The Major Cause of Israel’s Afflictions

Prof. Johan Malan, University of the North, South Africa

Abstract: The major cause of Israel's perpetual troubles and afflictions is not external but internal – i.e. the nation's continued rejection of Jesus the Messiah.

Much as evangelical, Bible-believing Christians should bless Israel and support them by condemning the evil campaigns of slandering, disowning and fighting them, we should also take brave measures to fulfil our calling by reintroducing Israel's rejected Messiah to them. If we neglect this all-important commission, all other efforts to bless and uphold them would be of very little effect. Consequently, the establishing of lasting peace in the Middle East will remain an elusive ideal while the predicament of Israel will be aggravated.

The modern buzzword of "peace" is used by all and sundry but its meaning is confined to a humanistic idea of friendship and, politically speaking, interstate relations of harmony, acceptance and non-confrontation. However, from a biblical point of view, real peace is a much more sublime concept – it is a Person, Jesus Christ: "He Himself is our peace" (Eph. 2:14). His peace is distinctly different from that of the world; that is why Jesus said: "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (Jn. 14:27).

How did Israel react to the peace offered to them by the Messiah during His first coming and what were the consequences of their decision?

Wars and the Diaspora of the first century

During the first century, Jesus offered Himself as Messiah to Israel. Had they accepted Him they would have had peace with God and with man. However, Israel's leaders were spiritually blinded and brought indescribable hardships upon themselves and their followers by rejecting the Prince of Peace.

It would certainly be unreasonable to ascribe the first century wars of conquest by the Roman Empire (in which more than a million Jews died), and also the subsequent dispersion of Israel, only to the evil dispositions of the power-hungry and apostate Romans. Would that account for all the horrors? No! What then, was the root cause of all the bloodshed and immense suffering?

Jesus said to Jerusalem (the core of the unbelieving Jewish nation):

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together… but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate…" (Mt. 23:37-38).

"For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation" (Lk. 19:43-44).

"When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near… For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Lk. 21:20-24).

From these scriptures, it is obvious that Israel's rejection of their Messiah accounts for their bitter experiences – much more than the actions of their ill-disposed enemies. During times when they were spiritually strong, God protected them. King Solomon said: "When a man's way please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7).

The spiritual waywardness of Israel also lies at the root of their continued suffering during the long years of the Diaspora:

"The Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods… And among those nations you shall find no rest… but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul" (Deut. 28:64-65).

Why did Israel as a nation have to face such a long history of suffering? Because they rejected God, His laws, His prophets and, in the fullness of time, also His Son. When the Roman governor, Pilate, tried to acquit Jesus, the Jews insisted on His crucifixion and said: "His blood be on us and on our children" (Mt. 27:25). With the exception of a small number of Messianic Jews, the upcoming generations condoned the act of their forefathers and thus persisted with the national rejection of Jesus as Messiah during the Diaspora and also into their current restoration phase. When Jesus comes again, "every eye will see Him, and they also who pierced Him" (Rev. 1:7) – i.e. the end-time generation of Jewish people. They will be alive and back in their land!

Restoration in unbelief

Did God break His covenant with Israel after they were dispersed from their land? Certainly not! God's covenant with Israel as His chosen people is irrevocable (Lev. 26:44-45). Throughout the centuries there was always a small believing remnant who kept the flame of the true Israel of God alive. Their numbers will be considerably increased after the unbelieving majority have been restored to their land and some of them also spiritually revived:

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, thus says the Lord God: I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name's sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went… For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols" (Ezek 36:22-25).

The Bible clearly teaches that the unbelieving Jewish nation who were restored to their land in unbelief, will only be saved after being subjected to severe afflictions and great anxiety:

"Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because you have all become dross, therefore behold, I will gather you into the midst of Jerusalem. As men gather silver, bronze, iron, lead, and tin into the midst of a furnace, to blow fire on it, to melt it; so will I gather you in My anger and in My fury, and will leave you there and melt you… then you shall know that I, the Lord, have poured out My fury on you" (Ezek. 22:19-22).

