The Middle East-Will A New Millennium Bring Peace at Last?

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As the 20th century draws to a close, world attention is focused on Jerusalem, the ancient city at the heart of ongoing peace negotiations in the Middle East. Scripture tells us that the new millennium will see peace finally come to Jerusalem—and the entire world—but in a way that current world leaders least expect!


As the 20th century draws to a close, world attention is once again focused on that most ancient of locales, Jerusalem. This ancient city lies at the heart of the ongoing peace negotiations in the Middle East. When Ehud Barak's new Israeli government was sworn in this past summer, hopes were raised in many world capitals that an ever-elusive Mideast peace might finally be visible on the horizon.

Prime Minister Barak, shortly after taking office, "…set another deadline for himself: After campaigning on the promise that he would bring the Israeli army out of Lebanon within a year, he raised the ante... and set a 15- month time frame for negotiating peace with Syria and finalizing agreements with the Palestinians" (Jerusalem Post, July 23, 1999). According to this announcement, that would mean peace in the Middle East by October 2000.

Will this happen? Can it happen? What does the future hold for this ancient and longtroubled corner of the world? Will Jerusalem, whose name in Hebrew means "city of peace," finally cease to be the sticking point for a long-awaited peace settlement?

Make no mistake about it: events in the Middle East and in Jerusalem in particular will profoundly affect your world in the years to come! This ancient city is destined to play a central role during the years that mark the dawning of a new millennium. What will that role be—and what will it mean for you and your family?

Setting the Stage

Jerusalem. The very name evokes emotions that run deep in the adherents of three major religions— Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

For the 3,000 years since ancient King David captured the Jebusite citadel and made Jerusalem his capital, Jerusalem has been the most important of cities for the Jewish people. It was the city of King David, the location of Solomon's temple and later of the second temple, and the capital of the Jewish state until the Roman destruction in 70AD. It has been the subject of psalms, hymns and personal prayers and yearnings for most of three millennia.

Christians look to Jerusalem as the city where Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected. It is the city where the Church began and where the Apostles ministered. Almost a thousand years ago the Crusades were launched from Western Europe to recapture Jerusalem from the Muslim Arabs. This became a focus of European energies for the next two centuries. Then the 19th and 20th centuries saw a resurgence in Western focus on Jerusalem and the Middle East.

As for the Muslims, following their capture of Jerusalem in the seventh century, it has been a center of worship and the locale of one of the holiest shrines in the Muslim world. Over the centuries, Arab and later Turkish forces contended with the nations of Europe for control of this hub of ancient history.

Muslim control of Jerusalem lapsed when British troops under General Allenby entered the Old City in 1917. The British soon learned that capturing Jerusalem was much easier than administering it. The Palestine Mandate, as it was called, proved to be a troublesome burden for a succession of British governments over the next 30 years.

Finally, in 1947 the United Nations passed Resolution 181, partitioning the Palestine Mandate between the Arabs and the Jews and internationalizing the city of Jerusalem. The Arabs, who were convinced that they could win all of Palestine by force of arms, vehemently rejected the resolution. The Jews, on the other hand, were fresh from the horrors of World War II and deeply anxious simply to have a place of their own. They accepted the UN resolution.

Before the British could even withdraw their troops, Jerusalem was under siege. By the beginning of 1948 the highway to Jerusalem was virtually impassable and the city's Jewish population was reduced to a state of near-starvation. In the fighting that followed, the Arabs destroyed 27 of the historic synagogues in Old Jerusalem.

On May 14, 1948 David Ben- Gurion announced to the world the formation of the new State of Israel. The Arab League reacted with predictable fury and its armies began advancing on all fronts. Though the armies of six Arab nations combined with the express purpose of pushing the Jews back into the sea, events soon took a remarkable turn. On front after front the Arabs were fought to a standstill and were even pushed back. The Old City of Jerusalem, however, formed the weakest link in the new state's defense chain. Finally a cease-fire was arranged and troops froze in position. Two weeks after independence, the last of the elderly Jews living in the Old City passed through Zion Gate, and the massive gate was irrevocably shut behind them. Thus Jerusalem became divided, and the Jews were once again denied access to their ancient city.

For 19 years this remained the status quo. Then in June 1967 came the incredible Six Day War, and with it the Jewish recapture of the Old City of Jerusalem. As Jewish troops swept out in all directions, Arab armies fled in disarray before them. Israel advanced east to the Jordan River and also seized the strategically vital Golan Heights from Syria. Israeli forces quickly moved into the Gaza Strip and the region of Sinai. While much of this was of great strategic value, nothing could compare to the excitement of the moment that Jewish troops came through Zion Gate and seized the Old City. None who witnessed the event can ever forget the emotional fervor displayed as Jewish troops finally reached the western wall of the Temple Mount, better known as the Wailing Wall.

