that by the end of my life I could bring 1 million Muslims to know Him,” he says. “I also learned that God’s love is the greatest power we have to stop Islam and help Muslim captives be free.”
Visions of Jesus
In the three decades since Shariat set his resolve, this minister—dubbed “the Billy Graham of Iran” by New York Times best-selling author Joel C. Rosenberg—has not only watched that goal come to fruition, but has also been given a front-row seat to one of the most astonishing supernatural phenomenon in modern times: thousands of people in Iran and throughout the Middle East reporting visitations of Jesus in dreams and visions.
“It’s amazing,” says Shariat, who founded the satellite broadcasting ministry Iran Alive Ministries in 2001. “God is graciously appearing to people in visions, dreams and through miracles. Sometimes they have dreams or visions of Jesus, run across our satellite television broadcast, hear the gospel, and then they believe. They may have, as children, had dreams or saw visions of Jesus. The vision or dream prepares them for the gospel. Other times they watch our program, ask if this is true or not, and then they have a dream or vision that confirms what they heard.”
Shariat believes the message is clear—that God is telling Christians in the West, “You look at them as terrorists who have no hope of salvation. Are you looking at them that way? I’m not. Look at Me. I’m appearing to them. I’m doing it Myself. Would you join Me to reach out to the Muslims?”
Rosenberg wrote about this phenomenon of dreams and visions in his book Inside the Revolution. “It’s an exciting development,” he says, “and it’s consistent with the Bible prophecies found in Joel 2, in which the Lord says in the last days He will pour our His Holy Spirit and people will see dreams and visions.”
Explosion of Faith
Since the hostage crisis ended in 1981, Rosenberg says the number of Christians in Iran has increased exponentially, from 500 to a conservative estimate of 1 million. Shariat, however, says the number may be far larger, noting that Iran—the world’s only theocracy, with 76 million residents—has the fastest-growing evangelical Christian population on the planet, according to the latest edition of Operation World’s manual. In fact, more Persians have come to Christ in the 35 years since the Islamic Revolution than in the prior 1,400 years combined—and most of these conversions have occurred in the past decade, as an estimated 62 million Iranians have gained access to the gospel message through satellite TV broadcasts….
(Central Israel) — It is fascinating to live in Israel and discover how little Israelis know about Easter and the impact of the Easter story on humanity.
Whether Israelis choose to believe the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah or not, it would certainly behoove all Israelis to read and to know the Messianic prophecies laid out in the Hebrew Scriptures, the basic New Testament story of Jesus’ life, and to better understand how the story of the most famous and beloved Jewish man in human history continues to impact the world.
To that end, here are three specific facts that every Israeli — and every Jewish person around the world — ought to know.
An Israeli scholar from Hebrew University says First Century Jews awaited a Messiah who would die and rise again from the dead, and argues that “third day resurrection” is a Jewish concept that pre-dates Christianity.
More former Muslims are celebrating Easter this year as devout followers of Jesus than at any other time in human history.
Despite historic reticence to read the New Testament, what’s newsworthy is that more Jewish people in Israel, North America and around the world are, in fact, reading the Gospels, reading the entire New Testament, and exploring the claims of Jesus to be Messiah in recent years than at any other time in the last 2,000 years.
Let me take a few moments to explain in more detail.
An Israeli scholar from Hebrew University says First Century Jews awaited a Messiah who would die and rise again from the dead, and argues that “third day resurrection” is a Jewish concept that pre-dates Christianity.
Dr. Israel Knohl asserts that the notion that God can and does raise people from the dead is a concept founded in the Hebrew (Old Testament) Scriptures.
He further argues that the Hebrew Scriptures foretell the coming of a “Suffering Servant” Messiah who will die as an atonement for the sins of the people, and then rise from the dead to reign as a kingly Messiah.
What’s more, he argues that “third day resurrection” is a pre-Christian concept that dates back to before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem Ephratah.
Dr. Knohl has based on his conclusions on many years of research of the Hebrew Scriptures, ancient Jewish writings, and recently analyzed archaeological evidence, including a previously unstudied Dead Sea Scroll.
He points to Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and the story of Josephy as examples of a “Suffering Servant” Messiah.
Regarding resurrection, there are many Old Testament examples, including Ezekiel 37 — but one particularly notable example is from the Book of Job: “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see.” (Job 19:25-27)
Regarding “third day resurrection,” one example comes from the Hebrew prophet Hosea: “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us…He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him.” (Hosea 6:1-3)
I had the opportunity to sit and discuss these and other elements of his research with Dr. Knohl at length a few years ago and it was an absolutely fascinating conversation.
Here is an article I wrote on the topic several years ago, with links to articles in the New York Times, Biblical Archaeology Review, and other publications that have covered Knohl’s dramatic and controversial findings.
More former Muslims will celebrate Easter this year as devout followers of Jesus than at any other time in human history.
An unprecedented spiritual revolution is underway in the Islamic world.From 1960 to 2010, the number of Muslims who have converted away from Islam and become true followers of Jesus Christ has skyrocketed, from fewer than 200,000 to some 10 million people.
Amidst persecution and even genocide, the Church in the Middle East is growing in ways never seen in fourteen centuries of Islam — and
There is now scholarly documentation backing up these numbers.
I commend to your attention the following: “Believers In Christ From A Muslim Background: A Global Census” is a 19 page peer-reviewed article written by two respected Christian scholars, Dr. Duane Alexander Miller, a professor at St. Mary’s University in Texas, and Patrick Johnstone, the long-time editor of Operation World (a series of books that carefully documented the state of Christianity in every country on a planet and which sold more than 2.5 million copies.)
Their study, published 2015 in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion (out of Baylor University) examined all the research that has been done on Muslim conversions to Christianity from 1960 to 2010.
They carefully analyzed country-by-country data and tried to take special care to weed out double-counting, possible exaggerations, and a range of other issues and variables. Their conclusions were stunning.
Here is an article I wrote on the subject last year.
Here are several other articles I have written or been quoted in in recent years ago with stories of former Muslims who now follow Jesus and are celebrating His death and resurrection on Easter and every day. (see here, here and here.
Despite historic reticence to read the New Testament, more Jewish people in Israel, North America and around the world are, in fact, reading the Gospels, reading the entire New Testament, and exploring the claims of Jesus to be Messiah in recent years than at any other time in the last 2,000 years — and this is a very good thing.
Just as all Christians should read and understand the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) in full, I believe all Jews should read and understand the New Testament in full.
Jewish-Christian relations would be significantly enhanced if we would all read and study the Holy Scriptures that are so important to the faith and culture of the other.
To that end, I’m actually astounded by the growing interest Jews have in understanding the New Testament, and by how many Rabbis and Jewish scholars are encouraging their fellow Jews to read the New Testament in full.
Online short-form videos in English explaining the Gospels and the New Testament to Jewish people have been watched more than 23 million timesover the last several years, as I reported in December 2016.
The Hebrew-language versions of these online videos in Israel have been watched more than 9 million times over the past few years.
What’s more, there is a remarkable — if largely unnoticed — movement among Rabbis and Jewish scholars in recent years encouraging Jewish people to read the New Testament to learn more about ancient Judaism and to better understand the life and teachings of Jesus.
