Your People Shall be My People
Your People Shall be My People ©2001 by Don Finto, Chapter 1 Used by permission.
The Beginning of the End
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near._
God promised Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:2,3). If this ancient promise is still true, and it is, then no person, no congregation, no nation or people group will ever receive their fullest blessing until they learn to love the Jewish people.
I have not always been so passionate about this truth. Let me tell you why I believe these are prophecy-fulfilling times in which we live and how I, a West Texas farm boy, became involved in the messianic Jewish community and came to love this covenant people.
In the early ’50s, my wife, Martha, and I were fresh out of college, newlyweds and ministering in postwar Germany. The nation was disgraced and divided; homes and neighborhoods were emotionally and physically destroyed. We were young and idealistic and wanted to be a part of directing this humbled people back to God.
As a Bible major in a Christian college, I graduated confident of what I believed. I knew how to read the Bible to overlook certain passages and to interpret others so that they always said what I had been taught. We knew that any other understanding of Scripture would separate us from close friends and family. Occasionally this would make me uncomfortable. I would read Scripture that did not quite fit what I had been taught. But after all, my professors, who were godly men, knew better than I. They read Hebrew and Greek, and they could not be wrong.
Then the postcard arrived. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
I hated that card! It embarrassed me. It challenged me. It rattled me. I thought the young man who had sent it, a freshman student at the University of Hamburg, arrogant. I showed the card to no one, not even to Martha. I tore it up and discarded the pieces almost immediately.
And yet I could not forget it. I can still quote it verbatim: “Lieber Don Finto, liest Du die Bibel, um zu sehen, was die Bibel sagt, oder liest Du sie nur, um eine Predigt vorzubereiten?” “Dear Don Finto, do you ever read the Bible just to find out what it says, or do you just read it to prepare a sermon?” The card was signed “Helmut.”
I read the Bible regularly, but I knew at the core of my being that I often studied the Bible to defend positions already held rather than studying to see if these positions were biblically accurate. Did I really want to know God’s heart on every issue? Would I be willing to change my belief even if it meant estrangement from those who were closest to me? I desired that of others. What about myself? For the next several years, Helmut’s card held me accountable and was a constant reminder to ask the Lord for understanding.
After eight years in Germany, Martha and I returned to the United States, where I began teaching German and some Bible courses in a Christian college. The Charismatic Movement was sweeping the nation and many people were rethinking long-held beliefs. This was also the beginning of the hippie years that resulted in the Jesus Movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s. I was not interested in becoming a part of a new movement, but I did have a growing hunger to know God, to know Jesus, to know the Holy Spirit. I knew the Book rather well, but I did not know the Author intimately.
Almost two decades after receiving Helmut’s card, while teaching in that college in Nashville, Tennessee, I was also preaching for one of the local congregations where a retired dentist often attended. Dr. Hall was a student of prophecy. He delved into the biblical prophets, Isaiah to Malachi, as well as the prophecy of the New Covenant Scriptures. One day after the service, he asked me if I had ever let the Old Testament prophets speak for themselves or had I just presumed that everything they had written had already been fulfilled at the first coming of the Messiah.
Flashes of Helmut’s card! I had read the Bible for years, but I had read the Hebrew Scriptures only as history. In my annual reading through the Bible, I was always relieved to get to the New Testament. The ancient prophets spoke so often of Moab and Babylon, of Ephraim and Edom and I, not being an astute student of history, understood very little of it. Except for those occasional clear words that foretold Jesus’ coming, I would almost speed-read the Prophets in order to get through them.
If I did run across something about Israel’s return to the Land, I assumed that this was speaking of her return from Babylon. (Somehow I overlooked the fact that these passages mentioned returning not only from the East (Babylon) but also from the West and from the North and South—from the nations.) In those verses that told of the Messiah reigning over all the earth, I assumed the prophets were speaking symbolically and meant the advance of the gospel. If I did not understand a passage, I either ignored it or spiritualized it. “Israel” was the Church. “Israel’s sins” were the sins of the Church. “Jerusalem” was a figure of heaven. “Zion” was another name for the people of God.
Stirred by Dr. Hall’s challenge, I began to reread the Prophets. This resulted in more questions than answers. There was no place in my theology for a regathering of Israel. I had never even considered that there might be a time when most or all of the Jewish people would recognize their Messiah. I had been taught that Jesus would never again return to the earth. It never occurred to me that some of the prophecies might literally be fulfilled—that the Lord would again stand on the Mount of Olives and that the mountain would split in two, exactly as Zechariah saw it (see Zech. 14:4).
The Great Debate
I was faced with a dilemma. What is to be taken literally in the Scriptures and what is mere symbolism?
