By Scott McConnell and Bob Smietana
Monday’s dedication of the American embassy in Jerusalem felt a little bit like the beginning of the end of the world.
At least 58 people were killed in Gaza and more than 1,300 were wounded in protests—amid fears that the dedication would cause new waves of violence in the Middle East.
As the protests were going on, John Hagee, a megachurch pastor and author of books on the end times, gave the benediction at the embassy.
Hagee’s presence, and evangelical enthusiasm for the move, led some to question the motives of evangelicals—that they cheered this move because they hope it will bring about the end of the world. And they worry Monday’s violence is exactly what evangelicals want — more chaos, in preparation for Armageddon, a final showdown between good and evil.
“For many conservative evangelicals, Jerusalem is not about politics,” wrote Diana Butler Bass for CNN. “It is not about peace plans or Palestinians or two-state solutions. It is about prophecy. About the Bible. And, most certainly, it is about the end times.”
At the embassy dedication, Hagee prayed, “Jerusalem is where Messiah will come and establish a kingdom that will never end,” according to Religion News Service.
Many evangelicals do see God’s hand at work in Israel.
Eighty percent of Americans with evangelical beliefs say the rebirth of Israel in 1948 fulfilled biblical prophecy and signaled that the end times have grown closer, according to a recent survey from Lifeway Research.
Most evangelicals think God has a long-term plan for Israel that sets it apart from the other nations of the world.
Sixty-seven percent have a positive view of Israel, while 66 percent support “the existence, security, and prosperity” of that nation.
And they’re more likely to side with the government of Israel than with Palestinians. Sixty-nine percent believe the Jewish people have a historic right to the land of Israel. Only 19 percent say Palestinians have that same right.
But just because American evangelicals see a connection between biblical prophecy and Israel, that doesn’t mean they are cheerleading for the end of the world.
When Lifeway Research asked pastors about the rapture in 2016, fewer than half (43 percent) of evangelical senior pastors said they believe the rapture will set off a time of tribulation. Only 36 percent of Protestant pastors overall hold that view.
Lifeway Research’s most recent survey about evangelicals and Israel didn’t ask about Jerusalem or much about the end times.
But it did reveal that evangelical views about Israel are complicated—and leave room for Palestinians to thrive as well.
While two-thirds of evangelicals want Israel to thrive, only 24 percent support that nation no matter what it does. Just under half (42 percent) support Israel’s existence, security, and prosperity but don’t feel obligated to support everything Israel does.
And they haven’t ruled out making peace with Palestinians. Less than a third (31 percent) reject the idea of signing a treaty making room for a sovereign Palestinian state, while nearly half say they aren’t sure.
In fact, many evangelicals are concerned about the future of Palestinians. Fifty-nine percent say Christians should do more to care for Palestinians.
And younger evangelicals are less likely to support Israel and more likely to say Christians should help Palestinians.
For more on Christians and Palestinians read our article: “The Other Holy Land.”
Rather than planning for the end of the world, evangelicals seem to want Israel to stick around for a while. They think God wants that as well.
For evangelicals, support of Israel seems rooted not at the end of the Bible—in the book of Revelation—but at the beginning.
In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, a man named Abraham is told to leave his home and travel to a new country that God would give to him and to his descendants. Eighty percent of evangelicals say those promises are still valid.
Among evangelicals who support the modern state of Israel, almost two-thirds (63 percent) say one of their reasons is that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. A third of supporters say they stand behind Israel primarily because God gave that land to the Jewish people.
In a world where promises are easily cast aside by loved ones, employers, business associates, and politicians, evangelicals believe God has consistently kept his promises —including God’s promises to Israel.
In the end, evangelicals see Israel like family. Although they may disagree with some of its policies, they still want it to prosper.
But they don’t hate Palestinians or hope the world will end in fire.
Instead, they pray for peace in the Holy Land. And like most of the world, they are not sure if that will happen in the short term.
- U.S. Moves Embassy to Israel, Sparks Unrest
- Relationship Between Evangelicals and Jews: Close, But Complicated
- Prophecy, Practicality Lead Evangelicals to Support Israel
- Israel: Ancient Kingdom or Late Invention?
A version of this story was first published by Religion News Service.