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Why Shouldn’t Evangelicals Offer Unconditional Support to Israel or Palestine?

As we view Israel/Palestine today, we must be as concerned for the physical and spiritual well-being of her ethnic Jewish people as for the well-being of her ethnic Arabs (both Muslim and Christian). We must do all we can to awaken both Jewish and Arab people to the reality of the Messiah who gave His life for them.

But before we can effectively present the gospel to Israelis or Palestinians, we must cultivate their respect. All ethnic/religious/cultural groups have “skeletons in their closets.” We Western Christians are no exception. Jews have cultural memories of persecution by nominally Christian peoples in Europe. Muslims, on the other hand, have similar memories of wrongs committed by Christian armies crusading in the name of God, and of Western “Christian” colonial powers exploiting Muslim division and weakness. If we hope to be heard clearly, we must not be perceived as biased or unjust. Unfortunately, far from being unbiased and just, many Christian evangelicals today demonize Palestinian and Israeli Arabs while ignoring or rationalizing Jewish injustice and violence. There are numerous reasons that Evangelicals tend to be heavily biased in favor of Jewish Israelis rather than Arab Israelis and Palestinians. But rather than getting into the reasons for this bias, let’s go to Scripture to see why it is wrong.

At the very beginning of His ministry, just after His baptism by John, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1 NIV). This time of testing wasn’t incidental. The temptations Satan set before Jesus were specifically designed to exploit any vulnerability in His human nature. Satan appealed to the selfishness, distrust, and personal pride that are at the root of all human sin, forcing Jesus to make deep and radical decisions regarding His calling. What kind of Messiah would He be?

  • Would He exploit supernatural power to change stones to bread, as a first act in avoiding the path of suffering that had been set before Him? Would He then feed the poor with the same satanic motivation, seeking their support for His personal agenda?
  • Would He coerce his Father’s endorsement (force His hand) by casting Himself from the pinnacle of the temple?
  • Would He cultivate earthly political power to overthrow Rome and establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem under His personal control by alliance with the principalities and powers of this world?

Rather than acting in selfish ambition, Jesus chose submission, servitude, and suffering. The miracles He performed were just as spectacular as those Satan proposed, but they were done through the power of the Holy Spirit in obedience to His Father.

Jesus refused to feed Himself miraculously, but guided by the Holy Spirit He miraculously fed thousands, changed water to wine, and filled the nets of faithful fishermen with fish. He refused to draw attention to Himself or give miraculous signs to those who demanded it, but walked on water, calmed the sea, healed the sick, and raised the dead to glorify His Father. Although He could have requested supernatural deliverance from the agony of humiliation, scourging, alienation, and death (Matthew 26:53), He submitted to them meekly, like a perfect sacrificial lamb.1

Perhaps He faced these tests early on because of the tremendous pressure that would soon come to bear on Him to conform to the false expectations of His countrymen regarding what He (as Messiah) should do on behalf of national Israel. The expectation that Messiah would militarily deliver the Jews from pagan (Roman) rule and establish Jewish rule over the whole world was at fever pitch in the first century. Even Jesus’ disciples reflected this expectation (Matthew 16:20-22; Matthew 20:20-23; Luke 19:11).

Over the course of the first century, enthusiasm for a delivering Messiah resulted in numerous false messiahs, the horrific war of AD 70, and apocalyptic writings that continued to predict a delivering messiah even after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Titus (4 Ezra; 2 Baruch). Eventually, the endorsement of the false messiah, Bar Kochba, by the most venerated rabbi of the post-70 period (Akiba) led to the final catastrophe of AD 135 under Hadrian.

The remarkable Jewish historian of that period, Josephus, described the foundation of Jewish messianic fervor and militant nationalism among his contemporaries:

But what more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle, likewise found in their sacred scriptures, to the effect that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world. This they understood to mean someone of their own race, and many of their wise men went astray in their interpretation of it . . . For all that, it is impossible for men to escape their fate, even though they foresee it. Some of these portents, then, the Jews interpreted to please themselves, others they treated with contempt, until the ruin of their country and their own destruction convicted them of their folly. (Josephus, War, 6.312-315)

N. T. Wright builds a strong case that the “ambiguous oracle” referred to by Josephus is the book of Daniel—specifically the second, seventh, and ninth chapters. (See Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, pp. 312-320.) The book of Daniel was one of the most popular works in circulation among the Jews during the first century,2 and it is likely that Jewish “wise men went astray in their interpretation of it,” apparently forecasting dates, “times,” and “seasons” for the coming of the expected Messiah into His kingdom in a manner that nurtured popular support for a military confrontation with Rome. (See Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2.)