EXAMPLE: Consider thiscolumn on the Times of Israel news site by Joshua Stanton, the Associate Director of the Center for Global Judaism at Hebrew College and founding co-editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. The article was about three American Rabbis who were competing on the “American Bible Challenge” TV quiz show. Stanton found it interesting (and good) that these Rabbis were competing in an environment that requires them to know the New Testament in great detail, not just the Hebrew Scriptures. He noted: “The presence of the new rabbinical team might point to a different phenomenon altogether: an interest on the part of some Jews to read the Christian bible. Far from an exercise in assimilation, it stems from the increased recognition that embedded within Christian texts are kernels of wisdom about early rabbinic Judaism. If Jesus was a rabbi, then he and his followers would likely exhibit traits similar to those of other rabbis and their discipleship circles. In learning about one early rabbi (albeit a unique one, whose followers eventually split from the rabbinic tradition), we as Jews might gain insight into our own tradition.” He also noted that “while some of us still experience surface tension in reading the sacred texts of other traditions, the concern associated with reading the Christian Bible may be decreasing. With animosity quite low between Jews and Christians in the United States, and differences clearly defined, Jews may grow increasingly comfortable with the insights they gain from Christian texts, even as they recognize the differences inherent to them.”
EXAMPLE: Consider a recent book — written by a prominent American Rabbi named Shmuley Boteach — called, Kosher Jesus. The Rabbi argued that while Jesus is not the Messiah, he was Jewish, was a Rabbi, was a great teacher, and that Jews should read the New Testament and learn from this remarkable “brother” of theirs. The book has sparked widespread discussion and controversy, arguably more than any book of its kind. Rabbi Boteach noted in a column he wrote for Jewish Week that “the ferocious battle that has been waged in the press and blogosphere over my new book, Kosher Jesus (Gefen Publishing House), in the weeks leading up to its publication…has obscured both its message and the reason for its publication. The book goes back to the original gospel source materials to uncover the true story of Jesus and portray him for who he was prior to later Christian editors significantly modifying the story to accommodate the Romans. Jesus was a Torah-committed Jew whose mission was to restore Jewish observance fully among his Jewish brethren and fight Roman persecution. For doing so he was turned over by the Roman collaborator, High Priest Caiaphas, who owed his office to the Romans, and was murdered by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate….Publisher’s Weekly reviewed the book as an ‘informed and cogent primer on Jesus of Nazareth…a brave stab at re-evaluating Jesus through an intensive look at the New Testament and historical documents…and a well-researched analysis that will certainly reopen intra-faith and interfaith dialogue.’….Why is it necessary for Jews to reclaim the Jewish Jesus and educate Christians about the source of his teachings? First, virtually all Jewish ideas that have shaped the world have been taken from our people without attribution so that Judaism is treated today as a discarded relic with little contemporary relevance. We gave the world God. Today his name is Jesus. We gave the world the Sabbath. Today it’s called Sunday. We gave the world the Ten Commandments. Today it’s called morality. And we gave the world the biblical insistence that all humans are created equally in the image of God. Today it’s called democracy. As a result, young Jews are not even aware of the transformative ideas of their own faith, which might explain their lack of attachment to it….”
From the Los Angeles Times: “Rabbi’s ‘Kosher Jesus’ book is denounced as heresy: Shmuley Boteach’s book focuses on Jesus’ Jewishness, portraying him as a hero who was not resurrected or divine. But some other rabbis express contempt for the book and forbid followers to read it.”
EXAMPLE: Several American Rabbis and Jewish writers have been discussing the trend of Jews talking more about Jesus.
Josh Fleet, the associate religion editor at the Huffington Post, wrote an article entitled, “The J-Word: Why Jesus Is Taboo in Polite Jewish Conversation.” Excerpt: “[T]he topic of Jesus should not be a Jewish taboo. If we believe so much that our relationship with Christianity is based on deceit, tragedy and senseless hatred — that it has broken us — then we are obligated to believe it can be based on trust, opportunity and boundless love — that it can be fixed….Though we may not admit it, we are fascinated by Jesus. The latest trend has some reclaiming him as a devoutly Jewish sage — or at least someone Jews can learn from today. The Jewish Annotated New Testament, published in November 2011 and written from a Jewish perspective, re-contextualizes Christian Scripture and provides an opening for increased Jewish-Christian communion. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus…argues that Jesus never claimed that high celestial throne and seeks to give Jews foolproof, text-based responses to “Jews for Jesus” and other Christian missionaries with conversion on the mind. The debate aroused by Boteach’s book — responses range from positive to reasonable to overblown and sensational — shows that old wounds aren’t healed by a couple generations of cultural acceptance. In Orthodox circles, some rabbis have called for Kosher Jesus to be banned, with at least one rabbi asserting that Boteach should be excommunicated.”
Excerpt: “I’ve always said that the only times Jewish people mention Jesus are when they stub their toe, miss the bus, or tell you about their theater tickets to a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera. Two new books will change that. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus and The Jewish Annotated New Testament (edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine). The former discusses the Jewish life of Jesus of Nazareth and the latter is a newly revised edition of the Christian Scriptures with notes and essays from Jewish scholars in the hope of making the “New Testament” accessible to Jews.
Excerpt: “As I have been reading the many criticisms of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his Kosher Jesus, one thing that I’ve noticed is the strong discomfort his attackers have with even mentioning Jesus. As Josh Fleet mentioned in his Huffington Post article, some of Boteach’s critics refuse to even type out the name Jesus. Instead they refer to Boteach’s book as Kosher J. abbreviating the name of Jesus in a way that is reminiscent of how they refuse to spell out the word “God” or “Lord” choosing instead to use “G-d” or “L-rd”. This struck me as odd as it seems to put Jesus in the same category as God whose name must not be rendered in print (even though the English words “God” and “Lord” are not actual names for the Jewish deity and I’ve never understood a ban on spelling out God’s name in Latin characters). In any event, it is similarly odd that many of Boteach’s critics who are eager to put him in herem (excommunication) for having the chutzpah to publish a book about Jesus of Nazareth are the same Chabad Lubavitch members who seem to be placing their bets that the late Lubavitch rebbe is the messiah. One man’s false messiah is another man’s god. One man’s spiritual leader is another man’s messiah.”
Excerpt: “When you consider how little most Jews know about Jesus from a historical perspective, it is actually an exciting time when this discussion will no longer be taboo. While some religious Jews will claim it is dangerous to read books like Kosher Jesus or to have Brettler and Levine’s commentary of the “New Testament” on your bookshelf for reference, I actually think that this will lead to better Jewish-Christian dialogue. It will also alleviate so much of the misinformation and ignorance that many Jews have about Christianity and its roots. I’m eager to see where this leads and I’m grateful to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach for having the conviction to publish Kosher Jesus, and to Profs. Brettler and Levine for using their scholarship to educate us on a religion about which we have been hesitant to learn more.”
EXAMPLE: Several years ago, the New York Times ran an intriguing article headlined, “Focusing on the Jewish story of the New Testament.” It was about two professors – Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt, and Marc Zvi Brettler of Brandeis – both practicing Jews, who had just released The Jewish Annotated New Testament(through Oxford University Press) in hopes of encouraging more Jews to read the New Testament and learn more about their own Jewish history and the Jewish roots of Christianity. Levine told the Times, “The more I study the New Testament, the better a Jew I become.” The release of their version prompted much news coverage (though for space I won’t link to the articles here.)
