As I move material from my old blog to my new one, I thought I would consolidate a multi-part review of John Hagee's In Defense of Israel into one very large post. I apologize for the length, but given recent developments in the Middle East I thought it would be helpful to have a review of Hagee's work all in one place.
John Hagee is the foremost proponent of “Christian Zionism” in America. Over the last decade he has written several books expounding dispensational theology and advocating unequivocal support of the nation of Israel. His latest release is In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State. Because “Christian Zionism” in general, and Hagee in particular, have become so influential, I want to take several days to carefully review this book.
Chapter one is entitled, “It’s 1938…Again.” And indeed, this is a common theme of the book. There is a new Germany (Iran) and Hitler (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), and they pose as serious a threat to Israel’s existence as the Nazis did to the Jews in the days before the Holocaust (p. 2). Energized by this threat, Hagee founded Christians United for Israel in order to influence the evangelical church to make its impact felt on our government.
Many of the points Hagee makes in this opening chapter are recurrent themes in the book, such as:
* We are facing the same situation that the world did in 1938 (p. 2).
* Israel’s policies have nothing to do with Arab and Islamic hostility (p. 3).
* The US should never pressure Israel to give up land or to divide Jerusalem (p. 3).
* Christians have often been guilty of anti-semitism and looked the other way during the holocaust (p. 5).
* Jesus commanded His disciples to care for His Jewish “relatives” (p. 7)
Since these points are repeated throughout the book, I will only address one issue in this first review, and that is the alleged parallel between Nazi Germany and Iran.
There is no question that there is tremendous hostility toward the nation of Israel in much of the Islamic world, including Iran. Some of this hostility is motivated by pure anti-semitism, while some of it is much more nuanced, driven by policies of the nation of Israel that are considered unjust. Further, there is no question that the current president of Iran, Ahmadinejad, is a demagogue. However, it is a broadjump of olympic proportions to move from these facts to the conclusion that this is just like 1938. Here are some key differences:
* Germany was a major industrial power in the 1930s. Iran has a GDP roughly comparable to the state of Alabama!
* Germany had a history of aggressive wars against other countries. Iran does not.
* Adolph Hitler was the dictator of Germany. Ahmadinejad is not the actual leader of Iran; the clerical council is, and there is no indication the government is preparing to invade Israel.
Furthermore, because Iran is a Shi’ite country, and Persian, it is held in suspicion by the majority of Arab countries which are predominantly Sunni. This serves as a natural hedge to any sort of expansionism by Iran. The fierce nature of the Sunni - Shia dispute was non-existent in the case of Germany.
One of the sad legacies of the World War II is that from that time, anyone wanting to create a frenzy about some world leader simply has to invoke the name of Hitler, and the campaign to oppose is underway. Ironically, this has the effect of diluting the real danger of dictators like Hitler when they do actually appear. Saddam Hussein was another Hitler; Ahmadinejad is another Hitler; and some day another small time thug will be labeled the same thing by those with an agenda.
Chapter 2 of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel is entitled, “My Lifelong Love for Israel.” In the chapter he explains that his family had drilled dispensational theology into him from an early age (p. 11). Against this backdrop, the event that deeply moved him as a young boy was his father’s weeping at the announcement of the formation of the state of Israel (p. 10). Thirty years later, he took his first trip to Israel. “We went as tourists and came home as Zionists” (p. 12). Hagee explains that walking the streets of Jerusalem, “I felt I had come home” (p. 12). As a result of this trip, Hagee told his wif, “I believe the Lord wants me to do everything in my power to bring Jews and Christians together” (p. 14).
I was blessed to take a trip to Israel back in 1999. One thing I can agree with Hagee on is that of you have been reading the Bible a long time, when you visit Israel you do indeed feel as if you have been there before. And without question there are many places that evoke powerful emotion: the Sea of Galilee; the Garden of Gethsemane; the Temple Mount.
However, it is clear that what really had the most impact on Hagee was not that visit, but the theological grid through which he viewed that visit, and by which he gauges all issues regarding Israel. That grid is the system known as dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is a relatively recent system, first devised in the 1830s, which is based on two premises. The first premise is that the Bible must be interpreted literally. The second premise flows from the first. Since the most literal interpretation of passages in the Old Testament regarding Israel is to take them as referring only to physical Israel, dispensationalism contends that there is no prophecy about the church in the OT - only Israel.
