The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of jaime.silva, CC BY-NC-ND

Trump's recognition of Jerusalem excites apocalyptic fervor

(RNS) — During the election campaign last year many conservative evangelical Christians saw then-candidate Donald Trump as a man of strength who would make the world ready for a final battle between good and evil.

As the historian Matthew Avery Sutton wrote at the time, they expected him to lead America in “a real-world battle against evangelicals’ enemies and a spiritual battle against the Antichrist.”

His prediction is beginning to come true — with Jerusalem playing a critical role in that apocalyptic drama.

On Dec. 6, President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Met with concern by almost all corners of the diplomatic world, it was greeted with excitement by a large segment of conservative Christians, especially white evangelicals who are among his staunchest supporters.

As Trump “spiritual adviser” Paula White said, “Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends." John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, responded to Trump’s announcement by noting its precise “biblical timing” set out in Leviticus. Michael Evans said that America is “in the middle of prophecy right now” and compared Trump to King Cyrus, a pagan king who nonetheless was an instrument of God and helped Israel. At a rally for the president in Florida, state Sen. Doug Broxson excited the crowd by declaring: “When I heard about Jerusalem — where the King of Kings (applause) where our soon coming King is coming back to Jerusalem, it is because President Trump declared Jerusalem to be capital of Israel.”

Such statements are important because they shift the frame with which listeners are asked to consider what happened. They position Trump's statement within sacred, rather than secular time. In other words, they show that they think the Jerusalem decision was part of God’s plan for the world, a step on the way to the reunification of the holy city (still considered occupied under international law) and the restoration of the ancient Israelite Temple. In other words, a step on the way towards the apocalypse.

And apocalyptic beliefs are particularly strong in America among white evangelical Christians. In a 2010 Pew Survey, 58 percent said they believed Jesus would return to earth in the next 40 years.

The immediate roots of end-times thinking in the American context can be traced to Hal Lindsey’s 1970 book "The Late, Great Planet Earth," which repackaged and reformulated much older Christian ideas. For Lindsey, the formation of the modern state of Israel was critical because it signaled a step towards the rebuilding of the Temple. These ideas were reintroduced to a new generation by the immensely popular "Left Behind" books (and movies), in which Jerusalem is at the center of a conflict between the Antichrist and the believers, and between Satan and Jesus.

But so what? These ideas don’t seem, on the face of it, particularly dangerous. Americans by and large express overwhelming support for the state of Israel. And Jerusalem does undeniably play a critical role in end-times scenarios. At the same time, Christian tradition in the West tends to think of sacred history as moving in cycles. Jerusalem was King David’s city, the capital of the kingdom of Israel, and the location for the pivotal moments in Jesus’ ministry, so it seems normal that it would play a critical role in Jesus’ Second Coming. Revelation 21 specifically describes the descent of a New Jerusalem in which the saved will dwell.

The question of who will be saved is also a vexed one. Hagee’s thoughts on it are outlined in his 2005 book “Jerusalem Countdown,” which predicts that Israel will be covered in “a sea of human blood” and the Jews will survive the final battle long enough to have “the opportunity to receive Messiah, who is a rabbi known to the world as Jesus of Nazareth.”

This is the troubling subtext to this evangelical apocalyptic support for the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. God wants the Temple rebuilt so that the end-times battle between the forces of good and evil can begin. Those who support God’s plan are good, while those who oppose it are evil. Muslims oppose the plan, hence they are evil.

The logic is ripped in almost whole part from ancient texts. For example, the wildly popular 10th-century "On the Antichrist" by the monk Adso of Montier-en-Der  includes a section devoted to the so-called Christian “Last Emperor,” who would unite Christians in battle and conquer Jerusalem to begin the events of the final end. Even as late as the 16th century, the work of Martin Luther suggested that the invasions of the Ottomans into the Holy Roman Empire might be a sign of the beginning of the final cosmic war. In all of those sources, Jerusalem plays a central role as the site of that final battle against those they saw as the agents of evil — Muslims.

These traditions are not as distant as we may think. Modern apocalyptic expectation such as that of Lindsey, Hagee, and "Left Behind" series authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, owes a huge debt to its predecessors. In each case, as Stephen O’Leary wrote in his 1998 book, "Arguing the Apocalypse," the importance of the moment is framed similarly — now is a critical juncture in God’s plan, because a great evil threatens to destroy us, so we must act.

Not all white conservative evangelicals think the apocalypse is at hand. But in Christian thinking, there is an end to history so those ideas remain always there, sometimes latent, but ready to explode into being if certain conditions in the world seem to have been met. When they do arise, they are potent. Apocalyptic ideas are not value-neutral, nor are they passive. Although they might not spark another crusade like they did a millennium ago, that rhetoric has been making a comeback, and a single spark apocalyptically-framed could have devastating consequences. 

(Matthew Gabriele is an associate professor of medieval studies in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech. Follow him on Twitter at @prof_gabrieleThe views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.) 

Comments

  1. Oh, goody. The rest of the world gets to die so that hyper Christians can play out their version of world of Warcraft.

    Then, when Jesus doesn’t come yet again, they’ll just cite Matthew again that no one knows the hour, etcetcetcetc.

  2. I know it’s irrational, Ben, but the latest Jim Jones might be our President and that’s scary. Instead of kool aid we have nuclear weapons. In modern times those pushing apocalyptic beliefs have all been on the fringes. I’m not yet ready to accept that the center won’t hold.

  3. ““Evangelicals are ecstatic”

    Israelis not so much.
    Anyone with half a brain in the State Department, also not so much
    Russia is happy
    Turkey is ecstatic
    Palestinians are overjoyed.

    This serves no interests for the US or Israel.

  4. It will be interesting to see why the Lord put him in power. Maybe this was it.

  5. Because they have been largely ignored by their former benefactors of Iran and Arab League, in favor of factions in Syria and Iraq. This is a huge opportunity to appear relevant.

    Conflict with Israel is primarily how the Palestinian factions divert attention from the foibles of autocratic governance. Gaza is kept under theocratic terror and the West Bank is ruled by a rather prickly and corrupt government mostly intent on siphoning aid money.

  6. Okay, so President Trump “formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
    But in the Bible, God did the very same thing, and did it long before Trump.

    “Since the day that I brought My people out of the land of Egypt, I chose no city in all the tribes of Israel in which to build a house, that my name might be there, and I chose no man as prince over my people Israel; but I have chosen Jerusalem that My name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over my people Israel.” (2 Chron. 6:5-6)

    So what’s the problem, folks? Ain’t nothing wrong with agreeing that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

  7. There is going to be a great mass murder Ben. All of the nations are going to go after the Jews – that is prophesied. I just didn’t think we were near that time yet.This is the scripture I’m referring to:
    The Lord Will Give Salvation
    Zechariah 12 The oracle of the word of the Lord concerning Israel: Thus declares the Lord, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him: 2 “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. 3 On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it. 4 On that day, declares the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness. But for the sake of the house of Judah I will keep my eyes open, when I strike every horse of the peoples with blindness. 5 Then the clans of Judah shall say to themselves, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the Lord of hosts, their God.’

    Zechariah 13:8 -English Standard Version
    In the whole land, declares the LORD, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive.

  8. Ben, I suggest you actually learn what the Bible says, instead of dismissing it. I would suggest you check out videos “How We Got Our Bible” and Learn The Bible In 24 Hours” and “Lamp in the Dark” on YouTube. It is EXTREMELY likely something major will indeed occur in the next 20-30 years, and it won’t be Iron Man Elon Musk sending people to Mars or Apple’s Siri becoming sentient. Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God the Father have made it perfectly clear that we are indeed in the end times.

  9. Just one problem…Trump’s probably the antichrist himself …sooooooo now whatcha go na do???

  10. Matthew 23:
    6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
    (these are only the beginnings)
    (Below goes along with the scripture that I cited above.)

    9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away[a] and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

  11. Israel having any positive recognition upsets the muslim.

  12. Timing is suspicious. Almost like he was catering a little to his base and deflecting from the Russian probe. But then again, he’s never done that in the past…

  13. Are you implying that #45 possesses the divine right to rule?

  14. That’s what your book has convinced you to believe. You are allowed to believe anything and everything that book creates for you.
    However, the less than 2% of the population protecting your right to say and think this are not doing it to foment the establishment of a theocracy.
    Remember, your god appointed King George III and other dangerous dynasties.

