John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)

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No rational person would deny Israel a right to exist. However, this does not imply that a rational person should support Israel blindly, ignoring historic atrocities against Palestinians, including destruction of Palestinian homes, denial of their basic human rights, and new Jewish settlements into Palestinian territories. In addition, rationality does not demand that the U.S. do Israel’s bidding and go to war with Iran. One of the largest groups backing blind support for Israel are Christian premillennialists. Premillennialism had its beginnings in the nineteenth century with the doctrines of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). His dispensationalism was the ancestor of premillennialism, the belief that Christ will establish an earthly kingdom and reign for a thousand years in Jerusalem. According to premillennialism, an essential part of this process was the reestablishment of the state of Israel. The problem with premillennialism is that it is based on a fundamentally flawed method of interpreting Biblical prophecy, especially the Book of Revelation.

The prophetic books of the Old Testament as well as the Book of Revelation in the New Testament were primarily directed to the people of the time period in which the author lived. No audience would preserve a book that had no meaning for them. One must examine the historical context of a book to determine its original message. The Book of Revelation is part of Apocalyptic Literature, which also includes the Book of Daniel and other parts of the prophetic books of the Old Testament. This literature was written to people in crisis–either under attack by enemies militarily, or under attack via persecution by state power. The message of apocalyptic literature is that God will win out over the evil enemies of His people. This message was designed to comfort those being persecuted. The Book of Daniel, which was set in the period of the Babylonian Exile but was actually written in the second century B. C., was written to comfort the Jewish people who were being persecuted by the Greek king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes. The Jews rebelled and eventually won their independence, but before that time the saw their religion attacked and paganism introduced into the Temple in Jerusalem. The Book of Daniel affirms that God is over all kings and will eventually destroy those who persecute God’s people.

The Book of Revelation was written in a similar situation. Christians were being persecuted by Roman authorities. The message of the Book of Revelation to its original readers is that God will overcome the Roman Empire–in the meantime Christians should wait patiently for God’s vengeance. Numbers in the book are symbolic; multiples of seven or ten or twelve refer to completion or perfection (thus “1000 years” is not meant to refer to a literal period of time). “Six,” which is seven minus one, meant lack, and therefore a symbol of evil–so “666” refers to evil times three–there is no fancy meaning hidden behind the obvious symbolism. To take the Book of Revelation as referring to events in the Middle East today is absurd, an example of an ignorant method of Biblical interpretation. What is frightening is that ignorant people who do not know any better (and some people who should know better) are influencing the foreign policy of the most powerful nation on earth. Such Christian premillennialists may end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back, pushing the United States into a needless war with Iran. Christianity is a powerful force in the United States, and when well-meaning Christians who are ignorant of the most basic principles of historical-critical Biblical interpretation influence the nation to blindness in its dealings with Israel, this becomes  a dangerous situation.

The more rational course is to ignore those whose interpretation of the Bible is based on false premises and do not allow them to influence U. S. foreign policy. Like its dealings with any other nation, the United States should base its treatment of Israel on what is in the national interest of the United States. This does not mean that Israel cannot continue as a friend to the United States, but it does mean that the United States should seriously consider the legitimate concerns of Palestinians. This is not to claim that Palestinians have been saints, but merely that a group who was forced from their homes that they had lived in for hundreds, or in some cases over a thousand, years should have their legitimate concerns addressed. United States foreign policy should be focused on what is good for the United States, not on making the world safe for Israel. A first step in creating balance is to put the Christian dispensational premillennialists in their place and not allow their influence to twist U. S. policy in the wrong direction.

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