EXAMPLE: The Jewish Chronicle published an article headlined, “We Shouldn’t Be Afraid Of Saying ‘Rabbi Jesus.”Excerpt: “In a recent YouTube video, the Chief Rabbi of Efrat in the West Bank, Shlomo Riskin, praised Jesus and referred to him as “Rabbi Jesus”. Riskin is the charismatic founder of the Centre for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Co-operation, which engages in dialogue primarily with evangelical Christians. The video was clearly posted for a Christian audience but it has caused shock waves among Orthodox Jews and especially the Charedi community. Rabbi Riskin stated on the video that Jesus was a model rabbi who ‘lived the life of a Jewish rabbi in Israel.’….Accusations of heresy are now being thrown at Rabbi Riskin, who had to offer a retraction in another YouTube video where he expressed remorse at describing Jesus as a rabbi stating it was an “unfortunate” term. It is a great shame that Rabbi Riskin was forced to backtrack because there has been a significant change in Jewish attitudes towards Christianity….Jewish education today should include learning that Jesus and his family would have been Torah observant, kept Shabbat, circumcised their males, attended synagogue, observed purity laws in relation to childbirth and menstruation, kept kosher, and so on. While the Gospels record disputes about Jesus’s interpretation of a few of these, the notion of a Christian Jesus, who did not live by Torah or only by its ethical values, does not fit historical reality….Geza Vermes and Ed Sanders are two scholars who in recent years have drawn wide attention among Christians to Jesus’s Jewish origins. Jesus was a Jew, not an alien intruder in first-century Palestine….Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, a conservative Jew in California, wrote a blog headlined, “Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s bold acknowledgement of Jesus as a 1st century Sage and ‘Rabbi’”
EXAMPLE: Benyamin Cohen, the son of an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, published a book entitled, My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith. Excerpt: “One day a Georgia-born son of an Orthodox rabbi discovers that his enthusiasm for Judaism is flagging. He observes the Sabbath, he goes to synagogue, and he even flies to New York on weekends for a series of “speed dates” with nice, eligible Jewish girls. But, something is missing. Looking out of his window and across the street at one of the hundreds of churches in Atlanta, he asks, ‘What would it be like to be a Christian?’ So begins Benyamin Cohen’s hilarious journey that is My Jesus Year—part memoir, part spiritual quest, and part anthropologist’s mission. Among Cohen’s many adventures (and misadventures), he finds himself in some rather unlikely places: jumping into the mosh-pit at a Christian rock concert, seeing his face projected on the giant JumboTron of an African-American megachurch, visiting a potential convert with two young Mormon missionaries, attending a Christian ‘professional wrestling’ match, and waking up early for a sunrise Easter service on top of Stone Mountain—a Confederate memorial and former base of operations for the KKK. During his year-long exploration, Cohen sees the best and the worst of Christianity— from megachurches to storefront churches; from crass commercialization of religion to the simple, moving faith of the humble believer; from the profound to the profane to the just plain laughable. Throughout, he keeps an open heart and mind, a good sense of humor, and takes what he learns from Christianity to reflect on his own faith and relationship to God. By year’s end, to Cohen’s surprise, his search for universal answers and truths in the Bible Belt actually make him a better Jew.”
Publishers Weekly wrote: “This arcane treatise aims to familiarize Jews with the New Testament. According to Cook, Jews shortchange themselves by failing to learn about the New Testament since they live in a Christian environment where their ignorance is a handicap. He wrote this manual to help Jews overcome this limitation, which he contends is a departure from the value Jews place on knowledge. At Hebrew Union College, where Cook teaches Judeo-Christian studies, rabbinical students have to learn the New Testament, a requirement that he feels should be mandated for all Jewish seminarians and college students. His handbook lays out the content for such courses for the benefit of non-Jews and secularists as well as Jews. Unfortunately, instead of presenting a primer, Cook offers a complicated text, replete with esoteric diagrams. His assumption of a base of knowledge contradicts his assertion that Jews know little about the New Testament. He examines the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation, discussing their abstruse and often contradictory meanings. Most beginning readers will get lost in Cook’s perplexing consideration of minutiae, despite his comprehensive expertise.”
The violent, fanatical, and apocalyptic actions and rhetoric of the Iranian regime and the leadership of the Islamic State are causing millions of Muslimsto rethink whether they want to be part of such a religion, and many of them are turning to faith in Jesus Christ.
This is the assessment of Dr. Hormoz Shariat, a former Muslim who came to faith in Christ himself in the early 1980s. Today, Dr. Shariat is one of the the most prominent Iranian Christian pastors and evangelists in the world.
Last month, I had dinner with this dear friend, a man I call the “Billy Graham of Iran” because he is preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to millions upon millions of Iranians through his 24/7 Farsi satellite television network.
We were talking about the trends he’s seeing in the Islamic world, and I left the conversation surprised by how encouraged he is. Yes, the Iranian regime and ISIS are engaged in horrific evil. But Hormoz told me he sees unintended consequences of the cruelty of the Iranian and ISIS leaders, that such actions are causing confusion among many Muslims and drawing them to consider the claims of Christ.
I so wish I’d had a notebook that night because what Hormoz was telling me was so fascinating. Instead, when I got home to Israrel, I emailed him and asked him to write up his analysis and send it to me. Graciously, he did just that. The notes he sent me are below. Please read them to the very end, and please share them with others. And let’s keep praying that the Lord would continue to pour out His Holy Spirit on the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
1. A growing number of Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ because of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and ISIS.
The extreme actions and rhetoric of Iran’s government and the ISIS leaders have caused many Muslims in the Middle East to start thinking, asking questions, wondering if Islam could really be true.
This is a major spiritual breakthrough. For a person raised in the West where approaching any issue logically and objectively is the norm, this fact may not be appreciated. “Question Everything” is a cultural virtue in the West. But Muslims living in the Islamic world are not allowed to question their faith at all. Those who do are considered weak in their faith, and sometimes are punished by lashes.
Muslims are oppressed by a spirit of fear. They are afraid to read the Qur’an objectively, or even ask sincere questions about it. Islam is based on total obedience to Allah, without asking any questions.
I have had fascinating conversations over the years with Muslim scientists with PhD’s. We have discussed everything objectively and logically until the subject turned to Islam. I could see a spirit of confusion and fear would overtake them. They could no longer discuss things based on reason. They had stopped thinking.
What has caused Muslims to start questioning their faith? For Shiites, it has been the action of the IRI. For Sunnis, it is what ISIS is doing. I see similarities between the spiritual journey of Iranians for the last 35 years (leaving under the fear and oppression of Khomeini and Khamenei regimes) and a growing number of Sunnis in the last two years, since ISIS became powerful.
Here are the steps of how their thinking changes during their spiritual journey away from Islam and towards Christ:
First, they start thinking the Islamic leaders in the region are not really “True Muslims” – This is often the first reaction of Muslims to the Iranian Government and ISIS. Muslims look at what IRI and ISIS do and say: “Islam is good and perfect; it is these extreme leaders that are the problem. They are giving Islam a bad name. What they do is not true Islam.”
