Difficulties Arise

In the early years of the British Mandate, Jews migrated to the land in increasing numbers. It is not often appreciated that Arabs from surrounding lands also flocked to Palestine at the same time, attracted by the improvements made by the British. With the sudden influx of new settlers, tensions developed between Arabs and Jews, and Britain struggled to maintain peace.

Notwithstanding these problems on the ground in Palestine, Christadelphians remained supportive of Jewish settlement in the land. Zionism and related matters featured prominently in the program for the 1930 Australian Christadelphian Conference in Brisbane. Indeed, the Australian Zionist Federation sent a special message of greeting to the Conference. One of the items on the business meeting agenda, reafforestation in Palestine, was the subject of spirited discussion.

A feature of the 1930 Conference was a lantern lecture by AJ Reedman and George Errington to the title “The Zionist Movement in Palestine” which was attended by many strangers. At its conclusion, the following motion was passed:

This 1930 Australian Christadelphian Conference, held at Brisbane, convey to the Extended Jewish Agency and the Jews of the world our sympathy in their endeavours to build a national home in Palestine, and express our firm belief that the Mighty One of Israel will demonstrate His power and perform all written in the Holy Prophets.

By the early 1930s, Britain was taking steps to limit Jewish migration to Palestine. Unfortunately, this coincided with the rise of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany with its expansionist and anti-Semitic policies. Concerned about the deteriorating position in Europe, Christadelphians were keen to help, and the 1938 Christadelphian Conference in Sydney considered options for assisting Jews in Europe. Brethren also recognised in these developments further evidence of God’s hand at work, with prophecies such as Jeremiah 15:15-211 seen as relevant to the threats the Jews were facing (the literality of this application would become even more brutally clear during World War II when the Nazi’s unleashed the Holocaust in a vain effort to eliminate Jewry).

In the years leading up to World War II, John Carter penned two pamphlets which commented on these matters – Why is Israel Spoiled? and The Persecuted Jew – designed for preaching purposes. This was complemented in the immediate aftermath of the war by a more generic pamphlet written by John Carter entitled The Sure Word of Prophecy which had a strong focus on Israel’s place in God’s purpose. The Christadelphian Auxiliary Lecturing Society published in 1935 an illustrated booklet by James Blagburn under the title World Crisis: What Lies Ahead? which focused on the return of the Jews to the land in the context of events then unfolding in the world.

In Australia, ecclesias also sought to build on interest in the Jews aroused by their sufferings. In 1935, two NSW brothers, AJ Reedman and AW Stone, published a book called Is It War? And will Britain and Australia be involved? Much of the text deals with issues relating to the Jews, their return to Palestine and the growing hostility towards the Jewish people.

In 1942, at the height of wartime austerity measures when paper was severely rationed in Britain, The Christadelphian published a pamphlet under the title World Events and Christ’s Return which was an updated version of a lecture delivered by CC Walker many years before. The booklet focused on events of the inter-war years and the destiny of the Jews and their homeland.

Late in World War II, the Hurstville ecclesia published a series of pamphlets which also sought to arouse the interest of the public in these matters, with the provocative titles The Five Freedoms, The Riddle of the Jews and Why Didn’t God Intervene? In Adelaide, James Mansfield published a leaflet in 1944 entitled The Jewish Problem, followed by another pamphlet in 1945 entitled The Divine Charter for the Future. It is a testimony to the convictions of the brothers and sisters of those difficult years of the Depression and the War that, despite their hardships, they found funds not just to help the Jews but also to proclaim the hope that is linked so intimately with the Jews and their land.

Israel’s Independence

At the end of the war, Germany lay in ruins, but so did European Jewry. Few of the European Jews who survived the war had a home to which they could return, and most were not welcome in the lands where they had lived before the war. Where could they go? Surely, Palestine was the only answer. This solution, however, was more easily proposed than implemented.

At the end of the war there was optimism Jews would be able to settle in Palestine. LG Sargent wrote a pamphlet entitled Israel and the Purpose of God which The Christadelphian first published in 1946, while in a pamphlet published in Britain in about 1945, The Jewish Revival What It Means, Jewish leaders are quoted as expecting a positive response from the new Government in the United Kingdom under Clement Atlee. These hopes were misplaced. Britain failed in its attempts to bring harmony to Palestine and asked the United Nations to resolve the issue. In November 1947 (defying the words of Joel 3:2 condemning those who part the land) the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, apportioning part of the land to the Jews and another part to the Arabs, while leaving Jerusalem an “international city”. There are elderly brothers and sisters still alive who can recount their excitement as they listened to the radio broadcast of the United Nations’ vote.

