Beware the Christian Zionist

Many Jewish Zionists seem utterly infatuated with the Zionism of evangelic Christians, people like, for instance, Pastor John Hagee, founder and Chairman of CUFI, Christians United for Israel. Israel, too, seems captivated by evangelical Christian Zionism, as witnessed by the love-fest held at the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, where two evangelical preachers, Hagee and Rev. Robert Jeffress, offered benedictions.

Now The Times of Israel is reporting that John Hagee and CUFI are reaching out to American Jewish leaders in an effort to overcome some of the suspicion that American Jews feel toward evangelical Christians. The report describes a meeting between Ron Halber, executive director of the JCRC of Greater Washington, and two leaders of CUFI: Shari Dollinger, the group’s co-executive director, and Pastor Victor Styrsky, its outreach director. According to the report, the three agreed that the meeting “went well,” and that the CUFI officials insisted that their organization is “not interested in converting Jews or bringing about the end time.”

With regard to the first claim, it appears that at this moment, CUFI is not interested in converting Jews. However, the second claim—the organization’s disassociation from an end-days theology—is highly suspect. In order to analyze this claim, you have to know a bit about Christian eschatology.

The term eschatology refers to the so-called “end days.” Christians inherit the foundation of their eschatology from the Hebrew Bible. A perfect example is Isaiah 11, a stirring vision of a world perfected under the leadership of an ideal Davidic king, the return to the idyllic primordial creation where “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb” and where the divided kingdom of Israel will be reunited.

However, perhaps in response to the violence and destruction of the 7th and 6th centuries BCE—the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Babylonians—the prophet Ezekiel, who witnessed these events, adds the ominous and enormously violent and destructive apocalyptic war of Gog and Magog to his eschatological vision (Ezekiel 38-39). This apocalypticism—an eschatology that envisions a cataclysmic, cosmic battle that precedes the idyllic end days—then finds its way into the writings of the visionary known in the Hebrew Bible as Daniel (chapters 7-12) and on into the New Testament Book of Revelation, which ends with the return of Jesus Christ and the final salvation.

Many Jewish Zionists excuse evangelical “end-days” eschatology with the oft-heard refrain, “Well, who cares? We know Jesus isn’t coming, and Israel needs all the support it can get. Why not embrace these Christian Zionists?” But let’s keep in mind that Christian eschatology is apocalyptic. That is, its end-days vision entails a cataclysmic, cosmic war. So, yes, we Jewish Zionists can rest assured that Jesus isn’t coming, but can we rest assured that the world is not susceptible to a cataclysmic war?

But there’s more. The apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans lays out a rather clear vision of how the ultimate relationship between Jews and Christians will unfold. In Romans 3-4, Paul explains that justification before God is entirely a matter of faith in the salvific sacrifice of Christ. He uses Abraham as an emblem of this “justification by faith” in that Abraham believed God’s promise that he would become a great nation even though he was childless. Moreover, this faith preceded Abraham’s circumcision, demonstrating that justification before God is a matter of belief—faith—rather than observance of Torah. Thus, all who believe in the salvific sacrifice of Christ are considered “the descendants of Abraham” (Galatians 3:6).

In chapters 9-11 of the epistle to the Romans, Paul uses the image of an olive tree symbolizing the Jewish people. Some of the branches of the tree have been lopped off, representing Jews who have not recognized the coming of Christ. But, Paul explains, this lopping off was only to make room for the Gentile believers, who are now grafted onto the tree. Eventually, claims the apostle, the unbelieving Jews will “become jealous” of the believing Gentiles and will rejoin the tree. Thus, he concludes, “all Israel will be saved.” But let us not ignore the fact that for Paul, “all Israel” refers to all of the Jews and Gentiles who have been made part of the tree through their faith in Christ. In other words, all Christians will be saved!

Now that we have a somewhat better understanding of Christian eschatology, let’s take a look at what our good friend Pastor John Hagee has to say about all of this. In his 2004 book Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee painstakingly draws the connection between the apocalyptic wars described in the Bible and contemporary international affairs. Of course Moscow, i.e., Russia, is Ezekiel’s Magog, and clearly China is Revelation’s “kings of the east.” However, Hagee’s quintessential boogeyman is Iran. Writing on page 37 of Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee declares,

“The rise of terrorism in our world and the emerging crisis in the Middle East between Israel and Iran are part of a much bigger picture—that of God’s plan for the future of Israel and the entire world. We are going to discover we are facing a countdown in the Middle East—the Jerusalem countdown, a battle such as the world has never seen or will ever see again. It is a countdown that will usher in the end of this world.”

