“For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place. ‘This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.'”(Psalm 132:13-14)
Jewish tradition says that the earth is at the center of the universe. Israel is at the center of the earth. Jerusalem is the center of Israel. The Temple Mount is the Epicenter of the Jerusalem, and the Holy of holies is the epicenter of the Temple Mount. [See Ezekiel 5:5]
Spiritually and symbolically speaking, this is true.
I just returned home from the experience of a lifetime visiting the Holy Land of Israel, and my cup overflows. Everything I was told in preparation for my first trip to Israel was true and even exceeded my expectations. Every true follower of Jesus Christ deserves to see this beautiful land firsthand. Pictures and words cannot do it justice.
Truly this place is the epicenter of the earth — the place where the Creator and Lord of the universe has claimed to be His resting place forever. From the very moment my feet touched the dry and dusty mountains of Israel, I knew that I was home. My heart burned within me, and my spirit yearned to remain in this peculiar land. I cannot quite explain it, but I felt like this ancient land was all too familiar.
Of course, as a representative of the evangelical Christian community and a committed follower of Jesus Christ, I am not the only one who claims Israel to be sacred. Millions visit this land every year because it has historical and spiritual significance for the three prominent monotheistic religions in the world — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Israel is where these three main worldviews converge and in many ways collide. Tensions often run high and religious traditions are fiercely defended. Nothing saddened my heart and burdened my soul more than to see the multitudes of people in Israel who have been deceived and blinded by their own corrupt religious systems. The Apostle Paul’s words were never more clearly relevant.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”[2 Corinthians 4:4]
As a Bible-believing, gospel-loving follower of Jesus, I feel like I had unique perspective from among these competing religions — including the deeply rooted presence of Roman Catholicism in the Holy Land.
I would like to take a few moments to share that perspective.
The miracle of the modern rebirth of Israel is one of the greatest prophetic acts in human history. Enough cannot be said how the Jewish nation was reestablished against all odds after nearly 2500 years of occupation, dissolution, and oppression. Since Israel was reborn in May of 1948, hundreds of thousands of Jews have been returning to the Holy Land, transforming the once desolate wasteland into a fruitful and flourishing oasis in the midst of the hostile nations surrounding her.
Israel represents the sole democracy in the Middle East and continues to be a blessing to the nations in spite of the relentless, irrational hatred toward her. Modern Zionists simply believe that Israel has a right to their Biblical homeland, a right to exist as a sovereign nation, and a right to defend herself, but it would seem that the rest of the world, including the United Nations, stand opposed to allowing Israel to exercise its basic rights.
While the geo-political dynamics remain complex, the ancient roots of Judaism continue to thrive in the Holy Land. Although the majority of Jews today would be considered more secular than religious, there remains a strong remnant of Orthodox Jews today who strive to keep Torah and maintain some semblance of the Jewish faith. One can find these Jews daily worshiping and praying at the Western Wall (i.e. Wailing Wall) of the Temple Mount, hoping they live to see the day when the Temple is rebuilt and Messiah reigns again from Jerusalem.
The irony is that the very One that these Orthodox Jews are hoping for has already come in the form of the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ. And this Jesus promised to return as the Conquering King in all His glory to deliver Israel from her enemies and reestablish the nation of Israel, ushering in the Messianic age of renewal.
Sadly, apart from a small percentage of Messianic Jews, the overwhelming majority of Jewish people missed the coming of their Messiah in the person of Yeshua of Nazareth nearly 2000 years ago (see John 1:10-13) and therefore remain blinded and hardened toward the LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
“I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you will not be conceited: A hardening in part has come to Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”[Romans 11:25]
“Then I will pour out on the house of David and on the people of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and prayer, and they will look on Me, the One they have pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns an only child, and weep bitterly for Him as one grieves a firstborn son.”[Zechariah 12:10]
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”[Luke 13:34]
Roughly 600 years after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, another religious group laid claim to the city of Jerusalem through different means — military force and political subjugation. The followers of Mohammed historically have walked in the example of their prophet, who commanded all Muslims to fight unbelievers and ruthlessly subjugate them into submission to the will of their god Allah.
“Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad), and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”[Quran 9:29]
“O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.”[Quran 5:51]
“So, when you meet those who disbelieve, smite (their) necks till when you have killed or wounded many of them, then bind a bond firmly.”[Quran 47:4]
Mohammed tried to introduce his teachings both to Jews and Christians of his day, but when he and his teachings were rejected by both groups, he decided he would spread his religious system by other means. Islam rapidly spread into the Holy Land from Arabia in the mid 600s AD and once the Temple Mount was conquered, the Muslims erected their own “temple,” the Dome of the Rock, in 687AD, as a sign of dominance over the most holy site in Jerusalem.
To this day, Arab Muslims have control over the Temple Mount and other important “disputed territories,” such as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The modern-day Palestinian Liberation Organization exists to fully liberate the Palestinian people from all Israeli control by any means necessary.
The Palestinians, backed by the surrounding Arab nations, have adamantly rejected every legitimate peace deal since the inception of the Jewish nation in 1948. Even after the Jews repeatedly have relinquished land for peace, the sentiment among Muslims in the Middle East is that they will never be satisfied until Israel is removed from the map and the Jewish people are driven into the sea.
Although the descendants of Ishmael and Esau can claim Abraham as their father, the Bible is clear that God has established His covenant with the descendants of Isaac and Jacob — aka Israel.
“Behold, you are pregnant[Genesis 16:11-12]
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
because the LORD has listened to your affliction.
He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
his hand against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
“And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before you!’ God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.'”[Genesis 17:18-19]
Another dynamic in the Holy Land that adds a layer of religious complexity is the presence of Roman Catholicism. After Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity as a viable religion in the empire in the 4th century, Constantine’s mother, Helena, embraced the faith and took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, identifying and preserving many of the traditional holy sites.
As the Catholic Church morphed into a political juggernaut and gained power in the Roman Empire, its influence over the Holy Land also grew. What the Muslims destroyed over the centuries, the Crusaders eventually rebuilt throughout the Middle Ages, until the British finally gained control over Israel in the early 20th Century.
Although from a historical perspective, it is important that many of these sites were identified and preserved for our benefit, the Roman Catholic brand has most certainly been embedded in Israel with gaudy churches, ancient relics, and altars built for the Catholic saints.
For example, within Catholicism there is an unBiblical and unnatural emphasis placed on the deification of Mary, the mother of Jesus, where she is now called the Mother of God and given divine status as one immaculate and sinless in nature. Tens of thousands of Catholics pour into the Holy Land every year to touch the relics and pay homage to Mary and the saints, which frankly robs the Lord Jesus of the glory due Him alone.
I am NOT SAYING that all Catholics understand and embrace these doctrines or that one cannot be Catholic and still be in a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ by faith alone, but I am saying that the Roman Catholic tradition does not accurately represent Biblical doctrine nor the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Roman Catholic presence, in my estimation, breeds more confusion than anything else — blurring the picture of Biblical history and the Christian community as a whole.
So much could be said about these complex and sensitive dynamics that converge in the Holy Land, which my time doesn’t allow. But I will say this …
With so much perversion of the truth and spiritual deception engrained in these primary religious systems that operate at the epicenter of the world, it is not difficult to see how the stage is set for Satan to unveil his unholy plan to unify the nations in the spirit of antichrist and set us his demonic system of political and religious power in these last days.
And what is most troubling to me is that I can see how Jews, Muslims, and Roman Catholics alike are susceptible to the coming delusion of the last days. My heart is more burdened today than ever before. As we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we remember that these must take place before the coming of our Great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Have mercy Lord Jesus.
“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”[2 Thessalonians 2:9-12]