|IN DEFENCE OF THE GOSPEL – a response to John Hagee’s “In Defense of Israel”|
“Messianic Good News” was formed for the purpose of proclaiming and publishing the Good News that Jesus is the Messiah. There is no other good news or promise of blessing apart from that of being reconciled to God through faith in Him – for Jew and non-Jew alike. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). In view of certain teachings suggesting that there is another gospel for Israel which is yet to be fulfilled we felt it necessary to define exactly what the gospel is and to refute the false notion of another gospel that is being held out as the hope of Israel.
What is the gospel?
Since gospel means good news, in order to fully appreciate the good news we need to first grasp the bad news of the collective condition of mankind. Following the disobedience of Adam and Eve mankind was driven from God’s presence, represented by the Garden of Eden, and subjected to the curse of death. But at the same time that the curse was pronounced over them the LORD gave them the promise of good news: the seed of the woman would crush the head of the deceiver (Genesis 3:15). The exile from Eden set mankind on a course through which they would experience the devastating consequences of sin and rebellion in the hope that they would seek the LORD and be reconciled to him in genuine faithfulness through the Messiah (see Romans 8:18-22). The Messiah/Redeemer was only destined to be born thousands of years later, but those who believed God were sustained by faith in the promise.
Abraham was such a man of faith, as Jesus testified: “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 5:56). God called Abraham out from among the pagans to further his purpose of redemption through the descendants of Abraham, re-iterating again the good news of a future redemption with the promise that all nations would be blessed through his seed (i.e. the Messiah). Thus the nation of Israel was formed as the vehicle through which his redemptive purposes for mankind would be realised.
The Law of Moses was given to Israel as a measure to show how far man has fallen short of God’s perfect standard of holiness and as a means by which the people could draw near to God through the sacrifices of atonement. Everything in the Law – temple, sacrifices and priesthood – pointed ahead to the Messiah who would fulfil the Law in every aspect: The Messiah is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 10:4). (1)
Unfortunately the Rabbis failed to understand the goal and purpose of the Law, imagining that it was the means by which righteousness could be attained. But what emerges throughout Scripture is that what is needed is not a change from without, but a change within. Until we are transformed by the Holy Spirit, God’s perfect Law given through Moses testifies against us that we are sinful and rebellious by nature: “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are (Deuteronomy 31:26). Moses knew that the people of Israel would fall into apostasy and be scattered among the nations. This is why Jesus said to those who pretended to be righteous according to the Law, “Do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set” (John 5:45).
As predicted, first the northern tribes were taken into captivity and finally Judah was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar. The exile into Babylon reminds us of the banishment from Eden as a consequence of sin and rebellion and illustrates the hopeless cycle of disobedience and punishment. But once again the Lord reaffirmed the promise of redemption with the promise of a new covenant that would not be like the covenant he made with them at Mount Sinai because he would not only forgive their sins, but he would write his law upon their hearts (see Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The Lord promised to re-gather the Jews to the land after seventy years in exile, but that was not, in itself, the good news. Even after having endured such an evident demonstration of God’s judgment against apostasy they soon fell into the same sins and had to be rebuked by the prophets all over again. Although they returned with eager expectations of rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem the dream of the restoration to the land never materialized into what some idealists may have hoped for. Those who returned experienced immense hardship and frustration and were soon despondent and discouraged.
Many people imagine that given a perfect environment everyone would live in perfect peace and harmony with one another and with their creator. Some think that we must endeavour to bring about these idyllic conditions on earth. But the problem remains the sinful nature – returning to the land flowing with milk and honey is not the good news for those who remain in bondage to sin because they inevitably bring the curses for unfaithfulness to the covenant upon themselves all over again. Until sin is dealt with there can be no restoration to fellowship with God or with one another. Those who returned knew that the exile was not really over. The promised redemption remained a future hope – the post-exilic prophets continued to encourage them with the certain hope of the coming Messiah. This is the real restoration that God intends for his people.
This was confirmed by the prophets: It was revealed to Daniel that the redemption would not be complete until the coming of the Messiah 483 years after King Cyrus issued the decree allowing the exiles to return.(2) In other words, the exile would only really end when the Messiah and Redeemer came to make the new covenant in which he would write his law upon their hearts. Ezekiel’s prophecy (chapter 37)(3) likewise confirmed that the exiles who returned would be like dry bones whose hope was all but gone. The Lord said that he would then attach tendons and make flesh come upon them, but even then they would remain lifeless until he breathed life into them. In other words, he would put his Spirit in them and make them live. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63).