Israel had already given in to temptations Jesus resisted.3Jesus knew that national Israel had formed an alliance with Satan and was hell-bent to carry out Satan’s agenda. Out of love for Israel and her true calling, He confronted her with the fact that she had turned nationalism into an abominable parody of the covenant relationship God intended.4 Like the prophets who preceded them (Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:38-42; Luke 13:1-5), John the Baptist and Jesus declared that unrepentant Israel was outside the covenant relationship, and needed to return like a humble proselyte to be considered a son of Abraham (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; Luke 15:11-32). In the past, Israel had been delivered from the judgment that fell upon the pagan kingdoms that oppressed her and held her captive (Egypt, Babylon). But now, Jerusalem herself was persecuting true Israel. The true Israel, that Israel that was holding firm (Mark 13:13), was a small remnant—Jesus’ disciples. Jerusalem had taken on the role of Egypt and Babylon, aligned with Satan and facing judgment.

The old covenant had come to an end, replaced by a new covenant, “his blood” (Matthew 26:28 NKJV; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15). Israel’s old covenant story of exile and deliverance (Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon) was over. No longer in exile, Israel had been permanently restored in the person of Jesus Christ.5

  • The family of God would no longer be defined by ethnic and national Jewish categories, but would be made up of all of those willing to trust in Jesus and follow Him (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 12:50; Luke 11:27-28; John 6:29,40; Acts 3:22-23).
  • The Torah, which constituted a central symbol of identity for those under the old covenant, would be replaced under the new covenant by the Sermon on the Mount. The new covenant would be characterized by mercy, forgiveness, inclusiveness, and love rather than a quest for legal and ritual purity.
  • The Jerusalem temple and the system of worship based around it was obsolete and the destruction of the temple immanent, to be replaced by the resurrected Christ (Mark 14:58/Matthew 26:61; Mark 15:29-30/Matthew 27:39-40; John 2:19; Acts 6:14).6When Jesus was crucified, the veil of the temple was torn and its holiest chamber exposed. The epistle to the Hebrews—written to a culturally Jewish Christian audience—declares:

“He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

“By one sacrifice [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (6Hebrews 10:14).

“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Hebrews 10:15-18).

Because of the horrific consequences of date-setting and speculative interpretation of prophecy, the rabbis surviving the second war with Rome committed themselves to the principle that Torah-observing Jews should never again seek a return to the land until the appearance of Messiah himself. Orthodox Jews remained committed to this principle for nearly 2000 years, but secular Zionists began a movement to return to a national homeland in the late 19th century. Approximately at the same time, some evangelical Christian leaders began to speculate that the Zionist-initiated return to the land was the beginning of the national return prophesied in Scripture.

For evangelical Christians to use prophetic speculation as a basis for providing unbelieving Israel with political and military support is to repeat the very same error that Israel committed when it sought to use military and political means to bring in the messianic kingdom. It is to join unbelieving Israel in its surrender to the same temptations Satan offered Jesus in the desert.

  • It is an attempt to exploit supernatural power.
  • It is an attempt to force God’s hand.
  • It is an attempt to carry out God’s plan through alliance with the (satanic) principalities and powers of this world.

To think that nurturing national Israel’s political and military power will expedite God’s program of redemption makes no more sense today than in the first century. Jesus said:

“Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ ” (Luke 13:35).

Some evangelicals genuinely hope to befriend Jewish or Palestinian people and win them to faith in Jesus Christ. While this aspect of their motivation may be legitimate, any unconditional support of either side of an ethnic and religious conflict decides against a group of people for whom Christ died. Followers of Christ cannot afford to win converts by supporting violence and aggression.

Although major actors on the political stage, many evangelicals view themselves as detached observers with a biblical key to understanding unfolding world events. They think they are assisting the fulfillment of prophecy, the soon return of the Lord, the culmination of the church age, the great tribulation, and the millennial reign. Like the zealous nationalist Jews of the first century and today’s religious Zionist Jews (Gush Emunim and others), they think they can give the Lord a helping hand in bringing about His Day. In actuality, evangelicals who unconditionally support the establishment and defense of a Jewish state founded upon the rejection of Jesus Christ are nurturing the rise of anti-Christian power throughout the world.

