Expect the unexpected 2021 Jan/Feb Article cover
By: Dr. Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ President


Reading recently through the book of Revelation, I had to stop at chapter ten. John the Apostle sees a “mighty angel” coming down from heaven. Majestically, he places his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. In his hand he has an open scroll. He opened his mouth and as he spoke the “seven thunders” sounded. What a magnificent experience! Seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls and seven thunders. But John was just about to write what he heard from these seven thunders when he was instructed: “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.” (Revelation 10:4) I was always puzzled when I read this passage. I wanted to know what did the thunders say and why was John not allowed to write it down? And why is it even recorded in the Bible when it all is a secret? 

During the course of the Corona crisis, I have sensed that this passage is there for a purpose. Through it, God wants to inform us that certain matters are deliberately hidden from mankind and even from the Church. God deliberately placed this story that so much awakens our curiosity for exactly that purpose in the Bible. He wants us to know that we do not know everything. He wants us to know that in spite of all the revelation and knowledge He might give us, there will always be the unknown and many surprises. 


Indeed, 2020 has been full of surprises, and not only in Israel. I well remember how the year started. Our theme for last year’s Feast was “Prepare the Way”. It was a theme which called for repentance but it also connected us to Isaiah 40:1, the biblical mandate the Lord gave the ICEJ exactly 40 years ago, commanding us to “comfort, yes, comfort My people, says your God!” 
We started the year in prayer and fasting. An article from the American revivalist Charles Finney on repentance gave us all inspiration. It was an unusual yet very significant year for us, especially as 2020 was our 40th anniversary as a ministry. Some of our key branch leaders gathered in Jerusalem in February to envision our work for the years to come. We enjoyed wonderful times in prayer. Great ideas and visions were cast for the future. But nothing prepared us for the absolutely uncommon year of 2020 – where everything happened so differently than we all anticipated. 
However, I well remember at the closing session of our strategy meetings last February how Dag Øyvind Juliussen, leader of our Norwegian branch, got up and said he wanted to share a word which had been resonating again and again in his heart over recent months. It was from the prophet Haggai: 

“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth, and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.’” (Haggai 2:6-7) 
And indeed, 2020 became a year of great shaking. The whole world was challenged with a global pandemic. It turned out to be a year which placed unprecedented restraints on all of us. We could not travel to visit our branches, the financial ramifications of lockdowns threatened to impact our income, and the Feast of Tabernacles was in danger of being cancelled for the first time in the forty years of ICEJ. Israel was in a total shutdown and even until today does not allow tourists to visit the country. In March last year, the ICEJ Board held an emergency meeting to discuss the possible harm caused by the global lockdowns and other health restrictions. 
But God used this shaking to bless us in unexpected ways. Many of the targets that we set for ourselves during the February strategy meetings for the coming years were accomplished faster than we ever could have anticipated. Challenged by Corona, we have prayed more the ever. We wanted to meet and collaborate more with our branches, and that has happened once we began using Zoom. Our AID team in Israel managed to reach far more people during the virus than the year before. We assisted more Jewish immigrants with their Aliyah flights to Israel than since the massive wave of Soviet Jews in the 1990s. And the Feast of Tabernacles reached more people in 2020 than ever before. 

We had to acknowledge that “our plans are many, but the purpose of the Lord will stand” (Proverbs 19:21). Man plans but God guides. Many times, the plans and expectations we have, even as believers, will not come to completion, and often we are confronted with new and unexpected situations. So I asked myself why there was no clear prophetic warning about an event of such global proportions? 


Then I felt God speak to me that it is exactly in these unexpected and surprising situations when our faith is tested the most. It was in unforeseen challenges like the sudden advance of an opposing army (2 Chronicles 20:1ff), or unexpected sickness (2 Kings 20:1ff); and even unexpected death (John 11:14) when God‘s power manifests itself. 
It was exactly five years ago when – after a season of prayer and seeking the Lord – I was diagnosed with cancer in an advanced stage. The doctors declared me to be an “inoperable case”, such that no doctor in Israel would operate on me. My life came to a halt, and my family was shaken to our very foundations. But it was exactly in this sudden, humanly impossible situation that God not only came through and powerfully preserved my life, but we also came to know him in a deeper way than ever before.  

