The Link Between Bethlehem and Bahrain

Jesus showed up in Bethlehem, in person. It's an amazing story. Over the festive season many (who have the luxury of doing so) will have tuned out the grim news from the Middle East and tuned into that wonderful miracle of God coming to live among us in Bethlehem, Judea, 2000 years ago. And the physical real estate connected with His coming has suddenly become very important again. Keeping both the Bible and current events in mind, what's going on in the Middle East from a biblical point of view at the moment? And what has Bethlehem got to do with Bahrain?

A Silent Night in Bethlehem

Today Bethlehem and Nazareth are now both Muslim dominated cities. In 2023 the usual Christian celebrations were cancelled, ostensibly in sympathy with the Palestinian cause. Wild claims that Jesus was in fact a Palestinian gained major traction on TikTok and other social media. Images of a keffiyeh clad baby in a cradle of rubble in a Bethlehem church went viral, attempting to erase the Jewish identity of Jesus and imagining He might have been exempt from terrible fate assured of any Jewish person who ends up in the hands of Hamas. Worse, an AI image of Jesus dressed in Hamas military uniform has also been doing the rounds. There's a demonic attempt to rip the Christian faith away from the ongoing story Israel. To recast Jesus as Palestinian is to tear the King of the Jews away from His own family. It can't be done. The birthplace of the Messiah was in Bethlehem, Judea, and Jesus is from the line of Judah. But since God loves the Palestinians as much as the Jews, why does it matter? Because God incarnate needed a family and a land to be born into, and they are both known by the name of Israel. This irks a lot of people terribly.

Christmas was also banned in Iran, perhaps less surprisingly. What might surprise you though is the number of Iranians who protested. Huge crowds gathered to worship at the Cathedral in Isfehan on Christmas Day, and videos showed a boy on his father's shoulders pounding on the locked door, unable to enter, shouting “Jesus, please open the door!” The crowds chanted, “Behind these closed doors, Jesus is waiting!” An Iranian friend explains, “They have heard Jesus' message of peace and tranquility to the world!”

50,000 mosques in Iran have now closed as people have abandoned Islam in droves, sick of the evil Islamic regime they've suffered under. Now many are turning to Jesus instead. We are praying that a similar phenomenon will happen in Gaza as disillusionment with Hamas becomes more widespread.

Meanwhile, terrorists from extremist Muslim groups slaughtered hundreds of Christians over the Christmas weekend in Nigeria, adding to the 50,000 murdered there since the introduction of Sharia law. That massacre got a lot less attention, along with many other evils and tragedies which don't involve Israel. But the fact that there are people in Iran and Nigeria who love and worship Jesus testifies that that the good news birthed in Bethlehem went out from Israel, across the Middle East, and is reaching the ends of the earth. It's gone global. And the murderous hatred of the antichrist spirit isn't far behind wherever the gospel goes.

If the incarnation sowed the seed of the Messianic Age and the long wait until His return is the time of gestation, we are surely in the last stages before the birth. And the birth pangs hurt.

Bethlehem and Bahrain

Fireworks and celebrations circled the globe as the new year 2024 came in, but Israel was having an altogether different display of ballistics in the sky. Unwanted fireworks, as some have said. Rockets were fired into multiple cities from Gaza as the clock struck midnight. Hamas is not letting up in its determination to destroy Israel, or at least kill as many as possible. What happened to the Abraham Accords? The nations around Israel have created hostile battle lines on every side, much as described in Psalm 83, but we need to also keep in mind the seismic developments of the Abraham Accords and the Middle East peace plan. First to sign up to normalize relations with Israel were Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, later joined by Morocco and Sudan. Saudi Arabia was just about to join before Israel was so viciously attacked. In fact, many believe this imminent peace deal was part of the reason behind the attack. These matters all have a significant bearing on preparing the ground for the Messiah's return.

The scene is being set. But what is hard to take for many Christians is that it is all so… political. This makes many squeamish. For 2000 years believers have got used to worshiping in Spirit and in truth with no need for a temple, a mountain, or even a land. Many have been lulled into believing that this will continue forever. But it won't.

Things are about to get real again. In fact, they have been getting very real for the last hundred years or so. If the first coming of Jesus required a land, a family, and a physical environment to enter into, so it will be for His glorious return.

The geo-political landscape is shifting into place and lining up for the exact scenario foretold in the Bible. If Bethlehem represented part of the physical infrastructure for the first coming, Bahrain and the Arab nations in the new Abraham Accords represent the development of the reality that Jesus will return to.

Just as there were very specific and literal prophecies about the first coming (born in Bethlehem – Micah 5:2, of a virgin – Isaiah 7:14, from the tribe of Judah – Genesis 49:10, out of Egypt – Hosea 11:1 etc) so there are very specific and literal prophecies about the second (He will return to Jerusalem – Matthew 23:37-39, stand on the Mount of Olives – Zechariah 14:4, defeat Israel's enemies – Isaiah 63:1-6, and Jewish people will welcome Him back to Israel – Ezekiel 20:40). Bahrain's acceptance of Israel along with other Arab states is helping to pave the way towards the 7 year peace deal with Israel that will be broken half way through, as the Bible says (Daniel 9:27). We may not know exactly how all these matters will pan out, just as it must have been somewhat perplexing to contemplate how a virgin would give birth, but not one word of God will fall to the ground. Watch and see. But we need to be prepared for things to start changing.

It's all about Jesus

The ascension of Jesus and outpouring of His Spirit on all flesh catapulted the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob out to the nations. Before that moment our faith was firmly tethered to the land. Trudging through deserts, digging wells, building walls and fighting enemies… the story of the Bible, Israel, and God's plan for humanity can be literally be found in the ground in archaeological digs. The story started in Iraq but mainly took place in Israel, with other places such as Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, and Rome having parts to play. A physical Israel, both land and people, were required for His first coming. A nation called Judea, a stable in Bethlehem, and a Roman occupation that insisted on taking a census (and with a penchant for crucifixions) all had to be in place. However just as an airplane has no need of airport facilities while in the air, ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, the physical reality of Israel has been unnecessary. Once Jesus sent His Spirit to live in the hearts of each believer, from that moment, our faith became airborne. Believers in Brazil or South Korea can live their lives without need of a temple since He lives within us all by His Spirit, anywhere in the world.

It's been this way for two millennia and we have got very used to it. However Jesus is returning soon, and preparing a landing strip will become necessary again. The ground must be ready. God's word will come to pass exactly as He said, with or without us.

The people must be back in the land of their forefathers, which means Israel had to be regathered. According to Scripture, when Jesus returns there will be a temple in Jerusalem again, and the surrounding nations will be on the brink of annihilating Israel after a broken peace treaty. These things must take place.

Bahrain has taken the opposite stance to Bethlehem in this round of war, condemning the massacre committed by Hamas and standing with Israel. The kings of the south seem to be allied with one another and with Israel, Houthi rebels excepting. We will see more of this developing in time to come.

Prepare the way

If you find yourself struggling with ancient biblical passages about war and conquest which seem to be endorsed by God, you are not alone. War is hell, as the watching world sees in full color. What's interesting is that just as the presence of Israel in the land of promise was hotly contested and hard fought the first time around, so it is again now. We're back in physical mode after 2000 years, and everything is being readied on the ground once again, this time in preparation for the second coming.

Jesus had to be born into the physical land of Israel through the physical people of Israel as the prophets foretold, and He will once again return again to the same patch of real estate to be welcomed by his family in the flesh.

This simply wasn't a possibility for the vast majority of church history, to the point that most doubted that Israel had any further role in God's plans, but it is very much in focus now.

Israel matters because the God of Israel matters. His plan is that the Messiah would come, both times, to this land. And the Jewish people are integral to the story—to be clear, this is not because they are better in any way, but Israel has been chosen for God's purposes. Just like the donkey that unwittingly became part of the Triumphal Entry when Jesus needed a colt to fulfill prophecy. Moreover, the future destiny of nations like Iran, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia also feature in the Bible. These matters are not allegorical.

As the Messiah prepares to come again to Jerusalem, our airborne faith needs once again to accommodate the physical. His feet will stand on the earth. Israel's enemies are real and physical, not only spiritual. The land is made of earth, sand, and dust. The people are flesh and blood. The boundaries of nations are forged in meetings of men and trying to avoid politics is like trying to avoid physics. They are realities that are part and parcel of setting the scene for the return of the King. Battles must be fought and blood will be spilled because Satan and his adherents will not just acquiesce. They'll fight against God every step of the way. The loss of the Ottoman Empire in 1917 is still smarting in much of the Muslim world, and every inch of lost ground must be reclaimed in the Islamic mindset. But God has put His stake in the ground and Israel is not budging on His watch. It will, however get very messy.

The tumult across the Middle East which has made refugees of so many—Jews, Palestinians, Syrians, you name it—is all part of the inevitable birth pangs of wars and shakings, and a terrible increase of evil. But 1948 was key. Israel was reestablished and God is regathering His people. Physically. We can either work with God, helping to prepare the way, or oppose His plans as He readies Himself to return. God is allowing individuals and nations the freedom to hate Him, His Messiah, His people and His plans. Freewill is hardwired into God's created order. But He knows exactly how it will all work out and fit together, and He cares for all the peoples of the Middle East. He hasn't forgotten anyone. The raging of the nations shouldn't be a surprise to us any more than the oppressive presence of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. But we can take solace from the fact it's all been foreseen and accommodated for in God's perfect plan. The Messiah is coming to save.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace.
(Micah 5:2-5)

Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

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