Just as it was folly for Jewish leaders of the first and second century to believe they could have certainty regarding unfolding future events, it is folly for modern evangelicals to think they can predict how current events will fit in with the events of the endtime. (See the ATQ article, How Often Have People Misapplied Prophecy?) Jesus himself declared the folly of such speculation (Matthew 24:44; Matthew 25:13;Mark 13:35; Revelation 3:3).

Many Christians in the past have mistakenly supported violence on the basis of a conviction that they were participating in endtime events. Granted that our pretribulation view of the rapture is true, do we have any more real certainty about when the rapture and the tribulation will occur than first-century Jews had regarding the manner and time of Messiah’s coming? If we are heavily complicit in the violence of our age, isn’t it more likely we will reap the whirlwind (6Hosea 7:7) we have sown?

The day of the Lord is not a time when the devil has his way with an ethnic Israel he hates. Rather, it is a time of God’s judgment on wickedness, both in Israel and the world:

“Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light” (Amos 5:18).

“‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:1-2).

“Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations” (Joel 2:1-2 KJV)

“The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining” (Joel 2:10).

“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come” (Joel 2:31).

“The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Zephaniah 1:14-15 NIV).

“‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them’ ” (Malachi 4:1).

If evangelicals think God will permit them to continue to throw fuel on the fire of violence and hatred and suddenly snatch them out of the conflagration just before it engulfs the world, it is only because they are under the spell of satanic illusion.

The New Testament makes it clear that the kingdom of God is based on justice and love, not violence, ethnic privilege, and possession of “holy land.” The kingdom of God is based on the Sermon on the Mount, not on speculation about unfolding events. The actions of the church must be consistent with purposes of the kingdom of God, or the church may share national Israel’s judgment in the day of the Lord.

  1. “The struggle is precisely about the nature of Jesus’ vocation and ministry. The pull of hunger, the lure of cheap and quick ‘success,’ the desire to change the vocation to be the light of the world into the vocation to bring all nations under His powerful rule by other means—all of these would easily combine into the temptation to doubt the nature of the vocation of which He had been sure at the time of John’s baptism. If you are the Son of God . . .” (N. T. Wright, Jesus, the Victory of God). Back To Article
  2. “We know from Josephus that the book of Daniel was a favorite with Jews of the first century AD. One of the climactic moments in this book, arguably, is the scene in which the true Israel, seen in apocalyptic terms as a human figure, is exalted to a position of glory and authority over the mythical beasts who have been oppressing God’s people. Whatever referents may have been in the mind of the original authors, there should be no doubt that in the first century many would read such imagery as referring to Israel and the nations, and would hear in the background the overtones of Genesis 2. Divine order will be restored to the creator’s garden, through a genuine Adam—i.e., Israel—who will renounce idolatry and so, in obedience to the creator, rule wisely over the creation” (Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p. 266). Back to Article
  3. “What then must Jesus have thought was going on? How was the story working out? The battle He Himself had to fight was with the Satan; the Satan had made its home in Israel, and in her cherished national institutions and aspirations. The house had been occupied by seven other demons, worse than the first; so it would be with this generation. But, like Jezebel trying to seduce Jehu, the Satan was now attempting to lure Jesus himself into making the same mistake as Israel had done. If that turned out not to be possible, the Satan would try either to scare him off, or to kill him ahead of time.” (N.T. Wright, Jesus, the Victory of God) Back to Article
  4. “Jesus . . . set His face against the central institutions and symbols of Israel. He did so, not because He thought they were bad in themselves, but because He believed they were being wrongly used by His contemporaries to buttress a spurious reading and enacting of the true Jewish worldview. . . . He did not aim . . . to depart from Judaism, from the traditions of Israel; His aim was to call Israel back to what He saw as the true meaning of those traditions” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God).Back to Article
  5. “From His point of view, He was fighting Israel’s real battle by challenging Israel’s idolatrous nationalism, which was passing off its Satan-induced worldview as true allegiance to the reign of YHWH. His opponents, meanwhile, especially the Pharisees (during the Galilean ministry) and the chief priests (in Jerusalem) were resisting His attempts, and so challenging the validity of His mission, His vocation, His blueprint for Israel. They rejected His message, His urgent summons to the way of peace, because they rightly perceived that it would mean softening their grip on some cherished, and indeed God-given, national and cultural symbols” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God).Back to Article
  6. “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” (John 2:19-20 KJV)