While various forms of premillennialism have existed since early church history, these novel premises of dispensationalism created several peculiar dogmas.
* The rejection of Jesus by the Jews placed God’s prophetic program for Israel on hold.
* The church is a “parenthesis,” spanning the time between the cross and the millennium.
* There will be a secret rapture of the church off of the earth when God renews His program for Israel.
The fundamental problem with dispensationalism is that time and again the NT takes prophecies about Israel in the OT and applies them to the church in the NT. The clearest example of this is James’ use of Amos 9:11-12 in Acts 15:15-17. According to James, the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church is the fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy that the tabernacle of David would be rebuilt.
All “Christian Zionists” I know of are dispensationalists, which means that the entire movement is built on a foundation of sand.
Chapter 3 of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel is entitled “Sins of the Fathers,” and consists of a litany of crimes throughout history against the Jewish people. There is little to dispute in this chapter as far as it goes. Yes, it is true that many atrocities against the Jewish people have been committed in history. And yes, it is also true that many of these atrocities were committed in the name of Christ.
However, I have three criticisms of the way Hagee and other “Christian Zionists” use these facts. First, while it is true that many horrible things have been done to the Jewish people, it is also true that the Jews have committed violent acts in the name of religion as well. The persecution of the early Christians (many of whom were Jews) documented in the New Testament is ample proof of this. I would never argue that the scale of magnitude is the same as something like the Holocaust, but it is undeniably the case that Jews have sometimes committed atrocities as well. Hagee never acknowledges this.
Second, there is a tendency on the part of Hagee and others like him to accuse anyone who is critical of the nation of Israel, or anyone who does not accept dispensational theology, of anti-semitism. Later in the book Hagee flatly charges anyone who believes that “the church is the real Israel” as holding to “anti-Semitic theology” (p. 148). This despite the fact that over and over again in the NT this is precisely how the church is described (no clearer example can be found than in 1 Peter 2:9-10).
Third, as with all forms of political correctness, there is a tendency for “Zionists” like Hagee to justify anything Israel may do today because of what it has suffered in the past. Yes, Jews have been viciously mistreated in the past. But this does not mean that Israel should get a free pass regarding the way it treats Palestinians today. Israel must be held accountable when it does wrong.
Chapter 4 of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel explains the beginnings of his organized efforts to support the state of Israel. The trigger for Hagee’s involvement in Zionism was the Israeli attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in the summer of 1981, and the negative response of the international community. Hagee decided that the one-sided criticism of Israel was too much, and that it was time for Christians to stand behind Israel. So he organized the first (of what became many) “Night to Honor Israel.” Out of this grew Hagee’s new organization, Christians United for Israel.
Here are a few observations:
1. Hagee makes no bones about the fact that his efforts in the celebrations of Israel are “nonconversionary” (p. 46). And as the book continues, it will become clear that Hagee has a much different viewpoint about evangelizing Jews than did Paul or Jesus.
2. It is a bit ironic that people like Hagee are so alarmed about the nuclear ambitions of Iraq or Iran, but say nothing about the fact that Israel has the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, and has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
3. Another irony is that when Israel bombed the Iraqi reactor, it was during the Iran-Iraq War, a conflict in which the US gave its support to…Iraq.
Finally, I personally have no problem with what Israel did to Iraq in 1981. And if Israel decided to take similar actions against Iran, it would not particularly trouble me. But I feel this way not because I believe Israel is God’s chosen people, but because it is a nation that has a right to defend itself. At the same time, we need to recognize the sheer hypocrisy of condemning Iran for pursuing nuclear power by legal means (it did sign the NNP treaty), while turning a blind eye to Israel’s nuclear arsenal.
Chapter 5 of John Hagee’s In Defense of Israel, entitled “The Peoples of the Middle East,” begins with the basic question, “Who is a Jew?” Hagee sets forth the case that Israel is still God’s special chosen people. I am going to address three basic points Hagee raises in this chapter.