God’s promise given through Moses – “even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back…,” was only half the promise and is quoted by many people who are proclaiming this as the gospel for the Jews. The purpose in the coming of the Messiah was to fulfil the second part of the promise of restoration which was given to Moses: The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live (Deuteronomy 30:6). The good news was not the promise of being restored to the land, but of the coming Redeemer who would set them free from the power of sin and the curse of death. This he would accomplish by providing a final atonement for sin (which all the sacrifices of the Old Testament had prefigured) thereby meeting God’s justice by paying the penalty for our sin, thus reconciling us to God. God testified that the promised restoration was fulfilled through Jesus’ death on the cross by raising him from the dead.
Peter testified that God has fulfilled the promises made to the patriarchs by raising Jesus from the dead: “We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus (Acts 13:32-33). Jesus established the new covenant within the very period that had been revealed to Daniel. The restoration and promise given to Moses is made complete through Jesus the Messiah when he circumcises our hearts, through the power of the Holy Spirit whom he gives to those who believe, so that they may love him with all their hearts and with all their souls, and live. Later he literally breathed on is disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).
In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead (Colossians 2:11-12).
Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live” (John 5:24-25).
Jesus said (to Martha), “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25).
Those who are suggesting that God will yet re-gather the exiles so that he can circumcise their hearts by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that they may live, thereby completing his gracious promise of redemption are nullifying what God has already done. This was fulfilled two thousand years ago with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:1-5).
The Lord did gather the Jews from every nation where they had been scattered to fulfil his promise. At that time the disciples were instructed to wait in Jerusalem until they received the promised Holy Spirit. Since then the gospel has spread from Jerusalem (for the Jew first, not last) to the ends of the earth (cf. Is. 2:3) and is accompanied by the promise of the Holy Spirit irrespective of time or place. This is now an ongoing reality, based upon that historical event, not dependant upon a future re-gathering.
Jesus was destined to be not only the Redeemer of Israel, but also the Redeemer of all who would believe. He is the Messiah of Israel and also the blessing to all nations promised to Abraham, so that: to all who receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…that everyone who believes may have eternal life…
This is the gospel – that through Jesus Christ what was promised to Abraham has been fulfilled. By faith in his atoning sacrifice our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God having received the promised Holy Spirit as a guarantee of eternal life. But this good news is being undermined by certain men posing as ministers of the gospel who hold out a separate hope for Israel through a future coming of the Messiah. Jude was compelled by the Holy Spirit to write:
Dear friends although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt that I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord (Jude verses 3-4).
In Defense of Israel?
John Hagee, who pastors a church in Texas with an active membership of over 19 000 and who has a radio and television ministry that reaches 99 million homes, has written a book, which, by his own admission, is an attack on the very foundations of the Christian faith! In a video promoting his new book, Hagee makes the following claims:
“In Defense of Israel will shake Christian theology. It scripturally proves that the Jewish people as a whole did not reject Jesus as Messiah. It will also prove that Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah. It will prove that there was a Calvary conspiracy between Rome, the high priest, and Herod to execute Jesus as an insurrectionist too dangerous to live. Since Jesus refused by word and deed to claim to be the Messiah, how can the Jews be blamed for rejecting what was never offered? Read this shocking exposѐ, In Defense of Israel.”
Hagee tries to suggest that Jesus was not the Messiah of Israel because he did not fulfil their (false) messianic expectations, but he does not deny that Jesus came to be the Saviour of the Gentiles. As we have endeavoured to show in the first section by setting forth what the gospel is, the promise of the coming Messiah was given through the Jewish prophets to the Jewish people. The same prophets revealed that the Messiah would also be a light to the Gentiles. If Jesus is not the Messiah to the Jews then neither can he be the light to the Gentiles. These roles cannot be divorced since his very purpose was to create one new man out of the two, comprising both Jews and Gentiles, and this he accomplished through the cross (See Eph. 2:15).
And now the LORD says—he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honoured in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength—he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:5-6).
Hagee makes several statements in this book that are completely heretical. “Heresy” is the transliteration of a Greek word meaning sect. The root means ‘to choose or select’. Heretics overemphasise one aspect of Biblical revelation without reference to the whole, thus distorting the truth.(4)
Using Hagee’s own perverted logic, one could propose a heresy of the opposite extreme by quoting Mark 15:24 where Jesus says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” This, without reference to other passages, would imply that Jesus is only the Messiah of Israel and not the Saviour of the world. But Jesus also said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:14-16).
1) Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah?
