This month marks the dual observances of the Festival of Passover on April 14th as well as the 50th year since the founding of the modern State of Israel on April 30th. You may have heard this year's 50th anniversary described as a Jubilee year. In Scripture, every 50th year in Israel was to be set apart in a radical way. (See page 3.)
What do Passover and the Year of Jubilee have in common? Passover is the Festival of Redemption. The very concept of redemption means to buy back. God redeemed, or bought back His people from slavery in Egypt. In this He demonstrated that the people of Israel are His treasured possession.
In the Year of Jubilee, God commanded that any property that was sold reverted back to the Israelite who originally owned" it. That property included land, houses, and even people who sold themselves into slavery to pay a debt. The year of Jubilee was therefore a year of liberty. God was teaching His people the importance of freedom and justice, and how to deal with one another in a godly way. Yet there was more to the year of Jubilee. In Leviticus 25:23 we read, "The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me." Passover and the Year of Jubilee both point to God's ownership over the Land and the people of Israel.
While Jewish people can celebrate Passover every year, the significance of a Jubilee year is difficult to grasp. The juncture of these two celebrations highlights the dilemma. First, it has been two thousand years since the Land has been occupied by Jewish people for 50 consecutive years! But second, and perhaps more to the point, there is little jubilation in Israel today. The land is mired in seemingly intractable conflict. Feelings of hopelessness overshadow efforts to establish peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Many Christians respond to the Middle East dilemma with one of two extremes: militant anti-Arab Christian Zionism or pro-Palestinian replacement theology. Adherents to either extreme ignore the very character and continuity of God. In this they are seriously mistaken.
Those who opt for the first extreme imagine that a vote for Israel is a vote for God—no matter what. Such people overlook questions of right and wrong—of justice and righteousness in Israel—because they focus solely on God's promises to the Jewish people concerning Israel's future. The Scriptures don't encourage such blind loyalty. One can strongly support Israel and her right to live in peace and security without ignoring the plight of Palestinians in the land. God commanded Israel to be kind to sojourners because we were once sojourners in the Land of Egypt and we know what it is like to be treated harshly. It is shameful for militant Christian Zionists to demonize all Palestinians in their attempt to justify unquestioning loyalty to any Israeli policy. But there is another problem that has even deadlier consequences. Some Christian Zionists are so eager to be for Israel that they seem to care little about Jews being for Jesus. They are so in love with the idea of Jewish people being in the Land that they don't think of the implications of those same people being outside of Christ.
So what are we to think about God's promises regarding Israel? There are two aspects to be held in tension. God's choosing of Israel is "without repentance." Yet God's blessings upon Israel (at least the full extent of those blessings, including salvation) are very much contingent on obedience through faith.
At the first Passover, God delivered Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. He did so in conjunction with Israel's obedience to His command: "And they shall take some of the blood and strike it on the two side posts and upon the upper door post of the houses" (Exodus 12:7). Any Israelites who failed to obey God's command lost their first born children along with the Egyptians who perished that night.
God is no more willing to pass over the sins of disobedient Israel today than He was on that first Passover Eve. Without the blood of the Lamb on the doorposts of their hearts, modern Israelites are destined for judgment, too. This means that the majority of the people of Israel are in jeopardy. God will judge the unrighteous of the nations and Israel today, just as He did then. There is no automatic pass. Only in Christ is there assurance of lasting safety and peace for the Jewish nation.
True Christian Zionists want to see Israel graced with the blessings that only come through faith in Jesus—so true Christian Zionists are unrepentant evangelists of the Jewish people. The rest are frauds and phonies. They claim unquestioning support of Israel but fail to be watchmen on the walls. The blood of Israel will be on their hands (see Ezekiel 33:6). Christians who truly love Israel will express their love most powerfully by proclaiming the redemption found in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus our Messiah.
But what shall we say of those Christians who take the other extreme—who want to de-legitimize the Jewish people as God's chosen? It boggles my mind that some Christians divorce the modern state of Israel from the land and the people we read about in the Bible. To do so is to ignore what God is doing in our day and age. I understand that some who feel this way may have sincerely adopted their views on the basis of a study of God's Word. While I disagree with their interpretation and conclusions, I don't question their motives. There are, however, others who describe themselves as evangelicals who want "middle east understanding"—when in fact they are merely mouthpieces for anti-Israel propaganda. They allow their politically correct, over-wrought sense of moral outrage over the suffering of Palestinians to dictate their view of Scriptures. They point to injustice in the land and the fact that Israel is in unbelief, and conclude that God is through with the Jews and the land of Israel is illegitimate in His eyes.
I believe the modern day state of Israel is a miracle of God and a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Jesus clearly said that "Jerusalem would be trodden down of the Gentiles until the time of the nations is fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). It has been 50 years since the founding of that state, but only 30 years since Jerusalem came under the control of Jews for the first time since Jesus made that prediction. Could it be that "this generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled?"
This Jubilee and the approach of a new millennium should give students of the Scriptures pause. Peril awaits those who presume to say that God is finished with His chosen people: "And in that day I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all peoples. All who lift it shall be slashed, and all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it" (Zechariah 12:3). Woe to anyone who joins those nations to gather against the Jewish people who are now back in the city of David. Just as God judged the nation of Egypt for her ill treatment of His people, so will He judge nations today. Evangelicals who would understand the Middle East must pay close attention to the teaching of Scripture, and take note of the cosmic forces that now do battle in the heavens but will soon do battle on earth. They must choose carefully which side to uphold.
The solution to this conflict is neither unthinking loyalty to an Israel in unbelief, nor reckless disregard for the clear teaching of Scripture with regard to God's promises to the Jewish people. The future of the land and the people is secure only in and through faith and obedience to the One who sent the Lamb. Only His shed blood on the door posts of the hearts of modern day Israelites can secure the salvation that lasts for all eternity. Judgment is coming, "to the Jew first and also to the Gentile" (Romans 2:10).
It is significant that Israel's 50th anniversary falls so close to Passover. Let's remember that without redemption, there can be no Jubilee. The conflict in the Middle East will only be resolved when Palestinians and Jews alike are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God. When both sides recognize God's ownership over all and can love one another in Jesus' name, that will be the ultimate Jubilee!