An Israeli Evangelical Christian and a Palestinian Evangelical Christian Respond to the Decision to Recognize Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel
[Note: Immediately after the American President, Donald Trump, announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, two individual members of the WRF, one a Palestinian and the other an Israeli, were contacted and asked to write brief responses to the President’s decision. Below are the responses we received.
Neither individual saw the other's response before writing his and neither item has been edited. They are presented in the chronological order in which they were received. These two items express the views of the individuals to whom each item is ascribed and neither necessarily reflects the position of the WRF as a whole.]
Response from Munther Isaac, a Palestinian and a WRF member, trained in an American evangelical and Reformed theological seminary, and now serving the Lord in Bethlehem. [For further information about Munther, see https://bethbc.edu/Faculty/munther-isaac/ and http://christatthecheckpoint.com/new/index.php/en/blog/item/209-munther-isaac ]
Warm Christmas greetings from Bethlehem! I wish I write you this letter when things were better here. As I write there are clashes in the streets between Palestinian youth and Israeli solders; as this have become a daily occurrence since President Trump made his announcement to recognize Israel as the capital of Israel.
You asked me what I think about this. As I think of what to write I wonder: does it actually matter what we, Palestinian Christians, think? Do people really care to know about our position? Didn’t the heads of the churches in Jerusalem plead with President Trump not to make the declaration – all in vain?! Then, they said: “We believe that this step will lead to more hatred, conflict, violence and anguish for Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and will hinder the aspired goal of unity and peace.”
In fact, the decision of President Trump was rejected by all Christians in the Middle East. The Middle East Council of Churches made a strong statement against the declaration, and the Coptic Church in Egypt, the largest church in the Middle East, decided not to meet with Vice-
president Pence in his coming visit to the Middle East as a sign of protest. One of Pence’s stated reasons for his visit is to support the Christian presence in the Middle East, which we consider scandalous! If he was really concerned about our situation, he would at least consider our positions. So I ask, does our opinion really matter?
Moreover, Christians leaders worldwide, from Pope Francis to Archbishop Justin Welby to bishop Desmond Tutu have warned against the announcement. Shouldn’t that tell us something?
Furthermore, this decision goes also against the international community and United Nations resolutions. Shouldn’t Christians be concerned about this?! Can Israel and the United States go against the international community – just because they can?! And should Christians support this? Would would that say about our fairness and credibility?!
Some might think, but doesn’t the Bible say the Jerusalem belonged to the Jewish people, and that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital?! Regardless of how you interpret the Bible and biblical prophecy about Israel, the land, or Jerusalem – does our interpretation give us “divine right” to claim the land and drive people out of it?
Many times the question is asked: “Do Jews have a Divine right to the Land?” – and I respond: “divine right” – is this the right language to use?! What if Jews did indeed have a “divine right”? Where does that leave me as a Palestinian? Can I say no? For if I do, I would be saying “no” to God! Notice how we go crazy when Muslims use the language of “divine right”, but we have no problem when it is applied to Israel. Our experience here in the land is that the language of “divine right” and “fulfilment of prophecy” have caused so many Christians to ignore injustice towards the Palestinians. This latest incident is just another example. (Keep in mind that in Jerusalem today there are about 300,000 stateless Palestinians who suffer from institutional discrimination by the State of Israel!)
When it comes to reading the promises, we must ask as Christians: How did the New Testament read the Old Testament? I am troubled by the fact that many Christians read the promises of the land to Israel as if Jesus never came. Jesus is not only the center of our faith, but the point towards which the OT narrative has been going all along (Lk. 24:27).
Jesus reminded us that it is the meek, not the powerful, who inherit the land. He also emphasized that being a son of Abraham is not defined by ethnicity or nationality. It is about doing the works of Abraham (Jn. 8:39).
