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Christians and Israel // Part II
Israel, Palestine and Semi-Ancient History
This is part II in a series.
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The Israelites were frequently exiled from the Promised Land for a lot of reasons. Basic story is this: they stopped listening to God, he kicked them out. They started listening to God, he let them back in.
The backdrop of the New Testament is the Roman occupation of the nation of Israel. The Romans were the largest empire in history and conquered much of the known world. Israel was a strategic place located between Egypt and Syria and helped them to secure vital trade routes and military pathways.
There were frequent Jewish revolts during the Roman Empire. The largest of which took place in 70AD. For five months, the Roman army, led by future emperor Titus besieged Jerusalem after it had been taken over by several factions of rebels.
The Romans eventually overwhelmed the defenders and made their way to the Temple Mount, destroying everything in their path, including Solomon’s Temple. They burned all of Jerusalem to the ground, and leveled almost every building in the city.
To this day, when you go to Israel, you can see massive blocks from the original temple on the ground below the Temple Mount. Here’s my dad (with a mullet) standing next to them sometime in the 1990s.
This destruction was prophesied by Jesus more than 40 years before it took place in Luke 21:5-6.
5 Some of his disciples began talking about the majestic stonework of the Temple and the memorial decorations on the walls. But Jesus said, 6 “The time is coming when all these things will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!”
This was a major turning point in Jewish history. The loss of their home city and the temple changed everything about their identity. The temple was everything to the Jews. They were required to sacrifice on its altar. The priests served at the temple every day. Entire chapters and books of Scripture had been dedicated to its importance. The destruction of the Temple meant that it was no longer possible to truly be a Jew in the way that the Old Testament required.
Priests disappeared and Rabbis took their place. They began to teach that the altar of God is not found in a temple, but in our hearts.
Let me remind you of what I wrote in Part I, that Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. For Christians, this was inevitable. The reason Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the temple was because it was no longer necessary. Jesus became our once and for all sacrifice on the cross.
However, Jews to this day do not believe this, and so there have been many modifications made to Judaism over the past 1900+ years. So many that it barely resembles the Judaism of their ancestors.
What is a Messiah? + is his last name Christ?
In the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the Old Testament illustrated the concept of the Messiah.
The Messiah was supposed to come from the family line of David, redeem the Jewish people from captivity, return them to Israel and restore the kingdom of David. Or more importantly, the Kingdom of God. He would lead the Jewish people and create a new age known as The World to Come (עוֹלָם הַבָּא) in which all the nations of the earth would recognize God of Israel as the only true God. And there would be a new heaven and a new earth with no evil, and only goodness and peace.
The Jews did not see the Messiah as a deity, or the son of God, but more of a political revolutionary who would restore their country beyond its former glory. And God would do the rest.
This isn’t at all what Jesus seemed to do. So the Jews have a hard time accepting him as the Messiah, or Christ. Christ is just the greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. So no, Jesus’ last name isn’t Christ.
Christians believe that Jesus is more than just a messiah figure. We believe that he is THE Messiah. The son of God. And that his mission, death, and resurrection fulfill some - but not all - of the messianic prophecies found in the Old Testament. Don’t forget the whole “fulfill the law, not abolish the law” thing. It’s pretty important.
Why is this important? Let me state it clearer.
It is impossible to practice Judaism in the way God designed.
The temple is gone, it has been gone a long time. Jewish practice revolved around atonement at the temple, and it is physically impossible to sacrifice there.
What does this have to do with modern day Israel?
Because there are still many prophecies that Jesus has yet to fulfill. Here’s the top 10.
Final Judgment: Jesus is expected to return to judge the living and the dead (Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 20:11-15).
Establishment of God's Kingdom: Jesus will establish a physical and eternal kingdom on Earth, with Jerusalem as its capital (Revelation 21:1-4; Isaiah 2:1-4).
Resurrection of the Dead: Christians expect a general resurrection of the dead, both righteous and unrighteous (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Defeat of Evil: The ultimate defeat of Satan, the Antichrist, and all forces of evil is expected (Revelation 19:11-21; 20:7-10).
Restoration of Israel: Some Christian traditions hold that the Second Coming will involve a restoration or conversion of Israel (Romans 11:25-26).
New Heaven and New Earth: A new, perfect creation will replace the current heavens and Earth (Revelation 21:1; Isaiah 65:17).
Fulfillment of Covenant Promises: Promises made to Abraham, David, and others will be fully realized (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Genesis 12:1-3).
Universal Worship: Jesus will be acknowledged and worshiped by all nations (Philippians 2:10-11; Revelation 5:13).
End of Suffering: There will be an end to all forms of suffering, sorrow, and death (Revelation 21:4; Isaiah 25:8).
Gathering of Jesus’ Followers: Jesus will gather His followers from all corners of the Earth (Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27).
What does all of this mean? We really don’t know. But we do know this, the people and the place matter. Even in the future, Israel (people and place) will matter to Jesus. So it should matter to us.
Back to the history - Israel? Judea? Palestine?
All of these Jewish uprisings finally culminated with the Bar Kokhba revolt from 132-136AD. Led by the messianic figure Simon bar Kokhba, it was a four year campaign that led to a total Jewish defeat again by the Romans. All of the Jewish rebels were either killed or enslaved by the end of the revolt. After this revolt, the Romans issued edicts and crackdowns all through Israel against the Jews. It was catastrophic. They were forbidden to enter Jerusalem, enslaved in massive numbers, and forced out of many of their homes. Over 500,000 Jewish men were slain by the Romans throughout Israel after they put down the revolt. This number doesn’t include women and children. Many scholars consider what the Romans did to the Jews to be an act of genocide as much of Israel became desolate.
The Romans then renamed the entire region from Judaea to Syria Palaestina in an attempt to distance the Jewish identity from the place. The name Judea had come from the Kingdom of Judah, led by King David. And it’s where we get the term “Jew” from.
Once this final Jewish revolt was put down, Rome’s reign was mostly uninterrupted until the fall of the Roman Empire 200+ years later.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle East was split into smaller and weaker countries (~300-700AD). Some with ties to Greek and Christian thought, and some with ties to Persian and Zoroastrian thought.
From the 600s-700s, Muhammad (yes, THAT Muhammad) and subsequent leaders had conquered most of the eastern part of the former Roman Empire. Egypt, Syria, Iran, Iraq and much of Afghanistan were quickly and completely conquered.
During this time, Jews still lived in the land, but under Muslim rule. They were subject to an additional tax called a “jizya tax” that was just for minorities and foreigners. This tax is mentioned in the Quran as a specific tax for Jews and Christians. They were treated in many ways as second-class citizens, however, they were not persecuted as they had been by their previous rulers. In fact, many Jews welcomed Muslim conquerors as liberators. Muslims established what they called Caliphates, which was a form of government in which political and religious. leadership is united, and the head of state (the Caliph) is considered a political and religious successor to the Prophet Muhammad. In many of these caliphates, Jews, Christians and other faiths experienced a lot of religious tolerance and cultural growth. During this time, the Dome of the Rock was constructed on the Temple Mount.
Now we come to a dark part of Christian history.
The Crusades began in 1096 and lasted for more than 200 years. They were a series of military campaigns primarily aimed at reclaiming the Holy Land from Muslim control, initiated largely for religious reasons and to strengthen the authority of the Papacy. The Christians of the eastern world had suffered at the hands of the of Arabs. Crusaders wanted to help their fellow Christians reclaim their land and property. Participants were often motivated by a mix of adventure, opportunity for social mobility, and the promise of spiritual salvation through indulgences. The Catholic Church promised remission of sins for those who participated in the Crusades. During this time, Jews and Muslims were targeted and massacred all throughout Europe and the Holy Land. The Crusades were absolutely brutal for anyone who was not a “Christian.” When they took the Temple Mount, the Crusaders wrote that they "... were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles..." According to Raymond of Aguilers, "in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins." It is said by historians that up to 10,000 men, women and children were killed in one day as Crusades sought to take Jerusalem.
The danger of the Crusades
There have been volumes written about the Crusades. You can, and will hear a lot of perspectives. The Crusades are an illustration of what happens when human beings decide what righteousness is. The Crusaders believed that they were doing God’s work. Many church leaders at the time believed the Crusades were a noble cause. The Holy Land was under Muslim control and they believed that the dominance of Christianity must be asserted. This was during a time in history where both Jews and Muslims were seen as mortal enemies of Christians. They believed that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ and this was a justification for violence against them. Both Muslims and Jews were often faced with a choice, convert or die.
This is the danger of “righteousness” that is not properly attached to Scripture. The Crusades were brutal and evil. The name of Jesus and the Bible itself was abused, misused and blasphemed by the actions of many crusaders.
However, we often view the Crusades through the lens of our modern politics and ethics, and can’t understand how they happened. What would Americans do if ISIS invaded Washington D.C. and established a terrorist training center in the White House? This is similar to the thinking of the crusaders. They believed that Jerusalem was the home of their faith and that it needed to be liberated from its Islamic oppressors. This thought doesn’t justify the Crusades, but it humanizes them.
In his book The New Concise History of the Crusades, Thomas F. Madden says, “In both societies, the medieval and the modern, people fight for what is most dear to them. That is fact of human nature that is not so changeable.”
This is the danger of the Crusades and the danger of the approach we all often take. We fight for what is dear to US. That’s what Israel is doing, that’s what Hamas is doing. That’s often what we do as Americans. It’s what we are really trying to figure out as it relates to Israel. Most people are thinking: “how does this matter to me?”That’s probably why you’re reading this post.
However, if we claim to follow Jesus, we must learn what matters most to HIM and choose to lay down what is important to us and fight for what he tells us to fight for in Scripture. Otherwise, we all become like modern day versions of the Crusaders who delude ourselves into thinking that what we want is what God wants. That is rarely the case and it never really works out.
Championing your cause, or someone else’s cause will not work unless it is in alignment with what God teaches in Scripture. So many people miss this, and because of that, they start fighting for things like culture’s definition of justice, when God’s definition of justice is vastly different. We support radical movements on both the left and the right blindly in an attempt to pursue what we think “God wants.” But the problem is, we are often more well versed in the desires and demands of culture than the demands of God. Does God want us to support social movements whose ideology runs counter to what his word teaches?
I don’t think he does. The Bible says that Jesus came in grace AND truth. Sometimes in an effort to be graceful, we abandon truth. But all too often, we become like modern day crusaders, or Arab conquerors. Fighting for “our” truth, acting as though its God’s and abandoning grace and laying waste to everyone in our path.
There is not an easy answer to this. I think this is why Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13:
12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.
There is not much that separates you and I from much of the evil we see in our world. Another translation of this is to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
That’s your personal salvation.
Be concerned with the fate of the world, but take stock of your own fate first.
“Those who govern must first achieve governance of themselves, straighten out their souls, and set their character aright, and then they should assimilate their subjects to themselves. For the one who is tripping over cannot straighten up someone else, nor can the ignorant person teach, the disorderly establish order, the disorganized organize, the ungoverned govern.”
This may seem counterintuitive to this present moment. But you cannot help change the world unless you yourself are changed. The Crusaders weren’t changed by the gospel. They sought to change the world for the gospel. That’s a losing strategy.
Unfortunately, that’s what many of us are still trying to do. Change what’s happening out there, before we change what is in here. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. The nation of Israel - people and place - is God’s. But be aware of the causes you commit yourself to. Align your thinking (and your intentions) with what Scripture teaches. Most likely, in spite of yourself, you’ll end up doing what God wants.
Or, you can do what many people have done, and what much of Israel’s history represents. Do the worst things imaginable with the best intentions.
Before you “do” something, consider more than your intentions
The Crusades, and much of the conquest of the Holy Land show us the danger of rushing into our commitment to causes without thinking rationally.
Should we support the nation of Israel? Absolutely, scripture teaches that we are required to. However, how we support Israel? That’s a complicated question that each one of us must answer,
Does that mean that all of their actions will be righteous and good? Or that their leaders will be the same? No.
There are innocent people on both sides of this war. But only one nation is God’s nation.
God is on the side of all innocents. And if you are caring and empathetic, your heart can go out to the people of Palestine. It should. But God did not establish and ordain Palestine. God did not grant the Promised Land to Palestine. You may not like that, or think it should be that way. You may think modern geopolitics rule that null and void. But God is not accountable to us. God made a covenant with one family. One people. The nation of Israel. And making anything else - including modern politics - more important than that is an abandonment of the truth of scripture.
I’ll be unequivocal here. The cause a Christian must support is the cause of the Jews. Not a two state solution. Not a Palestinian government. But the establishment and preservation of the nation of Israel. That is God’s cause according to Scripture.
The intentions of people surrounding Palestine have mostly been good throughout history. But as you’ll see as we continue this series, the nation of Palestine is a modern invention. The nation of Israel is a God invention.
Does that mean we should abandon Palestinians to their fate? Or allow them to be mistreated and subject to cruelty? Not at all.
What it does mean is that if you are a Christian, you should share in God’s thinking about the nation of Israel.
Does God want the eradication of all Palestinians? No. Every person on this planet is created in God’s image.
This thinking may seem complex to us. It is kind of ambiguous. That’s how gray area works. Often in life, what seems to be evil and what seems to be good are matters of opinion. To quote an IDF soldier I recently heard speaking: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
What am I advocating for?
Unless you have to, don’t rush to judgement about anything that takes place, or is taking place within Israel.
Align with causes that support the preservation of all innocent life as well as the nation of Israel.
Follow the advice of James . 19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. (James 1:19-20)
You may feel anger. You may even think that it is righteous anger. But your anger toward Hamas, Israel, the United States Government, or anyone else does not produce what God wants. Engaging in social media fights and posting inflammatory content may make you feel better, but it will not produce what God wants.
There is some clarity here. God supports the people and the place of Israel. Everything beyond that will require an adult level of thinking on your part as well as a pursuit of God and his word in your own life. Be mature in your approach and refrain from joining a crusade that may have good intentions, but little else.
Back to history
By the end of the Crusades, four states had been established by the Catholic church. These lasted for another 200 years.
The Ottoman Empire
After a long period of the decline and civil war, the Muslim-ruled Ottoman Empire rose to power around 1299 AD and was around for 600 years. Making it one of the longest lasting empires in world history.
They came to dominate most of southeastern Europe and the Middle East. For a long time, much of the Arab world and the Middle East were under the control of the Ottoman Empire, including Israel.
The Ottoman Empire was a caliphate. Almost all Jews and 50% of Christians in the entire world lived under Muslim rule and were treated as second-class citizens once again. Everyone who wasn’t a muslim had to continue to pay the jizya, they were not allowed to give a testimony in court against a Muslim, and they were required to wear distinctive clothing showing their non-muslim affiliation. Still, persecution for Jews and Christians was not rampant.
During the Ottoman Empire, Israel was known as “Filastin” which is Palestine in Arabic. The Ottoman Empire’s rule of Israel lasted all the way into WWI, so we’ll pick that up next time.
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