The Vatican in Jerusalem!
News Flash! “Israeli Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says police have ‘stepped up’ patrols and surveillance across the country, and that thousands of police officers will be deployed during the pope’s visit to ensure it goes smoothly.” (Source: Israel Hayom, May 14, 2014). Rosenfeld’s statement was in direct response to the Roman Catholic official in charge of the Vatican’s properties in the Holy Land, who urged Israel to protect Christian holy sites including churches and monasteries in Jerusalem that had recently been vandalized. And to please do so before Pope Francis’ visit to Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) May 24-26.
The very fact that Pope Francis will travel to Israel is remarkable. I make that observation in the historical light of estranged relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Israel as represented by both its (secular) government and religious observant Jews that has existed off and on for decades … indeed, for hundreds of years. However, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Pope Francis I have reached out to one another in an effort to reconcile differences. Whereas a papal visit to Israel is definitely newsworthy, it is also something to be expected in today’s ecumenical and politically correct world of strange bedfellows.
Totally unexpected and even more amazing than the Pope’s brief tour of Israel (including a visit to the Western Wall) is a recent report from reliable sources that Prime Minister Netanyahu is interested in transferring Jewish administrative control of the Tomb of King David to the Roman Catholic Church! Aren’t there enough Christian holy sites in Israel under the jurisdiction of either the Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox clergy? The answer to that is a resounding yes, dozens of them … such as the (most well-known) Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Why then give a revered Jewish site to the Roman Catholic Church in general and specifically to the entity known as “Custody of the Holy Land.” What is this Holy Land Custodianship all about?
Custody of the Holy Land?
Straight from Wikipedia, we read: “The Custodian of the Holy Land … is an officer of the Franciscan order, appointed by the General Definitorium of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, with the approval of the Pope and the Holy See. The Custodian … is the head of all Franciscans in the Holy Land. On 15 May 2004 Pierbattista Pizzaballa was appointed Custodian of the Holy Land, succeeding Giovanni Battistelli, who held the office for six years. On Friday, June 28, 2013, Pope Francis confirmed that he (Pizzaballa) would continue as Custodian for at least a further three years.”
Wikipedia’s article continues: “Today, the jurisdiction of the Custodian covers Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt…. The Custody has about 300 friars and about 100 sisters in these countries. The Franciscans serve the principal Christian shrines, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and the Basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth.”
Another excerpt: “The Franciscan order owns a great deal of property in the Holy Land, second only to the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem … The Custodian also cares for 74 shrines and sanctuaries throughout the Holy Land….” Because the entire history of the Holy Land Custodianship is far too long for this article, suffice to say that it began in 1217, and has gone through several changes (supervisory control and face-lift) over the years, including a Vatican papal liaison position called Grand Master of the Order. The most recent Grand Master, Archbishop Edwin Frederick O’Brien, was appointed by the previous Pope (Benedict XVI) in August, 2011.
According to the Wikipedia commentary, “The Order (of Grand Master) is a member of many international bodies and has observer status at others (such as the United Nations). The Grand Master is a papal viceroy who assists Vatican diplomacy with procedural support for making motions, proposing amendments and requiring votes in the sphere of international diplomacy.”
In other words, both the Grand Master and Custodian wield enormous religious, and diplomatic influence (some might even say power) as official representatives of the Pope and the Vatican. With the ultimate goal of maintaining a presence in and control of as many “holy sites” in Israel and surrounding countries as possible. And, from the recent breaking news, it’s apparent that they want to add at least one more: The Tomb of King David, the most famous king in Israel’s history. Furthermore, it’s no small coincidence that the pontiff belongs to the Franciscan order of the Roman Catholic Church! That’s why he took the title of Pope Francis.
King David’s Tomb … where is it?
Where was King David buried? The main reference found in I Kings reads: “Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David” (I Kings 2:10). Other than the general area in Jerusalem known as The City of David, the exact position of King David’s tomb has never been unequivocally confirmed, at least not in modern times. However, archeologists are fairly certain that the tomb is located just outside what today is the Old City of Jerusalem.
