Political expediency and Biblical theology make for poor bedfellows and often dangerous ones. This is especially true when it comes to powder keg of the Middle East. In the past few days I have seen an increase in social media chatter from Evangelicals touting that as Christians we have a responsibility to stand with Israel “no matter what.” But is this the stance that Christians must take in order to be Biblically sound or are their other options for believers when it comes to approaching these complicated geopolitical relationships?
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122.6) is an often-repeated verse that is closely tied to America’s unrelenting support for the nation of Israel. And although I am in agreement that it is important for America to remain firmly supportive of the nation of Israel in order to maintain a strategic balance of power in the Middle East, my support does not give Israel a free pass on atrocities committed against Palestinians, nor do I condone any acts of terrorism against the State of Israel. Further, my view is not tied to Dispensationalism; a systematic theology that came into vogue in the mid 19th century, popularized by Plymouth Brethren preacher, John Nelson Darby, the Scofield Study Bible, and more recently by Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series of books. This view is widely accepted today and continues to influence Evangelicals and American foreign policy. But viewing Scripture and policy through this lens is problematic for several reasons, but chiefly because it excites a religious/political base that embraces apocalyptic views that are not helpful either to the Middle East peace process or to the spreading of the gospel of Christ.
Consider first of all, that although the Old Testament does give commands and promises to the Nation of Israel, we are not Old Testament Jews, but New Testament Christians. As such we must view all of the Old Testament through the light of the New, that teaches those promises have been fulfilled in Christ and as such pertain to the one people of God who make up the Church. Observe what Paul articulates in Romans 1-3. Specifically that both Gentile pagans and Jewish believers are in need of the gospel of Christ, even though Jewish people have an advantage because they are starting at a point of an understanding of God that pagans did not possess. (Romans 3:1) But this advantage, in no way, qualifies them for special privileges once Christ has come. Even Jesus laments over the fact that Jerusalem did not recognize “the timing” of The Christ coming to them. (Luke 19:44)
Next, Dispensationalism teaches two distinct plans for two distinct people, The Jewish State and The Christian Church, whereas a careful examination of Scripture reveals one people of God throughout history comprised of both Jew and Gentile that is fulfilled in the Church. Again, Paul is helpful here in Ephesians 2:11-22 teaching that both Jews and Gentiles are part of this one people called the Church. Jesus also teaches in John 15 that there is but one “True vine” and Paul expands on this Romans 11:11-31, teaching that pagan Gentiles have been grafted into the one vine. It is important to remember that even in the Old Testament God worked through many Gentiles, Rahab, Naaman (Jesus references this in his hometown and they tried to kill him for it. See Luke 4:24-28) to name a couple. The Jewish Nation served as a testimony and means for God to deliver the gospel to all the world, but wasn’t reduced to the Jewish Nation alone, even in the Old Testament.
In Jeremiah 3:8 God issued Israel a decree of divorce because of their continual rejection of Him, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.”
Finally, what does this have to do with the increasing violence in Jerusalem? Many interpret this as a “Sign of End Time prophecy being fulfilled”, yet that is specific to but one view of biblical interpretation, and as Christians we should decry violence whenever and wherever it happens.
Further, the argument is often made that “the land belongs to Israel” but if this is still the case which borders should America support? The original boarders as promised to Abraham or the current national boarders of the State of Israel? Hank Hanegraaff observes in The Apocalypse Code, “According to Bible teacher Arnold Fruchtenbaum, for example, the geographical extent of… Israel is nonnegotiable and covers everything from Egypt to Iraq: “At no point in Jewish history have the Jews ever possessed all of the land from the Euphrates in the north to the River of Egypt in the south. Since God cannot lie, these things must yet come to pass.” Such reasoning ignores the way the Old Testament writers themselves understood the promises made to Abraham. The writer of the book of Joshua, for example, makes clear that the covenant promises already had been fulfilled by his generation (Josh. 21:43–45).”
If as Christian Pastor and teacher John Hagee suggests that “God has given Jerusalem only to the Jews”, does this mean that the displacement of Palestinians, many of whom are Christian brothers and sisters is justified? I think not.
But this escalation of violence will continue to fan the flames of “End Time” fear mongering, which I believe serves as a detriment to the propagation of the gospel, because it takes the focus off the gospel of Christ and places them on events used as scare tactics in order to prod people into the Kingdom of God through the means of fear. This conflation of bad Biblical interpretation and foreign policy disrupts the peace process because of Palestine’s claim to East Jerusalem as their capitol. Benjamin Netanyahu is on record as pledging, “his intention to support the decades-old understanding, reached in the wake of the 1967 war in which Israel captured the holy site, according to which Muslims may pray on the Temple Mount while Jewish prayer is limited to the Western Wall plaza.” Netanyahu must stay true to his public commitment that, “Jerusalem is today, and must remain, a place where Jews pray at the Western Wall, where Christians walk the Stations of the Cross, and where Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa Mosque… Jerusalem is not just the heart of three great religions, but it is now also the heart of one of the most successful democracies in the world. Over the past seven decades, the Israeli people have built a country where Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and people of all faiths are free to live and worship according to their conscience and according to their beliefs.”
Praying “for the peace of Jerusalem” means that we should pray for all the inhabitants of this land and not just those that reflect our favorite Bible interpretations.