Can We Use Ancient Biblical Texts to Solve Middle Eastern Conflicts?

By Michael Brown Published on May 13, 2018

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?

Jewish Jerusalem

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?

Biblical Interpretation

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.

That’s why I wrote an article explaining why I accepted the invitation — it was to go as a dissenting voice — as well as a follow-up article, making a strong appeal to the CATC leaders.

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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.

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  • Patmos

    Even supposedly fulfilled prophecy retains a fairly significant sense of being cryptic, but yes it’s the entirety of those prophecies that makes you take notice, and help give validity to scripture. However when you have another set of beliefs that sit at odds with that scripture, beliefs that although they don’t withstand scrutiny still claim to be of God, it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to come to a resolution. This is especially true when that questionable set of beliefs calls for the eradication of those who believe in the other.

  • tz1

    Is there anything that could ever convince you are wrong on prophecy?

    Remeber back to the late 1970’s and Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” that said because 1948+40 (a generation), the rapture just had to occur before 1988, and that Russia would invade Israel (Gog and Magog), yet be destroyed, etc. None of it happened. NONE. But Lindsey is still considered an expert. He’s moved the goalposts mile away but says they are still there and still valid. I don’t think he ever mentioned Islam in his early works, but now it is everything. He also changed the emphasis on China.

    He was not the only one, but he was very prominent. How do you KNOW what you’ve been taught about Israel and Prophecy is correct? Not everyone agrees, and it isn’t wild heretics, but mainline orthodox Protestants who reject “Israel as Prophecy”, noting it was not created by God but by the UN.

    Israel can have a fraudulent fiat currency, LGBTQ rights (Caitlyn Jenner got an award recently), Abortion on Demand, and you will not condemn it? But then what of your morals when on some things Israel is worse than Trump? Ought not God judge them as they did in history, and the USA for enabling them?

    Speaking of which, since you are an expert on prophecy, where is the USA? Are we going to be destroyed? What is going to happen since you claim to know with a certainty you are betting your immoral soul on.

    • Patmos

      Has Lindsey ever said, “Thus saith the Lord”? Honest question, as I’ve only ever seen him speculate, and it’s an important distinction to make.

      As for Israel, I’ve heard more than one person say that all the Godlessness there will be the reason it gets entangled in conflict, as prophesied. That would fit too.

      Not sure why you bring such an abrasive tone, perhaps you were just trying to fulfill prophecy yourself? Which Paul wrote to Timothy about (2nd Tim. Ch. 3)?

      • tz1

        Yes, he said “Thus saith the Lord”, quoted various passages of scripture and asserted that is what the Lord meant precisely by those words, including the complex imagery of the Apocalypse.

        Abrasion is one of the few ways to get scales off, so if I’m trying to let people see, sometimes I have to be abrasive. Ought I let the dirt and accompanying darkness stay?

    • Jim

      Is God not sovereign? The book of Daniel says that He raises up who He chooses and puts down who He desires. The Bible insists that in the last days that Israel would be gathered back into their land, even coming from the north country just as God brought them up out of Egypt. The only way to get around this is to allegories the whole prophecy and make the church the ones being registered. But the problems with this are serious, beginning with allegory as an interpretive method when it’s use is not indicated by the text.

      • tz1

        God IS sovereign, but that has nothing to do with whether the dispensensationalist interpretation of scripture – that is a very recent development (what happened to going back to the early church? The rapture is less than 300 years old if that, the whole timeline thing is very modern).

        We’ve been in “the last days” for almost 2000 years. You want to take the bible hyper-literally, but only here. I sometimes bring up the 180 (almost) every protestant church did on Contraception -it was intrinsically evil in 1929, but by 1979 ministers were promoting it. Apparently Gen 38 Onan changed meaning.

        I doubt neither God nor the Bible, but do doubt fallible fallen man – feel free to add “total depravity” which would make interpretation impossible. And there is something critically wrong with wanting Jews to be both damned and slaughtered in Israel for prophecy’s sake instead of trying to save them from both the first and second death.