The Jews accepted the partition plan; the Arabs did not. When the Jewish state was proclaimed on 14 May 1948 it was with surprise that the world learnt that it was to be known as Israel. 1900 years after being destroyed by the Romans there was again a Jewish state of Israel in the land, just as the prophets had predicted. Contrary to the expectations of our pioneers, the Jews did establish an independent state prior to Christ’s return, and no one would have been more relaxed than John Thomas and Robert Roberts to see their prognostications about that failing. In the century between John Thomas’s preaching tour of Britain in 1848 and 1948, events unfolded largely as he had outlined from the pages of the prophets, notwithstanding minor deviations in matters of detail.

John Carter commented in the July 1948 issue of The Christadelphian on the declaration of Israel’s independence. In the process he also commented, in a very balanced way, on the interpretations and expectations of brothers and sisters which had failed to be realised, before summarising the key elements of prophecies concerning the Jews, Israel and Christ’s return. Those remarks, distinguishing between the facts of prophecy and the speculations of earnest students, are well worth considering.

The newly-established Jewish state was immediately attacked by its Arab neighbours. Israel won that War of Independence but it has never known full peace since its foundation. As well as being subjected to constant cross-border harassment, Israel was engaged in a full-scale war with Egypt in 1956.

Fervour for the fulfilment of prophecies relating to Israel continued in the 1950s. At the 1952 Australian Christadelphian Conference in Sydney, the opportunity was taken mid-week to hold a lecture in six separate locations across the city to the title “Russia, Britain and the Middle East”. The program for the 1956 Australian Christadelphian Conference in Adelaide included a spiritual night to the theme “The Restoration of Israel”. Interest in the 1950s culminated in 1959 with publication by Percy Bilton of his book Russia, Israel, Christ and You!

In 1967 a further war erupted, the Six Day War. Syria, Jordan and Egypt, with the armed support of nations such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia and the tacit support of the Soviet Union, conspired to attack Israel. Israel did not wait for their attack and launched pre-emptive strikes. By the end of the Six Day War Israel had captured the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank. Most important of all, it had captured the old city of Jerusalem, reuniting the city under Jewish control for the first time in two millennia.

Christadelphians around the world were amazed by both the speed and the results of this war. Lectures were hurriedly arranged to seize upon public interest in the destiny of Israel and many hundreds heard the gospel preached. The community’s expectations based on the prophets of Israel were being fulfilled in an astounding way. It could not have come at a more crucial time, because the mid-1960s were heady days of social change and the brotherhood was facing challenges from several sides. The events of 1967 helped many brothers and sisters focus on the reality of our hope and on the things which matter most in our pilgrimage to the kingdom of God.

Israel Dwelling Securely?

Having triumphed so remarkably in 1967, some students of prophecy and international affairs began to assume that Israel’s position in the Middle East was quite secure. Had this been the case, it would have been consistent with the requirements of Ezekiel 38, but in fact these expectations were later seen to be premature.

For reasons that are hard to understand, others in the brotherhood at about this time started to question our broad understanding of Israel’s place in God’s plan. In response to these developments, Graham Pearce in 1969 commenced publishing a series of booklets which sought to restate our traditional understanding of these issues. The first of these was An Introduction to the Book Elpis Israel. Others in the series relating specifically to Israel and prophecy were Russia, the Vatican and the Invasion of Israel, The Way to Jerusalem and Do You Understand The New Covenant? (all published in 1970).

In 1973, The Christadelphian marked the silver anniversary of Israel by publishing Cyril Cooper’s excellent book Modern Israel. That work documented the Zionist enterprise from 1897 to the present day. Intended for a Christadelphian audience, it reviewed in some detail the amazing developments of the previous 75 years. There is no doubt that many a student of prophecy mined the work for information suitable for use in lectures and preaching the gospel. Even today it remains a valuable resource for those with an interest in Israel and prophecy.

Cyril Cooper’s book was published just prior to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973. Israel was caught napping on that occasion and initially was very much on the back foot. Eventually, however, the tide of the war turned and Israel survived. This is, in fact, the last time Israel’s existence was seriously challenged, and a generation of Christadelphians has grown up with Israel as an established and apparently secure entity in the world. It is possible that, at least for some, the fact of Israel is taken for granted and they are not as motivated by her place in the prophetic plan as were earlier generations. It is certainly the case that prophecy, the Jews and the land do not feature as prominently in the preaching efforts of some ecclesias as they did in earlier days.

Graham Pearce published the first of his Milestones to the Kingdom booklets in 1978, reviewing the events of 1977. This became a series which, now written by his son Don, has continued annually until today. While these summaries of current events and Bible prophecy cover a broad range of themes, each issue has had chapters relating to the Jews, the land of Israel and the return of Christ.

