As soon as the topic of Israel comes up, I have a number of different thoughts. And in this week, in which the State of Israel celebrates its seventieth birthday, these thoughts only intensify. For me the subject of Israel has three important aspects, and each of them evokes many questions. Firstly, there is the political reality of the State of Israel that was established seventy years ago. Then there is the situation of the Palestinian people which is closely connected to the existence of Israel. And, thirdly, there is the question of the spiritual significance of Israel.
Let me begin with a paragraph or two about the reality of Israel as a nation state. Anyone who knows just a little bit of the history of the Jewish people, through the centuries, but especially during the atrocious events of the last century which culminated in the Holocaust, will understand the desire of the Jews to have a safe haven. And, from a Jewish perspective, it stands to reason that this would be located in their ancestral land. I can live with the fact that the Jews acquired their own state. However, I feel very strongly that the Palestinian people should also have their own state and I hope that I will still live to see a fair and peaceful two-state solution. Currently this seems further away than ever, and the situation has even become more complicated by the irresponsible initiative of President Trump to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
It is no wonder that the Palestinians protest on a regular basis against the Israeli occupations of part of their territory and against the continuous construction of new settlements in these occupied Palestinian territories. Not all methods that the Palestinians use are acceptable. And the situation is made even more complex by the internal divisions and the stubbornness of Hamas. But I fail to understand why the Israeli use so much violence, as they have done once again in this past week. How can a people that has suffered so much inflict so much suffering on another people? I wished my own country would not back Israeli politics to the extent it continues to do and would be prepared to stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people (as, for instance a former Dutch prime-minister, Dries van Agt does).
A major segment of conservative Christians in the western world is very solidly pro-Israel. Many of them believe that, although the Jews may have rejected Christ when he was on earth, God has not finished with them and that in the end the Jewish people will accept the Messiah, and then the Jewish believers will enter God’s new world together with the Christians ‘from the gentiles’. It is fair to say that, as yet, we see no signs that this is about to happen!
Other Christians defend the so-called substitution theory. They believe that the church is now the ‘spiritual Israel’, and has replaced the ‘literal’ Israel as God’s people. The promises once given through the prophets to the people of Israel, were conditional. Only if Israel would remain loyal to Jahwe these promises would be fulfilled. Since the people of Israel failed to abide by these conditions, the promises will now, at most, receive some kind of spiritual fulfilment in the church. This has long been also the traditional Adventist view.
However, the idea that the church has replaced Israel has lately not gone unchallenged. I agree with those who argue that this substitution theory is rather questionable. In his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul tells us that somehow a link will continue to exist between the Jewish ‘tree’ ands the (Christian) ‘branches’ that have been grafted on that ‘tree’. The theologians must help us in sorting out what that means. I recognize that my faith has solid Jewish roots and realize that I can learn much from how the Jews read the Bible. But I will stay away from all kinds of Jewish rituals, such as celebrating the Jewish feasts. I see an increasing trend to do so, also among Adventists, but I want to stay away from that. I am not a Jewish Christian but a Christian from the gentiles’.
And I certainly do not want to be part of the large group of Christians who condone just about everything the State of Israel is doing!