  15. Except the last president. You would never have said that.

    Why must you bear false witness so plainly? That kind of commandment breaking sin is worthy of hell.

  16. Remember lying Christians like her would have never said such things about the last president.

  17. You think you read minds Spud…..tell me, how many fingers am I holding behind my back……lol

  18. Nope. I just know how full of crap you and others like you are.

    You clearly acknowledge I am correct in such statement. Since you not trying to refute my statement.

    By all means tell me how much you claimed God mandated our last president. Maybe show me a prior post in your history showing so.

    Of course you won’t. 🙂

  19. Funny, the small detail of 400 years of Islamic conquest of Christian lands was curiously not cited as a “spark” for the Crusades. I cannot imagine why that might be, I simply can’t possibly tell based on the tone of the rest of the article. Just FYI, we are not causing that chaos in Jerusalem. Christians are not attacking people on the Temple Mount. Christians are also not asking anyone to do so on our behalf, nor are we making them react violently to the slightest twitch in Jerusalem. Let’s not pretend that Israelis and Palestinians would be holding hands over there if not for the apocalyptic ideas “white evangelicals” (whatever that means, I don’t know why you feel the need to separate us from our non-white brethren) have had for basically the whole time our religion has existed. Also, Hagee is a loon and most Christians don’t pay a lick of attention to his rantings.

  20. Wait, other people are going to die because of us? I’d say that this is extraordinarily unlikely, based on a cursory glance at factual reality, and easily seeing which religion is the most violent (well it’s not us-surprise!). So if we’re so scary and end-timey, why are we the ones being slaughtered all over the world? That’s very odd for a group with such potential for violence.

  21. “Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation “the insanest of all books”.[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he “considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.” [31]

    Martin Luther once”found it an offensive piece of work” and John Calvin “had grave doubts about its value.”[32]

  22. Yep, Trump is throwing you a bone, at the expense of Israeli lives and US power and influence in the region. For no benefit to the nation, whatsoever.

    Russia is pleased by the efforts.

  23. You forget there are Christian Palestinians and Fatah in the West Bank is rabidly secular. They aren’t throwing rocks and firebombs at Israeli soldiers at the Temple Mount right now for Islam. They are doing it for “Palestine”.

    There would have been a peaceful resolution if not for a fidgety US president looking for a final legacy besides a bj in the Oval Office, the Saudi/Iran cold war and radical, Soviet inspired, Yassir Arafat using suicide bombers as a negotiation tool.

    Israel has relations with several Muslim majority countries and is even supporting a Kurdish state. To put this as a clash of faiths is ignorant laziness.

  24. Already happening. We also just undermined diplomatic efforts that were already underway. The decision was half baked, self defeating, and serves no interests for the US or Israel.

    “easily seeing which religion is the most violent”

    Argument by lazy bigoted generalizations. Typical.

    “if we’re so scary and end-timey, why are we the ones being slaughtered all over the world”

    You aren’t. Christians in countries you are completely unconcerned with are. Of course you act as if they have a monopoly on being victims of genocide. But it’s not like you would support things like taking in refugees.

  25. Silly dominonist rabbits, The U.S.A. doesn’t have a king. And go look at the State Dept website which lists its Jerusalem address with no country. So what was all that Trump hype about Jerusalem being in Israel?

  26. Not bothering to refute what I said about you or your position. Obviously I hit a nerve and got to the truth of the matter. If you are not a hypocrite then you would simply disagree with me or even showing examples of why I was wrong. But you aren’t.

    No, I have you down cold here. You are simply lying here and giving us a canned position.

  27. They’ve already compared him to Cyrus, whom the Bible refers to as messiah.

  28. Declare Jerusalem an international city and put it under Buddhist rule.

  29. I’m flattered that I am so important on this blog that you feel the need to make these announcements. Thank you.

  30. No, Sandi, You should be ashamed of the nonsense that you post. It has already been established here that when Sandi responds with her vacuous “yawn” and “lol” responses, she is really unable to respond with any substance to the subject that she is being challenged on. Here we see that again from her.

    So, Spuddie, you’ve won yet another debate with Sandi. (That would put the tally at roughly 1000 for Spuddie and zero for Sandi. )

  31. I’m sorry what I say threatens you so much Reason.

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