by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, Associate Editor
Despite the serious issues today’s world is constantly facing, 2017 is proving to be quite the amazing year. A close look at this year’s calendar reveals over two dozen anniversaries of historical events that have significantly impacted civilization in one way or another. And there really is something for everyone.
For the lighthearted among us, the 125th anniversary of the release of the first Sherlock Holmes mystery might be a cause for merriment. Or music lovers might rejoice as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band celebrates its 50th birthday. The more serious-minded may wish to commemorate the worst famine in European history (1317) or the Russian revolution (1917). Even moviegoers have something to celebrate as the first Star Wars film turns 40 this year.
But for Bible believers, 2017 has a remarkable story to tell. It is the story of a God who passionately loves His people and has a plan for their redemption; a God who has promised the Jewish people that He would someday restore them to their ancient homeland. As we walk through history using these anniversaries as our guide, a picture emerges of a God of incredible faithfulness who has been carefully executing that plan for generations.
It is interesting that our story begins 500 years ago with Martin Luther of all people, a controversial figure who is reviled for his anti-Semitic stance which would eventually be used by Adolph Hitler as a justification for his plan to destroy the Jewish people. Although Luther was very positive toward the Jews and Judaism in his early years as a monk and an educator, there is no denying that he turned vehemently against them in his later years.
Yet, Luther is one of the most influential figures in Western history. It is doubtful that he realized, when nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle church, the implications they would have for Christianity. But from that one act would grow a movement that would eventually become Protestant Christianity and Luther as its leader would leave a far-reaching legacy. Most important to our discussion is Luther’s insistence that the Bible should be the sole source of religious authority and consequently should be made available to all believers. Though such an idea was revolutionary in his day, it became a pillar of Protestantism, paving the way for Christians to have personal access to God’s word. And though he is credited with infecting the Protestant church with replacement theology and Christian anti-Semitism, Luther’s commitment to the centrality of Scripture made it possible for 21st-century Christians to read the Bible for themselves and discover, as millions are doing today, that such teachings are heresy. In the ensuing years, as the Protestant church developed its theological underpinnings and spread across the globe, the foundation was being laid for eventual Christian involvement in God’s prophetic fulfillment.
Our next stop is Basel, Switzerland in 1897, 120 years ago this August. It was here that Theodor Herzl brought together 200 of the world’s most prominent Jewish leaders and organizations to find a way to establish a homeland for the Jewish people. It was here that Zionism was born and here that Herzl would boldly declare that within 50 years, the State of Israel would exist.
One hundred years ago, in November of 1917, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter to Walter Rothschild, a leader in the British Jewish community, to be given to the Jewish Federation of England and Ireland. In it, Balfour, who was a devout Bible-believing Christian, clearly stated the commitment of the British government to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in what was then known as Palestine.
One month later, Jerusalem was liberated by British forces after 400 years of occupation by the Ottoman Turks. Under Sultan Suleiman, the orderly Turkish government initially encouraged improvements in the lives of Jerusalem’s citizens and encouraged immigration. However, after the Sultan’s death, the quality of rule began to decline and by the 18th century, Israel lay in a state of widespread neglect. Absentee landlords controlled the land and the people of Jerusalem suffered under crippling and capricious taxation. However, as God’s prophetic plan continued to unfold, things began to change. According to the Jewish Virtual Library:
“The 19th century saw the first signs of progress. British, French and American scholars launched studies of biblical geography and archeology; Britain, France, Russia, Austria and the United States opened consulates in Jerusalem. Postal and telegraphic connections were installed; the first road was built connecting Jerusalem and Jaffa…”
Consequently, the condition of the country’s Jews slowly improved, and their numbers increased substantially. By mid-century, overcrowded conditions within the walled city of Jerusalem motivated the Jews to build the first neighborhood outside the walls (1860) and, in the next quarter century, to add seven more. By 1880, Jerusalem had an overall Jewish majority…the Hebrew language, long restricted to liturgy and literature, was revived. The stage was being set for the founding of the Zionist movement.
Even though liberation from the Turks was a monumental step in God’s prophetic plan, Jerusalem was still not free. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George called it a “Christmas present for the British people,” and it would remain under British control for 30 years.
In November of 1947, 70 years ago, the newly formed United Nations voted on a plan to create a homeland for the Jewish people in what was then known as Palestine. Known as the Partition Plan, Resolution 181 received 33 votes in favor, 13 against and 10 abstentions. As Herzl had boldly prophesied, the State of Israel was created 50 years after the first Zionist Congress!
It is no coincidence that 1947 is also the year in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. These documents include the most ancient copies of parts of the Bible that have ever been found. Among the 981 documents, the history and culture of ancient Israel is revealed in an unparalleled way, bringing the Bible to life for both Jews and Christians.
Fifty years ago, in 1967, Israel would finally find the autonomy and unity it had not enjoyed for millennia. In six days, enemies would be defeated and Jerusalem would be under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in nearly 2,000 years. Interestingly, 1967 also marks the birth of the Charismatic movement in Christianity. This movement, nearly as controversial as Protestantism in Luther’s day, is recognized by many as a global move of God, renewing His Church and calling Christians back to true relationship with Him. It was on the heels of that revival that God began to awaken Christians to the prophetic significance of Israel and the Christian responsibility to stand in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people.
2017 has a story to tell. It’s a story for Christians, for Jews and for the entire world. It is the story of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and His faithfulness to keep His promises. It is also clearly a story of reconciliation and cooperation as God has worked concurrently in the Jewish and Christian communities throughout history, using both to set the stage for His mighty work of the redemption of mankind. It is a story of the pain of the past and the hope of the future, of a God who is alive and active in our modern world and who won’t be finished until every promise in His book has been fulfilled. That’s a story worth telling!
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