As we prepare to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Israel's independence (May 14, 2018) we need to explain to others, and to remind ourselves, why many evangelicals fervently support Israel and the Jewish people.
According to Lifeway Research in Nashville, at least half of self-identified evangelicals believe that at some point in the future most Jewish people will accept Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.
Additionally, large segments of American evangelicalism believe that God has made certain promises to His chosen people, the Jews, that He did not make to Gentiles — including possession of the Promised Land of Israel forever, in belief, in unbelief, in obedience and in disobedience, unconditionally forever.
These beliefs are based on the Abrahamic Covenant that God made with Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). In this covenant with Abraham, God not only promised the land of Canaan to the Jews forever, He also promises to bless those who bless the Jews and curse those who curse the Jews. Consequently millions of evangelicals believe that if they want God to bless them individually, and America collectively as a nation, then they need to bless the Jews.
This means among other things, that anti-Semitism must be resisted vigorously wherever and whenever it rears its demonic head. It also means supporting the Jewish people's aspirations to have their own homeland in the ancient God-given land of Israel.
The previously unimaginable horrors of the 20th century Holocaust underscore the necessity of such a homeland of refuge for the Jewish people. Israel's 1948 Declaration of Independence says, "We will be open for Jewish immigration and for the ingathering of the exiles."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to his fellow Israelis explained how his grandfather was beaten unconscious by an anti-Semitic mob in a train station in the heart of Europe at the end of the 19th century: "He pledged to himself that if he survived the night, he would bring his family to the land of Israel and help build a new future for the
Jewish people and its land." Mr. Netanyahu went on to say, "I am standing here today as the Prime Minister of Israel because my grandfather kept his promise."
Supporting the Jewish people's right to govern themselves in the ancient homeland that God promised them in perpetuity so many millennia ago, does not mean blind affirmation and support for anything and everything Israel does. If we truly care about Israel and the Jewish people, we are compelled to tell them when we believe she is acting wrongly or contrary to her true best interests. Those you really love you tell the truth, as you believe it to be, even if it hurts or causes offense. However, supporting Israel does mean that you don't seek to coerce her to take actions she feels will endanger her national security.
While many Jewish people appreciate evangelicals' support for Israel, they often take offense when evangelicals continue to insist that eternal salvation for everyone, Jew and Gentile, is through faith in Jesus the Messiah who declared, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me (John 14:6).
I once had a rabbi say to me, with some exasperation, "Richard, I know that is what you believe, but do you have to say it?"
I replied, "Yes, I do. My faith has in it something called The Great Commission, which is a divine command to share the Gospel with everyone. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul commanded Christians to go 'to the Jew first and also to the Greek' (Rom. 1:16). So, as a disciple of Jesus I am specifically commanded and called to witness to the Jews, God's chosen people, that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah and Savior. If the price of respecting your faith is to disregard the commands of my faith, then the price is too high."
I reminded my rabbi friend that for Christians, witnessing to the life transforming power of the Gospel is an act of love, and not bigotry or hatred, and we are also admonished by the Apostle Peter, "but in your hearts ... always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness
and respect." (I Peter 3:15).
As you watch Israel's 70th birthday celebrations this Monday, understand that evangelicals will be exuberantly joining the festivities as they rejoice with their Jewish friends our God's faithfulness and watch care over His people and that human history is not merely cyclical, but linear, and God is bringing His eternal purposes to fruition.
As Jews and Evangelical Christians together celebrate Israel's birthday this year, there will be a new depth to their joy — they will also be celebrating the opening and dedication of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem, the City of David, the ancient capital of the Jewish nation, and once and forever capital of Israel.
We will all be praying for the peace of Jerusalem.