First, his opening question is an excellent one - “Who is a Jew?” Hagee’s answer is that based on Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11, “the Jewish people are not simply Abraham’s seed but quite literally God’s children” (p. 51, his emphasis). Sadly, Hagee’s answer is completely different from Paul’s answer throughout the NT. Perhaps the reason that Hagee arrives at the wrong conclusion is because he sees Romans 9-11 as having “no connection to the preceding or succeeding text in the Book of Romans” (p. 51-52). It is simply impossible to identify God’s chosen people as merely physical Israel against the backdrop of the entire book of Romans. In Rom. 2:28-29 Paul explicitly says that a true Jew is one whose circumcision is inward and spiritual rather than outward and fleshly. And in Rom. 4:11 Paul plainly teaches that Abraham was counted righteous before he was circumcised in order to “make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised.”
But even in Romans 9-11, Paul also teaches that Gentiles may be counted as part of Abraham’s family and God’s chosen people. In Rom. 9:23-25, Paul says that among God’s “vessels of mercy” are those “not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles,” and then quotes Hosea 2:23 as support of this point. In Rom. 10:12, Paul says that “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.” And of course, in Rom. 11:17-24, Paul says that Gentiles have been grafted in to the same olive tree as the believing Jews.
Hagee’s analysis of Romans 9-11 as a stand-alone unit is misguided. I would argue that in some respects it is the climax of the argument he has made throughout the book - the common need of Jews and Gentiles for salvation, which can only be found in Christ rather than in the Law of Moses (1:14-17; 3:9-10; 3:29-20; 4:1-12). And this teaching led to the very practical lessons of Rom. 14-15 as to tolerance of difference cultural practices between Jews and Gentiles, as well as the Gentile collection for poor Jewish Christians (see esp. 15:22-33).
Ironically, Hagee uses the very text that Paul wrote to emphasize the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Christ to argue an eternal division between Jews and Gentiles!
Second, Hagee attacks the position I have just laid out as “replacement theology,” which he charges with anti-Semitism (p. 52). This is absurd. In the first place, the NT does not teach that God has “replaced” Israel. It teaches that God has expanded Israel, so that it includes not only believing Jews and but also believing Gentiles. This is in keeping with His original intention that through Abraham all families of the earth would be blessed. No passage makes this point more clearly than Galatians 3:27-29: “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 promise.”
Third, Hagee argues that any claims for land rights by the Palestinians are misguided since the land never belonged to the Palestinians, and since there has never been a land called Palestine or even a Palestinian language (p. 58). I don’t even know where to begin with these errors. First, while no one is exactly sure of the origin of the term “Palestine,” it has been in use for over 2000 years. It is one of many terms used to describe the land of Israel (along with Levant or Canaan, to name a couple more). Second, it is true that there was no organized nation called Palestine in history, or even a Palestinian language. The same could be said for America. The term “America” is much more recent than “Palestine,” and there has never been an “American” language. But there have been people living in the land we now call “America” for millennia.
In fact, I think a parallel can be made by the experience of the “native Americans” in our country and the Palestinians. Both had lived on this land hundreds of years before it was ever named. Both existed in more of a family or tribal organization than national one. Both have been displaced.
In any case, Hagee’s efforts to diminish the concept of a Palestinian people is a thinly veiled effort to justify any policy Israel desires to pursue in its treatment of the Palestinians. This is also ironic, because according to Galatians 3, any Palestinian who has been baptized into Christ is more of a descendant of Abraham than any Jew who refuses to believe. I wonder if Hagee is willing to apply the Abrhamic land promise to these true offspring of Abraham?
Although chapter seven of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel is entitled “Revolution and Radical Islam,” the subject is much more expansive. Hagee addresses the broader issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the current peace process. As you would expect, Hagee takes a very hard line against the Palestinians as well as anyone who questions our current Middle East policy.
Hagee repeatedly denies that the Palestinians were wrongfully removed from their land or in any way oppressed by Israel. He further denies that this alleged injustice has anything to do with the hostility against Israel expressed by many Muslim or Arab nations. I believe each of these assertions is patently false. Frankly, anyone who believes the Palestinians have been treated fairly over the last 60 years has such a different outlook on what justice is that I don’t even know how to engage in dialogue. If you would like to read an excellent essay that illustrates the injustices, see this.
As to the connection between Islamic jihad and the Palestinian issue, Hagee completely misses the point. There is no way to paint with a broad brush the complex roots of a hatred such as what exists in the Middle East. I am sure there are many Arabs or Muslims who hate Jews simply for being Jewish (just as I am sure there are many Jews who hate Arabs for being Arab). However, the perceived injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians is a major contributor to the radicalization of Muslims. This is the key point. We need to engage in policies that reduce, not enlarge, the pool of potential terrorists.
