With the President meeting this week with Prime Minister Barak of
Israel and Yassir Arafat, it may be time to review a topic that is
baffling for Jews, annoying to Arabs, and unavoidable for American
Congressmen: the unswerving political support for the State of Israel by
Vocal support of a pro-Israel American foreign policy is basic for
the leaders of American Protestant fundamentalism. This has been true
ever since 1948. Pat Robertson and Rev. Jerry Falwell have been
pro-Israel throughout their careers, beginning two decades before the
arrival of the New Christian Right in the late 1970's. These men are not
aberrations. The Trinity Broadcasting Network is equally supportive. So
are the best-selling authors who speak for, and influence heavily,
Protestant fundamentalism, most notably Hal Lindsey, author of The Late
Great Planet Earth (1970), and Tim LaHaye, the husband of Beverly LaHaye
of Concerned Women for America, which says on its Web site that it is
"the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization." Rev. LaHaye
and his co-author have each earned some $10 million in royalties for
their multi-volume futuristic novel, Left Behind. They have a very large
People may ask themselves, "Why this support?" Fundamentalists
earlier in this century were sometimes associated with anti-Semitism.
James M. Gray of the Moody Bible Institute in 1927 wrote an editorial
favorable to Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent series on Jews. Gray’s
editorial appeared in the Moody Bible Institute Monthly. Arno C.
Gabelein, a prominent fundamentalist leader, believed that the Protocols
of the Learned Elders of Zion was a legitimate document. Gabelein’s 1933
book, The Conflict of the Ages, would today be regarded as anti-Semitic.
Other fundamentalist leaders of the pre-War era, while not
anti-Semitic, attempted to maintain neutrality on the issue of Hitler’s
persecution of Jews. In his 1977 book, Armageddon Now!, Christian
historian Dwight Wilson cites numerous examples of fundamentalist
theologians in the late 1930’s who regarded Hitler’s discriminatory
policies against Jews as part of God’s judgment on the Jews. He writes:
"Pleas from Europe for assistance for Jewish refugees fell on deaf ears,
and ‘Hands Off’ meant no helping hand. So in spite of being
theologically more pro-Jewish than any other Christian group, the
premillennarians also were apathetic. . . ." [pp. 96-97].
What was it that persuaded almost the entire fundamentalist
movement to move from either hostility or neutrality to vocal support of
Israel? No single answer will fit every case, but there is a common
motivation, one not taken seriously by most people in history: getting
out of life alive.
The Not-Quite Last Things
The Christian doctrine of eschatology deals with the last things.
Sometimes eschatology deals with the personal: the death of the
individual. Usually, however, it has to do with God’s final judgment of
There have been three main views of eschatology in the history of
the church, which theologians classify as premillennialism,
postmillennialism, and amillennialism. The pre- and post- designations
refer to the expected timing of the bodily return of Jesus in the
company of angels: before (pre-) the establishment of an earthly kingdom
of God, or after (post-) this kingdom has extended its rule across the
The amillennial view is that the kingdom of God is mainly
spiritual. This became the dominant view of Christianity for over a
millennium after Augustine’s City of God, with its distinction between
the city of God, the church (spiritual and permanent) and the political
cities of man (rising and falling). Luther held this eschatological
view. Most of the Continental Protestant Reformers of the sixteenth
century held it. But seventeenth-century Scottish Presbyterians were
more likely to hold the postmillennial view, and they carried it with
them when they emigrated to America. Their postmillennialism rested in
part on their belief that God will convert the Jews to Christianity as a
prelude to the kingdom’s period of greatest expansion, an idea derived
from Paul’s Epistle to the church at Rome, chapter 11. Presbyterians are
officially commanded to pray for the conversion of the Jews.
[Westminster Larger Catechism (1647), Answer 191.] The first generation
of Puritan Congregationalists in New England also held similar
The premillennial view was commonly held in the pre-Augustinian
church, although the other views did have defenders. After 1660,
premillennialism became increasingly common within American Puritanism.
Cotton Mather was a premillennialist. But Jonathan Edwards was
postmillennial. In nineteenth-century America, both views were common
prior to the Civil War. After the War, premillennialism steadily
replaced postmillennialism among fundamentalists. A secularized
postmillennialism was adopted by the Social Gospel movement.
Non-fundamentalist Protestants from Continental Europe, like the
Catholics, remained amillennial. Postmillennialism faded after World War
I until the late 1970's, when it experienced a limited revival.
