The first Africa Climate Summit opens Monday September 4 in Kenya to highlight the African continent that, in coming decades, will suffer the most from climate change while contributing to it the least.
The United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization said global temperatures recorded in July 2023 were among the hottest on record. Keeping Earth on a global warming fast track that could devastate large parts of humanity especially in Africa. The eight years since 2015 are the eight warmest ever registered, as are 20 of the last 21, evidence of a persistent and deepening trend.
The target of keeping long-term global warming within 2.7 Fahrenheit is moving out of reach, climate experts say, with nations failing to set more ambitious goals despite months of record-breaking heat on land and sea. Countries agreed in Paris in 2015 to try to keep long-term average temperature rises within 2.7, but there is now a 66% likelihood the annual mean will cross the 2.7 threshold for at least one whole year between now and 2027, the World Meteorological Organization predicted in May of 2023.
Human society changed more rapidly, violently and fundamentally in the last century of the second millennium than ever before in history. Doctors saved the lives of millions. Dictators sacrificed the lives of millions. Populations exploded and birthrates declined. Technology produced both worldwide prosperity and pollution at the same time.
Knowing all this, should we look upon the first century of the third millennium with optimistic hope or with fatalistic trepidation? Are the world and our society heading towards a wonder-filled new age, or toward a doomsday; or are both occurring concurrently because breakdown is always a prelude to breakthrough?
Many who believe in the Biblical vision of a Messianic Age use the insights of the Prophets of Israel to provide guidance in understanding the social, economic, scientific and cultural upheavals sweeping society. Usually it is the dramatic dangers of the pre-Messianic tribulation that are emphasized.
I will focus on the positive signs also developing throughout the world that fit with the Messianic visions of the Biblical Prophets which are well known to Protestant Churches in Africa.
In most religious traditions, redemption is defined only in terms of individual enlightenment or personal salvation. However, the Biblical Prophets of Israel conceived redemption as a transformation of human society that would occur through the catalyst of the transformation of the Jewish community. This transformation, which will take place in this world at some future time, is called the Messianic Age.
The transition to the Messianic Age is called the birth pangs of the Messiah. The birth of a redeemed Messianic world may be the result of an easy or difficult labor. If everyone would simply live according to the moral teachings of his or her religious tradition, we would ourselves bring about the Messianic Age.
But, if we will not do it voluntarily, it will come through social and political upheavals, worldwide conflicts and generation gaps. The Messiah and the Mahdi refers to agents of God who help bring about this transformation. The Jewish tradition teaches that these agents of God (there may be three or four such agents) will be human beings, with great leadership qualities similar to Prophets Moses, Jesus or Mohammed.
The arrival of the Messianic Age is what’s really important, not the personality of the agents who bring it about, since they are simply the instruments of God, who ultimately is the real Redeemer.
The Messianic Age is usually seen as the solution to all of humanity’s basic problems. This may be true in the long run but the vast changes the transition to the Messianic Age entails will provide challenges to society for many generations to come.
The vast improvements in human health are unprecedented in human history. Truly we will be coming close to Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy, “One who dies at 100 years shall be reckoned a youth, and one who fails to reach 100 shall be reckoned accursed.” (65:20) Such radical change will necessitate major changes in the way we think and act when faced with decisions about life and death
The fulfillment of Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy has thus gone unnoticed and uncelebrated. But even when the events are rapid and dramatic, people rarely connect them to their Messianic significance for very long.
The amazing rescue of 15,000 Ethiopian Jews in an airlift lasting less than 48 hours stirred and inspired people for a few weeks. Subsequently, the difficult problems the newcomers faced (similar to those of the 900,000+ recent Soviet immigrants) occupied the Jewish media.
Now both are taken for granted. The miracle has become routine. But if you had told the Jews of Ethiopia two generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a Messianic miracle.
If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a Messianic dream.
In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Prophet Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (43:5-6)
In 1948 only six percent of a global Jewish population of 11.5 million lived in Israel. Today 45% of the world’s 14.7 million Jews reside in the Jewish state.
Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget the past. Indeed, the Prophet Isaiah himself said, “Behold, I create a new Heaven and a new Earth, and former things shall not be remembered.” (65:17)
Where does the Messiah fit in with all of this? He will still have lots to do when he arrives. Most Orthodox Jews would not commit themselves to any individual as a Messiah unless he successfully rebuilds the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah, “He shall build the Temple of the Lord, and he shall bear the glory, he shall sit on the throne and rule, there shall be a priest before the throne, and peaceful counsel will exist between both of them.” (6:13)
Now that a large part of the Jewish people have returned to the Land of Israel, and resurrected a Jewish State, one might think that rebuilding a temple of the site where Solomon originally built one almost 3,000 years ago, would be relatively simple.
And it would, except for the fact that a Muslim Shrine presently occupies the site called, The Dome of the Rock. Often erroneously called the Mosque of Omar, it is not a mosque and it was not built by Omar. It was built in 691 CE by Abd-Al-Malik; and it is regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in the world. Any attempt to replace the Dome of the Rock would provoke a Muslim Holy War of cataclysmic proportions.
And Yitzhak Yosef, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, accused a right-wing National Cabinet Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of “sinning and causing others to sin” by visiting the Temple Mount. Ben Gvir, a far-right politician who regularly visits the holy site, has defied multiple rabbinical rulings stating that Orthodox Jewish law forbids Jews to enter the Temple Mount. Rabbi Yosef said, citing Jewish Orthodox laws about preserving the purity of the site, considered the holiest in Judaism.
There is, however, a lot of vacant land on the Temple Mount, and a small Jewish house of worship could be built adjacent to the Dome of the Rock, provided Muslims would cooperate, to have a large artificial reality, three dimensional hologram projection, broadcast from one of the detailed miniature models of the Second Temple already on exhibit in Jerusalem.
According to Rabbi Art Vernon, the concept of an ideal or heavenly Jerusalem emerged in Jewish tradition in the late second century CE five to six generations after the destruction of the Second Temple. There is a midrash, a rabbinic homily, in the name of Rabbi Yochanan, a leading rabbinic figure in Tiberias in the early third century, who asserts, (Rabbi Art Vernon, “The Heavenly Jerusalem,” in My Jewish Learning, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-heavenly-jerusalem/.) that in the future the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem will be reunited as one. This teaching is based on Psalms 122:3, “Jerusalem built up, a city knit together. “
According to the midrash, ‘knit together’ means the uniting of the earthly Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem as one. Rabbi Vernon says: “The midrashic literature from the second century on is filled with descriptions of the rebuilt Jerusalem of the future. Thus the Heavenly Temple in modern terms could be a large artificial reality, three dimensional projection, from a small physical space adjacent to the Dome of the Rock.
Most observers would agree that anyone who could arrange such Jewish-Muslim cooperation would really be the Messianic Ruler of Peace. (Isaiah 9:5) Christian support for such a cooperative venture would also be very important, and the recent, first time ever, appointment of the Latin Bishop of Jerusalem to the College of Cardinals is a sign of this possibility..
Anyone who can bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together in mutual respect and cooperation would surely fulfill the greatest of all Messianic predictions: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives; nation shall not take up sword against nation, they shall never again teach war.” (Isaiah 2:4)
This building of the “central sanctuary of the Holy Temple” could be, in the near future, a virtual reality broadcast from a small physical building near the Dome of the Rock. Just as millions of Muslims can daily join tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims praying and circling around the cube-shaped Kaaba at Islam’s most sacred site; Jews would be able to strap on a headset and enter the holy city of Jerusalem, and see the broadcast from the virtual Jerusalem Temple without ever leaving their own homes.
In this Jerusalem, we would all even be able to pray together in the Old City of Jerusalem, and even on Temple Mount, where Prophet Isaiah says: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).
Such Jewish/Christian/Muslim cooperation would not be possible without great spiritual leadership in all three religious communities. Thus, each community could consider its own leaders to be the Messiah and this would fulfill the culminating verses of Isaiah’s Messianic prophecy as enlarged upon by Prophet Micah (4:3-5),
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning knives. Nation shall not take up against nation, they shall never again teach war, but every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him, for it is the Lord of Hosts who spoke. Though all peoples walk each in the name of its God, we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”
Perhaps the Abraham Accords in the Mid-East will start a swing towards optimism and the fulfillment of another prophecy of Isaiah: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt, and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel will join a three-party alliance with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing upon the heart. The LORD of Hosts will bless them saying, “Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance.”…(Isaiah 19:23-5)