"We interrupt your regularly scheduled programme to bring you this..." Sorry if you were waiting for part 3 of the Coming of Jesus series, but what with all that's going on in the news lately, I felt that this needed to be written first.
If you've been on Facebook, or any other social media no doubt, I'm sure you will have seen (or even said) words to this effect in status' or memes. I keep seeing memes and images posted by people, often from Christians, about "supporting Israel" and each time it makes me stop and question that statement and/or sentiment. I question its accuracy, how biased or not the sources were, whether it's propaganda rather than truth. It makes me wonder about what view of God and theology that person holds to that enables Israel to get a 'free pass' as it were. There's images and videos being posted from both sides, but it seems that when there is something negative against Israel, it's called "propaganda" and staged/fake etc, but the other way around it is terrorism and self-defense by Israel. Then there's those who play the racism card, such as the image to the right, making people feel guilty of Anti-Semitism for not being a die-hard Zionist.
But what I'd really like to know is when did Christian's begin supporting any kind of violence or war? I realise the church has a long and bloody history - but is that really the Jesus way - Jesus the "prince of peace" (Isaiah 9:6)?
How about we do what Jesus taught and support efforts for peace, and not war; praying for our enemies and those who persecute, and not take sides, you know, like we're supposed to as Christ-followers.
"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." – Matt 5:44-45
"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." – Rom 12:21
In the midst of all this though, there is one meme I've seen which seems to go against the grain, and which I would feel most comfortable sharing online, which I will do here too:
Memes aside, what does the Scriptures say on the matter of Israel, war and support for violence?
Being against the war that is being waged isn't the same as condoning the actions of terrorists or racism or killing children. The arguments just become emotional knee-jerkers when you throw in "the children" rather than looking at the situation as a whole and realising than killing anyone - whether babies, full grown adult or somewhere in between, is wrong (#6 of the 10 Commandments, anyone?).
Consider this from 1 Peter 2:21
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
And Romans 12:17-21,
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The New Covenant, under Jesus, presents an interesting tension of non-violence and justice. A tension which Paul continues in Romans 12 in the context of governing authorities and their role in the world, but I think this quote from John Stott sums it up quite well:
“If my house is burglarized one night and I catch the thief, it may well be my duty to sit him down and give him something to eat and drink, while at the same time telephoning the police.”
Then you have the Church Fathers, who for the first few centuries, had some things to say on violence and joining the military in general. They weren't all in total agreement; some were complete pacifists, whereas others seemed to advocate non-violence but permitted self-defense. I'll just put a few quotes to make the point, but you can read more here about what they had to say, and by looking at the links at the end of this article for more info.
We refrain from making war on our enemies, and [we] cannot bear to see a man killed, even if killed justly.
— Justin Martyr
He who holds the sword must cast it away and that if one of the faithful becomes a soldier, he must be rejected by the Church, for he has scorned God.
— Clement of Alexandria
For even if soldiers came to John and received advice on how to act, and even if a centurion became a believer, the Lord, in subsequently disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.
From what I can see online, and in the various conversations I've had, is that people are also confusing what "we" should do as a country, with what "we" should do as Christians. Obviously we as a country are going to respond in some form, often with violence as is the way of the world. My main question though, is is that how the Church should respond? Is violence a position Christians should show their support for, whatever the reason?
No, we shouldn't just sit back and accept terrorism or war, but neither should be respond with, or support, evil. And in this context, "evil" isn't simply just Hamas or whoever, it's everyone who perpetrates senseless killing, on both sides. It's about being pro-peace over and above any pro-nationality.
If, as in some posts I've seen online, this comes down to basically saying "the Bible says God gave the land to the Jews, therefore they can blow up anyone who says otherwise" and thus "support" Israel because they are God's "chosen" people – to that I say you've misunderstood the New Covenant, and possible the role of God with Israel. Even if you believe the Jews have some special status with God over and above the rest of us, there's still the issue that even from a cursory read of the Old Testament, it was GOD who protected Israel and often specifically told them to go to battle with seemingly weaker positions so that it could be shown that God was their protector, not their own might (eg. Judges 7:2; Lev 26:7-9).
With that in mind, can we honestly say that what Israel is doing now is under orders from God? That they are fighting from a weaker standpoint to prove God is on their side? More to the point – is any of this war "justified" religiously by the Israelis, or is it simply a secular war over land ownership? I suspect it's the latter, yet many Christians seem to be blindly "supporting" Israel just because it's Israel, as far as I can tell.
