Before dawn, I viewed the Temple Mount spread out below me with the Dome of the Rock shrouded in the shadow of the hill behind me. How often I had seen pictures of this scene. Now for the first time, in August of 2000, I stood overlooking Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives.
Accompanied by a rabbi friend, I set up my television camera to capture the first morning light on this amazing place, a site that increasingly is becoming this planet’s geopolitical ground zero.
Jerusalem Temple Mount
Hundreds of years before Christ, the Hebrew prophets also spoke of our age, when Jews, after an absence of centuries, would again control Jerusalem during a tumultuous time. In biblical language perfectly describing our age—an unparalleled time of potential for terror—the prophets of old assure us the Messiah, Jesus, will come again. He will split the mountain on which I was standing. The returning Christ will bring the world a new spirit and will transform humanity.
City of peace, city of war
In only a few weeks, the risk of being stoned or shot would make it impossible for my rabbi friend and me to stand on that spot in the city’s east side. The Palestinian intifada, or uprising, of 1987 began anew that September on the temple platform when enraged young Palestinians hurled rocks down on Jewish men as they prayed.
Jerusalem, a place of interminable bloodshed, is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities. The “city of peace” has experienced more titanic upheavals than any other city still standing. It survives even while sources of terror work under the veneer of civilization.
It is there that the deepest differences in cultures clash, doctrines about God collide, the aspirations of feuding peoples conflict, claims on major chunks of real estate compete and the grudges of centuries fester.
Little grace can be found in Jerusalem today even though Arabs and Jews descend from a common ancestor, the biblical patriarch Abraham. No divine spiritual favor works in the hearts of these cousins to overcome millennia of religious and historical differences.
Jerusalem’s anguish is a crisis of the heart, submerged under the law of defective human nature—conflicted, confused and confounded in its attempts at lasting peace.
Jerusalem is, in many ways, a microcosm of the world.
Destructive thoughts, words and deeds
People have always been stuck in cultures that trap them, molding their minds and opinions and distorting their sense of what is possible and appropriate.
Often evil captivates them; they begin thinking that something evil is good. Nations blindly but willingly follow deceiving and deceived rulers.
The Bible shows that our negative spiritual environment began with Adam and Eve under the influence of mankind’s common enemy, Satan, a former “covering cherub” (Ezekiel 28:16) whose name (which means “adversary”) implies his adversity to God and man. Jesus appropriately called him the father of lies (John 8:44, New International Version).
Satan’s influence disrupted the first family and conditioned Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, to murder his brother Abel. A world of violence and suffering continues to our time.
Throughout history destructive patterns of thought, beliefs and actions have been mankind’s greatest blocks to growth and the cause of conflicts even among nations. The sad history recorded in the Bible is no different from the events of the last 2,000 years.
What was in the head and heart of the 21-year-old Palestinian Arab who blew himself up with 21 Jewish teenagers and young adults in June as the Sabbath evening darkened on Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean beach promenade?
Many Muslims are not in favor of suicide bombings, and some Muslim clerics have spoken out against them as an offense to Islam.
For years the extreme elements of the Palestinian Authority have approved school textbooks teaching children and teenagers it is a great honor and God’s will to martyr themselves by the “righteous” act of killing Jews for the liberation of Jerusalem. As a result, many are willing to die with the promise of a heavenly reward.
On hearing of his son’s martyrdom, the father extolled his suicide as a righteous act. He said he wished he had many more sons who would do the same.
These horrific actions flow from teachings and beliefs ingrained from early childhood. Tragically, conflicts are often kept alive by political and community leaders claiming to be messiahs sent to conquer the enemies of the people. Their relentless agenda to sustain conflict buttresses their status as leaders.
They assert murder and suicide are the way of God. They most assuredly are not.
Religion without excuse
Muslims, Jews and Christians cannot look to God to justify violence for their own purpose. For instance, the Koran is acknowledged as the most sacred text for more than one billion Muslims. It recognizes the law God gave Moses as universal, the Old and New Testaments as sacred texts and Jesus as a prophet.
The Bible condemns murder. The Ten Commandments state, “You shall not murder.” The teachings of Jesus of Nazareth go much further. He said: “... Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven ...” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Many Muslims are not in favor of suicide bombings, and some Muslim clerics have spoken out against them as an offense to Islam. But hatred runs deep on both sides. An intelligent Jewish man studying at a Jerusalem religious school shocked me as we walked toward the ancient Western Wall, where hundreds of Jews prayed under the Friday night floodlights.
“A good Arab is a dead Arab,” he told me.
He was as far from the truth of God as the Palestinian suicide bomber. Peace will not come while the hearts of men are blinded by prejudice and humanly perverted assertions about the will of God.
The Bible says God is love, and Jerusalem is His city, the very place where Christ gave His life to atone for the sins of the world. Surrounded by violence, it is there the greatest voice for peace was violently stilled. It was there prophets of peace proclaimed their messages. They spoke of a time of God giving peace, love and harmony to Jerusalem and the world. Yet today its environs are engulfed by hate.
What will bring an end to the violence?
It may be too hard for the cynical to believe, but one day, hopefully soon, God will pour a divine blessing on humanity, starting at Jerusalem.
Let’s consider in more detail what is necessary for lasting peace, even though humanly impossible.
Religion must change
False teaching about God and His will inspires wars, separates families and confuses billions of people. The competing doctrines, hierarchies of religious personalities and practices of Christianity, Judaism and Islam are a continuing cause of conflict. Add to the mix, Buddhism, Hinduism, various philosophies, psychologies and atheism, and we have a world rife with spiritual divisions.
