Friday, March 12, 2010

Bab 2 Reason to Believe

Biblical prophecy is the key to understanding both the past and the future. While to skeptics that may seem a preposterous claim, it is easily proved. Because most prophecy recorded in Scripture has already been fulfilled, it is therefore a simple matter to determine whether or not the prophecies in the Bible are reliable.

Two major themes of prophecy run consistently throughout all of Scripture: 1) Israel; and 2) the Messiah who comes to Israel and through Israel to the world as the Savior of all mankind. Around these two central themes almost all other prophecies revolve and find their meaning, whether it be the rapture of the church, Antichrist, his coming world government and religion, the battle of Armageddon, Christ's second coming, or any other prophesied occurrence. The Bible is absolutely unique in presenting these prophecies, which it records in specific detail, beginning more than 3000 years ago.

About 30 percent of the Bible is devoted to prophecy. That fact validates the importance of what has become a neglected subject. In marked contrast, prophecy is completely absent from the Koran, the Hindu Vedas, the Baghavad Gita, the Ramayana, the sayings of Buddha or Confucius, the Book of Mormon, or any other writings of the world's religions.

This fact alone provides an undeniable stamp of divine approval upon the Judeo-Christian faith, which all other faiths lack. Biblical prophecy's unblemished record of fulfillment is sufficient to authenticate the Bible, in distinction to all other writings, as the one and only inerrant Word of God.

Prophecy-The Great Proof

There are many important reasons for Bible prophecy. First of all, prophecy fulfilled provides irrefutable proof for the existence of the very God who inspired the prophets. By foretelling major events of world history centuries and even thousands of years before they happen, the God of the Bible proves that He is the only true God, the Creator of the universe and mankind, the Lord of history-and that the Bible is His infallible Word given to communicate His purposes and way of salvation to all who will believe. Here is a proof so simple that a child can understand it, yet so profound that the greatest genius cannot refute it.

Prophecy thus plays a vital role in revealing God's purpose for mankind. It also provides foolproof identification of God's true Messiah, or Christ, and unmasks Satan's impostor, the Antichrist, so that no one who heeds God's Word need be deceived by him. Just as prophecy is unique to the Bible, so it is unique to Christ. No prophecies foretold the coming of Buddha, Muhammad, Zoroaster, Confucius, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, the currently popular Hindu gurus who have invaded the West, or any other religious leader, all of whom lack the credentials which distinguish Jesus Christ. Yet there are more than 300 Old Testament prophecies which identify Israel's Messiah. Centuries before His coming, the Hebrew prophets set forth numerous and specific criteria which had to be met by the Messiah. The fulfillment of these prophecies in minute detail in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth demonstrates indisputably that He is the promised One, the true and only Savior.

Inasmuch as these two major themes of Bible prophecy, Israel and the Messiah, have been dealt with in some of my other books, principally in How Close Are We?, we will only summarize them briefly here. In Isaiah 43:10 the God of Israel declares that the Jews are His witnesses to the world that He is God. Such is the case in spite of the fact that 30 percent of today's Israelis claim to be atheists and most Jews worldwide would never think of telling the world that God exists. Yet they are the witnesses, both to themselves and to the world, of His existence because of the astonishing fulfillment in history of precisely what God said would happen to these special people.

The Chosen People-Their Land and Destiny

Though much that the prophets foretold concerning Israel is yet future, nine major prophecies involving specific and historically verifiable details have already been fulfilled precisely as foretold centuries beforehand. 1) God promised a land of clearly defined boundaries (Genesis 15:18-21) to Abraham (Genesis 12:1; 13:15; 15:7; etc.). He renewed that promise to Abraham's son Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5), to his grandson Jacob (Genesis 28:13), and to their descendants after them forever (Leviticus 25:46; Joshua 14:9; etc.). 2) It is a historical fact that God brought these "chosen people" (Exodus 7:7,8; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; etc.) into the "Promised Land," an amazing story of miracles in itself. 3) When the Jewish people entered the Promised Land, God warned them that if they practiced the idolatry and immorality of the land's previous inhabitants, whom He had destroyed for their evil (Deuteronomy 9:4), He would cast them out as well (Deuteronomy 28:63; 1 Kings 9:7; 2 Chronicles 7:20; etc.). That this happened is, again, an indisputable fact of history.