Next, they start wondering, “What is True Islam?” — Both the Iranian regime leaders and ISIS leaders claim that what they do is based on Qur’an, and examples from the life of Prophet Mohammad. They certainly claim to be true Muslims. They challenge all Muslims by saying “What is it that we do that is outside Islam?” This challenge causes Muslims to take another look at the origin of their faith—that is, the Qur’an and the life of their Prophet Muhammad—in order to disprove IRI/ISIS actions and prove that Islam is true and good.
Then the suddenly realize, “Oh my God! The leaders of Iran and ISIS ARE true Muslims!” – A growing number of Muslims who take up the challenge of disproving the actions of the leaders of Iran and ISIS come to a shocking conclusion: that what those leaders are doing actually IS true Islam. They realize that Iran’s and ISIS’s leaders are not fanatic Muslims, but deeply committed and faithful Muslims.
At this point, they begin to realize that there is something fundamentally wrong with Islam itself – This is the start of their rejection of Islam and becoming open to other ways of thinking and faiths, including Christianity.
So this is encouraging — millions of Muslims have started to ask questions about their faith. Ironically, currently in the U.S., one is not allowed to ask hard questions about Islamic faith. As a result of political correctness and an apparent government policy of appeasing Islam, many refuse to logically and objectively discuss what Muslims believe or even discuss Quranic verses. Most media personalities dare to even quote verses from the Qur’an.
2. Iran is fast becoming the first Islamic nation that is abandoning Islam and becoming a Christian nation.
Iran will be a Christian nation according to God’s promise for Elam (today’s Iran) in Jeremiah 49:38. This is happening even today before our eyes. It is no longer by faith that I say “Iran will be a Christian nation,” but it is by sight.
Islam is experiencing its greatest defeat in its history in Iran today. Islam is on the offense and is advancing everywhere in the world—except Iran. Iran is the only country in the world where Islam is on the defense and Christianity is on the offense.
Also, Iran will be the first country that fulfills Romans 11:11 in bringing the Jews to jealousy. When the Jews see that citizens of a nation who wanted to “wipe them off the map” increasingly becoming their friends and sincerely love, value, and have good will towards them because so many Iranians have received Jesus as the Messiah and Savior and been transformed by faith in Him, they will wake up to the fact that Jesus truly changes individual lives and even nations.
As the government of Iran continues to threaten Israel with annihilation, the people of Iran are gradually getting rid of their hatred for the Jews. Iranian Muslims who come to Christ and renounce Islam and start reading their Bibles become free from that hatred. They start getting the heart and mind of God for the Jewish people.
Amazingly, a growing number of Muslims are also losing that hatred, or at least the issue of Israel and Jews is becoming a non-issue for them. I see it all the time, and I believe the reason is that there is such a disconnect and distrust between the people of Iran and their government. When the government sponsors rally’s chanting “Death to Israel,” the people of Iran increasingly think, “If our government tell us that we should hate the Jews, it is a good reason that we should not.”
3. Signs, wonders, visions, dreams, and miracles are slowing down in Iran.
The younger generation in Iran (those under 30 years old) are increasingly experiencing fewer supernatural events—even though a growing number of them are coming to faith in Christ. I believe this is because they do not need miracles in order to come to Christ.
The Lord is so gracious. The older generation in Iran needs such miraculous signs because they are more oppressed by the spirit of Islam. They are, initially, very afraid to make a final decision to follow Christ, even when they are totally convinced of the truth of the Gospel. They are captives to the spirit of Islam, which is the spirit of fear. Therefore, the Lord graciously gives them supernatural experiences (visions, dreams, and miracles) to help them make that final decision.
The younger generation, however, do not need such signs and wonders. Most have been raised in a family where Islam was rejected and even ridiculed, or at least it was a non-issue. The majority of youth in Iran are coming to Christ after hearing the Gospel preached and the Word of God taught to them because, as they frequently put it, “I need salvation.” Their faith is deep even without these supernatural experiences.
Coming from a life of desperation and hopelessness, they greatly value the salvation and life-changing forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. I am so thrilled and inspired when I talk to the young believers in Iran. They are fearless. They are neither afraid of Allah nor the Iranian government. Many say, “So what if they kill me, I was dead anyway.”
One young convert recently told me, “I am not afraid of them (the Iranian regime). They are afraid of me and my Gospel message. It is out of their fear that they want to put me in jail.”
These young generation are ready to live for Jesus and if necessary to die for Him. I believe that as we — the older generation of Iranian followers of Christ – set the foundation of Iran to become a Christian nation, it is this emerging young leaders who will finish the job of transforming Iran into a Christian nation.
(Denver, Colorado) — In my recent novel, The Third Target, a New York Times reporter criss-crosses the Middle East, trying to understand and explain to the world the rise of the Islamic State and the objectives of its leaders. Among the questions my fictional character — J.B. Collins — is trying to answer:
Why are ISIS jihadists are so blood-thirsty?
Why do ISIS leaders want to establish an Islamic kingdom or caliphate?
Are ISIS leaders are really serious about slaughtering and/or enslaving all of the Christians of the region, in addition to annihilating Jews and all Muslims who don’t subscribe to their theology or eschatology?
What he discovers is evil beyond his worst nightmares — a Satanic movement determined to rob, kill and destroy everyone in its path, and particularly Christians.
Now, in real life, a must-read feature story has been published in the New York Times magazine by a reporter who has crisscrossed the epicenter, documenting the slaughter of Christ-followers by ISIS, and asking the provocative but very relevant question: “Is this the end of Christianity in the Middle East?”
I highly recommend that you read and share the article with others. But I also urge you not to be discouraged. Here’s why:
Bible prophecy is clear that wars and revolutions will increase and intensify in the Middle East and around the world in the “last days” as the return of Christ draws increasingly near. “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.” (Matthew 24:6-8; see also Luke chapter 21, Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 12-14, etc.)
Bible prophecy is also clear that persecution of Christ-followers will increase and intensify in the last days before Jesus returns. “[T]hey will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.” (Matthew 24:9)
The prophecies found in the Biblical book of Revelation indicate that many Christians in the Middle East will be martyred for their faith. “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained;and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.” (Revelation 6:9-11)
The prophecies of Revelation also make clear that many followers of Jesus Christ will specifically be beheaded in the last days before the Lord’s return. “I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God…” (Revelation 20:4)
That said, Bible prophecy further makes clear that amidst all the wars and persecution of believers in the last days, the good news of God’s offer of salvation and forgiveness and eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be communicated to every person in every nation, including throughout all of the Middle East. That is, as chaos and carnage spread, the boldness of Christians to share the Gospel with all those who are lost — including throughout the Muslim world — will also deepen and intensify. “This Gospel of the kingdom [of Jesus Christ] will be preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end shall come.” (Matthew 24:14)
Not only will all people in the Middle East (and around the world) hear the Gospel during the End Times, so many will repent and receive Christ as Savior and Lord that the total number of new believers will be difficult to count. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures; and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God…” (Revelation 7:9-11)
yes, this is the most dangerous moment in the history of the Middle East for Christianity — Satan and the forces of evil are on the rampage in the region
but no, this is not the end of Christianity in the epicenter — rather, this is the dawn of Christianity’s greatest waves of evangelism, conversion and discipleship.
