By John D. Garr, Ph.D., Th.D.
The rebirth of the nation of Israel in the twentieth century is one of the greatest miracles in human history. Driven by an often incomprehensible passion, millions of Jewish people from around the world have made aliyah, “going up” to reclaim the land central to their corporate legacy from Abraham, the patriarch to whom “this land” was titled by God himself some four millennia ago (Genesis 12:7; 15:7; 15:18). This real estate was conveyed to Abraham and his descendants after him “forever” in a unilateral covenant that was predicated solely on God’s promise, not on Abraham or his children’s performance. The land was God’s eternal gift to the patriarch and his progeny (Genesis 13:15).
Various Jewish prophets and sages predicted this amazing restoration of a people, a land, and nation. God, himself, promised that following what became two millennia of their dispersion among the nations of the world, he would once again set his hand to regather the outcasts of the Diaspora into their own land never to be removed again (Amos 9:15). This exodus to aliyah from the north, east, south, and west was predicted to eclipse the archetypal exodus from Egyptian slavery in both scope and importance (Isaiah 4:6; 11:11-14; Jeremiah 23:7, 8). Israel was to be a renewed nation, born in one day, restored to life and health (Isaiah 66:8). Israelite prophets also declared that the restoration of Israel would be accompanied by an impartation of loving concern and support from Gentile peoples for the restored nation and the renewed people.
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. . . . and the Gentiles shall come to thy light . . . and the sons of strangers shall build up thy walls, and their kings shall minister unto thee” (Isaiah 60:1, 3, 10). These inspired prophetic words predicted Gentile support for rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel following the Galut (exile) in Babylon. Indeed, God called Cyrus, the Medo-Persian king, his “anointed one” and instructed him to commission Jewish leaders to return to the land of their ancestors and to rebuild their ancient capital city. This ancient event, however, was merely a foretaste of an even greater restoration that was to occur centuries later–the modern-day restoration of the Israeli nation, for God predicted that the restoration of Israel that occurred historically in post-exilic times would be completed in a time when Israel would be returned to their land “never to be plucked out again” (Amos 9:11-15).
While the hand of God alone has regathered the Jewish people to their land, the restoration of the people to the land and the land to the people has received significant support from among the Gentile nations of the world, particularly from the international Christian community. The kind of massive, unequivocal support that the prophets envisioned, however, has not been fully realized. Many Christian denominations have at best vacillated in their stand for the right of self-determination for the Jewish people in the land which was deeded to their ancestors in perpetuity by God himself.
Even moderate support for Jewish causes in recent times has been a radical departure from the norm in Christian circles. Since the late first century of the Common Era, most of Christianity has been characterized by Judaeophobia, anti-Judaism, and anti-Semitism. Despite the fact that the Christian patriarch Paul enjoined upon the Gentiles a profound sense of humility and appreciation for being included in God’s family tree of salvation (Romans 11:11, 18), Christian triumphalism has been manifest in supersessionism that has often relegated Judaism to the role of a failed, fossil religion and the Jewish people to a subhuman species as Christ killers and mortal enemies of Christian faith. Far from anticipating–much less supporting–the restoration of Israel, much of the church in history and even in the present has reveled in Jewish dispersion as “evidence” of divine rejection.
Despite the lack of cooperation from much of the church, when God began to quicken the spirit of Zionism in Jewish hearts at the end of the nineteenth century, he also began to orchestrate the world political stage to develop his long-awaited prophetic scenario that would make the complete restoration of Israel possible. Contemporaneously, he also initiated a move of the Holy Spirit to prepare the hearts of various Christian individuals and communions to stand with the Jewish people in the quest to restore their nation. As always, God has used what was imperfect at the time to accomplish his purposes and point toward a more perfect day.
Anyone who has studied pro-Israel Christianity has noted that most of such support comes from evangelical churches. While mainline churches are characteristically supportive of the international Jewish community in general and of Judaism in particular, they have generally refrained from support of Israel, even championing Palestinian and other Muslim causes. Evangelical churches, on the other hand, have often lagged behind in support for Jewish communities outside the land of Israel while offering endorsement for Israeli statehood and independence. Evangelical support for Jews and Israel has often vacillated, however, depending upon of the relative imminence of the coming of Jesus in their eschatological scenarios.
