Christians and Israel

It’s not often that New Zealand gets international political attention, but we certainly did so this week when our government co-sponsored a UN resolution condemning the construction of Israeli settlements.

As expected, my Facebook feed has been lighting up like a busy switchboard as Christians I know react with outrage. That’s because many Christians today see the modern state of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. For them, criticism of Israel is like ice cream on a sensitive tooth.

I’m aware that this is a highly controversial topic, but I’ve never bought into that line of thinking myself. I’m also aware that people who hold the above view (let’s call them Christian Zionists) are often unwilling to consider other interpretive options. So, I’m not writing this blog post to convince them. Instead, I want to offer some thoughts for the people who’ve seen or heard Christian Zionism, and felt a bit confused, or uneasy, or overwhelmed.

Here’s some good news: you don’t have to land there. And, here’s some mixed news: there probably aren’t any easy answers. The truth is, this subject, more than most, calls for nuance. So, let me try to offer some…  

You can be a Christian and not be a Christian Zionist. 
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there was no other option here. From the Left Behind series, to the opinions of American Republicans, to the teaching of people like Chuck Missler, Christian Zionism is a very loud voice at a popular level in the Church. But, it’s not been the historical view of the Church. In fact, it’s rise has been more recent (think, the last 150 years). Christian Zionism is a view which requires God to have two plans, one for Israel and another for the rest of us. But many Christians would see that as limiting and lessening the scope of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Many Christians see the promises of God in the Old Testament as answered in Jesus… as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”  At the same time, the fact that this subject does not appear in historical Christian creeds should give us cause for humility; this is not an issue to divide over.

You can “stand with Israel” without giving Israel a blank cheque.
The Jewish people have suffered immensely throughout their history, and especially before and during World War 2. Personally, I think the establishment of the modern state of Israel following that war was a good and understandable thing. That doesn’t lessen the complexity, of course. One of the issues I have with some Christian Zionists is that they paint the modern context of Israel as good vs. evil. But that’s not the way the world works (biblically speaking). We all have good and evil in our hearts. So, I think we can empathise with the plight of the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. We can critique Palestinian terrorism as well as the heavy-handedness of Israel’s response. There are people suffering on both sides of the divide. We don’t get to check our compassion at the door on this one. 

You can recognise bias without becoming biased yourself. 
Christian Zionists often accuse the media (especially here in New Zealand) of bias against Israel. I think they have a point. I do notice a negative slant towards Israel on our news; one that doesn’t seem to me to paint the full complexity of the situation. However, the solution is not to unquestioningly support Israel. The solution is to seek to understand the complexity of the situation, and to bring a biblical worldview to bear on it. 

You can value the story of Israel without becoming a Jew.
In recent years, through the work of scholars such as Tom Wright, there has been an increase in the appreciation of Jesus’ Jewishness. Scholars have explored the first century Jewish context Jesus was born into, and how that shaped him. They’ve highlighted how important the story of Israel is within the story of God’s salvation being worked out in the world. Something which frustrates me is the idea that if you’re not a Christian Zionist, you don’t value this story, or that you aren’t concerned with things like Antisemitism. So let me say it clearly: we can and should value the story of God and Israel. We should see ourselves as “grafted in”. And, we should hold on to the hope (as Paul does in his letter to the Romans) that a large part of ethnic Israel may one day see Jesus as the Messiah. 

…Between the aftermath of World War 2, the Six-Day War, and modern ethnic divides, the situation in the modern state of Israel is very, very complicated. Perhaps we need to have the humility to acknowledge that very few of us (internet talking heads included) are experts.

When it comes to our stance on these things as Christians, here’s what I think: we need to spend far more words in prayer than words on the internet. We should pray for peace in Israel, peace in Palestine, peace in the Middle-East, and peace in the world. We should pray that people on every side of every divide would acknowledge and adore the only One capable of making that a reality… the Prince of Peace.


12 thoughts on “Christians and Israel

  1. Reflection:

    Israel is 1/4 of 1% of the ME. It has around 8 million people. That means islam surrounds it with 1.3 billion people (maybe more) and 99.992% of the land.

    Israel is LEGAL and SOVEREIGN. Look up UN charter article 80. No other nation on earth would be expected to put up with the continuation of the violation of both its legality and sovereignty. Little Israel is though.

