Messianic minefield around Jerusalem

The eastern gate of Jerusalem's old city. The prophet Zechariah predicted that the Messiah will arrive on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4). His entrance into the Temple will be through the eastern gate.

In response to U.S. President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, only a handful of Israeli activists toyed with Messianic third-temple dreams. But some Christians rushed to magnify that rabbinic fringe into an end-time prophetic drama. Meet a new strain of Rapture Fever.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 acknowledgement that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital was hailed as historic by Israelis across the religious and political spectrum. Some likened it to the decree of King Cyrus sending the ancient Jews home from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4; 2 Chron. 36:22-23). Others were struck by its timing: the 50-year milestone of Jerusalem’s reunification (1967–2017) matching the biblical concept of Jubilee (Lev.25:10), and Israel’s 70-year Babylonian exile repeated by the modern state’s isolation ending as Israel turns 70.

Israeli believers surveyed by KNI characterized Trump’s step as pragmatic, risky, fulfilled prophecy, overdue justice — or all of these. Trump’s own expressed reasons were refreshingly logical: He was simply honoring his campaign promises, the Israeli reality, and American law enacted back in 1995.

Third-Temple activists hoped that Trump would follow the Cyrus script all the way, enabling the Jews to rebuild the Temple. But they were a tiny minority, with the same handful of names appearing in every interview. And even they saw it as just an opportunity loaded with practical difficulties. Many more Israeli rabbis voiced anxiety about the price we might pay in return for this gesture, or fears that terrorism might spike in retaliation.

The greatest enthusiasm for Trump’s Cyrus role came from Christian evangelicals abroad. It began before his election, attributed to the widely quoted Lance Wallnau. But among those who watch Israel as “God’s timepiece” for the Rapture, Cyrus wasn’t always good enough. Some were found tweaking the Israeli view of this president into something more… rapturous.

One such participant is pastor-salesman Jim Bakker, the PTL Club founder who was convicted of fraud in 1989 and returned to public ministry in 2003. The Jim Bakker Show, financed by Morningside Church in Missouri, is carried by numerous cable, Internet and satellite channels, including Bakker’s own PTL Television Network (PTL-TV, est. 2015). On Dec. 12, 2016, Bakker dedicated significant showtime to the notion that the Israeli Torah community saw President-elect Trump as a Messiah figure, presenting a crazy-quilt of contradictory “evidence.”

Bakker set the mood by announcing that “right after Donald Trump was elected” (Nov. 8, 2016), an earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand. (Fact check: the tremor occurred on Nov. 13 and caused no damage in Christchurch.) Carefully emphasizing that Trump’s election “shook Christ’s church,” Bakker took some time to clarify his meaning: Under Trump’s sponsorship a third Jewish Temple might be possible. Thirty minutes later he repeated his speculation and then turned the mic over to his guest Dr. Tom Horn, a regular PTL-TV personality and author of end-time books.

Horn told Bakker’s viewers that “one of the very first things when Trump was elected” was that “the rabbis in Israel” called on him and Russia’s President Putin to rebuild the Temple. Horn’s source was a Nov. 10, 2016 article from Breaking Israel News (BIN), a “Biblical perspective” site often cited by Israel-prophecy watchers but occasionally seen promoting sensational rumors as fact. BIN quoted a spokesman for a reconstituted “Sanhedrin” that had reportedly sent the letter. BIN’s “exclusive” interview (faintly echoed by World Net Daily a year later) provided no direct quotes from the letter. The website of the self-appointed Jewish court didn’t post the letter either, or mention this initiative.

Horn further revealed that unidentified “mystical rabbis” had predicted Trump’s election would herald the coming of the Jewish Messiah, and that Trump’s name “actually means Messiah, based on gematria.” Attempts to verify the first claim led back to Rabbi Matitiyahu Glazerson, an Israeli “expert” in the discredited practice of Torah-code divination. The second was attributed to Rabbi Yosef Berger, who presides over the traditional site of King David’s tomb; he reportedly said only that Trump had “attached himself to the power of Messiah” by supporting Israel. (See Sidebar for more details.)

Another jaw-dropper (source: BIN) was a rabbinic declaration, based on a 300-year-old rabbinic calculation, that the Jewish Messiah would arrive sometime between September 2016 and September 2017. This, declared Horn, was why the rabbis were “looking at Trump.” A few minutes later, he mentioned a conflicting prediction that the Messiah would reveal himself in 5773 (2012–2013) and claimed that “at least a dozen rabbis” had applied that prophecy to Trump after his 2012 Israel visit. It wasn’t clear how the earlier forecast was vindicated, but show-host Bakker was impressed.

