The Coming Age of Grace

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The Coming Age of Grace

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Before dawn, I viewed the Temple Mount spread out below me,

with the Dome of the Rock silently shrouded in the shadow of the hill behind me. Countless times I had seen pictures of this famous scene. Now for the first time (in August 2000) I stood overlooking Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives.

Accompanied by a rabbi friend, I set up my television camera to capture the drama of the first morning light on this amazing place, which is increasingly geopolitical ground zero of the planet.

City of peace, city of war

Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ looked down from the Mount of Olives and prophesied what would happen to the city and its fabulous temple within a generation (Matthew 24; Mark 13, Luke 21). Just as He foretold, it was wiped out less than 40 years later. Now 70,000 Jewish headstones tile the Mount of Olives' west hillside facing the Temple Mount, those buried there awaiting the resurrection to the time of God's judgment.

Hundreds of years before Christ, the Hebrew prophets also projected forward to our age, when Jews, after an absence of centuries, would again control Jerusalem in 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 transform humanity.

In only a few weeks it would be impossible for my rabbi friend and me to stand on that spot in the eastern part of the city. We could be shot, stoned or threatened by the violence growing out of the Palestinian intifada, a word that comes from the Arabic term for the uprising among Palestinians of the Gaza Strip and West Bank that began in 1987. The intifada began anew last September on the temple platform when enraged young Palestinians hurled rocks down on Jewish men praying below.

Jerusalem, an ancient and modern place of interminable bloodshed, is one of the world's oldest inhabited cities. While empires wax and wane, it has seen more titanic upheavals than any other city still standing. It survives even while sources of terror and violence run deep under the veneer of civilization.

Over the centuries the worst of human nature has manifested itself in Jerusalem. 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 whole world. Yet today its environs are engulfed by hate.

It is a paradox that, although Jerusalem is surrounded by violence, it is there that the greatest prophets of peace proclaimed their messages. It is also where the greatest voice for peace was violently stilled.

These men spoke of a coming time when God would give peace, love and harmony to Jerusalem and the rest of the world. But how and when and from where will this peace come?

The answer lies in the reason that Jerusalem and the modern nation of Israel are such geopolitical lightning rods. 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 unforgiven grudges of centuries fester.

Little grace can be found in Jerusalem today. No divine spiritual favor works in the hearts of Arabs and Jews powerfully enough to bring these feuding cousins together and overcome millennia of divisive religious and historical differences. These ancient peoples who descend from a common ancestor, the biblical patriarch Abraham, are seemingly immobilized by the inertia of hate.

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 and deeds

People have always been stuck in cultures that trap them, destructively 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 Ezekiel 28:16By the multitude of your merchandise they have filled the middle of you with violence, and you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you, O covering cherub, from the middle of the stones of fire.
American King James Version×
) whose name (which means "adversary") implies his adversity to God and man. Jesus appropriately called him the father of lies (John 8:44 John 8:44You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and stayed not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
American King James Version×
, 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 has resulted and continues in 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.

Why are people so destructive in their thinking and actions?

What was in the head and heart of the 21year-old Palestinian Arab trained in engineering who blew himself up, along with 21 Jewish teenagers and young adults, in June as the Sabbath evening darkened on Tel Aviv's Mediterranean beach promenade?

What inner conflicts, beliefs, motivations and spirit grow inside people willing to commit suicide in an effort to bring nations to war? What opposing spiritual power must be added to reverse such an environment of hatred, conflict and war?

For years the extreme elements of the Palestinian Authority have approved school textbooks that teach Palestinian children and teenagers that it is a great honor and the will of God for them to martyr themselves by committing the "righteous" act of killing Jews for the liberation of Jerusalem. As a result, many are willing to go to their deaths with the promise given them by political and spiritual leaders that they will gain a heavenly reward.

On hearing of his son's martyrdom, the Palestinian father of the youthful perpetrator of the Tel Aviv mass killing extolled his son's suicide as a righteous act. He praised him as a martyr. He said he wished he had many more sons who would do the same.

These horrific and destructive actions flow from beliefs ingrained from early childhood. Tragically, conflicts are often kept alive and manipulated by political and community leaders who claim to be messiahs sent to conquer the enemies of the people. Their relentless agenda to sustain conflict is maintained to buttress their status as leaders.

