Christian Zionists increasingly act as if they were religious Jews until the End. They refer to the year 5773; many have changed their day of Sabbath from Sunday to Saturday; some have made aliyah through the use of suspect Jewish ancestry, or are on indefinitely renewed tourist visas; they donate millions of dollars indirectly to settlements activity and provide various IDF battalions military equipment; their national allegiance is seemingly stronger to Israel than America, as illustrated by their condemnation of US policy that criticizes Israel because Israeli policy is understood as God sanctioned and therefore infallible; and they make pilgrimages to Israel less to celebrate Christ and more to “witness the incoming” of Jews to Israel.
Christian Zionists also increasingly celebrate Jewish holidays, including this week’s Sukkot, by way of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem’s (ICEJ) “Feast of Tabernacles” conference. This week, 7000 Christian Zionists will descend into Jerusalem for this conference at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. The Feast of Tabernacles is the largest non-Jewish tourist event in the State of Israel. Each year Israel’s PM has addressed this body. As in previous years, Netanyahu is eager to address these Christian Zionist pilgrims to gain support for the bombing of Iran.
Since its inception in the 1980s, the organizers have structured the Feast’s itinerary around an existential threat to Israel. In the 1990s it was Oslo threatening Israel’s territorial integrity, and in 2008/9 it was rockets being launched into southern Israel from Gaza. This is an attempt to ferment anxiety around the promise of Armageddon and Christ’s return to earth. This year, the threat will be Iran’s nuclear armament. But this concern is not simply contingent upon the fallout from Israel’s threat to strike Iran; rather it resonates with deeper prophetic concerns that have long seen nuclear weapons as the cause of the apocalypse. Indeed, immediately following the Cold War, Iran replaces the USSR as the purveyor of global nuclear war.
Hal Lindsey’s, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), deemed by the New York Times as the best-selling non fiction book of the 1970s, turned the Bible’s references of “fire and brimstone”, according to Paul Boyer the preeminent scholar of the apocalypse, “into a manual of atomic age combat.” Lindsey claims that the convoluted doom and tribulation analogies of the Book of Revelation were the ancient prophets witnessing atomic war. The vision of disaster, that one-third of the world’s population would be consumed by fire was only made possible by thermonuclear weaponry. Christian Zionist concern for a nuclear Armageddon was pervasive during the Cold War. It prophesized that the USSR would start the war to end all wars.
But with the end of the Cold War, Russia was no longer considered the “evil” other or what Christian Zionists referred to as Gog and Magog, biblical nations said to usher in the apocalypse. In the post Cold War geopolitical disorientation regarding the identification of friend versus foe, the geography of evil was transposed instead onto Iraq and Iran. These states became the new Gog and Magog for Sunday school teachers, pastors, and prophecy writers.
For example, Mark Hitchcock is a pastor from Oklahoma and of prophetic fame among Christian Zionists for his revision of post Cold War prophetic geopolitics. He has encouraged the transposition of evil from the USSR to Iran. He wrote in his book, The Silver Kingdom: Iran in History and Prophecy (1993): “Iran is accumulating conventional weapons at an alarming rate, and is also now in possession of nuclear weapons.” Of course these same arguments were used to justify a was with Iraq a decade later. In his most recent book on the subject, Iran the Coming Crisis (2006), Hitchcock explains that Ahmadinejad is the Antichrist and will take the throne at the Third Temple by threat of nuclear provision.
While Hitchcock’s theme of Iran as the new geography of evil has had significant purchase among Christian Zionists, much before Israel’s current nuclear impasse, while Christian Zionists are not alone: Netanyahu has been itching at bombing Iran’s nuclear program since July 1996. This scenario is not something Christian Zionists fear, but rather is something welcomed. They believe nuclear war is inevitable by virtue of God’s will, and that even if Israel strikes Natanz and Fordow, the armies of Armageddon will start marching toward Israel.
No doubt these prophetic events will be lamented by delegates at the Feast of Tabernacles conference but they will also be celebrated. Nuclear war between Iran and Israel means they will finally be Saved by their Messiah. They will escape the atrocities by being Raptured into heaven before WWIII, while watching from auditorium seats in Heaven. They will be saved while most everyone else dies (except according to some versions of eschatology, 144,000 Jews who have converted to Christianity). Christian Zionists find vindication in these atrocities.
The Islamic studies professor and former French diplomat, Jean-Pierre Filiu, argues forcefully in his book, Apocalypse in Islam (2012), that it is not just Christian Zionists who truly believe this fatalistic perspective of history. Many of the violence-prone fundamentalists in the Muslim and Jewish worlds share this apocalyptic perspective, some within the present Iranian and Israeli regimes. All covet the annihilation of the other assuming a cosmic war playing out on earth will end in their favor by vanquishing the heathens as their Messiah redeems them in the millennium.
Similarly, according to Timothy Weber a leading scholar of Christian Zionists, upon bombing Iraq’s nuclear facility in 1981, Menachem Begin phoned Jerry Falwell before President Reagan in an attempt to garner support amongst the American Christian community. Likewise, when Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington in January 1998, his first meeting was with Falwell and The National Unity Coalition for Israel, as constituted by 5000 fundamentalist Christian leaders. The coalition, which has over one million members, is organized to lobby the US government of pro-Israeli issues. The point here is that Christian Zionists have served both as ambassadors to Israel and the most ardent supporters of Israel’s most risky foreign policy decisions. It is not only that Christian Zionists are meddling in Israel affairs, it is that the choice of causes have detrimental results for the perception of Israel as a specious apocalyptic actor and the rest of the world, but the blowback from such religious politicking will have few repercussions for them except their faith in redemption, at the cost of Israeli lives.
The ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles conference at International Convention Center Jerusalem starts the 30tth of September and end the 4th of October. Attendance is free each evening for all Jew living in Israel, and not simply the advertised “Parade of Nations” evening m October 1 “Parade of Nations” celebration which is open to the public. I encourage readers to attend the conference and ask a delegate where Jews fit into Christian Zionist vision of the End Times. Let me give you a hint: in the End you die.
This piece was originally published in the Jerusalem Post.
Tristan Sturm is Assistant Professor in the Dept of Geography at York University in Toronto, Canada. He has published in Haaretz, The Toronto Star, and the Japan Times. He is co-editor (with Jason Dittmer) of the book, Mapping the End Times (Ashgate 2010).