Over the past few weeks Israeli newspapers have been focusing on Mike Bickle’s endorsement of Ted Cruz in his campaign to become U.S. President. Bickle is the Founder and Director of the Kansas City based International House of Prayer. The Times of Israel, YNET, The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz all referred to sermons from 2005 and 2011 where Bickle referenced Adolf Hitler as being a hunter of the Jewish people raised up by God according to Jeremiah 16:16, as well as other statements he made in sermons that the day is coming where Jews will be put in work camps, prison camps and death camps, and that another future Holocaust of the Jews will transpire.
Inasmuch as some of these articles post links to International House of Prayer’s website and to their Israel Mandate (where our names as well as those of Dan Juster, Asher Intrater, etc. are mentioned), we have received various friendly requests asking us to bring greater context, balance and clarification here – hence this article.
U.S. political context
As the dog-eat-dog media shark-fest heats up for the November 2016 U.S. elections, spin doctors on each political side are searching through opponents’ statements with a fine-tooth comb, looking for loopholes and back doors which could serve to implode their competitors’ campaigns. Mike Bickle’s public endorsement of Ted Cruz was made within that context.
Almost immediately, political opponents of Cruz and media critics began to search for mud to sling, hoping that some of the mud thrown would also stick to Cruz’ campaign. Within a few days, some of Bickle’s teaching was found on-line referring to Hitler as a divinely raised up hunter sent to a Jewish generation that refused to accept Jesus (his own words), as well as other references to a future Jewish Holocaust and to future concentration camps for Jewish people etc.
Most of these media critics are secular and don’t accept the Bible’s teaching as true or accurate. They would probably describe Joshua’s attack on Jericho as being immoral and not historically precise. So their scorn and supposed shock regarding Bickle’s comments need firstly to be understood in context – a secular media’s dissing of an evangelical preacher’s teaching, which was based on his own perspectives regarding biblical texts (some of which might refer to Jewish suffering). Also see a follow-up article on The Times of Israel after Mike Bickle responded.
Yet beyond this point, are there any real issues being brought up by this controversy that can help us deepen our understanding of Jewish suffering past, present and future, and can a consideration of this subject improve our ability to communicate God’s heart and truth regarding these matters?
The anguish of the Jews
The Jewish people have suffered more persecution and prejudice throughout recorded history than any other people. Is there any meaning in this suffering – something which can help us to understand the past, the present and the future?
These questions have been addressed in the Hebrew Scriptures, in Rabbinic writings, in the Jewish-written New Testament, as well as by what are known as the Church Fathers (early Christian teachers and theologians). Islamic theologians and historians have added their own voices to this discussion. Modern Israeli and Diaspora Jewish secular perspectives also bring their own unique take on these issues.
A Catholic theologian has written an extremely helpful reference book on Jewish suffering from a historical perspective, “The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism” (1965/2004, Paulist Press, Rev. Edward H. Flannery). In this work Flannery documents Jewish history and does not avert his eyes or mince words even when the perpetrators are Christians. A more popular recent and helpful work is “Our Hands are Stained with Blood” (1992, Destiny Image, Dr. Michael L. Brown).
Jewish suffering in the Hebrew Scriptures
The worldview of the writers of the Tenach (the Hebrew Scriptures) is based on the foundation that predictive future prophecy is a reality. Supernatural declarations of future activities were part and parcel of the biblical prophets’ portfolios.
Two examples of many: Isaiah, son of Amoz, spoke of future judgment regarding the Jewish people, speech that made him quite unpopular among some (Isaiah 1). Jeremiah was accused of sedition and threatened with imprisonment and death when he prophesied Jerusalem’s upcoming destruction (Jeremiah 1:7-10. 16-19) and advocated surrender to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 26 and 38).
There are clear passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that speak of future judgment on the nations and on Israel. There are also passages, which are far less clear, and other passages which have nothing to do with future prophecy. Great care needs to be used in weighing these passages, and a basic knowledge of Hebrew and exegetical rules should be foundational for all Bible teachers.