Hagee says, “Jesus refused by word and deed to claim to be the Messiah, …”
Since the gospels are replete with claims to Jesus’ messiahship, both in word and deed, we cite just a few of the more obvious ones. Jesus began his ministry with a bold messianic claim:
Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me (“messiah” means “anointed one”) to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).
Jesus own testimony was that he had plainly communicated by word and deed that he is the Messiah: Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ (Messiah), tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe” (John 10:22-25).
Jesus also said, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
“Who are you?” they asked.
“Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied. “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him (John 8:23-30).
The Jewish leaders were clearly aware of his messianic claims. When Jesus was charged by the High Priest, under oath by the living God, to tell them if he was the Messiah, the Son of God he replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” (Matthew 26:62-64).
2) The apostles proved that Jesus is the Messiah
Hagee says that he will “prove that Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah”.
Hagee sets out to disprove what the apostles suffered and gave their lives for:
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 5:41-42).
The apostles made every effort to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah: …Paul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 9:22).
There is absolutely nothing in the apostles preaching to support Hagee’s assertion that Jesus “refused to be their Messiah, choosing instead to be the Saviour of the world.” On the contrary, Paul proved from the Scriptures (i.e. what Christians now term the Old Testament) that the very purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth was to be the Messiah, who had to suffer and rise from the dead: As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. (Acts 17:2-3).
The messianic titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament reveal how the early church understood Jesus in context to the prophecies of the Old Testament. He is the servant of Isaiah 53, the Prophet like Moses promised in Deuteronomy, the Holy and Righteous One, the Prince of Life. He is the stone the builders rejected that has become the cornerstone, the “seed of Abraham” through whom all nations will be blessed and the anointed King of Psalm 2. He is the Son of man, the Son of God, the Saviour. Above all he is Lord and Messiah! It was upon this conviction that the church is constituted.
Jesus is Saviour of the world because he is the Messiah – the idea that he could be the Saviour of the world but not the Messiah of Israel is an absolute contradiction!
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ (i.e. Messiah) the Lord (Luke 2:8-11).
3) Did God testify by signs that Jesus is the Messiah?
Hagee writes; “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, just as Moses had done?”
But Jesus indeed used supernatural signs, including raising people from the dead, so that the people would believe that he is the Messiah. Jesus said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:11).
Jesus’ miracles bore powerful testimony to his messianic mission: The first miracle of turning water into wine would have made an astute student of Scripture think of the messianic expectations of an abundance of new wine (Amos 9:13, Joel 3:18). When John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one who was to come or should they expect someone else he referred them to the signs that he was performing: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matthew 11:3).
The signs were recorded for the benefit of future generations precisely for the reason that we may believe that Jesus is the Messiah: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his Name (John 20:30-31).
Hagee concludes that when Jesus repeatedly told his disciples not to tell anyone about his supernatural accomplishments, “the Jews were not rejecting Jesus as Messiah; it was Jesus who was refusing to be the Messiah to the Jews.” But the Scriptures give a different reason. The apostles were instructed not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. Jesus knew that his mission as the Messiah entailed his suffering and crucifixion before he would be raised to life. That is the reason that he told his disciples not to tell anyone until after the resurrection. Thereafter they were instructed to broadcast to the whole world the things they had witnessed.
Hagee says that Jesus refused to produce a sign for Herod “… because it was not the Father’s will, nor his, to be Messiah.” Rather he was refusing to perform like a circus monkey before the wicked King Herod.
The supreme sign given by God to testify that Jesus is the Messiah, was the “sign of Jonah”. Hagee deliberately subverts the meaning of the sign of Jonah to suggest that it signified that the gospel was intended for the Gentiles, not for Israel, just as Jonah was sent to Ninevah. However, Jesus himself lays the emphasis of the sign of Jonah on the resurrection:
Jesus answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:39-41).
This was how God testified to Israel that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Jesus also said that the men of Nineveh will condemn that generation who rejected him. Why would they be condemned, if, as Hagee asserts, Jesus refused to be the Messiah of Israel? The account of Jonah shows how Jonah, typifying Israel, was reluctant to go to Nineveh in case the people there repented and were saved from God’s judgement.(5) The irony is that Hagee is reluctant to proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Messiah and Saviour of Israel to the Jews. Surely the worst form of anti-Semitism is to withhold the gospel of salvation.
The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). This is a necessary precursor to repentance and reconciliation, but Hagee instead tries to exonerate them of their rebellion against the LORD’S Anointed one (see psalm 2). Fear the LORD and the King, my son, (Jesus is the Anointed King/Messiah of the Jews) – and do not join with the rebellious, for those two will send sudden destruction upon them, and who knows what calamities they can bring? (Proverbs 24:21-22).
