The following news item was recently published in Israel: Arutz Sheva, Aug. 27th – “The Temple Mount, the place where Avraham [Abraham] came to sacrifice his son to God, the site of the first and second Jewish Temples, where the Jewish people worshiped for hundreds of years and the focal point of every practicing Jew’s prayers, is under increasing assault from the Islamic-Christian Committee.
“This relatively new Palestinian institution has been able to win the support not only of the entire regional Christian leadership, but also of leading Christian personalities from abroad.
“The Islamic-Christian Commission has just warned that the Israeli authorities are working to impose ‘a false Jewish history’ in Jerusalem, ‘the occupied city,’especially ‘on the area known to Jews as the Temple Mount.’ The Committee warned of a new ‘Judaization.’ Such fabricated lies help the Palestinians to conquer a seat in the international agencies like Unesco and to excite the Muslims against the Jews.”
In this report, we see the sad truth that not all Christians understand the prophetic truth that Israel is destined to return to the Holy Land in the last days. Instead, they view the institutional church – not Israel – as the central element in God’s plan to renew the Earth. Some even envision transferring their ecclesiastical headquarters to Jerusalem when the time is right, to greet the Lord upon His return in the Second Coming.
In their thinking, the church has superseded Israel, and is destined to create the spiritual platform that will pave the way for the Lord’s return, as He brings the Kingdom of God to its final fruition upon Earth.
In their world view, termed “replacement theology,” modern Israel is a temporary accident that will soon be swept aside into the dustbin of history. They see it as a strange offshoot of the Jewish Holocaust of World War II, whose presence in the Middle East is an irritant and obstacle to peace. Prophecy has been improperly taught for centuries; any attempt to correct long-held positions will certainly be met with dramatic resistance.
In this arena, we encounter a real contradiction in the interpretation of Bible prophecy. In sharp contrast with this view, Dispensationalism was developed in the 19th century under the leadership of John Nelson Darby and his immediate support group. They restored the long-extinct Apostolic doctrine of imminency and placed national Israel at the center of prophetic fulfillment.As dispensationalists, we do not see the Church – the body of Christ – as usurping Israel’s central place in the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.
Part of the problem is that Christians who follow denominational creeds are only rarely (if at all) involved in the study of Bible prophecy. Eschatology has been sidelined, and is considered nearly irrelevant. Besides that, it is generally thought to be so divisive in nature that it is approached with caution. For this reason, most seminaries now admonish their young graduates to steer clear of prophetic teaching, except in the most simplistic terms. In other words, be content with, “Jesus will return to Earth some day.” Christians who believe in the latter-day return of Israel to the Holy Land are continually amazed at the widespread failure to understand this basic Bible prophecy.
In fact, there is a long tradition of power politics behind the precautionary stance of today’s theologians. Religious empires have been built and are vigorously protected.
The Islamic-Christian Committee
The Committee mentioned earlier is comprised of theologians who represent the tip of the replacement theology iceberg. They are amillennialists, with an understanding of prophecy that goes back to Augustine, whose writings were a reaction to the allegorical biblical interpretations of earlier church fathers. He cut off their strange prophetic conjectures by denying that there would be a future Millennium.
Of course, national Israel found no place in his view. The Jews had been banished to the four corners of the world, and in his thinking, would never return.
And so, in the early 5th century, he envisioned a thousand-year Church Age. When that period passed, his timing was discredited. His followers in the Roman Church then spiritualized the remaining period, assigning it an indefinite duration. Once again, Israel found no place in this renewal of prophetic interpretation.
Though flawed, Augustine’s system of eschatology found practically universal acceptance in the medieval church. Centuries later, the Roman Church and the later Reformed churches continued to accept his theology as firm and correct tradition, which is still the case, today.
Today’s Islamic-Christian Committee is comprised of church leaders who follow Augustinian eschatology. Naturally, they see Jerusalem as he did: the City of God as capital of the Gentile world. The church institutions they represent are all steeped in this concept of Gentile authority.
One of them (left) is Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canturbury. He has been termed “Anglo-Catholic.” He recently said, “It is impossible to deny that Christians and Muslims have a common agenda here: both faiths have at their heart the living image of a community raised up by God’s call to reveal to the world what God’s purpose is for humanity.”
Fouad Twal, the new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, serving in that capacity since 2008, recently took part in a meeting with Williams in London, England. There, he protested the fact that there are “more than 550,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalam and the West Bank.” He also spoke against “the demography of Jerusalem changing rapidly with the sacred space being threatened.” In other words, he detests the growing Jewish population there.
Another is the Vatican’s former archbishop in Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah. He has launched appeals in Europe and the United States, urging them to “stop the Hebraization of Jerusalem.”
The founder of the Committee, is Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem, Atallah (Theodosius) Hanna. Since his appointment in 2001, quickly established himself as a vigorous political activist, publicly denouncing the “Israeli occupation” and the establishment of a “Palestinian identity.” Naturally, he is very popular among Arabs. Israeli authorities, however, have repeatedly arrested him on charges of “incitement.”
Hanna once said, “The suicide bombers who carry out their activities in the name of religion are national heroes and we’re proud of them.”
There is a fundamental error in the theology that states it has replaced Israel, which it deems to be forever lost in sin.
Theologians sometimes refer to replacement theology as “supersessionism,” from the English word “supersede.” This church position states that the New Covenent replaces the Mosaic Covenant, which it refers to as the “Old Covenant.” On this basis, it believes that it has inherited the promises made to the biblical Israelites.
