My interview with “Decision” magazine on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Recently, I was interviewed by Bob Paulson, the editor of Decision, the monthly magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Bob wanted to discuss our family’s move to Israel in 2014 and my perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict as a follower of Christ who has become new citizen of Israel.
I greatly enjoyed my conversation with Bob, a thoughtful and careful interviewer and writer. I also greatly appreciated the opportunity to share with the readers of Decision some thoughts on such highly controversial matters as Bible prophecy, the tensions related to Jewish-Arab relations, and the role of the Church in the Middle East.
The interview appeared in last month’s edition. Please forgive me for not posting it sooner, but here it is. Hope you find it both thought-provoking and encouraging.
Joel Rosenberg on Following Jesus In A Land Of Conflict
Bob Paulson • Decision Magazine • April 2015
Joel Rosenberg knows the Middle East better than most. Born to a Jewish father and a Gentile mother, the evangelical author, filmmaker and speaker once worked for Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now Israel’s prime minister. He holds dual U.S.-Israel citizenship and lives with his wife and children in Israel. His nonprofit organization, The Joshua Fund, provides food, clothing, medical supplies and other aid to people on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He has appeared hundreds of times on television and radio and has spoken at the White House and the Pentagon. Decision recently caught up with Rosenberg at The Cove as he was preparing to co-lead a biblical prophecy seminar with Anne Graham Lotz titled “Blowing the Trumpet.” Here is a portion of that conversation.
Q: Why should Christians support Israel?
A: The Lord laid out the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12, and He begins to lay the groundwork for the Hebrew nation, what becomes the nation and state of Israel. God said, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you” (Genesis 12:3). So this lays the foundational premise that God was choosing the Hebrew people—sovereignly, uniquely, supernaturally and eternally.
That doesn’t mean that every Jewish person is going to go to Heaven. Just because God has chosen us is not enough. We have to choose God back, and we can only do it through the Messiah, Jesus.
But because God has chosen the Jewish people, it’s important that the church not lose sight of that eternal covenant. It was an unconditional covenant. Abraham (Abram at the time) didn’t ask for it, didn’t do anything for it and was unable to keep it on his own. God just decided sovereignly to do this.
That’s the first reason. The second reason is shorter: We are supposed to make disciples of all nations, and Israel is one of those nations. When we decide to separate ourselves from one people group and one geopolitical state, we are going in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
But the church has become, at times and in portions, quite hostile to the Jewish people. And of course, this was prophesied through the Apostle Paul in Romans 9-11, when he warned the Gentile church: Don’t become arrogant and think that God is done with the Jewish people. He is not.
Q: When we talk about Christians supporting Israel, people often suppose this means we should act like the government of Israel can do no wrong.
A: The Bible is filled with Israel doing wrong, making terrible mistakes, sometimes quite catastrophic ones. I think it’s critical the church understands that we are supposed to bless Israel. But then we have to dig into the Word of God to discover what it means to bless. Sometimes that means to speak the truth in love.
Unfortunately, many Christians who love Israel have let it become a solely political endeavor, and they act as though it is an either/or proposition: You either love Israel and hate the Arabs, or you love the Arabs and hate the Jews.
Jesus is not either/or. He is both/and. In Matthew 4, Jesus’ message is going not just to Israel but to Syria. A few chapters later, Jesus is going into Lebanon. Jesus crosses the Jordan and spends time sharing the message with those on the other side of the river. And of course, He is spending time up and down the Jordan River Valley, in what we now call the West Bank.
The disciples at times are saying of people like the Samaritans, “Lord, should we call fire down from Heaven on them?” (Cf. Luke 9:54). No. The Son of Man has not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them. And this was happening in the exact places where the church feels like it is either/or. It’s not. It’s both/and.
Q: With the current tensions, what are the implications of the biblical command to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”?
A: In Psalm 122:6 we are commanded to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount reaffirmed the importance of making peace when we can by telling us, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). The Apostle Paul later says, “Be at peace with all men if possible” (Romans 12:18).
So pray first for geopolitical peace. People are suffering, and war is horrible. But most important, pray for spiritual peace: that people, Jews and Arabs and others, would have their eyes opened to the Prince of Peace, who died in Jerusalem, rose in Jerusalem and is coming back to Jerusalem.
If a person looks at Israeli policy in the West Bank and sees it as occupation, how did Jesus tell His disciples to respond to occupying soldiers? By carrying their luggage the extra mile. By loving them, caring for them, serving them and seeing them as people also in need of the Gospel, in need of the Father’s unconditional love.
