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LEIGHIST & GRATEFUL PRESSLESS PRESS DAVID R. LEIGH P.O. BOX 268 FOX RIVER GROVE, IL 60021-0268 847-571-3011 Dave@RethinkingFaith.com © 2011 Copyright David R. Leigh & Gilbert Bilezikian. All Rights Reserved.
Dedicated to all who seek the kingdom of God.
“By faith Abraham... was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” - Hebrews 11:8,10 “... admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth..., they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” - Hebrews 11:13,16
Preface 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Innocence Conscience Dominion Promise Law Grace Christ's Reign Epilogue
Preface to Working Draft by Dave Leigh
It often happens for me in those twilight
hours, in the undefined region between dreaming and waking. Call it a flash of insight or divine guidance, an “ah ha!” moment, or a sudden gestalt of ideas in a dream just before become fully aware of where I am. It comes to me as a gift of clarity where suddenly things just fit together. The first time I can recall experiencing it was the morning of my grandmother's funeral. I was a teenager and my family knew I'd experienced a spiritual conversion. So they asked me to prepare a prayer for the graveside. I wrestled for days not knowing what to say. That morning as I awoke, I heard someone praying. It was my own voice, saying the prayer I needed to share with my family for the sake of their comfort. I did not need to write it down. It stayed
with me until the moment arrived. In my early adult years I served as a pastor in small churches. Often I would wrestle all week long over my sermon preparation. Like Jacob I'd refuse to let go of God without his blessing. This often meant going to bed on a Saturday night unsure that the sermon I'd prepared would look the same in the morning light. And sure enough there would be times when I'd awake “hearing” myself giving a message that trumped the one in my previous day's notes. This book project began from a similar experience. I'd had the privilege of hearing my friend Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian give a three-part series of classes at Willow Creek, entitled Israel 101. The material dovetailed wonderfully with conclusions I too had come to, thanks to his published writings and my own biblical studies. One morning, a few days after attending his class I found myself awaking from one of those dreams. In it, I saw myself working with Gilbert on a book covering the topics of his class, and incorporating material from his books, like
Christianity 101, Community 101, and some unpublished materials he distributed to the class. The dream was so vivid that I had to send Gilbert an email. But the idea of working alongside this scholar and man of God, whom I so much admired, seemed presumptuous to me. So, admittedly, I modified my telling of the dream a bit. I simply told him I'd dreamt it was he who was writing that book, and asked him if it might be the case or something he'd considered. His answer astounded me! He emailed that he had begun such a project but had abandoned it after just a few pages. “I even have a title for it,” he wrote: “The Rapture Racket. But I don't have the time. What about you tackling it if you like to write?” Before I could blink in disbelief, a second email popped into my inbox with a file attached. It was the pages he'd written. Gilbert explained that his age (mid-80s) and the increasing demands on his time for speaking engagements and ministry commitments were working against his availability to write books. “Serious, if you would enjoy putting it all together, all the materials are yours. If it would help, you could
even use my name as sponsor, co-author or something.” It was as though Gilbert had spied on my dream! The conversations that followed via email and personal meetings at Gilbert's home and favorite pubs further yielded a collaboration that surpassed the vision I'd first been too shy to admit to him. The text that follows is that work in progress. It attempts to present theological perspectives and truths on a level we can all relate to—by use of story and fictionalized dialogue. We offer it here on Scribd.com/dleigh_1 to elicit your feedback, ideas, and support. If you have ideas, editorial suggestions, or questions, please know that you will be helping this project greatly by letting us know. Nothing has posed a greater deterrent to completing this book than the economic challenges created by the time and commitment it takes to write without interruption. If you'd like to share with us your feedback, ideas, or support, please email me at Dave@RethinkingFaith.com or send surface
mail to: Dave Leigh P.O. Box 268 Fox River Grove, IL 60021-0268 We look forward to hearing from you! - Dave April 2011
Chapter 1: Innocence
The heat of the day caused a blurry layer
of air to emanate from the land. Abram sought shade in a grove of trees, known to the locals as the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, in the Valley of Shaveh (“the King's Valley”). Even from here in the cooler shadows, the world seemed a haze and the heat daunting to this sagely nomad. As if it wasn't hard enough for he and his family to find their way in this land—so unfamiliar and so unlike the distant country they came from. Was it the heat of the day that made him drowsy or was it the wearying after-effects of a long battle? Who could blame him if he sought a plush area of sod where he could drift into a nap?
His old body still ached from the bloody conflict he'd endured in rescuing his nephew Lot from a kidnapping band of indigenous war lords and marauders. How strange was this place and its peoples in more ways than geography and miles! And how wearying it all was! But Abram was in Yahweh's grip. God had told him to get up and leave the comfort of his native soil and go to a place that he would show Abram. Sure Abram had a choice. But did he really? After all, this was Yahweh who commanded him. And so Abram obeyed. But when will this end? he often asked himself. When will I reach that place I'll call home? “Go from your country, your people and your family's household to the land I will show you,” Yahweh said. “I will make you into a great nation and bless you. I will make your name great, Abram! Yes, you will be a blessing. In fact, I will bless those who bless you; anyone who curses you I will curse. Abram, I will bless all the peoples on earth through you.” That encounter with Yahweh still seemed
unreal to Abram—and yet nothing in his life was or ever felt more real. So: Here I am, Lord. At age 75, he obeyed and took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all the possessions they owned, left his native soil of Ur and set out for the unknown land of Canaan. “Here I am, Lord,” Abram whispered into the dense air above him, as he lay in the shaded sod and looked into the sky that shone through the motionless branches sheltering him. But where is “here”? Abram wondered. And where will we finally end up? The Canaanites puzzled him. As with all people, they were a mixture of good and bad. Some Abram had to fight in bloodied battle, like the one he'd just finished against the unreasoning brutes who abducted Lot. Others, he could form alliances with, like those who assisted him in Lot's rescue. But none of them did he fully trust. All the while, as Abram traveled this fertile wilderness and navigated both its physical and political landscape, he kept hearing Yahweh's words echo in his head: “To your offspring I will give this land.”
My offspring! Abram thought, I am an old man. Sarai is an old woman. And it has been years since Yahweh made those promises. What could God have meant by my offspring? * * *
Bryce looked nostalgically at the tattered
Bible in his hands. His mind went back thirty years to a day when he was 15 and, oddly enough, expecting to go roller-skating. Isn't that what you are supposed to do at a roller rink? His classmate and friend, Sean, had invited Bryce to a youth rally at a rink where youth groups from all over the county would converge. Not being of Sean's faith, nothing could have prepared Bryce for what happened at that rink— or the events that would unfold because of it. Oh, there was roller-skating that wintry night. But it could not have been for more than 45 minutes before the youth leaders called the students to sit together in a large circle on the
dusty floor. They introduced a “special speaker” they called a “youth evangelist” and for Bryce this is when the evening of roller-skating gave way to one of emotional roller coasters that would outlast the night. The room darkened as the evangelist invited the students to watch a short film clip. Bryce watched the screen depict a purportedly future moment in the life of a family much like his own. Johnny, the teenager in the family, could have been any one of Bryce's friends. SCENE 1: Sunday Johnny's family, devoutly Christian, prepares to go to church. But Johnny, the skeptic, resists. “That place is so bogus,” Johnny whines, referring to the church. A shouting match ensues and Johnny prevails. His family piles into the car without him and drives off in a huff. SCENE 2: Monday Johnny gets off the school bus with a
backpack slung over his shoulder. As he starts walking up his family's driveway, he looks back to see the bus he was just on swerve off the road and crash. He drops his bag and darts to the crash where he encounters bloodied classmates climbing from the wreckage. “The bus driver just disappeared,” they cry, “and so did half the kids on the bus!” “What do you mean disappeared?” Johnny asks. “They just vanished—literally,” comes the answer amidst sobs and cries of horror. “That's insane!” Johnny shouts. Panicked, Johnny runs back across the street, past his backpack, to his house to call for help. “Mom!” he yells, as he stomps through the front door. He sees her car is in the garage but she and his siblings are strangely missing. “Where the heck are they?!” he mutters. But there's no time to think about it.
Frantically, he dials the phone. A buzzing sound blares from the phone indicating the lines are jammed. Air raid sirens moan in the distance. He runs back outside looking desperately for any adult who might help. As he reaches the next-door neighbor's yard, he sees a jetliner sweep over the rooftops of his neighborhood. Trees swish its underbelly and Johnny hears it crash in the distance. Smoke and flames billow into the sky. The screen dissolves. SCENE 3: A series of horrific and cataclysmic crashes cascade across the screen. Police cars and emergency vehicles crisscross at racing speeds with their sirens and lights at full kilt. Trains derail. Traffic jams sprawl across all the major cities of the world. Tanks explode and airplanes collide. But all this is not the result of an alien invasion, Godzilla, or a terrorist plot, the narrator explains. It is “The long-awaited rapture of the church.” Bible verses that allege doom for humanity
now fill the screen with scenes of suffering and world domination in the backdrop. Passage after passage, wrested from the original context, is strung together with the next in such a way as to predict seven years of horrific and unspeakable events—the onset of the “Great Tribulation” and the end of the world. The screen dims. The evangelist, a grayhaired gentleman with a black Bible in his hand now stands alone before the darkened screen. He steps forward and takes up the story. “Two men will be walking up a hill,” he says, waving the old leather book. “One will be taken and the other will be left behind. A man and wife will be sleeping in the same bed; she'll hear a noise—” The evangelist drops the Bible so that it slaps the floor and makes an echo throughout the quieted rink of mesmerized teenagers. “She'll turn her head,” he says in a hushed tone, “and—he's gone!” “But don't fear for the missing,” he warns. They've been snatched up to meet the Lord Jesus in the air! Fear rather for those who have been left behind!” And fear is exactly what Bryce did! He
listened in horror as the evangelist described the rise of the “Beast,” also called “the Antichrist,” along with the “Great Tribulation” and bloody persecution for those who would not take 666 as an emblem on their hands or foreheads. Bryce's young heart shook as the old evangelist described in his alarming manner yet another return of Christ at the end of the seven years of tribulation. “Jesus will come in the sky for a bloody coup that will topple the Antichrist and set up his reign on earth for one thousand years,” he explained. “In this Millennial Kingdom the living, the raptured, and the resurrected dead will live side by side, offering sacrifices in the rebuilt Jerusalem Temple.” A look of wonder filled the old evangelist's face as he described yet another return, a sinister return—not of Christ but of the Devil after the thousand-year reign of Christ. “Satan will be re-released by God himself from the Abyss of Hell,” he shouted. “And what does Satan do? He deceives and seduces large numbers of these paradise dwellers at the end of the Millennium, convincing them to rebel against
their Lord and Savior, the Millennial King Jesus, who has ruled them with grace and truth and mercy for ten centuries!” Bryce's heart and mind reeled with an admixture of terror and excitement as the speaker went on to explain there will be yet more resurrections, “The Great White Throne Judgment,” souls thrown into “The Lake of Fire,” and finally a new heaven and new earth! Although Bryce's parents raised him to respect the Bible, he had no idea it might contain such things. And it was out of his respect for the Bible that fear gripped him that night. He felt a cold sweat lick his back as the evangelist put out his plea, punctuating it at every turning point with: “Don't be left behind! Don't be left behind! Don't be left behind!” Bryce didn't remember standing up from the dusty floor that night. But he remembers finding himself walking forward with a mass of other teenagers at the evangelist's exhortation. That night Bryce did not fall in love with Jesus Christ and choose to take up his cross to follow him. He did not give away his life to Christ. He stepped forward at the evangelist's
