Remembering Jerusalem: A Memoir of the Holy City

BFB210514 Caesarea Hippodrome 150520
The ancient Hippodrome at Caesarea, looking north toward the city. (Photo by Albert J. McCarn, May 20, 2015.)

To be honest, my first significant, personal connection with the land of Israel did not come in Jerusalem, but in Caesarea. That was in May 2015, when I stood in the Hippodrome, a place where Rome’s dominance of the Holy Land was on full display in the form of chariot races, gladiatorial contests, and other spectacles. As I surveyed the excavated remains of this ancient arena, my mind wasn’t on the spectacles, but on the significance of the city of Caesarea to me, a Christian born in the nations. At that moment, I realized my connection to the Living God of Israel can be traced directly to that ancient city, the Roman capitol of Judea. It was there that the centurion Cornelius received the testimony of Peter the apostle and became the first Gentile follower of Jesus Christ (Acts 10). There Paul was imprisoned before he was taken to Rome to stand trial before Caesar, having opportunity to testify before two governors and a king (Acts 23:12-27:2). There also the last Herod died, vainly receiving the praise of the people shortly after he authorized the execution of James, brother of John, and the persecution of the Jerusalem Messianic community (Acts 12). The realization of all these things at once not only made the city come alive, but established within me an enduring bond with the land God cares for (Deuteronomy 11:10-12).

But Caesarea is not the Holy City. It was once the center of power in Israel – the regional center of a foreign occupying power, a beastly conqueror that prefigured the final occupying power destined to enslave all the world for a season. There is historical and spiritual significance to Caesarea, and the spiritually astute can sense it. However, it is not the place of God’s throne. That is in Jerusalem – in Zion, the Mountain of the Lord (Micah 4:1-5). There that God revealed Himself to Abraham, confirming the covenant when the Patriarch obeyed even to the point of offering his promised son and heir Isaac to the Lord in faithful, expectant obedience (Genesis 22). There the Lord established His Name, promising to David, the king He had chosen, that the Redeemer of Israel and the world would come through his line (2 Samuel 7:8-17; 2 Chronicles 6:5-6). Jews and Christians alike know this, and both expectantly await Messiah’s coming to Jerusalem to sit on David’s throne and rule the nations in an era of true peace (Zechariah 14:1-9).

These things I have known for a long time. Long before my first visit to the Holy City, I learned and believed these truths born of the Almighty’s firm promises. Yet until now they have flitted through my consciousness as background noise to the constant churning of an inquisitive mind. The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Jerusalem added substance to the impressions and images of my book learning. The beautiful people I have encountered there – Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others – bring the city to life and establish for me a connection with antiquity. Jerusalem has always been the place where nations rub shoulders, where holy intersects with common, and where heaven meets earth. How could it be otherwise? It is the center of the world, and has been ever since, according to one Jewish tradition, the Creator formed the first human from its soil. Why? The Midrash says:

He took his dust from that spot on which the Holy Temple with the altar of atonement was in later times to be built of which it is said, (Exodus 20:24) “An altar of earth thou shalt make for Me” saying, “Would that this sacred earth may be an expiation for him so that he may be able to endure.” (Genesis Rabbah 14:8)

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Israel Defense Forces Facebook post, May 13, 2021.

As I write, Jerusalem is once again a battle ground. The long, complicated series of events that has led to the restoration of the Holy City to Israel, with the exception of the holiest place of all, is in this very moment enduring a new season of turmoil. Jerusalem, and especially the Har Habayit – the Temple Mount – really is the center of the world. It is the place of mankind’s creation, atonement, redemption, and final restoration. Why should we be surprised that empires and peoples have wrestled over it since time immemorial? That is why Arabs and Jews, Muslims and Christians cannot let the status quo continue. Jerusalem is the crucible in which God holds the fate of the world. Those who strive to wrest it from His hands suffer mightily in the attempt. He alone determines who shall be its custodian, and scripture tells me He has designated the seed of Abraham as the stewards of His Holy City. Until it is firmly and irrevocably in their hands, then the world shall remain in endless turmoil.

Hence the reason we pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

May it come soon, and in our day.