One of the more unusual documents produced by brothers and sisters in relation to Israel and Bible prophecy was compiled in 1980 in response to an invitation to provide submissions to the Australian Parliament’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence Sub-Committee on the Middle East. The Sub-Committee had been briefed to:

Monitor the political, economic and strategic situation in the Middle East and peripheral countries, and report on any significant events and their possible effects on Australia.

A committee drawn from ecclesias in Sydney saw this as an opportunity to witness to the authorities about the “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph 3:9-10). CR O’Connor pulled together the work of the committee and prepared a dossier setting out what the Bible says about the Arab-Israeli conflict and Soviet (i.e. Russian) involvement and intentions in the Middle East (the Sub-Committee used the term “Soviet”as a proxy for Russia and the brothers responding followed their lead). The submission was accompanied by over 50 pages of attachments. After Government approval was obtained, the submission was published by the Christadelphian Scripture Study Service.

In the early 1980s the Christadelphian Auxiliary Lecturing Society produced an illustrated booklet of 48 pages by DW Budden, titled Israel Ful ls Bible Prophecy. The evocative cover illustration is a pencil drawing of fruit, vegetables and owers, all of which are exported by Israel to Britain, and which provide tangible evidence of the revival of the land under the Jews. Continuing that theme when an updated version was later printed, a colour photograph of Jaffa oranges being harvested was used on the cover.

When speaking about the budding of the fig tree, which many brethren applied to Israel gaining its independence in 1948, our Lord had told his disciples that “this generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled” (Luke 21:32). Assuming a generation was equal to 40 years, a view arose within the brotherhood that Christ would return sometime prior to Israel’s 40th anniversary. As 1988 approached excitement grew but, as with previous such hopes, these proved to be premature. The enthusiasm which brought them forth, however, is to be commended.

To mark this significant milestone in 1988, The Christadelphian published a new book, Israel: Land and People of Destiny, by John V Collyer. Lavishly illustrated, this was a celebration of what had already been achieved in the fulfilment of prophecy and a glimpse at the glorious prophecies yet to be fulfilled.

In Australia, ecclesias also marked the anniversary with special lectures and preaching activities. The Cumberland ecclesia prepared a 93 page book under the title Behold the Fig Tree which documented the steps in the fulfilment of God’s plan from the time of John Thomas to 1988. While prepared to be read by Christadelphians, it will have helped its readers in their efforts to explain these things to people with whom they spoke.

For over 30 years, Paul Billington in Canada, editor of The Bible Magazine, has sought to draw the attention of brothers and sisters and the public to matters relating to latter day prophecy. In addition to writings in his magazine, several booklets he has published address prophecies relating to Israel, including Israel “Ruler With God” (1985), Guardians of Israel & Arabia (1990), Bible Prophecy & the Middle East (1991), Rome, Jerusalem & the Bible (2002) and The Battle for the Middle East (2003). At about the same time, Graham Bacon in Australia authored a range of publications on prophecy, including booklets designed for preaching entitled Israel Reborn Survives, The Destiny of Israel and her Neighbours and The Bible Solution to the Middle East Dilemma.

The Testimony in 2004 published a book by Stephen Green called God’s Purpose with Israel. Based on a series of articles which had appeared in the magazine, the work sought to demonstrate how God’s redemptive work is tied to the promises He made to the patriarchs of Israel.

In 2013, The Christadelphian published a book written by Sid Levett and Geo Henstock under the title The Sign of His Coming. This book focuses on the hand of God at work with the Jewish people and the nations, especially during the past 120 years, to bring about His purpose.

Occupy Till I Come

Today Christadelphians still await the return of their Master to earth. Like their predecessors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, they watch with eager anticipations for signs that the Lord’s coming is drawing near. The fact that brothers and sisters in each generation have been confident that they were living on the eve of their Lord’s return does not cause the current generation to doubt that the return is near. Quite the contrary. 170 years of consistent watching and waiting serves to strengthen their desire and their confidence in the prophecies, and in the signs about them that these prophecies are being fulfilled. Fine details may not always work out as expected, but the broad picture remains clear and certain.

We have reviewed the enthusiasm of earlier generations for the return of the Jews to the land as a sign of Christ’s coming, and have seen how they sought to witness to this through pamphlets and books. This retrospective overview is by no means comprehensive but it is illustrative of an ongoing testimony to the signs of the coming of our Lord in so far as they relate to God’s people and God’s land. Let us be inspired by the consistency of this witness and commit to continuing in their footsteps both within the ecclesia and in testifying to those outside. And as we do so, let us “look up, and lift up our heads; for our redemption draweth nigh.”

Reference

  1. Application of this prophecy to Jewish persecution at the time is outlined in The Christadelphian, 1930 (Volume 67), page 434.