There are two major problems that call this interpretation into question. First, nowhere in the New Testament are ethnic Jews or Israelites referred to as Christ’s “brothers.” The fact that Jesus was a Jew as to his human nature (Rom. 1:3) means, of course, that he shared that ethnic commonality with all Israelites. But in the New Testament that is never made the basis for referring to Israelites as his “brothers.” Studying every occurrence of the terms “brother,” “brothers,” and “brethren” in an exhaustive concordance of the New Testament demonstrates this unequivocally. Apart from several references to Jesus’ “brothers” (actually half-brothers) on the basis that both had the same mother, there is no biblical reference to any physical relationship with him that qualified others as his “brothers” (Jn. 7:3-5).
A passage that might be used by Christian Zionists to justify their interpretation of “brothers” in Matthew 25:40 as ethnic Jews is Hebrews 2:11-18. However, a careful reading of the latter passage shows that those whom Jesus calls “brothers” are regenerate believers: “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb. 2:11).
Romans 8:29 says that God predestined believers “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” This, too, unequivocally refers to believers over whom Christ will be the Head, holding the highest honor in this new family of God. There is also no question that Matthew 28:10 and John 20:17 use “brothers” in the spiritual sense of those who are related to Christ by saving faith.
In John 8:33-44 Christ made it clear that physical descent from Abraham did not make one a child of God. The Jews with whom he was speaking claimed that God was their Father (Jn. 8:41), but Jesus told them that despite their physical link to Abraham, “You belong to your father, the devil” (Jn. 8:44). Ethnicity makes no one, not even Jews, Christ’s brothers. Ethnicity is completely irrelevant to acceptance with God. Gentiles are no better off than Jews, for all unregenerate people are “the children of the devil”
(I Jn. 3:10). By God’s grace “we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ”
(I Jn. 5:20), and therefore “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (I Jn. 5:19).
Since the biblical data contravene the interpretation of Christ’s “brothers” as ethnic Jews, how should the term be understood? I believe that Matthew 12:46-50 provides the answer. Jesus’ mother and half-siblings came to the place where he was speaking to a crowd. They wanted to talk with him, and it was apparently assumed that their physical, familial relationship gave them precedence. However, Jesus made it clear that spiritual criteria override any physical relationship: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50). This incident is found in all three of the synoptic gospels (cf. Mk 31-35; Lk. 8:19-21), underscoring the inauguration of a new spiritual family.
The “brothers” of Matthew 25:40 can only be genuine believers. But are they only Jewish believers in Christ? Two considerations lead to a negative answer. First, Jesus used the general term “whoever” in Matthew 12:50. Even though he was speaking in a Jewish context, the term is a universal one, transcending all ethnic and physical distinctions among human beings. Second, Romans 8:29 unequivocally includes gentile believers as well as Jewish believers in Christ. Both are called his “brothers.”
If the “brothers” of Matthew 25:40 are both Jewish and gentile believers in Christ, how are they differentiated from the “sheep,” who are also believers in Christ? In some way the “brothers” are a distinct category of believers, not in a salvific sense but in a functional sense. The immediate context indicates that the “brothers” were in desperate need of the basic requirements of life (“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…I needed clothes and you clothed me,” 25:35, 36). It also implies that they were traveling and without their own shelter (“I was a stranger and you invited me in,…I was sick and you looked after me,” 25:35, 36). It
also indicates that they were persecuted and unjustly imprisoned (“I was in prison and you came to visit me,” v. 36).
These descriptions of the “brothers” fit the role of those who itinerate to proclaim the Gospel in an extremely dangerous world that targets them for persecution and death. Christ foretold that during the future period of the Great Tribulation, which will be “unequaled from the beginning of the world” (Mt. 24:21, 22), the “gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Mt. 24:14). The preaching will be done by people: “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14).
One thing that is indisputable is that in every age it is only a minority of believers who openly witness and boldly proclaim the Lord’s message. For example, God told a discouraged prophet, Elijah, that He had reserved “seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (I Kings 19:18). However, where were they when Elijah was risking his life on Mt. Carmel as he stood alone against 850 false prophets and a largely apostate nation of Israel?
There was a marked difference between Elijah who was on the front line in representing God and the seven thousand who were difficult to find. One of the seven thousand was the widow of Zarephath who supplied Elijah with food and shelter (I Kings 17:7ff.). She manifested her faith in God by sacrificially taking care of God’s spokesman in a turbulent time when “Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets” (I Kings 18:4). Another one of the seven thousand was “Obadiah who had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water” (I Kings 18:4). In a time of severe tribulation in Israel, Elijah was like the “brothers” of Matthew 25:40 who will be putting their lives on the line as they proclaim the message of the Lord (cf. Rev. 11:7; 12:11).
