As we view Israel/Palestine today, we must be as concerned for the physical and spiritual well-being of her ethnic Jewish people as for the well-being of her ethnic Arabs (both Muslim and Christian). We must do all we can to awaken both Jewish and Arab people to the reality of the Messiah who gave His life for them.
But before we can effectively present the gospel to Israelis or Palestinians, we must cultivate their respect. All ethnic/religious/cultural groups have “skeletons in their closets.” We Western Christians are no exception. Jews have cultural memories of persecution by nominally Christian peoples in Europe. Muslims, on the other hand, have similar memories of wrongs committed by Christian armies crusading in the name of God, and of Western “Christian” colonial powers exploiting Muslim division and weakness. If we hope to be heard clearly, we must not be perceived as biased or unjust. Unfortunately, far from being unbiased and just, many Christian evangelicals today demonize Palestinian and Israeli Arabs while ignoring or rationalizing Jewish injustice and violence. There are numerous reasons that Evangelicals tend to be heavily biased in favor of Jewish Israelis rather than Arab Israelis and Palestinians. But rather than getting into the reasons for this bias, let’s go to Scripture to see why it is wrong.
At the very beginning of His ministry, just after His baptism by John, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1 NIV). This time of testing wasn’t incidental. The temptations Satan set before Jesus were specifically designed to exploit any vulnerability in His human nature. Satan appealed to the selfishness, distrust, and personal pride that are at the root of all human sin, forcing Jesus to make deep and radical decisions regarding His calling. What kind of Messiah would He be?
- Would He exploit supernatural power to change stones to bread, as a first act in avoiding the path of suffering that had been set before Him? Would He then feed the poor with the same satanic motivation, seeking their support for His personal agenda?
- Would He coerce his Father’s endorsement (force His hand) by casting Himself from the pinnacle of the temple?
- Would He cultivate earthly political power to overthrow Rome and establish an earthly kingdom in Jerusalem under His personal control by alliance with the principalities and powers of this world?
Rather than acting in selfish ambition, Jesus chose submission, servitude, and suffering. The miracles He performed were just as spectacular as those Satan proposed, but they were done through the power of the Holy Spirit in obedience to His Father.
Jesus refused to feed Himself miraculously, but guided by the Holy Spirit He miraculously fed thousands, changed water to wine, and filled the nets of faithful fishermen with fish. He refused to draw attention to Himself or give miraculous signs to those who demanded it, but walked on water, calmed the sea, healed the sick, and raised the dead to glorify His Father. Although He could have requested supernatural deliverance from the agony of humiliation, scourging, alienation, and death (Matthew 26:53), He submitted to them meekly, like a perfect sacrificial lamb.1
Perhaps He faced these tests early on because of the tremendous pressure that would soon come to bear on Him to conform to the false expectations of His countrymen regarding what He (as Messiah) should do on behalf of national Israel. The expectation that Messiah would militarily deliver the Jews from pagan (Roman) rule and establish Jewish rule over the whole world was at fever pitch in the first century. Even Jesus’ disciples reflected this expectation (Matthew 16:20-22; Matthew 20:20-23; Luke 19:11).
Over the course of the first century, enthusiasm for a delivering Messiah resulted in numerous false messiahs, the horrific war of AD 70, and apocalyptic writings that continued to predict a delivering messiah even after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by Titus (4 Ezra; 2 Baruch). Eventually, the endorsement of the false messiah, Bar Kochba, by the most venerated rabbi of the post-70 period (Akiba) led to the final catastrophe of AD 135 under Hadrian.
The remarkable Jewish historian of that period, Josephus, described the foundation of Jewish messianic fervor and militant nationalism among his contemporaries:
But what more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle, likewise found in their sacred scriptures, to the effect that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world. This they understood to mean someone of their own race, and many of their wise men went astray in their interpretation of it . . . For all that, it is impossible for men to escape their fate, even though they foresee it. Some of these portents, then, the Jews interpreted to please themselves, others they treated with contempt, until the ruin of their country and their own destruction convicted them of their folly. (Josephus, War, 6.312-315)
N. T. Wright builds a strong case that the “ambiguous oracle” referred to by Josephus is the book of Daniel—specifically the second, seventh, and ninth chapters. (See Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God, pp. 312-320.) The book of Daniel was one of the most popular works in circulation among the Jews during the first century,2 and it is likely that Jewish “wise men went astray in their interpretation of it,” apparently forecasting dates, “times,” and “seasons” for the coming of the expected Messiah into His kingdom in a manner that nurtured popular support for a military confrontation with Rome. (See Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2.)