    Israel gave up Gaza and the Sinai for PEACE. it had a legal claim to both. It received in return thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately towards its civilian population by a people who openly express their one desire, which they live for, and that is, to kill Jews. (Hamas online charter). Iran is internationally verbal about its stated aim – get rid of Israel and Jews.

    Hamas aggressively seeks war with Israel, yet at the same time, provides its own population with absolutely no war shelters. It leaves then out to dry, and in fact, fires rockets into Israel from schools and hospitals within Gaza. (Israel is allowed no defence, for if it does attempt to defend itself, it’s defence is immediately labelled as ‘top heavy’. (The Jew must die, he is allowed no defence, after all, only 18000000 exist world wide, that’s no too big a number to bring genocide to). Even North Korea builds war shelters for its population to hide in,

    Israel starts no wars in the ME. It is does however face giant bullies who seem totally incapable of seeing right from wrong.

    Almost everything posted here is historically verifiable fact.

    • I have sympathy for Israel and I support their right to exist and to defend themselves. But I think it’s important to be clear on what this particular UN resolution was about – Israeli settlements in territory that was seized during the Six Day War, rather than within the territory that was initially established after WW2.

      That was my point, really… this is a more nuanced situation than it is often described as.

      • Since the 6 day war was started by Egypt with the clear intention of wiping Israel (Jews) off the face of the earth, the territory Israel gained was its to hold, the war being defensive on Israel’s part.

  2. You might like to listen to John Kerry US Secretary of State, speech 28 December 2016. He gives a very good report on what is happening inside the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Your views are similar. They helped me a lot.

  3. Israel is the only democratically elected nation in the Middle East. They recognise the rights of everyone, and many Palestinians work in Israel. They have rockets fired at them daily and any retaliation comes after first flying over and dropping leaflets saying when an area will be bombed. It is Hamas that insists people stay, rather than flee so they get more media attention.
    Israel has given land back, set up with glass houses and Israeli farmers teach Palestinians how to farm, but Palestinian leaders smashed the glasshouses, and keep everyone living in small cramped quarters. My mother and brother have both been there and seen the conditions and heard about what really happens.
    They are God’s chosen people and both Christian’s and Jews have a part to play God’s plan for humantity.

  4. It is most unfortunate that so many Americans latched on to JN Darby / Scofield’s dispensationalism. (I grew up with it.) It has led them to ensure the bondage of 4.5m Palestinians for nearly 70 years by supplying weapons of destruction to the tune of $3.5b per year. When I challenge this eg by asking “What would Jesus do?” I am labelled anti-Semitic.

  5. Years ago I taught English lit. at a secondary school. One of the texts was Bruce Mason’s THE POHUTUKAWA TREE. A line in the play which sticks in my mind expresses superbly how Maori felt over the years of colonisation as 90% of their land was systematically taken from them, sometimes legally, more often illegally or by confiscation. Here is the speech in the play where the protagonist Aroha, describes the land loss process: “slice by slice from the whale”. I’m sure the Palestinians would empathise as Israel carves off more and more land in the West Bank.

    “The Pakeha captain got as far as here: placed a
    ladder against the puriri wall and climbed halfway
    up. Face to face he came with Whetumarama:
    Maori and Pakeha, holding each other’s eyes.
    Then Whetumarama raised his arm and sss!
    The taiaha sped to the captain’s heart. Down he
    fell, down, down, bleeding his life into Te
    Parenga’s earth. With that it was all over. The
    Pakeha fled, leaving behind him two hundred
    dead, lying out there like great patches of blood.
    The great ship Alcestis spread its wings, borne
    away on the great wave of fear. Te Parenga pa
    was never taken by force. Only by time; Pakeha
    time. Slice by slice from the whale: by time. You
    ask me to leave this place, hallowed by blood. I will
    not. I stay here, in the shadow of this old
    pohutukawa. It was planted by Whetumarama
    himself. On the day after the battle, he planted it
    where the Pakeha captain fell that its red flowers
    might be a sign of blood between Maori and
    Pakeha for ever. She shudders. Euh, how he
    hated them! I too, hated them. Until He came to
    me. The Lord Jesus.”

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