“altar call” to save his life, escape the “Great Tribulation,” and “not be left behind.” In the days and months that followed Bryce's decision, Bryce became involved in Sean's youth group and church, attended Bible studies with Sean, and became so enthusiastic about his new-found faith that Bryce's zeal even made Sean uncomfortable at times. Bryce read books like the “The Late Great Planet Earth” and attended “End Times Prophecy” seminars every chance he could. The people in Sean's church came to admire Bryce. And Bryce loved them. They were good people, devout and zealous. It's fair to say they filled Bryce's high school years with a form of camaraderie and community that was rich with Christian values, fellowship, and friendship. When it came time for college, their youth pastor urged Bryce and Sean to enroll in a “solid, fundamental, dispensationalist Bible college.” But as zealous as Bryce had been, he'd not managed to persuade his parents of his faith or its implication for their souls “when the rapture comes.” If anything, truth be told, they were quite put off by what they hoped would be a
passing fanaticism. “We'll support you if you go to a secular liberal arts college or university,” they informed him. “But we will not hear of spending a penny on a Bible college or any school associated with that church.” Bryce had no choice. He left for the state university. His church friends encouraged him to make the best of it and become involved in a campus fellowship, which he did—at first. Then came the loaded schedule of classes, deadlines, and, well, other great things to do at school. As his church friends feared might happen, Bryce drifted—just a little, at first. Then, a little more. Then, the time came when he had little time for church even when he was home on break. To his parent's satisfaction, he had passed through the “phase” they so wearily endured. As graduation neared, Bryce met Kirsten, a lovely English major, and they fell in love. They married just weeks after graduating. But two decades and a couple of kids later, that relationship unraveled into an ugly divorce. Now Bryce found himself alone, unpacking boxes,
and searching within himself for answers. Attempts at visiting churches over the years had left Bryce feeling out of place. Yet he felt the need to have spiritual substance in his life. It had been years since he'd picked up a Bible. In fact, it dawned on him that he'd never really read it all the way, straight through, even during his days of zealotry. In the quiet loneliness of his tiny apartment, he'd plundered through the boxed-up wreckage of his life and found this old leatherbound book he used to tote around in his backpack. It was the Bible Sean gave him when it was crisp and new, shortly after that night at the rink. Now as Bryce sat here, it was a tattered volume in his hands. Where do I start? Bryce asked himself. How about at the beginning? he thought with a grin. And so it was that he embarked on a commitment to himself to read the Bible from cover to ragged cover, not skipping around as he
did in his church days under the tutelage of eloquent and sensational teachers; not stringing passages together from verses far and wide; but just plodding through, page after page. As Bryce did this, a strange world opened up to him. Not the world he had expected. No, he had expected to see the “dispensations” and “dispensational truths” of that old evangelist laid out in all their splendor. To the contrary. Everything looked different now in its original context. The more he read, the more disoriented Bryce felt. Maybe it's just that I haven't looked at this stuff in so long, he told himself. It will get clearer when I get to the New Testament. But by the time he finished the Gospels, Bryce found himself looking at Christ, and the Kingdom that Christ proclaimed and taught about, in ways he'd never considered before. He read through the book of Acts and “listened” to sermon after sermon by the apostles, preaching to Jews and Gentiles alike that all the promises of the Law and Prophets had
been fulfilled in their day in the coming of Jesus the Messiah. To Bryce's surprise, not once did Peter or Paul or anyone in Acts warn people to accept Christ in order to avoid being “left behind” or to escape the “Great Tribulation.” In fact, he couldn't find a single clear reference to a seven-year period of persecution in any of Jesus or the apostles' teachings. He found references to “persecution” and “tribulation,” yes. But that was all to stuff going on back then! And it never seemed to stop. What's happened? he asked himself. He looked at the cover and assured himself it was the same Bible he'd used in his youth. Where are “the seven dispensations” I was taught? Where are the frightening scenarios my pastors drilled into my head week after week? With the exception of Christ's “Olivet Discourse,” little of it sounded familiar so far. Yet, even that section didn't line up with his recollection of how he was taught, when he took it in its entirety and compared the parallel accounts in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. From what Bryce recalled from his college history classes, most of the predictions in that
discourse could be identified with first-century events. Perhaps I should have bought the Bible with the footnotes that some of my high school friends had, he thought, with a puzzled look. No. I want the straight scoop, he told himself, without using someone else's lens. Pressing on, Bryce pushed through the epistles and letters. He found they connected with the Old Testament story in ways he never saw before. Occasionally, he did come across statements and phrases reminiscent of the endtimes scenarios he recalled. But something about reading them now in context made them seem oddly different. Bryce grew confused. He looked at the box of books that he'd left half-unpacked in the corner upon fishing out this Bible. Maybe I should just put this thing back in that box and forget about it, he mumbled to himself audibly, in frustration. But something inside him kept drawing him on. I've come this far. I can't quit now. Then it hit him: Surely the book of Revelation is all about the end times. It will have
to fill it all in for me! But by the time Bryce reached Revelation, he had a new perspective on the Bible's message that would inform his reading of that book so as to illuminate its every page—and fill him with yet more questions. You might think all this would energize and excite Bryce. But in reality, it only served to further disorient and disturb him. He needed to talk to someone about it all, but he didn't know where to turn. One day would change all that. He was at his office and noticed during his lunch hour that Margaret, who worked in a cubicle not far from his, was reading a Bible while eating a sandwich. “Deep stuff,” he said to her, breaking the ice. Margaret looked at him with brown soulful eyes and paused as she pushed her long auburn hair behind her ears. “It doesn't get any deeper,” she responded
with a smile. They began talking and he felt an instant connection to Margaret. In the days that followed, Bryce and Margaret found themselves having lunches together on a regular basis. And the Bible became the theme of all their lunchtime conversations. Eventually, Bryce decided to confide in Margaret about his background, the church he experienced as a teenager, and the frustrations and doubts caused by his “reading project,” as he called it. She listened attentively and seemed to understand exactly where Bryce was coming from. “Sure,” he told her, “there are ways in which parts of the Bible and Revelation sound like some of the things I was taught. I certainly came across words like 'tribulation,' a thousandyear reign, and images of angels harvesting the earth. Jesus definitely predicted his own return and the destruction of Jerusalem. But as I read each passage in its own context—and the book of Revelation in the broader context of the rest of
the Bible and history—I keep getting an entirely different picture of God's plan for the world than I was taught.” “It sounds like you've found new clarity,” Margaret responded. “No!” Bryce blurted out. “That's exactly my problem! I now feel like I understand less now than before I began reading!” “Well what's the plan as you understand it?” she asked. “That's what I'm struggling with!” he said. “I feel like I get glimpses. But they don't line up with what I was expecting. I really don't know how to put it all together.” Margaret stared back at him with a pensive look. “What do I do?” Bryce asked. “I don't want to believe wrong things. I can't go back to my old belief system at this point. And I don't think I can just walk away from this.” Margaret took a long pause and looked into her friend's tired eyes. She read his desperation and wondered how much he'd even slept since beginning his Bible-reading quest.
“You need to talk to Professor Garabet,” she finally said, matter-of-factually. * * *
Lizzette was not Jewish. But she'd always
wanted to go to Israel “someday.” When other children were dreaming about the lands in story books of “once-upon-a- time,” Lizzette yearned for a land she knew was real. It's not that she didn't enjoy thinking about places with unicorns and “My Little Ponies” from time to time, like other kids her age. But Lizzette was always captivated by the stories she heard in Sunday school and around the family table. Little did young Lizzette realize that the innocent mind between her pigtails was actually romanticizing what that “Holy Land” would be like—as much, if not more, than her playmates had fantasized about their never-never-lands of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Not until she was a teenager did she begin to catch the hints that something was awry with
her longed-for “Promised Land.” This is how it happened: Lizzette loved Scripture. She particularly loved the teachings of Jesus. And thanks to those teachings, Lizzette found herself driven by a compassionate heart for people. During her high school days this translated into an academic track that she hoped would take her to college to become a social worker. But like many teenagers in her school and church, she was more likely, on a Sunday afternoon, to pick up the funny pages than the front page of a newspaper or the world news section of the Times. And, if the nightly news was on the TV, it was certainly because one of her parents had turned it on. It was on one of those evenings that even the American-focused newscasters her parents watched gave a report on events in the Middle East. “Scud missiles pointed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have local residents here scrambling for gas masks and bomb shelters,” the newscaster reported, standing in front of a Patriot anti-ballistic missile launcher.
“Jerusalem?” she exclaimed. Her ears caught that word and yanked her attention to TV screen. She watched the footage of families huddling in shelters and of soldiers distributing food packs and equipment to the frightened civilians. At a truck distributing gas masks, an unruly crowd gathers and turns into a mob, as men with long beards and wide brimmed hats snatch hooded gas masks from the hands of anxious pleading mothers before others could grab them. “What are they doing?” Lizzette asked. The newscaster's voice-over narrated the scene: “Because hooded masks enable orthodox men to avoid shaving their faces, these lifesaving devices are at a premium. But they are also desperately needed by families with small children, whose heads are too small for the standard-issue face masks made for soldiers!” “What are they saying?” young Lizzette asked her father, with a look of shock. “Well,” her father explained, “These highly religious men must choose between keeping their
beards or taking a device that could save the life of a child. They're trying to save their beards instead.” Lizzette let out an aghast “What! How can they do that!!!” And so it began. It was the First Persian Gulf War. As the world watched Operation Desert Shield give way to Operation Desert Storm and campaigns of “shock and awe,” Lizzette's shock and awe grew over the years. How can this be happening in the Holy Land? she wondered. In the following decades, Lizzette marveled each time her ears caught the name of a biblical town or location in the news. She'd always loved thinking about going to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Sea of Galilee. But while that desire never left her, now she had to think of visiting these places amidst tanks, bombs and Israelis with machine guns, while rioting residents and settlers threw rocks (or worse things) at each other. “I find this so disturbing,” she told her parents one day at the dinner table during the 6 o'clock news.
“Look!” she exclaimed, gesturing at the TV set. “That's Bethlehem! That's Jerusalem! Those are Bible places and those people are building walls and fences to keep each other out of entire sections of town! Why, it's like Berlin all over again!” “Lizzette!” her mother tsked. “Well it IS!” Lizzette blurted out. “It's all just so disturbing!” Lizzette said, raising her hand as if it was about to fly off her wrist, only to have it come slapping down on her knee. “Disturbing.” This was a word she would use often whenever she talked about the Middle East. “There's just no better word for it! She insisted. “These are supposed to be holy places— not the sites of bombings, Scud Missiles, or skirmishes between Israelis and Palestinians!” In her younger days, she would try to make sense of all this by dismissing these reports as “bad people doing mean things” in a foreign land. Her parents sometimes spoke of these news
stories as “signs of the end times.” So Lizzette came to figure that this might even just be “stuff the Bible predicted would happen before Jesus returned.” These ugly events were exceptions, in her mind, to what the “Promised Land” was all about. The “Holy Land” she would visit—if she ever did—would be that land flowing with milk and honey she learned about in her childhood. One day her high school Social Studies class talked about current events in the Persian Gulf. “Despite the daily barrage of catastrophic news coverage there,” Lizzette told the class, “I still want to visit Israel. I just don't think I want to visit the one on the news!” Her classmates laughed and her teacher gave her a knowing smile. That's how it was. But since something inside her told her it might be a long time before Jesus really does return, she dared to hope that maybe the political situation would change in her lifetime. Maybe the 'bad people' will just go away or stop hurting each other for a while, she thought.