As the confrontation between Israel and Iran heats up in Syria, one might think that an end-of-the-world vision would be a troubling one, but not for John Hagee. After all, the end of “this world” is the necessary precondition to the advent of a new world.

But what happens to people during what the Book of Revelation calls “the tribulations” and what Hagee understands to be the forthcoming apocalyptic war that he envisions? Not to worry; we will be saved by “the Rapture.” Based on a passage in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, Christ believers will be temporarily transported to heaven to wait out the apocalypse. That’s the Rapture. But what about the rest of us? Well, if you happen to be Jewish, you might just be one of 144,000 Jews–12,000 for each of the tribes of Israel–to escape the apocalypse according to Revelation 7. As Hagee sees it,

“…during the Great Tribulation the Gentile church is in heaven. The 144,000 who will be sealed to present the gospel to the world will be 144,000 Jewish people who have a supernatural revelation of the identity of Jesus Christ as Messiah similar to Saint Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus.” (p. 201; emphasis added)

So the “Gentile church” will be in heaven during the apocalypse; no Jews allowed, I suppose. The only Jews left, then, are the 144,000 who recognize Jesus Christ as Messiah, i.e., Christians. That certainly sounds like a Judenfrei world, at least as far as we Jews would recognize it.

But for Paul and John Hagee, that’s not the point, since remember, there will be Jews who will become jealous of the Gentile believers and will rejoin the tree, and all Israel will be saved–all Israel being Gentile and Jewish followers of Jesus Christ. “All Israel” is Paul’s term for all Christian believers.

So what happens to the State of Israel in this new world? On page 228 of Jerusalem Countdown, Hagee sums up his vision based on the closing chapters of the Book of Revelation as follows:

“A deliverer shall come out of Zion and take away the sins and ungodliness of Jacob, meaning the Jewish people (Romans 11:26). That ‘deliverer out of Zion’ is none other than Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I believe my generation will live to see Him sitting on the throne of King David on the Temple Mount in the city of Jerusalem, bringing the Golden Age of Peace to the world. It’s coming sooner than you think!”

Hagee downplays all of this apocalyptic war business in his 2007 book, In Defense of Israel. However, Hagee published a new book in 2018 titled Earth’s Last Empire. While I haven’t yet read this book, I have read Hagee’s reference to the book in a written sermon that appears on his website. The title of the article, “There Is an Urgency in the World That Never Existed Before,” is rather ominous. Here’s what Hagee says about the “urgency.”

“It is clear from Scripture that Russia is a major player in end-times prophecy, and many pieces of prophecy are falling into place before our very eyes. It will not be long before the trumpet sounds and those who are alive and remain will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. What a day that will be! In the meantime, Matthew 24:6 tells us, ‘And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.’ (emphasis in original)

“A major war in the Middle East is coming soon, and it will be massive. Israel will not have time, as in the past, to warn Palestinians that are caught in the cross hairs because the terrorists are using civilian locations to launch their rockets towards Jerusalem. There will be no time to win the global media war. There will be no time to fight the fake news. For their survival, Israel must respond instantly either by immediate retaliation or by using the ‘first strike option’ just as Moshe Dayan found it necessary to do at the start of the Six Day War.” (emphasis added)

Hagee offers this conclusion to his article:

“Jesus is coming soon. In the twinkling of an eye we will be gone. Are you ready? I look forward to His coming and celebrating that grand occasion with you!”

In other words, it appears that John Hagee’s ideal eschatological vision includes a cataclysmic war that concludes with the end of the Jewish people as we Jews understand ourselves and the replacement of the State of Israel with the advent of King Jesus seated on his throne on the Temple Mount. So, yes, my evangelical-Christian-Zionist-loving Jewish friends, it may be that King Jesus will never arrive, but you might want to start thinking about how you’re going to get into that “Rapture” thing should those evangelical Christians’ celebration of a cataclysmic war come to fruition. They’re convinced that they have no need to fear cataclysmic war; they’ll be safe in heaven. Where will you be?

I hate to say it, but with friends like that, who needs enemies?

About the Author
Richard Lederman holds a BA in Religion from Miami University (Ohio) and a Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature from the Annenberg Research Institute, now the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. After nearly 30 years as a Jewish communal professional, Lederman now serves as adjunct professor in the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University. He blogs at www.thereligioushumanist.com.
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