This year I have the fantastic opportunity to do some research and I’m hoping to share a lot of what I’m up to here on this blog. I share because, if you’re the “praying type”, I’d love you to pray for me as I do it. I don’t want what I do to be purely academic, but something that really makes a difference. So please, pray.
Below is a summary/”highlights” of my first chapter! It probably has no resemblance at all to what I eventually hand in, but never mind!
As you probably realise, there’s a lot in the news at the moment about the problems in the Middle East. Palestine are trying to be recognised as a state in the UN and America are completely against it. Have you wondered why? Why are American politicians so scared of showing any favour towards Palestine? But very happy to bend over backwards to help Israel? Answer, because if they didn’t it would be the end of their political careers.
Some might find it surprising to discover that a huge number of Bible-believing Christians believe that Jesus will return in the next couple of decades, at most. This is not seen as a possibility, but as a certainty, clearly demonstrated by the fulfilment of prophecy within modern times: namely, the re-emergence of the State of Israel, in 1948, and the recapture of Jerusalem by Israeli forces, in 1967. Indeed, many evangelical Christians strongly support the return of the Jewish people to Israel because of their belief that they still have a God-given right to live there. This movement is known as Christian Zionism and, unrealised by many, has an incredible impact in our world today.
It is very clear that the country of Israel is back on the map, after nearly 2 millennia of absence. There are all sorts of historical reasons for this, but the question is: Is the re-emergence of the state of Israel purely down to human factors, or is God bringing about the fulfillment of his Old Testament promises?
The emphasis upon “the land” (e.g. the Land of Israel) in the Old Testament is remarkable, appearing a total of twenty-five hundred times! It appears first in Genesis 12 where Abraham is promised that he, and his descendants, will be given the Land forever. While it is clear that they were exiled from the land for sin (e.g. Deut 18:15-19), the prophets insist they will return (e.g. Jer 16, 23, 24, 30, 31, 32, 46, Is. 43, 52, 60, 61, 62, 65, 66, Ez. 34, 36, 37, 39). Even after the Israelites return from exile in Babylon, the prophets still promise an ultimate return, of Israelites scattered around the world and that this return would be permanent (Zech 8:7-8, 14:10-11, Is 11:11-12, Jer 24:5-6). Some insist this is coming true in our own day.
Along with this belief, goes the conviction that the church must help the Jewish people return (e.g. Is 11:12, 14:1-2, 49:22) and that God’s wrath is against anyone who opposes this plan (e.g. Zech 8:2, Gen 12:3).
However, the hopes of Christian Zionists go far beyond hopes for the Jews to return to Israel, but extend also to the rebuilding of the Jewish temple. While no one is certain as to the exact location of the Jewish Temple the current area containing the Islamic “Dome of the Rock” is most likely. Despite this, many Christians desire, and even support, the destruction of this site so that the temple can be rebuilt. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say this could easily spark World War III! In fact, Christian Zionists expect it to! Christian Zionists do not hope for the Jews to return to the land and rebuild their temple so that they can live in peace, but, instead, believe that this will be the beginning of the worst period of Jewish suffering imaginable!
As strange as it may seem, Christian Zionists believe that the Temple must be rebuilt precisely so that it can, once again, be desecrated and destroyed, in keeping with their understanding of such passages as Daniel 9-12, Matthew 24 and Revelation 11. More than this, the return to the land will itself spark the worst war in human history. The understanding is that two wars will occur, the first local and the second on a worldwide scale. The exact locations of the local war are a matter of debate even among Christian Zionists! It is argued that this “local” war will be the spark that ignites World War III. All the nations of the world will descend upon Israel, Jerusalem will be capture and its citizens butchered and raped (Zech 12, 14, Ezek 38-39, Rev 16). As one author buts it:
The acts of Adolph Hitler and his SS troops will pale in comparison to the desolation caused by the Antichrist and his henchmen. A full two-thirds of the population of Israel will perish in the ensuing conflict … The hope of the Jewish people in seeing the glorious Temple rebuilt will, in fact, lead to their greatest calamity and suffering. (D. Brickner, 1999, “Future hope: A Jewish Christian Look at the End of the World”)
The belief is that these events will lead directly to Jesus’ return. Then he will rule over the “Millennium Kingdom” from, yet another temple, on the Throne of David. Finally, he will take all his people to be with him in heaven.
It is important to realise that these beliefs are not held by a small, unimportant, fringe group, but by huge numbers of evangelical Christians in the western world. A poll in America, (by the Pew Research Centre, see here) a recently as May 2011, found that 48% of Americas sympathized more with the Israelis than with the Palestinians, compared to 11% who sympathised with the Palestinians and 15% who sympathised with neither. However, the poll also confirmed that views varied considerably with religious belief. An amazing 70% of white evangelical Protestants strongly supported Israel, with only 3% supporting the Palestinians. While this was the biggest margin, it was also discovered that 52% of white Catholics supported Israel (compared to 12% supporting Palestine) and 46% of white mainline Protestants (compared to 12% supporting Palestine). All these figures compare to just 32% of people without religious affiliation supporting Israel, and 14% supporting Palestine. These figures mean that any American politician, the strongest and most powerful country in the world, is going to be under considerable pressure to support Israel, and go against Palestine. While these figures refer to belief in America, as oppose to the UK, the fact that Christian Zionist organisations (such as “International Christian Embassy Jerusalem”, “Christian Friends of Israel” and “Bridges for Peace”) have UK-based branches shows that the belief exists.
The truth is that, when taken at its worse, Christian Zionism makes Scripture support racial prejudice, the breaking of international law, the forceful relocation of populations and the demolition of people’s homes. It actively supports actions, such as the destruction of the “Dome of the Rock”, which would certainly lead to untold suffering and violence. It can encourage both Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. All the while insisting it is simply following Scripture!
Therefore, the question is, does this view, however horrific it may seem, accurately interpret Scripture? After all, as discussed above, Abraham was promised the land forever and the prophets predicted a great, permanent, return from exile for the Jewish people. If God does not keep these promises, what faith can Christians have in their own future destiny? However, the really important question to ask here is: Hasn’t the death and resurrection of Jesus affected these promises? As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20a, ‘For in him [Jesus] every one of God’s promises is a “Yes”’. To answer these questions, I hope to see how the land and temple promises fit into the overarching narrative of scripture, climaxing in Jesus Christ himself.
I hope I’ve convinced you this is a very real, and important, topic. Please pray for me this year.