After all, the Jews are “God's chosen people,” she reasoned. Maybe God will answer their prayers (and my own) for peace to be on Jerusalem—at least long enough for me to visit there someday—before Jesus returns! College introduced a more serious-minded Lizzette to new but challenging possibilities for how to view the world, including new ways to look at the Middle East. Her social worker's heart led her to look at the victims on all sides of the conflicts she heard about. One day, to her surprise, she realized: I really can't bring myself anymore to take sides— even Israel's—where human lives are being blown apart or injured. All I know is that God loves both Palestinians and Jews. Her heart broke especially when she learned that many Palestinians are Christians. The Jesus I've believed in since I was a little girl has not changed. He came for everyone. It doesn't matter if they're Arabs or Israeli Sabras, Muslims, Jews, Christians, or Buddhists—even atheists! God does not make race or religion a prerequisite for his love. After all, the Bible says that “while we were yet
sinners Jesus died for us.” And the God I love is the God who would defend the widow and orphan, the stranger, the foreigner, and the sojourner, against oppression and violence. One question especially started to nag Lizzette: What am I to make of violent acts that seem terribly unjust but which are apparently being committed by the government and military authorities of God's beloved “chosen people”? That question—that very “disturbing” and nagging question—became deeply rooted in her conscience during her college years. And it would not go away.
Chapter 2: Conscience
Flies buzzing. Horse flies, buzzing. Buzzards. Buzzards swarming, circling. Buzzards swooping. Abram chased them all. What a sight I must be! he thought. A crazy old man waving his arms to play the scarecrow to these ravenous bugs and birds. What an ironic and appropriate end to a tiresome day! Yahweh had issued the order: “Bring me a
heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” He meant these for sacrifices. So Abram brought all these and cut each offering in two, arranging the halves opposite each other, as God had specified. The birds, however, God did not want cut. (Who can understand such things! Abram groused.) So Abram left them intact. Abram could not help but wonder if the comic aspects of this hectic day weren't in some part due to God's famous sense of humor. After all, the day began with Abram being so presumptuous as to dare even argue with Yahweh, the Most High! Yahweh had blessed him with a vision, perhaps the first vision from Yahweh any living human ever had. And Yahweh had greeted Abram with the sweetest of words: “Don't be afraid, Abram. I am your shield and your greatest of rewards.” How did Abram respond? By arguing! “Sovereign Yahweh,” he heard himself saying, “what can you give me since I remain childless and my only possible heir is Eliezer of Damascus?”
Did I really say that—to Yahweh Most High!? Abram asked himself. He felt a shiver just to recall it. Oh, but I didn't stop there, did I? I outright accused him: “You've given me no children; so a servant in my household will inherit all I have!” Yes, perhaps this day has been divine justice, he thought, as he grabbed his staff and chased off three more very determined vultures. But then he also recalled God's gracious reply to his impudence: “The slave will not be your heir,” Yahweh assured him in that precious vision. “A son who will come from your own body will be your heir.” And then, as the vision continued, the day turned to night, the sky filled with stars, and Abram found himself standing in a place that took his breath away. He was peering into our Milky Way Galaxy. “Look up at the heavens,” Yahweh whispered, “and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Abram shuttered as Yahweh added: “So shall your seed be.” In that moment, Abram believed Yahweh and for this reason Yahweh regarded him as righteous.
As if that was not enough, God added: “Abram, I am Yahweh. I brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land you are standing in. Together we will take possession of it.” And that's where I figure I crossed the line, Abram admitted. Had I stopped there, this day could have been so different! But, no! I could not let it rest. I had to keep my kvetching. “Sovereign Yahweh,” I had to say, “how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” Ugh! “How can I know!” Really?! I had to ask that?! Abram quieted his heart. He was, after all, truly grateful. I mean, Yahweh could have squashed me like a bug, right there. But how gracious he is! And how wonderful are his plans! “Well, here you are Yahweh! I have done as you've asked. I've done it with a glad and grateful heart—I mean I really am grateful! And I've done it all exactly as you've asked. Now here I am. I am here, Lord. But so are these pesky insects and troublesome birds!” Abram pushed aside his annoyance at the persistent invaders. He dare not let them interfere
with the attitude of his heart or his love for the one who just moments ago saw his faith and reckoned it as his righteousness. He bowed in worship. Quieting his soul, he called upon the Name of Yahweh. In that stillness, an Edenic contentment came over him. As the sun set, Abram fell into the deepest, most divine, slumber ever to come on a human since the day God drew Eve from Adam's side, indicating that something significant was about to happen—a new beginning with Abram as the fountainhead of a new humanity. But first, as Abram slept, a thick and terrifying darkness came over him and he heard Yahweh saying horrible things that shot chills through his soul: “Know most certainly that for four hundred years your seed will be a foreigner in a land not theirs. They will be slaves and terribly abused there. But I will punish that nation where this happens. After their slavery they will leave with great plunder. Yet you, Abram, will go to your ancestors in peace, buried at a good old age. It will be four generations before your seed returns here. I will endure the Amorites until their sin
reaches its full measure before I evict them.” Abram wondered at this. He tried to speak but could not. He saw the sun was setting and darkness was just now falling. Am I awake or asleep? he asked himself. He could not tell. Just then, a smoking firepot and blazing torch appeared, moving between the split carcasses he'd prepared. “What does this mean, Lord?” he heard himself ask. “It means that on this day I've made my covenant with you,” Yahweh answered. “To your seed I've reserved this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river Euphrates. Currently this area has been occupied by rebellious and sinful peoples. But once they demonstrate their total depravity and unwillingness to repent, I will give this land to your seed.” Buzzing. A fly buzzing. Circling Abram's sleeping eyelids and landing on his nose.
Abram awoke to swipe the vexation from his face. My seed? he wondered. As numerous as the stars? How will so many fill this land? he mused. My slave will not be my heir. He sighed with relief and then caught his breath: But my heirs will be slaves? And if God plans to judge and evict the current occupants of this land, how much better will my own offspring fare as tenants? What will they have to do and be in order to stand before Yahweh and keep hold of this holy place that seems to be filled with visions, grace, and divine judgment? * * *
The lecture hall bustled at capacity and
buzzed with anticipation. Bryce and Margaret sat as close as they could to front and center, but so many had arrived before them, to hear Dr. Garabet speak. His topic: “The Rapture Racket.”
Margaret intended a less formal setting for introducing Bryce and “Sarki” (as Dr. Garabet preferred his friends call him). But when she phoned to set up a meeting, she learned he would be speaking that very evening on the same subject troubling her new friend. “How amazing is that!” she exclaimed. Bryce agreed and was happy to see the man in action whom Margaret so much admired. “I promise you,” Sarki told her, “your friend will not be disappointed. And I will be happy to meet with you both later.” Bryce came prepared with notepad and pen. Margaret bristled with excitement over the timing of it all—and couldn't wait for her friends to connect afterward. The audience lights dimmed as the podium area brightened. A tall, elegant woman takes the podium, dressed in the kind of dark pants suit one might expect of an attorney or banker. “Welcome to the third annual meeting of Evangelicals United for Biblical Faith and Compassion,” she says. “I have the privilege of
introducing our evening speaker, and the first of what promises to be an exciting line-up of speakers this weekend—although Dr. Sarkis J. Garabet needs little introduction for most of you.” (The audience applauds.) “Dr. Garabet is a distinguished Bible scholar and the author of many books. Although in recent years he has taken to calling his activities 'retirement,' I have it on good authority that his speaking and writing demands keep him busier than ever.” (More applause and some laughter.) “Although many of you will know him for his significant contributions to a variety of biblical and theological fields of study, in recent years—his, ahem, 'retirement' years—he has become quite prolific and focused on issues of justice and compassion. In particular, he has developed a burden for how Evangelicals relate to issues in the Middle East, and how popular end-times theories, that he considers spurious, have created trends he regards as disturbing.” The room quiets. “Well, to go on might turn into a lecture of its own. And you did not come to hear me
speak!” (Laughter.) “So without another moment of delay, please join me in welcoming our speaker, Dr. Sarkis Garabet!” The room bursts into applause as a trim, gentle-mannered man in a tweed sports-jacket takes the platform, carrying a notepad and a Bible. He has a kind but rugged face, with a full head of gray hair. His gray eyes seem to sparkle as he looks out over his reading glasses at the welcoming audience. “Thank you for your gracious introduction, Dr. Ouimet,” he says, arranging his notes on the podium, “And thank you members of EUBFC, for inviting me here tonight. E-U-B-F-C, wow! That's a mouthful!” he quips. (Gentle laughter and applause.) “Having spent a little time with Dr. Ouimet today, I must say it might be nice to hear that lecture.” (Laughter.) “But as you have, for whatever reason, asked me to be this evening's speaker, instead of our lovely host, let us begin.” Taking off his glasses and holding them in his right hand, he looks into the audience as if to evaluate every listener. “To be 'left behind,'” he says, “is hell,” his
face pained yet stone-like. “All Christians believe that those who entrust their destiny to God in this life will be with him for eternity. This is the meaning of 'heaven.' It is the good side of what will happen at the end of history. But most Christians also believe that there is a flip side to it: a tragic side to the final outcome of history. This the Bible calls 'hell.'” The somberness of this opening grabbed Bryce's attention instantly, as it did the whole room. Margaret, who worried that Bryce might not be accustomed to such theological and abstract content, glanced at Bryce with relief, to find him frantically filling his notepad with every thought he could capture as the lecture progressed. “The Bible teaches the simple truth that, when it is all over, when history comes to an end, there will be one big final event called the 'last judgment.' As a result of that judgment, the redeemed will be gathered to be with God for eternity. The ones left behind will be abandoned to life without God—which is hell. The Bible
also teaches that these two outcomes will signal decisively the end of the world. They will happen together as the one terminal event of history and will demarcate the transition from history to eternity.” Could it be that simple? Bryce asked himself. Because that's the way it seemed to me. Only, I was afraid to think it! “Another important teaching of the Bible that piggy-backs on this main teaching is that no one but God can know the timing of the end. No human being has the insight or the capacity to announce the time when the end of the world will occur. It is a decision that pertains exclusively to God’s own sovereign will. Humans are to be ready for it to happen at any moment without engaging in guess work that attempts to predict the time of its occurrence. Again! Bryce thought, This is exactly what I've been feeling. How can this man be putting into words the conclusions emerging from all my Bible reading?! “The Bible bears witness to the fact that the writers of the New Testament expected that the end might happen during their lifetime, right
then, during the first century AD! They were not predicting that it was going to happen then for sure. But they were calling all Christians to be ready for it, should the end have occurred within their lifetime. In so doing, they defined the proper attitude of every Christian, in every generation, to be always ready for the possibility of the end happening at any moment without ever speculating about its timing. They taught us that the end is always near but never predictable.” Margaret could see, even in Bryce's harried note taking, that Bryce had found a kindred spirit in his Bible quest. Dr. Garabet's words seemed to flow through Bryce's pen and simultaneously into Bryce's inner being as Bryce's face displayed agreement, connection, and what can only be called a look of illumination. “Although you would never guess it from recent trends among Evangelicals,” Garabet continued, “this attitude of expectation has been the posture generally adopted by most Christians through the centuries of church history.” Garabet adopted a momentarily sad demeanor: “Unfortunately, some have
occasionally strayed from this pattern. In their eagerness to see God put an end to the horrors of history, they have tried to second-guess him for his secret timing concerning the end. They have pulled verses out of the Bible and tried to apply them to contemporary events in order to predict the time of the end. But, without fail, they have been proven wrong every time. This crystal-ball, 'Nostradamus approach' to the interpretation of the Bible does not honor God’s truth. To the contrary—it often sorely misleads his people.” This thought seemed to disturb Bryce. Margaret knew she would have to ask him about it later. On the ride home that evening, Bryce marveled at her perceptiveness and sensitivity. “As ready as I am to believe my old friends were misled,” he explained, “it's not a good feeling to think of them as misleading others.” Dr. Garabet likewise seemed to want to find a reason for people's gullibility in such important matters: “The desire to predict the end rises to a fever pitch especially in times of turmoil and stress. Our time, as we have entered the twenty-first century, is no exception, of course. In fact, many groups of Christians are even now trying to decipher the meaning of