Only then, some of them will be saved by being reconciled with the rejected Yeshua Ha Mashiach.

The time of Jacob’s trouble

Since Israel's restoration to their land in 1948, the animosity of the unbelieving majority towards Jesus and the Messianic Jews who worship Him, has been intensified. Although they achieved resounding victories in the wars fought since 1948, the hostility and military capacity of their enemies are ever on the increase. Israel will face "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7) as a very real possibility on the short-term. God allows these afflictions to purge the faithful remnant.

Hosea says the following about the first and second comings of the Messiah and Israel's ultimate salvation by Him [explanatory notes added between brackets]:

"For I [the Messiah] will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah… I will tear them and go away… [the ascension of Jesus after He announced the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews]… I will return again to my place [heaven] till they acknowledge their offence. Then they [the people of Israel] will seek My face; in their affliction [in the great tribulation] they will diligently seek Me. Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days [of a thousand years each] He will revive us; on the third day [in the third millennium after His first coming] He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight" (Hos. 5:14–6:2).

It is obvious from these verses that Israel, as a nation, will only seek the Lord "in their affliction." Zechariah mentions the shocking death toll of the coming great tribulation, during which only a remnant of Israel will be saved:

"And it shall come to pass in all the land, says the Lord, that two-thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one-third shall be left in it. I will bring the one-third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them, I will say, This is My people, and each one will say, The Lord is my God" (Zech. 13:8-9).

Jesus said the following about this terrible time when the Antichrist, after declaring himself to be God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, will attempt to annihilate Israel and all other people who refuse to acknowledge and worship him:

"Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved" (Mt. 24:15, 21-22).

One of the current indications that Israel, like their forefathers, still reject Jesus as Messiah is their determination to build the third temple in Jerusalem. By reinstating the sacrificial service they will again, explicitly and formally, reject the once for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Great enthusiasm was aroused when the Temple Institute in Jerusalem was notified on 5 April 2002 that a red heifer was born on a farm in Israel. According to Numbers 19, the ashes of a red heifer are needed for purification rites in the temple service. Two rabbi’s have inspected the heifer and found it to be without blemish. Orthodox Jews accept this development as a providential sign that the Messiah will soon come to save Israel from their enemies and initiate the building of the third temple.

The counterfeit messiah (Antichrist) who will come seven years before the true Messiah will conclude a covenant with Israel and indeed authorise the building of the temple. However, 3½ years later he will declare himself to be God in the rebuilt temple and immediately afterwards try to annihilate the Jews when they refuse to worship him as God. That will be the time of Jacob’s trouble (Mt. 24:15-22; 2 Thes. 2:4; Rev. 13:15; Jer. 30:7; Dan. 9:27, 11:31-45; 12:11).

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

How then should we, in the light of biblical prophecies, pray for the peace of Jerusalem? (Ps. 122:6; Is. 62:6-7). We should indeed pray a New Testament prayer for Jerusalem's peace, but it should be strictly a Messianic prayer. There is a very special relationship between Jesus and Jerusalem: He is the Messiah-King of Jerusalem who will rule over His millennial kingdom from the restored throne of David in Jerusalem (Acts 15:16-17; Amos 9:11-12; Is. 16:5).

Before that wonderful time, however, Jerusalem will be the scene of persecution, hardships and severe afflictions. Jesus not only said that Jerusalem would become desolate, broken down and trampled by the Gentiles until the end-time, but also that Israel would have to pass through the great tribulation before they will be saved. Of what avail is it to pray that Jerusalem's predominantly unsaved inhabitants should be spared the attacks of their enemies if these are the very means appointed by God to try them and expedite their spiritual salvation?