The apostle Paul and other apostles and evangelists who traveled across the Roman Empire are another example of the functional distinction. What was not true of the Christians who resided in Corinth and other cities was the daily lot of the itinerating preachers of the Gospel: “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena….To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless”
(I Cor. 4:9-11; cf. II Cor. 11:23-27). The “brothers” of Matthew 25:40 are the future counterpart of the apostles. The “sheep,” who are described as “righteous” (Mt. 25:37) are the future counterpart of the local Christians who provided shelter and other necessities to the apostles as they traveled and suffered persecution in one place after another.
Perhaps the 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel will constitute the nucleus of the “brothers” who could make up a considerably larger army of gentile and Jewish witnesses during the Tribulation period. Even so, if the 144,000 are equivalent to the “brothers” of Matthew 25:40, they are not unbelieving Jews, for they have “his (Christ’s) name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads….[and] had been redeemed from the earth….They follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Rev. 14:1-4). These believers are distinguished from the rest of the believers during that period, as Revelation 7:9-17 makes clear. So the issue at the judgment of Matthew 25 is not how people treated ethnic Jews, but how they treated this special group of believing Jews and perhaps believing gentiles as well—both of whom will be engaged in courageous witnessing during that perilous time.
In summary, taking all of the relevant biblical passages into account, it is more credible to understand the term “brothers” in Matthew 25:40 to refer to both Jewish and gentile believers who will boldly proclaim the Gospel as they itinerate in a world gone mad with hatred toward Christ and his people during the future tribulation period prior to the return of Christ to the earth. The term “sheep” in Matthew 25 refers to all the rest of the righteous in Christ, both Jewish and Gentile believers, who manifest their faith in their works, especially as they provide material support and encouragement to his self-sacrificing witnesses engaged in world evangelism.
Thus, when properly understood, Matthew 25 provides no justification whatever for CUFI or the agenda of Christian Zionists. Christ’s brothers are not ethnic Jews, and it is gratuitous for anyone to invoke Matthew 25 as justification for the agenda of Christian Zionism. A proper contemporary application of the import of the passage is that Christians should give primary support to sacrificial servants of Christ who are propagating the Gospel and to fellow members of the Body of Christ who are in need of the basic necessities of life and who are suffering for their faith wherever they may be on earth.
VI. CUFI’S TWISTED LOGIC AND FALSE CHARGES AGAINST
A. CHRISTIAN ZIONISM’S FALSE BIFURCATION
Now I turn to some brief comments on the practical implications of the foregoing theological conclusions. First, CUFI is a form of unbiblical extremism that holds a false bifurcation, which is the claim that one must either subscribe to Christian Zionism or he is anti-Semitic. This is an unworthy ploy that will tend to hoodwink a theologically untutored Christian community. It is not unlike pro-Israel chauvinism which insists that if anyone does not unconditionally support the State of Israel, he is anti-Semitic; or if one opposes Zionism, he is anti-Semitic.
There are great numbers of Jews (encompassing Orthodox Jewish groups at one end of the spectrum all the way to secular Jews like Alfred Lilienthal and Noam Chomsky at the other end) and Christians (including amillennialists, postmillennialists, historic premillennialists, and dispensational premillennialists like myself) who are not chauvinists for the Israeli State nor supporters of Zionism, which is a secular, political movement. Jewish Zionists typically denounce anti-Zionist gentiles as “anti-Semitic” and anti-Zionist Jews as “self-hating Jews.” Instead of thoughtfully reflecting on the rationale for their anti-Zionism, Zionist supporters mindlessly dismiss any rational dialogue by labeling dissenters with these two epithets.
It is high time for Jewish Zionists and Christian Zionists to stop using the ad hominem club of “anti-Semitism” in an attempt to silence their critics. Another tactic that many use is “guilt by association,” i.e., linking critics of both Zionism and the State of Israel to Hitler and the Nazis. These propaganda stratagems may fool the naïve, but in the long run they are self-defeating because they are slanderously untrue.
Hagee views “replacement theology” as anti-Semitic. This is unacceptable, for many adherents of Covenant Theology are persuaded by their sincere understanding of Scripture that the church has forever replaced ethnic Israel. I am convinced that they are wrong, but their doctrinal position, in and of itself, does not make them “anti-Semitic.” Without an attitudinal component of disdain or antipathy toward Jews in general, one is not anti-Semitic. Even a few dispensationalists in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century were anti-Semitic despite their adherence to dispensationalism (Weber, ibid, pp. 129-153).