Ulterior motives have undergirded Christian support for Israel from the time when Martin Luther went from being strongly philo-Semitic to being virulently anti-Semitic because Jews did not convert to Protestantism en masse in accordance with his own personal eschatology that required the return of Jesus in his time. Much of dispensationalism is supportive of Israel because it sees rapprochement with the Jewish community as necessary for the realization of an eschatology that demands the “conversion” of the Jews as a precondition to the return of Jesus. Additionally, it is sometimes easy for Western evangelical Christians to love Israel while being indifferent to and even hating Jews who live near them because Israel is on the other side of the world and is mentioned in the Bible.
Then, there are some Christians who have had a “love” for Israel and the Jews that is founded in their hope of converting individual Jews to Christianity. A virtual big-game hunter’s mentality dominates their proselytizing thinking and forces them to love them, all in hopes of being able to brag that they have “converted” a Jew to Christianity. Fortunately growing numbers of Christians have learned to be faithful to the mega mitzvah of bearing witness to their faith (the Great Commission) while at the same time supporting the international Jewish community and the nation of Israel unconditionally.
What is needed in the Christian church for its own health, as well as for the benefit of the Jewish community, is a balanced, no-strings-attached position that both affirms a solid support for Israel that is free from ulterior motives and, at the same time, prayerfully seeks social justice for all men everywhere. All believers in the God of Scripture must become intercessors for peace, first in Jerusalem, then throughout the Middle East, and finally in the uttermost parts of the earth. In doing so, they can imitate the character of Abraham who, when he was informed by God that Sarah would bear the son of promise, responded in prayer to the Divine with this exclamation: “O that Ishmael might live before thee!” In the spirit of this patriarch of faith, the father of us all, prophetic expectations for Israel will always be accompanied by prophetic intercession and practical activism on behalf of social justice for all the people groups in the Middle East and throughout the world.
How does the church get beyond these confusing mixed signals of love/hate relationships and be fully liberated into a truly biblical relationship of mutual support? How can Christians come to manifest unequivocal support for the Jewish community and for the nation of Israel based on pure, biblical motives? How can Christians arise in this time of restoration of the nation of Israel to become unequivocally pro-Israel, thereby fulfilling in a spiritual dimension the words of the prophets that Gentiles would come to Israel’s light and build up her walls?
A simple marketing axiom teaches that if one is to become unequivocally supportive of a product or an idea, he must be enfranchised with a sense of ownership in that object or concept. We are loyal and supportive of what we own. This profoundly simple concept must be applied to Christians in order to enlist unequivocal Christian support for Israel. Christians must be enfranchised with a sense of ownership of the vision of the restoration of Israel. They must come to see themselves as partners in the development of Israel and in the security of the international Jewish community.
How can this be? First, the church around the world must be educated concerning the truth of Christian origins. Christianity is an inherently Jewish religion, birthed in the matrix of Second Temple Judaism. It was founded on faith in the God of the Jews, established and validated by the Scriptures of the Jews, and saved by grace through faith in the Jewish Jesus who is also Lord of the church. Gentiles who have come to faith in the God of the Hebrew Scriptures have been grafted into God’s family tree of salvation and covenant relationship and together with the Jewish people have become fellow citizens in the commonwealth of God’s eternal Israel (Romans 11:11; Ephesians 2:11-19). Gentiles are naturalized citizens of this commonwealth, but citizens nonetheless, and, as such, they have entitlements of citizenship.
For far too long, Christianity has defined itself as “not Jewish,” while Judaism, often in response, has defined itself as “not Christian.” Both Christianity and Judaism must fully understand that they are kindred faiths, springing from the common root of biblical and Second Temple Judaism. As a matter of fact, only two of the many Judaisms that existed in the first century survived—the Pharisees and the Notzrim. The Pharisees produced Rabbinic Judaism; the Notzrim, the followers of Jesus, the Netzer (“shoot” or “branch”), evolved into Christianity.