        • Jim

          First, the teaching of the rapture is not 300 years old. It was clearly taught by Paul. It was looked for by him as imminent. There is at least one writing by Ephraim the Syrian from the 370s that expresses the doctrine of a separate rapture and second coming that predates the 1700s by quite a few centuries. If you read the texts of Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians and Revelation, you quickly discover that they describe things so differently that they can only be seeing two completely different events. Additionally, if the rapture and second coming are identical, then you must discard the words of Jesus and call him a liar when he says that no one, not even him, knows the day of his coming. If the second coming is at the end of the tribulation only, then the arrival of Jesus has never been imminent; you had to wait for the rise of the antichrist, the treaty with Israel and then count the days until his return 7 years later.
          Hyper-literally is a loaded off and a red herring. Any good Bible scholar takes the text as it’s intended by the author. The rule has been that, when the plain sense meaning of a text makes sense, you take that meaning unless you are given textual clues to indicate otherwise.
          On that note, allegorizing or spiritualizing texts is also the product of human minds and the only limits on how far to take the meaning is the imagination of the interpreter. This is an extremely dangerous place to be in as it led the Catholics astray from the time of Augustine onward, allowing them to make any text say anything they wanted it to say.

          • tz1

            The pre-millenial Rapture is recent. I have read Thesselonians so I know those who are alive will be caught up and meet Christ in the air, but I have no indication if it will happen in 2 days or 20,000 years. Paul didn’t give a date. Nor enough signs.

            That has been admixed with various parts of Revelation to come up with a bunch of extra biblical theory and detail, where no one can clearly determin pre/mid/post Trib rapture or pre/mid/post Millenial 2nd coming.

            And if you can’t accurately read the mind of any person living TODAY with them in front of you, “takes the text as it’s intended by the author.” is at best disingenous, at worst hubris. Jesus himself was literate but never WROTE one word.

            Jesus didn’t write a book, he founded a church upon a Petros. You’ve rejected the petros, the church, so search the scriptures that point to Christ yet deny what they say when it contradicts some unfounded pet opinion.

          • Jim

            I can tell by your rejection of the whole science of homiletics that you are Catholic. God did not found the church on Peter, nor is there any evidence that he was a pope. The church was founded on the rock of Peter’s proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah. When you consider that the statement Jesus made was in Aramaic, not Greek, your claims of founding the church on Peter become nonsense, since there is not a distinction in Aramaic between a small rock and a large rock.
            Now, as to taking the intent of the author, you do that every time you read a text biblical or otherwise. You can understand to a large degree what the original meaning if the text is because the words have meaning, and they have context within the sentence, paragraph, book and within the Bible as a whole. There is also historical context, customs and idioms that we can know to a large degree because of scholarship and archaeology.
            As to Jesus not writing down his own words, it is a red herring. The four Gospels recorded many, but obviously not all, of his words and, assuming that they would record accurately something as important as the words of Jesus, we know with certainty the things that God wanted us to have of his teaching.
            The premillenial rapture is not a recent teaching. It was the norm until Augustine introduced the practice of spiritualizing every passage of Scripture and teaching everything as allegory.
            As to the time, the New and Old Testaments are full of texts that give signs that point to the general conditions that will exist when the Day of the Lord/Tribulation/judgment comes. Israel will be back in the land as a nation. Wickedness will be prospering. It will be as the days of Noah and Lot, etc.

          • tz1

            I don’t reject Homoletics, I accept it, but don’t put my petty, private preferences ahead of what the text and the Traditional interpretaton says the passages meant. I will accept Thomas Aquinas or Augustine’s view over yours unless you make a good case. They were much smarter than you.
            Also you simply follow other “experts” but having no way to determine if my experts or yours have the best – most consistent – interpretation.
            My point about Jesus stands. If he wanted to make everything perfectly clear, he was capable of doing so, but instead did something different. He picked men and founded a church – and you reject that and are calling Jesus stupid for doing so, rejecting the Apostles in favor of the few who wrote a small subset of what he said in condensed form.