As a historical fact, “replacement theology” was misused by professing Christians to justify their persecution of Jews for hundreds of years. There is no question that it can be a particularly convenient excuse for antipathy toward Jews. However, as a theological doctrine it does not in itself advocate or justify anti-Semitism. It is sinful human nature that misapplies the doctrine as a pretext for its own pride and cruelty. It is not unlike the historical fact that dispensationalism has been misused by Christian Zionists to justify their chauvinist extremism toward Israel and antipathy toward Arabs. The theological perspective of dispensationalism does not itself entail or advocate such attitudes.
Neither “replacement theology” nor “dispensationalism” warrants the rejection or subordination of the clear biblical standards of righteousness, love, and justice that ought to be applied equally to all ethnic groups. When advocates of either theological position violate these standards, it is due either to ignorance of the word of God or disobedience to it. Although these two theological views in themselves do not necessarily entail the unspiritual attitudes and actions that some of their adherents have practiced, it cannot be denied that they have often been misused by Christians.
Hagee’s “definition” of anti-Semitism is not only unfair to our fellow Christians who are nondispensationalists but it is also both unbiblical and unhistorical. Anti-Semitism is a form of ethnic prejudice, and all ethnic prejudice is sin—no matter which ethnic group is the object of such prejudice. Prejudice can be manifested in both commission and omission. Prejudice may lead people to actively inflict pain and death on people; that is sin as commission. Prejudice may lead people to withhold food and clothing and other benefits from people; that is sin as omission. Refusal to share the Gospel of Christ with Jews can rightly be viewed as an oblique form of anti-Semitism, for it is a conscious decision to leave them under the curse of sin by withholding the one message that can give them the greatest of all blessings for time and eternity (Eph. 1:3; II Cor. 9:15).
B. CHRISTIAN ZIONISTS TEND TO BE PREJUDICED AGAINST
PALESTINIANS AND ARABS
It is impossible to escape the impression that Christian Zionists are guilty of ethnic prejudice toward Arabs, which is just as wrong as the ethnic prejudice directed at Jews. Although there are Semitic peoples other than the Hebrews, the term “anti-Semitism” has been co-opted to refer to “Jews,” which itself is a term that has developed from a restricted reference to people of the tribe of Judah into a general term for all Hebrews or Israelites. Christian Zionism’s inherent extremism invariably fosters ethnic prejudice toward Arabs (who are as Semitic as Jews)—especially toward Palestinian Arabs.
Timothy Weber states it bluntly: “For the most part they ignored the ethical issues involved in Israeli statehood and showed little interest in the claims of the Palestinians, whom they saw as the enemies of God’s purposes” (p. 17, On the Road to Armageddon,
italics added). Not only do most Christian Zionists see Palestinians—and Arabs, in general—as enemies of God’s purposes but also as enemies of “God’s people.” For them, the end of establishing and enhancing a Jewish state justified the means, namely, the displacement of Arabs from their land.
When the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, only 7 percent of Palestine was Jewish. Almost all Christian Zionists, enamored with the prospect of prophecy being fulfilled, were exhilarated by it and gave no thought to the injustice that it would inflict on the Arab majority. They disregarded the biblical emphasis on God’s ethical standards and simplistically assumed that since God promised the land to the Jews, the civil rights of the Palestinian Arabs did not matter. They did not care that “just as the British had made promises to the Jews about a national homeland, they had promised Palestine to the Arabs before issuing the Balfour Declaration” (p. 170, Weber, ibid, italics added).
Not only were Christian Zionists indifferent to the injustice of the British reneging on their promise to the Arabs but also they had no qualms about subsequently ignoring the promise of self-determination that was an official democratic commitment of the League of Nations and of the United Nations. Their ecstatic reaction to the first part of the Balfour Declaration, which supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” blinded them to the second part, which clearly stated that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”
The non-Jewish communities have been of no concern to almost all Christian Zionists, for “they believed that all nations except Israel would suffer the consequences of being at cross-purposes with the divine plan” (p. 171, Weber, ibid). This is the unfortunate assumption that underlies the central motif of Christian Zionism, which is their “unconditional support for the State of Israel.” Tragically, Christian Zionists still tend to dehumanize Palestinians and Arabs—and sometimes they demonize them. In their irrational exuberance for Israel, they seem to be oblivious of their sins of prejudice, depersonalization, and injustice toward Palestinians.
