Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress this week about the growing threat of Iran to Israel. Drawing on the biblical tradition of Queen Esther, he compared the situation of Israel today to that of the Jews in her day saying, “(T)oday the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us.”
Glenn Beck, commenting on Netanyahu’s speech, says that America “as a nation, may not stand, if you don’t side with the Jewish people today. God’s commandments will tell you that. If you side with the Jew, you will survive. If you don’t, you will not survive.” While it seems that in this particular situation, we should side with Israel in its dispute with Iran, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that we must always side with Israel as part of “God’s commandments”. In fact, if the Fathers of the Church are to be believed, then there will come a time when we certainly will not want to side with the nation of Israel.
If you were to poll Catholics as to whether the restoration of the Promised Land to the Jews is a sign of the End Times, then a majority of them would agree. But if you consult the Tradition of the Church and Sacred Scripture then you would find no mention of this. While the Church teaches the necessity for repentance and spiritual renewal on the part of “all Israel” it says nothing about the necessity of the people of Israel returning to the Promised Land. This belief has crept into the mindset of Catholics through the eschatological (study of the end of the world) vision of what is commonly referred to as Dispensationalism.
While Dispensationalism comes in different forms, its uniting premise is belief that God is pursuing two distinct plans or dispensations in history—one with an earthly people (Israel) and the other with a heavenly people (the Church). When Jesus came, He offered the earthly people a physical kingdom until they rejected Him as their Messiah. Once this happened, He formed a heavenly people that were meant to reign not on earth, but in Heaven. However the unconditional promises of the Old Testament to Israel needed to be fulfilled. These promises were put on hold until Christ removed the heavenly kingdom via the Rapture.
The so-called prophetic dispensationalists of the mid-1800s and early 1900s promised a return of the Jews to Palestine and actively pursued the rebirth of the political nation of Israel. Once Israel was re-gathered as a nation, the End Times would follow shortly thereafter. Jerry Falwell has declared that the return of Israel to Palestine is “the single greatest sign indicating the imminent return of Jesus Christ.” It is this same misguided theology that inspires the bestselling Left Behind books and the writings of Hal Lindsay. It is also this false eschatology that leads someone like Glenn Beck to conclude that those who do not support the nation of Israel oppose God.
As we have seen with ISIS, theology has consequences and bad theology has bad consequences. In contrast to what the dispensationalists believe, the Church is not a mere hiccup in history, but the fulfillment of all the promises to Israel. There is not a sharp distinction between the Israel of Sacred Scripture and the Church. When Scripture speaks of Israel it is concerned not with Israel as a nation but a people. St Paul even goes so far as to identify the Church as the New Israel see Romans 9-11, Gal 3:27-29, 6:16). The Catechism says that, from being parenthetical, the Church is “the goal of all things” (see CCC 760). Pope Benedict seems to summarize it best in Behold the Pierced One when he says “…the question of whether Jesus intended to found a Church is a false question because it is unhistorical. The only proper way to phrase the question would be to ask whether Jesus intended to abolish the People of God or to renew it. The answer…is plain: Jesus made the old People of God into a new people by adopting those who believe in him into the community of his own self (of his ‘body’).” Having a proper ecclesiology is vital to having a correct eschatology. The restored Israel is already here in the Church and not in the political Zionism of Israel today that lacks the intrinsic core of Judaism and is really a secular state.
Why does this matter? It matters because it is the nearly universal teaching of the Church Fathers that the Anti-Christ, when he comes, will be a Jew since his rejection as the false Messiah will lead to the mass conversion of the Jews. Because it is prophesied that he will rebuild the Temple (Christ and Daniel say he will sit in the Desolation of Abomination), it is believed also that he will rise to power in Jerusalem. This means that a secular earthbound state of Israel with its superior military force could very well become a military power base for the Anti-Christ. In lobbying for the secular state of Israel, the dispensationalists may actually be aiding the arrival of the End Times in a manner they cannot possibly imagine. Unfortunately when it happens, there will be no rapture to stop the great tribulation that Scripture promises.
Certainly I am not saying that this is going to happen like this. The point is that there is no biblical basis for an unconditional support of the nation of Israel and certainly there is no reason to think that Netanyahu’s speech is “the final spiritual warning to the American people to wake up and side with the Jewish people, or you will face God’s wrath.”