For centuries, religious Jews had concluded festival observances with the prayer, "Next year in Jerusalem." Finally, for the first time in almost two millennia, Jerusalem was united under Jewish control. It was quickly proclaimed as Israel's "eternal and undivided capital."

More than 30 years have passed since those momentous events. Since then, we have seen the Yom Kippur war, the Camp David agreements, the Oslo accords, and the Wye River peace agreement. What we have not seen, however, is peace in the Middle East. There have been stalemates, skirmishes, invasions and assassinations, but no lasting peace.

Is Ehud Barak now destined to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed? Inevitably, all attempts at peace stand or fall over the issue of Jerusalem. What is to be the destiny of the "City of Peace" and what part will that destiny play in the future of the Middle East and, indeed, of the world itself?

Jew Against Jew

Not only have the Jews been engaged in an ongoing struggle against the Arabs, but there has been increasingly bitter strife among the Jews themselves. It is important to understand the origin and development of this conflict in order to grasp the nature of the forces at work in Israel today.

After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, the Jewish people were a stateless nation. Dispersed among other nations, they were seldom welcomed, sometimes tolerated, and often maligned and persecuted. Always, however, they were a people apart.

The 19th century saw among European Jews, influenced by the Enlightenment of the century before, the rise of a movement to abandon their distinctiveness. Many felt that this was the way to end their isolation and persecution once and for all. As the 19th century progressed, however, many Jewish intellectuals became reluctantly convinced that however secular they might become, to his neighbors a Jew was always a Jew.

This set the stage for the Zionist movement, a late 19th century movement among secular European Jews to have a place of their own. The last two decades of the 19th century saw an upsurge in persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire. This helped precipitate a massive wave of emigration by Eastern European Jews. While most of them came to America, many migrated to Palestine, then a province of the Middle Eastern empire ruled by the Ottoman Turks. For decades afterward, the Jews coming to the future state of Israel were overwhelmingly European in origin and secular in outlook.

In the aftermath of the Six Day War, however, there came an influx to Israel of Jews from surrounding Arab lands. In 1977, ten years after the war, a government formed by the Likud bloc came to power in Israel. Menachem Begin, the new Prime Minister, was the first religiously observant Jew to lead the nation. He took power on a political platform that invoked Biblical justification for Jewish settlement of occupied lands.

In the more than two decades since that time, Israel has become divided with increasing bitterness between its religious and secular communities. Deeply religious Jews view the land of Israel as deeded to them by God Himself. To give even part of it away is viewed as virtually sacrilegious. To consider abandoning Jerusalem, and with it their centuries-old hope of rebuilding the temple, is thought of as akin to blasphemy. Secular Jews, on the other hand, tend to take a pragmatic view of the peace negotiations. They have no desire to see a temple built and view their devout kinsmen as fanatics who could plunge them into a disastrous war.

Currently, the state of Israel is fairly evenly divided between religious and non-religious populations. Any peace settlement must take into consideration the aspirations of both groups. The pragmatist and the idealist—how can they be reconciled?

The Source that Unveils the Future

In the midst of all of the turmoil that troubles our world, there is only one source that makes sense of it all. This muchoverlooked source is that which is given to us by the One who declares "the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10).

Just think of it. For centuries Jerusalem remained little more than a footnote to world events, notable only for historical and religious reasons. The Jewish presence in the ancient land of their forbearers was minuscule and impotent. Who could have foreseen that after so many centuries away, millions of Jews would be regathered to their ancient land? Who could have imagined that a formidable Jewish army would overwhelm neighboring states after a lapse of more than two millennia since such developments?

There is a source, however, that did foresee just such events! It is your Creator's instruction book, the Holy Bible. A variety of prophecies in the pages of the Bible foretold that the Middle East, and Jerusalem in particular, would be a major focus on the world scene in the end time. Some of these prophecies are found in the Old Testament while others were spoken by Jesus Christ Himself, shortly before His crucifixion.

Notice the writings of the ancient Jewish prophet Zechariah, recorded over 2,500 years ago. "The burden of the word of the Lord against Israel. Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him: 'Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and… In that day I will make the governors of Judah like a firepan in the woodpile, and like a fiery torch in the sheaves; they shall devour all the surrounding peoples on the right hand and on the left, but Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place— Jerusalem'" (Zechariah 12:1–2, 6).

Nearly 19 centuries elapsed from the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD until the fulfillment of these words during the Six Day War of 1967. After all of these centuries Jerusalem was once again inhabited and ruled by the governors of Judah. Surely no human source could have foreseen so improbable an event! However, the God of the Bible foresaw just such an event—and not only foresaw it, but brought it to pass!