I decided that I would rather assume that the Bible is literally true and then be proven wrong in that assumption than to assume it is symbolism and be wrong. I prefer to meet the Lord one day and say, “I took You at Your Word” than to meet Him and have to admit that I didn’t think He meant what He said.
It seemed best to take the Scriptures literally unless the Scriptures themselves suggested otherwise. There were times when Jesus would expressly say, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .” That’s figurative language. Even in the book of Revelation, John often speaks of a “sign” appearing in the heavens (12:1), while at other times he speaks of seeing an actual new heaven and a new earth or a Holy City coming down from God out of heaven (see 21:1,2).
This literal approach to the reading of prophecy began to change my understanding of the Jewish situation. Passages that I had long allegorized now had to be more carefully discerned. For example, Ezekiel’s “valley of dry bones” (Ezek. 37) is not just a good sermon to preach to a dead church, but it is exactly what the prophet said it was—a picture of Israel coming back to life (vv. 12,13). To accept the Scripture allegorically without accepting the actual prophecy is to thwart the full purpose of God’s Word, to twist it to suit one’s own agenda.
Once we have accepted the prophet Ezekiel’s literal meaning—that Israel will live again—then we can apply that passage to other situations. This kind of openness to the Word of God keeps the Scriptures alive. The Lord, through His Spirit, continually brings fresh revelation, both the literal meaning and the spiritual applications.
We do not have the right to take words spoken to Israel and appropriate them to the Church until we have recognized their intended meaning to the people originally addressed. Even then, these promises belong to us, the Gentile Church, only because we are grafted in to Israel’s roots and, along with her, inherit the promises made to her. Paul says that we have become a part of Israel’s olive tree “among the others” and “share in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (Rom. 11:17). We do not replace the originally intended recipients. The promise of salvation is extended “to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham” (Rom. 4:16). Not only, but also! We join the family of Abraham and are “fellow citizens with God’s people” (Eph. 2:19). The Jewish Messiah has become our Messiah. His blood has also redeemed us. We come alongside Israel in receiving the promises, but we do not replace her!
I was having difficulty in discerning the meaning of prophecy, not unlike most of the people in Jesus’ day. The keepers of the scrolls did not understand their meaning. Those who were looking for the Messiah did not recognize Him. They were too preoccupied with preconceived perceptions of what the Messiah would do, of what He would be like. He stood before them in the flesh, but their eyes were closed. I was, in truth, no different.
The Scriptures were clear enough. Micah called Bethlehem the place of His origin (see Mic. 5:2). Zebulun and Naphtali in Galilee were singled out by Isaiah as a place that would see “a great light” (Isa. 9:1,2). Zechariah knew the price for which Jesus would be betrayed (see Zech. 11:12,13). Isaiah foretold that Jesus would be a suffering servant (see Isa. 53). Zechariah even wrote of a donkey that would be involved in His arrival (see Zech. 9:9). These predictions are crystal clear to us today, but the religious community of that day missed them completely.
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life,” Jesus told the religious leaders of His day. “These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39). His implication is that they would have recognized Him if they had believed their own Scriptures. These were Bible teachers who were obviously reading not to learn but to prove!
The Revelation That Comes from the Spirit
Intellectual honesty alone is not sufficient when we are seeking to know God. We must pray that our eyes will be open, that our hearts will be perceptive. We must yearn for insight and revelation. He not only speaks to the mind, but He also reveals Himself to the spirit. That revelation comes in His timing. We must be willing, but He is the One who reveals. We may read through Scripture again and again and miss the truth if our hearts and our spiritual eyes have not been opened.
Cleopas and his friend had a problem on the Emmaus road on Resurrection morning. They were looking into the face of Jesus but they did not recognize Him (see Luke 24:16). Not until the veil was removed from their eyes did they know with whom they were speaking. We need our veils removed!
Lydia had a similar experience at the riverbank prayer meeting just outside Philippi. As Paul began to speak, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14). Lydia had to be willing, but without that opening of her heart, she would not have been able to receive.
Do you see why Paul cried out to the Ephesians that “the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened” (Eph. 1:18) and that God “may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (v. 17)?
God does not speak a particular language. He speaks to us in our spirits through His Spirit. Revelation goes deeper than the mind. It impacts the entire being—mind, heart, intention, passions. This is why Paul told the Romans that their salvation had come by believing “in your heart” that God had raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 10:9), that “it is with your heart that you believe and are justified” (v. 10).
Luke 21 and the Present-Day Move of God
It was this kind of searching that caused me to hear God’s heart for Israel. The beginning of the revelation happened in the early ’70s, when I was studying the gospel of Luke with a group of young people. Students were packed into a storefront classroom. They were sitting on the floor, Bibles open on their laps, hungry to know more of this Jesus whom they had so recently met. They had few preconceived ideas. They were reading the Bible afresh and asking the Lord for revelation.