When (Sunni) Osama bin Laden issued his first declaration of war against America in 1996, the Palestinian issue was a central feature. When (Shia) Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote his letter to President Bush outlining his objections to U.S. policy, once again the Palestinian issue was at the forefront. Regardless of whether they are Arab or Persian, Sunni or Shia, one thing Muslims have in common is the belief that the Palestinians have been ill-treated, and that the U.S. has played a major role in that policy.
I have expressed previously that I believe some of these criticisms are justified. This does not mean that I think that once the Palestinian issue is resolved that all terrorism will cease. The situation is much more complicated than that, and there are always going to be people filled with irrational hate. But securing justice for the Palestinians would express America’s moral strength to the world, secure Israel, and blunt the appeal of radicalism.
This is not merely my opinion. It is the judgment of a broad range of Middle East experts, such as those who issued the Iraq Study Group Report. Needless to say, Hagee bitterly denounces the conclusions of that study. According to Hagee, the ISG’s conclusions that the Palestinians should be given a homeland “clearly violate the Word of God” because of his dispensational interpretation of the prophets. And he makes no bones about the fact that he intends to push his Zionist agenda on Washington. “If America forces Israel to give up the Golan Heights or the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), it will clearly violate Scripture. We are giving the enemies of Israel high ground in the coming war for Israel’s survival. It’s time for our national leaders in Washington to stop this madness” (p. 84).
This convergence of “Christian Zionism” and political activism is a growing menace to the security of the U.S., justice for Palestinians, and peace for Israel. As we approach another election cycle, I really hope Christians will think soberly about these issues.
Chapter eight of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel, “Our Debt to the Jewish People,” may be the most bizarre of all. His point is simple enough: the world owes a great debt to the Jewish people. Christians should be the first to acknowledge this point. Jesus taught that salvation is of the Jews (John 4:22). We Gentiles are the wild olive grafted in to faithful Jewish stock (Rom. 11:17-21), and we owe our Jewish brethren a great deal (Rom. 15:27). It is through Abraham that all families of the earth can be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 22:18). All of these promises and blessings found their fulfillment in Jesus, the Son of David and Son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1).
However, Hagee takes this basic truth and distorts the Christ-centered way in which the Jews have become a blessing to a purely racial and ethnic statement about the Jewish people. This chapter is a celebration of traditional Judaism, and of Jewish celebrities, but not of Christ - which is truly tragic. For instance, Hagee offers a list of great achievements of “Judaism,” such as:
* Belief in divine creation
* Singing in worship
* The Lord’s Supper (derived from the Passover)
* The Patriarchs, prophets, Scripture, and Lord (pp. 96-97)
Really? Let me get this straight. “Judaism” gave us the patriarchs, the first Jews. How could their be “Judaism” before there were any Jews?!?!?! Truly bizarre. Rather than attributing these blessings to the nebulous entity of Judaism, why not follow the biblical teaching and attribute them to God (Psalm 1; Exodus 12; Romans 4; etc).
I admit that some of my frustration with this chapter is due to the sloppy handling of data. Some examples:
* Hagee refers to the virgin birth as the “immaculate conception” (p. 93), failing to understand that immaculate conception refers to the Catholic doctrine that Mary was born without original sin.
* Hagee says that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11) “forty years after the crucifixion” (p. 93). This is a basic factual error. The Antioch mission took place long before AD 70, probably in the mid 40s.
* Hagee refers to Jesus as a “gentle Jewish rabbi” (p. 93). Each term is accurate of course. Jesus was gentle, and Jewish, and a teacher, but such a phrase in my view demotes Jesus a tad.
* Hagee says that Judaism informs us of the age of the earth, “four thousand years” (p. 97), which not even Bishop Usher would accept!
On pages 101-102, Hagee lists such Jewish luminaries as playwright Arthur Miller, author J.D. Salinger, composer Leonard Bernstein, and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud as illustrations of the Jewish contribution to society as part of the Abrahamic promise. I am not making this up! I am outraged that he omitted four of my favorites: Curly, Moe and Shemp Howard and Larry Fine!
What is so sad about this chapter is that it promotes the very sort of ethnic superiority that Jesus fought so hard against. What matters in Christ is grace, not race. As long as any family of humanity chooses to boast in itself rather than the cross, it diminishes the glory of Christ. Paul, a “Hebrew of Hebrews,” said so!