    “This remarkable assertion coheres completely with the theme that emerges steadily at the centre of Jesus’ story. He was claiming prophetic and messianic authority to pronounce judgment on the Temple. It was for this that He was eventually accused before the authorities” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 335).Back to Article
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What Do Muslims Believe About God?

The word Allah is the Arabic word for God, the word used both by Arabic-speaking Christians before the birth of Mohammed, and by Arabic-speaking Christians today. To a devout Muslim, Allah is in many ways similar to the Christian God. Allah is holy, just, infinite, and all-knowing. Jews, too, worship a holy, infinitely powerful God, and share Christian respect for the Old Testament.

The Qur’an portrays God as a just and merciful judge, but doesn’t teach that human sin and distress cause Him suffering 1 . It emphasizes the incomprehensibility of God more than His holiness2 and love 3 .

Christians believe that biblical revelation is progressive 4 , fulfilled in Christ. Although the Old Testament describes God’s supreme love ( Exodus 34:6 ; Psalm 86:5; 103:13 ; Isaiah 49:14-18 ; Jeremiah 31:10-20 ; Ezekiel 34:22-31 ; Micah 7:18-20 ; Hosea 2:14-16 ) at times its portrayal of God is troubling. With the coming of Jesus and the gospel, Christians have the peace that comes with understanding the means by which God offers mercy and forgiveness to His children. In Jesus, God took human form (John 1:14.). Through Jesus we know the infinite, holy God as “Abba,” our “heavenly Father.”

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. (Colossians 1:15-20 NKJV)

For Christians, God’s most loving self-revelation is in His Lamb (Genesis 22:8 ; John 1:36 ; 1 Peter 1:19-20 ) through whom God’s love for the human race was expressed in human form ( Acts 17:3 ; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ; Hebrews 2:8-10 ).

God’s suffering and grief at human sin and His love for the lost and rebellious begins in the Old Testament ( Jeremiah 3:1 ; Hosea 3:1 ; Ezekiel 34:12 ) resulting in His relationship with a sinful race ( Hebrews 4:15 ; John 10:11 ). It was expressed vividly in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son ( Luke 15:11-31 ) and the Gospel descriptions of Peter denying his Lord.

The Christian God loves even the lost and the rebellious, and sacrifices Himself for hopeless sinners. ( Romans 5:8 ). The Christian God is the initiator of the relationship between Himself and our sinful race ( Isaiah 53:6 ; John 10:11 ; 1 Peter 2:24 ).

  1. According to Islam our sins cannot offend our Creator. God stands too far above us to be directly concerned by our disobedience. When we commit sin we wrong ourselves; God remains unaffected. The following references are from the Qur’an: “Whoever transgresses God’s bounds does evil to himself” (65.1; cf. 2:57; 7:160; 18:35; 35:32; 37:113). Our guilt lies only in our disobedience to our Lord’s commandments. From the biblical point of view, however, sin is not just a transgression of God’s law but an offence against God himself (Psalm 51:4; Luke 15:18, 21. Sin affects God personally and does not leave him indifferent. (The Prophet and the Messiah, Chawkat Moucarry, IVP, pp. 99-100) Back To Article
  2. In the Christian view, God sees sin with such seriousness that He alone is able to provide its remedy. The God worshiped by Christians is embodied in the Lamb of God—the Messiah. Jesus reveals the intensity of God’s concern for the human race. This is a continuation of the theme of God’s suffering and grief at human sin and unbelief that is found in the Old Testament (Judges 10:16; Isaiah 40:11; 53; Jeremiah 3:1; Hosea 3:1). Back To Article
  3. Muslims do not see God as their father or, equivalently, themselves as the children of God. Men are servants of a just master; they cannot, in orthodox Islam, typically attain any greater degree of intimacy with their creator. (Shabbir Akhtar, A Faith For All Seasons, Chicago, Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1990, p. 180) Back To Article
  4. Christians view biblical revelation as progressive. That is, as we proceed from God’s earliest word to us in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and continue through the historical books, the books of poetry, and the prophetic books, we see that God reveals more and more of His nature and His will to man. The patriarchs, statesmen, poets, and prophets of the Old Testament did not have a clear understanding of the redemption that was to be offered on their behalf through the Lord Jesus Christ. They did not even have a clear understanding of the nature of life after death. However, as God progressively revealed more and more of His nature to the men of Old Testament times, He did make it clear that His greatest revelation was to come in His Messiah. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, revealed God’s nature to us perfectly in the form of a human being. In Jesus Christ (the Greek term Christ actually has the same meaning as the Hebrew term Messiah—”anointed one”) we have become aware of God’s love and grace in a manner not possible during past ages. Back To Article
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Why Is It Hard for Muslims to Believe in Christ as Savior?