After these Messianic appetizers, Horn inexplicably backpedaled with the comment that Donald Trump is regarded in Israel as a kind of “John the Baptist, the forerunner” of Messiah. Then he charged forward again, claiming that rabbis were searching Trump’s ancestry for evidence that he’s descended from King David. Although Horn proclaimed that all his assertions “can be verified,” he declined to name sources for that last tidbit. Instead, he pointed to a Jerusalem Post article quoting Israeli ultra-Orthodox leader Aryeh Deri (Shas Party), who said that Trump’s election will bring the days of Messiah… by ending the “non-Orthodox Jewish hold on the U.S. government.” The article revealed that Deri’s statement offended non-Orthodox rabbis, with some calling it anti-Semitic. Tom Horn used the headline only, citing it as more “evidence” that religious Israelis considered Trump Messianic material.

The show then took a theological U-turn as Horn sided with the standard dispensationalist teaching: Any Messiah that modern Israel will accept before Jesus’s Second Coming will only prove to be the Antichrist. Realizing the implications for Trump, he quickly asserted, “I don’t believe Trump is the Antichrist.” To likewise justify his Israeli sources, he recycled his earlier downgrade: “The smart ones in Israel are looking at Trump [and saying] he is God’s — what we would call John the Baptist, God’s messenger.

No one challenged the idea of calling a forerunner of the Antichrist “God’s messenger.” So, as Horn returned to Trump’s potential to enable a rebuilt Temple, he and Jim Bakker listed various prophecies that the Antichrist would be revealed in 2016… which was due to expire in three weeks. Many of their examples were from non-Christian cultures, and none were biblically based, except for a quick mention of 18th-century Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards. (For the record, Edwards’s eschatology was documented by Christian scholar Marko Joensuu as radically different.)

Tom Horn’s antics on the Jim Bakker Show provoked scant comment from Christian media, but he did catch flak from leftwing secular observers. In August 2017 Horn posted a response distancing himself from the idea that Trump was a Messiah figure for Israel, or even a John-the-Baptist forerunner. He faulted his critics for pushing “fake news” by insinuating that he related seriously to the views of those silly Israeli rabbis. He himself preferred the idea of Trump being a Cyrus “deliverer” for America.

Ironically, this protest is a footnote to a Dec. 7, 2017 article by Horn’s organization Skywatch-TV, where fake news was definitely showing. The folks at this Internet channel (also featured on PTL-TV) were so feverish for Israel to confirm their end-time expectations that they reprinted BIN’s coverage of Trump’s Jerusalem announcement with a doctored headline. Added to the linked original, “With Historic Announcement, President Trump Will Declare End to Jerusalem’s 70-Year Exile,” were more words: “…Paves Way For Third Temple, Antichrist, And Second Coming Of Jesus.” It’s unlikely that the rabbis quoted in that piece would have agreed for their names to appear under this new, obviously un-Jewish title. Indeed, BIN subsequently changed its own headline.

Returning to Bakker’s show a week later, Horn displayed the above-mentioned hacked headline with a baptized by-line, showing “Skywatch-TV” as the original source of the story. (To date, their online article by that name still carries the “read more” link to BIN.) Also in this episode, Horn displayed another BIN photo juxtaposing Trump with a Temple model and, again the headline, “Trump is being guided by God’s hand to help build the Jewish third Temple,” did not match the original BIN article. Horn nevertheless read it aloud as a statement from “the third-temple rabbis” published “at Breaking Israel News today [Dec.15].

We can only hope that this misuse of published stories is due to ignorance of copyright and plagiarism laws. At best, it’s a futile attempt to manipulate God’s end-time program by infecting gullible people with Horn’s own wishful thinking, using embroidered facts or outright fibs.

Those expecting Trump to defy the rest of the world more than he already has, by endorsing a new Jewish Temple on the Mount, are planting a Messianic minefield around Jerusalem. The U.S. president hopefully will (and certainly should) avoid touching it. Even the original Cyrus’s command to rebuild the Temple was sabotaged by opposition (Ezra 4).

More explosive still is the Christian scenario that associates Temple reconstruction with Israel embracing the Antichrist. While this is usually a pre-tribulation rapture expectation, PTL has merged it with a mid-trib position: the Tribulation has already begun (driving Bakker’s lucrative sales of “survival” items to ride it out), and the only thing delaying the Rapture is a new Jewish Temple commandeered by the Antichrist (feeding his viewers endless speculation that Temple building will start any day now).