So far the story is hardly remarkable. Other peoples have believed that a certain geographic area was their "Promised Land" and after entering it have later been driven out by enemies. The next six prophecies, however, and their fulfillment, are absolutely unique to the Jews. The occurrence of these events precisely as prophesied could not possibly have happened by chance. 4) God declared that His people would be scattered "among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other" (Deuteronomy 28:64; cf. 1 Kings 9:7; Nehemiah 1:8; Amos 9:9; Zechariah 7:14; etc.). And so it happened. "The wandering Jew" is found everywhere.

The precision with which prophecies fit the Jews alone becomes increasingly remarkable as fulfillment follows fulfillment, until the case for God's existence through His dealings with His chosen people is irrefutable. 5) God warned that wherever they wandered the Jews would be "an astonishment, a proverb, a byword ... a curse and a reproach" (Deuteronomy 28:37; 2 Chronicles 7:20; Jeremiah 29:18; 44:8; etc.). Amazingly, this has been true of the Jews all down through history, as even the present generation knows full well. The maligning, the slurs and jokes, the naked hatred known as anti-Semitism, not only among Muslims but even among those who call themselves Christians, is a unique and persistent fact of history peculiar to the Jewish people. Even today, in spite of the haunting memory of Hitler's holocaust which once shocked and shamed the world, and in defiance of logic and conscience, anti-Semitism is still alive and is once again increasing worldwide.

History of Persecution

Furthermore, the prophets declared that these scattered peoples would not only be slandered, denigrated, and discriminated against, but 6) they would be persecuted and killed as no other peoples on the face of the earth. History stands as eloquent witness to the fact that this is precisely what has happened to the Jews century after century wherever they were found. The historical record of no other ethnic or national group of people contains anything that even approaches the nightmare of terror, humiliation, and destruction which the Jews have endured down through history at the hands of the peoples among whom they have found themselves.

Shamefully, many who claimed to be Christians and thus followers of Christ, who was Himself a Jew, were in the forefront of Jewish persecution and slaughter. Having gained full citizenship in the pagan Roman Empire in A.D. 212 under the Edict of Caracalla, the Jews became second-class citizens and the object of increasing persecution after the emperor, Constantine, supposedly became a Christian. Thereafter, it was those who called themselves Christians who were far more cruel to the Jews than pagans had ever been.

The Roman Catholic popes were the first to develop anti-Semitism to a science. Hitler, who remained a Catholic to the end, would claim that he was only following the example of both Catholics and Lutherans in finishing what the Church had begun. Anti-Semitism was a part of his Catholicism from which Martin Luther was never freed. He advocated burning down Jews' homes and giving them the choice between conversion and having their tongues torn out.1 When Rome's Jews were released from their ghetto by the Italian army in 1870, their freedom at last ended about 1500 years of unimaginable humiliation and degradation at the hands of those who claimed to be the vicars of Christ.

No pope hated Jews more than Paul IV (1555-59), whose cruelties defy the bounds of human reason. Catholic historian Peter de Rosa confesses that a whole "succession of popes reinforced the ancient prejudices against Jews, treating them as lepers unworthy of the protection of the law. Pius VII [ 1800-23] was followed by Leo XII, Pius VIII, Gregory XVI, Pius IX [1846-78]-all good pupils of Paul IV."2 Historian Will Durant reminds us that Hitler had good precedent for his sanctions against the Jews:

The [Roman Catholic] Council of Vienne (1311) forbade all intercourse between Christians and Jews. The Council of Zamora (1313) ruled that they must be kept in strict subjection and servitude. The Council of Basel (1431-33) renewed canonical decrees forbidding Christians to associate with Jews ... and instructed secular authorities [as the church had herself long enforced in Rome and the papal states] to confine the Jews in separate quarters [ghettos], compel them to wear a distinguishing badge [it had previously been a yellow hat], and ensure their attendance at sermons aimed to convert them.3

Preservation and Rebirth

God declared that in spite of such persecution and the periodic wholesale slaughter of Jews, 7) He would not let His chosen people be destroyed, but would preserve them as an identifiable ethnic, national group (Jeremiah 30:11; 31:35-37; etc.). The Jews had every reason to intermarry, to change their names and hide their identity by any possible means in order to escape persecution. Why preserve their bloodline when they had no land of their own, when most of them didn't take the Bible literally, and when racial identification imposed only the cruelest disadvantages?

To refrain from intermarrying made no sense. Absorption by those among whom they found themselves would have seemed inevitable, so that little trace of the Jews as a distinct people should have remained today. After all, these despised exiles have been scattered to every corner of the world for 2500 years since the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Could "tradition" be that strong without real faith in God?

