Right here’s going to be the jumping point for our series on the Middle East: the discussion of current theological trends in reference to Israel and how they stand on the world theatre. A lot of this post is going to interweave with what is known as dispensational theology, or dispensationalism, where the root of a lot of this thinking springs from. I’ll try to be succinct in my definitions, but this could be a long one. Bear with me.
So anyway, ongoing trends…one of the biggest trends in theology today has been what is known as dispensationalism, a view which states that God has revealed himself to mankind through a series of dispensations throughout man’s history, starting with the patriarchs of the Old Testament, moving to Mosaic Law, then to the present ecclesial (or church) age we currently dwell in, and ending in the Zionic age with the millennial reign of Christ. This viewpoint is largely attributed to John Nelson Darby in the 19th Century. This really took off when the Scofield Reference Bible came out around 1909, and many evangelicals have adopted this viewpoint.
What’s interesting about dispensationalism is its view of Israel in the world as a separate entity from the church. Dispensationalists consider Israel to still be God’s nation, God’s people, and think that any OT prophecy not fulfilled in Christ is still meant to be fulfilled in Israel’s favor. This has led to a great political position in favor of Israel in the current middle east situation, and many televangelists, such as John Hagee, campaign for Christians to support Israel in all its political endeavors, including invasions, sieges, and West Bank settlements. It is, after all, their God-given land, right?
I have to say that this is unabashedly unbiblical and practically hateful of other people living in the Middle East. The bias in favor of Israel has led to oppression of the Palestinian people as “invaders,” causing them to be ousted from land they rightfully own, and not just Muslims, but Christians as well. The early church didn’t view Israel this way, and neither should we.
The Gospel writers are pretty clear about whom Jesus came to save: Israel. Yes, it’s true, he did. However, what every Gospel ALSO points out is that they missed that entirely and rejected Him. The entire way Matthew is crafted is designed to point out all the prophecies Jesus fulfilled in his life, death, and resurrection, and where the Jewish authorities missed it (and, in some cases, where the Gentiles understood it; check out the story of the Canaanite woman in chapter 15). In the same book, Jesus laments Jerusalem’s rejection of his love in chapter 23. Luke demonstrates in chapter 7 the faith of a centurion who sought Jesus to heal his servant (and who had greater faith than all of Israel), and Mark shares the same story. John outright says in 1:11-12, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Israel rejected Christ because he wasn’t the Messiah they wanted. They wanted a political revolutionary who would overthrow the Roman government and restore Israel as a nation. What they got instead was a man who called them all hypocrites, loved prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and beggars, and sent his followers to ALL nations, not just Israel. Jesus knew God’s love was for more than just Israel, but for everyone. His revolution wasn’t politically aligned to one nation; it was and is universally available to all nations to this day.
Paul echoes this in Romans, when he talks about the relationship between Israel and Gentiles who come to Christ. Rom. 10: 11 says,”For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.” In attempting to establish a theology for a church he had not yet met, Paul is laying out that Israel and Gentiles, though at different starting points in their connection to God, are of the same body as long as they follow Christ, and that neither are excluded from God’s love. No one receives special treatment. No one is preferred. God has not REJECTED Israel, but will reject those who reject his son, Jesus. Righteousness, to summarize Paul’s view, is not contingent on belonging to a nation or to circumcision, but belief in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, it’s clear that dispensationalism influences America’s politics every day. We often side with Israel in their military and political functions, while maybe slapping them on the wrists once in awhile when their actions get out of hand. What’s worse is that we, as Christians, often ignore our own brothers and sisters of Palestine who lose their homes every day to settlements. The land of Israel can support many people groups living there, and it should. Christians need to support Palestinians as much as Israelis, and strive for peace between the two groups.
Alright, that’s it for this installment. Pt. 3 to come soon. Later, y’all.