Just in time for Christmas, the world was treated this week to the latest offense from the “Palestinians” with the declaration by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that Jesus was a “Palestinian.” Abbas’ offensive Christmas greeting called Jesus “a Palestinian messenger who would become a guiding light for millions around the world,” and suggested Israel was to blame for the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land.
With a reference to Luke 23:34, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman noted, “He should have read the gospel before uttering such offensive nonsense, but we will forgive him because he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” adding that Abbas’ remarks are an “outrageous rewriting of Christian history.”
I’m no theologian and, as an Orthodox Jew, certainly no expert in Christianity or the gospel. However, I know a dangerous and offensive ambush on both Judaism and Christianity when I see it, and when those called “Palestinians” today erase and rewrite whole sections of Scripture that are the foundation of Judaism and Christianity, it must be called for what it is: a dangerous lie that is a hybrid between Palestinian nationalism and the ultimate Islamic replacement theology.
There are many, many examples of this, but one of the best is when “Palestinians” say (often) that there was never a temple on the Temple Mount, the focal point of biblical Jerusalem whose central architectural landmark was destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again in the year 70 and replaced by two mosques hundreds of years later, as if to spread the dominance of Islam over Jerusalem as an Islamic city, which is never even mentioned in the Quran. Of course, any Jew or Christian knows that the Temple was a reality, and the denial of its very existence also denies those of us who share so much in common—literally, the foundation of our respective faiths.
This is one egregious example, but one doesn’t have to look to hard to find plenty more, the same way one doesn’t have to dig too deep in Jerusalem to find archeological remains, evidence of the reality we know from the Bible.
Of course, denying the underpinnings of Judaism and Christianity are no problem in “Palestinian” society, but stating the inconvenient truth that Islam is the main threat to both, particularly to Christians living among Muslims and the primary cause for the Christian exodus, would be a PC no-no. For instance, Abbas also mentioned Palestinians “trapped under siege” in Gaza, “who are prevented from worshipping in Bethlehem,” conveniently overlooking that it’s his good friends from Hamas who control Gaza and who make life for Christians there a living hell. The same is true among Christians in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iran, and the list goes on.
Why do I care? Why write this? It’s simple. Israel is the birthplace of both Judaism and Christianity. Jews and Christians have a common bond that’s based biblically and has never been more important. True, thousands of years of history from Jesus’ time until the last century have displayed a less enlightened, less kind and certainly not a gentle approach by what’s loosely referred to as “the church” to Jewish neighbors and Judaism as a whole.
But the awakening in the last century of Christians who understand the biblical injunction to bless Israel and who know that Israel’s rebirth is fulfillment of prophesy, period, needs to be met with open arms by Jews and reciprocated. So when a Palestinian leader refers to Jesus as a Palestinian, it’s an affront to the foundation of Christianity, making one want to imagine Jesus dying not on a Roman cross but with a suicide belt packed with explosives at a 2,000-year-old Jerusalem café, and must be challenged at every turn.
Why refer to “Palestinians” in quotes? The name Palestine in modern use initiated with the League of Nations and the British. Native residents of what’s Israel today were referred to as “Palestinian,” but the term was used by the British to refer to Jews. My father, for instance, born in Haifa, was a “Palestinian.” Only decades after Israeli independence when Jews (and what’s grown into about 1.5 million Arabs) became Israeli, did the term Palestinian morph to refer to Arabs.
There is ample historical documentation to prove that while there were indigenous Arabs in Israel as well, Arab migration to Israel exploded as the land flourished with Jews returning from exile and corresponding economic opportunities, drawing many whose origins are still unmistakable by their names as being from Egypt or Syria and that are still evident today. But while Jews returned en mass, fulfilling prophesy, there was always an unbreakable and majority of Jews in the land.
So while there is legitimate evidence to show that many of today’s “Palestinians” are, in fact, not indigenous to Israel and that “Palestinian” nationalism was born more as a way to delegitimize and destroy Israel, I, for one, understand that there is a reality on the ground that must be dealt with today, and I am all for coexistence and peace, if the latter is even possible.
However, by claiming Jesus was a “Palestinian,” since everyone knows he was a Jew, what they have done is debunked the myth of a “Palestinian” people as the term is abused today. The latest “Palestinian” lie underscores the reality that if Jesus were a “Palestinian,” it is the indigenous Jews who have the rightful claim to Israel, going back to those lived in here in Jesus’ time, with its center in Jerusalem established by the Jewish King David 3,000 years ago, in the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob long before that, and documented in the Bible.
But those who read and understand Scripture—and don’t try to erase and rewrite it—knew that already.