One of the most importance statements of Paul in this regard is 2 Cor. 1:20: For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. The story of biblical Israel, in its totality, including the part related to the land, must find its fulfilment; its Yes, in Jesus. For Paul, the story of Abraham finds its conclusion or fulfillment in non-other than Jesus:
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, And to offsprings, referring to many, but referring to one, And to your offspring, who is Christ. (Gal. 3:14, 16)
This is indeed a massive statement. Paul here affirms that Jesus is the only legitimate recipient of the Abrahamic promises, denying in essence any other claims by any person or people group to the benefits of this covenant. The story of Israel narrows down in the thinking of Paul until it is summed up in one person: Jesus. Paul then continues:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:16, 27-29)
Heirs According to the Promise! What a massive statement! Jews and Gentiles alike are heirs to the Abrahamic promises. Paul here is expanding the beneficiaries of this inheritance to include all those who are Christ’s. The Church today, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, thus inherits the story of Israel. It is not simply that Gentile Christians share some of Israel’s blessings. They joined biblical Israel (Eph. 3:5).
In 2009 Palestinian Christian lay leaders, theologians, pastors, and activists from all church backgrounds issued an important document called “Kairos Palestine”. The document is bold and prophetic. It further emphasizes that:
Any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, transform religion into human ideology and strip the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth.
Jerusalem and the land must be places of inclusivity, not exclusivity. The Middle East has enough exclusive ideologies. The last thing we need is for Christians to emphasize such an approach! Sadly, theology has been used in Palestine to justify the occupation and injustice.
I will conclude with two quotes, one from Kairos Palestine, and one from Palestinian theologian Yohanna Katanacho.
Jerusalem is the foundation of our vision and our entire life. She is the city to which God gave a particular importance in the history of humanity. She is the city towards which all people are in movement – and where they will meet in friendship and love in the presence of the One Unique God, according to the vision of the prophet Isaiah (Is. 2: 2-5). Today, the city is inhabited by two peoples of three religions; and it is on this prophetic vision and on the international resolutions concerning the totality of Jerusalem that any political solution must be based. This is the first issue that should be negotiated because the recognition of Jerusalem's sanctity and its message will be a source of inspiration towards finding a solution to the entire problem, which is largely a problem of mutual trust and ability to set in place a new land in this land of God. (Kairos Palestine 9.5)
Psalm 87 puts a vision of equality and an absence of subordination before us. There are no second-class citizens in Zion. This equality is not just civic but is also covenantal. They all share the same God, are born in the same city, and registered by the same hands. Their linguistic, historical, and military differences are not important. What unites them is God himself. Geography is no longer a point of tension because Zion belongs to God, not Israel. It is the city of God, and he alone can grant citizenship in his city. Citizenship comes by divine declaration, not by biological rights. (Yohanna Katanacho)
Response from David Zadok, an Israeli and a WRF member, trained in an American evangelical and Reformed theological seminary, and now serving the Lord in Gedera, Israel. [For further information about David, see http://app.kehilanews.com/grace-truth-christian-congregation and http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/august-web-only/long-road-to-building-israels-first-post-statehood-church.html ].
Thank you for inviting me to write about President Trump’s statement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital city of the State of Israel. My perspective is that of a Jewish Christian, and an Israeli ex-major who served for 18 years in the Israel Defense Forces. As a minister of the Gospel, I will try to limit myself as much as possible in the political realm, and emphasize the more biblical and spiritual aspect of the statement and its possible implications.
On December 6, 2017, President Trump delivered a statement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and signed a memorandum to that effect. This declaration by Trump came after promising to do so in his campaign for presidency, like some presidents before him, and after nearly a year of discussions and diplomacy. The media has emphasized it as historic and unprecedented, yet Jerusalem has been the capital since 1948, when the State of Israel was reborn. And Jerusalem has been recognized as our de facto capital not only by other US presidents, but also other world leaders, and even the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Presidents, prime ministers, and world figures on official business in Israel, come to Jerusalem. It is there where they meet the Israeli Prime Minister, the President, and other officials. It is the location of the Knesset—the Israeli parliament. Jerusalem is therefore not merely symbolic but is the functioning capital of Israel already.