One hundred years ago, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and World War I ushered in the greatest period of violence against Christians in the region. The genocide waged by the Young Turks in the name of nationalism, not religion, left at least two million Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks dead. Nearly all were Christian. Among those who survived, many of the better educated left for the West. Others settled in Iraq and Syria, where they were protected by the military dictators who courted these often economically powerful minorities.
From 1910 to 2010, the number of Christians in the Middle East — in countries like Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan — continued to decline; once 14 percent of the population, Christians now make up roughly 4 percent. (In Iran and Turkey, they’re all but gone.) In Lebanon, the only country in the region where Christians hold significant political power, their numbers have shrunk over the past century, to 34 percent from 78 percent of the population. Low birthrates have contributed to this decline, as well as hostile political environments and economic crisis. Fear is also a driver. The rise of extremist groups, as well as the perception that their communities are vanishing, causes people to leave.
For more than a decade, extremists have targeted Christians and other minorities, who often serve as stand-ins for the West. This was especially true in Iraq after the U.S. invasion, which caused hundreds of thousands to flee. ‘‘Since 2003, we’ve lost priests, bishops and more than 60 churches were bombed,’’ Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, said. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, Christians began to leave Iraq in large numbers, and the population shrank to less than 500,000 today from as many as 1.5 million in 2003.
The Arab Spring only made things worse. As dictators like Mubarak in Egypt and Qaddafi in Libya were toppled, their longstanding protection of minorities also ended. Now, ISIS is looking to eradicate Christians and other minorities altogether. The group twists the early history of Christians in the region — their subjugation by the sword — to legitimize its millenarian enterprise. Recently, ISIS posted videos delineating the second-class status of Christians in the caliphate. Those unwilling to pay the jizya tax or to convert would be destroyed, the narrator warned, as the videos culminated in the now-infamous scenes of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in Libya being marched onto the beach and beheaded, their blood running into the surf.
The future of Christianity in the region of its birth is now uncertain. ‘‘How much longer can we flee before we and other minorities become a story in a history book?’’ says Nuri Kino, a journalist and founder of the advocacy group Demand for Action. According to a Pew study, more Christians are now faced with religious persecution than at any time since their early history. ‘‘ISIL has put a spotlight on the issue,’’ says Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, whose parents are from the region and who advocates on behalf of Eastern Christians. ‘‘Christianity is under an existential threat.’’
Here is the text of the address I gave on Saturday night in Manhattan, as prepared for delivery. On Sunday, I delivered a variation of this message to a conference of Korean Christians in New Jersey.
WILL THERE EVER BE PEACE FOR ISRAEL & HER NEIGHBORS?
Address to “The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel Conference,” Calvary Baptist Church, New York City, October 5, 2013
Tonight, I have been asked to do three things.
First, frame what we have learned over the last several days in geopolitical context.
Second, answer the question, “Will there ever be peace for Israel and her neighbors?”
Third, not keep you here until midnight.
The State of the Epicenter
Let’s begin by putting this conference in context.
We have gathered from all over the country to consider “The People, The Land, And The Future of Israel” in light of the Word of God.
This could not be a more timely subject, for the people of Israel, the land of Israel, and the future of the State of Israel today face extraordinary peril – existential threats – on a magnitude equal to, perhaps greater than, any the Jewish State has faced since 1948.
In Egypt, we have watched:
Millions of Egyptians take to the streets calling for Revolution
the dramatic fall from power of the Mubarak regime
the terrifying rise of the Muslim Brotherhood — and its leader Mohammed Morsi — to power, determined to impose Sharia law and end the peace treaty with Israel
And then a stunning reversal — 22 million Egyptians signing a petition calling for the end of the Morsi regime, historic unrest in the streets, and then the military arresting Morsi, removing the leadership of the Brotherhood, and seizing power for itself.
In Syria, we are watching the tragic implosion of a modern Arab state.
110,000 Syrians are dead in a bloody civil war that has lasted more than 30 months – including men, women and children who have been gassed to death by their own government
2 million Syrians have fled the country
5 million Syrians are internally displaced – they have not fled their country but they have fled their homes and villages and are on the run for their lives
In Lebanon, we are witnessing a modern Arab, Sunni state steadily being hijacked from within by an Iranian, Shia-backed terrorist movement known as Hezbollah.
Then there is Iran.
the only state in human history ruled by an apocalyptic, genocidal death cult
a regime obsessed with Shia Islamic End Times theology
feverishly building intercontinental ballistic missiles
feverishly building the scientific and technological infrastructure to build not just one nuclear warhead, but an arsenal of several dozen warheads.
Defying one U.N. Security Resolution after another.
Working hand-in-glove with North Korea, which recently tested its third nuclear warhead
And yet Iran was appointed this very week to serve on the U.N. Disarmament Committee.
Thus, the stakes are high.
For if the Ayatollah Khamenei and his regime are able to build a nuclear warhead and attach it to a high-speed ballistic missile, Khamenei could do in about six minutes what it took Adolf Hitler nearly six years to do – kill six million Jews.
That’s how many Jews live in Israel today – and this is who the regime in Tehran has vowed to “wipe off the map.”
But Israel is not Khamenei’s main target. Israel, in Shia eschatology, is merely the “Little Satan.” The United States is the “Great Satan” for the mullahs. We are the ultimate target.
Yet most leaders in Washington and at the U.N. seem unable or unwilling to take decisive steps to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat.
This is the state of the epicenter today — and this is what makes this conference so important.
Understanding the people, the land and the future of Israel is not merely an academic exercise. It is vitally important for the Church – especially now.
God loves the Jewish people and the whole house of Israel. He has a plan and purpose for the people and the land. His Word explains exactly what those plans and purposes are. And prophecy gives us advance intelligence on some of the most dramatic and sobering days ahead.
Mitch, I am grateful to you and your team for loving Israel and the Jewish people and the Church enough to organize this conference and call together such fine scholars to consider these important issues from multiple angles.
The Prime Minister’s Declaration
Now, as you know, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in the U.S. last Sunday.
On Monday, he met with President Obama and Vice President Biden and their top advisors at the White House, and later with Secretary Kerry at the State Department.
Later that day, the Prime Minister met with top Congressional leaders, as well.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister delivered the final address to the leaders of the world gathered for the opening Fall Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
It was a powerful and sobering speech, focused primarily on the steadily rising Iranian nuclear threat and the inability of the world, thus far, to neutralize that threat. Mr. Netanyahu warned world leaders not to be beguiled by the election of the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whom he described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing. Mr. Netanyahu also warned that Israel would be willing to take decisive action against Iran alone, if necessary, to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring nuclear warheads.
It was a fascinating speech, and at times quite personal.
But the Prime Minister concluded his address with a sentence I have never heard from coming from the lips of an Israeli leader in the modern era.
Let’s run the clip.
“In our time the Biblical prophecies are being realized.As the prophet Amos said, they shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them,” Netanyahu said. “They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. They shall till gardens and eat their fruit. And I will plant them upon their soil never to be uprooted again. Ladies and gentlemen, the people of Israel have come home never to be uprooted again.”
How extraordinary. An Israeli Prime Minister has just declared to the leaders of the world that Bible prophecies are coming to pass in our lifetime.
How many pastors and theologians in our day even believe this, much less are proclaiming it to be so?
