Theology Thursdays: Jesus, Israel, And The "End Times" by Darrell L. Bock

In recent years, conservative Christians across the country have grown increasingly involved in the Mideast peace process. Even though the conflict in the region is nominally one between Jews and Muslims - in which Christians appear to have less of a stake - conservative Christians have been drawn in for a variety of reasons, both biblical and practical.

Not all of us believe the same thing, of course. Many believe that God has given much of what we call the Holy Land to Israel. Genesis 12:1-3 makes a promise of land to the seed of Abraham that became the Jewish people. In addition, God promised in the same passage that those who blessed Israel would be blessed and those who cursed Israel would be cursed.

This promise is reaffirmed many times throughout the Bible and in the New Testament (Romans 11; Acts 3:18-22). God's commitment to Israel means that the Jewish nation has a God-given right to the land.

The Bible predicted that one day, the nation of Israel would be reestablished in the land. When Israel declared independence in 1948, many interpreted the event to mean the beginning of the "last days" prophecy, even though many of those same Christians believe that the bulk of biblical prophecy will not be fulfilled until all or most Jews accept Jesus as the messiah.

The logic goes that if God has given the land to Israel, then asking Israel to give away that land for peace is going against the Bible. Hence, these believers oppose any effort to give land to the Palestinians.

Other Christians believe that just before the "last days" there will be a treaty that will give Israel peace for a time - but that the pact will ultimately break down and set off catastrophe in the Middle East. For these believers it is not a matter of if there is a peace treaty but when.

Some believe that if the "road map" peace plan which is currently being discussed is in fact the treaty mentioned in Daniel 9:27, then there will be peace for 3 1/2 years before there is a major war - Armageddon - for another 3 1/2 years.

This prophecy is known as Daniel's 70 weeks, wherein each week equals seven years, and we are in Daniel's last week. These conservatives are not necessarily for or against the "road map"; they simply believe that if this is the biblically predicted treaty, then it will not bring a permanent peace to the region.

Still others believe that Israel has the right to the land, but that it also has a responsibility to treat the foreigner with justice (Exodus 23:9). They also consider it possible that if God has given the land to Israel to secure peace, then Israel has the right to do what it wishes, including negotiate territory in exchange for peace with the Palestinians.

In this case, negotiation is possible but needs to be conducted carefully. Such Christians also believe that one day Israel will make a peace treaty that will not last. The question is whether any treaty Israel makes is that treaty.

Still other conservative Christians do not believe that the state of Israel still has a right to the land because the Jews have not accepted Jesus as the messiah, and hence Israel has forfeited God's promises. For these believers, there is a heavy concern for Palestinians, especially Palestinian Christians, that leaves them more inclined to support the road map.

Finally there are practical concerns by almost all of these groups about whether any agreement can be signed that will truly give Israel peace. When so many radical Muslims believe that mere Jewish presence defiles the Holy Land - and thus Israel as the Jewish state must be removed and the Palestinians liberated - then one wonders whether peace in fact would result. Some of the violence we see now is the result of those who deny Israel's right to exist.

What does this all mean? It means that many Christians are disposed to favor Israel, but for a variety of reasons.

The situation in the Middle East is exceedingly complex, even when it is viewed biblically. In fact, when Jesus made predictions about the end and told believers to keep watch for his return, he stressed that they should not obsess about trying to figure out when the exact time would be because that could not be known. Rather, they should live faithful, Christian lives until he returns. That may be the best advice of all, even while everyone keeps a careful and cautious eye on events in a land that is sacred and so volatile to so many.

Darrell L. Bock is Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. He also serves as Professor for Spiritual Development and Culture for the Seminary's Center for Christian Leadership. His special fields of study involve hermeneutics, the use of the Old Testament in the New, Luke-Acts, the historical Jesus, and gospels studies.

Note: This article first appeared in the June 18, 2003 edition of The Los Angeles Times

Thursday, June 19, 2003