From the beginning of his administration, Prime Minister Barak committed himself to bringing about a final peace settlement by October of the year 2000. Early steps toward this goal were taken last September when Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed on a new land-for-security deal, the "Wye Two" accord, and transferred another 7 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian civil control. By September of next year, if the deal remains in force, an additional 11 percent of the West Bank will pass to Palestinian civil control.

What will come of this arrangement? Peace deals in the Middle East have proven fragile, and some influential Israeli leaders have spoken against the latest arrangement. "Everyone needs to consider whether he wants security, development and peace—or momentary gain," said new Likud leader Ariel Sharon. Yet Prime Minister Barak spoke of the agreement's importance, observing that, "the sacredness of man and his liberty, equality, the freedom of choice and democracy and the right of the people of Israel to a sovereign life in its land, stand in contradiction to ruling over millions of Palestinians against their will."

Given this great divide in opinion, and the history of wars and failed agreements in the region, does the Bible give us any clue as to what will occur next?

Several key prophecies focus on Jerusalem at the time just prior to God's intervention and the return of the Messiah. Among the most important are those included in the writings of Daniel and Zechariah and in the words of Jesus Himself spoken during His Olivet discourse.

Since we have already briefly quoted from Zechariah, let's look further at his message. Clearly Zechariah 12 shows Jerusalem being a focus of international attention at the end time. It also describes the governors of Judah subduing enemies and ensuring that the Jewish people can inhabit Jerusalem once again. That's not the end of the prophecy, however. Zechariah 14:2 describes a great multinational force coming against Jerusalem and conquering it, redividing the city and deporting half the population. It is in the aftermath of this tragedy that the Messiah will return in power and glory to set up His government and to put a stop to man's wars forever.

Daniel brings out two major details concerning Jerusalem and the Middle East in the end time. One, in Daniel 11:40 describes an end-time King of the South who will "push at" an end-time King of the North. This is followed by the King of the North invading the Middle East and occupying a number of countries. The second, in Daniel 12:11 he speaks of an "abomination of desolation" that will mark the beginning of a countdown to the Messiah's return. Jesus Christ referred to the abomination of which Daniel spoke and said that it was to be the signal for His true followers to flee from the area of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15–16).

Daniel links the setting up of the abomination with a forced cessation of daily sacrifices (Daniel 11:31). Historically the Jews connected this prophecy with the efforts of the Seleucid king, Antiochus Epiphanes. In 167BC he stopped the daily sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem, sought to destroy all copies of the scriptures, set up an idol of Jupiter Olympus in the Holy of Holies and offered swine upon the altar. Three years later the Maccabee- led armies defeated the Seleucid forces and cleansed and rededicated the temple. This event is still celebrated in the Jewish community as Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication.

However—and this is vital to understand—this historical event wasn't the final fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy! Jesus Christ said that the final fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy about the abomination lay in the future, shortly before His return (Matthew 24:14–16). What happened in the 2nd century BC was merely a type of end-time events.

This would clearly imply the future construction of a temple, or at least the dedication of an altar for the resumption of sacrifices. How could such an event occur? While the details of the how are hard to imagine at the current time, just such astounding events ARE going to happen! Remember, a couple of decades ago it was impossible to imagine how the Berlin Wall could be brought down and Germany reunited!

In recent years, the Vatican has played an increasingly important behind-the-scenes role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It has also insisted for decades that Jerusalem be made an international city. The religious community in Israel will not agree to any peace plan involving a change in status for Jerusalem unless some type of major concession is granted to them. In order to break a stalemate, will some sort of plan be offered that includes restoration of temple services? We'll simply have to watch and see how the details work out.

But make no mistake about it, Jerusalem will prove to be the end-time flashpoint for world events. There is an economic colossus arising in Europe that is taking on increasing political and military overtones. The time is soon coming when it will take on religious overtones as well. This coming European superpower is destined to play a crucial role in the events currently shaping up in the Middle East.

Jesus Christ said that events centering on Jerusalem will usher in a time of trouble greater than any the world has ever seen (Matthew 24:15–22). While there is a crisis coming that will cause catastrophic upheaval all over the world, there is good news beyond that!

The ancient prophet Zechariah summed it all up very clearly: "For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken… Then the Lord will go forth… and in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east… And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem… And the Lord shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—'The Lord is one,' and His name one" (Zechariah 14:2–4, 8–9).

Yes, the new millennium WILL see peace finally come to Jerusalem, the Middle East, and the entire world—but in a way that current world leaders least expect!

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