It is only natural, therefore, that modern church leaders would view Israel as a temporary obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
However, contemporary scholarship points out a fundamental error in their theology. They begin with the idea that Israel is forever lost in sin, never to be redeemed. However, the Apostle Paul speaks of national Israel as being at the center of God’s long-term plan for this world. Surely, anyone with the slightest experience in Scripture has read Paul’s explanation for the purpose of Israel’s rejection:
“I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness” (Rom. 11:11,12).
Here, he plainly states that the collapse of Israel’s rule in Israel was only temporary. It brought salvation to the Gentiles (through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection at the feast of Firstfruits). Then, he says that they will rise again to fullness. In order to throw out this Scriptural truth, one must nullify Paul as an Apostolic authority. He adds that Israel, like Christ, will rise from the dead:
“For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11:15).
But Paul’s pure and simple statement cannot be misinterpreted. It must be ignored. And so it has been, by those who believe that the church has superseded the promised Kingdom, composed of the twelve tribes of Israel.
According to those who follow it, supersessionism expresses itself in several ways. Augustine believed that the church superseded Israel in terms of a new form of management replacing the old. He saw this development as historical and practical.
Others say that supersessionism is structural. It is simply the natural development of God’s ages-long plan for the redemption of the Earth.
Still others see the church’s supersession as God’s punishment of the Jews, who continue to reject Jesus. In the second century, Justin Martyr wrote, “For the true spiritual Israel are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ.”
In the third century, Hippolytus is quoted as having said, “The Jews … have been darkened in the eyes of your [the Lord’s] soul with a darkness utter and everlasting.”
Among many others, Hippolytus, Origen and Martin Luther held the belief that the Old Testament prophecies once intended for the Jews were now to be interpreted as pertaining to Christians.
And as stated above, most contemporary mainline churches continue to hold various forms of this view, opening the way for emphatic rejection of Israel as legitimately back in the Land.
What’s wrong with this view? First, it is erroneous to believe that the New Covenant is a replacement for the Mosaic Covenant. Christians have not received redemption through the Law of Moses, but through the finished work of Christ.
And the inescapable fact is that the covenant of His priesthood goes back to Abraham, centuries before Moses received the covenant of Law at Mount Horeb.
The Priesthood of Melchizedek
The writer of Hebrews makes this clear, by recalling that Abraham, after his military defeat of the four Gentile Kings, paid a tithe to the priest called Melchizedek.
“Now consider how great this man was, unto whom even the patriarch Abraham gave the tenth of the spoils. And verily they that are of the sons of Levi, who receive the office of the priesthood, have a commandment to take tithes of the people according to the law, that is, of their brethren, though they come out of the loins of Abraham: But he whose descent is not counted from them received tithes of Abraham, and blessed him that had the promises. And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better. And here men that die receive tithes; but there he receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that he liveth. And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, payed tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him” (Heb. 7:4-10).
Levi, the priest of the Mosaic law, is here shown to have an inferior priesthood to that of Melchizedek, by virtue of Abraham’s action toward Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews then goes on to point out that Christ’s spiritual heritage originates from him, rather than from Moses and Aaron:
“If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 7:11-17).
A Spiritual Priesthood
In his first epistle, Peter speaks of those who were not a people, but now through Christ and the mercy of God have become members of His family, having the ability to act as priests and co-regents:
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (I Pet. 2:9,10).
Certainly, this does not imply that God must throw away one group (the Jews) in order to elevate the status of another (the Church).
Yet this is the motivation behind the theology of the Islamic-Christian Committee. It is driven by an ages-long vitriol, expressed in the language of loathing. The group also includes in its membership one Sheikh Tamimi, a high-ranking judge in the Palestinian Authority (PA). He once said, “Perhaps one day the world will awake and realize that these Zionist elements are the bloodletters who hang on the peoples, sucking their blood and consuming their resources.”
The leaders of this group have for a long time, worked hand-in-glove with the PLO, Yasser Arafat, and the PA’s current leader, Mahmoud Abbas.
The Arutz Sheva article concludes with this brief historical note: “23 December, 1995, is the date of the turning point for the Islamic-Christian alliance against the Jews in Jerusalem. The Greek Orthodox patriarch of the holy land, Deodorus I, handed over the custody of Churches in Jerusalem to PLO leader Arafat. This was done in the presence of the Catholic, Anglican and Greek orthodox archbishops.
“The patriarch declared, ‘I am the heir of Sophronius and I am handing the keys (to Christian holy sites in Jerusalem) to the heir of Omar Ibn al-Khattab.’
“Omar, the caliph who claimed Jerusalem from Byzantine rule in 638, gave then Patriarch Sophronius custody of Churches and a pledge to safeguard them. The move was meant to put Christian holy places under the custody of Arafat, a Muslim, and strengthening the Arab-Islamic claim to Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.”
The article ends with a question: “Will this new Islamic-Christian alliance be able to convince the European Union, the UN and the US to baptize Jerusalem, ‘Al Quds’”? This, the Islamic name for Jerusalem, means “the holy.” In context, it designates the Israeli capital as “the holy place.”
Certainly, it is that, with a history that dates back to Abraham, who paid tithes to the High Priest Melchizedek in this place, and later offered up Isaac here, on the holy mountain. It is the site of both Temples and the rule of King David. Its holiness was established before there ever was an Islam. And its prophetic destiny as God’s city is one of the most basic themes of the Bible. The Committee should know that changing the name of this eternal city will not change what has been written … and what will be fulfilled.