We should never forget that often God comes to meet His people while clothed in darkness (Psalm 18:9; Isaiah 19:1ff) and amid great challenges. This current season of darkness and testings can become the time of your greatest miracle. 
We need to remind ourselves that God‘s ways will never be revealed to us in their entirety. The Apostle Paul declares that our knowledge is partial (1 Corinthians 13:9), and Moses declared to the people that there will always be a mysterious side to God which will leave us puzzled at times (Deuteronomy 29:29). A main thought from Jesus which runs through his Olivet Discourse on the last days is exactly that. Six times Jesus assures us: “You do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (see Matthew 24:36, 39, 42, 44, 50; 25:13) 


It is true that in the end times many developments will and can be expected because the Bible’s prophetic passages announce them. The physical rebuilding of Israel and her spiritual restoration, the return of the Jews back to their homeland, the rise of the Antichrist, a global revival – all these things are clearly foretold in the Word of God. Yet at the same time, we need to expect the unexpected. John was not allowed to write what the voice of the seven thunders said, and they may not be revealed to us before their time. 
A word that resonated in my heart again and again in recent months is “Brace!” Brace yourself, not for a fatal impact, but for rough times ahead. I personally believe coronavirus is just a warm-up; it is just the beginning of the testings ahead. This is what we have heard from many leaders around the world. In a recent Global Prayer Gathering, our brother Peter Tsukahira called our times the “birth pangs of Messiah”. Birth pangs are all the same. The closer you come to birth, the more frequent and more intense they become. 

Recent developments should make us all alert. As I write this article, the US election looks as if it will likely leave us with a new president in the White House who already has announced plans to reverse many of the favourable policies of the Trump administration, including towards Israel. So Israel is bracing for much cooler relations with a new US administration. At the same time, we are seeing a new level of escalation with Iran being reached, with Israel ready for “all options”. 
Meantime, the coronavirus might lead to unprecedented regulations on a global scale, including a potential mandatory vaccination program. While we all appreciate the need for vaccines, which might have saved us from deadly diseases before, now for the first time we are offered vaccines that directly impact our human genetic code and which might be forced upon the world population in a very rapid amount of time. With this a dangerous line has been crossed, not only for many Christians. 
In addition, evangelical believers are being increasingly singled out as a threat to Western societies. Not only in America, but in a growing number of Western countries, Bible believing Christians who pray for their own nation, care for the well-being of their state, and uphold biblical moral and ethical standards are branded today as “Evangelical Nationalists” who threaten the new world order. A German official recently singled out “Pentecostal churches” as one of the few virus super-spreaders who need to be watched.  

The year 2021 is a year when the Church needs to be on the alert. But not just on alert regarding the latest news but even more we need spiritual alertness. It is a time when prayer, our commitment to the word of God, and fellowship with other believers is more important than ever. A sad development around the world is that the move to online services has dramatically lowered attendance at church meetings – even online. 
The parable of the ten virgins in Mathew 25 reminds us of the sudden appearance of the bridegroom. His arrival surprised all ten virgins. All were sleepy, but only five had enough oil in their lamps. When a discussion quickly arose about sharing each other‘s oil, the five “foolish virgins” were told to “buy for themselves”. It is a time when you cannot rely on the faith of your pastor, parents or spouse. Each one of us needs to be ready and braced for more shakings. It is a time when our walk with Christ needs to be intentional, bold and wholehearted. Even as the world gets darker around us, we are called to arise and shine – because the Lord’s light has arisen upon us! He is the unshakable rock that preserves us even in a stormy 2021. 
The worship song “The Blessing” has indeed blessed millions during the corona crisis. It is a prayer that I offer for all of us as we enter an uncertain 2021. Despite all that may come, we know one thing will never change – and that is Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, including in 2021! 

“The Lord bless you and keep you; 
The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; 

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” 
     (Numbers 6:24-26)