For weeks we had been reading together through Luke’s account of the life of Jesus, wanting to know more of Him so that we could become more like Him. The Lord was revealing Himself to us—both to me, the teacher, and to these radical young believers.
Everything was going along well until the week we came to Luke 21. I began to dread this particular class session because I did not know how to understand this chapter, much less interpret it to others. In this passage, the Lord had been talking to the disciples about the future—His future and the future of Israel. He spoke of the destruction of the Temple and the events that would surround it. But He also spoke of His own return. I was not always sure when He was referring to what.
I had read this chapter and the corresponding chapters in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 many times, asking the Lord for more revelation. I still grasped very little and yet I knew these verses were important for comprehending the times in which we were living.
I was rereading the chapter one last time in front of my eager students when I began to see—on the spot—something pertinent to our day. The Lord was giving me revelation that has been foundational to my understanding of the times ever since.
Suddenly four verses seemed strikingly clear. Luke 21:20 surely speaks of the armies of Titus: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.” The Roman armies began their assault of Jersualem in A.D. 68 and continued until its fall and the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. Jesus had wept over the city and the leaders’ lack of receptivity.
Verse 24 speaks of the dispersion of the Jews. “They [the Jewish people] will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations (italics added).” This happened just as Jesus said it would. Many thousands died in the siege. Others fled the city, never to return. They would soon be found in every nation of the world. Some returned to Jerusalem a few years later but were driven out again during the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 130s.1
After the Romans successfully crushed the Bar Kokhba campaign, Jewish people were banned from Jerusalem and from Judea. Although there were times in the ensuing years when Jews were allowed to live in the city and in the Land, there was no further serious Jewish occupation until the beginning of immigration in the nineteenth century. There was no Jewish state until the United Nations’ vote of November 1947 led to the establishment of the modern State of Israel in May 1948!2
“Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles . . .” Jesus went on to say in verse 24. And what trampling! Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Turks, the British—all have claimed time and territory in the City of David, in this Land promised to Abraham and his descendants.
“Until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled!” I paused in the reading, deep in thought. What a strange thing for the Jewish Messiah to say. What could this possibly have meant to Jesus’ hearers that day? The Land had been in Israel’s possession, more or less, since the days of Joshua. Yes, some had been taken to Assyria in 721 B.C. and had never returned. Others were held captive in Babylon for 70 years in the sixth century B.C. But even in those times, Jews still lived in the Land.
Whatever Jesus meant by “times of the Gentiles,” one thing was clear: Israel’s reentry into Jerusalem was strangely connected to these words in Luke 21. As I read, the modern history of Israel was merging with Scripture. The people now returning to the Land were descendants of those who had heard the words I was now reading!
Jesus had said “until.” I was suddenly confident that the “until” referred to the recent past when, in June 1967, the State of Israel held off six invading Arab nations and recaptured the city of Jerusalem. This was the first sovereign possession of the city of Jerusalem since 586 B.C., when the last Jewish king in David’s lineage was driven from the city.3
In the margin of my Bible, I wrote “1967.” If this Scripture had found its fulfillment in Israel’s retaking of Jerusalem, then “the times of the Gentiles” also had meaning for our generation.
Sitting on the floor in front of me that day were not only Gentile believers in Jesus but also young Jewish believers who had accepted Yeshua (Jesus), the One whom Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Jeremiah and the other prophets had promised. I had been hearing of an influx of Jewish believers like no other since the first century. Somehow I knew this was significant for our day.
I read on. In verse 28, Jesus said to His listeners, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
I was having a “this is that!” experience—the kind of surreal moment that occurred when Jesus read from the Isaiah text in the synagogue at Nazareth. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” He had said (Luke 4:21). I wanted to tell my young floor-sitting friends and all others who would listen to me since that time: “This Scripture is being fulfilled in our day!” I wanted to shout like Peter did on Pentecost morning, “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel!” (see Acts 2:16, KJV). I was experiencing what Jesus had declared!
The fulfillment of Luke 21 had begun. I was seeing the beginning of the end. I was to stand up and lift up my head, our redemption was near.
But what is “near”? I don’t know. The Lord does not reckon time as we do. “Near” may be many years, or it may be tomorrow.
The last verse to catch my attention was verse 32. “This generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” What generation? The generation at the time of Jesus? No, that cannot be, since that generation has long since gone. The generation that begins to see these things being fulfilled? I think so.
But how long is a generation? I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, either. The Lord led Israel through the wilderness for 40 years and called it a generation. Yet He told Moses that the Israelites would come back to the Promised Land “in the fourth generation” (Gen. 15:16). That return took 400 years. So a generation could be 100 years. All I can say for certain is that He promised that all these things would occur, and I believe Him.
