Woodrow Wilson, America’s Great War President

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One hundred years ago today World War One began. The President of the US in 1914 was Woodrow Wilson.

Woodrow Wilson was a committed Christian from a Presbyterian background. It was not a secret that his faith guided his politics.

Wilson’s best known for a couple of things.

First, he kept the US out of World War One for about 2 1/2 years.

Wilson was an idealist and a post-millennialist, meaning he believed that the church would usher in 1000 year reign of Christ on earth, a reign of peace. He thought of himself as an instrument toward that end. Wilson’s views coincided with the isolationist views of many Americans-Americans who wanted nothing to do with what they saw as European dynastic squabbles linked to the various empires.

Wilson probably would have succeeded in keeping the US out of the war indefinitely had it not been for two things.

The first was the German use of unrestricted submarine warfare. The British had blockaded Germany with their fleet and the Germans attempted to blockade Britain with their submarines thus denying Britain war material from the US. It also should be noted that while many Americans opposed the US getting involved in the war they did not mind profiting from the war. Not only that both Britain and France had effective propaganda machines at work in the US that made the most of painting the Germans as “Huns” the terror of Europe in the 4th and 5th centuries. As a result  most Americans were sympathetic to Britain and France and when the Germans sank civilian liners like the Lusitania the propaganda rang true.

The Lusitania was perhaps the most famous ship sunk by a submarine. It was primarily a passenger ship although it also was carrying war material when it was sunk by a German U-boat. A large number of Americans were on board and its sinking enraged the American public.

The Lusitania was perhaps the most famous ship sunk by a submarine. It was primarily a passenger ship although it also was carrying war material when it was sunk by a German U-boat. A large number of Americans were on board and its sinking enraged the American public. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Lusitania

For a time and because Germany really didn’t want war with the US they stopped unrestricted submarine warfare but  the Germans grew more desperate by 1917 and so they resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and that pushed Wilson toward war.

To add fuel to the fire the Germans attempted to make an alliance with Mexico assuming the Mexicans wanted to regain what was lost in the Mexican-American War of 1847-48. The proposal was uncovered in the famous Zimmerman telegram and although Mexico refused the offer it was enough to push the US into the war in April, 1917.

A translated copy of the Zimmerman telegram that appeared in the Washington Post. http://spotlights.fold3.com/2012/07/02/zimmermann-telegram/

A translated copy of the Zimmerman telegram that appeared in the Washington Post. http://spotlights.fold3.com/2012/07/02/zimmermann-telegram/

Wilson did not give up on his peaceful ideals and after the war ended it was Wilson who proposed the League of Nations, the forerunner of the UN.

Like today’s UN the League was supposed to be a peaceful way for countries to settle their disputes and like the UN it failed miserably.

Ironically, Wilson could not get Congress to support the League and it caused him much embarrassment.

The question that should be asked by a thinking person of faith, is why do noble efforts at peace that include ideas like the League of Nations and the UN fail?

The reader of the Scriptures knows the answer. At the root of these failures at peace is sin-sin that is ingrained into human nature. We have only to look around the world today to see that it is true. Whether its massive struggles such as World War One and Two or smaller conflicts ever since, the root is human nature and it’s desire to exert control or gain advantage over another. Jesus predicted in Matthew 24 that there would wars and rumors of wars until he returns so we ought not be all that surprised to see so much conflict going on around the world.

Wilson’s post-millennialism led him to believe that eventually the church (meaning genuine believers) would eventually convert enough people to Christ and that in turn would usher in Christ’s second coming and reign on earth. He saw himself as an instrument toward that eventual end. He died without seeing any progress toward those goals.

Although by today’s definition Wilson would be considered a progressive or a liberal but unlike many today he at least had the courage of his convictions born out of a deep faith. I simply believe he read the prophetic texts of Scripture wrong.

Christian History article on Woodrow Wilson’s faith.

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Wars and Rumors of Wars

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I don’t know why anyone is surprised that Russia has gobbled up the Crimea. Just because Russia is not officially communist anymore does not mean they do not have national ambitions for territory. It amazes me that our current President seems to think that making statements about international law would deter an aggressor.

Russian Armored Personnel Carriers in the Crimea.

Russian Armored Personnel Carriers in the Crimea.

And that this occurs at the same time that the western democracies decrease their military forces strikes me as short-sighted and naive.