Mr. Netanyahu was correct. The miraculous rebirth of the State of Israel – and the dramatic re-gathering of Jews back to the Holy Land from all over the world – are central examples of End Times prophecies found in the Bible being fulfilled.
What’s more, the Prime Minister also alluded in his speech to the Biblical prophecies of a Persian king named “Cyrus” would rise up one day and set the Jewish people free from captivity.
“The Jewish people’s odyssey through time has taught us two things: Never give up hope, always remain vigilant. Hope charts the future. Vigilance protects it,” Netanyahu said. “Today our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction. But I want you to know, that wasn’t always the case. Some 2,500 years ago the great Persian king Cyrus ended the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people. He issued a famous edict in which he proclaimed the right of the Jews to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. That’s a Persian decree. And thus began an historic friendship between the Jews and the Persians that lasted until modern times.”
It was the Hebrew prophet Isaiah who foretold the rise of a great Persian king named “Cyrus” would emerge one day to bless the Jewish people, release them from captivity, send them back to the land of Israel, and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. (See Isaiah 44:28 through 45:13.)
Sure enough, a Persian king named “Cyrus” did, in fact, emerge to fulfill Isaiah’s startling prophecies, as we read in 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra chapter one. Mr. Netanyahu’s interest in the Scriptures has been growing significantly in recent years, and is increasingly an element in his public statements.
At a speech at the Auschwitz death camp in 2009, for example, Netanyahu declaredthat the prophecies of Ezekiel 37 — the dry bones of the Jewish people coming back together miraculously to form the State of Israel — had come to pass in his lifetime.
“The most important lesson of the Holocaust is that a murderous evil must be stopped early, when it is still in its infancy and before it can carry out its designs. The enlightened nations of the world must learn this lesson. We, the Jewish nation, who lost a third of our people on Europe’s blood-soaked soil, have learned that the only guarantee for defending our people is a strong State of Israel and the army of Israel. We gave learned to warn the nations of the world of impending danger but at the same time to prepare to defend ourselves. As the head of the Jewish state, I pledge to you today: We will never again permit evil to snuff out the life of our people and the life of our own country…”
“[After the Holocaust,] the Jewish people rose from ashes and destruction, from a terrible pain that can never be healed. Armed with the Jewish spirit, the justice of man, and the vision of the prophets, we sprouted new branches and grew deep roots. Dry bones became covered with flesh, a spirit filled them, and they lived and stood on their own feet. As Ezekiel prophesied: ‘Then He said unto me: These bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed.’ Prophecy, therefore, and say to them: Thus said the Lord God: I am going to open your graves and lift you out of your graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel.’ I stand here today on the ground where so many of my people perished — and I am not alone. The State of Israel and all the Jewish people stand with me. We bow our heads to honor your memory and lift our heads as we raise our flag-a flag of blue and white with a Star of David in its center. And everyone sees. And everyone hears. And everyone knows – that our hope is not lost.”
The question for Israelis and for people everywhere now is this: If the prophecies of Ezekiel 37 have come to pass in our lifetime, isn’t it possible that other major Bible prophecies will come true in our lifetime as well?
“The first major survey of American Jews in more than 10 years finds a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish — resulting in rapid assimilation that is sweeping through every branch of Judaism except the Orthodox,” reported the New York Times.
The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.
Excerpts from the Times article:
The intermarriage rate, a bellwether statistic, has reached a high of 58 percent for all Jews, and 71 percent for non-Orthodox Jews — a huge change from before 1970 when only 17 percent of Jews married outside the faith.
Two-thirds of Jews do not belong to a synagogue.
One-fourth do not believe in God.
One-third had a Christmas tree in their home last year.
“It’s a very grim portrait of the health of the American Jewish population in terms of their Jewish identification,” said Jack Wertheimer, a professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York.
69 percent say they feel an emotional attachment to Israel.
But only 40 percent believe that the land that is now Israel was “given to the Jewish people by God.”
Perhaps the most striking finding of the survey, the Times reported, was that “34 percent said you could still be Jewish if you believe that Jesus was the Messiah.” That’s right, one-in-three American Jews believe you can believe in Jesus as Messiah and still be Jewish.
Out of an estimated six million American Jews, that’s some two million people who no longer think it is an act of betrayal to the Jewish people to embrace Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah and hope of Israel.
A Few Observations
In a world that is lost and dark and seeming to get darker, there are reasons for hope.
Yes, evil is on the march — but the Lord God Almighty is holy and sovereign. He, too, is on the move.
Yes, most Israelis do not know the Word of God, or study it, or have a desire to study the Word – but the Prime Minister of Israel is studying the Bible on Shabbat with his son, and having occasional Bible studies in his official residence, and citing the Scriptures in his speeches, and increasingly interested in the role of Bible prophecy in our current times.
Yes, there is much resistance to the Gospel in Israel and throughout the epicenter – but the fact the Lord is drawing more Jews and more Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ in the last few decades than in the last twenty centuries, and He is also preparing the hearts of many more to come to faith in Jesus as Messiah in the weeks and months and years ahead.
Yes, it’s true that many pastors and Christian ministry leaders in the U.S. and around the world do not understand God’s love and plan and purpose for Israel – but you have gathered to study and learn more about this vital Biblical subject, and I believe God is waking up a remnant here and around the globe to rediscover the purpose and power of Bible prophecy and all of God’s Word with regards to Israel, and the nations, and many other topics.
These are the times in which we live. This is the context of this conference.
Will There Ever Be Peace?
Which brings us to our second objective tonight – asking and answering the question: Will there ever be peace for Israel and her neighbors?
To find the answer, let’s begin by opening our Bibles and turning to Luke 12:51-56.
Here Jesus asks a question: Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on the earth?
It’s a simple enough question, and His Jewish audience would have considered the answer to be simple enough, as well.
Of course. The Messiah is supposed to bring peace on earth. Ergo, if you claim to be the Messiah, then you will bring peace on earth. After all, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah told us in Isaiah 9:6 — “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
The next sentence – the first part of verse 7 – reads: “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace….”
Furthermore, the Hebrew prophets told us that the Messiah would bring judgment upon Israel’s enemies and establish a kingdom of righteousness, justice and security. Of course the Jewish people of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to bring peace – that’s how the job description of the Messiah reads. He brings peace, pure and simple.
So how did the Lord Jesus answer this question?
Back to Luke chapter 12 — “‘Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter, and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’ And He was also saying to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘it will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?”
Jesus surprises everyone by saying:
He did not come to bring peace on the earth.
He came to bring division.
He came to nations.
He came to divide families.
He will bring division so obvious everyone will be able to see it.
That’s not all.
In Luke 14:26, Jesus says, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
In Luke 14:27, Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
In Luke 14:33, Jesus says, “None of you can by My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”
In Matthew 24, Jesus says, “you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars….nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes….they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many….”
This is the world Jesus promises.
So how can Jesus be Messiah? How can He possibly be the Anointed One? How can He be the Prince of Peace, if He brings division and war and tribulation and persecution?
Fortunately, the Bible clarifies this for us. The Scriptures define three kinds of peace:
Peace from God.
Peace amongst all people and all nations.
The Good News is that the Scriptures make it clear that Jesus came the first time to bring the first two kinds of peace, and He will come the second time to bring the third kind of peace.