God will not only allow the restored Jerusalem to be attacked by its enemies but He will also allow its capture and near destruction to force the city's inhabitants to cry out to Him for help and salvation. The Lord said: "For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled, and the women ravished. Half of the city shall go into captivity…" (Zech. 14:2).

When we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we should pray that individual Jews accept the Messiah-King as Saviour and Prince of Peace in their hearts, and also that many Jews will be saved during the coming great tribulation when Jerusalem and the land of Israel will be the scene of big wars. Furthermore, we should earnestly pray for the second coming of Jesus, because He is the only hope for Israel and the Gentiles. There will be no real and lasting peace in the world until He comes.

Distorted prophetic visions

Many Christians have distorted prophetic visions, such as the following:

·       They condone Israel in their unsaved condition as the chosen people of God and unconditionally ascribe all the blessings of the millennium to the present generation.

·       They deny the need for the fire of God's appointed purging of the nation and consequently allege that Israel and the world are not heading for the great tribulation.

·       They expect a mighty revival of (deceptive) signs and wonders that will sweep the nation into the kingdom of God and usher in the millennium without tribulation.

·       They neglect to warn Israel and the nations against the coming false messiah (the Antichrist) who will deceive them by concluding a covenant with them (Dan. 9:27; Jn. 5:43).

·       They refrain from boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of Israel and the nations as it would offend the Jews and also many other people.

·       They pretend (and pray) that Jerusalem could have peace without Jesus. They do not commit themselves to proclaiming the gospel of Jesus in the city.

There are various Christian ministries in (and outside of) Israel who are guilty of promoting some or all of the distorted visions mentioned above. Most of them agree to the fact that no Jew or Gentile can be saved without Jesus, but in their actions and outreaches very little or no emphasis is placed on Jewish evangelism. Even in prayer requests, this subject is easily omitted while supporters are only asked to pray for the safety of the region, the containing of Yasser Arafat and the PLO, peace in the Middle East, the immigration of more Jews, houses, jobs, economic prosperity and more contributions for the various ministries.

We should have the long-term spiritual interests of Israel at heart. We should also, from clear biblical prophecies, prepare Israel on more problems to come. Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and the horrors that they perpetrate are passing phenomena. A much more evil and sinister person will shortly appear on the scene – the Bible calls him the Antichrist, the man of sin, the son of perdition and the lawless one (1 Jn. 2:18; 2 Thes. 2:3, 8). We either belong to the true Messiah and will escape God's judgements upon a sinful world (Lk. 21:36) or we will soon be surrendered to the false messiah and his reign of terror.

The denying of Jesus

The main problem in Israel, as well as in many of the Christian ministries supporting and serving them, is the denying of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and only Saviour of the world. While some of the latter do not explicitly deny Him, they nevertheless do so implicitly by keeping quiet when they should be bold witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8). Ministries which do not clearly convey to Israel the message of Jesus' Messiahship are not doing them any real good. How would the orthodox and non-practising Jews be able to identify and resist the false messiah and turn to the true Messiah during their coming afflictions if they were not properly informed beforehand?

The entire world is presently following the popular course of denying Jesus and His unique gospel of salvation by adopting interfaith or secular constitutions, relegating Christ to the level of messiahs in the non-Christian religions, phasing out state-supported Christian education, and building a new world order from which Jesus Christ is deliberately excluded for the sake of global unity among all peoples, ideologies and faiths.

Since Christ is our peace, there is no real peace outside Him. For that reason, man-made peace programmes are doomed to utter failure: "For when they say, Peace and safety! Then sudden destruction comes upon them" (1 Thes. 5:3).

The coming world-wide distress of nations will be a direct result of instituting a Christless new world order; that is why Jesus Christ Himself will return to bring order and righteousness:

"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near" (Lk. 21:25-28).

