Cyrus – and the Islands
Does Boris Johnson’s election signal a shift in UK attitudes toward and relations with Israel?
Although Jesus made it clear that no-one (except the Father) knows the day or hour of his coming again, he said it was nevertheless our duty to watch for signs of its imminence. (Matt 24.42)
We must not be caught napping, and should also warn others of its reality. So it is appropriate that, with all the upheavals we have witnessed over the past decade, we should pause to consider where the hands of the prophetic clock are pointing.
Things have gone from bad to worse, as our Lord predicted they would in the last days, but hope is also springing forth. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, fresh from a resounding election victory, has pledged his unequivocal support both for our Jewish community and the worldwide body of Christ.
In a Christmas message, he stressed the day’s religious significance by saying: “Christmas Day is, first and foremost, a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.” And he vowed to fight for the millions of Christians who are being persecuted.
In a separate message marking Hanukkah (a Jewish festival which celebrates an ancient victory over godlessness), he was full of praise for the contribution to Britain’s welfare of the Jewish people.
Could this be a Cyrus moment marking a turning point in our dealings with Israel and a resuscitation of our own Judeo-Christian spirituality? Generations of politicians have carelessly abandoned the Ten Commandments with hardly a whimper of protest from the nation’s priests. But could it be that the great British public are no longer impressed? We may well have reached a tipping point in this regard as the general populace finally recognise political correctness as the emperor with no clothes.
Against this background, cracks have appeared in the institutional church. And the destruction it is helping to bring about by its silence could well come down on its own head, especially after the appointment as Archbishop of York of Stephen Cottrell, who believes the Bible should submit to the culture of the day.
A breakaway movement would severely undermine its foundations. Former chaplain to the Queen Gavin Ashenden has already jumped ship to join the Catholics, accusing Anglican leaders of surrendering to the new orthodoxy of a liberal Left that is ‘highly intolerant of dissenting views’.
Julian Mann, vicar of a Sheffield area parish for the past 19 years, has also defected in order to lead the Morecambe branch of the Free Church of England, a smaller Anglican denomination formed in the mid-19th century.
In a blog post, he accused the C of E’s governing body, the General Synod, of neo-Stalinism in passing a motion calling for the banning of same-sex-attracted people being allowed to choose therapy to help them form heterosexual relationships.
He clearly also expects the official authorisation of homosexual weddings which, if it comes about, will mean the Church of England “will have ceased to be a recognisably Christian denomination but rather a religious subsidiary of the socially Marxist establishment of post-Christian Britain”.
The state of the church is well illustrated by York Minster – beautiful on the outside but lacking spiritual life within. In 1984 York Minster narrowly survived what I believe was a clear warning from God when a devastating fire followed a lightning strike shortly after an unbelieving bishop was consecrated there.
Jesus railed against the hypocritical religious leaders: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.” (Matt 23.27)
Yet just across the road from the Minster, virtually within its shadow, stands the relatively modest St Michael-le-Belfry, a thriving Anglican church where the gospel is faithfully preached.
Enter Boris Johnson, who brings to mind the Emperor Cyrus of ancient Persia. I am simply acknowledging that God would seem to be using him for his good purposes. It doesn’t necessarily mean he is morally superior to his rivals; but it does mean that he may be pliable enough to respond to divine prompting.
Cyrus did not even acknowledge God, and yet blessed the chosen people. Boris, who has Jewish ancestry, stands with both Christians and Jews.
I believe it’s significant that Isaiah, who prophesied how God would use Cyrus (even naming him), also mentioned on several occasions how ‘the islands’ would also put their hope in God and play a key role in Israel’s restoration.
Many commentators suggest that the text here refers to the British Isles. And the context of their involvement in Judeo-Christian aspirations is set firmly around the issue of restoring justice – both to Israel as an unjustified pariah on the world scene and within our own islands where the word of God has been trampled underfoot.
After prophesying of the One who will bring justice on earth, Isaiah wrote: “In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isa 42.4) Twice more in the same chapter the prophet again references ‘the islands’ as proclaiming God’s praise – think how many of the world’s most loved hymns were penned by British believers.
Speaking further of Israel’s restoration, Isaiah writes of Cyrus as God’s “shepherd [who] will accomplish all that I please” (Isa 44.28). He is even referred to as God’s ‘anointed’ (Isa 45.1) raised up to “rebuild my city and set my exiles free” (Isa 45.13). Why? So that all the world, especially Israel, would acknowledge him as creator before whom, one day, “every knee will bow” (Isa 45.23).
God is intimately involved in politics. So listen for the ticking of the prophetic clock and teach your fellowships to tell the time. And pray earnestly for our Prime Minister (see 1 Timothy 2.2), that he will continue to submit to God’s prompting and be used to help bring spiritual healing to our land.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; and A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International