Aside from the eschatological controversy and illogical claims, the show’s priorities are troubling. Although Bakker may be sincerely concerned for people’s welfare, he majors in the minors by emphasizing physical comfort. His hour-long Dec. 15 show featured a 20-minute sales pitch followed by a 60-second salvation message. He appeals to self-interested elitism, with come-ons like: “Imagine — the world is dying and you’re having a breakfast for kings.” He hosts presumptuous prophets declaring bogus Rapture deadlines, and without a word of rebuke he allows a discredited forecaster to return with a new deadline… and an endorsement of the Bakker shopping-channel ministry.

More relevant for Israeli believers, PTL-TV’s interest in Israel’s ultimate fate is nonexistent. Although these brothers affirm our nation’s historic and spiritual rights to Jerusalem, it seems their motive is to see us build the apocalyptic trigger known as the end-time Temple. Temple-plus-Antichrist is nitro-glycerin: Boom goes the Rapture, and off they go to Heaven. The narrative takes a blissful time-out for 3.5 years and resumes at the Second Coming, when Messiah destroys the Antichrist.

No word of what they imagine will happen to Israel during those years. Shall we guess?

After millennia of identity persecution inflicted by the nations — and spiritual blindness ordained by God — Israel’s compensation is 3.5 years of far worse suffering, caught between the wrath of God (because of her blindness) and the rage of the Antichrist (because of her identity).

“Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.” (Isa. 40:1) Only when she sees Yeshua coming back in the clouds for the final war will Israel “get it” and be saved. That is, if she has any survivors who didn’t take the Beast’s mark.

It sounds harsh, but only impatience for this chain of events can explain Christians fantasizing that the Antichrist has come forward, that Israel is ready to welcome him, that a third Temple will be accepted by the world, be built, start functioning and become contaminated … all in the next few years.

Their discussions completely ignore prophecies like Isaiah 60 that describe Israel’s massive return to her God and her true Messiah, becoming a beacon of righteousness in a dark world. These end-time experts must be thinking, “Fine, that can happen after the Rapture. Israel’s spiritual resurrection might take decades, like their physical nation did — and we’re tired of waiting!”

Such end-time attitudes are not only putting stumbling blocks in the path of Israel’s restoration, they are harming the Church. The dried foods and solar-powered generators sold by the Jim Bakker Show are not helping saints prepare for the real Last-Day challenge, which will be spiritual survival.

Jim Bakker laments that “the church is not ready” for what’s coming on the earth. But neither are the folks at PTL.


Trumped-Up Claims in Jewish Numerology: Quick Facts 

The Torah-code technique claims to uncover hidden knowledge in biblical Hebrew text by choosing letters occurring in Equidistant Letter Sequences (ELS) and stringing them together to spell out cryptic messages. It was scientifically disproven in 1999, but Torah codes are still promoted by rabbinic outreach groups like Aish Hatorah as “proof” of the Tanach’s Divine authorship. Oddly, Aish rabbis undermine the impact by cautioning that these codes “cannot tell us information we don’t already know.” They don’t explain why Tanach’s open prophecy isn’t therefore infinitely better proof of Divine authorship.

Nevertheless, Christians who are fascinated by anything Jewish, and who are flattered by rabbinic attention, accept Torah codes as an exotic kind of prophecy. For them “Torah-code expert” Rabbi Glazerson obligingly explains his findings in English. In this case, he aligned random patterns of Hebrew letters in a random Torah passage to link Trump’s name with the U.S. presidency, love of Israel and Messiah.

Those familiar with Torah-code technique will notice that both his ELS choices and his spellings were inconsistent. Moreover, the rabbi himself (who usually ‘predicts’ events after they’ve happened) made this genuine forecast conditional on Israel’s nationwide return to Torah … which didn’t happen, but Trump was elected anyway.

Gematria is the tradition of calculating the numerical values of Hebrew letters in a word. Its application ranges from the mundane labelling of years and Bible chapters, to fanciful Scripture lessons created by suggesting similarities between words with the same numerical total. Rabbi Berger, who originally proposed the Trump-Messiah gematria, identified Trump as representing not David’s line but rather “Edom” (a rabbinic metaphor for Christianity), adding that as a Christian country “America has a very important role to play in the Messiah [sic].”

For the record, his gematria choice does add up. But as the Jewish magazine Mosaic demonstrated, these number games, like the Torah codes, can yield whatever you want if you are creative.