In a brief screed inspired by Joe Lieberman’s appearance at Tuesday’s Christians United for Israel banquet, Joe Klein assails Lieberman for allying himself with someone–Pastor John Hagee–who bases his support for Israel on an End Times scenario that postulates the damnation of all Jews who don’t acknowledge Jesus as their Lord and Savior:
Hagee’s flagrant support for Israel has its basis in Scripture, to be sure, but in weird Scripture–namely Revelation, the strangest book of the New Testament. Revelation is the source of the phantasmagoria known as the Rapture, in which the battle of Armageddon is fought (against the Arabs, one expects), Israel triumphs, Jesus returns in celebration, lifts all Believers to heaven…and everyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is incinerated.
This is an inaccurate shorthand version of standard premillennial dispensationalist thinking. (The Rapture of the faithful to heaven precedes a seven-year Tribulation, which ends with the Battle of Armageddon resulting in Christ’s return and 1,000-year rule, concluding with the Final Judgment.) The real problem, however, is that Hagee is not a standard premillennial dispensationalist. And as convenient as it is for liberal Jews to believe so, it’s just not the case that evangelical supporters of Israel, dispensationalist and non-dispensationalist alike (including Hagee), base their support of the Jewish state on Revelation-based End Times theology alone, if at all.
The simple and straightforward basis of evangelical support of Israel lies in Abraham’s covenant with God in Genesis 15:
On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river [a] of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates–the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”
This is not the only relevant biblical passage on God’s promise of the Land of Israel to what can plausibly be considered the Jewish people but it will do for now. Hagee himself refers to it in his books In Defense of Israel (p. 53) and Jerusalem Countdown (rev. ed. p. 167). The point is that Hagee and other evangelicals support the Jewish State because they believe God gave the Land of Israel to the Jews.
As for the rest of his theology of the Jews, there Hagee verges on Christian heterodoxy–or, depending on your point of view, strays over into it. He explicitly rejects what he calls Replacement Theology–the idea that “Israel has been rejected and replaced by the church to carry out the work one entrusted to Israel…[that the] Jewish people have ceased to be God’s people, and the church is now spiritual Israel.” That view, he claims, is a “misconception…rooted in the theological anti-Semitism that began in the first century.” (In Defense of Israel, p. 145.) When that book came out a year ago, he claimed it would “shake Christian theology,” and indeed, he has drawn considerable fire from evangelicals attacking him for contending that Christianity did not supersede Judaism and that Jews did not err in failing to accept Jesus as their Savior. (See here and here and–from a Messianic Jew–here.) In fact, Hagee is, at least to my eye, a little slippery about what he believes regarding the availability of salvation to the Jewish people. In an article by Abe Levy in the December 13, 2007 San Antonio Express-News (not generally available online, see Nexis), he insisted that his views were orthodox but promised a yet undelivered clarification. What couldn’t be clearer, however, is that he does not believe in evangelizing the Jews. As he wrote, “It is time for Christians everywhere to recognize that the nation of Israel will never convert to Christianity…” (p. 148)
The point, then, is that if there’s any evangelical leader whose support for Israel can be taken as theologically non-offensive to Jews, Hagee’s the guy. Whether that justifies making a close alliance with him and his organization is another question. His Mideast politics are, from a J Street perspective, problematic to say the least. And, as I’ve written in this space before (here and here), his anti-Catholic credentials are very substantial. But unless someone’s got evidence that Hagee secretly believes things different from what he’s written most recently, it’s time to put the End Times club away.