Can We Use Ancient Biblical Texts to Solve Middle Eastern Conflicts?
Tomorrow, in a massively important event, we will move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But this is not simply an event of great political import. To many, it is an event of great spiritual import. Does this move help prepare the way for the return of Jesus the Messiah?
The Scriptures speak clearly of a Jewish Jerusalem at the end of the age (see especially Zechariah 12 and 14; see also Matthew 23:37-39). Because of this, many Bible teachers see a prophetic side to President Trump’s decision. But is it dangerous to think like this?
The first problem is one of biblical interpretation. Are we sure that the prophetic scriptures — referring to predictive verses that have not yet come to pass — are that easy to interpret? What if our interpretation is wrong?
The second problem is one of timing. It is notoriously difficult to pin down the time frame for the fulfillment of prophecy. Peter even tells us that the Old Testament prophets often misunderstood the timing of their own prophecies (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).
The third problem is one of ethics. What if we ignore questions of justice because we believe we are cooperating with prophecy? The results could be disastrous.
Christ at the Checkpoint Conference
Later this month, I am scheduled to speak at the Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference in Bethlehem, a conference I previously criticized as being anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic.
In fact, the CATC conference is so controversial that most of my friends in Israel boycott it. Yet these same friends work regularly with Arab Christians and have a great heart for reconciliation. They simply do not see CATC as working for reconciliation and understanding. They see it as bent on undermining Israel, both ideologically and theologically.
One of the CATC leaders is Rev. Munther Isaac, who recently remarked, “I find it shocking we are trying to solve political disputes based on text written 3,000 years ago.”
How do we address these concerns? And how do we sort out the question of ancient prophecies and contemporary events?
I’m very much looking forward to meeting Rev. Isaac. In fact, I’m scheduled to lead a workshop with him discussing the subject of “replacement theology.” This refers to the idea that the biblical promises that once applied to Israel now apply to the Church, and I have referred to this theology as “deadly.”
And in my plenary session, I’m scheduled to bring an address titled, “A Loving Challenge to Palestinian Christians.” In that message, I will respond to the concern that “Holy Land Christians feel abandoned by U.S. evangelicals,” laying out three essential things they must do if they are to gain our support. (Yes, the message will be very controversial, but again, I have been invited as a dissenting voice. And to the credit of the CATC organizers, I have been given carte blanche to speak freely.)
Prophecy and Ethics
One of the points I will make ties in directly with the theme of this article. Can we use ancient biblical texts to solve Middle Eastern conflicts?
The answer is absolutely yes, but it is not a matter of prophecy or ethics. It is a matter of prophecy and ethics.
When it comes to prophecy, one would have to be spiritually blind not to recognize that Israel’s history has been unique. Our origins. Our scattering. Our suffering. Our preservation among the nations. And our regathering to the Land. (I say “our” as a Jewish believer in Jesus.)
Writing in 1906, Messianic Jewish scholar David Baron stated that, “Israel, though seriously wounded, is not dead, and refuses to be buried; and the remarkable signs of vitality which as a people they are now manifesting are in themselves sufficient to show that they are not merely a nation of the past, but preeminently the nation of the future.”
He could say this because the Scriptures were quite clear about Israel’s future. And there is much of that future still to be written, which includes Jesus returning to a Jewish Jerusalem, along with world hostility towards that Jewish Jerusalem.
At the same time, those very Scriptures hold the Jewish people to high ethical and moral standards, and Christian friends of Israel must challenge them to live by those standards.
Again, it is a matter of prophecy and ethics. To answer Rev. Isaac’s question, “Yes! We absolutely can solve political disputes using 3,000-year-old texts.”
Divinely Inspired Texts
It is because those texts are not just ancient. They are divinely inspired. And they tell us clearly that the Jewish people are to have a homeland in Israel. They also tell us clearly that the Jewish people are to act ethically towards their peace-loving neighbors.
Of course, one of the greatest problems is that most of Israel’s neighbors are not peace-loving, because of which the tiny nation is on day and night, defensive alert. But Israel must be held accountable for its actions, and evangelical Christians, as friends of Israel, must not turn a blind eye to Israel’s many failings and shortcomings. (We should commend Israel for the many ethical stands it does take.)
When it comes to the significance of President Trump’s courageous decision to relocate our embassy, it is certainly of great political significance. It is certainly the right and righteous thing to do. And it could well be of prophetic significance.
Time will tell. I, for one, will be watching with great interest.