Peace With God
First and foremost, Jesus came to bring us peace with God.
Ephesians 2:8-18 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast….Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace….And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”
The Lord Jesus Christ makes peace between us and the Father.
By His death and resurrection, He has paid the penalty for all our sins – past, present and future.
He offers this forgiveness to us as a free gift, which anyone can receive by faith.
We can’t earn it. We can’t buy it. We don’t deserve it. But when we receive it, we have peace with God.
The Bible says we are transformed – we are born again – we are new creations. The old has gone. The new has come. We are adopted into God’s family. His Holy Spirit indwells us. He is not just Immanuel – God with us. Now He is Christ in us, the hope of glory. How blessed is the man who knows such peace.
But that is not all Messiah came to bring us.
Peace From God
Second, Jesus came to give us a supernatural peace from God – a peace that gives us a supernatural calm and a joy in a hostile and chaotic world that can only come from God.
John 14:26-27 – “[T]he Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
John 16:33 – “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”
Philippians 4:6-7 – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
This is what Messiah Jesus brings us – a supernatural peace, a divine peace, a peace that doesn’t make sense, an inner peace and calm and joy that that the world cannot comprehend, an inner peace that even we cannot fully comprehend. This is the kind of peace of which the Hebrew prophet Isaiah spoke.
Isaiah 26:3 – “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on Thee.” (KJV)
Peace amongst all people and all nations.
What Messiah has not yet come is peace amongst all people and all nations.
We do not have global geopolitical peace – not yet. But the Scriptures promise that in the eschatological future the Messiah will eradicate war and establish peace.
As we read in Isaiah 2:2-4 — “Now it will come about in the last days….and He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation and never shall they learn war any more.”
This is what the Jewish people await. This is what you and I await. This is what the nations await. This is what the United Nations organization seeks to establish.
Consider this quote from the U.N. website:
“The United Nations garden contains several sculptures and statues that have been donated by different countries. One is called “Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares” and was a gift from the then-Soviet Union presented in 1959. Made by Evgeniy Vuchetich, the bronze statue represents the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand and, in the other, a sword which he is making into a plowshare, symbolizing man’s desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind.”
“I Will Shake The Nations”
Why then do we not yet have geopolitical peace?
When we study the “whole counsel of God” as revealed in the Scriptures, we can discern the answer. Establishing geopolitical peace may be our top priority – but it is not God’s. Helping men establish peace with God – and experience peace from God – is most important to the Messiah.
What’s more, God will allow wars and revolutions and persecution and natural disasters to intensify as we get closer to the return of Christ precisely in order to shake individuals and nations into realizing that they will never have true peace until they get right with the Living God through the Messiah, through the Prince of Peace.
In Haggai 2:6-7, we read: “For thus says the Lord of hosts, “Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake the nations.”
Then Haggai 2:21-22 — “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the thrones of kingdoms and destroy the power of the kingdoms of the nations…”
In Amos 9:9, we read: “I will shake the house of Israel among all nations.”
Time and time again, the Hebrew prophets, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Apostles, warn us that God is going to shake the nations – and He will shake Israel – in the last days of human history.
To get our attention. To wake us up. To persuade us to let go of anyone and anything and any religion and any philosophy and any political ideology other than faith in Jesus Christ for peace in this world, or peace in the next.
Which brings us back to our central question: “Will there ever be peace for Israel and her neighbors?”
A careful study of the whole counsel of God from the Old Testament and the New reveals a sobering answer: Yes Israel and her neighbors will eventually experience true, full, comprehensive and lasting peace, but not in your lifetime, or in mine.
Will we have peace in the Millennial Kingdom? Yes.
Will there be peace in the new heavens and the new earth? Absolutely.
But can we hope for real and lasting peace in the near future? Unfortunately, we cannot.
The Hebrew prophet Daniel warns us that a false peace is coming for Israel. (Daniel 9)
The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah warns us that there will be false prophets saying, “‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)
The Bible teaches that overall, things are going to get worse between now and the Second Coming of Christ.
Like the birth pangs of a woman in labor, there will be “contractions,” and “release.” We will see occasional periods of “release” – but as mankind gets closer and closer to the Second Coming, we will see longer and more intense contractions, and shorter periods of release.
The prophets tell us of some of the contractions that are coming:
The War of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38-39)
The destruction of Damascus (Isaiah 17 & Jeremiah 49)
The judgment of Elam/Iran (Jeremiah 49)
The judgment of Babylon (Isaiah 13-14, Jeremiah 50-51
The Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16)
The Final Battle of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12-14)
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul indicates that is during one of these “release” moments that the Rapture will occur.
The Lord will come for His Church “like a thief in the night” (I Thessalonians chapter four, and 5:2)
“While they [the people of the world] are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child…” (I Thessalonians 5:3)
But again, as the world marches closer and closer to the end of this age, the “contractions” will be getting longer and more intense, and the moments of “release” will become shorter and less frequent.
On the surface, that’s the bad news – wars, rumors of wars, persecution and trauma for as far as the eye can see.
The prophets and the apostles paint a particularly sobering picture for Israel, which will become more and more isolated in the last days.
But as we carefully analyze and prayerfully seek to understand the times in which we live, we must not let ourselves become fixated on the bad news.
There is also much good news: Yes, Satan is on the move. But the Lord is moving with great powerful and great effect.
The number of Muslim converts to Christianity is growing exponentially.
The number of Jewish believers in Jesus is growing steadily.
What’s more the openness of Jews and Muslims to hearing the Gospel is at an all-time high.
As I conclude, let me make three brief final points.
First, the leaders and the people of this world are going to isolate, accuse, and then turn on the Jewish people and the State of Israel in the last days. This is what prophecy teaches, and current trends are remarkably consistent with this Biblical truth.
Second, the leaders of the Church are called to embrace the Jewish people and the whole house of Israel, to love them with unconditional love, to bless them in every possible way, and do so in the name of Jesus.
Third, the leaders of the Church are also called to embrace the Arab and Persian and Kurdish and Turkish people, and love them with unconditional love, and bless them in every possible way, and do so in the name of Jesus.
This is the heart of the Abrahamic covenant – to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
This is the purpose of the Great Commission – to go and make disciples of all nations.
Not every pastor and theologian and lay person understands this, but we must not lose heart.
Indeed, let us be filled with hope, knowing the Lord is coming to save His people and establish His kingdom. This is the blessed hope of Israel, and it shall come to pass. Let us teach the Word in the power of the Holy Spirit and with authority. Let us preach the Gospel without fear or shame. Let us live the Gospel by living lives of great love and compassion. Let us do so with patience and humility and gentleness.
And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time, by the grace of God, we will reap a great harvest. The Word is clear – we are heading towards a Romans 11:26 world. We are heading towards a time in which all Israel will be saved.
Let us be faithful in doing our part, that in the end we will all hear from our Savior’s lips, “Well done, My good and faithful servant. You were faithful in a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
Are you praying for the persecuted Christians in the Mideast? Is there more you can do?
(Central Israel) — When my family and I moved to Israel in mid-August, we did so amidst a jihadist onslaught against the Jewish State. The third Gaza war was underway. Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza were firing more than 4,000 rockets, missiles and mortars at Israeli civilians, including Jews, Muslims and Christians.