Against all odds, the Jews remained an identifiable people after all those centuries. That fact is an astonishing phenomenon without parallel in history and absolutely unique to the Jews. For most of the Jews living in Europe, Church law made it impossible to intermarry without converting to Roman Catholicism. Here again the Roman Catholic Church played an infamous role. For centuries it was a capital offense under the popes for a Jew to marry a Christian, preventing intermarriage even for those who desired it.

The Bible declares that God determined to keep His chosen people separated to Himself (Exodus 33:16; Leviticus 20:26; etc.) because 8) He would bring them back into their land in the last days (Jeremiah 30:10; 31:8-12; Ezekiel 36:24,35-38; etc.) prior to the Messiah's second coming. That prophecy and promise, so long awaited, was fulfilled in the rebirth of Israel in her Promised Land. It happened at last in 1948, nearly 1900 years after the final Diaspora at the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 by the Roman armies of Titus. This restoration of a nation after 25 centuries is utterly astonishing, a phenomenon without parallel in the history of any other peoples and inexplicable by any natural means, much less by chance.

Even more remarkable, 9) God declared that in the last days before the Messiah's second coming, Jerusalem would become "a cup of trembling ... a burdensome stone for all people" (Zechariah 12:2,3). At the time Zechariah uttered this prophecy 2500 years ago, Jerusalem lay in ruins and was surrounded by wilderness. And so it remained century after century. Zechariah's prophecy seemed to be utter madness even after Israel's rebirth in 1948. Yet today, exactly as foretold, a world of nearly 6 billion people has its eyes upon Jerusalem, fearful that the next world war, if it breaks out, will be fought over that tiny city. What an incredible fulfillment of prophecy!

No Ordinary Explanation

Israel occupies about one-sixth of 1 percent of the land area which the Arabs possess. The Arabs have the oil, the wealth, and the worldwide influence which such seemingly inexhaustible resources command. Not only is Israel's postage-stamp piece of land scarcely discernible on a world map, but it lacks all the essentials to make it the center of worldwide concern. In defiance of all reason, however, it is the focus of world attention, precisely as prophesied.

Jerusalem is a small city of neither commercial importance nor strategic location. Yet the eyes of the world are upon it as upon no other city. Jerusalem is indeed a "burdensome stone" around the necks of all nations of the world, the most vexing and volatile problem the United Nations faces today. There is no ordinary explanation for this. What the Hebrew prophets declared thousands of years ago and what seemed utterly fantastic in their time is being fulfilled in our day. This is only part of the evidence, as we shall see, that the prophesied "last days" are upon us and that our generation will likely see the remainder of Bible prophecy fulfilled.

The prophecies outlined above (to say nothing of scores of others) have been a matter of public record on the pages of Scripture and available for careful examination for centuries. That they have been fulfilled in specific detail cannot be the result of mere chance but is in fact more than sufficient proof for the existence of the God who inspired the Bible and of that Book's authenticity and inerrancy. In view of such clear and overwhelming evidence, one can only charitably assume that no agnostic or atheist has bothered to read the biblical prophecies and check them personally against history and current events.

There are additional prophecies concerning Israel and Jerusalem which pertain to the last days and still await future fulfillment. We may be certain, on the basis of the prophecies which have already come true, that these too will surely be realized, and in the not-too-distant future. The most appalling time of utter destruction both for Jews and for the entire population of the world lies yet ahead. It is called "the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jeremiah 30:7).

With astonishing accuracy, the Bible does not single out Damascus, Cairo, London, or Paris as the center of action in the last days, but two other specific cities: Jerusalem and Rome. They are diverse, have been enemies since the days of the Caesars, and remarkably are still rivals today for spiritual supremacy. Catholic Rome claims to be the "Eternal City" and the "Holy City," titles which the Bible has given to Jerusalem. Rome also claims to be the "New Jerusalem," putting her in direct conflict with God's promises concerning the true City of David.

There have been 2000 years of tension and antagonism between Rome and Jerusalem. For nearly 46 years after Israel's rebirth in 1948 the Vatican refused to acknowledge her right to exist. That animosity has not been erased by the recent overtures which the Vatican has found it expedient to make toward Israel. Rome wants to influence the future of Jerusalem, which she still insists must be an international city over which Israel will have no more say than any other nation.

With awesome precision, the Bible identifies Jerusalem and Rome as the focal points of prophesied last-days events. Both will come in for their share of God's judgment. It requires little more than casual attention to the daily news to recognize the accuracy of that forecast. Here too, in what the Bible says about Rome and Vatican City, we have additional evidence that this book is God's Word-evidence that we will be examining in detail.

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