Monday, 12 April 2010

The Jews are God’s witnesses

A summary of the Bible Hour presentation at the Christadelphian Hall, Blackpool Street, Burton-upon-Trent on Sunday 11th April 2010.

This blog uses Bible references. If you don’t have a Bible, you can find the Bible text online.

Christadelphians believe that
 the Jews were and are still God’s chosen people
 the Jews are God’s witnesses

We believe that it’s essential to take the Bible as a whole (see Romans 15 v 4, Galatians 3 v 24 and 2 Timothy 3 v 16) and we started off by looking at the Old Testament, which chronicles the early history of the Jews.

Going back to the beginning of the Jewish nation, Abraham was called out by God (Genesis 12 vv 1-3) who made a covenant with him. In Genesis 17 we read that God promised to make Abraham a father of nations and that he was promised a land ‘for an everlasting possession’ – the land then called Canaan.

The covenant – and duty of obedience - fell in turn onto Isaac, Abraham’s son, then Jacob and the twelve tribes and their descendants. After their slavery in Egypt, the now numerous people were freed and were led into the wilderness where their relationship was reaffirmed. (They are referred to as the children of Israel – the name God gave to Jacob).

Exodus 19 vv 4-6 tells us that they were to be God’s ‘treasured possession…a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’. Deuteronomy 7 vv 6-8 reinforces this. God was faithful to the original promises to Abraham.

However this privilege brought responsibility: Obedience would result in blessings on the nation, disobedience in cursing. Deuteronomy chapter 28 sets this out in detail – see for example verses 64-6, which prophesy that the nation would be scattered and persecuted.

Before the children of Israel entered the promised land of Canaan for this first time, their then leader, Joshua set before them an ultimatum, summing up the care that God had shown for them and asking them to commit themselves to serving Him. As a nation the people choose to serve God. (Joshua 23 and 24 especially verse 24).

The Bible records not just the covenants that were made but the times that the nation of Israel were disobedient throughout their history. For example in Isaiah 43 God says to Israel ‘you are my witnesses’ (vv 10-12). At this time, the northern part of the kingdom of Israel was in captivity in Assyria and the southern part – called Judah – under attack from the Babylonians. There are consequences for their national disobedience (vv 22-24) but God showed great patience telling them through the prophet Jeremiah that He would bring them back to their own land, which happened as prophesied.

Jesus Christ prophesied to the Jews in his day that Jerusalem would be destroyed. Today we can see the Arch of Titus in Rome, depicting the ransacking of the treasures from the temple when the Romans overturned Jerusalem a few years later in AD70, when it is said that over a million Jews were killed.

Over the centuries and throughout the world there have been many persecutions of Jews. They have been scattered and ‘moved on’ only to become the focus of persecution elsewhere. And yet they have always retained their identity in circumstances where other nations have disappeared.

Mark Twain, noting that they were less than 1% of the world’s population anyway and looking at this remarkable history asked “what is the secret of their immortality?” (The Immortal Jew, 1899).

The Jews indeed witness to the existence of God by the fact of their own existence!

A homeland was being sought and in 1917, an answer to ‘the Jewish question’ was suggested by the British foreign secretary, Lord Balfour: In a letter now known as the Balfour Declaration he proposed that Palestine be a home to the Jews. Palestine was their original homeland!

The Nazi persecution accelerated the numbers returning to Palestine and we are again reminded of the detail of Deuteronomy 28 which prophesied so clearly the experiences of the Jews in the early part of the twentieth century!

However, God had said of the nation through his prophet Jeremiah “of you I will not make a full end” (vv10-11).

There were calls for the UN to partition the land of Palestine. Leaders such as Churchill said that ‘it is right that the Jews should have a national centre’.
Eventually, on May 14th 1948, David Ben Gurion was able to declare the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine to be called Israel.

God remembers His promises. He is working in the world to maintain His covenant.

What about now? We see decades of conflict and unrest in the Middle East – the Gaza conflict, the threats against Israel. The BBC ran the headline ‘Jerusalem – Crucible of Conflict’ in 2001. God had told us that this would be the case through the prophet Zechariah (12 v 3). There is still huge disagreement about land and rights to places of religious significance.

In the book of Romans we find that Israel – whatever their faults and disobedience or disregard of God’s law – are still God’s chosen people (Romans 11 vv 1-2) and will be saved (vv25-7). God’s covenant still stands. Zechariah’s prophecy about the time of Christ’s return makes it clear that the Jews will accept Christ (12v10) and be saved.

God’s covenant with Abraham and the nation of Israel is also relevant to us. We read in Galatians 3 v 7-9 that we can share in those promises too – everlasting life in God’s kingdom. Abraham didn’t receive the fulfilment of the promises in his lifetime (Acts 7 v 5) but will do so when Christ returns and when we can also receive the same blessings (Hebrews 11 v 13).

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