Israel had already given in to temptations Jesus resisted.3Jesus knew that national Israel had formed an alliance with Satan and was hell-bent to carry out Satan’s agenda. Out of love for Israel and her true calling, He confronted her with the fact that she had turned nationalism into an abominable parody of the covenant relationship God intended.4 Like the prophets who preceded them (Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:38-42; Luke 13:1-5), John the Baptist and Jesus declared that unrepentant Israel was outside the covenant relationship, and needed to return like a humble proselyte to be considered a son of Abraham (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8; Luke 15:11-32). In the past, Israel had been delivered from the judgment that fell upon the pagan kingdoms that oppressed her and held her captive (Egypt, Babylon). But now, Jerusalem herself was persecuting true Israel. The true Israel, that Israel that was holding firm (Mark 13:13), was a small remnant—Jesus’ disciples. Jerusalem had taken on the role of Egypt and Babylon, aligned with Satan and facing judgment.
The old covenant had come to an end, replaced by a new covenant, “his blood” (Matthew 26:28 NKJV; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 9:15). Israel’s old covenant story of exile and deliverance (Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon) was over. No longer in exile, Israel had been permanently restored in the person of Jesus Christ.5
- The family of God would no longer be defined by ethnic and national Jewish categories, but would be made up of all of those willing to trust in Jesus and follow Him (Matthew 7:21; Matthew 12:50; Luke 11:27-28; John 6:29,40; Acts 3:22-23).
- The Torah, which constituted a central symbol of identity for those under the old covenant, would be replaced under the new covenant by the Sermon on the Mount. The new covenant would be characterized by mercy, forgiveness, inclusiveness, and love rather than a quest for legal and ritual purity.
- The Jerusalem temple and the system of worship based around it was obsolete and the destruction of the temple immanent, to be replaced by the resurrected Christ (Mark 14:58/Matthew 26:61; Mark 15:29-30/Matthew 27:39-40; John 2:19; Acts 6:14).6When Jesus was crucified, the veil of the temple was torn and its holiest chamber exposed. The epistle to the Hebrews—written to a culturally Jewish Christian audience—declares:
“He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
“By one sacrifice [Jesus] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (6Hebrews 10:14).
“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” (Hebrews 10:15-18).
Because of the horrific consequences of date-setting and speculative interpretation of prophecy, the rabbis surviving the second war with Rome committed themselves to the principle that Torah-observing Jews should never again seek a return to the land until the appearance of Messiah himself. Orthodox Jews remained committed to this principle for nearly 2000 years, but secular Zionists began a movement to return to a national homeland in the late 19th century. Approximately at the same time, some evangelical Christian leaders began to speculate that the Zionist-initiated return to the land was the beginning of the national return prophesied in Scripture.
For evangelical Christians to use prophetic speculation as a basis for providing unbelieving Israel with political and military support is to repeat the very same error that Israel committed when it sought to use military and political means to bring in the messianic kingdom. It is to join unbelieving Israel in its surrender to the same temptations Satan offered Jesus in the desert.
- It is an attempt to exploit supernatural power.
- It is an attempt to force God’s hand.
- It is an attempt to carry out God’s plan through alliance with the (satanic) principalities and powers of this world.
To think that nurturing national Israel’s political and military power will expedite God’s program of redemption makes no more sense today than in the first century. Jesus said:
“Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ ” (Luke 13:35).
Some evangelicals genuinely hope to befriend Jewish or Palestinian people and win them to faith in Jesus Christ. While this aspect of their motivation may be legitimate, any unconditional support of either side of an ethnic and religious conflict decides against a group of people for whom Christ died. Followers of Christ cannot afford to win converts by supporting violence and aggression.
Although major actors on the political stage, many evangelicals view themselves as detached observers with a biblical key to understanding unfolding world events. They think they are assisting the fulfillment of prophecy, the soon return of the Lord, the culmination of the church age, the great tribulation, and the millennial reign. Like the zealous nationalist Jews of the first century and today’s religious Zionist Jews (Gush Emunim and others), they think they can give the Lord a helping hand in bringing about His Day. In actuality, evangelicals who unconditionally support the establishment and defense of a Jewish state founded upon the rejection of Jesus Christ are nurturing the rise of anti-Christian power throughout the world.
Just as it was folly for Jewish leaders of the first and second century to believe they could have certainty regarding unfolding future events, it is folly for modern evangelicals to think they can predict how current events will fit in with the events of the endtime. (See the ATQ article, How Often Have People Misapplied Prophecy?) Jesus himself declared the folly of such speculation (Matthew 24:44; Matthew 25:13;Mark 13:35; Revelation 3:3).