4) Are the Jews accountable for rejecting the Messiah?
Hagee asks, “…how can the Jews be blamed for rejecting what was never offered?”
The gospel was indeed offered to the Jew first! The apostle Paul wrote, I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom. 1:16).
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:44-47).
Paul wrote, “ But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’…But I ask: Did they not hear? (the gospel message) Of course they did…” (Romans 10:16;18).
The fact that Rabbinical Judaism is predicated on a denial that Jesus is the Messiah shows that their unbelief is not because they were not offered the gospel. The apostle John teaches that spiritual blindness is itself God’s judgement upon self-righteousness and pride which manifests in a sinful, unbelieving heart (cf. John 12:35-43).(6)
Furthermore, scripture testifies that not only was the gospel offered to the Jew first, but that the consequence of rejecting the truth would also be manifest among the Jews first: There will be wrath and anger, trouble and distress for those who reject the truth, first for the Jew (Romans 2:8-9).
When Hagee asks “…how can the Jews be blamed…?”, does he not realise that the desolation of Jerusalem in AD70 and the subsequent scattering of the Jews among the nations was a direct consequence of their rejection of the Messiah?
As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44).
And Jesus said: “For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:22-24).
The Jews of that generation were indeed held fully accountable for rejecting the Messiah. Jesus himself confirmed their accountability: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:22-25).
In the Law it is written, If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account (Deuteronomy 18:19). The apostle Peter paraphrased this that anyone who does not listen to him (Jesus) will be completely cut off from the people of God!
“…let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36). “Men of Israel, …The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this … “Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people’” (Acts 3:12-23).
While Hagee attempts to absolve the majority of the Jews for the rejection of the Messiah, the judgement that came upon Jerusalem in AD70 did not spare even infants. The entire nation suffered the consequence of rebellion. Hagee tries to cast a slur against Gentile believers by suggesting that they abandoned the city, leaving their Jewish brethren to suffer. In fact it was the Jewish believers who fled and they did so in obedience to their Lord’s own words. It was the Lord who instructed them to flee the city so that they would not share in its fate just as Lot was told to leave Sodom before it was destroyed and the faithful Israelites were called to separate themselves from Korah’s rebellion before they were judged: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written” (Luke 21:20-22).
Hagee’s sympathies seem to be solely reserved for the unbelieving Jews whose suffering was a judgement against unbelief, while he ignores the suffering of the thousands upon thousands of believing Jews who suffered intense persecution, at the instigation of their kinsman, from the Romans and from their fellow Jews. Shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians who were experiencing opposition from their own countrymen: “You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last (1 Thess. 2:16).
Christian Zionism founded upon erroneous messianic expectations
Most of Hagee’s book is an expression of his misplaced sentimentality towards unbelieving Israel. He shamelessly plays on the guilt associated with the Holocaust in an attempt to defend the unbelief of the Jews and garner Christian support for Zionism on the assumption that the re-establishment of the Jewish State in 1948 is part of God’s purpose of redemption. Hagee’s attempt to “prove” that Jesus did not come to be the Messiah of Israel in his first coming, but rather came to be the Saviour of the world, stems from an erroneous understanding of the purpose of the Messiah and his Kingdom. It is the identical error that caused the majority of the Jews to miss the coming of the Messiah two thousand years ago. They were expecting a Messiah who would destroy their enemies and vindicate them as God’s chosen people. But they failed to identify the real enemy – sin that leads to death.
Hagee says that Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah because he was, “refusing to be the Messiah for the Jews”.
It was because of their misplaced messianic hopes that Jesus warned his disciples not to tell people yet that he was the Messiah. After his suffering and resurrection, which vindicated his messianic claims, they were told to tell everyone, beginning in Judea and then Samaria and then to the ends of the earth, that he is the Messiah.
The Jews were more eager to see their Roman oppressors crushed by a conquering Messiah than to be set free from their bondage to sin that had brought them under Gentile oppression in the first place (see Deut. ch. 29). They wanted a Messiah who would restore the former glory of David and his son, Solomon – kingdoms which were merely shadows and types of the glory of the kingdom of God that was to be revealed in Christ. The Jews to this day reject Jesus as the Messiah because he did not live up to their false expectations of the Messiah’s coming and purpose. Many people indeed believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but most did not understand that his kingdom is not of this world.
After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself (John 6:14-15).
