Believe and Obey

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Would Jesus Support Israel?

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The Case Against Israel

The idea of genocide is much discussed these days, as Israel stands plausibly accused of committing genocide by the International Court of Justice.  I not only think there is plausibility to these charges, but I think it is plainly the case that Israel is guilty.  Not that this is a defense of Hamas.  I reject their terror tactics as well as their theocratic vision for Palestine.  Now many who have come to the defense of Israel are Christians, particularly fundamentalist Christians.  What are we as followers of Jesus to make of all this.  This course of action is to be rejected by the followers of Jesus for two main reasons.  First, it clearly cuts against the life and teaching of Jesus.  Second, the justification is built upon a mountain of theological horseshit.

Rather than rehash the bill of particulars against Israel and what they are doing in Gaza, I wish to focus on the theological justifications for the support of Israel.  Particularly the idea that Israel is justified because of some clearly spelled out plan that God has announced for the consummation of His Creation.  First, let’s look at what Jesus teaches us.

Jesus Was Serious About That Peace Thing!

Obviously, Jesus would not ever commit genocide, or any other form of warfare.  This very idea is preposterous.  The question is what would Jesus have us do in His name?  We are to emulate Jesus, as best we feebly can, in all that we think, say, and do.  So, what does that mean?  We must look at Scripture and the life, and teachings of Jesus to see how we should go about living our lives in response to God’s gifts of Grace upon Grace.  We do this because Jesus and the way He lived His human life is normative for us.

If we undertake the exercise to look at Jesus’s life and teachings, we will see that His call to peace is absolute.  I have dealt with this topic previously.  There is no point in rehashing the entire argument.  The simple truth is that there is no passage anyone can point to that would give justification to commit violence against anyone, ever.  Jesus never committed any act of violence, never said it was ok to commit any act of violence, nor did He ever instruct His followers to ever do so.  The instance where Peter did commit an act of violence by cutting off the ear of the slave of the high priest, saw Jesus rebuke Peter and immediately heal the victim. (John 18:10; Luke 22: 50-51).  I will gladly engage all challengers who wish to show via Scripture where we are ever given sanction by our Lord to commit violence.

If the call of Christ to absolute peace is so clear, how do people get around this to justify the violence they commit, and/or advocate?  There are two quick ways that most people will attempt to do this.  First, they will claim that the Jesus ethic is “too high”.  That is, what Jesus did and taught is for the heavenly places, not here on earth.  Note that this is different than claiming we will fall short in our attempt.  This group is claiming that the ethic Jesus teaches is for the heavenly places.  This idea can’t survive the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught us in which His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10).

Second, there are those that claim that the Jesus ethic is “too far away”, that is it is for when He returns way in the future over the horizon.  So, until then we are free to commit violence in some form.  Yet, this does not survive the myriad of passages in which Jesus calls people to follow Him right now.  This is everything from the call of the first Apostles to telling the man to leave his dead father moldering out in the field.  Jesus always calls people to Himself immediately.  So, both these excuses pull up lame.  We are called to follow our Lord right here, right now

The Fundamentalist Perspective

Before examining how fundamentalists view specific texts, we need to examine how fundamentalist Christians view Scripture.  They hold that the bible was dictated word for word by God Himself to the authors.  It was not simply divinely inspired, but literally dictated.  Speaking of literal, it is literally true in all its facts and in all its narrative.  This is where you get the belief in the 6–24-hour day story of creation.  This fundamentalist approach to Scripture emerged in the 19th. Century and was primarily a reaction to a modern, scholarly examination of the cultural and linguistic contexts from which Scripture emerged.  A fair evaluation of this reaction can be found here.  An extended quote will help clarify:

“A conservative reaction to this perceived corrupting of the sacred texts eventually would manifest in the form of biblical fundamentalism in the beginning of the twentieth century. Their desire to return to the “obvious meaning” of the literal words of Scripture, together with their understanding of the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, form the framework of what we can call “biblical fundamentalism.” They take the Bible seriously in their affirmation of its inspiration and inerrancy, but such fundamentalism views science, and not just scientific criticism, with hostility, seeing in it the enemy of faith. This is made evident in such controversies as the creationism versus evolution debates, where fundamentalists hold to the literal six, twenty-four-hour days of Creation recorded in Genesis 1 as the historical truth about the origins of the universe, rejecting evolution as an enemy to the revealed word of God.”