TAKING THE INITIATIVE
Christians, however, have the greater responsibility for establishing the means of coming alongside the Jewish community in true fraternal relationship because the church has been the greater source of division through its overt persecution of the Jewish people for the past eighteen centuries or more. Christianity has been the agent of supersessionist claims that have sought to disenfranchise the Jewish people from God’s promises by saying that Christianity replaced Judaism, Christians replaced the Jews, and the church replaced Israel in the purposes of God. In biblical principle, the offender has the responsibility of initiating repentance, restoration, and reconciliation with the offended.
When all of Christianity has been made aware of the richness of its heritage with and among the Jewish people, one of the largest people groups in the entire world can be enlisted in unequivocal support of the international Jewish community and the nation of Israel. This support will not be a blanket endorsement of any particular political party, agency, or action in Israel. It will be an affirmation of the fundamental right of the Jewish people to exist as Jews with complete self-determination in the land of Israel, void of any political, economic, or religious coercion, with full entitlement to establish and maintain their nation as they collectively see fit and proper.
When Christians realize that the Jews are to be restored to their land, not because of some Christian eschatological scenario, but because of Jewish entitlement to the land by virtue of God’s covenant with their father Abraham and by virtue of God’s irrevocable commitment to Abraham’s posterity in perpetuity, Christians by the millions will come to support the Jewish people and their nation without the historical ecclesiastical vacillation that has produced so much tragedy in the past.
Sigmund Freud noted that “hatred for Judaism is at bottom hatred for Christianity.” Christian hatred for Jews is, in essence, a form of self-hatred. Christians who are ignorant of the foundations of their faith do not realize that when they hate or even are apathetic toward Jews and toward Israel, they are extending the same emotions toward their own Christian faith. It is time that Christians fully define themselves in the context of Judaism, the Jewish community, and the nation of Israel as Jesus and the apostles of earliest Christianity did.
When Christians fully realize that their faith was and remains a branch of biblical and Second-Temple Judaism, they gain a profound sense of ownership in the vision of Jewish well being and Israeli security. “Your people will be my people; your God will be my God; and where you die, I will die.” These immortal words that a Gentile woman by the name of Ruth spoke to the Jewish people of her day must echo from each Christian heart on the planet. Old prejudices can melt in the loving warmth of face-to-face relationship when Christians embrace their ancient, long-lost family. After all, prejudice is nothing more than being down on something you’re not up on! When Christians are led out of the ignorance of their heritage by the educational process that has so long been the hallmark of the Jewish community, they will destroy old prejudicial caricatures of Jews and Judaism. They will unequivocally and fully embrace the faith of Abraham, who Paul declared is the father of us all (Romans 4:16).
It is profoundly difficult to hate one’s own family, even when some members are dysfunctional. When Christians embrace Jews as members of the divine family that was birthed in Abraham, nurtured in the prophets and sages of Israel, and expanded by the Rabbi from Nazareth who, like his people before him, welcomed Gentiles into the faith of God, familial love overlooks faults and failures of the past and anticipates joy and success in future mutually-supportive relationships.
Racists, bigots, and anti-Semites will always slither from under their rocks, rear their ugly heads, shout their obscenities, and spew their hateful venom, and they must always be challenged. Rather than spend all our energies, emotions, and resources counterattacking such evil, however, we Christians should exercise ourselves to the task of educating the church, bringing it out of the dark ages of prejudice into the light of its rightful biblical relationship with the international Jewish community. Then Christians will be able to extend to Israel and to the Jewish people the loving support that Jesus and the earliest Christian leaders demanded.
Though Christians by their own Scriptures have no literal entitlement to the land of Israel at least until the Messianic Age that is yet to come, they must still realize that in spirit Israel is their land and that the Jews are their people. Education is the key. Knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge of Christianity’s Judaic heritage is the dynamic antidote to Judaeophobia, anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Israelism. When Christian understanding of the church’s Jewish connection becomes universal, the one people group that should always have stood alongside the Jewish people and the nation of Israel in unswerving, loving support will once again become unequivocally pro-Israel, just as its Jewish Lord was two millennia ago.
© 2008, John D. Garr, Ph.D. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of the author.