Chapter 9 of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel is very brief, and so my remarks will be as well. The chapter is called “Honoring Israel Brings God’s Blessings.” The basic premise of this chapter is that just as Israel has been a blessing to the world, God will bless Gentiles who honor Israel. “It’s time for true Christians to reach out to our Jewish brothers and sisters, demonstrating the unconditional love of God, which is what Paul commanded in his letter to the Romans” (p. 118). Hagee then quotes Romans 15:27 - “For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.”
Hagee’s use of Romans 15:27 is revealing. He sees this passage as a command for Christians to unconditionally honor and support Jews. In its context, however, Paul is clearly talking about the need for Gentile Christians to support Jewish Christians who were in financial straits. Notice: “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Rom. 15:25-27, emphasis added).
Further, when Paul did take this money to Jerusalem, he was eventually assaulted by a mob of unbelieving Jews in the temple area (see Acts 21:27-36). And while they did quiet down long enough for Paul to speak to them, as soon as he mentioned that God sent him to the Gentiles, “they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live’” (Acts 22:22). Somehow these episodes of anti-gentile hatred by the Jews never seem to come up in Hagee’s book.
(Chapter 10) - Part 1
Chapter 10 of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel is entitled “Answering Christian Critics.” It is the longest chapter of the book (pp 121-170), and raises several key issues that deserve careful response. In this first part of my review of chapter 10, I will deal with Hagee’s claim that the Jews should not be held responsible for Jesus’ death.
According to Hagee, “early church fathers told their illiterate congregants that the Jews were the odious assassins of Christ” (p. 122). He then gives several quotes from figures such as Eusebius and Chrysostom to establish this point. Then, in what is now a familiar move, Hagee connects such beliefs with the Holocaust, quoting one author as follows: “In our day…more than six million deliberate murders are the consequences of the teachings about the Jews for which the Christian Church is ultimately responsible…which has its ultimate resting place in the teaching of the New Testament itself” (p. 125).
It is astonishing to me that Hagee has basically adopted the view of many liberal critics; namely, that any condemnation of the Jewish people for their role in the crucifixion amounts to anti-semitism. The only difference is that liberals claim that the NT itself is anti-semitic, whereas Hagee thinks that it is the church fathers who were Jew-haters.
Hagee goes to great lengths to absolve the Jewish people of any blame for Jesus’ death. “The writers of the Gospels took special care to impress upon their readers the fact that the Jewish people, their own people, were not responsible for, and were for the most part ignorant of, the events that led up to the arrest, trial and conviction of Jesus Christ” (p. 125). On what basis can Hagee make this assertion? Here are his arguments:
* The plot to crucify Jesus was hatched by the corrupt Jewish leaders, who were pawns of Rome (pp 125-128).
* These leaders feared the Jewish multitude because Jesus was very popular, and had to gather and control the crowd (pp 128-129).
* They persuaded the crowd to turn against Jesus by exploiting His opposition to divorce for every cause (p 129).
* Jesus identified His killers as “the Gentiles” (Luke 18:31-33); “the Bible is perfectly clear: Jesus was crucified by Rome” (p 131).
* Since only a small percentage of Jews lived in Palestine, “only a few hundred Pharisees could have possibly participated in the plot led by the high priest” (p 132).
* Finally, since Jesus prayed for high priest and conspirators to be forgiven, we should forgive them as well (pp 131-132).
No one disputes the fact that Gentiles were involved in the murder of Jesus. However, the apostle Peter clearly charges the Jews with guilt as well. To the thousands assembled on the Day of Pentecost Peter charged: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). It is a false dilemma to say that either the Jews killed Jesus or the Romans did. The answer according to Scripture is that both played a part.
Further, it is impossible to lay the blame for Jesus’ death on only a handful of leaders. Jesus was bitterly opposed by many Jews throughout His ministry (such as those of His own hometown - Luke 4:28-29). Certainly, the leaders did what they could to exploit opposition to Jesus and thwart His popularity among many of the Jews during the Passover week, but when Jesus spoke about the coming judgment as a result of His rejection, He cried for all of the people: “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 would not! See, your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38).