Frankly, for most Jews and for many Christians, that’s close enough! Whether the current site is the actual location is important but not imperative; however, based upon a 12th century report by Benjamin of Tudela, the authentic tomb was discovered during renovation of a church on Mount Zion. Not until Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 did Mount Zion—just a short distance from the Western Wall and from Temple Mount—come under Israeli control; and not until the 1967 Six-Day War did the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish Temples, revert back to Jewish jurisdiction.
It’s much like the burial-place of Jesus Christ, before he arose from the grave. The Roman Catholic Church and the Greek (and Russian) Orthodox Church identify the Church of the Holy Sepluchre as the burial site; whereas, evangelicals and most mainline Protestants believe the Garden Tomb is the real location. I’ve been to the Garden Tomb, and it certainly could have been where Jesus was placed after his death on the Cross. Not only is the tomb representative of descriptive 1st century Jewish graves, it is extremely close to Golgotha, where Christ was crucified. The Apostle John tells us that there were only two men who took Jesus down from the cross—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus; therefore, these two men would have been able to carry the body of Jesus only so far. How far? Not very according to John: “The place of crucifixion was near a garden, where there was a new tomb, never used before … and since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (John 19:41-42).
Yet, either site is a valid historical location given their proximity to where the entire Passion of Christ took place. For that matter, any grave like that of Joseph of Arimathea’s where Christ was buried (hewn out of solid stone) would be a legitimate candidate for the burial site of Christ. Thus, both the Holy Sepluchre and the Garden Tomb would qualify. Personally, I opt for the Garden Tomb for several reasons, not the least of which was the extreme difficulty for Joseph and Nicodemus to carry Jesus much farther than the Garden Tomb. Could they have used a donkey and cart? Yes, but there’s no indication that they did. Plus, John said the tomb was, “close at hand.”
David’s tomb is situated on the ground floor of a three-story building, a former Byzantine church dating to the 4th century; and, as indicated, refurbished in the 12th century, then again in the 14th century. This church was constructed on/in/around a synagogue called Hagiya Zion built at the entrance of the structure considered historically to be David’s tomb. The tomb is now believed to be in a sarcophagus built by the Crusaders, although the contents of this sarcophagus have never been examined to confirm if there’s even a body inside. At one time or another Jews, Christians, and Muslims have exercised control over this edifice. Currently, the building is part of the Diaspora Yeshiva complex.
Amazingly, all three major religions currently maintain occupancy in this ancient building: Jews on the 1st floor where the actual tomb rests; Christians on the 2nd floor because this is the reported site of the Upper Room Last Supper, and Muslims on the 3rd floor that includes a minaret from which Muslims are summoned to prayer.
Once again, the ultimate importance and strategic significance of David’s tomb doesn’t necessarily hinge on its exact whereabouts. Rather, it is the identification—symbolically or factually or both—of the most likely historical site that Jews (and Christians if they choose) can visit, worship and pray to the same God that David worshipped, and otherwise reminisce about the glory days of Israel’s past … with equal attention and hope for Israel’s future. For Christians who really care about their past and future, David was the ancestor of Messiah Jesus, who was born from the Tribe of Judah.
More Details of the Reported Transfer
According to reliable sources, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef advised a Member of the Knesset that Benjamin Netanyahu and/or his staff officially requested permission to reassign administration of King David’s Tomb and even all of Mount Zion to the Roman Catholic Church. Also, in preceding weeks there had been constant rumors of negotiations between the Israeli government and the Vatican regarding such an agreement. Apparently, a journalist who writes for/about the Vatican said the deal was almost complete.
It’s no secret that the Vatican wants to assume administrative control over more “holy” sites in Israel; however, these sites are historically Christian. To want control over a sacred Jewish site is unprecedented; even more so if Israel’s Prime Minister is agreeable to such a move!
Information just a couple of days ago from Israeli News sources, Arutz Sheva and Jewish Press, indicate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has denied rumors that Israel would bestow David’s tomb to the Vatican. To the contrary, however, Rabbi Yaakov Sevila, an activist for King David’s Tomb, told Arutz Sheva there is, in fact, a deal in the works. This arrangement might also include giving Temple Mount to the Muslims … meaning complete control Unthinkable!