From a BBC story that says it means there will be no global US-UK. partnership like we've seen in the gulf wars. But it's not just the UK cutting back. It's the US as well as the Secretary of Defense recently stated. He wants to cut the US forces back to pre-WW2 levels. The Soviet Union, the Chi-Coms and other potentially hostile nations have no such plans.

From a BBC story that says it means there will be no global US-UK. partnership like we’ve seen in the gulf wars. But it’s not just the UK cutting back. It’s the US as well as the Secretary of Defense recently stated. He wants to cut the US forces back to pre-WW2 levels. The Soviet Union, the Chi-Coms and other potentially hostile nations have no such plans.

It reminds me of how the left vilified then President Bush for declaring that North Korea, Iran and Iraq constituted an axis of evil as if there were no such thing as evil. It’s almost as if we live in a sort of collective denial and that if we’re nice then so will the rest of the world be nice.

And let’s not forget the Jihadi nations like Iran and terror organizations like Hezbollah.

Hezbollah

Hezbollah

Jesus said there would be wars and rumors of wars in Matthew 24:

 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” [4] And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. [5] For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. [6] And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. [7] For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. [8] All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
(Matthew 24:3-8 ESV)

Conflict is something that the world will endure until the end of the age. Until that time we would be wise not to let out guard down and realize it is not a safe world out there.

The Destruction of Herod’s Temple

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bar_kochba_coin1

The picture of the coin is from a historical\archaeological blog I subscribe too. The coin is called a Bar Kockhba coin.

Bar Kockhba led a Jewish revolt against the Romans (reign of Hadrian) in 132-136 A.D. The Romans won and the result was many Jews were disbursed throughout the Roman Empire to lessen the chances of another revolt. The coin is interesting for its messianic and eschatological symbols that include a Star of David and a rebuilt [third] Temple.

The first Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians and he Second Temple also known as Herod’s temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D. during the first Jewish revolt. Thus, by 132 A.D. the Jews were hoping for a messiah to rescue them from the Romans and rebuild what would have been the Third Temple.

In Matthew 24 Jesus foretells the destruction of the Second Temple:

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2 ESV)

Model of the Second Temple from wiki

Model of the Second Temple from wiki

It seems that the disciples were curious and possibly distressed a bit by Jesus’ comment. They approach him privately and ask two questions although the second question is of two parts, “what will be the sign of your coming” and “of the end of the age” suggesting that the disciples were making a connection between all three events.

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3 ESV)

Scholars have argued about those connections ever since. D.A. Carson, noted New Testament scholar said this in his commentary about Matthew 24:

“Few chapters of the Bible have called forth more disagreement among interpreters than Matthew 24 and its parallels in Mark 13 and Luke 21. The history of the interpretation of this chapter is immensely complex.” D.A. Carson (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, volume 8, page 488).

To render an opinion on all that would require much more space than a blog would allow so I’ll keep my commentary to Jesus’ remarkable prophecy regarding what most scholars do agree on, the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus in 70 A.D.

Herod, also known as Herod the Great because of his architectural achievements began work on the Second Temple in 20 B.C. or so. Work was not totally completed until 64 A.D. Therefore, the temple only stood completed for 6 years before being destroyed by the Romans.

When the disciples asked Jesus about the temple’s destruction it would be approximately 40 years in the future although the main buildings would have been finished when they asked the question.

The occasion for the temple’s destruction was the first major or great Jewish revolt against the Romans (66-73 A.D.). The Bar Kockhba revolt or war was the third major confrontation between Jew and Roman (132-135 A.D.). The second war was known as the Kotis War of 115-117 A.D. although this war has received much less attention than the other two.

Judea was a powder keg prior to the first war. There had always been religious tensions between the occupiers (Seleucid Greeks and the later Romans) and the occupied. These tensions were often exacerbated by the occupiers such as when the Romans hung Caesar’s image in the temple as was attempted by the mad emperor Caligula (37 A.D to 41 A.D.) who really believed he was a god.

Some Romans on the spot knew better than needlessly offend the Jews and the Caligula crisis was averted but the area still simmered in discontent.

Heavy taxation contributed to the grievances against the Romans.  In fact, the writer of Matthew’s gospel was a tax-collector. Jesus was thought of as being the friend of sinners meaning prostitutes and tax-collectors. Matthew would have been one unpopular fellow for collaborating with the Romans!