From the same link:

“Biblical fundamentalism is not so much a method of interpretation of Scripture as it is an ideology that has specific attitudes towards the Bible. It is rooted in reaction and rejection: in reaction to the heterodox conclusions of the liberal Protestant exegetes utilizing the historical critical methods and, therefore, a rejection of those very methods.”

In short, the fundamentalist reaction was to what they considered a denigration of the authority and integrity of the true word of God.  It was like so many other reactions to a modernizing world.  A modernizing world that offered questions and doubts, and increasingly fast paced change.  Fundamentalists thought that these questions and this changed interpretive framework challenged the authority of God.  If the Bible was not literally true, then one ran the risk of it being considered wholly false.  This was too much for the fundamentalists to accept.

Applying the Fundamentalist Perspective

Let’s turn to the application of this perspective to the specific issue of Israel, and her place in God’s plan.  I will summarize them, then offer a response.  One of the chief arguments is that we are to bless Israel.  They claim that God will bless those that bless Israel (Genesis 12:3).  From this starting point they roll out an argument about Israel’s role in the consummation of God’s creation.  Israel enters the picture then as an ethnic nation, the biblically referenced Israelites.  They considered them to be such a nation from the very beginning, when Abram was first called.  Israel differs from the church in that, the church is all those saved through Jesus.

In most iterations of this theology, it is crucial that the Jews return to Israel from the west for Jesus to return.  This is why they view the founding of modern Israel in 1948 as so crucial.

This fundamentalist argument rests upon what they consider to be necessary for the unfolding of the end times.  They claim that Israel is crucial for the consummation of God’s Creation, judgement day.  They read the Book Of Revelation as telling in detail how this will come about.  This argument starts earlier with a reading of 1Thessalonians 4:13-18.  This is where the idea of rapture comes from.  This is the notion that the true believers will be taken up to heaven thus inaugurating the end times.  This passage from Paul talks about being caught up in the air together to meet the Lord. 

The other book that Christian Zionists (pro-Israel, no matter what) lean on extensively is Revelation. To gain an insight into what this perspective says about Revelation we need to examine the largest group of fundamentalists.  Note that there are differing timelines amongst the various schools of thought.  Here and here you can see some of the differences.  Almost all versions start with the so-called rapture, and almost all are “premillennialist” in nature.  That means they think that Jesus will return then there will be a 1000-year reign, before the final battle.  Postmillennialists by contrast think that there must be a 1000-year kingdom of God on earth then Jesus returns.  These folks are more concerned with building that kingdom than they are with what the end times look like.  The third choice is amillennialism, which says that Jesus just comes back.  I will discuss that in my response.

As regards the End Times, and what literalists hold, the most prominent are called “Dispensationalists”.  They divide biblical history into “dispensations” or ages, which sees God interacting with humanity in specific ways.  They don’t just do this for the past, but also into the future, all the way to Judgement Day.  They see each successive book of the bible providing a further revelation of God’s plan.  This means that the Old Testament stands on its own, and there is no need to reread the Old Testament in light of the new.

They thus see Revelation as explaining exactly what will happen at the end of the age.  Further, they see certain ways they can hasten the arrival of the end times.  John Hagee is most prominent among them.  He wants Jews to move to Israel to move the end times forward.  Of course, they also want the US to side with Israel as part of the end times timeline, particularly as they think the long series of battles has already begun.  This gives you a brief overview of what the Christian Zionists want and what biblical texts they rely on to justify their unstinting support of Israel.  It is now time for us to deconstruct this “theology”.

A Made Up “Theology”

Basically, all this end time predictions and great certainty as to how God will wrap it all up is made up whole cloth.  Two great resources that I draw upon are the wonderful book by the Lutheran theologian Barbara Rossing The Rapture Exposed, and the foreword to the Book of Revelation in The New Jerusalem Bible, a wonderful, scholarly Catholic translation.