I have no idea where Hagee came up with the notion that the Pharisees stirred up the people against Jesus because of what He taught about divorce. From the gospels we know that some of the charges they raised against Jesus included a threat to destroy the temple (Matt. 26:61) and insurrection against Caesar (Luke 23:1-4). Whatever means the leadership used to stir the people up, the gospels indicate that the people took personal responsibility for their rejection of Jesus - “And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’” (Matt. 27:25).
Hagee’s desperate efforts to exonerate the Jewish people of Jesus’ day from playing any role in His death is misguided political correctness. No one comes out looking good in the story, either then or now. “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). The fact that the Bible sometimes explicitly condemns the nation of Israel for Jesus’ death is no cause for celebration among Gentiles. All of us are sinful; all of us have the capacity to hatefully oppose the will of God. Notice how Paul speaks of Gentile and Jewish persecution of Christians in equal measures of condemnation:
For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last (1 Thess. 2:14-16).
Ironically, one of the reasons Jesus and the apostles often suffered bitter opposition from the Jews is because of their insistence that Gentiles are equal heirs of God’s grace, an insistence that runs counter to Hagee’s brand of Zionism, and that often leads to the charge of anti-semitism.
When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” (Acts 21:27-28)
It is not anti-semitic to acknowledge the role the Jewish people played in Jesus’ death, any more than it is anti-gentile to acknowledge the role Gentiles played in His death. And while it is misguided to continue to blame all Jewish people today for Jesus’ death, it is equally misguided to minimize the role Israel played in His death. “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11).
(Chapter 10) - Part 2
Without question, the most stunning error of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel is his claim in chapter ten that Jesus did not come to be the Messiah or even claim to be the Messiah. That’s not a misprint. Click here if you would like to see Hagee promote this belief. Hagee argues that Jesus did not come to be Israel’s Messiah, that He steadfastly refused to perform any miracles or signs to show that He was the Messiah, and that He told people not to say that He was the Messiah. And of course, this means that the Jews did not reject Jesus as Messiah, since He did not come to be their king.
First of all, let’s set the record straight. Jesus did claim to the Messiah. When talking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus responded to her statement that the Messiah would “tell us all things” by plainly identifying Himself: “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:25-26). Later, when Jesus found the (formerly) blind man in the temple and asked him if he believed in the “Son of Man” (a Messianic title from Daniel 7:13-14), Jesus told him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you” (John 9:36-37). In Matthew 16:16-17 Jesus blessed Simon Peter for confessing that He was the Christ. When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on Sunday of the final week, He openly accepted the acclaim of the multitude as the one ushering in “the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10). Before the Jewish high priest and Sanhedrin Council, Jesus quoted two highly Messianic passages - Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:14 - in response to the question, “Tell us if you are the Christ” (Matt. 26:63-65).
On what basis does Hagee make this absurd claim? Here are his arguments:
1. The argument from Jesus’ death. Hagee argues that if Jesus had indeed come to be the Messiah, and if the Jews had accepted Him as Messiah, then they would have never crucified Him, and God’s plan of redemption would have been thwarted. “Had Jesus permitted himself to become the reigning Messiah to the Jews, he would have missed the sovereign will of God for his life” (p 134). Here is a classic false dilemma - either Jesus came to be the Messiah, or He came to die, but not both. There is a third option- Jesus came to be the Messiah, but He also knew that most people would reject Him, and God incorporated this knowledge into His plan of redemption. According to Peter, Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). And part of this plan was that “the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26).
Incidentally, Hagee’s argument on this point is almost comical in light of the fact that he is an avowed dispensationalist. It is not “replacement theologians” (in Hagee’s terminology) who are faced with a dilemma regarding Jesus’ Messianic claims and death. According to dispensationalists, Jesus came to make a bona fide kingdom offer to the Jewish nation, which they rejected (see Charles Ryrie, The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, esp. pp 89-93). And since they rejected Him, God postponed the kingdom and substituted a great parenthesis in the prophetic program - the church. But what if the Jews had accepted Jesus as king? Would there have been a church? Would there have been a cross?
2. The argument from signs. Hagee’s next major argument is that “if God intended for Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel, why didn’t he authorize Jesus to use supernatural signs to prove he was God’s Messiah?” (p 137). Instead, “Jesus refused to give a sign” except for his comparison to Jonah in Matthew 12 (p 138). He also refused to perform a sign for Herod “because it was not the Father’s will, nor his, to be Messiah” (p 138).