current upheavals in the light of biblical teachings. Over half a century of continuous conflict in the Middle East, a century of unprecedented worldwide atrocities like generalized wars, genocides and ethnic cleansings, the creation of a state of Israel in the middle of the previous century, the universal threat of terrorism, the instant media release of information and images depicting fatal catastrophic famines, epidemics, floods, fires and earthquakes—all of this rightly motivates believers to gaze heavenward for deliverance. “Allowing such events to prompt believers to look to their Deliverer for his help and to long for his appearing is perfectly legitimate. It becomes unbiblical, however, when these circumstances are used to predict what Jesus Christ called 'the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.' For he clearly stated that these are not for us to know. Despite such biblical prohibitions, many popular so-called Bible teachers, who often attract huge audiences and may even find their way onto television and radio programs, have sadly yielded to the the temptation to throw caution to the wind and have engaged in unceasing—often conflicting—
speculations regarding the events of the end.” Bryce put down his pen to take in the big picture, which was becoming acutely clear: These kinds of end-times predictions are frivolous. They misrepresent the Bible's intended teaching and pose an embarrassment to seriousminded Bible lovers. “Innumerable books and articles, television and radio programs, church sermons and prophecy conferences,” Garabet continued, “are devoted to describing various scenarios of events they allege will usher in the end of time. The Christian public’s eagerness to find biblical comfort in times of confusion makes it possible and profitable to create huge industries for the promotion of such views through novels and even movies. Often, however, these scenarios ironically tend to spread paranoia and panic, rather than comfort. Yet there are no other Christian publishing ventures as financially profitable as the ones devoted to predicting the end times. “Promotional material for one of those mega-corporations makes the claim that its books are 'the all-time best-selling and fastest-
selling Christian fiction series ever…. There are more than 60 million copies in print.' The aggressive promotion of such enterprises gives the impression that biblical truth is being exploited for financial gain and that 'teaching' the Bible has been turned into a racket.” At the word “racket,” the room seemed to catch its breath. Bryce could see several people shifting in their seats indicating discomfort. Others nodded in hearty agreement. “Well, how did this come about?” Garabet asked, taking off his spectacles and looking into the audience. “Sadly, so much of the confusion today on these matters can be traced to a theology first espoused in the middle of the 19th century by John Nelson Darby, a dissident Anglican priest turned evangelist who joined and was influential among the original Plymouth Brethren in England and Ireland. His theology, called 'dispensationalism,' we should note, was unlike anything any prominent theologian articulated in the past. In fact, we can go so far as to say that nothing ever taught by the great church thinkers of the east or west—including the Apostolic Fathers, Chrysostom, Augustine, Aquinas, neither Luther nor Calvin, nor
Arminius, nor Wesley—even remotely resembled the theological or eschatological claims of Darby and his followers. “Yet dispensationalism, a strange latecomer to the field of Christian belief systems, rapidly came to permeate the landscape of western Evangelicalism within just a few decades of its inception. For much of this we can say thanks largely to the 1908 publication of the incredibly popular Scofield Reference Study Bible.” Now I remember! Bryce thought to himself. That was the Bible my friends all had with the footnotes! “Fundamentalists and Evangelicals quickly and inexplicably embraced the Scofield Bible with little scrutiny as to its reliability or the source of its notes. Recent scholarship has even raised a number of troubling questions about the integrity not only of this work but of its editor— including the possibility that Mr. Scofield may have faked his Doctor of Divinity degree along with giving conflicting accounts of his own conversion. “And yet, rather than 'testing and
approving' this self-appointed—possibly selfcredentialed—Bible annotator, the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals of the mid1900s readily come to treat the Scofield footnotes on each page with almost the same reverence and trust they gave the 'holy' King James Version referenced above those notes. In fact, some still do today!” Bryce recalled several times when he heard preachers and teachers of his childhood railing against modern translations. It had not occurred to him that the archaic Elizabethan English of his boyhood Bible might be just one of many ways to translate the ancient biblical languages. But that thought hit him now as he listened to Dr. Garabet explain that the early dispensationalists' stubborn “King-James-Only” mentality also posed obstacles to understanding the Bible clearly, as the changing meanings of outdated English words and terms in the KJV often obscured the original clarity of the ancient texts. “This often made it difficult for the average Bible reader to grasp the meaning of even simplest of passages. Preachers, instead of exegeting from the Hebrew and Greek, indulged their congregations in expositions of what the
older English words meant in their day compared to current usage. As a result, many felt they had to rely on 'experts,' since the 'King-James-Only' approach effectively kept common persons from having the Bible in their own language. So, you can imagine how a fully-annotated reference Bible seemed like an easy solution—putting an 'expert' right in everyone's lap. Later versions of this reference Bible even updated some of this language in notes or in brackets within the text itself. “The outcome of all this, thanks to dispensationalist theology, is that many—if not most—Fundamentalists and Evangelicals today would be surprised to learn that Darby and Scofield's innovation of the 'rapture' (defined as a surprise appearing of Christ and gathering of his saints prior to his actual return) is a belief that cannot in fact be found anywhere in Christian teaching prior to the mid-1800s (much less in the Bible itself). The same can be said for volumes of would-be historical events they predicted would accompany the rapture.” Garabet humbly asserted. “They think and act as if this has always been the expectation of Christians throughout the
ages. But if Darby and Scofield’s version of endtime prophecies were really the intended meanings of the Old and New Testaments, one has to wonder how and why the early church leaders, along with Paul and the Apostles, make no mention of them and rather expected Christ to return at any moment during their lifetime to set up his eternal kingdom. Yet this is exactly what they were waiting for! They spoke of an longed for this to be an eternal kingdom—that is a 'kingdom without end,' not one that lasted a mere one thousand years. And how silly would it have been for them to wait for this if they truly thought all the things that dispensationalists rail about would have to happen—things that would require centuries to pass before they could be accomplished—and some of which still have not happened!” Bryce glanced at Margaret with a sigh of relief but he doubted she even noticed. She seems as engrossed in this lecture as I am, he thought. Part of him also felt sadness over having his suspicions initially confirmed like this. But something else inside him led him to think he was about to embark on an adventure that would be neither sad nor disappointing.
“The influence of these dispensationalists on American Evangelicalism,” Garabet continued, “was slightly revised decades later with the publication of the Ryrie Study Bible, which offered a slightly tempered form of dispensationalism without wavering in any significant way on end-times matters. Their eschatology has also been bolstered in recent years with the publication of the Left Behind series, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and other publications like it. This series, whose accounts are as fictional and far-fetched as the theology they're founded upon, envisions the kinds of events that dispensationalists imagine will happen to the world as history progresses toward 'the rapture.' And as if selling literally tens of millions of these publications were not enough, yet more spinoff books and series are passing through the bowels of Christian publishing houses while we speak.” Garabet paused, almost as if he hoped this would pause the printing presses he spoke of. Or perhaps it was to enable he and his audience to hear those presses in the distance. Bryce could feel that Garabet had something huge to say, something he might be
struggling to put into words. “All this,” he said, “might seem harmless enough. I mean, after all, it's all just speculation, isn't it? What could it possibly hurt? It's just talk about the future, right? And if it never happens, who will ever know or care? “Well ... if only it were that simple,” Garabet conceded wistfully. “Allow me to note but a few of the key ways this misguided belief system has damaged the church, her witness, and her mission. And I stress, given the limits of our time together, I can but point to the tip of the iceberg.” “First, the unfortunate and disheartening truth is that this divisive theological system, while audaciously claiming to 'rightly divide the Word of Truth,' has not only schismatically severed into pieces churches, families, and friends, but it may well have encouraged or contributed to some of the most disturbing human rights violations of our generation.” Bryce wondered what Dr. Garabet could be referring to. He'd never seen anyone from his old church violate anyone's human rights. Could there really be this kind of problem?
“For, this doctrinal system,” Garabet continued, “in departing from the New Testament's definitions of Israel, the church, and from its teaching about the natural versus the spiritual children of Abraham, has fueled activities on the part of dispensationalist Christians and their political allies in the Middle East that have resulted in crimes not only against entire ethnic groups, like the Palestinians and Arabs, but even against Christians in those ethnic groups. “You see, how one understands the past and the future affects how we behave in the present. How we define each other changes how we treat each other. And dispensationalists get this wrong on all counts. As a result, many American Christians have blindly supported (directly or indirectly) policies and acts of aggression in the Middle East that have victimized many innocent people, simply because of the ethnic or racial groups those Middle East people were born into. This has understandably angered large segments of Middle East populations and fueled hostilities between Christians and non-Christians, Jews and non-Jews, and certainly between the United
States and much of the world.” Bryce had not considered that there might be political ramifications to his Bible quest. This started to make him uncomfortable and he could see others in the audience displaying similar reactions. “The fact is that Christians are divided about the issue of the legitimacy of Jewish claims to the land of Palestine. At one extreme, there are dispensationalists who even go so far as to call themselves 'Christian Zionists.' This is an appropriate title for them, and may well be deservingly applied to others who don't even realize this is where their dispensationalist views have taken them. Those in this camp base many of their arguments mostly on texts from the Old Testament and insist the land was irrevocably promised to Abraham and his descendants. They cite numerous prophecies that anticipate utopian conditions under which Jews from later generations and from around the world would be gathered in the Promised Land and enjoy the favor of God. Without necessarily endorsing the methods used to secure the land, these Christians view the creation of modern-day Israel in 1948 as the fulfillment of divine entitlement accorded
to Israel to enter into its possession. They even go so far as to suggest it is a fulfillment of endtimes prophecies. “Other Christians question such claims to divine rights and God-ordained entitlements, also on Scriptural grounds. Since they regard the new covenant as the fulfillment of the old covenant, they focus on the texts of the New Testament as the finality of divine revelation. They point out that the promise made to Abraham was a spiritual promise, since it was made to all his descendants described as a multitude of nations and not just to one people racially defined. They cite statements of the New Testament that describe the true descendants of Abraham as those who have the same faith in God as Abraham, both Jews and Gentiles. They explain that God has only one people, known as Israel and the church, and that this singular people is comprised of both Jewish believers and Gentile believers, because God does not deal with humans on the basis of race, but rather by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. They view the church as the new covenant Israel of God in which are fulfilled all the ancient promises of God, including those
pertaining to the land—which becomes a prophetic icon that prefigures, as stated in the Epistles to Hebrews and Revelation, the new Jerusalem, divinely constituted from heaven and identified as the Bride of Christ, the eternal community of redemption. “Whatever view is taken on this subject, the danger of appealing to divinely-granted entitlements in order to secure exceptional privileges is evident. Both the testimony of scripture and of history is that when humans equate their own political agendas with 'God’s will' in order to fulfill it through ungodly means, this consistently results in violations of God’s will. “Even thoughtful non-Zionist Jews living in Israel, who have joined the debate, have commented that the post-World War II creation of the Jewish state to shelter survivors of the Holocaust, right at the heart of the Muslim world, where it is surrounded three layers deep with hostile nations and a billion radicalized Muslims all over the planet, was the greatest geopolitical mistake made in the last century. And they take no comfort in Israel having a stockpile of nuclear warheads since Muslim
nations also have access to them. They deplore the fact that the State of Israel has been at war since its inception, with no foreseeable end to its predicament except for another disaster of unprecedented magnitude. “This is, as I stated earlier, but a glimpse of the problems that arise with dispensationalist and Christian Zionist thinking. “Right thinking produces right action,” Garabet asserted. “And misguided thinking can produce tragic results—as we are witnessing yet again in the world arena.” Bryce sat there feeling stunned. He had long since stopped taking notes, having become so swept up in the issues cascading upon him. How little I realized what I was getting into when I decided to read the Bible and reevaluate the things I'd been taught about it, he thought. “The time has come,” Garabet stated, as if he were an attorney making his summation to the jury, “to pause and to ask ourselves what truly is the biblical perspective on such campaigns. Christians must not accept uncritically every wind of teaching that gratifies their curiosity. The folly of that is now clear—as is the danger of it.