This article was written and originally published for the Nations 9th of Av on May 13, 2021.

The State of Israel and Ephraim’s Awakening: An Academic Investigation by Stephen Hindes

The concept of the "nation-state" was a product of the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648. The nation-state, however, is not the ultimate expression of God's Kingdom order. (The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, Gerard Terborch.)
The concept of the “nation-state” was a product of the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years War in 1648. The nation-state, however, is not the ultimate expression of God’s Kingdom order. (The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster, by Gerard Terborch.)

Thinking is hard.  If it were not hard, then more people would do it.

In truth, all of us prefer to remain in our comfort zones, where familiar things surround us – including familiar answers to questions and familiar solutions to familiar problems.  Most likely this preference for the familiar, the things we know and can deal with well enough, is a big reason few people take an active role in making the way for Messiah to come.

That last statement is bound to generate opposition.  Those who view it from the Christian side (including Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers) will say that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) is the Messiah (Christ means Messiah, by the way), that he has come once, and that he will be coming back.  Those who approach from the Jewish side say that Messiah is yet to come.  The point of this article is not to address either perspective, but to consider something both have in common:  the faithful expectation that Messiah Son of David is coming as King of Israel to rule the nations from Zion.

If we all have this common expectation, then it would be wise to consider what that future Messianic realm will look like.  Maybe we should even consider what we have to do to make it happen.

This is where we run into the hard part.  We have to think about it, and that is scary and uncomfortable.  Those of us who have come from the Christian side have lived our lives expecting Messiah to return and fix everything.  According to our expectations, there is no effort required on our part to bring him here; he just shows up one day according to some predetermined timetable God established from the beginning.  To think, like our Jewish brethren, that we have responsibility for creating the conditions for Messiah’s coming (or return) requires a major paradigm shift.  It means we must step out in faith and do things that we usually leave up to God alone.

But then, that is the consistent testimony of Scripture –

  • Noah had to do things to secure the salvation of his family (such as think about how to follow the instructions God gave him to build that very large boat, and then actually do the work).
  • Abraham had to do things to receive the promises God gave him (such as pack up and leave comfortable, civilized Mesopotamia, and go to a hostile foreign land – first in Syria, and then in Canaan).
  • Moses had to do things to receive God’s instructions for the nation of Israel (such as walk to Egypt, then convince the elders of the people that God had spoken to him, and then seek an audience with Pharaoh – and that was only the beginning of the work he had to do!)

There are many more examples summarized in Hebrews 11.  The people in that “Hall of Faith” chapter deserve praise not because they sat around waiting for God to move, but because they got up and did the moving themselves in response to God’s promises.  As they moved, He provided direction, resources, help from others, and miraculous intervention when necessary.  Yet would YHVH have done so if they had not invested their own blood, sweat, treasure, and intellectual effort?

Probably not.  In fact, when God’s people sat around waiting for Him to move, He had to take extreme action just to get them off their backsides and into motion!  We see that in the record of the apostles.  Even though Yeshua had told them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, they were content to remain in Jerusalem until God raised up a man named Saul of Tarsus who forced them out (see Acts 8).

Which brings us to the dilemma of the present day.  Are we really at the “end of the age”, when Messiah is about to show up?  If so, what does that mean?  More importantly, what are we to do about it?  How do we prepare for Messiah’s reign in what will be a very real Kingdom centered in a very real place called Jerusalem?  What will this Kingdom look like?  How will it resemble what we know today in the modern nation-state system?  How will it be different?

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For the times they are a changin’ – UNITED 2 RESTORE

Our expectation of dramatic Divine intervention often prevents us from recognizing the miracles God works through human beings in less spectacular ways, such as when He inspired Nehemiah to direct the rebuilding of Jerusalem's wall. (Gustave Doré, Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls.)
Our expectation of dramatic Divine intervention often prevents us from recognizing the miracles God works through human beings in less spectacular ways, such as when He inspired Nehemiah to direct the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. (Gustave Doré, Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem’s Walls)

There is no doubt that God works in big, dramatic ways.  The problem for most of us is that we are so inclined to expect Him to do so that we miss the miracles happening right in front of us.  For example, consider this prophecy we read about in Jeremiah:

“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that it shall no more be said, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘The Lord lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where He had driven them.’  For I will bring them back into their land which I gave to their fathers.”  (Jeremiah 16:14-15 NKJV)

This is the Second Exodus.  It is so important that YHVH had Jeremiah record it twice (see Jeremiah 23:7-8).  In fact, this restoration of the entire nation of Israel is the largest single prophetic topic in all of Scripture.  Yeshua’s disciples asked Him about it just before He left them (Acts 1:6).  The reason they asked was that He had accomplished so many other Messianic prophecies, but since He had not restored the Kingdom to Israel, and so they wanted to know when He would do so. 

By the way, that is also a question our Jewish brethren have – if Yeshua of Nazareth really is Messiah, why is Israel not completely regathered from the nations with a son of David ruling over them from Zion?  It’s a valid question.  Those of us from the Christian side of the house are satisfied with the answer that Messiah comes twice:  first as the Suffering Servant (Messiah son of Joseph), and then as the Conquering King (Messiah son of David).  Our Jewish brethren are not satisfied with that answer, which is why the greatest test before us all in this day is whether we can still get along on terms of mutual acceptance and respect in the expectation that God Himself will reveal the full answer to all of us in His timing.

As for the Second Exodus, we are prone to expect that it will unfold in ways similar to the First Exodus.  You know:  the prophet and his brother confront the mighty dictator, supernatural judgments rain down from heaven, the seas split, and the people are delivered.  That sort of thing.

But what if the Second Exodus happens differently?  What if it’s not so dramatic?  Would we still recognize it as a miracle?  Would we praise God because He had done something even greater than the Exodus from Egypt?

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Today I Am A Hebrew: An Address to the B’ney Yosef North America Summit

B'ney Yosef North America Articles of Declaration presented by Elder Barry Phillips (r) and Executive Director Albert McCarn (l) upon affirmation on March 5, 2016.
B’ney Yosef North America Articles of Declaration presented by Elder Barry Phillips (r) and Executive Director Albert McCarn (l) upon affirmation on March 5, 2016.

Those who have attended a birth understand the chaos involved.  It is no easy process, and not accomplished without pain.  As in everything else, the Scripture gives us a helpful perspective:

Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world.  (John 16:21 NASB)

A child was born into the world on the shore of Tampa Bay on March 6, 2016.  After 2,730 years of non-existence, a portion of the long-lost tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel have declared themselves to be a people again.  This is the North American assembly of the House of Joseph, known prophetically in Scripture by the name of Ephraim, the tribe that led them into rebellion against the House of David (I Kings 12).

Does that sound radical?  Fanciful?  Foolish?  Perhaps, but then so also were the declarations of provincial English colonists to be a nation distinct from the mighty empire that ruled them; or of a collection of European Jews to call the Jewish nation back into existence at the First Zionist Congress; and of another generation of ordinary Jewish people to establish Israel as an independent state in the face of certain annihilation.

If the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not in these things, why do we look to them now for inspiration and example?  And if God is not in this process of restoring the people He long ago said would one day be a people again, then why did the assembly in St. Petersburg, Florida on March 6, 2016, occur in the midst of such a weighty presence of the Lord?

In days to come much will be shared about the birth of B’ney Yosef North America.  Already it is in the international press, thanks to Breaking Israel News.  What I can share is that the signing of the Articles of Declaration which tell the world who we are was a holy undertaking.  One who was there signing these articles shared with me that there are no words to describe holy things; putting words to them brings them down to the realm of the common.  She is right; there are no words to do this justice.

The words I can share are those which opened the B’ney Yosef North America Summit on March 4.  It was my honor to deliver the keynote address to the 200 people assembled there from Canada and the United States, with observers from Israel and the Netherlands.  This address explains the purposes of the gathering.  We accomplished those purposes.  What more we accomplished is yet to be seen.


 

Today I Am A Hebrew
Albert Jackson McCarn
presented at the B’ney Yosef North America Summit
St. Petersburg, Florida
March 4, 2016

 If you have not realized it by now, let me explain why we are assembled in St. Petersburg, Florida today.  We are here to welcome the birth of a new nation.  It is no coincidence that our gathering is happening at the time that another nation is marking nearly two centuries since its birth.  I speak of the place I now call home, the place our brother Hanoch Young calls the Nation of Texas.