Jonathan Feldsteinis the director of Heart to Heart, a unique virtual blood donation program to bless Israel and save lives in Israel. Born and educated in the U.S., Feldstein emigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has been blessed by the calling to fellowship with Christian supporters of Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He writes a column for Charisma’s Standing With Israel. You can contact Jonathan email@example.com.
BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations Tuesday, bringing warm holiday cheer to the biblical birthplace of Jesus on a cool, clear night.
The heavy turnout, its highest in years, helped lift spirits in Bethlehem as leaders expressed hope that the coming year would finally bring the Palestinians an independent state of their own.
“The message of Christmas is a message of peace, love and brotherhood. We have to be brothers with each other,” said Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, as he arrived in town.
Excited tourists milled about the town’s Manger Square, stopping in restaurants and souvenir shops and admiring a large, illuminated Christmas Tree. Marching bands and scout troops performed for the visitors in the streets, and on a stage next to the tree.
Will Green of New York City, along with his wife, Debbie, and their 2-year-old daughter Daphne were among the crowds of people who greeted Twal’s motorcade as he entered town from nearby Jerusalem.
Green said that being in Bethlehem for Christmas was a dream come true. “All the stories that we grew up with. It’s here. It’s part of our life. We heard them in the family, school and church. This is the birthplace,” he said.
Green slowly pushed a stroller and his wife held their daughter as they followed a crowd toward the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.
Palestinian dignitaries greeted Twal at the entrance of Bethlehem. His motorcade crawled through the town’s narrow streets as he stopped to shake hands and greet the throngs of visitors. It took him nearly 90 minutes to make the short trip to the Church of the Nativity compound, where he celebrated Midnight Massachusetts.
Hundreds of people packed the compound for the service. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh were among the dignitaries in attendance.
In his homily, Twal addressed Abbas, telling the president he prays for a “just and equitable solution” for the Palestinians. Twal, himself a Palestinian, also expressed sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians, particularly families with relatives imprisoned by Israel or those who have suffered as a result of the conflict with Israel.
“The world is living through a long night of wars, destruction, fear, hate, racism and, at the present time, cold and snow,” he said. Lamenting strife in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, he also urged worshippers “not to forget our own problems here: the prisoners and their families who hope for their release, the poor who have lost their land and their homes demolished, families waiting to be reunited, those out of work and all who suffer from the economic crisis.”
Yet Twal called on people not to despair. “We are invited to be optimistic and to renew our faith that this land, home of the three monotheistic religions, will one day become a haven of peace for all people,” he said.
“Oh Holy Child, God of goodness and mercy, look with kindness on the Holy Land and on our people who live in Palestine, in Israel, in Jordan and all the Middle East. Grant them the gift of reconciliation so that they may all be brothers — sons of one God,” he said.
The number of visitors to Bethlehem remained below the record levels of the late 1990s, when Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts were at their height.
Following a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, the numbers plunged. But thanks to a period of relative calm, they have been steadily climbing in recent years — and got an extra push this year thanks to the resumption of peace talks.
“Our message is a message of justice and peace,” said Palestinian Tourism Minister Rula Maayah. “We Palestinians are seeking peace and we deserve to have peace and our children deserve to live in peace.”
Maayah said the number of visitors to Bethlehem was expected to jump by about 14 percent from last year.
A spokesman said 10,000 foreign visitors had entered town by the early evening, slightly higher than last year. Israel’s Tourism Ministry, which coordinates the visits with the Palestinians, said the number could reach 25,000 during the holiday season.
Despite the Christmas cheer, Mideast politics loomed in the background. In order to enter Bethlehem, Twal’s motorcade had to cross through the hulking concrete separation barrier that Israel built during the uprising.
Israel says the barrier is needed to keep attackers from entering nearby Jerusalem, but Palestinians say the structure has stifled the town and stolen their land.
Maayah said that the barrier, along with nearby Israeli settlements and Israeli control of archaeological sites in the West Bank, has made it difficult to develop the tourism sector.
In addition, few Palestinians seem to think that the current round of peace talks will bear fruit. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry relaunched the talks last summer, but there have been no signs of progress.
Israel carried out a series of airstrikes and other attacks Tuesday in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the deadly shooting of an Israeli civilian who had been working along the border. The fighting, which left a 3-year-old Palestinian girl dead, was the heaviest in more than a year.
Christmas also serves as a reminder of the dwindling numbers of Christians who live in the Holy Land. Over the decades, tens of thousands of Christians have left, fleeing violence or in search of better opportunities overseas. Christians now make up a tiny percentage of the population.