They assert that 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 to further their own ends. 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 Matthew 5:44-45 [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you; [45] That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
American King James Version×
).

Many Muslims are not in favor of suicide bombings, and some Muslim clerics have spoken out against them as an offense to the teachings of 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.

What will bring an end to the violence?

It may be too hard for cynical residents of the world to believe, but one day, hopefully soon, God will pour a divine blessing on humanity as a whole, starting with the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

Let's consider in more detail what is necessary to bring about lasting peace, even though humanly impossible.

Religion must change

False teaching about God and His will inspires many 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 Buddhism, Hinduism, a vast array of philosophies, psychologies and even atheism and we have a world rife with spiritual divisions.

The hearts of the six billion people alive today cannot agree on the most profound level 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 gives the world confusing humanly devised traditions and doctrines passed off as divine truth. These divisions foster bigotry, hatred and wars.

For humanity to overcome prejudice and become as one, religious divisions must be abolished through acceptance of a common God-inspired set of doctrines and teachings about God, good and evil and the purpose of human life. Everyone must accept the same godly truth; it must become the reality for everyone.

All people must be taught the same values and religion through their schools and other institutions and popular culture right down to individual families.

But the world is hopelessly divided on religious grounds. The problem is that 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 as true.

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 religion is fatally flawed and your actions fundamentally evil and that you are your own worst enemy is an admission that human nature universally resists. Because human vanity can be so virulent, it's common for humans to refuse to acknowledge their sins, false beliefs and attitudes even to the point of death and suicide.

Consider the extreme case of Hitler's Third Reich. Many Germans were willingly deceived by the Nazis, but not all. Nonetheless, Hitler removed Germans who opposed him, imprisoning and murdering them right under the noses of the German people. The systematic persecution and elimination of the Jewish people proceeded within view of parts of the general population. As Hitler systematically 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 every day in countless ways. 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 who are even worse than we are. We blindly justify actions and behaviors that hurt others and ourselves.

It will take an act of God to transform human hearts to be willing to extend universal forgiveness to one another. It will take an act of God for humanity to practice the way of loving concern toward all without prejudice. 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 Matthew 19:26But Jesus beheld them, and said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
American King James Version×
).

Recognizing a common authority

After so many failures, we shouldn't be surprised that people have grown cynical about the ability of human leaders to appreciably change the realities of 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 they trust and believe 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 opportunity to prosper. Yet peoples of differing religions, races and cultures do not wish to be under anyone who has hurt them in the past. Residents of one nation don't want others to control their nation. A universal government to which all peoples 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 all 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, which is the expression of God's righteousness and love.

Arab and Jewish Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Germans, Russians, Chinese and all other peoples have 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, according to His own schedule, 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 Zechariah 12:2-10 [2] Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling to all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. [3] And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it. [4] In that day, said the LORD, I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness: and I will open my eyes on the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the people with blindness. [5] And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the LORD of hosts their God. [6] In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem. [7] The LORD also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah. [8] In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them. [9] And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. [10] And I will pour on the house of David, and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look on me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
American King James Version×
).

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 the 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 Zechariah 14:3-4 [3] Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. [4] And his feet shall stand in that day on the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall split in the middle thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
American King James Version×
).

As sure as the rising sun, the age of grace —in the Kingdom of God—is coming. GN


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.

1. A unity must come through a set of teachings direct from God about the purpose for man and the way of life that will lead to success in achieving that godly purpose.

2. All peoples must accept a universal authority from God, submitting themselves to His higher power.

3. Human beings must willingly surrender their selfish natures to receive a divine nature of love for other people. Such love will be based on principles of godly character.

4. God must remove the supernatural source of evil before the world can move ahead to solve its spiritual division.

These necessary changes to society are impossible for humans to achieve on their own. 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 wil come about by human initiative.

The Bible explains how raw human nature brings so many problems to society and shows how God will impart to people the power to make the necessary changes. It takes divine power for humans to overcome the selfish, destructive tendencies of their nature and the force of negative patterns of behavior ingrained in their character. God has the power to give us peace, but that power originates outside the physical realm of society.