The Fall of the Alamo, or Crockett's Last Stand, by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk. Although flawed, this iconoclastic rendition of the Battle of the Alamo depicts the heroic image of the Alamo's defenders as it has come down through history.
The Fall of the Alamo, or Crockett’s Last Stand, by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk. Although flawed, this iconoclastic rendition of the Battle of the Alamo depicts the heroic image of the Alamo’s defenders as it has come down through history.

Two days ago, on March 2, Texans observed the 180th anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Texas.  On March 2, 1836, the Texas Declaration of Independence was adopted in convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  News of that declaration did not have time to reach the 200 men besieged in an old Spanish Catholic mission in San Antonio de Béxar before the great battle that claimed their lives.  Today, 180 years ago, March 4, 1836, those men knew only that they faced the stark choice between surrender or death at the hands of an enemy that outnumbered them 12 to 1.  Two days hence, as we conclude our gathering on March 6, Texans will honor the memory of those 200 who laid down their lives at the Alamo fighting for a cause they did not fully understand and a nation they did not really know, but which their selfless sacrifice helped to bring into existence.

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Reverse Replacement Theology?

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these thing shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33 KJV)
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these thing shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33 KJV)

One of those songs I recall singing in church as a youth begins like this:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God

And His righteousness;

And all these things shall be added unto you,

Hallelu, Hallelujah!

(“Seek ye first”, by Karen Lafferty, 1971)

It is a good song taken directly from Scripture.  This particular chorus is from Matthew 6:33, as rendered in the King James:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these thing shall be added unto you.  (Matthew 6:33 KJV)

Like so many things in my Christian upbringing, I do not recall a succinct explanation of this instruction by Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ).  Perhaps it was assumed that we would absorb the meaning in our Sunday School classes or in our own study of the Bible.  Even the Biblical instruction I received in my Christian school never included a full disclosure of what the Kingdom of God is, or a definition of righteousness.  This is not to say that my Christian upbringing was without value; I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to the teachers, pastors, and counselors who labored lovingly to help me become a disciple of Jesus and to impart their love of the Word of God and the God of the Word.  However, there were some holes in my education, particularly regarding the specifics of certain key terms in my Christian vocabulary.

Righteousness was one of those terms.  Simply put, it is being right according to YHVH’s standards.  Moses provides the details in the Torah.  The rest of the Bible elaborates on that foundation, providing examples of how God’s people succeeded or failed in meeting those standards.  When we get to the Apostolic Writings (New Testament), we see those standards demonstrated by the example of Yeshua, and then we find commentary by the Apostles.  Consequently, even though I cannot recall anyone giving me a definition of righteousness when I was young, it was easy enough to figure out what Yeshua meant when He commanded us to seek it.

But then there is that problematic term, “Kingdom of God”.  What exactly is that?  The Bible tells me about the Kingdom of Israel and about the Kingdom of Heaven, but in my church upbringing it seldom occurred to me that the two might be the same.  And in fact they are the same.  Much Christian teaching has attempted to separate the two, but doing so leaves the Kingdom of God as nothing more than a nebulous, over-spiritualized concept.  The Kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, is a concrete, definable, knowable entity, and all the people of God are part of it.  It matters not whether they are Jewish or of Gentile background.  The terms of the New (or Renewed) Covenant tell us that YHVH has executed this agreement only with the people of Israel and Judah (see Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:8-11).  Isaiah 56:4-8 explains that foreigners will join themselves to the Lord and come into His Temple, the house of prayer for all nations.  Paul tells us how this will happen, explaining in Romans 11 how non-Jews are “grafted into” the olive tree of Israel along with Jews, and in Ephesians 2 how faith in Messiah Yeshua makes these former Gentiles part of the Commonwealth of Israel.  As if there were any doubt, John records the proclamation of the angel at the end of this age that the kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15).  With that kind of Scriptural foundation, no wonder the ancient carol proclaims, “Born is the King of Israel!”

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