Bethlehem is now only one-third Christian, with most residents Muslim. In an annual gesture, Israel permitted some 500 members of Gaza’s small Christian community to leave the Hamas-ruled territory and cross through Israel to attend the celebrations in Bethlehem.
But for one night at least, residents and visitors brushed aside their troubles to celebrate the holiday.
Nick Parker, a student from Georgia Tech University, said he was enjoying the food and making friends with local residents and fellow travelers.
“It’s special to be here where Jesus was born,” he said. “It’s a special opportunity, once in a lifetime.”
Pope Francis lauded Jesus’ humble beginning as a poor and vulnerable baby as he celebrated his first Christmas Eve Mass as pontiff Tuesday in St. Peter’s Basilica.
“You are immense, and you made yourself small; you are rich, and you made yourself poor; you are all-powerful, and you made yourself vulnerable,” Francis said of Jesus as he delivered his homily in the basilica, packed with faithful.
Francis has dedicated much of his nine-month-old papacy to drawing attention to the plight of the poor, of children, and of other vulnerable members of society.
He noted that the first to receive news of Jesus’ birth were shepherds, who in society were considered “among the last, the outcast.”
Francis, who turned 77 a week ago, walked briskly up the main aisle of the basilica for the ceremony, which began Tuesday 2 ½ hours before midnight. Keeping with the theme of humility he has set for his new papacy, Francis carried the statue instead of an aide, and kissed a knee of the figure of the newly born Jesus.
The Argentine-born pope has also encouraged his flock to be a joyful church, and he called Jesus “the Light Who brightens the darkness.”
In the world’s history and our own personal history, Francis said, “there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. ” He added that “if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us and around us.”
Francis has applied this same vision to the heart of the Vatican‘s own workings, saying in past remarks that there is no place for personal ambition in the clerical hierarchy. Rather, he has insisted, the Catholic Church must be one of service to those in need.
Earlier, in the Holy Land, thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations, bringing warm holiday cheer to the biblical birthplace of Jesus on a cool, clear night.
The heavy turnout, its highest in years, helped lift spirits in Bethlehem as leaders expressed hope that the coming year would finally bring the Palestinians an independent state of their own.
“The message of Christmas is a message of peace, love, and brotherhood. We have to be brothers with each other,” Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, said as he arrived in Bethlehem.
“How can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?”
It goes on to say, “Today, everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
As for being labeled a Marxist, the pope said he had “met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended,” CNN reported.
The proclamation issued in November chastises “the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
It says there is no evidence that “trickle-down theories” about economic growth tied to a free market “will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”
The proclamation exhorts an “ethical approach” to economics that favors human beings over conspicuous consumption, “unbridled consumerism” and inequality.
Limbaugh had characterized Evangelii Gaudium as “just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.”
The conservative talk show host said the pope was practically dictating how financial markets should operate.
“He says that the global economy needs government control.”
In his response to the critics, Francis said he was not speaking “as a technician but according to the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and this does not mean being Marxist”. He said he was just trying to present a “snapshot of what is happening” in the world today.In another document last week, Francis said huge salaries and bonuses were symptoms of an economy based on greed and called again for nations to narrow the wealth gap.
Conservatives in the 1.2 billion member Church have expressed concern and disappointment about some of the pope’s pronouncements, such as when he said he was not in a position to judge homosexuals who are people of good will sincerely seeking God.
Asked about speculation that a woman could be among the new cardinals he will appoint early next year, he said: “I don’t know where that idea comes from. Women in the Church should be valued, not ‘clericalized’.”
In other parts of the interview, Francis also said a committee of eight cardinals from around the world who are advising him on changes to the Vatican structure would make its first formal recommendations to him in February but that reform would be a “lengthy task”.
He said that reform of the Vatican’s sometimes murky finances was “on the right path” and expressed satisfaction that last week a Council of Europe committee called Moneyval gave the Vatican a good evaluation of its efforts to abide by international financial standards.
He said he had not yet decided what to do about the Vatican bank, which has been touched by scandals over the decades. In the past he has not ruled out closing it.
Francis said he was “getting ready” to go to the Holy Land next year to mark the 50th anniversary of when Pope Paul VI became the first pope in modern times to visit there.
He has been invited by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make a visit, which is expected to take place in May or June.
“Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” –1 John 2:6
As I hear songs of the season playing on my radio and see Christmas lights going up on my neighbor’s homes, I remember a special Christmas Eve that I shared with Hour of Power viewers in the Holy Land in 1999. I was 18 years old. There were 500 people, Hour of Power viewers from all over the world all sitting on a hill above Bethlehem. It was nighttime in Shepherd’s Field, and the city of Bethlehem below was sparkling. As we sang beloved Christmas songs, we held these little lamps, and it was amazing. I stood up front with my grandpa. It was lightly raining, but when the service started, the rain ended. It was as if God stopped the rain and it was just beautiful.