While we must certainly admit that even wild and lurid reminders of the possible imminence of the end can sometimes (paradoxically) have beneficial effects that can be used to turn people to God (just as a medical misdiagnosis might prompt someone to change their life), yet it is equally clear how important it is for Christians not to fall into a frenzy of disappointing expectations that causes them to lose sight of the real purpose for the return of Christ. The Bible exhorts us to exercise good judgment in order to not be 'unsettled or alarmed' in regard to such matters. “It is time for people who believe the Scriptures to be God’s word—but who suspect that biblical end-times truth is quite different from the strange scenarios with which they've been bombarded—to find each other and work together to reconstruct the biblical case for the truth. Together we can paint the accurate picture of God's love and of the blessings he promised to all generations and to all peoples through Abraham. “This raises the question: How does the Bible speak today? How do we get at its true message? First of all, the canonical Scriptures
come to us with a consistent message that is readily discoverable when we endeavor to ascertain what each author’s intent was when he or she wrote. Authorial intent can be determined by the content of the passage under consideration, its literary and thematic context within the book, and from the larger sociohistorical situation surrounding the text. Once we prehend the authorial intent of a text, only then are we in a position to draw principles from the document that apply to future or present life situations. This alone is a tremendous safeguard that can help us from falling into the outlandish propositions of those who take biblical statements out of context in order to predict events that never could have entered the biblical authors' minds. “So many Christians today are starting to feel uneasy about the 'prophetic' systems rampantly proposed by televangelists and selfstyled eschatologists—systems that must be revised with every new crisis in the Middle East. These serious-minded Christians are starting to wake up and look for teaching about end-time issues that is biblical and, therefore, permanent and timeless.
“This is what the world so desperately needs as well!” Here the audience let out an brief applause. Garabet paused. And then proceeded: “Sensible voices are sorely needed. Concerned Christians need to examine the biblical data regarding the end times with an attitude of serenity and on the basis of sound principles for biblical interpretation derived from the Bible itself. Too often, the Bible has been treated as a hunting ground for verses that are squeezed together to justify the creation of predetermined systems. Each time you take a verse out of context, you strip away its identity. In this manner, with a little dose of ingenuity, any set of odd ideas can appear to be 'proven' to come from the Bible. This is the fallacious and precarious nature of building a belief system on proof texting. However, every Christian is accountable to protect one’s thinking from such abuse. The first step to take in order to conduct properly a truly biblical study venture is to draw from the Bible itself the ground-rules for its own interpretation. This involves taking a thematic approach to each book of the Bible and reading all passages in their literary, historical and
cultural context. “I applaud the EUBFC for recognizing this need and for making this the foundation for addressing its missional direction.” At this, the audience erupted into a standing applause. Dr. Garabet humbly picked up his notes and descended the platform, bringing on yet more applause.
Chapter 3: Dominion
Run! Run! RUN!!!! The rabbi was not accustomed to running. He was used to chasing. But only one word filled his mind and drove him on with a fear hotter than the desert sand kicking up behind his heels, hotter than any zeal he'd ever known: Runnnnn! Where can I go? Where? All he knew was that he wanted to put Damascus as far behind him as possible.
“Arabia,” came the Whisper inside him. Arabia! I must hide in Arabia! The land through which Moses fled. The land through which the Israelites fled. Perhaps I will go all the way to Sinai! he thought. And so he made his exodus into the wilderness. You might think that after the vision he'd seen, and events that followed on its heels, the rabbi from Tarsus would be filled with contentment—or that all the zeal he used to expend on capturing and executing the Nazarene's followers would now be redirected into a new mission on their behalf. After all, he'd seen the resurrected Jesus in person and found mercy from him. The physical blindness he experienced as a result of the vision gave way to a miraculous recovery as something resembling scales fell from his eyes when one of Jesus' appointed followers laid hands on him and prayed. And the vision's mandate was clear: “I appoint you to be my servant and my witness of what you've seen—and will see of me! I will rescue you from your own people and from the
Gentiles. Go to them to open their eyes. Turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they can receive complete forgiveness of sins and a place among all who are sanctified by faith in me.” But the sum of all this meant the Rav's world turned upside-down. He needed to run. It was more than the hunter now being counted among the hunted—though he knew well enough the terrifying consequences he would experience if he were caught by his former co-inquisitors who were already mobilizing. It was more than the disorientation that comes with a change of worldviews. It was all that and more. Who am I? Saul wondered. What has happened to my world—to the world? What is to become of my life? Who do I trust? Where will I be safe? How do I make sense of all this? Run! His sight had been restored. But like the
blind man Jesus healed who first saw people walking as trees, Saul needed perspective.1 And so he fled. He fled for safety. He fled for sanity. He fled to find himself and make sense of everything happening to him. This was Saul's crisis of faith—an identity crisis, a career crisis, a crisis that, unbeknownst to him, was about the very future of humanity. So like Elijah, who fled after defeating the prophets of Baal, the newly baptized Saul fled to the most deserted place he could think of, to the place of divine exodus and self-imposed exiles, the place through which Moses took flight upon killing the Egyptian slave driver, the place where the children of Israel escaped from Pharaoh, the land where they wandered, where they encountered God in the most miraculous of ways, where they even received The Law—the wilderness. Arabia.
1 Mark 8:24
He sat alone with his scrolls in a cave he
happened upon just days into his journey. Having managed to buy supplies along the way, and scraps of food from some Bedouin nomads passing by, he thanked Yahweh for his safety. A cave is a funny place for a tentmaker, he mused. He needed the daylight to read. His eyes, though healed, still ached. Study only seemed to strain them. The candlelight did not serve him well. I need to make sense of all this, he repeated, half to himself, half in prayer. “Forgive me Yahweh, for taking flight like this. But I need your help. Please guide me. Lord Jesus, please —” He had to stop himself there. It still sounded strange. “Lord Jesus.” “Yes, LORD Jesus, please guide me. You have saved me and shown yourself to me. Please don't let it stop there. I need you, Lord. I need you so desperately to show me the way.”
Where do I begin? he asked himself. “B'reshit,” came the Whisper in Hebrew (“in the beginning”). Yes, where else can I begin but at the beginning? he mused. He opened the scroll of B'reshit (Genesis), began to read and pray, pray and read. He pored over scriptures he thought he'd known since childhood; now they all seemed new. This rabbi and scholar, this disciple of the great sage Gamaliel, this zealous heretic hunter who just weeks prior busily accused Jesus' followers in order to beat and execute them, now sat before the Lord Jesus to be tutored as a newly baptized child of God. “Come Holy Spirit,” he cried, “and keep your promise to lead me into all truth.” Read! Read, read! READ! He read concerning the patriarch Abraham:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yahweh appeared to him saying, “I am ElShaddai; live before me faithfully and with a whole heart. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase you exceedingly-exceedingly!” “Yes, Yahweh, God of Abraham and my God,” Saul prayed, “show me, I plead, how I too may serve you faithfully with all my heart. 'ElShaddai—O Mighty Breast,' nurse me with your Word as pure mother's milk. Show me, I beg you, how to serve you and your purposes now that you have come and the Messianic Kingdom we've waited for is coming upon us.” Abram fell prostrate. God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer call yourself Abram (“Exalted Father”). Your name is to be Abraham (“Father of Multitudes”), for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. “Nations!” Saul noted the word was plural and “Goy'm!— Abraham was to be the father of
throngs of nations, not just one—and Gentile nations at that?” Saul paused to take this in. “Lord, we have always been so focused on being your chosen people, with Abraham as our exclusive father. Are you telling me that your plan all along has been to make Abraham not just the father of our people but of multitudes of peoples? Goy'm? — Gentiles!” And the Whisper came: “I have appointed you, Saul, to bear witness to the goy'm.” “The covenant I establish is an eternal agreement between me and you and your seed after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your seed after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now sojourn as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting holding to you and your seed after you; and I will be their God.” Saul stared at the page. “Seed,” he whispered. “Why have I not seen this before. 'Seed' is singular.”
He knew the word could be taken as both singular and plural, and that with reference to the seed, it speaks in the plural of being “their God.” But he quickly referred back to God's initial vision to Abraham. He referenced forward to God's later promise following Abraham's near sacrifice of Isaac. There it was again: God had given the promises and the land to Abraham's seed and in that seed would all the nations (goy'm) of the earth be blessed. “Lord Jesus!” Saul prayed. “We have always pridefully assumed we Israelites are the exclusive seed. After all, we are the ones who went through the four-hundred years of slavery in Egypt. But this passage is talking about nations, Gentile nations, being blessed in Abraham's seed and coming from that seed. Lord Jesus, can it be that we have failed to live up to what it means to be that seed? Could it be that you, Lord Jesus, who are his Seed, have come to take possession of all those promises as their rightful heir?” All his life, Saul assumed that any other nations that came from Abraham derived from
Hagar or from Abraham's later wives, and that they were excluded from from God's covenant with Abraham. But then he read: God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, no longer call her Sarai; her name is to be Sarah. I will bless her and most certainly give you a son by her. I will bless her and make HER the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.” Saul stared at the text again. No, he realized, by 'nations' Yahweh was talking about Sarah's offspring as well. But how can this be? he thought. There is only one people that can make claim to being Sarah's offspring—or am I missing something? Yes, we have certainly missed something. How else can we be talking about nations in the plural coming from Sarah? Saul kept reading: Abraham fell prostrate, laughing and saying in his heart, “Will a son be born to a man a century old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age ninety?” Then Abraham asked God, “Oh that you
would look upon Ishmael that he might live before you!” And God said, “Regardless, your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him and his seed after him forever. “As for Ishmael, I have heard your request. I bless him. He will be fruitful and I will increase him exceedingly-exceedingly. From him twelve rulers will come, and I will give him to be a great nation. But my covenant will be with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When God finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him. So even Hagar's offspring are blessed for Abraham's sake? And this covenant that would yield nations—it's to come through Sarah? They would come through Isaac, the child of promise! As Saul pondered all this, and wondered at the implications, evening crept in. He built a small fire near the entrance of the cave, faced Jerusalem, and offered his evening prayers.
Then, curling up by the fire, Saul drifted into a sleep unlike any he'd ever experienced. He later wondered if anyone had ever slept as deeply as this since the day God caused sleep to come on Adam in order to draw Eve from his side. Darkness descended and Saul dreamed he stood under a sky full of brilliant stars too vast to count. He was on a sandy beach that stretched out under the starlight as far as the human eye could see. On his left and right two trees towered beside him. One was a cultivated olive tree; the other a wild olive tree. The cultivated tree was tall and ancient with a fat trunk obviously thousands of years old; its scraggly branches bore little fruit. The wild tree was plush but strangely twisted and also fruitless. Suddenly a man appeared before Saul in radiant robes and carrying a large pruning shear in his hands. The man looked at the ancient tree, looked at Saul, and said: “This tree has stopped bearing the olives I desire and is about to die of its own stubbornness. What shall I do to save this tree?” To Saul's amazement, the man attacked the
ancient tree and began lobbing off huge branches and limbs from its aged trunk. Saul could see how barren these limbs were as they fell to the ground. The man then dragged them way, scattering them far and wide, even to the four corners of the earth. The man then stood back and looked at the tree as only a few of the original branches now remained. Saul wanted to speak but could not. Am I awake or asleep? he wondered. Then the man with the shears looked at Saul, then turned to the wild olive tree. With speed and determination he violently clipped branches from the wild tree. Saul thought, Surely these fruitless branches will also be spread abroad. Instead, the man in radiant robes skillfully went about grafting these wild branches onto the ancient trunk, where the cultured limbs had been taken out. When he was done, the man turned to look at Saul. As their eyes met, something beautiful and amazing happened. The ancient tree, now full of newly ingrafted branches, suddenly filled with blossoms. Even the natural branches that
remain were full of blossoms. Then suddenly, all the blossoms exploded into to a colorful array of plump, ripe olives. And the olives came raining down like an avalanche at Saul's feet, covering the ground and filling the shoreline of the beach where they stood with a harvest unlike anyone had ever seen. “In this way,” the man said, “shall all nations be blessed in Abraham and the seed of Abraham be complete. Every knee shall bow and every tongue—from every nation and tribe— shall confess allegiance to the Name of Yahweh. And every natural branch that acquires faith will be re-grafted into its original place on the cultivated tree. “In this way shall the seed of promise, which is the seed of faith, bear the fruit I've longed for and require. “In this way shall Israel, the ancient olive tree, be saved and the glory of Israel restored. ”
Tickly buzzing. Saul awoke to a mosquito flitting about his ear. “It is time, Saul,” came the Whisper. “Return now to Damascus. You are my chosen instrument to proclaim my Name to the Gentiles, to their kings, and to the people of Israel. Testify to all people about everything I've shown and told you. Go now. It's time for you to begin suffering for my Name.”