Hagee interprets this to suggest that, “They wanted him to be their Messiah, but he flatly refused” (p. 141). On the contrary, Jesus, as the Messiah, was resolute in accomplishing the purpose for which he had been sent. He refused to be Messiah on their terms – He is God’s Anointed! He would not fulfil their carnal-minded agenda because he came to set them free from the power of the devil and from sin and death, not from political oppression. It was by the victory of the cross that he made atonement for the sins of Israel and the world, making a public spectacle of his enemies, and conquering the last enemy, which is death.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross(Colossians 2:13-15).
The dispensational method of interpretation propagated by Hagee, which has insidiously spread through the church, undermines the good news of what Christ accomplished through the cross, essentially vindicating the unbelief of the Jews by suggesting that God’s purpose for Israel has been put on hold while he is accomplishing the salvation of the Gentiles. It sees the church as merely a parenthesis in God’s dealings with Israel and maintains that God does have another purpose for Israel that he did not fulfil through the historical coming of the Messiah (which contradicts his stated purpose in Ephesians of making one new man out of the two). It insists that he has two separate peoples (Israel and the church), not the one flock that Jesus spoke of in John chapter 10, and that he will bring salvation to the Jews in the future when he appears the second time. It buys into the carnal-minded Jewish expectations that were held by the Pharisees who rejected Jesus as Messiah in the first century, suggesting that their expectations were correct and that he will fulfil them at his second coming.
However, Paul is emphatic that “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2) through faith in Jesus the Messiah and that faith comes by hearing and believing the message of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews said that when he appears a second time it will not be to bear the sin of those who rejected Him, but to bring salvation to those who already have accepted his atoning sacrifice on the cross and now await his return to judge the living and the dead (cf. Hebrews 9:26-28).
How should we bless Israel?
Hagee, like many Christian Zionists, suggests that Christians will be blessed as they bless “the seed of Abraham”, by which he means the natural descendants, i.e. the Jews. This again is based upon an erroneous understanding of the blessing spoken to Abraham.(7) Paul taught plainly that the Seed of Abraham is singular and refers to Jesus the Messiah (Galatians 3:16). It is not by one’s relationship with unbelieving Jews that people will receive the blessing of salvation, but through one’s response to Jesus the Messiah. He corporately represents Israel and the true Israel of God is constituted through allegiance to the King.
Hagee quotes Matthew 25:40 where Jesus said “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” as referring to unbelieving Jews but Jesus said that the flesh counts for nothing (John 6:63), that whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (Mt. 12:50), that anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward (Mark 9:40-41) and that those who hated him and plotted to kill him, belong to their Father the devil, (John 8:44).
The blessing of Abraham is Christ and the blessing is imparted by spreading the gospel through those who are ambassadors of Christ … if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ (Romans 8:9). This must not be taken to the opposite extreme as if to suggest that we should curse unbelieving Jews. On the contrary, we must bless them by sharing the good news of reconciliation with God through Jesus the Messiah.
Hagee has unwittingly followed the way of Judas, betraying Jesus “with a kiss,” professing to serve him while at the same time betraying him before the Jews who reject him. The Jewish leaders used Judas for their own agenda and when he realised that he had betrayed innocent blood, returning the silver coins to the chief priests and confessing that he had sinned, they said, “What is that to us? That’s your responsibility” (Matthew 27:3-4).
By his own words Hagee declares that his intention is to “shake Christian theology.” He has indeed launched an attack against the very cornerstone of the Christian faith – i.e. that Jesus is the Messiah. It is upon the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah that he founded his Church. (Ironically Hagee’s church is called Cornerstone Church).
Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock – (i.e. the revelation and confession that Jesus is the Messiah) – I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:15-18).
While Hagee imagines that his heresies will shake Christian theology the Lord himself said that the gates of Hades will not prevail against his church. Jesus warned: The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone. Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed (Luke 20:18).
At the same time, while his heresy might seem obvious, we have for some time been warning about the theology that underpins Christian Zionism, for this is precisely where it leads – to a denial that Jesus is the Messiah – whether as blatantly as Hagee or in a more subtle way through not recognising the fulfilment of God’s purposes for Israel through the cross.
The apostle John wrote, Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Messiah. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:22-23).
- the end: [Strong’s G5056], the object, scope, or final cause; the end proposed and intended
- See our book “Jerusalem – Peace or desolation” by Peter Cohen, published by Messianic Good News for a detailed explanation of Daniel’s prophecy
- See our booklet “The hope of Israel – a study of Ezekiel 37”
- Strong’s hah’ee-res-is G138; properly a choice, that is (specifically) a party or (abstractly) disunion.
- For further analysis see “The sign of Jonah” by Kevin Daly
- See “Restoring sight to the blind” by Peter Cohen
- See article “I will bless those who bless you” by Peter Cohen