Bethlehem was so beautiful and nice back then, but it doesn’t exist like that anymore. I went back to Bethlehem a number of years later and it had a wall around it now that Hamas was in control. All sorts of awful things have happened there since.
I remember when I went back to Bethlehem for a fourth time, I spoke to a man who said, “Bethlehem used to be mostly Christian, about 90%. Now, most of the Christians have left, fleeing for their lives.” This is still fresh in my mind because of everything that’s happening in Israel, even today. We’re praying for the peace of Israel and Palestine. And this is what I want you to walk away with:
The man said, “In Bethlehem, it’s Christmas every day. Not because Bethlehem is Christmas town, but because we believe that Jesus is born in the hearts of Christians in every moment. The ones of us that are left, the Christians that are still here support each other and love each other. I know that I see Jesus in my kids, I see Jesus in my neighbor, I see Jesus in my parents. Because of that, it gives me the strength to endure anything. I will never leave Bethlehem because I believe that Jesus is here with me in the physical bodies of other believers. That means that Christmas happens every day right here.” Christmas is every day.
Prayer: Dear Lord, I want to live every day as if it were Christmas. Each day I will worship you and your sacrifice through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Reflection: How could you celebrate Christmas, not just through this Christmas season, but every day?
Six weeks ago, Netanyahu’s office had said he would meet the Pope during a visit to Rome in late October, but the meeting never happened — with a diplomatic source telling AFP it would not happen because it had not been coordinated in advance with the Vatican.
When the two meet on Monday, they are likely to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue and the ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians.
And they are also likely to discuss the Pope’s planned visit to the Holy Land early next year.
Pope Francis has already been invited to visit the Christian holy sites by Israeli President Shimon Peres in April, and by Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, who met him on October 17.
Israeli sources say the visit is likely to take place before Peres ends his term as president in July. Although no date has been made official, sources on both sides say it is likely to take place on May 25-26.
The papal visit will reportedly begin in Jordan, a senior Vatican official said on Saturday, according to Jordanian state news agency Petra.
“The Pope’s visit to the Holy Land will begin in Jordan,” Vatican foreign affairs official Dominique Mamberti said in Amman after meeting Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
Israel and the Holy See first established diplomatic relations in 1993.
President Goodluck Jonathan slipped out of town last week, smart man. With Abuja increasingly hotter over the Stella Oduah corruption allegations, his spokesman issued a statement disclosing that the Nigeria leader was heading for Israel.
The State House statement was a curiously-worded statement, outstanding for an admixture of wordiness and wordlessness.
For instance, rather than say Jonathan would tour the Holy Land or visit Holy Sites or undertake a holy pilgrimage, as Christians usually say, the statement said he would “undertake a tour of some locations in Israel which are revered by Christians because of their association with the earthly mission of Jesus Christ.”
But Jonathan was also going to be doing a spot of work, meeting with Israeli leaders, the presidency said.
“Talks between President Jonathan’s delegation and Israeli government officials are expected to focus on the enhancement of bilateral relations between Nigeria and Israel in areas including trade, economic development, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, communications, culture, education and tourism.”
If those were the areas slated for discussion, it was curious that the official delegation included Rtd. Col. Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser. The statement suggested Nigeria would not be discussing security or terrorism with the Israelis. Perhaps Dasuki would simply tour the Christian sites with Mr. Jonathan and sample the luxuries of presidential travel.
The presidency took care to list members of Mr. Jonathan’s delegation, but it disingenuously omitted Mrs. Oduah. The embattled Minister was sent to Tel Aviv ahead of the Nigeria leader perhaps because someone felt Nigerians would be offended if she were to be seen entering the presidential jet with the President.
But she was part of the delegation, present in Israel to sign a bilateral air agreement on behalf of Nigeria that some other official could have signed. I have seen the Jonathan presidency do some pretty filthy things, but smuggling Mrs. Oduah into Israel at the height of the corruption uproar against her at a time she was supposed to be facing an investigating panel is one of the dirtiest.
Absent in the announcement was the highly significant detail as to whether Mr. Abbas would come into Israel to meet with him—which would be a major diplomatic statement on all three sides—or Mr. Jonathan would travel to the West Bank. If it was the latter, it would have meant Mr. Jonathan was making three trips, not the two that the government told the Nigerian people.