The teaching on future concentration camps (mentioned above) is one example where greater care could be of benefit. The Scriptures presented as strong proof by some who hold this position, do not actually teach about future camps. It is wiser to let clear and strong passages describing future blessing or judgment for Israel stand in all their power, and to move slowly, cautiously and tentatively where the Scripture is far less dogmatic.
It is often a professional temptation for pastors, teachers and educators in general to communicate matters more dogmatically than the evidence permits. That is why the Roman proverb cautions – “Caveat lector!” (Let the reader beware).
Jewish suffering in Rabbinic writings
One anti-Messianic Orthodox rabbi commented on Bickle’s teaching. Though he disagrees with Bickle’s interpretations, he does not dispute that the Tenach contains predictive prophecies of Jewish suffering. The difference is that this rabbi applies the interpretations of such passages to other historical events.
Revered rabbinic authorities such as Sa’adya Gaon, Rashi, Maimonides and the Gaon of Vilna also see Jewish suffering prophesied at the End of Days. Though such themes are not stressed by many in Judaism today, they are very much a part of the rabbinic corpus.
One of the outstanding aspects of rabbinic consideration (which is often ignored or not stressed by some evangelicals) is the strong focus on the nature and priority of Jerusalem and the Jewish people at the End of Days – and not only regarding cataclysms, but also regarding amazing End Times blessings.
Jewish suffering in the Jewish New Testament
Messiah Yeshua prophesied about Jerusalem’s suffering and destruction in Matthew 23:37-39, but linked it as well to His Second Messianic Coming when the Jewish people will call out to Him en masse. The Mount of Olives derasha (discourse) in Luke 21 refers to great suffering for the Jewish people, but then refers to great judgment on the nations at the End of Days. Jewish sufferings are understood as part of the biblical picture, as are Gentile sufferings. At the same time Yeshua stresses Jewish priority in the coming kingdom (Luke 22:29-30) and Jewish honor in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:12, 14).
Jewish suffering in modern Israeli and Jewish thought
Most Israelis and Jewish people worldwide have been strongly influenced by the demonic Nazi mass murder of six million Jewish men, women and children during WWII. Theodicy – the theological question of how an all-powerful God can allow His Chosen People to be cruelly slaughtered – is far from a dead issue in Israeli discussions. The restoration of the Jewish people to their homeland entails a modern Jewish army that can defend Jewish lives – especially when jihadi Islam joins with European anti-Semitism in threatening the very existence of the Jewish people and their state.
Israelis take any threat to their existence quite seriously – whether it is prophesied by the Islamic Republic of Iran, by Lebanese Hezbollah, by Iraqi ISIS/ISIL/Da’esh etc. Any blithe or cavalier reference to potential genocide of the Jews presses many red buttons for Israelis, and when Christian preachers refer to a future Jewish holocaust without sufficient human sensitivity and tears, an accident is waiting to happen. I, and other Messianic leaders, have raised these important issues in the relevant forums for years with little result.
Jewish suffering in Church history
The multitudes who were baptized into the Roman Empire when it abruptly became Christian, were not washed of their pagan anti-Semitism. Indeed, these hateful prejudices became part of Christian theology for millennia, taking their place as an official Theology of Contempt (see the book of that name by French Jewish philosopher Jules Isaac). The theologies of Samaritan Justin Martyr, Origen, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Augustine and Chrysostom all contained strong anti-Semitic elements. From describing the Jews as chosen by their God for persecution, to negating a positive prophetic future for Israel, to proclaiming that the ‘anti-Christ Jews’ will give birth to a ‘Jewish anti-Christ” – these bottles of poisonous and anti-Semitic sour milk nursed the young baby called Christianity during its decisive first four centuries. The fruit sadly continues to this day in many churches.