There are others who say, “This isn’t occupation; this is just security designed to protect us from suicide bombers and terrorists and rockets.” So how are we to care for people whom we think are the enemy? Well, Jesus says: “Love your enemy.”
Jesus didn’t tell us not to define someone as an enemy. He says, “If you see them as a neighbor, love them. If you see them as an enemy, love them. And let Me show you how.”
Q: How are believers in the Holy Land showing love to both sides in the conflict?
A: My wife and I started a ministry in 2006 called The Joshua Fund. It is designed to educate and mobilize Christians to bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus, according to Genesis 12:1-3, the Abrahamic covenant.
We have a warehouse in central Israel, and we provide food and other humanitarian relief supplies through 14 different distribution centers. They are all run by believers in Jesus—some by Jewish believers, others by Arab believers. They are caring for the poor and needy, widows and orphans, victims of war and terror.
We also do pastors’ conferences. We have one for Israeli pastors and their wives—both Jewish and Arab pastors who are Israeli citizens. Then we do the same conference a few days later in the West Bank with Palestinian pastors and their wives. Last year, I think 95 percent of all the pastors and ministry leaders among the Palestinians attended the conference.
For the Palestinian believers to welcome me as a Jew, an Israeli, someone who worked for then-former Prime Minister Netanyahu, I’m sort of a poster child of the person you shouldn’t spend time with. But God is bringing us as believers together. I love the Palestinian people, and I want to serve the church there and help them be strong so they can serve their people.
How are we going to show the lost people in Israel and among the Palestinians that there is true peace through the Prince of Peace, and that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, if we don’t have peace between Israeli and Palestinian followers of Jesus?
Q: How many believers would you estimate are in Israel right now? Is the number growing or shrinking?
A: Based on the research I’ve done, in 1948, there were about 23 known Jewish believers in Jesus in Israel. I know some of them; some of them are still alive. Today, it’s widely agreed that there are about 15,000 Jewish believers in the land of Israel, and several thousand Arab believers. And there are several thousand Palestinian believers in the West Bank and Gaza.
Worldwide today, there are about 300,000 Jewish believers in Jesus. Now, in a world of 14 million Jewish people it’s not enough. But we’re heading toward a Romans 11:26 world. In that verse, the Apostle Paul tells us that all Israel will be saved.
Q: How exactly do you interpret that verse?
A: First of all, Israel is the only nation in the Scriptures where God promises a national salvation. No other country is told, “this country is going to get saved.”
Not every Jewish person, not every citizen of Israel, is going to go to Heaven. But we have unique prophecies regarding the moment of the Second Coming. The prophecies of Zechariah tell us that the Jewish people who are alive at the end of the Tribulation—who up to that point have still rejected the claims of Jesus as Messiah—as they see Jesus come back, their eyes will be opened. They will weep and mourn for the One they have pierced (Zechariah 12:10), and God will save them.
Now, none of us can know who is going to make it to the end of the Tribulation. We need to be faithful to share the Word of Christ today, with every person of every nation, including Israel and the Jewish people. We dare not stand before the Jewish Messiah one day and have Him ask, “Why didn’t you share the Good News of My salvation with the Jewish people?”
Q: Why is the world’s attention riveted on this little sliver of land?
A: John 10:10 is an interesting verse that captures the battle for Israel. We don’t normally think of this verse in the context of Israel or anti-Semitism, but Jesus, in one sentence, gives us an understanding of the battle between Satan and Himself. He describes Satan as the thief who comes to rob, kill and destroy. Jesus says, “But I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”
Satan is the exact opposite of everything Jesus is. So if God has said, “I’m going to choose the Jewish people and make them special to me and bless them,” Satan says, “Fine; I’m going to curse them.”
When God chose to give the land of Israel to the Jewish people, Satan said, “Fine. I will take it away.” When God said, “I’m going to make Jerusalem the city of peace,” Satan says, “Fine; I’ll make it the city of bloodshed.” When God said, “I’m going to make the Temple Mount holy unto My Name,” Satan said, “Fine; I will desecrate it.”
If you only look at the world through geopolitical and economic lenses, and you don’t look at it through the lens of the Bible, you are going to miss the heart of this conflict.
And the core reasons are not jobs, not ideology and not even religion. It’s a spiritual, cataclysmic battle that is rooted in John 10:10. Will the church understand the battle and come to love, care and serve the very people who are being hunted by Satan himself?
One day we will stand before the Jewish Messiah, face to face, eyeball to eyeball, to give an account. And what do we want to have said?
Reprinted with the kind permission of Decision Magazine and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association ©2015 BGEA