Still, with a few hours left to his departure, Mr. Jonathan returned to the inescapable heat of Mrs. Oduah’s embarrassing corruption allegations, including illegally and corruptly buying two luxury cars for an incredible $1.6 million with the funds of an agency in her Ministry.
His unconvincing afterthought however raises two problems, one of them practical; the other, philosophical.
The practical: the panel, according to the government’s announcement, has two weeks to submit its report in what should be no more than a simple two or three-day enquiry. But of the two weeks, a member of the panel, Col. Dasuki, was spending the first in the Middle East as part of Mr. Jonathan’s traveling party. Is it possible that the retired colonel has been cloned so the faithful servant can be in two places running different errands for the same master? Or has Nigeria run out of manpower?
The philosophical: first, by setting up an ‘administrative’ panel, Mr. Jonathan undermined Nigeria’s so-called anti-corruption agencies and the police, which have the expertise and the structures to undertake such a task expeditiously. The President suggests that privileged Nigerians cannot be investigated by the same agencies that investigate the not-so-privileged, and casts doubt that the objective is justice.
Of equal importance, by setting up the panel, Mr. Jonathan steps over the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-smell-no-evil altitude about corruption in high places he has adopted since he first bragged he would “fight” it. In particular, he arrives in the stables of SaharaReporters, a website known for its relentless exposés about corruption.
By deciding to investigate Mrs. Oduah, one of his former campaign stalwarts, Mr. Jonathan acknowledges SaharaReporters, which broke the story, and all the journals and petitioners that have courageously reported corruption throughout his thoroughly ambivalent presidency.
But where does that acknowledgement end? Even Mr. Jonathan knows he lacks a true anti-corruption bone in his body. Is the objective to punish Mrs. Oduah for the same self-enrichment and impunity that has been the fare of the media in the past seven years? With what credibility will Mr. Jonathan explain away the mountain of corruption reports and petitions he has ignored since he first took over leadership?
It looks more likely that the probe is only a ruse, part of a strategy aimed at keeping the game going. After all, corruption allegations do not stick to anyone for long in Nigeria, especially if you are sufficiently close to the center of power. James Ibori brushed them off his sleeves. Several governors who faced them are now Senators and best friends of the Jonathan presidency. Dipreye Alamieyeseigha enjoys presidential pardon.
The point is that the Oduah matter, including the purported probe being undertaken the House of Representatives and the presidential panel, only makes good theatre.
That probe is no more than the latest in a growing trail of strategic errors that Mr. Jonathan has made as he gropes his way to 2015, highlighted last week by his irresponsibly taking of the beleaguered Minister to Israel.
Another such error is the National Conference Advisory Committee he announced on National Day.
Mr. Jonathan does not have a good track record of implementing reports, but even before this particular process could begin, he betrayed his own cause by clarifying he does not understand, or accept, that sovereignty belongs to the people, not the National Assembly. It is the equivalent of stabbing your only son to death before his umbilical cord has even been cut. He demonstrated he is only playing politics.
These are extremely significant developments, but also dangerous ones for Mr. Jonathan’s political future. By making some of his recent choices, Mr. Jonathan may well have made Mrs. Oduah the new face of corruption and inadvertently given her control of his political destiny.
Next week, he will return from Israel with both a Minister he is probing and a man who is supposed to be probing her.
No matter how innocent Madam Minister may have been, it will be interesting to see how his storytellers convince the Nigerian people that during the trip, the President, the Minister and the National Security Adviser did not discuss the Minister’s fate.
Jonathan may be probing her now, but in the end, she may well determine how far he travels, and in what direction.
Both of Francis’ two immediate predecessors, Benedict and John Paul, visited Holy Land sites in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Most Christian Holy Land sites are in Israel — but Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in the Palestinian territories.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus is said to have been buried, is in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as part of their future state.
Abbas and Francis discussed the civil war in Syria and the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the Vatican said in a statement.
Using the same language it used when Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Francis in April, the Vatican urged both sides to make “courageous and determined” decisions to move closer to peace, with the help of the international community.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators began a new round of talks on Monday, picking up the tempo of their meetings at the request of the United States.
The two sides resumed direct peace negotiations in late July after three years of stalemate and have conducted a series of discussions far from the gaze of the media over recent weeks, without any outward hint of the slightest breakthrough.
Aside from the hustling crowds and rush-hour traffic jams that define any international metropolis, Jerusalem astounds most of its tourists with how peaceful the city truly is. While the global media assaults readers with reports of nearby suicide bombings and young zealots throwing rocks across Jewish-Palestinian borders, those who live in Israel’s capital city know a different story, a different reality.
Theirs is one of surprising peace in a nation whose very existence symbolizes the dichotomy of “possessing the land” amid neighbors—both immediate and far away—who would rather see them dead.