Let’s start with the “rapture” (a word that is itself not in the bible).  My former pastor used to call this idea the “Holy Hoover” theory.  That comical tag is all the credence we should give this idea.  For a more detailed look at the invention of this idea see here.

Yet upon examination it is not really about believers being removed from the earth but all believers, living and dead meeting our Lord.  The point of Paul’s poetic language (which he often used) is to reassure the church that those who have already died will not be at a disadvantage when Christ returns.  Paul is not writing about eschatology, and what will happen specifically at the end of the age.  For a good overview of this text see here.  For a similar take down of the other “proof texts” offered for rapture (Matthew 24:37-41, and Luke 17) see here.

Regarding Matthew 24, we see that those being “taken” are the unrighteous, not the true believers, and none of it specifies specific steps that will occur before any of this happens.  Point of fact, Jesus states clearly in Verse 36: “‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’”  If Jesus is not willing to specify, then I dare say we should not exhibit that kind of arrogance.

Those who claim to know when the end is coming have long proffered specific dates for all this rapture business to occur.  One such notable is Hal Lindsey, who has been fabulously wrong about when it all ends.  First it was the founding of modern Israel in 1948.  Then it was the recovery of the sacred sites in 1967.  Next up is the rebuilding of the temple.  He is certainly not alone in being massively wrong.  For a fun list of bad predictions see here.

What Does Revelation Reveal?

We now need to turn to the “big book” that fundamentalists use to “predict” the unfolding of the end times, Revelation.  To look at the way they describe this book one would think Nostradamus himself wrote it.  I am tempted to go chapter by chapter to break these ideas down, but in the interest of shortening an already long essay I will give an overview.

First, the entire fundamentalist way of approaching scripture is erroneous.  Make no mistake, they are interpreting the text.  They are not simply reading it word for word as a letter that had been dictated.  There is no way to take it all literally.  Yes, there are parts that are literal, like love your enemies.  The fundamentalists largely ignore these clearly literal passages.  There is a great amount of parable, as well as metaphor in the bible.  There is also history, poetry and line after line of rules (in the Old Testament).  To suggest that you take all the non-literal parts literally is to ignore the gift of reason God gave us.

Take Genesis as one quick example.  It is not enough that Genesis teaches us that God is the author of all and gave us this creation because He loves us beyond measure.  No, it must be literal.  No mention of how you get a 24-hour day, when the earth was not finished until day three, and the sun until day four.  Also, there are two creation accounts that differ. (Genesis 1:1–2:3, and Genesis 2:4–2:25).  Oops. 

The appropriate way to parse out the literal from the symbolic is to place scripture within its historical/cultural, literary/linguistic context to determine as best we can what the author was trying to communicate.  In that way we can determine best what it is that God is trying to tell us.

Revelation is “apocalyptic” literature.  This is similar, yet distinct from “prophetic” writing.  Neither are about predicting the future but are about calling people to God here in the present.  Prophets tend to “hear the word of God” and then pass it on.  Apocalyptic writers by contrast get a revelation or a vision.  These visions are always rich in symbolism and are not to be taken in an immediate literal meaning.  Some of the allegories used are clear enough, yet some are not.

When we look at Revelation, we must place it within its historical context of the late 1st. Century.  This is a time in which the church is being persecuted by Rome, and in fact, the author has been exiled to the island of Patmos.  Rome is clearly the beast that is being discussed and looms ever large in the background.  Rome is not always labeled directly.  They use Babylon as a stand in, the same way Daniel used Nebuchadnezzar.  The author of Revelation did not want to run afoul of Roman authorities, nor have any who were distributing this text to get into trouble, so he called it Babylon.  The same was true for the author of Daniel, so as not to run afoul of the Hellenistic rulers of that era.

In overview, we see the Beast (Rome) that is doomed, and a faithful who will be sustained by God.  God’s enemies are warned first, a parallel to the Egyptians in Exodus.  Their hearts are only hardened, like Pharaoh.  God then destroys them.  This prevents the rise of Satan worship (really emperor worship in pagan Rome).

There then is a second vision of destruction of the Beast (Rome) but this time by Christ in glory.  This starts an era of prosperity for the church.  This prompts a new assault by Satan, then an annihilation of the enemy, resurrection of the dead and judgement day.  This then inaugurates the establishment of a kingdom of perfect happiness with death destroyed.  In the end New Jerusalem descends to Earth.