I cannot believe I'm sitting at the same
table as Dr. Garabet and Dr. Ouimet, Bryce thought. He looked at Margaret and the two professors, whom he first saw on the conference speakers' platform just a few nights ago.
He wasn't sure what to do or say. So he watched Margaret for cues. She was obviously enjoying herself and excited about this visit, although she also appeared far more comfortable with the situation, being already acquainted with Dr. Garabet. It was a beautiful spring day and the four of them sat having tea around a ceramic-tiled table in Dr. Garabet's sunroom. The good doctor had invited Bryce and Margaret to come by to get acquainted. And since Dr. Ouimet, the chair of the local EUBFC chapter, had been visiting earlier that afternoon on chapter business, he invited her to stay as well. “What did you two think of the conference?” Dr. Ouimet asked, smiling inquisitively at Bryce and Margaret. “Well, we weren't able to attend the whole weekend,” Margaret clarified, shooting a friendly glance at Bryce. “We were only able to take in Dr. Garabet's lecture on Friday evening,” Bryce explained, apologetically, “I had weekend commitments
with my kids. But we really wished we could have come for the whole program.” “I see,” Dr. Ouimet responded. “And before we continue,” Garabet interjected, “I do have a request of you, Bryce.” “Yes, of course,” Bryce stammered, “what is it?” “As the ladies here already know, I do not like to stand on formality; I prefer my friends call me Sarki,” he explained with a smile. At this Dr. Ouimet brightened and chimed in, “And please, you must call me by my first name as well; it's Lizzette.” “Of course,” Bryce replied. “You are both most gracious. “Lizzette, are you also a biblical scholar?” Margaret asked. “No,” Lizzette answered. “My degrees are in the area of social work and psychology. But I have always held a deep interest in biblical studies and social justice issues related to the Middle East. I actually took the opportunity to study there as an undergrad, for a year at a
Christian university near Tel Aviv. It didn't really fit with my major at the time. But it was something I'd always wanted to do, and I've gone back now many times since, on humanitarian trips. Dr. Garabet—uh, Sarki—was one of my Bible and Theology professors. That's how we met. And it was he who introduced me to the EUBFC and their efforts at promoting compassion, peace and justice in the Middle East. “But that's not why you're here—” Lizzette cut in on herself. “No,” Sarki broke in. “You're here to talk about dispensationalist end-times teaching and why you can't find it your Bible, eh?” He chuckled and added, “That's a subject that Lizzette also has some interest in.” “I see that Margaret has filled you in,” Bryce conceded with a grin. Margaret's smiling face beamed back at him. “But your lecture answered so many of my questions the other day, I guess I'd have to say I've progressed to a new set of questions.”
“Well do let us have them!” Sarki exhorted, “But first....” He poured a refresher into each of their tea cups. “Well, I guess some of them, at least, may indeed have something to do with compassion, peace and justice in the Middle East, after all.” “Now I really am glad I stayed,” Lizzette quipped, looking intrigued. “As I've been reading the Bible, and as I listened to your lecture,” Bryce continued, “I've been getting the sense that God's real desire is to bring all of humanity together under the reign of Jesus Christ, and that this is what he calls his kingdom, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.” “We're with you so far,” Sarki assured him. “And I see that while this is to have its ultimate fulfillment in the return of Jesus Christ, it also seems like we're supposed to be doing things now to make that kingdom a present reality today, first by spreading the gospel of salvation, but also by spreading compassion and working for his rule in society with regards to justice for the oppressed and promoting peace between individuals, races, and nations.”
Bryce could see the looks of agreement on everyone's faces. “You are a perceptive Bible reader, Bryce,” Sarki affirmed. The women all seemed to be smiling as if they shared a secret that was about to be disclosed. “But that just seems so simple,” Bryce remarked. “How did my old church make things seem so complicated?”
Chapter 4: Promise
Drone, drone, drone!
Long, monotonous droning! That's all it sounds like to me.... Nate hated long meetings and today's was a whopper! All this talking and arguing! Long speeches! I miss fishing on my boat, he whined inside his head. All day long his brain felt like it was scraping at the inside walls of his skull, screaming to get out. Now, as he made his way home from the longest meeting of his life, he concluded: I belong on my boat—not listening to endless debates!
Today's meeting took up every minute of daylight and involved leaders from all over the city, its environs, and some distant regions that Nate wished he'd never heard of. Tomorrow promises to be worse! And the droning! Do they have to drone? Or don't any of them ever tire of hearing the sound of their own voices? He paused as he finally reached his front door. I have to admit, there were some interesting moments. And it was exciting to hear what was happening in the northern areas, as reported by the two team leaders who came into town for today's business. Actually, they're kind of the reason for the meeting, in a way. But the conservatives were insufferable! Ugh! One of the team leaders, Jose, always seems to know how to turn the worst problem into a reason for optimism, though. No wonder the others have taken to calling him Barnabas (“Son of Encouragement”). And his partner, Paul! Man, could that guy ever make a case! They're both great guys. But
the opposition! Oy! We are a stiff-necked people indeed! What will tomorrow bring? Nate laid his satchel on the family table and noted that his wife and kids had already gone to bed for the night. At first it was Paul arguing with John Mark. Then some of Paul's fellow Pharisees turned on him and sided with John Mark. At one point I think even Barnabas looked like he wanted to ring John Mark's neck—and he might have, if not for the fact that he is John Mark's uncle! And about what? Gentiles! Oy! Gentiles— of all things! Paul is so serious about this matter that the rabbi has all but abandoned his Hebrew name, Saul, in favor of its Greek counterpart. Nate remembered back to a time when he had trouble even accepting Galileans. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?!” he'd once mocked sarcastically with chutzpa. And that was about Jesus! Now these mission team leaders, along with Cephas and others, want to let into the
community of holy ones not just Galileans and Samaritans, but Gentiles from far and wide— without even circumcising them! And what about the disgusting habits and customs of these Gentiles? What are we to do about that! Cephas, Saul, and Jose are telling stories saying the Holy Spirit is coming upon all kinds of Gentiles left and right—almost without warning—even while these guys are explaining the gospel to them in mid-sentence! Cephas says, “It's just like the prophets promised: men, women, slaves, masters, and Gentiles—all coming into the kingdom just like those of us who came to faith from among the Pharisees and Jews—and in the same way! Nate looked in on his children and wanted nothing more than to join his wife, sleeping so soundly. But he lit a candle and followed its light to his study chamber, where he would spend the night so as to not wake her or the children. He washed his face and hands as he reflected on the Master's reply to his audacious slam on Nazareth that day they met. He called me an honest Israelite—as if he was as delighted to find one as I was surprised
to find a messiah from Galilee! “How do you know me?” I asked. “Nathanael!” Jesus replied, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree, before Philip called you.” And that's how I knew! As soon as I heard his voice, I knew it. “Rabbi!” I blurted out, “Truly, you are the Son of God! You are the long-awaited King of Israel!” Nate stood at the window by his cot and looked out at the Temple in the distance, dimly lit by torchlight under a moonlit sky. He fastened his phylacteries about his arm and head and began his evening prayers. He'd opened his prayer book and started to pray, but his thoughts remained fixed on that historic moment when he met Jesus. Jesus had laughed and said to him, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? Hang on, Nate, you will see far greater things than that!” Then he added, “Surely I tell you, Nathanael, you're going to see heaven itself opened, and the angels of God ascending and
descending on the Son of Man.” What did he mean by THAT? Nathanael had always wondered. Once his head finally hit the pillow, though, he sank into sleep like a rock tossed to the bottom of tranquil sea. And he dreamt.... * * *
“A rock for a pillow will have to do,”
Nate heard someone say. He saw the patriarch Jacob, setting up camp outside an ancient city. “It's safer to spend the night here, on the outskirts of Luz, than to venture into its streets at this time of night,” Jacob said. The sun had set, so Jacob took one of the stones and put it under his head as he lay in a safely secluded area. Exhausted from his journey, he slipped immediately into a dream and Nathanael watched as Jacob slept. He could see Jacob's dream and Nate wondered if he himself
was awake or asleep. “Look!” he heard someone shout. He saw a ladder resting on the ground before him, leaning against the sky. In fact, its top reached all the way to heaven. “Look!” he heard again. Sure enough, he saw angels of God ascending and descending on the ladder, as they traversed between earth and heaven. “Look!” he heard a third time. Yahweh stood above Jacob's ladder, saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give to you and your seed the land where you lie. Your seed will be like the dust of the earth, Jacob, and you will spread out to the west and east and north and south. For in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Look! I am with you and will preserve you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land. And I will not leave you until I accomplish all I've promised you.” Jacob woke up and marveled: Yahweh is in this place and I didn't even know it! A chill came over him and he shook with holy fear.
How awesome this place is! It's none other than the house of God, the very the gate of heaven!
Nathanael awoke suddenly, with a shiver.
The Gate! The Way to heaven! he said. That's what Jesus was telling me that day! He is the ladder Jacob saw rising to heaven! He is Jacob's seed, in whom ALL the families of the earth—not just Jacob's own family—are to be blessed! And Jesus wanted me to be an honest Israelite—without guile—in proclaiming this truth! I must share this with the others!
“You said something in your lecture, the
other night, that I'm not sure I understood,” Bryce admitted, setting his tea cup upon its saucer. “What's that?” Sarki asked. “You seemed to question the validity of modern-day Israel's claim to the land,” Bryce said. “Ah!” Sarki responded. And the women again glanced at each other, as if they knew what was coming next. “Well, you see, Bryce,” Sarki continued, “that is indeed a hotly debated question.”