Islam was founded during an epoch when the weakened remnant of the Roman Empire had been “Christianized.” However the official Christian church was largely under the control of a corrupt and decadent empire and became associated with its evil deeds.

Further, the church had become the sponsor of idolatry. Many “sacred” objects, such as bones of saints and relics of the cross, were considered to have magical powers. Although the objects themselves were usually of questionable authenticity, church leaders exploited them to manipulate the superstitious masses.

When Mohammed observed the church and the “Christian” rulers of his day, he saw that they violated the very principles they claimed to uphold. Considering the flagrant corruption and idolatry of the Christian world, it isn’t surprising that he and other early leaders of Islam assumed that every aspect of Christianity, including its Scriptures and key doctrines, was corrupt.

As Muslim armies swept through “Christian” lands they found that they were often welcomed as liberators. The astonishing speed of their conquests, along with their conviction that they were restoring the pure monotheism of the Bible, gave them even more confidence that their mission was God-ordained and blessed.

In more recent times the nominally Christian nations of the West have established political and military dominance over the Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia. Again, association with the often violent and exploitive policies of “Christian” colonial powers sullied the image of Christ. Further, in recent years the decadent values of Western secularism have disrupted the lives of Muslim people who had lived in relative harmony with their beliefs for hundreds of years.1

Today, just as few Christians are familiar with the Koran, many Muslims are unacquainted with the Bible. If they live in a Muslim society, all they are likely to hear about the Bible and Christian doctrine are misleading distortions based largely on cultural memories of conflict with the Western world.2

1. Conservative Christians are painfully aware of many of the negative effects of secularism in the modern world, including the breakdown of family life, the glorification of immorality, and the legalization of abortion. It is important to consider the negative effects of the massive influence of Western culture in the past century.

“Historically, over many decades, Christianity and Judaism made their own accommodations with modernity. The process produced further divisions and differences among them: liberal, fundamentalist, and evangelical Protestantism; orthodox, conservative, reform, and reconstructionist Judaism; orthodox or traditionalist and liberal Catholicism. Catholicism was for some time a distant third to Protestantism and Judaism in dealing with modernity. Until the second Vatican Council in the 1960s, pontiffs had condemned much of modernity — including modern biblical criticism, democracy, pluralism, and women’s rights. Despite change, all of the children of Abraham continue to struggle with modernity. The global resurgence of religion is driven by a desire of many well-educated believers of different faiths to rethink and reevaluate the relationship of religion to modernity. Many question the excesses of modernity, trying to reassert a faith and values that limit the unbridled use of science and technology, the sexual freedoms that weaken family life, the emphasis on individual rights rather than on responsibilities, or the accumulation and maldistribution of wealth.” pp. 123-124, Unholy War, Terror in the Name of Islam by John L. Esposito (Oxford University Press) Back To Article

2. Further, it is an unfortunate fact that in most nations with Muslim majorities, conversion to faith in Christ results in extreme social ostracism, or even in imprisonment or execution. “At birth, a person is marked either Moslem or non-Moslem depending on one’s descent. One’s religion is therefore marked on his or her birth certificate, identity card, and/or passport. Furthermore, a non-Moslem can easily become a Moslem, but not the reverse. This is why there are unknown visible churches of Moslem converts to Christianity. Converts do exist, but they are in small numbers, meeting secretly.” (Billy Kim, President of the Baptist World Alliance) Back To Article

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