Basic to the view of both premillennialism and amillennialism is
pessimism regarding the efforts of Christians to build a culture-wide
kingdom of God on earth. Both positions hold that only by Jesus’ bodily
presence among the saints can Christians create an cultural alternative
to the competing kingdoms of man. The premillennialist believes that
this international kingdom construction task will begin in earnest a
thousand years before the final judgment, with Jesus ruling from a
literal throne, probably located in Jerusalem. The amillennialist views
this universal extension of the kingdom of God into culture as possible
only after the resurrection of all humanity at the final judgment, i.e.,
in a sin-free, death-free, Christians-only world.
Tribulation and Rapture
Just prior to Jesus’ return to set up an earthly kingdom, argue
most amillennialists and all premillennialists, there will be a time of
persecution, called the Great Tribulation. It is here that the great
debate over the Jews begins. Amillennialists believe that Christians
will be persecuted by their enemies. A handful of premillennialists,
referred to as "historic premillennialists," also identify Christians as
the targets. This version of premillennialism has been insignificant
institutionally since the 1870’s. The dominant premillennial view says
that Jews will suffer the Great Tribulation. Born-again Christians will
have flown the coop – literally. This is the doctrine of the
According to pre-tribulation premillennialists, who are known as
dispensationalists, Jesus will come secretly in the clouds and raise
deceased Christians – and only Christians – from the dead. Immediately
thereafter, every true Christian will be transported bodily into the
sky, and from there to heaven: the Rapture event. The passage cited to
defend this view is found in Paul’s first letter to the church at
Thessolonica: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a
shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and
the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain
shall be caught up [harpazo] together with them in the clouds, to meet
the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thes.
4:16-17). Throughout most of church history, this passage was associated
with the final judgment, but beginning sometime around 1830 in England,
it was linked to the premillennial, pretribulational Rapture – a word
that is not found in the Greek text or in any English translation of the
New Testament. Its Latin root word is in Jerome’s Vulgate, a translation
of the Greek "harpazo" – seize, catch, or pluck.
This outlook on the earthly future became increasingly popular
among fundamentalists, beginning in the 1870's. It was formalized in the
footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909; revised, 1917). In
1930, it became the first Oxford University Press book to reach sales of
one million. It has now sold over five million copies. C. I. Scofield’s
system has defined fundamentalism for nine decades.
The Rapture-based escape from history is now universally believed
by fundamentalists to be imminent. Generations of fundamentalists have
believed that they will escape bodily death. They will be transported
into the sky, like Elijah, though without benefit of chariots.
But when? That has been the great question. The answer: "Soon."
But why soon? Why not a millennium from now? The psychological answer:
Because men do not live that long in this millennium. The main selling
point for fundamentalism’s Bible prophecies is to get insight into what
is coming soon. In this case, the issue of mortality is central. As the
slogan says, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die."
The doctrine of the imminent Rapture allows Christians to believe
seriously that they can go to heaven without dying. Millions of
Americans believe this today.
But how can they be so sure? Because of the events of 1948. In
that year, the crucial missing piece of the prophetic puzzle – the
restoration of the nation of Israel – seemed to come true. Critics of
the dispensational system could no longer say, "But where is Israel in
all this?" The answer, at long last: "In Palestine, just in time for the
The Grim Fate of Israel
The source of the idea of the Great Tribulation is found in Jesus’
last words regarding Israel, which are recorded in Matthew 24 and Luke
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know
that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judaea
flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart
out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto. For
these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be
fulfilled. But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give
suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and
wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword,
and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be
trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be
fulfilled (Luke 21:20-24).
Throughout most of church history, this prophecy was interpreted
as having been fulfilled by the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the
destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. With the rise of dispensationalism,
however, the fulfillment of this passage was moved into the future.
Dispensationalism’s critics had long asked: "Where is the nation
of Israel? Where are the Jews?" Not in Palestine, surely. So,
dispensationalists tended to apply this prophecy of near-destruction to
Jews in general – only symbolically residing in Israel – until 1948.
This was one reason for their silence on Hitler’s persecution. Hitler
was just another rung in the ladder of persecution leading to the
inevitable Great Tribulation.
The prophesied agency of the great persecution has shifted over
the years. As Wilson shows in Armageddon Now!, from 1917 until 1977,
Russia was a prime candidate. But, after 1991, this has become difficult
to defend, for obvious reasons. The collapse of the Soviet Union has
created a major problem for dispensationalism’s theologians and its
popular authors. But there have been no comparable doubts about the
intensity of the coming persecution. Here is the opinion of John F.