The hearts of the six billion people alive today cannot agree about the most important issues of life. Religions claim to yearn for unity, brotherhood and a collective higher purpose. But organized religion of every stripe and hue offer up confusing humanly devised traditions and doctrines passed off as divine truth. These divisions foster bigotry, hatred and wars.
For humanity to become as one, religious divisions must be abolished through acceptance of a set of common God-inspired teachings about God, good and evil and the purpose of human life. Everyone must accept this godly truth; it must become the reality for everyone.
All people must be taught the same values and religion through their schools, other institutions and popular culture right down to individual families.
But a universal religion cannot be universally adhered to without a universal spiritual willingness to agree. For all to agree requires that all have a willingness to change—to give up false and harmful teachings and practices they’ve previously accepted.
Beliefs are among the most difficult patterns of the mind to change. People will have to admit they were wrong and be corrected for their errors. There is the rub.
To admit that your beliefs are fatally flawed and your actions fundamentally evil is an admission that human nature universally resists. People refuse to acknowledge their sins, false beliefs and attitudes even to the point of death and suicide.
People want to be governed with governments and leaders that will benefit them and allow them to prosper.
Consider the extreme case of Hitler’s Third Reich. Many Germans were willingly deceived by the Nazis, but not all. Hitler removed Germans who opposed him, imprisoning and murdering them right under the noses of the German people. The systematic elimination of the Jewish people proceeded within view of parts of the general population. As Hitler destroyed Germany, he refused to acknowledge his lies and eventually committed suicide rather than admit to the unfathomable evil he had perpetrated.
Although much less dramatic, men and women of every culture stick to their prejudices. We refuse to admit where our wrongs have led us or to make the changes we need to make. We make excuses, pointing to others worse than we are. We blindly justify behaviors that hurt others and ourselves.
It will take an act of God to soften men’s hearts to be able to forgive one another. It will take an act of God for humanity to practice loving concern toward all. It will take an act of the Creator for all to accept the one true God and the purpose and truths of His Word. These things are humanly impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
Recognizing a common authority
After so many failures, we shouldn’t be surprised that people have grown cynical about the ability of world leaders to change humanly devised governments. And with good reason! Yet the peoples of the Middle East and the world must ultimately respect and accept a common authority for global peace and prosperity to flower. That is why the biblical promise of the Kingdom of God is so significant.
People want to be governed with governments and leaders that will benefit them and allow them to prosper. Residents of one nation don’t want others to control their nation. A universal government to which all voluntarily submit for the good of all is humanly impossible.
It will take an act of God to grant perfect government for all people. Such a government must be devoid of selfish leaders driven by ignorance, sectarian interests and hidden agendas. The prophets, Jesus and His apostles agree that such a government will come, but it will not lie in the hands of man.
Grace pouring out
Mankind’s greatest challenge is for the heart, the inner being, the deepest motivation, to change from its innate selfishness, self-absorption and hostility against the law of God. The challenge is to accept and live by that law, the expression of God’s righteousness and love.
Arab and Jewish Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Germans, Russians, Chinese and all other peoples display attitudes and actions of underlying selfishness. Although all say they care about the welfare of others, the reality is that all nations function under a fundamentally selfish philosophy. Arrogance suffuses human religion. Christians, Jews and Muslims all believe they are inherently closer to God and have divine rights as the superior group in God’s eyes.
God will not leave mankind alone in its helplessness to change its most fundamental motivations. In His own time, He will transform mankind, abolishing the selfishness and traditions that divide Jew and Arab and all humanity. God will begin this change in Jerusalem, the capital city of global contention.
“Behold,” says God through the prophet Zechariah, “I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples ... The LORD will save the tents of Judah first ... And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication ...” (Zechariah 12:2-10).
I quoted this passage to my rabbi friend on the Mount of Olives on that silent dawn before the current intifada began. Looking down on the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, I said: “The spirit of grace will begin to be poured out here. Humanity has never experienced this. The Jewish people have never been converted in this way. Christianity has never been converted in this way, otherwise Catholics and Protestants wouldn’t have been killing one another and Jews for centuries.”
I continued: “When it happens, this grace will establish the law of God in the hearts of humanity for the first time. The population of the world will be systematically converted to God, nation by nation, and it will begin right here for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This grace will transform the world.”
“You are right,” my rabbi friend said as we watched the rays of morning sun begin to strike the Temple Mount.
The prophecy of Zechariah continues: “... Then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (verse 10).
“Then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations ... And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives ...” (Zechariah 14:3-4).
Four Requirements for Peace
Lasting peace and success for the world’s inhabitants can come only when four changes are made in the way we all operate.
*First, a unity must come through a set of teachings direct from God about the purpose for man and the way of life leading to achieving that godly purpose.
*Second, all peoples must accept a universal authority from God, submitting themselves to His higher power.
*Third, human beings must willingly surrender their self-absorbed natures to receive a divine nature of outward concern. Such love will be based on principles of godly character.
*Fourth, God must remove the supernatural source of evil before the world can have lasting peace.
These necessary changes to society are impossible for humans to achieve alone. People refuse to agree about God, submit to a universal godly authority or fundamentally turn from their selfish words and deeds. The world is powerless to permanently remove the spiritual adversary of the human race. None of these necessary changes to the world will come about by human initiative.
The Bible explains how raw human nature brings so many problems to society and shows how God will give people the power to change.