It is not a well-kept secret that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, months ago proposed the idea of some type of international control—especially by the Vatican but also Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey—over certain religious sites in Jerusalem. This scheme has been kept on a back burner pending better progress in pre-negotiations for a two-state solution and territorial exchanges by the Israelis and Palestinians, but mostly concessions from Israel.
Pope Francis’ visit will be substantially different from the previous visit of Pope Paul VI in 1964, as the pontiff in 1964 did not meet with Israeli leaders, nor was there any dispute or controversy over Mount Zion or King David’s Tomb at that time. Subsequently, neither Pope John Paul II in 2002 nor Pope Benedict XVI pilgrimage to Israel in 2009 involved any special interest in and certainly not discussion of the Last Supper Room—2nd floor of the building that also contains the royal gravesite. This pending visit is dissimilar mostly because Pope Francis is a member of the Franciscan bloc of the Catholic Church; and his scheduled celebration of Mass at the site of David’s Tomb (even though presumably it’s the Upper Room where Mass will be held) could challenge or at least question Israeli sovereignty over the site—in the eyes of observant Jews and Knesset Members, whether a MK is conservative or not.
As reported in the Jewish Press, “As a result, Vatican sources have said they would like Israel to cede control of the site, a request to which some Reform groups have said would be a meaningful ‘gesture’ towards peace and reconciliation with the Church.”
But to illustrate just how volatile such a concession would resonate with (especially) orthodox Jews, here is a quote reported in Arutz Sheva from MK Tzipa Hotovely (Likud party, which is Benjamin Netanyahu’s own party): “It is inconceivable that this place will be transferred to foreign hands, so that the Torahs and the Star of David will be swallowed in a sea of crosses. Transferring the rights to the gravesite of David to Christian hands would be similar to Moshe Dayan’s decision to entrust the keys to the Temple Mount to the Jordanian Waqf.” Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook declared that such a transfer would be a, “national disgrace.”
Israel’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Interaction with Christianity
Personally, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is a consummate statesman, leader, and champion for Israel when it comes to the right of Israel to exist as a nation and the Jews to live in peace as a people in the Promised Land given to them by God, himself. He fully understands the ominous threat Iran poses; hence, his constant warning to his people and to the whole world that Israel cannot condone a nuclear armed Iran. He knows full well what Israel must do to survive external threats like Iran and Russia, but also internal threats from terrorists groups like Hamas. Accordingly, he never compromises on issues of national security and rarely on religious matters that affect the long-standing history, tradition, and integrity of the (Jewish) people of The Book (Bible). If Netanyahu stays in character, he (theoretically) would not agree to abandon King David’s Tomb to the Roman Catholic Church or to any other group, religious or political.
Thus, I would disagree with him if he is, in fact, actively promoting or even silently endorsing the idea of relinquishing the historical site of the Tomb to the Vatican. Yet, it remains to be seen whether or not Prime Minister Netanyahu is the driving force behind what still seems to be more of a rumor than fact.
If, however, the Prime Minister has approved or will approve this transferral, what might be his motive? Although any specific reason at this point would be speculation, it’s safe to generalize by referring to Netanyahu’s stated desire to build a bridge of reconciliation between the Jews and Christians. He also grasps, at least in principle, the difference between Protestant Christians (primarily represented by evangelicals) and the Roman Catholic Church. He has acknowledged and frequently expressed his appreciation for the enormous support extended by evangelical Christians all over the world, especially in the United States, such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
As far as I know, Benjamin is not a Messianic Jew, which is defined basically as a Jew who believes in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah and Savior. Thus, he would not quote from the New Testament other than for historical reasons. However, he studies the Old Testament on a regular basis, and he recognizes the umbilical cord connection between Judaism and its offspring … meaning New Testament born-again believers in Christ. He astutely comprehends the reason behind the genuine Christian love for Israel—because evangelicals acknowledge their debt to the Jews for bringing God’s written word and the Messiah to the Gentiles. As expressed in the Old Testament, the Jews were to be a light to/for the Gentiles.