Walvoord, one of dispensationalism’s leading theologians, who served for
three decades as the president of Dallas Theological Seminary (founded,
1924), the movement’s main seminary.
The purge of Israel in their time of trouble is described by
Zechariah in these words: "And it shall come to pass, that in all the
land, saith Jehovah, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the
third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part into the
fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as
gold is tried" (Zechariah 13:8, 9). According to Zechariah’s prophecy,
two thirds of the children of Israel in the land will perish, but the
one third that are left will be refined and be awaiting the deliverance
of God at the second coming of Christ which is described in the next
chapter of Zechariah. [John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand
Rapids, MI: Zondervan,  1988), p. 108.
Nothing can or will be done by Christians to save Israel’s Jews
from this disaster, for all of the Christians will have been removed
from this world three and a half years prior to the beginning of this
42-month period of tribulation. (The total period of seven years is
interpreted as the fulfillment of the seventieth week of Daniel [Dan.
In order for most of today’s Christians to escape physical death,
two-thirds of the Jews in Israel must perish, soon. This is the grim
prophetic trade-off that fundamentalists rarely discuss publicly, but
which is the central motivation in the movement’s support for Israel. It
should be clear why they believe that Israel must be defended at all
costs by the West. If Israel were militarily removed from history prior
to the Rapture, then the strongest case for Christians’ imminent escape
from death would have to be abandoned. This would mean the indefinite
delay of the Rapture. The fundamentalist movement thrives on the
doctrine of the imminent Rapture, not the indefinitely postponed
Every time you hear the phrase, "Jesus is coming back soon," you
should mentally add, "and two-thirds of the Jews of Israel will be dead
in ‘soon plus 84 months.’" Fundamentalists really do believe that they
probably will not die physically, but to secure this faith
prophetically, they must defend the doctrine of an inevitable holocaust.
This specific motivation for the support of Israel is never
preached from any fundamentalist pulpit. The faithful hear sermons –
many, many sermons – on the pretribulation Rapture. On other occasions,
they hear sermons on the Great Tribulation. But they do not hear the two
themes put together: "We can avoid death, but only because two-thirds of
the Jews of Israel will inevitably die in a future holocaust. America
must therefore support the nation of Israel in order to keep the
Israelis alive until after the Rapture." Fundamentalist ministers expect
their congregations to put two and two together on their own. It would
be politically incorrect to add up these figures in public.
The fundamentalists I have known generally say they appreciate
Jews. They think Israel is far superior to Arab nations. They believe in
a pro-Israel foreign policy as supportive of democracy and America’s
interests. They do not dwell upon the prophetic fate of Israel’s Jews
except insofar as they want to transfer the threat of the Great
Tribulation away from themselves and their families. Nevertheless, this
is the bottom line: the prophetic scapegoating of Israel. This
scapegoat, not Christians, must be sent into the post-Rapture
Evangelism in Israel
Their eschatology has produced a kind of Catch-22 for
fundamentalists. What if, as a result of evangelism, the Jews of Israel
were converted en masse to Christianity? They would then be Raptured,
along with their Gentile brethren, leaving only Arabs behind. This
scenario would make the immediate fulfillment of prophecy impossible: no
post-Rapture Israelis to persecute. So, fundamentalists have concluded
that the vast majority of the Jews of Israel cannot, will not, and must
not be converted to Christianity.
This raises an obvious question: Why spend money on evangelizing
Israelis? It would be a waste of resources. This is why there are so few
active fundamentalist ministries in Israel that target Jews. They target
Arabs instead. Eschatologically speaking, the body of an Israeli must be
preserved, for he may live long enough to go through the Great
Tribulation. But his soul is expendable. This is why fundamentalists
vocally support the nation of Israel, but then do very little to preach
to Israelis the traditional Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith in
Jesus Christ. Fundamentalists have a prophetic agenda for Israelis that
does not involve at least two-thirds of the Israelis’ souls. Israelis
are members of the only group on earth that has an unofficial yet
operational King’s X against evangelism by fundamentalists, specifically
so that God may preserve Israelis for the sake of the destruction of
modern Israel in the Great Tribulation. The presence of Israel validates
the hope of fundamentalists that Christians, and Christians alone, will
get out of life alive.
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