By Barry Kimbrough
In a bold move, President Trump has declared Jerusalem to be the recognized capital of Israel and future location of the U.S. Embassy. The pro-Israel decision has sparked reactions and controversy around the world. Supporters and protestors are making their voices heard. While many hail it as a long-overdue victory, others call it a crime and even a declaration of war.1
Many evangelicals are thrilled. Televangelist, John Hagee, declared: “Today President Trump made the courageous announcement that the United States will move its Embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Let’s unite together on this historic day to pray for our President, our nation and the nation of Israel like never before. Let’s pray that the United States will remain resolute in its commitment and support of Israel.” 2
Florida megachurch pastor, Paula White, said: “Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends.” 3
Rev. Robert Jeffries, a pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and a member of Trump’s advisory board, weighed in: “Jerusalem has been the object of the affection of both Jews and Christians down through history and the touchstone of prophecy. But most importantly, God gave Jerusalem — and the rest of the Holy Land — to the Jewish people.” Ibid.
A recent survey revealed that 45% of American evangelicals say the Bible is the biggest influence on their opinion about Israel. Forty-one percent of evangelicals believe the Jews have a “biblical right” to the land of Israel. Ibid.
Evangelicals hope the embassy will eventually lead to a temple
David Reagan, the founder and director of the Texas-based Lamb and Lion Ministries, and whose weekly TV show can be accessed by over 110 million Americans, said: “Evangelical Christians in America generally agree that most likely there will be a war against Israel which the scriptures call the ‘war of annihilation’ in which all the Muslim nations which have a common border with Israel, who are named in Psalm 83, will attack Israel and Israel will defeat them. Then the Arab world will go into a panic and cry out for Russia to come to their aid. And the Russians will come down with a specified group of Muslim nations, countries like Persia (Iran) and Turkey and they will be destroyed on the mountains of Israel.”
According to this view, the Antichrist will come from within the European Union and will “try to settle the situation in the Middle East” by making a treaty with Israel.” Reagan says, “Daniel Chapter Nine [of the Bible] teaches that the moment he signs that agreement with Israel that is when the tribulation will begin.” 4
Many Christians want the U.S. Embassy to be located in Jerusalem as a step in the direction of eventually getting a new temple built there. “If President Trump really has a similar calling to King Cyrus,” writes Prophecy News Watch, “could it be that God would use this real estate developer turned President to facilitate the greatest property development of modern time – the rebuilding of the Temple?” The President is compared to ancient King Cyrus because the Persian ruler helped re-establish the Jews in their homeland after they were captive 70 years in Babylon. 5
Where did the idea of Israel’s prophetic role and a new temple come from?
Various Christian authors over the past 400+ years have predicted a return of Israel to its homeland. In 1607 Thomas Brightman made the prediction in his book Revelation of the Revelation, published in Basel. 6 Many others have voiced the same opinion, notably among them London-born Rev. John Darby (1880-1882). This influential author and preacher promoted throughout the western world his belief that Israel occupies a special end-time role in addition to Christianity. 7
Darby’s views were further popularized by being incorporated into the famous Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909. Scofield’s notes, printed alongside the biblical text, have “induced generations of American evangelicals to believe that God demands their uncritical support for the modern State of Israel.” The Zionist movement in America would not have tens of millions of Christian supporters without the Scofield Bible. 8
Why do people think Israel is the key to the end?
Those who teach that Israel is a major player in God’s end-time scenario based their views on selected texts of the Bible that speak of God’s regard for Israel and His promise of land to them. God told Abraham in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.” Many other texts mention the promise of the land. The promise to Abraham also included a blessing on those who blessed him and his descendants: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3). On the strength of this text, generations of Bible believers have supported Zionism:
The problem with this interpretation is that it fails to recognize that the promises were conditional. By rebellion, Israel would forfeit the promise and lose the land: “If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you…, I will turn your cities into ruins… I myself will lay waste the land…I will scatter you among the nations” (Leviticus 26:27, 31, 32, 33). The restoration was contingent on Israel’s obedience to God. “Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place” (Jeremiah 7:3).
The meaning of the promise to Abraham
The promise to Abraham was not an absolute guarantee of future political prosperity and possession of the land.
Political Israel does not occupy the central place in the New Testament that many prophecy teachers give it in their charts of last day events. The name “Israel” is used in the New Testament as a label for the church, not the nation. Non-Jews who believe in Jesus are the real Jews, according to Paul: “…those who have faith are children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). National citizens are contrasted with spiritual believers: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6). Those who follow the gospel principles are called Israel: “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). It is no longer about ethnic identity but about an inner change: “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code (Rom 2:28, 29).
God is more concerned about people trusting Him than He is about their personal ancestry. If salvation was about national boundaries and magnificent temples, God could accomplish that easily.
As for the new temple in Jerusalem, neither Jesus nor any of the New Testament writers predicted it. When the word “temple” is used, it refers to individual Christians (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20), or the body of Christ, the church (1 Cor. 3:16; Ephesians 2:20, 21). The book of Hebrews does not focus on a man-made temple but calls believers to look to the temple in heaven where Christ ministers as our High Priest (see Heb. 9:8).
The whole idea of a last-day temple in Jerusalem is based on a brief line from writings of Paul. Speaking of antichrist, he wrote: “…he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4). But against the backdrop of Paul’s own concept of the temple as a metaphor for the church, it is clear that this passage is not describing a literal temple, but instead, it speaks of a time when a false leader will gain influence and mislead many Christian believers.
The spiritual nature of God’s kingdom
My conclusion is not a majority view, but I believe it is a correct view, and one that helps us avoid the mistake of blind support for civil entities. Israel as a nation has all the rights and responsibilities of any country and should be treated with fairness, but its existence and location in the holy land is not due to the long-ago divine promise. Relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem may help in some ways, but not because prophecy demands it. Whatever position one takes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the issue is personal and not mandated by any Scripture except in that we are admonished to be peacemakers.
More importantly, understanding the spiritual nature of God’s Kingdom will help us keep our focus on what really matters. Instead of waiting for someone to build a great worship edifice in the capital of Israel, why don’t we ask God help us to build a beautiful temple of love, peace, and hope, made of believers from all nations?
That would be the ultimate eschatological miracle.
For a more in-depth coverage of this topic, check out Steve Wohlberg’s book, Exploding the Israel Deception (Amazon)
Barry Kimbrough is a pastor in the Mountain View Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
All texts are from the New International Version. Photograph from DepositPhotos.com / sepavone
https://www.rt.com/news/412072-israel-jerusalem-idf-hamas-violence/ (accessed 12-13-2017)
2 https://www.jhm.org/specialdonation/14008 (accessed 12-13-2017)
3 http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/06/politics/american-evangelicals-jerusalem/index.html (accessed 12-13-2017)
5 http://www.prophecynewswatch.com/article.cfm?recent_news_id=1015#VQz5cQrsmLae7rAs.99 (accessed 12-13-2017
6 https://us.icej.org/media/history-christian-zionism (accessed 12-13-2017)
7 http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/john-nelson-darby.html (accessed 12-14-2017)