To find the violent, conflict-filled story most incorrectly think is Israel’s narrative, all you have to do is drive two or three hours toward virtually any nation surrounding the Holy Land today. Because although the West heralded the Arab Spring only three years ago as the dawning of democracy in nations ruled by tyrannous dictators, the fruit of these ongoing political uprisings has been anything but freedom and stability. For Israel, it’s simply increased the shared nightmare most Jews live with each day: that they are staring down the barrel of a gun, no matter which direction they turn.
In Iran, anti-Semitic rhetoric flows from the mouths of its top leaders—whether current “moderate” President Hasan Rouhani, ousted madman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—as they openly declare Israel to be a “cancerous tumor in the heart of the Islamic world” that “must be cleansed.” Who can forget Ahmadinejad’s defiant vow to the United Nations’ General Assembly in September 2012 that Israel would be “eliminated”?
In Egypt and Iraq, the ongoing instability and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood—yes, even after former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s ousting—have propelled Salafist jihadist military campaigns, which are also bent on Israel’s total destruction, like never before.
Meanwhile, the rise of other extremist Islamic forces in Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen merely strengthens what has become a resounding cry to see Israel wiped off the map. And among the few neighboring countries with whom Israel had established peace treaties—namely, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey—these relations have been frayed to a thread.
As Christians, we have a different script to follow—one in which we know who will return to reign physically over this global focal point that has been dominated with strife and violence since the days of Abraham. Why, then, should believers be so concerned over such a tiny speck of land? What does it really matter?
Why Israel Matters So Much
I am convinced one of Satan’s greatest tools that keeps the Western church in the dark concerning God’s end-time plan for our world is to minimize or negate the role Israel plays today. Tragically, rather than stand up for those whom God has called His people (Joel 2:18; 3:2; Jer. 50:6-7), we’d prefer to argue over the differences between supporting Israel as a state versus supporting the Jewish people.
Some within the church disregard Israel’s crisis in favor of the Palestinian plight (whom they argue have equal rights as “sons of Abraham”), while others have gone so far as to adopt a replacement theology perspective that believes the church, through Jesus Christ, has replaced Israel when it comes God’s purpose, plan and promises.
All of these viewpoints are not only misguided, they also come at the expense of Israel at a time when the church is called to be her strongest ally amid an emergence of nations possessing a demonically driven desire to see the Jewish people eradicated.
Given this, let’s get a few foundational things straight.
Israel is a land about which God says uniquely, prophetically, redemptively and repeatedly in the Bible, “This is Mine” (Joel 1:6; Zech. 2:5-7; Gen. 35:10-15).
God refers to Israel as He does to no other land on earth. Israel was raised up to be a light to the Gentiles.
Perhaps the most pointed statement regarding the importance of the Jews is from the lips of our Lord and Savior Himself. In His conversation with the Samaritan woman, recorded in John 4:1-26, Jesus is very definitive: “Salvation is of the Jews” (v. 22). With these words He categorically points to the pathway by which the entirety of God’s program of redemption was brought to earth and now is present in His Person.
Further, the church at its inception was virtually entirely Jewish, and it remained so until the gospel began to spread. Ultimately the gospel spread to Antioch, where the first Gentile congregation began and the base from which the gospel spread into all the world.
In Romans 9-11, the apostle Paul deals specifically with the question of the Jews’ role in God’s providence and purpose.
Within the whole of the Bible, these three chapters virtually stand alone as an elaboration of the theology of God’s dealing with Jews.
The Jews were the “firstfruit”—the “first people” (through Abraham) to understand a covenant God. They then relayed the riches of that truth to the world, and through their agency, the Messiah came into the world.
The Word of God calls Jews the “root” and Gentiles the “branches” (Rom. 11:16-27). We’re reminded that while “because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith,” we are not to become haughty but to fear: “For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (vv. 20-21). When the fullness of the Gentiles is completed, “all Israel will be saved” (v. 26)—that is, the present Church Age.
So why stand with Israel today?
8 Reasons to Stand With Israel
We are living in a sobering moment in history that calls us, as believers in Jesus Christ, to take a stand with Israel. Given that we live in a miraculous era that has seen the Jewish people regain political control of their own land, which they were without for more than 2,300 years, and once again become an official nation, we could be people of the last hour. Yet we are not to be passive in the face of prophecy; we are called to pray with passion, to intercede and to minister according to the words of the Savior who said it is not our task to speculate when the end will be. It is our responsibility to do “kingdom business” until He comes (Luke 19:13).
