In light of the recent resolution passed by the UNSC – which effectively condemned Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – many evangelicals have spoken out via articles and social media.
In a recent Facebook post, Pastor Franklin Graham – son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, and founder of Samaritan’s Purse – said he was “disappointed” that the U.S. government showed such “contempt” for Israel, and added that for the United States “not to stand with Israel is shameful.”
Likewise, Pastor John Hagee stated in a tweet on December 26,
“Obama stabbed Israel in the back! This is betrayal; not friendship! While thousands die in Aleppo, where is Obama? Beating up on Israel!”
These strong statements are heavily rooted in an eschatological viewpoint wherein Israel – in regards to the entire nation – is still considered “God’s chosen people.” From this position, many evangelicals believe that Christians have a theological obligation or duty to stand on the side of Israel regardless of the situation or circumstance.
From my personal understanding of Scripture, I see a clear distinction between the nation of Israel and the true Israel – God’s elect people (the Church) – made up of both Jews & Gentiles.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. – Romans 9:3-8
In Romans 9:3-8, Paul explains a division between the national Israel and Israel (the church.)
“I see a clear distinction between the nation of Israel and the true Israel – God’s elect people – made up of both Jews & Gentiles.”
He says that to his brothers by nationality – the Israelites – were those to whom the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, the promises, the patriarchs, and ultimately the Messiah were given. However, he exclaims, many rejected these things, with only some accepting Christ.
He clarifies why this would be so by saying, “Not all who are descended from Israel (the nation) belong to Israel (the body of Christ).” Further, he reminds us, “It is not the children of flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.”
One’s physical lineage plays no part in their salvation. Regardless of nationality, our salvation may only be obtained through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. This cannot be forgotten.
But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:14-18
“Regadless of nationality, our salvation may only be obtained through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. This cannot be forgotten.”
The distinctiveness between these two uses of the word “Israel” must be kept in mind when exegeting other portions of Scripture.
In 2004, Pastor John Piper laid out ten Biblical truths about the relationship between Israel and the “Promised Land.” He asked the following questions in his sermon, Israel, Palestine and the Middle East, “is the so-called ‘Promised Land’ part of the inheritance and salvation that ‘all Israel’ will receive? And if so, what does that say about the rights of Israel today to the Land?” He summarized what is certain in Scripture by listing the following points:
- God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.
- The Land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.
- The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.
- Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.
- Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.
- By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land.
- Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen at the Second Coming of Christ to establish his kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.
So with these evident truths of Scripture, what is our obligation, as 21st century Christians, to the nation of Israel?
First, Piper makes it clear that from a political standpoint, the implication
“for those of us who believe the Bible and trust Christ as our Savior and as the Lord of history, is that we should not give blanket approval to Jewish or to Palestinian actions. We should approve or denounce according to Biblical standards of justice and mercy among peoples. We should encourage our representatives to seek a just settlement that takes the historical and social claims of both peoples into account. Neither should be allowed to sway the judgments of justice by a present divine claim to the land.”
I believe Matt Smethurst, in his 2014 reflection on Piper’s summarization, states our further responsibility toward this situation well. It is ultimately to pray.
“Regardless of where you land theologically or politically…” “This is a prime opportunity to pray. Pray for the Israelis, image-bearers of God, that they’d search the Scriptures and find life in the Savior (John 5:39–40, 46). May they discover that the meeting point between God and man is no longer a place—whether reconstructed temple or geographical acreage—but a risen and reigning and soon returning Person (John 4:21–26).
Pray too for the Palestinians, image-bearers of God, that they’d turn in droves to Jesus the King. Pray particularly for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the faith; there are, after all, far more Palestinian Christians in the Middle East than the news headlines imply.
May the Prince of Peace reveal what’s been hidden (Luke 19:41–42) and bring everlasting shalom to a Land flowing with blood and hate—with little milk and honey to be found.
While we, as Christians, may vary in our interpretation of some of these difficult topics and passages, we may rest in two fundamental truths. First, that God’s plan for His chosen people will ultimately succeed, and second, that our prayer for all nations – including Israel – should be for sincere repentance and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“…our prayer for all nations – including Israel – should be for sincere repentance and submission to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Further reading on this topic: