Thursday, February 23, 2006

If a Place was Gone

Yesterday the place in Samarra, Iraq, where the Shi'ite Muslims believe their messiah will return was partly destroyed.

This morning the situation appears to be extremely tense but not explosive.

About a year ago I read a fictional novel in which, towards the end, Jerusalem was utteryly destroyed. (In the story it was not a nuclear attack, but a different different kind of attack that turned everything within a few miles of the city center to powder.)

That chapter was shocking because previous chapters had all happened in America and presented no foreshadowing that the action would move to the Middle East or an entire city would be destroyed. And I was also left with an odd feeling because the "willing suspension of disbelief" I had as a reader was also demolished.

In retrospect there was no basis for this personal reaction. The prophetic events of Zechariah 12-14 and Revelation could be fulfilled years in the future, in a Jerusalem rebuilt from dust. Zechariah 14:2 makes it quite clear that the city does not have a shield of divine protection.

Yet I have a caring and love for that city, even though I have never been there. It seems inconceivable that after so much has survived so long that everything would vanish in moment.

This week I can sympathize with the Shi'ite shock and pain.

I am studying the books of Haggai and Zechariah. Both of these prophets apparently see the rebuilding of the Temple as an indication that the messianic era is imminent. Indeed, both even name Zerubbabel as the messiah (Haggai 2:22-23 and the combination of Zechariah 4:8-9 and Zechariah 6:10-13).

Zerubbabel quickly disappears from history. The Jewish people had been facing many enemies for 17 years after returning from exile, and perhaps being named messiah was fatal. Jewish kingship ends and there is a long delay until the next Israelite secular ruler rises (about 400 years, until the Maccabees).

Zerubabel is in Yeshua's lineage in Luke 3:27 and Matthew 1:12. He really was chosen, but only in lineage and not as himself being the messiah. This is consistent with scriptural language, in which a person's name often refers to a specific descendant of that person. Anyone told (as in Haggain 2:22-23) that "in that Day" he would be chosen should understand it probably means his descendant in the far future. But given the tone of Haggai and Zechariah, the fall of Zerubabel must have been a terrible shock to him as well as to Haggai and Zechariah. (Zerubbabel's partner, Joshua the high priest, apparently lives a little longer and does more in his lifetime.)

Scripture predicts that the Jewish people will be brought back to the land of Israel, that it be restored from desert to blossoming like a rose, and that God will never allow the Jewish people to be scattered again. It is tempting to be convinced that these prophecies are being fulfilled in our days. But it could still happen that Jerusalem is destroyed and the Jewish people of the Land are driven into Diaspora. Our generation would not be the first to have been disappointed after thinking that they were seeing fulfillment of these prophecies of everlasting return and restoration.