This is not about politics; this is about the Word of God, but the political ramifications are extremely dramatic. Scripture declares there will come a time when all the nations of the world will turn against Israel (Zech. 12:1-14). Ongoing developments in the Middle East inescapably demonstrate the present moment and make it highly conceivable that this could happen in our time. Accordingly, it is critical that believers understand the specific reasons for why we should stand with Israel today.
1) Divine Order
Every believer is charged to make the Jews a priority in his or her value system. Why? Because God has. As a result, we are to render thanksgiving for God’s work via them as a people.
Understanding the basis of the attention we give to the Jews has to do with understanding God’s divine order and things He has said. This involves both a people and a land (the latter of which we will cover shortly in another reason).
Remember, the Lord first selected a people. He began by selecting a man named Abraham. The Lord said that through Abraham’s seed (in relationship with his wife, Sarah, giving birth to the promised child, Isaac), all the nations would be blessed. Through this people, every human being would have access to the divine blessing of Almighty God.
In Genesis 12:3, the Lord says in the covenant He makes with Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Upon Jesus’ return to earth, the Lord will judge nations and deal with them for their decisions, just as He does individuals. Yet He makes a specific promise of judgment—of being either blessed or cursed—related to Abraham’s seed. It’s vital that we see this relates not only to a people (Jews), but also to a land (Israel).
In Romans 9:4-5, we find a revealing passage that outlines the Lord’s purposes for which He chose this people: “who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.”
God chose the Israelites to be the vessels for four overarching things:
1) The adoption: God’s divine choice of the seed of Abraham as a people.
2) The glory: the manifest presence of God revealing Himself.
3) The covenants: the commitments that God makes. These are evident in three forms through Scripture:
The Abrahamic Covenant. In this foundational covenant, God essentially told Abraham, “I will give you a people and a land, and through this seed the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 17:2-8).
The Mosaic Covenant. Through Moses, God offered the revelation of the Law, given as a teaching means to lead us to Christ: redemption through the blood of the Lamb (Gal. 3:19-29).
The New Covenant. In Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God says in words almost parallel: “For the time will come that I will take My Law and I will make a new covenant with you, and I will put My Spirit within you” (Jer. 31:31-33; Ezek. 36:27).
4) The greatest gift: the wonder of the gift of Jesus to mankind. John 3:16 explains that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” He gave Him through the Jews, and He came as a Jew. Jesus Himself, speaking to the woman of Samaria, said, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22).
So Scripture speaks to us very clearly: We’re dealing with the root of everything that has to do with the revelation of God to humankind. The proof of this today is in the very existence of the Jews as a people and the fact that they’ve been recovered as a nation (Ezek. 37). And now, the modern-day struggle is over Jerusalem, over Israel and over the presence of Jews and their right to have a land. Almost every nation refuses to make an abiding commitment to stand by the Jews and Israel. Only a few remain, but the Bible says God will honor those who do.
2) Spiritual Link
Our place in God’s present order inextricably links us with the Jews as a people, and thereby the land of Israel, according to the Word. When we put our faith in the Redeemer who came through the Jews, we enter into a line of those who have trusted God according to His revealed grace and purpose.
Scripture declares that, spiritually speaking, when you receive the Lord, you become a Jew (Rom. 2:28-29, Gal. 3:26-29). If you are a believer, you cannot be consistent with the whole of Scripture and take a position that is passive toward the Jews and Israel.
3) God’s Promises Over the Land
God has made unique declarations regarding the land of Israel that have never been rescinded:
Leviticus 25:23—The land is the Lord’s land, and it is His to assign and dispose of: “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine.”
Deuteronomy 32:43—“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people … He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”
2 Chronicles 7:20—God says, “[If the people violate Me], I will uproot them from My land which I have given them.”
Psalm 85:1-2—“Lord, You have been favorable to Your land; You have brought back the captivity of Jacob. You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin.”
Isaiah 8:8—This land belongs to Father God, and it is the land of His Messiah: “The stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of Your land, O Immanuel.”
Jeremiah 2:7—The Lord tells the people why there will come the loss—the destruction—of the city of Jerusalem: “I brought you into a bountiful country. … But when you entered, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination.”
Ezekiel 38:16—God is speaking to people in the end times who rise up against Israel, and He is speaking of a confrontation that will take place in His land: “You will come up against My people Israel. … I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you.”
Joel 1:6; 2:18; 3:2—Three times in this book, the land is referred to as belonging to the Lord: “For a nation has come up against My land” (1:6); “Then the Lord will be zealous for His land” (2:18); “I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgment with them there on account of My people, My heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations; they have also divided up My land” (3:2).