Signs of His Coming
But wait, you may be saying. We are not supposed to be involved in date setting for the Second Coming, are we? Didn’t Jesus Himself say, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matt. 24:36)? Have there not been hundreds of prognosticators, all of whom have been proven wrong? Didn’t Jesus say that His coming would be like a thief in the night? Are we not to live in a constant state of readiness?
Yes and no.
No, we are not to be ignorant of the “season.” Jesus chided the leaders of His day for not discerning the times (see Matt. 16:3). “You . . . are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief,” Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:4). “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37).
How was it in the days of Noah? Noah, warned of God, was not surprised when the rains came. He and his family knew that they were living in the season of the coming judgment. Though they had never experienced a flood, the ark was built and ready. The animals were coming. They knew the time was near.
According to Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians, it is the “people” who will be saying, “Peace and safety.” Unbelievers have a false sense of security, but not believers. “Destruction will come . . . suddenly”—a point made graphic by Paul’s vivid illustration—“as labor pains on a pregnant woman” (1 Thess. 5:3, italics added).
Labor pains come as no surprise to a pregnant woman. She has been expecting them for nine months. She still does not know the hour or the day of her child’s arrival, not even when the pains will begin. But she knows that her time is near. This is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
Jesus spoke of many signs that would occur through the centuries before the time of the end. Most of these have happened in every generation—floods, famines, plagues. They may be coming with greater frequency, but they are not new. They alone are insufficient clues regarding the season in which we are living.
Paul told Timothy that the end times would usher in a period of intense brutality, of civil and family unrest, of increased addictions (lack of self-control), a time when the whole world would be seeking after pleasure. Even the Body of Christ would have “a form of godliness but deny its power” (see 2 Tim. 3:1-5). These signs, too, have been present in former generations.
One sign is unique to our day. Israel is back in the Land, and Jerusalem is once again under the rule of the nation of Israel, just as the prophets and Jesus foretold.
When Jesus was predicting the fall of Jerusalem, He wept over the city:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. . . . I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 23:37,39).
This word was not spoken to the Gentiles. It was spoken to Jesus’ blood family, Israel. He would not return until the Jewish people were ready to receive Him. With the eyes of faith, we can see that time approaching.
Just this week I received a letter from one of my Jewish brothers in Jerusalem, who wrote, “More and more of us in Jerusalem and in Israel are crying out to the Lord, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
Not long ago I personally stood on the Mount of Olives with a significant number of Jewish believers who gazed up into the sky and prayed, “Blessed are You, O Lord! You who have come, You who will come in the name of the Lord!”
No generation since the first century has seen such a rapidly increasing body of Jewish believers, both in the Land and in the nations. The “until” Jesus spoke when overlooking Jerusalem that day shortly before His death is drawing nearer. We are seeing Jews who are ready to embrace their Messiah—Jews who are ready to say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
* * *
Walk with me through some of the truths I have learned since that day with my hippie/Jesus Movement class of young Jewish and Gentile believers. Let me tell you about other prophecies that are unfolding before us—recorded words of the Prophets that looked forward to our day.
If you question what I am saying, take “my” Scriptures and test them for yourself. Open your Bible and read. Ask the Lord to open your heart and mind and spirit. Leave behind preconceptions of the biblical record. Let the Lord speak to you. Ask for revelation. Seek wisdom. Be willing to be changed!
My own focus is sharpening. God’s heart for the Jewish people must be my heart for them. As our hearts turn with the longing He has for this specially called family, you and I will find ourselves under that age-old blessing spoken to Abraham, and our spirits will be quickened to read the global signs of the Messiah’s imminent return to claim all of His children—Jew and Gentile alike.
# A revolt against the Romans took place in A.D. 132, after the Roman Emperor Hadrian established a new city in Jerusalem and built in it a temple to Jupiter. The Bar Kokhba revolt is named after Simeon bar Koseva, later called Kokhba and thought by some to be the Messiah, who drove out the Romans. The designation Kokhba is thought to have been an allusion to the Numbers 24:17 reference to the “star” coming out of Judah, a messianic reference. The revolt was short-lived, ending in a Roman victory in A.D. 134. (“Bar Kokhba” and “The Bar Kokhba Revolt,” Encyclopaedia Judaica [Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia, 1997], CD-ROM.)
# If the vote were taken today, it would be hard to find a single nation that would approve Israel’s statehood. Even the United States is pressuring her to make concessions for peace with nations who have vowed to drive her into the sea.
# There was one brief interval in 164 B.C. when Judas Maccabaeus and his forces controlled Jerusalem, but it was only a matter of time before the Romans returned.