Christian Zionism’s blatant partiality leads its adherents to put the worst interpretation on virtually every decision and action taken by Arabs even as they whitewash virtually every Zionist decision and action. For example, Hagee puts a positive spin on events like the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel by Menachem Begin’s militant Zionist group, the Irgun, by calling it an act of war rather than an act of terrorism—thereby seeking to justify it. It was ordered by David Ben Gurion, resulting in the deaths of 91 people, most of them civilians, and injuring 45 more. Both British and Jewish leadership condemned it as a heinous terrorist attack on helpless people. On July 22, 1946, the Jewish Agency itself expressed their “feelings of horror at the base and unparalleled act perpetrated today by a gang of criminals” (www.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_David_Hotel_bombing ).
Literally millions of Christians have visited Israel since 1948. Typically, they have no interest in meeting the tens of thousands of Arab Christians in the land. Tour guides take them to the main biblical sites and act as though the Palestinians do not exist. Palestinians are made to feel that they do not matter to Christians. Christian Zionists go there to praise Israeli leaders and to marvel at the agricultural and technological advances made in the land. Very little thought, if any, is given to the plight of the Palestinians. They are primarily considered as the chief obstacle to the realization of God’s plan for Israel.
How different was Christ, for he cared deeply about the underdog, the disenfranchised, the weak, the despised, the outcast, and the poor. He gave us an unforgettable example of compassion when he purposely went to find a Samaritan woman who was despised by the Jews, and then he spent two days with the Samaritans (John 4:40). The Palestinian Arabs today are like the Samaritans of old. The Jews and Palestinians distrust and detest each other, but Christ is equally concerned about both of them.
Can anyone doubt that Jesus would reach out to Palestinians as he compassionately sought out the Samaritans? Would he ignore them and circumvent their villages? Would he depersonalize them? Would he act as though they did not exist? Did he share one iota of the prejudice that Jews harbored toward the Samaritans? Or did he share one iota of the prejudice that Samaritans harbored toward Jews? In his impartial and universal love, Christ told his disciples to begin in Jerusalem and from there to go to Samaritans, and then to all gentiles, even to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8). Christian Zionists—and all of us—should measure ourselves against his example and his commission.
C. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE TRUTHFULNESS OF THE BIBLICAL
WRITERS AND THE BIAS OF CHRISTIAN ZIONISTS
The Israelite biblical writers, inspired by God, were completely truthful about the sins and failures of themselves and their own people. They refused to gloss over their misdeeds, no matter how heinous they were. Christian Zionists seem to have a hard time following their example, and as a result of their bias they tend to put a positive spin on the atrocities committed by radical Zionists. Of course, militant Muslims and Palestinians have done no less, and often more, than radical Jews and Zionists. The truth is that unregenerate human nature is capable of unbelievable cruelty irrespective of ethnicity and location (Titus 3:3).
Both radical Zionists and radical Muslims have committed deplorable acts of terrorism. Contrary to all the mutual recrimination and retaliation, it must not be forgotten that one wrong does not justify another wrong. All terrorism is evil no matter who commits it, and it should never be excused, minimized, or glossed over. I believe that the New Testament teaches that we should be impartial and even-handed in showing compassion and justice to all peoples. Although I am for equal justice and love toward Israelis and Palestinians, I do not condone any of their sinful attitudes or actions. A sincere commitment to impartial justice and proactive compassion ought to be the stance of every Christian, for that alone conforms to the New Testament and pleases God: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
There is not one scintilla of New Testament instruction or even one example of a Christian congregation giving financial support to a state or political entity. Of course individuals had to pay a mandatory tax to the Roman Empire (“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”), but that had nothing to do with the fact that Christian churches never gave voluntary gifts to a state or political entity. If Hagee were to conform to New Testament teaching instead of Zionist propaganda, he would dissolve CUFI and focus on galvanizing Christians into charitable action on behalf of suffering and needy members of the Body of Christ worldwide. That is the New Testament paradigm that ought to be followed in every generation until Christ returns.
D. HOW CUFI SIDE-TRACKS CHRISTIANS
A truly biblical perspective would focus on giving aid and support to Messianic (i.e., Christian) Jews and other Christians in the Israeli state and all over the world where they are being discriminated against and persecuted. CUFI’s goals contradict the apostle Paul’s goals, as I have already indicated, for he focused exclusively on providing support for the needy Christian believers in Israel.