Hosea 9:3—This refers to the scattering of Israel: “They shall not dwell in the Lord’s land, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and shall eat unclean things in Assyria.”
Zechariah 9:16—“The Lord their God will save them in that day, as the flock of His people. For they shall be like the jewels of a crown, lifted like a banner over His land.”
When we talk about Israel, we are dealing with: 1) a piece of property that God has made pronouncements about and 2) God’s people to whom He’s given the land. It is a major issue with the Creator of all things, and it is non-negotiable. Things that God has said uniquely about Israel have never been rescinded.
Not only does the land belong to God, but also God has committed the land to Abraham and his offspring via Isaac forever (Gen. 17:7-8). Isaiah 54:8-10 reaffirms this as the Lord said, “With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you. … My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed.”
The loss of governance by Israel through sin and dispersion has not altered God’s announced commitment to make it theirs forever. (If you doubt this, read Ezekiel 37.)
4) Media Misrepresentation
Virtually every news report on the conflict involving Israel today presents Israel as the aggressor, notwithstanding the fact that the hostilities were provoked by Palestinian or Hamas shellings or rocket fire, against which the nation had to take action in self-defense. For example, when Israel gave Gaza back as an effort to establish grounds for advancing the “peace process,” within months the same area became a staging ground by the Palestinians for new unprovoked attacks on Israel.
This represents the futile efforts Israel has faced at every turn when attempting to negotiate peace, since the media reports consistently assign responsibility to Israel as the initiator of aggression, when in fact the action of the Israel Defense Forces is only to raise a shield of self-defense. Consequently, Israel’s present conflict is neither by its initiative nor perpetuated by expansionism or racism on its part.
The general attitude of the world today regards the Palestinians as the underdog and the victim, but Israel is defending the land covenanted to them in 1917 and established by the United Nations Assembly in 1948. The Palestinian goal is not to secure a homeland but to drive Israel out altogether. For the sake of mounting public opinion against Israel, surrounding, well-resourced Arab nations have never offered refuge to the Palestinians. The majority of the world doesn’t know this, and nobody is bothering to tell them because sympathies are so overridden by other forces.
Remember, this is not about politics, yet the ramifications of this struggle inevitably involve governments, which are intended to represent people groups. And among Christians, this is where we often confuse the matter—which is why it’s crucial that we understand …
5) Arab Rights
To stand with Israel is not to oppose the Arab people as an entity, nor to oppose the rights of Arabs living in Israel to a peaceful, politically secure and prosperous life. God has no disposition against any human being, certainly not Arabs, who are the offspring of Ishmael, the other son of His chosen leader, Abraham. Standing for Israel doesn’t require an anti-Arab stance and doesn’t require us to be loveless toward other people.
Though the world may not understand this stance, we can defy their logic through Christ. As Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
6) Spiritual Warfare
The relentless animosities of sectors of the Arab world are not merely political causes but are driven by spiritual powers that will not be satisfied until Israel ceases to exist.
Even unbelievers can recognize the uncanny patterns of vehement anti-Semitic rhetoric shared between the likes of Adolf Hitler and modern-day Arab leaders such as Ahmadinejad, Khamenei and their successors. The forces opposed to Israel are not simply those of people who don’t like Jews. We are caught in the stream of spiritual forces greater than humanity, forces that cannot be overthrown politically or by the power of persuasion. These forces can only be broken by intercessory prayer where principalities and powers are cast down.
7) Shared Persecution
If we think Israelis are the only ones in the line of fire in this conflict, we’re deceived. The same spirit driving these animosities is equally opposed to Christians as to Jews, and in time will eventually bring persecution to both.
Just as Scripture describes two witnesses that will be put to death in Jerusalem at the very end of time (Rev. 11), generally the “two witnesses” that have stood for the living God throughout history have been the Jews and the Christians. The presence of the entire Judeo-Christian ethic, values and testimony is the most assailed religious/spiritual testimony in today’s world and is allowed to be persecuted with impunity. Too often we hear incidents where such “witness” exists where violated rights or outright brutality finds only a silent response from the U.N. or the world press.
The hostilities and animosities are just as leveled at believers as they are at Israel because there is a spirit of the world that is against “all that is called God” (2 Thess. 2:4) and all things testifying to His existence, love, worth and glory.
8) God’s Summoning
A biblical assignment and a divine promise summon our stand in faith, our intercession with expectancy and our support with promise (Eph. 6:10-20).
We are called to stand with Israel today because we could be people of the last hour. The Lord has called us to be people with moral and biblical conviction, walking wisely and knowing His Word. He will honor those who make an abiding commitment to stand with the land He’s called uniquely His.