by Jim Reapsome
Picking a fight with Israel is a dangerous thing. Even more dangerous, from one standpoint at least, is to pick a fight with those who love Israel, no matter what.
Picking a fight with Israel is a dangerous thing. Even more dangerous, from one standpoint at least, is to pick a fight with those who love Israel, no matter what. In the broadest sense, all those who take the Bible seriously love Israel. But Byron Spradlin’s article in this issue shows why it’s dangerous to love Israel too much.
This is not a political debate, but one that pits prophecy against missions. That’s truly sad to report, but in this case it’s true. Prophecy, truly understood, points to the culmination of all things in heaven and earth under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Missions is fired with the enthusiasm of bringing about the obedience of faith in Jesus in all nations.
Where do the two cause conflict? In Israel. Israel is the focal point of prophecy for some people. They search the Old Testament and the news to see how much of the prophetic puzzle they can solve. In their rush to help God’s plan along, as it were, they apparently can’t see beyond Israel in prophecy.
On the other hand, for those with a missionary heart Israel is not primarily a land to be adored, but a people to be won to Christ. It is dangerously possible to be so enamored with the land, and to be so taken up with Israel’s cause, that one can forget the desperate spiritual blindness engulfing Israel today.
That blindness is so great that the apostle Paul said his fellow Jews were "enemies of God" (Rom. 11:28). They were not his personal enemies. Paul would have willingly surrendered his own salvation for their sakes. But they were enemies "as regards the gospel."
The overriding issue for Israelis, as for anyone else, is the gospel. It’s not prophetic signs. Neither the land itself nor the Temple are the crucial matter. What matters is the confession of Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed their promised Messiah.
Instead of wishing that the Temple will be rebuilt, and that unbelieving Zionism should flourish, we should exhibit the same passion for missions to Jews as Paul himself had. "My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved," he cried (Rom. 10:1).
He knew that the salvation of Israel awaits the return of Messiah, but that did not deter him from trying to convince Jews about Jesus "from morning till evening" (Acts 28:23). As you look at Paul’s missionary passion for Jews, you don’t find him cozying up to them but rather confronting them.
Mission, church, and government leaders ought also to confront the Israeli government about restrictions and harassment. Christians are hemmed in on every side. Although Israel is a democratic state, full religious freedom is yet to come. If we truly love Israel, we will not gloss over the hindrances to proclaiming Christ that exist in that country.
Churches are tolerated, for historical and pragmatic reasons, but the intensity with which some Israelis resist any attempts at Christian evangelism rivals that found in some Muslim countries. These facts are not observed by Christian tourists and they are not published in the press. They are not included in the glowing reports of support for Israel, of various Christian gatherings, and of church trips to the holy land.
Missionaries in Israel know these facts, but they don’t trumpet them for obvious reasons. Part of the pain of being a Christian witness in Israel comes from not knowing how open to be. But what hurts some missionaries even more are the one-sided exclamations of love for the Jews and their land that they hear coming from evangelical leaders. If that’s the price of friendship, they would rather not pay it.
Missionaries would rather see that professed love expressed in more forthright attempts to win the confidence and respect of Jews, so that the necessity of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ can be made very clear in a personal way. Jewish evangelism is tough. It isn’t made easier by simply vowing "support for Israel."
Such support may rightly be a matter of one’s personal political and biblical convictions. But it should never lead to a downplaying of the ultimate confrontation: Jesus is indeed the Messiah. It should also not lead to forgetting the sizable Christian population among the Arabs in Israel. These fellow believers feel neglected and betrayed by evangelicals in America. They long for a more even-handed discussion of the issues in our churches. They desire some expression of Christian oneness and support.
The Arab believers lack the public relations power of the Israeli government. They can’t sponsor tours. But they are true friends of many missionaries in Israel.
We must be objective in our approach to Jewish evangelism. At the same time, we cannot permit subtle shifts in our priorities. Prophecy is not number one, proclaiming Jesus as Messiah is. It is time for leaders of churches and missions to back off from the holy land hoopla and remind Christians of their duty to pray for and support overt missionary work in Israel. So far, the Israelis have had it all their way. Let’s remind them that we have some priorities and concerns, too,.that transcend the land and its future.
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