Under divine inspiration, Paul told us to follow his example, but CUFI is trying to get Christians to follow the dictates of anti-biblical Christian Zionism. No one should give a penny to CUFI, for any money sent to that political lobby will be money misused. Christians who want to please the Lord will make sure that any money they give will go for the two biblical purposes indicated above, i.e., for evangelizing and discipling the nations and for aiding needy, suffering Christians around the world.
One of CUFI’s primary goals is to muster a broad, rapid response from Christians in order to have them contact congressmen for the “defense of Israel.” The purpose of its gathering in Washington in July, 2006 is to elicit the support of congressmen for “Israel’s security…and Israel’s right to the land.” Its annual meeting will feature “Israel’s leadership who will apprise CUFI members of the conditions in Israel and the Middle East.” CUFI’s Night to Honor Israel is for the purpose of focusing admiration and encouragement on Israel’s secular state and to support their claim to the land. CUFI opposes the Roadmap to Peace and it urges the Israeli government to refrain from giving one square inch of occupied land back to the Palestinians.
One looks in vain to find the slightest hint of any involvement of New Testament churches in the kind of activity that characterizes CUFI. The energy, time, and material resources of Christians are limited, and we should not be ignorant of Satan’s devices in seducing us from our calling and primary responsibilities. How radically different from CUFI was the apostle Paul, for his passion for Israel was thoroughly spiritual: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1; cf. 9:1-3).
CUFI wants to honor and help Israel, but at the same time the belief of most Christian Zionists that the Tribulation period will likely begin in the next few years creates a problem for them. The focal point of the Great Tribulation will be the State of Israel, and Zechariah 13:8 says that two-thirds of the Jews living in the land at that time will be killed. Yet CUFI intends to provide resources and encouragement for Diaspora Jews to immigrate to Israel, the very spot where they will meet with indescribable suffering and death. This contrasts sharply with Christ’s admonition about the future desolation that would come upon Israel: “Then let those who are in Judea flee…let those in the city get out” (Lk. 21:20; Mt.24:16-22). CUFI is unintentionally working at cross-purposes to Christ’s compassionate warning.
VI. CUFI WILL ADD TO THE ALIENATION OF MUSLIMS AND
THE PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS IN MUSLIM LANDS
A. CUFI WILL INCREASE MUSLIMS’ RESISTANCE TO THE GOSPEL
Whatever we set out to do as Christians, we should always consider what impact it will have on world evangelism. Will it advance the cause of the Gospel or hinder it? Scripture is clear, as the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” ( I Cor. 10:32-11:1).
CUFI’s existence and agenda will profoundly deepen the estrangement of 1.3 billion Muslims and multitudes of other peoples who are already convinced that Christians are unjustly biased in favor of the State of Israel. They are lost souls in need of the Gospel of Christ, but they find it difficult to believe the message of God’s impartial, universal love when they daily hear and read the arrantly lopsided pronouncements of Christians (especially radio and TV evangelists and pastors) in favor of Israel, no matter what the Israeli state does.
Most American Christians have no real understanding of the extent to which Muslims, Arabs, and many other people have been alienated from the Christian faith by the incessant denunciations of the Palestinians and other Arabs in Christian broadcasts and writings. Not a few non-Christians feel much like Mahatma Gandhi felt when he said, “I have great respect for Christ, but not for Christians.”
By giving Christian Zionism political institutionalization in the form of a lobby in Washington, D.C., CUFI is further evidence to Muslims that their suspicion of a covert alliance between the Christian church and the American government is undeniable. Islam does not demarcate religious authority from political authority, and it tends to see western nations in a similar way. Depending on how much press and visibility CUFI acquires, it will make it increasingly difficult for them to make the distinction.
This means that all the American government’s imprudent decisions and exploitative actions that harm Muslim countries will be viewed even more as the deeds of Christians. Even now the American incursion into Iraq is viewed by suspicious Muslims as one more “Christian Crusade” into their sacred land. No one should have the slightest doubt that CUFI will significantly worsen this perception.
B. CUFI WILL JEOPARDIZE THE WELFARE AND LIVES OF CHRISTIANS
IN MUSLIM COUNTRIES
No less serious is the negative impact that CUFI’s activities will have on the beleaguered Christian minorities in Muslim lands. Whatever the reality is, CUFI appears to consist of uninformed and uncaring Christians in the west who disregard the added suffering that will be heaped upon fellow members of the Body of Christ. My heart grieves for these valiant Christians whom I have personally visited in Muslim countries from Indonesia to Morocco. I spent four years living in the Middle East and preaching from one end of the Muslim world to the other end. Some of the most dedicated Christians I have ever met live there in constant jeopardy, discrimination, and often severe physical persecution that flares up at the slightest provocation.
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