Most nations have yet to officially recognize it, yet heads of state have always had to engage with their diplomatic counterparts in the holy city. Importantly, the refusal to recognize Jerusalem’s vital importance as the capital of Israel does not alter present reality or history. It was King David who 3,000 years ago made Jerusalem the capital of the united kingdom of Israel, the very place that God commanded Solomon to build the Temple, and the mount where Abraham was to offer his son Isaac as sacrifice. Since then Jerusalem has remained central for the Jewish people and nation, and the place of worshipping the one true God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though Jews were exiled, and the city was conquered and reconquered, burned down, destroyed and rebuilt, time after time, it has always remained the heart of the Jewish people. For centuries and even to this day, during the Passover meal, Jews recite "Next Year in Jerusalem!" In every Jewish wedding under the canopy, just before the end of the ceremony and before breaking the glass by the groom, he recites the passage from Psalm 137:5-6: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!" (ESV).
Zion, another name for Jerusalem, is connected spiritually to Israel, not only because of the temple, but also because so many of the events in the Old and New Testament happened there. And of course the prophecies of the Old Testament related to the return of the Jews to the land, like Ezekiel 37 and others that are fulfilled in our times. The significance of Jerusalem is far beyond the capitals of other nations. The capital city of most countries, if not all, has little spiritual connection to its people. However, the historical and spiritual significance of Jerusalem for the people of Israel is not something of the past only, but I believe also for today and the future. We hear often that Jerusalem is important for the three monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Since the Six Day War in 1967, when Jerusalem was reunited, adherents from all three religions, have had the freedom to pray in the holy city. Despite the challenges, the reality is that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have the freedom to worship, something that is not the case in other parts of the Middle East of today. About two years ago, while teaching at the Israel College of Bible, one of my Arab Israeli students told me: "David, do you realize that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that a Muslim can come to faith in Jesus, and not be harassed, persecuted or even killed by his family or government?" This was eye opening for me to consider!
I believe that the very existence of Israel is important for the cause of the Gospel and the church. We as Jews have no favor when it comes to salvation. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life – no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). As Jewish people, we have no merit when it comes to salvation, because salvation is through Christ Alone, and it is certainly not related to our land or capital city. And yet, it has been since the modern state of Israel was born, and especially in the past two decades, that the church among the Jewish people has begun to grow. It is now that the Jewish people are once again hearing the message of the Gospel, in the very place that it was heralded by the Jewish Messiah, who atoned for sins of the world at Golgotha, Jerusalem. The church in Israel is flourishing and Jews from all walks of society are coming to faith. The church at large is now starting to hear the call that the Jews also need to hear the Gospel. The Jewish mission that for almost two millennia was forgotten by the church, is resurfacing in mission boards around the world. The Gospel remains “to the Jew first,” and progress to this end should greatly encourage us. In Romans 11, Paul shows us that there is yet a spiritual future for the people of Israel, with the climax that "all Israel shall be saved". As a believer in Jesus praying and laboring for the Gospel to be proclaimed in this land, the connection that I have and can make as a Jew to Jerusalem is helpful and significant.
There are many speculations about the timing of Trump's declaration. Some say the investigation of Russia's election meddling was a motive, or that Evangelicals pressured him. But President Trump’s own words were: "My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians… After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel." As hard as it may be for some to take the President’s words at face value, there is certainly truth to this sentiment.
Some in the Israeli media have pointed out this past week the irony that many of the world leaders who quickly censured the US statement on Jerusalem, shortly afterward chose to wish Jewish people around the world a Happy Hanukkah. Hanukkah is Hebrew for “dedication” and refers to the time when the temple in Jerusalem (in what today is referred to by the media as East Jerusalem) was restored to the Jewish people. It had to be cleansed, since Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated it by setting up a false system of worship in that place. Hanukkah is even mentioned in John’s Gospel (10:22-39). On just one of the eight days of Hanukkah, Jesus affirmed that He was the Messiah, that His sheep know His voice, and that He and the Father are one—all from Solomon’s Portico, in the old city of Jerusalem. The Jewish connection, the Messianic connection, and the redemptive connection of Jerusalem have always been intertwined.
Whatever position we have taken towards Trump's declaration, let us unite together in praying for the peace of Jerusalem, and for both the Israelis and Palestinians who live there. Knowing that true peace can come only through the Prince of Peace who said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'" (Lk. 13:34 - 35 ESV).