Let’s take a closer look at the key text fundamentalists use to justify their view, Revelation 20:1-6.  This is the text that those who believe in a millennial period of 1000 years use to support their position.  As I take an amillenial stance (Jesus just returns and that is it), I would look at this as also being highly symbolic, not literal.  It is from this period that the so-called tribulation is derived.  Yet, what the author is describing is something already in progress today.  He is describing Jesus as King, as He has been since His birth.  The 1000 years are simply meant to convey a “long time”, the same way “40 days” is used elsewhere in scripture.  The new heaven and the new earth arrive with Jesus’s second coming.  The point the author is making is that ours is a triumphant God, and we are a resurrected people.  Here we see Jesus tying up Satan, like He already has, right now.  See 2Thessalonians 2:1-12, and Ezekiel 37-38 for a similar point.  The faithful need not worry about any of this.  The final judgement will not change our salvation.

The reason we need not worry is that the enemy is already trapped and contained.  All of this is part of God’s plan.  The enemy cannot separate us from God.  Our eternal lives have already begun, and we trust in God’s word, so that Christ abides in us, and we in Him.  This “second death” will not affect us.

The Amazingly Good News of Revelation

In the end what is clear is that the fundamentalists have superimposed an ideology of how it all ends on top of scripture.  They have done this with other areas, such as sexuality.  They are just erecting an eschatological program of “works righteousness” on top of these texts.  It is all a list of things to do, boxes to check, and most disturbingly, people to hate, and allow to be slaughtered. 

Yet, Revelation is just the opposite of that.  It is a book of great hope for a persecuted and dispirited church.  There is clearly a wider significance to this text than its primary historical interpretation.  It offers us the hope of an unchanging reality that our faith rests upon in any age.  It sees a God protecting His people and promising the return of His Son, our Lord and Savior.  We may suffer at times, but in the end, God will bring His people home.  The sacrifice of the lamb wins the final victory, as we see at the end of this book.  That is the truth for all ages.

The amazing part of this is that in contrast to the fundamentalists and their programs of boxes to check on the way to Armageddon, there is no work for us to do.  Regarding the final victory over evil, all the work has been done.  It has been done by God, who then gives us the rewards.  That leaves us only to respond to this gift by witnessing and proclaiming its glory.  That is, we are to simply believe, then obey.

So, What About Israel?

Given that Jesus calls us to absolute peace, and that what is going on in Gaza is a genocide, the Christian conscience has no choice but to vocally oppose this monstrosity.  We are called to follow Jesus right here, and right now, but never in silence.  We must oppose all forms of violence anywhere and must make it clear that we will take no voluntary part in it.

The symbolic hopefulness of Revelation, and Paul’s poetry in 1Thessalonians has nothing to do with modern Israel, much less the slaughter of innocent Palestinians.  Whatever role Israel, and the Jewish people have in the consummation of God’s creation is up to God.  It is illegitimate for us to superimpose science fiction end times fantasies upon God’s Holy Word to justify revenge on those for some, and I mean this literally, ungodly reason.  Even worse is the blasphemous notion that we can advance the end of the age by engaging in certain actions, as if we could ever manipulate God.

It is beyond the scope of this essay to offer a comprehensive peace plan for the Middle East.  We should be focused on a peaceful solution to this problem for all inhabitants of this region, both Palestinians and Israelis.  As always, we should keep in mind that God loves the whole world.  Peace and justice for all God’s children should be the measure of all we seek to do in this world.

I am sure that whatever role God has for Israel and the Jews it has nothing to do with the modern state of Israel, and our made-up fantasy that we should conceive of the physical land of Israel as the beginning and end of God’s plan, especially when His commission to us is to evangelize all the nations.  Also left unexplained is why the modern nation of Israel should be given carte blanche to commit any violent action regardless of its nature.  We may all fall short of the glory of God, as Paul reminds us, but there is no reason to fall this far short.  Reject this sterile, hateful way of warping scripture to justify, that which is by God, unjustifiable.  Here we must as followers of Jesus, make our stand.

Praise Be to God

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