First of all, this argument is absolutely false. In Matthew 11, John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus with a simple question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (11:3). Here is Jesus’ answer: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (11:4-6). The very purpose of Jesus’s signs was to signify that He was indeed the long-awaited Messiah!
It is true that in the case of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 12 and Herod in Luke 23 Jesus refused to give signs. This is an example of Jesus knowing the heart and refusing to cast pearls before swine. But these two examples do not negate the entire public ministry of Jesus which was filled with signs such as He mentioned in His response to John.
3. The argument from the “Messianic secret”. Hagee’s third major argument is that “if Jesus wanted to be the Messiah, why did he repeatedly tell his disciples and followers to ‘tell no one’ about his supernatural accomplishments” (p 139). He then lists various passages in which Jesus tells people to keep His works or identity quiet.
Commentators often refer to this as the “Messianic secret.” And it is true that in many instances Jesus asked people to be silent about His deeds and identity. However, as I pointed out earlier, by the time of the triumphal entry, Jesus openly accepted public acclaim as Messiah. So why did He ask people early in His ministry to be quiet? Here are a few reasons:
* Jesus knew that the people had many misconceptions about the Messiah, and wanted to do some teaching before He accepted public recognition. Otherwise, the people would project their erroneous beliefs onto Him (see John 6:15).
* Jesus knew that as word of His miracles spread, it would become more difficult to travel freely and preach, which was His central mission. For instance, in Mark 1:38 Jesus said that the reason He came was to preach, but when word got out about his healing of the leper, “Jesus could not longer openly enter a town” (Mark 1:45).
* Jesus knew there was an appointed time for His death (John 13:1), and since His public recognition was part of that timing, He waited until the last week when His hour had come to embrace public recognition.
Hagee’s unbelievable denial that Jesus came to be the Messiah to the Jews is heresy run amock. He is so eager to defend Israel from any and all responsibility for Jesus’ death that he allows his agenda to trump the plain teaching of Scripture.
(Chapter 10) - Part 3
The third part of my review of chapter ten of Hagee’s In Defense of Israel will consist of responses to his attacks on “replacement theology.” That is Hagee’s term for any theological system which does not maintain the eternal distinction between Israel and the church espoused by dispensationalists. “Replacement theologians teach that God is finished with Israel. In their view, Israel has been rejected and replaced by the church to carry out the work once entrusted to Israel” (p 145). And as he has charged throughout the book, Hagee insists that such thinking is anti-semitic. “This misconception is rooted in the theological anti-Semitism that began in the first century” (p 145). Further, replacement theology is “an old heresy” that requires an “allegorical method of interpreting Scripture” (p 146).
Before I address his arguments, I want to challenge Hagee’s terminology. The NT does not teach that Israel is rejected and replaced by the church. Rather, the NT teaches that Israel is expanded and fulfilled in the church. This is a key distinction, and one that dispels any sense of anti-semitism. At the end of this post I will offer some passages that confirm this position.
Hagee’s arguments against replacement theology are rooted in the OT prophecies of the restoration of Israel. On pp 150-154 Hagee cites several passages from Isaiah (43:5-6; 35:10; 61:4; 44:24, 26), Ezekiel (28:25-26; 34:28-30; 11:17, 19; 37:21-28), Jeremiah (30:18; 31:10-12; 30:3, 10; 31:7-8) and Zechariah (1:15-17). In typical dispensationalist fashion, Hagee can only see this prophecies as a declaration of God’s “intention for the Jews of the world to reinhabit Israel” (p 150).
At no point does Hagee express awareness of the context of these passages: the Babylonian Exile, or of the return of Israel from the exile in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Further, Hagee does not address the fact that the NT writers chose verses from these same portions of the prophets to argue that God has indeed delievered Israel from true spiritual exile through Jesus Christ. Some examples:
* James argues in Acts 15:15-18 that the prophecy of Amos 9:11-12 that God would rebuild the fallen tent of David has been fulfilled in the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church.
* Peter argues in Acts 2:16-21 that the promise in Joel 2:28-32 that God would pour out His Spirit was inaugurated on the Day of Pentecost.
* The writer of Hebrews argues in Heb. 8:8-12 that Jeremiah’s promise of a new covenant with Israel and Judah (Jer. 31:31-34) has been fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the cross.