No doubt what I'm about to say will ruffle a few feathers (if I haven't already thus far!) but we need to address the issue of who is Israel, Biblically speaking? Yes, there is a modern nation known as "Israel" now since 1948, but is that the same Israel of the Bible? The same Israel to whom God made his promises? If so, does that mean God's plans were on hiatus while there was no nation of Israel from AD 70 when Rome destroyed them, until 1948?
As one blogger put it,
If the laws that governed Israel in the Old Testament do not apply to Israel today, then they are just another nation, and they should be held to the same standard as every other nation. ... But evangelicals keep giving Israel a free pass. They do so because they believe it is God’s covenant nation. Yet when it comes to holding Israel to the stipulations of that covenant… silence.
Let’s say modern Israel IS a continuation of the Old Testament kingdom (with the noticeable absence of a king) ... How do we conclude from any of this that it’s not OK to criticize the Israeli state—especially when so much of the Hebrew Scriptures are themselves a prophetic critique of Israel?
Let me say it another way: the nation of Israel in the Middle East which we know of today, is not the same Israel of the New Covenant.
So who is Israel then, according to the New Testament? In a word: Jesus.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ.
That promise to Abraham of his offspring blessing the earth was not speaking of the Jewish people as a whole, but their culmination in being the lineage to which the Messiah would come!
There are memes like the one on the right, which are also doing the rounds on the internet, quoting Gen 12:3 and by implication, putting guilt on anyone who dares say a bad word against the nation of Israel. Yes, all the families of the earth shall be blessed - but not by national Israel, but Jesus who IS the true Israel; the one in whom all the promises to the people of Israel are found complete (2 Cor 1:19-20).
It is now through faith in Jesus that we are grafted into the true Israel of God, and because of that, we are blessed! The true Israel of God now are those who believe in the promise that was given to Abraham, which was the Gospel, and not his earthly/natural descendants.
Don't take my word for it though, read for yourself how the Apostle Paul understood this:
Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
This passage from Galatians is an echo of what God said in Gen 12:3, and also Gen 22:18, which Peter also refers to as well in Acts 3:25-26.
Opponents to this view (often called "Replacement Theology") say that this means that God somehow failed in his plans with physical Israel and needed a "Plan B" as it were, hence, the Church. To be clear, I'm not saying the Church replaced Israel, but rather it is the continuation of what Israel was always meant to be, and so will be the people group in whom the promises from God will be made complete. It's no longer about land or race, but Jesus's righteousness and faithfulness and an expanded plan to include all people – not simply the Jews. God didn't fail in his promises to bless the nations, his plan was just bigger than anyone first imagined!
To be against this idea/view that Jesus is Israel though, is to be against the teachings of the Apostles and the Church Fathers. I'm not quite sure how you can come to that conclusion when Paul writes things like this to the church in Rome:
It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants.
Paul is building his case that it is not simply a matter of being born a Jew any longer. God's plan all along was to include Gentiles (ie. non-Jews), but that was only going to happen after his Messiah had come. God's plan was always for the whole world, but his vessel of choice to bring this to fulfillment, was the Jewish people. It is now through faith that we become the true spiritual Israel under the New Covenant, grafted into the vine (Rom 11:17; Jn 15:1) so that by God showing mercy to the Gentiles through the Jews disobedience, God can in return, show mercy on them again through the Gentiles in order than none can boast, but all may be humbled by God's overwhelming grace (Rom 11)!
This is Paul's theme throughout his letters to the churches and the new believers, making the point over and over that natural Jews are now no different than Gentiles when it comes to the promises of God. Through Jesus, God has created a new humanity — a new race of people, who are heirs and descendants to Israel's promises!
For he [Jesus] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
Thus, it follows then, that it is the Church and Christians - whether natural Jew or Gentile, who believes in and follows Jesus, that are now "spiritual Jews" grafted into the True Vine of Israel, that is, Christ Jesus.
I'll conclude and finish with a quote from another blogger who made an interesting observation with regards to this matter, and the parallels of what God spoke about national Israel, and what Peter says of the Church, which I think sums this all up nicely (the letters A,B,C are to link the parallels between the two verses):
To ancient national Israel: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be [A] MY TREASURED POSSESSION among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to Me [B] A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a [C] HOLY NATION…” (Exodus 19:5-6).
To the church: “But you are a chosen race, [B] A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a [C] HOLY NATION, a people [A] FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Support the true Israel by being Christ-like in your behaviour, having the mind of Christ in your thinking (Philippians 2:1-18), and by loving God and loving your neighbour – whoever they may be.
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