from Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict
edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser
chapter contributed by Darrell L. Bock
For the Middle East. The idea that Israel has a future as a nation and a right to the land has major implications for the Middle East. The attempt by some to eliminate her presence as a nation there is illegitimate on various grounds. Theologically, the nation has had a right to the land because it is a part of God’s promise to Israel. However, for many it also is hers by legal right, something a careful retracing of the complex history of the region from the Balfour Declaration on can show. The failure of many of her neighbors to recognize her right to exist is part of what has created the tension in the Middle East. Such recognition should be a given in the effort to make political progress in the region.
The emphasis on reconciliation also should make one careful not to turn this right into a defense of a kind of nationalism at the expense of God’s care and concern for others. This has significance because it means Israel does not have a carte blanche to do whatever she desires in the region. She is responsible for justice concerns because of the prophet’s call for justice from those who claim ties to Israel’s God as well as out of respect for all made in God’s image.
The Middle East is a tangled mess, as anyone knows. Part of the pressure on justice concerns comes from the deep hatred that has motivated much violence from some opposed to Israel’s presence in the region. Many of her actions are part of an attempt to pursue self-defense in the face of those who seek to harm or eliminate the nation. The idea that Israel has a right to exist and to be treated with the rights and protections of any nation means these attempts should be seen not as conflicts of liberation but as violations of international law. The suppression of such a recognition for Israel in the Middle East does nothing to advance the cause of peace there. Only such a recognition and the protection that goes with it allow for an environment that then can more easily pursue peace.
All of this is a direct implication of the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a people and an understanding that behind all the legal and political wrangling stand theological concerns. Any theological perspective that excludes Israel as a part of the divine promise program only clouds things in the Middle East and sets the background for a defense of the kind of violence we see from both sides.
Yet the emphasis on reconciliation means that the presence of Israel should not be seen as a threat to Arabs. The divine program foresees a nation that eventually turns back to God and that becomes part of a larger reconciliation program of God. It is not an affirmation of nationalism to affirm a role for Israel. On Christ’s return, she is to be a source of global blessing that all will welcome. It is clear this is a deeply theological claim. Only seeing this direction for the program of God in Christ allows one to see this potential trajectory for the Middle East.
For the Church. The church is designed to be a place that previews where things are headed. It is to show a commitment to faithfulness to God’s word, a love for God and for others, and to be a community that gives evidence of reconciliation to come. We have not always done this well, in part because of the already-not yet character of salvation, where growth is what takes place not a leap to perfection. The church should be characterized by an evenhandedness and sense of justice that not only pursues righteousness, but is appropriately self-critical as it responds to God’s commitment to grow us as individuals and as the body of Christ. That means there will be success and failure, but the aims of the church should be to reflect the product of the gospel in terms of truth and relationally. If the goal of salvation is the regaining of a flourishing before God and the presence of genuine shalom, then the church should be an example of how that works and should argue for moves toward such reconciliation between people as they urge them to respond to what God has designed for the peoples of the world. To paraphrase Galatians 6:10, those in the church are to do good to all people, especially those of the faith. That also means being concerned about justice toward all, including those of the faith. God is a God of all nations. The church needs to be careful to reflect that commitment alongside its discussion of God’s revealed plan.
For Divine Promise and Character. In many ways, this point stands at the core of the thesis for this essay. What is at stake in the future for Israel and the reconciliation of the nations in Christ is not only related to the status of a particular people and nation, but a reading about the character of God and his revelation as he acts on behalf of the world. Many of the texts we cited, especially in the Old Testament discuss the certainty of God’s word. The completion of this promise reveals God’s character to be faithful and shows that he keeps his word to those to whom he originally made it. The veracity of God and the clarity of his communication are both in play. In many ways, he stakes his reputation upon completing this promise. The prophets compare the promise’s certainty to remarks about the surety of the creation. The connection serves to underscore the prophets’ view about the promise’s realization. It will take place and all nations will share in the unity and joy it brings to humanity. This hope is not about nationalism. Nor is it only about reconciliation. It is about God’s grace and character as rooted in his promises. It is about his word and character. It is about what Craig Blaising’s essay calls Redemptive Kingdom Theology. God’s faithfulness to Israel is actually also a picture of his faithfulness to all his children. What is true for Israel is true for all who belong to God. In Israel’s future as a nation, we see our own future as well—and we see a reconciliation that cancels out our nationalisms and tribalisms. Real hope in the Middle East can only come with a comprehensive program involving redemption and the uniting of all the nations in conjunction with promises made long ago with Abraham. The realized and culminated work Messiah, including a hope for national Israel and the long-revealed promises of God, unites us as one. It also shows a God who keeps his word and is worthy of honor as the designer of that amazing global grace
 A more detailed case for a future for Israel in the land appears in Gerald R. McDermott, ed., The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspective on Israel and the Land (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016). This book involves essays from people of a variety theological traditions showing it is not merely the product of one particular theological tradition.
This post is an excerpt from Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict, edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser; adapted from the chapter “Biblical Reconciliation Between Jews and Arabs,” written by Darrell L. Bock. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
The relationship between the church and Israel has been the source of passionate debate among Christians throughout much of church history. In recent years the traditional pro-Israel stance of evangelicals has come under fire by those who support the Palestinian cause, calling for a new perspective and more nuanced approach by Christians who believe that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people by virtue of God’s covenants and promises.
Israel, the Church, and the Middle East challenges the supersessionist drift of the modern church, showing that God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people while also addressing a number of the divisive issues raised by authors critical both of Israel and of those who affirm Israel’s right to the land. The book explores the hermeneutics and wider effects of the conflict, such as the growing antipathy within the church toward the evangelization of the Jewish people. It provides readers with an objective and interdisciplinary treatment, which is irenic and respectful in tone.
The book is directed toward pastors, global Christian leaders, theological students, and well-read lay Christians who are actively seeking guidance and resources regarding the Middle East conflict. The contributors represent a broad evangelical spectrum.