That said, Israel was (and remains) one of the safest places to be in the Middle East this year, and not just for Jews but for Christians, as well.
Why then are so few pastors and Christians leaders in the West coming to the defense of our brothers and sisters in this region who are in such grave danger? Why aren’t pastors rallying their congregations to pray for the persecuted Church in the Mideast? Why are so few Christian lay people giving financially to ministries that are making a difference in the region in the name of Christ in the midst of the chaos and carnage?
The epicenter is on fire. Yet I’m stunned by how few Christians are paying attention, or trying to help. Some are, and may God deeply bless this wonderful, heroic remnant. But so much of the Church is asleep.
How about you? Are you moved by the suffering of our brethren? Are you and your congregation looking for a way to help in a practical way?
The Joshua Fund team is working hard to provide prayer, encouragement, funds, and other resources to Arab Christians fleeing from the ISIS rampage. We are doing this even as we continue to provide humanitarian relief and other help in Israel. The Bible certainly commands believers to love and bless Israel and the Jewish people, and this is more important than ever. But the Scriptures also command us to love and bless Israel’s neighbors, and even her enemies. Is it easy? No. Is it safe? Not always. But the Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to love everyone in this region and He set the example for us.
By Kirsten Powers, The Daily Beast, September 27, 2014
Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity. One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of American churches. Not so. The silence has been nearly deafening.
In Syria, Christians are under attack by Islamist rebels and fear extinction if Bashar al-Assad falls. This month, rebels overran the historic Christian town of Maalula, where many of its inhabitants speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The AFP reported that a resident of Maalula called her fiancé’s cell and was told by member of the Free Syrian Army that they gave him a chance to convert to Islam and he refused. So they slit his throat.
Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer and expert on religious persecution, testified in 2011 before Congress regarding the fate of Iraqi Christians, two-thirds of whom have vanished from the country. They have either been murdered or fled in fear for their lives. Said Shea: “[I]n August 2004 … five churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul. On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad … The archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped and killed in early 2008. A bus convoy of Christian students were violently assaulted. Christians … have been raped, tortured, kidnapped, beheaded, and evicted from their homes …”
Lela Gilbert is the author of Saturday People, Sunday People, which details the expulsion of 850,000 Jews who fled or were forced to leave Muslim countries in the mid-20th century. The title of her book comes from an Islamist slogan, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People,” which means “first we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.” Gilbert wrote recently that her Jewish friends and neighbors in Israel “are shocked but not entirely surprised” by the attacks on Christians in the Middle East. “They are rather puzzled, however, by what appears to be a lack of anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians.”
As they should be. It is inexplicable. American Christians are quite able to organize around issues that concern them. Yet religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
It’s no surprise that Jews seem to understand the gravity of the situation the best. In December 2011, Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, addressed Parliament saying, “I have followed the fate of Christians in the Middle East for years, appalled at what is happening, surprised and distressed … that it is not more widely known.”
“It was Martin Luther King who said, ‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’ That is why I felt I could not be silent today.”
Yet so many Western Christians are silent.
In January, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) penned a letter to 300 Catholic and Protestant leaders complaining about their lack of engagement. “Can you, as a leader in the church, help?” he wrote. “Are you pained by these accounts of persecution? Will you use your sphere of influence to raise the profile of this issue—be it through a sermon, writing or media interview?”
There have been far too few takers.
Wolf and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) sponsored legislation last year to create a special envoy at the State Department to advocate for religious minorities in the Middle East and South-Central Asia. It passed in the House overwhelmingly, but died in the Senate. Imagine the difference an outcry from constituents might have made. The legislation was reintroduced in January and again passed the House easily. It now sits in the Senate. According to the office of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), the sponsor of the bill there, there is no date set for it to be taken up.
Wolf has complained loudly of the State Department’s lack of attention to religious persecution, but is anybody listening? When American leaders meet with the Saudi government, where is the public outcry demanding they confront the Saudis for fomenting hatred of Christians, Jews, and even Muslim minorities through their propagandistic tracts and textbooks? In the debate on Syria, why has the fate of Christians and other religious minorities been almost completely ignored?
In his letter challenging U.S. religious leaders, Wolf quoted Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his efforts in the Nazi resistance: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
This morning I want to encourage you to read a well-written and important column by Johnnie Moore, a professor of religion and Senior Vice President of Liberty University, on the plight of Christians in the Middle East today.
Also, here’s an interviewMoore did on Fox News discussing the issue, saying the “Arab Spring has become the Christian Winter.”
We must stand up for Middle East’s persecuted Christians
Christianity began in the East, not the West, yet today Christians in the East are enduring an all-out-assault by Islamic terrorists, while Christians in the West live their lives largely oblivious to it all. This has to change.
This is no imaginary persecution; in Syria alone there have been reports of kidnappings, Christian communities intentionally displaced by militants and, worst of all, shootings and beheadings of Christians who refused to convert to Islam.
In Egypt radicals have recently destroyed dozens of churches, and the once vibrant Christian population in Iraq has been decimated.
Christians in the West should stand up for those in the East out of regard for all they have given us over these thousands of years, if for no other reason.
See, what most American Christians don’t realize is that the “Islamic World” was once the Christian world. Some of the most well-known and influential leaders in the early church hailed from North Africa and the Middle East….
Today, St. Augustine would be called a Tunisian, Origen would be Egyptian and the Apostle Paul – who was on the road to Damascus when he encountered Christ – would have told the story of his conversion while heading to “Syria.”
It was also in the Syrian city of “Antioch” that Christians were first called “Christians,” and to this day there are as many Christian holy sites in that nation as anywhere else in the world.
When Jesus was born, and his life was threatened by the hysteria of King Herod, it was to Egypt that Joseph and Mary fled until Herod’s bloodlust subsided.
If the famed Council of Nicaea were held today, the headline would read: “Christian theologians gather in Turkey to settle long-held dispute about Christ’s deity,” and the part of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized could have very well flowed through modern-day Jordan , as opposed to Israel…..
Sadly, few Christians in the West have any idea this is going on, and I was once just like them.
Then I was invited last September to observe a meeting convened by Jordan’s King Abdullah in his country’s capital, Amman. Several dozen leaders of the Christian congregations of the East attended the meeting; I listened as these Catholic cardinals, Orthodox patriarchs and Anglican and Coptic bishops described the plight of their people.
No one was discussing their theological differences, because it was their churches that had been burned, their relatives who had been kidnapped and killed, and nearly every one of them told stories of consoling an inconsolable mother or child as they grieved the death of their last living loved one.
I wept as I heard their stories, and I wondered why Christians around the world weren’t incensed by it all.
Ironically, that meeting in Jordan was not convened by Christians, but by Muslims who cared about the plight of their Christian neighbors.
At one point, Jordan’s strong and kind king said that “it is a duty rather than a favor” to protect the Christians in the region, and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a senior adviser to the king, acknowledged that “Christians were in this region before Muslims.” He said, “They are not strangers, nor colonialists, nor foreigners. They are natives of these lands and Arabs, just as Muslims are.”
While I was deeply encouraged by the tone of these Islamic leaders, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “I wonder how many Christians in the West even care about those in the East?”
In that moment, I decided I would be their advocate….