When the first ominous signs of the great tribulation are evident, the true believers will "escape" the impending disasters (Lk. 21:36) while those who put their trust in the false peace programmes of the humanistic new world order "will not escape" (1 Thes. 5:3). When the judgements of God are poured out upon a Christ-rejecting world, it will eventually dawn to people that the fury of the Lamb, whom they have denied, has been unleashed against them:

"And the kings of the earth, the great men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?" (Rev. 6:16-17).

When people are faced by the dire consequences of rejecting and denying the One who alone is the light and life of the world, death will be preferable to them than to face Him whose eyes are like a flame of fire (Rev. 1:14). Anguish and terror will overcome them as they try to flee from His presence: "Their flesh shall dissolve while they stand on their feet, their eyes shall dissolve in their sockets, and their tongues shall dissolve in their mouths" (Zech. 14:12).

A personal encounter with Christ

All people on earth, the believers and deniers of Christ, are most assuredly heading for a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. God has given Him a name which is above every name "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). The true believers will appear before the judgement seat of Christ to give account of their lives (Rom. 14:10-12) while the unbelievers will be the subjects of the wrath of the Lamb. At the end of the tribulation period, when Christ comes back to earth, the remnant of Israel and the nations will mourn for Him:

"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Mt. 24:29-30).

Why will they mourn for Him? They will realise that all their afflictions and tribulations were a direct result of denying and rejecting the Holy One of Israel who alone is mighty to save. They will mourn, confess their sins and accept Jesus as Saviour and King. The mourning of repentant Israel on that soon coming day is vividly described by one of their ancient prophets:

"And I will pour on the House of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem" (Zech. 12:10-11).

Israel must now be introduced to the One whom their forefathers have pierced. Those who do not accept the message now should know where to take refuge when the dark clouds of God's judgements enfold them during the terrible Day of the Lord (Is. 13:9-13; Rev. 6:12-17). The same message should also be proclaimed to their enemies in the Middle East and to all people on earth.

Do not deny the only One who can save your soul and the souls of all lost sinners. Only He can bring peace to a warring world by destroying the enemy forces that will be deployed in Israel (Rev. 19:20-21), and binding the devil who deceived the nations (Rev. 20:1-3). After His coming, Jerusalem will be elevated to world capital:

"At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem; they shall walk no more after the stubbornness of their evil heart" (Jer. 3:17; see also Is. 2:2-4 and Zech. 8:21-23).

Jesus Christ will be King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 11:15; 19:16)! But He should also be honoured for all His divine attributes right now:

·       Jesus Christ is not only destined to be the King of the Jews and the King of the world during His coming millennial reign from the throne of David in Jerusalem. He must be accepted as Saviour and King by all people now! He should be honoured by all nations as the chief corner stone of their constitutions now! Jesus clearly stated that "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Mt. 28:18). He is the King of kings and no political structure or ideology is complete or sound without expressly, formally and devoutly recognising the supreme authority of the Triune God. The very fact of impending judgements upon the nations of the world is a direct consequence of denying the sovereignty of Christ.

·       The righteousness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ and His Word is the only sound and expedient basis for moral norms, human rights, legal systems and educational programmes. The conspicuous absence of biblical morality, respect for human lives, a biblically-based administration of justice with suitable penalties for criminals, and Christian education, accounts for all the immorality, double standards, confusion and anarchy in the world.

·       Only Jesus Christ can revive the image of God in human beings, which was lost because of the Fall. Without His forgiving of sins and the experience of being spiritually born again into a new life of Christ-likeness, we will never be able to escape the wrath of God upon the wicked – no matter how hard we try. Come to Him who is mighty to save! (Lk. 19:10; Acts 4:12).

The Bible says that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). Biblical prophecies can only be clearly understood in terms of people's relationship with Jesus Christ – they are either for or against Him and will be dealt with accordingly. Those who are in Christ "will not come into condemnation" (Jn. 5:24) but those who reject and deny Him will be the objects of His wrath. He still invites all people in Israel and among the nations to become His disciples and thereby pass from death into life.