As Nathanael arrived at the meeting
place for day two of the Jerusalem council. He could see the others had already begun. One of the believing Pharisees who had
taken to calling themselves “the circumcision” was wrapping up his presentation of their objections and their position on the matter of recognizing Gentiles as part of the church. “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the Law of Moses,” he declared, to the applause of the other conservatives present, “or else they have no part in Israel!” Nate could feel the tension grip the room as the speaker sat down. There was an awkward silence as Cephas stood up and took the floor. “Brothers and sisters,” he began, “fellow apostles and elders, distinguished missionaries and guests, let me begin by saying that I once felt the same as many of you.” Nate thought about how Cephas' voice did not seem like droning; it was more like music to him. And there was something very joyful in his confidence today. “You heard yesterday the many reports from Paul and Barnabas and the others working in the outer regions, how the gospel is spreading and bearing fruit among the Gentiles. Most of you, no doubt, have already heard of my recent vision, and how I saw something like a sheet
coming down from heaven full of creatures, clean and unclean—three times! “Can you imagine my shock—and disgust —at hearing the Voice of heaven ordering me, 'Peter, arise, kill and eat'—three times! “But can you imagine heaven's shock—and disgust—at my reply! I was so insolent as to refuse heaven's command—not once, but three times! I—a sinner who in Jesus' time of peril denied our Lord three times before the rooster crowed, and who later had to be asked three times by our Savior if I truly loved him—I had the audacity to call creatures unclean that I had just seen descend from heaven itself—as if anything that came from heaven could be unclean! And as if any human on earth had the right to decline the choices or directives of heaven! “I tell you, the Voice was clear and quite justified in rebuking me: 'Do not call or regard anything as impure that God has cleansed!'” Nate looked around the assembly. He could see some of the conservatives reddening in their faces. Others actually appeared moved. “And so, as you know,” Cephas continued,
“that was not the end of it. Before I even had time to process these matters and make sense of them, there was a knock at my door. A delegation of three men stood there, sent by a Roman centurion—the distinguished Cornelius, of the Italian Regiment stationed in Caesarea. I don't have to tell most of you how widely known Cornelius is as a God-fearer, a philanthropist, and a righteous Gentile friend to our people, the Jews. “I left with them the next day, fully aware that I was violating long-held laws we Jews have held tenaciously with regards to having contact with Gentiles. I even informed Cornelius and the gathering of his people that day of these laws. “But brothers and sisters, the Lord Jesus— who shed his blood to cleanse the world of sin and to make all people clean and acceptable— personally showed me that I should not call any person impure or unclean. When he walked among us, did he not, himself, touch demoniacs and lepers, eat the food of tax collectors and sinners—right at their own tables—and did he not even heal a number of Gentiles and commend their faith? My vision only reminded me that God does not show favoritism, nor does
he discriminate against people over their sins or their created natural differences, their race, sex, social class status, or even their religious ignorance. No! Yahweh looks at the heart, instead of such things, and accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right. When he sees faith, all he sees is righteousness. Then he rejoices and all heaven rejoices with him. Can any of you seriously suggest we do otherwise? “I knew full well that Cornelius and his associates had heard about the message God gave us for the people of Israel. Surely, they'd known how we've been announcing to Jews everywhere the victorious news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all—yes all. “Indeed, how could they not have heard about all God did through the Master's activities in the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after John's baptism and preaching, and how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power? The news has spread everywhere about how he went around in God's strength doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil!
“Brothers and sisters, I count myself blessed to be counted among the eye-witnesses who experienced everything the Master did among us Jews and right here in Jerusalem. “It was here, in Jerusalem, where they killed him by hanging him on a cross! And it was here in this very city that God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen—not by all the people, but by a select group whom God had already chosen—yes, by us, including the Apostles who sit right here among you this day. We ate and drank with him after he arose from the dead! And it was us he commanded to broadcast his news to our people, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, testifying that he is the one God appointed to judge the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his Name. “And so, brothers and sisters, as I was still reviewing these matters with Cornelius and all who gathered with him to meet with me, while I was still speaking and hadn't even finished all I wanted to say, the Holy Spirit came on everyone there who was listening to me! Even those
circumcised believers who were with me were astonished to see the cleansing, regenerating gift of the Holy Spirit being poured out on uncircumcised Gentiles. We even heard them speaking in tongues and praising God—for Yahweh wants to be praised by every language of heaven and earth! He wants all the nations to to exalt his Name and is therefore even now penetrating those nations with his Spirit and his Truth. “And so, what else could I do? On seeing his Spirit poured out, I declared, 'Surely no one can prevent these people who have been been immersed in God's Spirit from being immersed in the water of baptism!' Brothers and sisters, they'd received the Holy Spirit just as we had at Pentecost! So I ordered—I did not ask or suggest —that they be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ. They did this with gladness and joy. Some of them, on hearing this, even ran to the river ahead of us!” Peter scanned the faces of those present, and brought home his point: “Brothers and sisters, God, who knows the heart, showed us—by giving these people his
Holy Spirit—that he accepts these people. He did not discriminate between us and them, but purified their hearts by faith as he has ours. Now then, why are you trying to test God by putting a yoke on the necks of Gentiles that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Master, the Lord Jesus, that we are saved in faith, just as they are.” Nathaniel watched the reactions of the assembly and noted that not a few of the conservatives got up and began to make their way to the exits. Others, moved to tears, rejoiced at the realization that God was doing a new and amazing thing in their day. James, the the Lord's brother, took the floor and with a commanding voice, exclaimed: “Brothers and sisters, listen to me!” Nate watched as those nearing the exit doors halted. Surely they will listen to James, he thought. And surely he will have an answer for all this. After all, who else is more respected among us, especially among the conservatives?
All eyes fixed on James. “Beloved,” he began, “please, everyone, take your seats. We are not done here.” The countenance of the offended parties shifted from defiant anger to reluctant cooperation. Some threw their hands up into the air as they all returned to their seats. James scanned the room and took inventory of every person's demeanor. “Simon,” he said, “has just described for us how God first intervened to choose a people for his Name from the Gentiles. And it should be noted that the words of the prophets are in agreement with this! Have we forgotten what is written? “After this I will return and rebuild the fallen house of David. I will rebuild its ruins and restore the former glory of his kingdom, so that the rest of humanity may seek me, even all the Gentiles who bear my Name,” says Yahweh, who does these things—things known from long ago.
“In my judgment, then, we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead let's write to them and tell them simply to abstain from those things that pose the greatest risk to maintaining their fragile new lives in Christ—and which are most offensive to us and our Jewish brethren. Most particularly, let's ask them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, the meat of strangled animals, and from the eating of blood. “We do not want them to be tempted to drift back into pagan practices and we do not want to create offenses between believing Jews and these precious new citizens of heaven's kingdom.” Suddenly Nathanael realized he'd stopped breathing. The magnitude of this moment had taken his breath away. The kingdom of God, it was being restored before his very eyes, as the Master promised. Israel would finally be completed, as James had just explained, with Jesus reigning in the kingdom's fullest glory. And the Gentiles were the key to the kingdom coming in its fullness. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on
earth....” Nathanael prayed.
Drones buzzing, whirring. Drones swooping. Menacing robotic drones. Attacking. Lizzette's mind flashed back to the year she spent in Israel during her college days and the shocking fear that ripped through her the day she first saw an Israeli attack on a Palestinian village —perpetrated not by human combatants but by missile-firing drones—unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as they're called. How could she have known, when she signed up for a week-long field trip with her Israeli college archaeology class, that she would visit not an archaeological dig, but the scene of
unthinkable and inhuman carnage in yet another clash between angry rivals for so-called holy land? And she herself would witness the grotesque event. The Israelis' first drones had been used in a military campaign ironically called “Operation Peace for Galilee” in 1982, while Lizzette was still a teenager beginning to revise her romantic notions of her beloved “land flowing with milk and honey.” Later, they called it the Lebanon War and then the First Lebanon War, although the Palestinians had far less sanitary names for it. And of course, although Lizzette knew this piece of recent history by the time she planned her college year there, what little she knew of war, and of the Israeli use of drones, could not have prepared her for the horrible events she came to witness firsthand. Up until that time she still possessed enough youthful idealism to hope her stay in the “holy land” would be during a window of quieted hostilities. This was an innocence she ultimately had to bury in the desert sand like a rite of passage marking her entrance into maturity—and with that came the unceasing nagging sadness of seeing the world for what it is.
Now, as she sat here drinking tea decades later with Sarki and her new friends, Bryce and Margaret, she could not help but feel rattled by the ironic headlines that greeted her online that very morning: “Cut to pieces: Palestinian family drinking tea in their courtyard.” 2 The assailants: Israeli drones. Lizzette might not have believed such a thing if she had not seen that attack in her college days, and other calamities like it since, with her own eyes. Now, she could not get the Guardian's morning report out of her mind as Sarki, Margaret, and Bryce chatted around her. Thanks to the wonders of online news, the video coverage that never would have made it onto American newscasts, filled her computer screen when she clicked, however reluctantly, on the report's hyperlink. The footage of destruction and human suffering now shook her and despite her best efforts she could not shake it. She tried to take consolation in the fact that the sick feeling in her stomach and her continued feeling of helplessness and despair were actually
2 Cut to pieces: the Palestinian family drinking tea in their Gaza City courtyard This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 15.57 GMT on Monday 23 March 2009.
a good thing. At least it meant she still felt; she still had a heart and had not become numb to it all. Since college, she'd kept up with these kinds of reports even though they always troubled her. She'd made numerous trips, visiting firsthand both war-torn areas and victims of atrocious injustices, in order to serve as a volunteer in humanitarian efforts in the land of IsraelPalestine. That being the case, she no longer experienced the shock she felt as a younger woman over occurrences like this. But two things had not changed for her: her almost irrational hope that people would change so that a way of peace might finally come, and the conviction that all of this was just terribly disturbing. “The attack on this home in Gaza City is just one of more than a dozen incidents recorded by Amnesty International where Israel's unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – killed one or more civilians,” the report said. During the 23-day offensive, 1,380 Palestinians perished, 431 of them children, according to figures published by the World Health Organisation.
A Guardian investigation into the high number of civilian deaths has found Israel used a variety of weapons in illegal ways. Indiscriminate munitions, including shells packed with white phosphorus, were fired into densely populated areas, while precision missiles and tanks shells were fired into civilian homes. But it is the use of drones in the killing of at least 48 civilians that appears most reprehensible. Disturbing. Yes, there's that word, she thought. Horribly, appallingly and dreadfully disturbing! As she smiled politely and looked around the table, she felt herself struggling to stay engaged in the conversation. But the whole discussion just struck her as somewhat surreal.