          • Jim

            Please do not put words into my mouth. I did not call Jesus stupid, nor do I reject the apostles writings.
            As to Augustine, his method of interpreting scripture as allegory was discarded in favor of letting the text speak for itself using established rules of interpretation. Much of what he taught was pure paganism which led to much error in the church, even into Calvin’s theology.
            I firmly believe that the 4 gospels accurately record what the Holy Spirit wanted us to know. The church was not founded on personalities, it was founded on Jesus and his teaching. There is no evidence of Jesus founding a church on any person. He called the disciples to be his ambassadors and to carry the gospel, faithfully transferring what he had taught to the converts.

  • James Blazsik

    I support Israel and moving our embassy to Jerusalem. But…

    1) When we think of the Middle East we are to support our brothers and sisters first. We are not in a position

  • Kevin Quillen

    Romans 9:6 & 7 and then Acts 3:23 Modern Israel is NOT God’s chosen!

    • Jim

      Have you read Romans 11? Paul argues that God has not forsaken His people and that God has given salvation as a gift to the Gentiles to provoke the Jews to jealousy that they might eventually receive Christ. We and the Jews believing in Christ (and all those who come to Christ in the future) have or will be grafted into Christ, the trunk of the olive tree.

      • Kevin Quillen

        I agree God has not forsaken Israel. They can be adopted in just like I was. There is only one covenant in effect today. Why was Paul looking forward to adoption in Gal 4:5? National Israel is meaningless.

        • Jim

          You are not dealing with the prophesies where God promised Israel that He would bring them back into their land in the last days. He told them that the day would come when they would be brought home from the countries of the world, even from the far north country.
          The whole book of Revelation and much of Daniel deals with prophecy concerning Israel and her neighbors and the last days. To say national Israel is a man-made creation and is not part of God’s plan and purpose means a rejection of the clearest reading of Scripture.

          • Stu Nahan

            More OT appeals without NT support.

            Show me NT promises about the Jews being brought into the land of Israel.

            Christian Zionism is not a NT doctrine. To prop it up requires incessant appeals to promises connected to the Old Covenant which ended in Christ (Heb 8:13). Then, appeals are made to the most figurative, symbolic books of the Bible (Revelation, Daniel) which don’t even support the given claims. Add to that pile of insanity the fact that an endtime, ingathering of the Jews into the land of Israel & concomitant return to God/Christ is not taught as a doctrine in the gospels or the epistles.

      • Stu Nahan

        Romans 9:6 clearly establishes that there are two Israels, the NT church (Galatians 6:16) & natural Israel, the Jews, who Paul establishes are under the wrath of God (1 Thess 2:14-16).

        Romans 9:8 makes this further plain.

        Rom 9:8
        That is, They which are the children of the flesh (Jews, natural Israel), these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise (NT church) are counted for the seed.

        The Jews are NOT the children of God, the NT church constitutes the children of God.

        Paul then establishes in Romans 9:27, 29 that there would be next to nothing of the Jews numbered among God’s new covenant people.

        Your appeal to Romans 11 isn’t relevant insofar as Kevin’s point is concerned.

        God not forsaking the Jews has nothing to do with them being God’s chosen any longer.

        But, since you brought it up, God not forsaking them means they haven’t been cutoff from the possibility of salvation. It is not a guarantee they will be saved, which point Paul makes clear by saying “And they (Jews) also, IF they abide not still in unbelief” (Rom 11:23).

        Its strange that people try to twist Romans 11 into some endtime, ingathering of the Jewish people into Christ when, among other reasons denying that line of thinking, Paul makes abundantly clear he’s talking about the situation with respect to the Jews IN HIS DAY “AT THIS PRESENT TIME” (Romans 11:5) not at some distant time in the future.

  • Boris

    Why should we use the Bible and not Superman comic books? After all Superman comics reflect reality much better than the Bible. And both sides will agree. Who doesn’t like Superman? Except for Christians, who hate everything especially themselves.

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