In the eyes of most of these theologians, Jewish suffering was deserved and would continue to the end of time. No reversal of this was possible, and certainly no joyous restoration of Israel to her original calling and position was to be expected. These teachings have wormed their way into some modern evangelical Last Days’ theologies, and I believe that God wants to make use of the present focus on these subjects to alert and purify believers in Yeshua to avoid such satanically concocted pitfalls.
Three central issues: 1 – Negative paradigms
The negative and anti-Semitic teachings found in pagan writers and then later in the Church Fathers, has resurfaced in our day. Replacement Theology, which teaches that God has abandoned the Jewish people and that their chosenness has been taken over by the Gentile church, still leads the crowd in most Christian churches. When Bible teachers focus on scriptural passages of judgment on the Jewish people while nimbly sidestepping the powerful passages of future Jewish restoration and priority – this reveals that the writers in question have a ungodly (and perhaps unconscious) prejudice against the Jewish people.
When the focus of teaching about Israel centers around upcoming judgments while describing the future Land of Israel and the New Jerusalem as practically Jew-free, then it is fair to say that a negative and unbalanced paradigm concerning the Jewish people is at work seasoning the stew.
In this regard, the teachings of Arthur Pink on a Jewish anti-Christ, and the teachings of Art Katz and others regarding the nearly total destruction of the Jewish state and the Jewish people, all are running dangerously close to falling under the same categorization here.
Though these above facts may come as a surprise to some evangelicals, the Jewish community has been tracking such teachings quite well for some time, and these issues are clearly and for the most part accurately identified by them. It is not enough to avow one’s commitment to the Jewish people and their restoration. Faith without works in these areas is less than sufficient.
Three central issues: 2 – Clinical perspective
Theologians tend to be cold fish. They often see their work as akin to lab analysis and antiseptic study. There is minimal heart interaction, little passion and less tears. Israel is often seen as a prophetic chess piece, as one cog in an intricate prophetic wheel. The fact that real Jewish people are being discussed, and that real Jewish suffering is being considered – these thoughts are barely considered.
In the Bible, believers are called upon to speak “to the heart” (Isaiah 40:1-2 in Hebrew) of Jerusalem, to talk comforting and tender words (see Zechariah 1:12-13) to the Jewish people. When Israel’s future sufferings are described without tears or with clinical coldness, this is less than God’s heart and less than His word. Coldness is no substitute for warm friendship. This impersonal approach is actually lacking the bare minimum of cultural and theological sensitivity. Indeed, it is lacking in the necessary prerequisite of humility and foundational concern for Jewish sensitivities. It borders on a spiritually abusive approach.
Three central issues: 3 – The way of the heart
What is needed in greater measure is actually quite simple, but the task is difficult if not impossible if one is limited to drawing spiritual water from one’s own wells alone. One needs to find living waters from the very heart of the God of Israel, as described in Isaiah 12:4-6, in order to do this. It involves a warm and open heart, a set of eyes that are quick to cry (Jeremiah 9:1, 17-21), and knees that know how to bow and wash the Jewish people’s feet without using boiling water (Isaiah 60:4-12; 61:4-6; Micah 7:14-17).
In 1 Corinthians 9:20, the Apostle Paul calls on Gentiles to reach out to Jewish people by becoming like them. That involves humbling ones’ self and learning another culture, another way of speaking, and a whole other family of sensitivities.
How should we then respond?
Here are some action points about these matters:
- Earnestly desire to learn about these things
- Seek God’s heart and not His hand about the Jewish people – what He feels about Israel and not just what the correct sequence is of eschatological events
- Study to show yourself approved regarding these subjects – anti-Semitism, Christian anti-Semitism, Jewish history and sensitivities, the present nature of the Jewish people and their culture, the working of God to accomplish Jewish restoration in our day, and the vision of the Hebrew prophets (not just regarding Jewish suffering, but also regarding the triumph of God’s priority plan for the Jewish nation and their homeland)
This article originally appeared on David’s Tent, February 20, 2016.