Attacks on Roman citizens and their Jewish collaborators like tax collectors were made by Jewish zealots called sicarii because of the knife they used. The zealots took every opportunity to fan the flames of revolt. Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ twelve and the one who famously betrayed him was a zealot. His name “Iscariot” is a corruption of the Latin word “sicarius” meaning assassin or murderer.

By 66 A.D. the Romans were fed up with zealots and assassins and plundered Herod’s Temple in retaliation. In the process they killed over 6000 Jews in typical Roman fashion. That led to full scale rebellion and the Romans had to send a full legion plus auxiliaries from Syria to stamp the revolt out. This force was soundly defeated by an aroused population led by the zealots. The legion’s eagle was lost and thus a major disgrace for the Romans.

Sicarii knife. Sicarri means "dagger men," Jewish zealots or dagger men engaged in the assassination of Roman citizens and Jewish collaborators.

Sicarii knife. Sicarri means “dagger men,” Jewish zealots or dagger men engaged in the assassination of Roman citizens and Jewish collaborators.

The Romans of this time period never accepted defeat and they soon brought in more legions. The new force was  commanded by Roman General Vespasian. Vespasian would become the emperor who would build the famous coliseum partly financed with the treasures taken from the destruction of the temple.

Vespasian fought a thoughtful, costly and slow campaign to subdue the rebels but by 69 A.D. he had been called away from the campaign to fight in yet another Roman Civil War in what became known as the year of four emperors. He would emerge victorious and become emperor. His son Titus was left in command of the legions and he would begin to besiege the center of resistance in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Stone relief celebrating Titus's Triumph in taking Jerusalem. A Menorah can clearly be seen among the treasures looted.

Stone relief celebrating Titus’s Triumph in taking Jerusalem. A Menorah can clearly be seen among the treasures looted.

The siege took a full seven months. The temple was torn down (the stones being thrown down that Jesus referred to) as well as Jerusalem’s walls. Most of the survivors were sold into slavery. The war went on until 73 A.D. when the Fortress of Masada fell, it’s defenders choosing suicide over slavery.

Roman denarius with Titus on one side and the commemoration of his triumph over Jerusalem on the other.

Roman denarius with Titus on one side and the commemoration of his triumph over Jerusalem on the other.

As noted above with the Bar Kockhba coin by 132 A.D. the Jews were expecting yet another political messiah to drive out the Romans and rebuild the temple. Some Christians today believe that a rebuilt temple is necessary before Jesus returns. They believe that modern Israel will accomplish the task even though a Moslem mosque sits on the temple mount. For many Christians a third temple holds much significance just as it would for many religious Jews. The region is no less volatile than it was in the days of Jesus and Titus.

It seems to me from a reading of Matthew 24 that the disciple’s expectations were that all three events would be fulfilled in relatively short order believing that Jesus was the political messiah that everyone thought would throw off the Roman yoke.

Jesus’ answers which are long indicate otherwise. Instead Jesus predicts a near present fulfillment (the destruction of the temple) and a future fulfillment of the end of an age and a reference to his second coming. Jesus’ answer was no doubt confusing to the disciples who maintained preconceived notions like many of their countrymen.

John 2:13-22 sheds some additional light on the issue.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:13-22 ESV)

In this rather straight forward account Jesus makes reference to the temple as his Father’s house. He is angry about the money changers and turns over their tables.. His disciples viewing the incident do some remembering that Jesus is consumed by zeal for his Father’s house.

The Jews react to Jesus’ actions and words and ask for a sign (of authority). Jesus answers, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews misunderstand the “this” and assume he means Herod’s Temple. He does not mean Herod’s Temple.

At the time the disciples don’t understand but in verses 21-22 John says the “this” was Jesus’ body and that when Jesus was raised from the dead they believed the Scripture having remembered what Jesus had said. In other words the disciples do not totally get the prophecy until Jesus rises from the dead. They then remember what he has said about temples and himself being The Temple that would save people from their sins.

Today many professing Christians do not look at the Bible as being reliable or they think it is outdated. Yet, fulfilled prophecy is hard to explain away when taken seriously by an objective person.

Matthew 24 is a fascinating study in fulfilled prophecy and the fulfillment of later prophecies.

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