* And perhaps most significantly, Paul quotes from several places in Isaiah 40-66 to show that the great promises of restoration of God’s people have been fulfilled in Christ (Isa. 52:17 = Rom. 10:14-15; Isa. 65:1 = Rom. 10:20; Isa. 42:4 = Rom. 15:12; Isa. 52:15 = Rom. 15:20-21; Isa. 49:8 = 2 Cor. 6:2).
Hagee also makes a convoluted argument from the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24). In Matt. 24:15 Jesus refers to the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. “The ‘holy place’ is the temple in Jerusalem, and according to this verse, the Jews are in control of the temple. How could they control the temple without being in control of Jerusalem? How could they be in control of Jerusalem if they were replaced?” (pp 155-156). Later, quoting the statement in Matt. 24:16 about those in Judea fleeing to the mountains, Hagee explains: “Judea is part of what is now called the West Bank. Jesus’s statement assumes that in the last days the Jews would be living on the West Bank” (p 156).
These arguments ignore the clear context of the Olivet Discourse, as well as the clear time indicator Jesus gave for when these things would take place. The context is Jesus’ remark that the temple and its buildings would be destroyed (Matt. 24:1-2). The time indicator is found in Matt. 24:34: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Jesus was not describing events in the modern state of Israel or city of Jerusalem. He was describing what would happen within a generation of His own day and time, which of course did happen in AD 70 when the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem and the temple.
In the final section of this chapter Hagee argues that the old covenant is not dead and has not been replaced by the new covenant, and that such an idea is (you guessed it) “a misstatement used to promote anti-Semitic lies in the church” (p 158). The problem is that in the chapter he considers the Abrahamic covenant the “old covenant,” rather than the Mosaic covenant, which is what the NT refers to as “the old covenant” (Heb. 8:1-13). He also confuses the Mosaic Covenant with the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7. It is this confusion that leads Hagee to deny the explicit NT teaching that Jesus came to establish a new covenant which was better than the Mosaic covenant. The apostle Paul could not be clearer that the Mosaic covenant was added as a temporary measure until Jesus came to fulfill the covenant with Abraham (Gal. 3:15-18).
At this start of this post I said I would offer passages that teach that Israel is expanded and fulfilled in the church. I could offer 1 Peter 2:9-10, which combines several OT descriptions of Israel together and applies them to the church (Ex. 19:6; Isa. 43:20-21; Hos. 1:6-10; 2:23). I could offer Romans 11:17-24, which says that believing Gentiles are incorporated into the believing stock of Israel. But this simplest passage to offer to explain the Israel is expanded and fulfilled in the church is Gal. 3:26-29 -
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 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 promise.
My final post in this series on Hagee’s In Defense of Israel will consider the last two chapters of the book. Chapter 11 is entitled “Answering Secular Critics.” Since I spent several posts reviewing The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, I will not spend much time on this chapter. However, there is one statement I cannot let slide. Hagee begins the chapter talking about his friendship with a rabbi in San Antonio. “We agree on many, many things, but when it comes to the nature and identity of the Messiah, of course, we simply agree to disagree - with the understanding that when we stand in the streets of Jerusalem and see the Messiah walking toward us, one of us will have a major theological adjustment to make” (p 171).
Really? How does this compare to what Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9? “And to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” When Jesus returns, those who refused to obey His gospel will face His wrath. They will be making “theological adjustments” only in the sense of bowing down and confessing He is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11).
But because of his Zionist presuppositions, Hagee only sees Jews as “spiritual brothers” who should cooperate until the Messiah comes to defeat Israel’s enemies (p 173). Sadly, Hagee fails to understand that Israel’s enemy is sin, and that Jesus came to liberate Israel from spiritual exile (John 8:32).
The final chapter of Hagee’s book is an outline of a sermon he preached, “Israel Lives!” He gave this message to a meeting of the Policy Conference of AIPAC, the single most powerful Zionist lobby in the world. Given the enormous impact this lobby has on our goverment, Hagee’s influence in its ranks is yet one more reason to be disturbed by his message.
Let me conclude this review with a couple of book recommendations that are a good antidote to Hagee’s teaching:
Whose Promised Land, by Colin Chapman
Whose Land? Whose Promise? by Gary Burge
Christian Zionism, by Stephen Sizer
The Apocalypse Code, by Hank Hanegraaff