Many Christians in the past have mistakenly supported violence on the basis of a conviction that they were participating in endtime events. Granted that our pretribulation view of the rapture is true, do we have any more real certainty about when the rapture and the tribulation will occur than first-century Jews had regarding the manner and time of Messiah’s coming? If we are heavily complicit in the violence of our age, isn’t it more likely we will reap the whirlwind (6Hosea 7:7) we have sown?
The day of the Lord is not a time when the devil has his way with an ethnic Israel he hates. Rather, it is a time of God’s judgment on wickedness, both in Israel and the world:
“Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light” (Amos 5:18).
“‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:1-2).
“Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains: a great people and a strong; there hath not been ever the like, neither shall be any more after it, even to the years of many generations” (Joel 2:1-2 KJV)
“The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble: the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining” (Joel 2:10).
“The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come” (Joel 2:31).
“The great day of the Lord is near—near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the Lord will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there. That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Zephaniah 1:14-15 NIV).
“‘Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Not a root or a branch will be left to them’ ” (Malachi 4:1).
If evangelicals think God will permit them to continue to throw fuel on the fire of violence and hatred and suddenly snatch them out of the conflagration just before it engulfs the world, it is only because they are under the spell of satanic illusion.
The New Testament makes it clear that the kingdom of God is based on justice and love, not violence, ethnic privilege, and possession of “holy land.” The kingdom of God is based on the Sermon on the Mount, not on speculation about unfolding events. The actions of the church must be consistent with purposes of the kingdom of God, or the church may share national Israel’s judgment in the day of the Lord.
- “The struggle is precisely about the nature of Jesus’ vocation and ministry. The pull of hunger, the lure of cheap and quick ‘success,’ the desire to change the vocation to be the light of the world into the vocation to bring all nations under His powerful rule by other means—all of these would easily combine into the temptation to doubt the nature of the vocation of which He had been sure at the time of John’s baptism. If you are the Son of God . . .” (N. T. Wright, Jesus, the Victory of God). Back To Article
- “We know from Josephus that the book of Daniel was a favorite with Jews of the first century AD. One of the climactic moments in this book, arguably, is the scene in which the true Israel, seen in apocalyptic terms as a human figure, is exalted to a position of glory and authority over the mythical beasts who have been oppressing God’s people. Whatever referents may have been in the mind of the original authors, there should be no doubt that in the first century many would read such imagery as referring to Israel and the nations, and would hear in the background the overtones of Genesis 2. Divine order will be restored to the creator’s garden, through a genuine Adam—i.e., Israel—who will renounce idolatry and so, in obedience to the creator, rule wisely over the creation” (Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p. 266). Back to Article
- “What then must Jesus have thought was going on? How was the story working out? The battle He Himself had to fight was with the Satan; the Satan had made its home in Israel, and in her cherished national institutions and aspirations. The house had been occupied by seven other demons, worse than the first; so it would be with this generation. But, like Jezebel trying to seduce Jehu, the Satan was now attempting to lure Jesus himself into making the same mistake as Israel had done. If that turned out not to be possible, the Satan would try either to scare him off, or to kill him ahead of time.” (N.T. Wright, Jesus, the Victory of God) Back to Article
- “Jesus . . . set His face against the central institutions and symbols of Israel. He did so, not because He thought they were bad in themselves, but because He believed they were being wrongly used by His contemporaries to buttress a spurious reading and enacting of the true Jewish worldview. . . . He did not aim . . . to depart from Judaism, from the traditions of Israel; His aim was to call Israel back to what He saw as the true meaning of those traditions” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God).Back to Article
- “From His point of view, He was fighting Israel’s real battle by challenging Israel’s idolatrous nationalism, which was passing off its Satan-induced worldview as true allegiance to the reign of YHWH. His opponents, meanwhile, especially the Pharisees (during the Galilean ministry) and the chief priests (in Jerusalem) were resisting His attempts, and so challenging the validity of His mission, His vocation, His blueprint for Israel. They rejected His message, His urgent summons to the way of peace, because they rightly perceived that it would mean softening their grip on some cherished, and indeed God-given, national and cultural symbols” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God).Back to Article
- “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?” (John 2:19-20 KJV)
“This remarkable assertion coheres completely with the theme that emerges steadily at the centre of Jesus’ story. He was claiming prophetic and messianic authority to pronounce judgment on the Temple. It was for this that He was eventually accused before the authorities” (Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 335).Back to Article