As Christians, we believe this light is consummately expressed in and by the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who is the living Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1, NASB). Jesus himself said that, “…salvation comes through the Jews” (John 4:22). Then he also told that same Samaritan woman, “I AM the Messiah” (John 4:26). And to make sure that there was no misunderstanding as to who Jesus was, is, and always will be, he said to all who would listen: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The Roman Catholic Church, however, is a whole different matter, due to the long-standing rivalry and animosity between the Holy See and the Jews, as tragically exemplified by the Crusades, the Inquisition, the relative silence of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust, and other more isolated, but frequent persecution of the Jews by the Catholic Church throughout the ages. To our shame, certain Protestant groups also have persecuted the Jews periodically, but nothing on the scale of the Holy See.
It’s equally clear that Pope Francis wants to extend an olive branch to Israel and the Jewish people; while at the same time expanding the influence and presence of the Roman Catholic Church in Israel itself. What better way than transference of the complex that houses King David’s Tomb back to on-site, hands-on Catholic (specifically the Franciscan order of the Holy See) control? Which I’m convinced is the main reason that Pope Francis has planned to conduct Mass in the building that includes David’s tomb.
Why Hand Over Mt Zion and King David’s Tomb to the Vatican? Possible Benefits….
Whether Benjamin Netanyahu is behind this transfer conspiracy or not, I’m fairly certain he has contemplated potential benefits if Israel (and it’s a mighty big if) does yield administration of David’s tomb to the Catholic Church. For example, there could be an exponential increase of Catholic support of Israel … diplomatically, politically, and perhaps even economically; not only from the Vatican hierarchy, but conceivably by hundreds of millions of Catholics all over the world. And a corresponding proportional decrease in Anti-Semitism from within the Catholic Church and from without the Church due to the influence wielded by the Vatican in/through the governments of many nations that have large populations of Catholics. Diminished Anti-Semitism can translate into fewer incidents of Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) against Israel and a much more accurate and balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; to counter a prevalent world view that erroneously blames Israel for nearly all the Palestinian angst—sometimes to the extent of falsely accusing Israel of being or becoming an apartheid country.
Even the US Secretary of State, John Kerry brazenly predicted that Israel would deteriorate into an apartheid nation if the Jews couldn’t reach an agreement with the Palestinians for a two-state solution, or at least continue the peace talks. Not long afterward the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank reached a tentative agreement with Hamas of the Gaza Strip to reconcile their differences and unite as one representative of the Palestinians Arabs. That act alone negates all prior peace talks and virtually eliminates any possibility of negotiations for the present. Even the United States concedes that point, as we still classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
It’s even possible that the insidious, anti-Biblical, non-Christian view of Replacement Theology held by several mainstream Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches (and to a lesser but nevertheless treacherous extent by the Roman Catholic Church) could be weakened by what many would consider a peace-offering from Israel, even though the offering is essentially in reverse. Meaning it should be the Catholic Church that offers something of equal or greater value considering their historic mistreatment of the Jews. But then, the Catholic hierarchy and I suppose many governments all over the world believe that the Pope’s willingness to travel to Israel and meet personally with Benjamin Netanyahu is, in and of itself, a peace-offering. Such a generous gesture should merit Roman Catholic control of King David’s Tomb!
Things to Ponder
Would Israel’s concession to the Vatican be more of an unfortunate misguided compromise than a mutually beneficial conciliation? Yes, it probably would. But whether short-term and/or longer-term advantages or not, I believe that the eventual repercussions will become all too apparent. It will be the politically correct calm before the storm of the ungodly ecumenical, anti-Christ spirit of intolerance that will blindly bind unlikely bedfellows together as they stand with the beast or under the statute of the beast and worship him or his statue. And anyone who refuses to worship, “must die.” (See Revelation 13).
I’m referring to the Big Picture as found in the Biblical prophetic context of the scarlet beast, the woman on the beast, Babylon (Rome), the False Prophet, the seven-year treaty with Israel, the desecration of the rebuilt Temple and other end-times peripheral events—some of which are rapidly unfolding before our very eyes. Although the current dispute over and potential disposition of King David’s Tomb is not specifically mentioned in Scripture, it nevertheless is an inclusive depiction and development of the players involved in the days just before and after the Rapture and the Great Tribulation to follow.
Check out next week’s Eye of Prophecy article and we’ll discuss in more detail these players and events.