It was Sarki's kind and somber voice,
gently responding to Bryce's questions, that pulled Lizzette back to into the moment. “You see, Bryce,” he was saying, “Christians have not always agreed on how to understand or define Israel and its relationship to the church in the world that emerged after the New Testament was written. The creation of the modern Israeli state in 1948 has further complicated their understanding, largely because of the dispensationalist views we were discussing the other night.” “I'm note sure I follow you,” Bryce admitted. “Well, historically, there have been four major schools of thought among Christians as to how to relate to Israel and the Jews.” “I think I hear a class lecture about to happen!” Margaret chided. “I have no objections to that!” Lizzette laughed, quickly pulling a notebook from her purse and slapping it down on the table in front of her. She was determined not to let her inner wrestling flare into a lament or distract the others
from what needed to happen for Bryce today. It can wait, she told herself. I'll talk with Sarki about it later. He of all people will understand. And for all I know, he's struggling as I am—although he is always so much better about handling his composure about these things. The men smiled and Sarki gave a quick tilt of his head, as if to gesture that these two wisecrackers should be ignored. “One of the oldest and most hideous of views was that the Jews brought a curse on themselves when they handed Jesus over to be slaughtered. This 'Curse View' focuses on isolated statements in the New Testament that sound—out of context, of course—as though the blood of the innocent Jesus shall forever be 'on the heads' of the Jewish race. This is a terrible position, as is the case any time the Bible is used to justify hatred, discrimination, racism, sexism, or classism. It has been used to fuel all kinds of antisemitism, which every true Christian should deplore.” Bryce noticed that Lizzette was not actually using her notebook or pen and wished he'd
remembered to bring his. He'd kicked himself as soon as he pulled into Sarki's driveway when he remembered where he'd left them. “May I?” Bryce asked Lizzette, gesturing to the notebook, not wanting to interrupt the good doctor. “Of course,” she responded, handing him the pen and pad. As Lizzette listened to Sarki talk about the fallacy of using the Bible to condone hate and discrimination, she could not get the images of the morning's video footage out of her head. The video interview of the 17-year-old girl, whose family was blown apart in their own yard, kept replaying in Lizzette's head: “There were rocks and dust and fire … It's very difficult … I can't, no matter how I try to explain my situation to you, picking up the pieces of my dead family … I couldn't handle it, limbs and flesh all around me. What have we done to deserve this?” “The second school of thought,” Sarki continued, “is almost the opposite in its
conclusions, although it continues to employ similar categories and proof-texting methods. This is the view of 'Racial Priority.' It says that God's plan all along has been to make the Jewish people into a kingdom that will rule all nations, but that when the Jews rejected Jesus, God suspended his program temporarily in order to work with the Gentiles. In this schema, as you well know from your experience with dispensationalism, the church of Jesus is primarily a Gentile endeavor that exists as a kind of parenthesis in God's plan for natural Israel. This position sees the Jews as still being God's chosen people, but the glorious plan God has for them has been put on hold. Lizzette thought about the times she'd share her own horrific experiences with Christian friends on her return home to America. So many of them seemed not to hear her. Often they rationalized that Israel is God's chosen people and we ought not, therefore, challenge their actions in their struggle for survival in the land. “We must side with Israel to be on God's side of history,” they would say, or things like this. “According to this model,” Sarki continued, “that parenthesis opened at Pentecost
when the church was 'born.' And the parenthesis will close when the 'rapture' happens. Then, according to this view, God will resume his program for the Jews in the Millennium, with Jerusalem as the capital. But as you may recall, this one-thousand-year kingdom will fail even though our dear Lord Jesus will be at its helm. Satan will again deceive its citizens and all the nations of the earth, so that God will again have to intervene with judgment and destruction. The result, centuries after Jesus returns, will finally be a new heaven and a new earth.” Sarki paused to let Bryce jot down a few words. Lizzette wondered what such a world would be like, where after a thousand years of blessed kingdom living, led personally by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, its citizens could again return to defiant sin and the leadership of Satan, rejecting their true and loving Savior. “Of course all this is based on what we call a 'hapaxic' passage—” the professor said, throwing up his hands. Bryce looked at Sarki and made a face like a child in a highchair spitting out a mouthful of
mashed peas. “Hay-Pax—ick?” Margaret let out a hardy chuckle. “Hapaxic!” she exclaimed, grinning at her puzzled friend. She flashed a grin at Sarki, and asked, “Is it alright if I take a shot at this one?” “Sure, Margaret,” Sarki responded, sitting back in his chair, smiling. “A hapax,” she explained, “is a one-time occurrence of a word, term, or idea, in the Bible. Since it has no governing parallel elsewhere in Scripture for us to compare its meaning to, we have to approach how we interpret a hapax with caution.” “Exactly!” Sarki, responded. “Looks like I'm not the only one here who's taken classes from Dr. Garabet!” Lizzette commented. “Well, I haven't told Bryce this before, but yes, I did take a couple of semesters with Dr. G back in the day.” She shot a proud and appreciative smile at Sarki. Bryce gave a smile of being impressed, and nodded with respect. His eyes went back to Sarki, imploring the professor to proceed.
“The third position, which once held the loyalty of most Protestants, is the 'Reformation View,' also called the 'Replacement View,'” Sarki explained. He took Lizzette's notepad from Bryce's hand and drew a diagram:
“In this view,” he said, narrating as he drew, the church is seen as a primarily Gentile entity that replaces the ancient nation and people of Israel, thereby inheriting all the promises and blessings, mandates and mission that once belonged to Jacob's natural descendants. For the most part, any yet-unfulfilled promises or prophecies are seen as being transferred to the Gentile church as the new people of God.” “Is that your view?” Bryce asked. “No,” Sarki replied. “Mine is closer to that than to any of the others. But as I said, there are four views. The fourth is what we call 'The
Expansion View.'” Bryce leaned forward as Sarki resumed his use of the pad to visually illustrate what he was saying. “We expansionists begin with the original vision and promise given to Abraham...”
“... a promise and vision that God then expanded a step at a time, first widening his arrangement with Abraham to include Israel— the man and then the nation that sprang from him...”
“From there, it was Yahweh's intention and plan to bring all nations and peoples into a covenant relationship with himself and to bless
the all nations through Abraham's seed. And so it was through Abraham and his seed through Israel that God intended to reach the world. That was Israel's purpose, therefore, to be a light to the nations—in other words, to the Gentiles....
“In essence, all of the major visions of the Bible are but windows into this one grand vision. And they culminate in the New Testament, which documents and explains for us how God finally brought this vision to fruition through Christ and his church, which is the continuation (not the replacement) of Israel and all it was meant to be.
As New Covenant Israel, it is supposed to carry out the expansion that God intended, made up of both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Messianic King. Paul described Christ and his generation of believers as the firstfruits in this expansion. “Paul gives us a vision of God's design in his epistle to the Romans, when he describes the New Covenant people of God, or the Israel of God, as a cultivated tree consisting of natural and ingrafted wild branches. Although the natural branches remain loved by God due to his faithfulness to the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), only those which possess faith like Abraham's are included in the tree. And it's clear that the identity of this tree, from its roots to its outermost twig, is the Israel that sprang from Abraham's faith, the promise, the seed, and the child of promise. “In Paul's description, unbelieving branches are removed, whether they're Jewish or Gentile. Every believing branch either remains or is engrafted (or even re-engrafted) into Israel under the Messiah based on faith.” Sarki flipped the notebook page and
continued drawing.... “There's another way to diagram this, so as to understand this expansion and the relationship between believing Jews and believing Gentiles. “When Gentiles first started to come to faith in Jesus, many of the early Christians, being Jews, thought that the Gentiles would have to become Jews in order to become Christians. They mistakenly believed that being 'of Israel' and therefore 'of God' occurred by virtue of being physically descended from, or physically related to, Abraham. Therefore, they thought Gentiles would have to convert to Judaism—as understood during the Second Temple era— before they could be counted as members in Israel or the church. This 'conversion' involved physical circumcision and observance of Jewish laws and customs. Let's remember, after all, for these early Jewish Christians, before the Gentile question came up, the church was simply the purest and fullest expression of Israel. Originally, no one would have imagined making a distinction between the two, since all Christians at that time were, as a norm, of Jewish heritage, and Jesus was seen as the King of Israel. For that reason, many of them would have naively and
mistakenly defined Israel like this....”
“But as the New Testament unfolds, we find, starting in the Book of Acts, explanations about the Gentile conversions that indicate a shift in understanding took place that brought the early church into line with God's original vision as revealed to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. In addition to Peter and James in the book of Acts, Paul expounds on this paradigm shift in his epistles, as does the writer of the book of Hebrews, and other New Testament writers, including John in his apocalyptic vision that we call the Book of Revelation.
“The new paradigm that emerged for understanding Israel looks more like this....”
“The way Paul explains it in Romans is that 'they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel, nor are they Abraham's children just because they are descended from Abraham. But it's through the child of promise that Abraham's children are determined.'3 In other words, Paul says, it is by faith and not by physical things like genetics or racial priority, nor by works or personal merit, that the promise to Abraham finds its fulfillment. Abraham, whose name means 'father of many nations,' becomes the father of an outpouring of nations through the work of Jesus Christ.”
3 Romans 9:5-7
Bryce sat back in his chair trying to take it all in. The others looked at him wondering what kind of thought processes were going on inside him. “Where does that leave the modern-day nation of Israel, then?” Bryce asked. “Exactly!” Sarki exclaimed. “That is why I made those remarks the other night that puzzled you.” Sarki looked at the clock on the wall and suddenly tensed, remembering another commitment. “Unfortunately, that is something we will have to explore in greater detail on your next visit,” Sarki said, apologetically. Bryce brightened at the news there would certainly be another visit. “For now,” Sarki commented, “you might consider going back to the New Testament to see what Jesus, Paul, and the other leaders and writers had to say about the unbelieving Jews and Israelites of their day. Be sure to view their remarks in their historical and literary contexts. I'm sure Margaret might be some help to you on
this.” (At this Margaret blushed and smiled.) “But I see no reason to suspect those New Testament leaders would think much differently about those of our generation—Jews and Gentiles—who do not believe in the Messiah, than they did of their own day.”
[Partial] Chapter 5: Law
Lizzette tossed and turned.
Each time she began to doze, she'd awake thinking she heard infants crying. No ... not infants crying ... children. No ... not children ... No ... O God, no— It was the frantic pleading cries of women. No ... a woman. A mother? The sobs grew louder, sometimes seeming close, sometimes far. Am I awake or asleep? Are these cries real? Or am I dreaming them? A chill came over her.
She arose from her bed and stepped outside, wrapping herself in her blanket. The street was dark, cold, and only vaguely familiar. Crying. She followed the shrill eery sounds, lifting her blanket over her head like a hood. Then it came. A blood-curdling scream. Then more screams; wretched, angry, painful wailing. Where am I? she asked herself. What is happening? What is this place? “Rachel weeps uncontrollably,” came the Whisper. “She cannot be comforted or consoled.” Lizzette felt like she was going suffocate. She threw off her blanket. Was she in her bed, thrashing about, or was she really on that dismal street? She felt the cool, damp, pavement beneath her bare feet. Yet she wanted to thrust it all away like some kind of smothering bed cover.
There is nothing like the truth-denying tantrum of a bereaved mother, she thought, pleading in protest over violence done to her children. Lizzette wanted to scream, herself; the wailing was so unbearable. She found she couldn't turn away and she could not wake up. She tried to grasp at the dream—if that's what it was. “A voice is heard in Ramah....” came the Whisper again. “Rachel weeps for her children....” Ramah? Lizzette felt herself relax a moment. That's a phrase of Scripture. With that realization, her heart began to race. Am I in Bethlehem, then? she asked. Am I dreaming of Herod's slaughter of the innocents? “No,” the Voice whispered. “You are in Dheisheh, a refugee camp outside of recent-day Bethlehem.” Dheisheh? She remembered reading of it, and of how the Pope actually visited it on the first papal visit to modern-day Israel.
Suddenly Lizzette was surrounded by children carrying keys. Hundreds of them marched around her, shaking and jingling their metal keys like rattles and bells in one hand, holding signs in their other. On each sign was a word written in Arabic she could not read. Who are these children? Lizzette pleaded, feeling alarmed and confused. “These are the children of Dheisheh, came the Answer. “They've lived in this camp of squalor and poverty for three generations, when their grandparents were torn from their own homes.” Their own homes? “This is the third generation of those whose lives were crushed when modern-day Israel took this land by force in 1948. Rather than coming in my Name and bringing peace, the invaders came doing violence, falsely invoking the Name they dare not utter.” But Lord, how could holocaust survivors and people who knew what it was like to be victims of such injustice turn around and impose it on others?
“They came with the backing of the world,” said the Voice. “Both the world and the Church stood by, giving approval and praise, as these children and their families were forced into the internment of many, many refugee camps like this.” Lizzette wept. “These keys have been handed down from generation to each new generation of the victims of this ruthless and inhumane displacement of populations, all rooted in racial hatred and selfishness—and all under the guise of 'holy religion' and 'divine rights' and the sanction of the western world.” Lizzette looked through her tears at the signs each child carried. The Arabic scrawled by children's hands then transformed into words Lizzette could read and she realized each sign named a village where these families once lived in peace. They were the ancient ancestral villages that were raided, burned, and bull-dozed into to the “holy” soil of this Land owned by their families for centuries. Lizzette's weeping began to shake her. Her chest was heaving as she became overwhelmed
with the sight of these children and their families. The horror flashed before her eyes of what it must have been like for their grandparents to have abandoned dear homes and the lives they'd built. She watched as the hopes they had for their children went up in hostile flames. The fear and terror they felt, as they fled for their lives, gripped Lizzette. “Desecration,” said the Whisper. The crying was uncontrollable now. Lizzette's own sobs merged with the sounds of wailing she'd been hearing and she suddenly realized it was her own cries and shouts of protests that she'd been hearing all night long. She awoke in a sweat. Her face and pillow were drenched in tears. * * *
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