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Rapture-Ready: How U.S. Policy Meshes With Armageddon

American pastor John Hagee, right, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at the opening ceremony of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. (Sebastian Scheiner / AP)

Brothers and sisters! Let us speak now of the return of Jesus to the Holy Land in a blaze of glory. For it is this fervent promise, I kid you not, that now drives the Middle East policy of the most powerful nation on earth.

For years conservative evangelicals, from their pulpits and pews across the American heartland, have toiled in relative obscurity. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the more vocal part of the Israel lobby, is far better known for advancing Israeli interests in Washington. But in recent years, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the evangelical lobbying group spearheaded by Texas preacher John Hagee, has surpassed AIPAC as the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S. And so Christian Zionists—those who believe that only a strong Jewish state will bring the son of the Christian god back to the holy city, to mete out justice—have moved to the center of U.S. Middle East policy.

Their coming-out party was May 14, at the dedication of the newly relocated U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. “Let the name of the Lord be glorified today,” the Rev. Hagee proclaimed in his benediction, facing the assembled strange bedfellows of right-wing rabbis, U.S. senators and congressmen, settlement bankroller Sheldon Adelson, Israeli Likudniks and fellow Christian Zionists. “For the defender of Israel today, tomorrow and forever, is here. Can we all shout hallelujah?”

“Hallelujah!”the throng responded. “Amen,” Hagee concluded.

The core beliefs of these evangelical preachers and their tens of millions of followers in the U.S. deserve a much closer look now that they’re riding shotgun alongside President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, who is America’s ambassador to Israel and a supporter of Israel’s settlements.

Christian Zionists embrace a chilling, apocalyptic vision of vengeance upon the many and salvation for the few. Their angry Jesus looks nothing like the loving, turn-the-other-cheek savior of my Catholic upbringing.

The basic tenet of Christian Zionism? Global Armageddon will soon be at hand. “They’re counting down the hours now, eagerly expecting the implementation of the remaining items on their biblical prophecy agenda, anticipating the thrilling climax of the cosmic story,” writes Victoria Clark, author of “Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism.” Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam, would then “be destroyed, and replaced with a new Jewish temple. The completion of that temple … will herald the appearance of an Antichrist who might be a European diplomat or the head of the United Nations.” Eventually, writes Clark, this “will trigger the battle of Armageddon … all non-born-again Christians—including two-thirds of all Jews—who refuse to accept Jesus as their personal savior … will be slain in the conflagration.”

True Christians need not worry about their own destruction, however. For they will be saved by the rapture. “Jesus will come in the air, catch up the Church from the earth, and then return to heaven with the Church,” states, which cites as proof the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess, 4:16-18): “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel. … Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. …”

Hagee, from the pulpit, fills in the details:

Neighbors are going to be standing in the streets, and they’re going to be having conversations like this: “I was standing here talking to Mr. Jones and suddenly he started rising into the air, over the house past the tree tops, gone, gone, GONE! He’s vanished in the clouds right before my eyes.” Headlines will be screaming, “Millions Are Missing Without a Trace!” Cars are going to be parked out here beside Loop 1604 and every highway in the world, the motors are still running, with the drivers and the occupants of the car sailing for mansions on high. I’m saying to you, pray up, pack up, LOOK up, we’re going up! In Jesus’ name, hallelujah to the Lamb of God.

For Hagee and other evangelicals, God has been bringing about the end of days, one step at a time. Even the Holocaust, Hagee once claimed, was part of God’s plan to drive surviving Jews out of Europe toward Palestine. (The remarks led Arizona Sen. John McCain to reject Hagee’s 2008 presidential endorsement.) Yet Hagee’s Holocaust remarks were part of a larger Christian Zionist worldview that sees modern Israel as part of divine destiny. In this belief, God’s will made Israel, and Christians now must protect that covenant and keep Jerusalem “united” under Israel’s control, in order for Jesus to return to earth. In his book “Jerusalem Countdown,” which sold more than 700,000 copies, Hagee also pushed for a confrontation with Iran to hasten global conflagration and Christ’s return. “From this moment forward, for the rest of our lives, until Christ comes, Jerusalem is the center of the universe,” Hagee declared from the pulpit.

Preachers like Hagee have been firing up their flocks for decades. Now, they believe, the time is nigh. Across Israel and the occupied West Bank, which settlers and their Christian supporters prefer to call “Judea and Samaria,” hundreds of rapturous tours led by American preachers underscore the biblical prophecy.

“The final act of the Book of Revelations is going to take place right here,” said the Rev. Irvin Baxter, founder of Texas-based Endtime Ministries. He stood on a hill in the Israeli town of Megiddo, overlooking a vast stretch of the Holy Land. Irvin, whose tour was captured by Vice News, told several dozen rapture-ready Americans: “The word ‘Armageddon’ is actually two words: Har Megiddo, or hill of Megiddo. You are standing on the hill of Megiddo right now. And when Israel’s about to be defeated, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ himself will intervene. He is going to defeat the Antichrist; he is going to defeat the false prophet. Both of them will be cast alive into the lake of fire. At that time Satan is going to be bound for the next 1,000 years. And we are going to crown Jesus Christ as king of kings, and lord or lords.”

Before this can happen, Christian Zionists believe, Israel must be in full control of the Holy Land—including the occupation and military rule of Palestinians in the West Bank. Hagee has built a political powerhouse on this belief. CUFI, which Hagee calls the “Christian AIPAC,” now boasts more than 4 million members. CUFI’s annual conference features the luminaries of the American political right, and even the occasional progressive, including rising Democratic star and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. The group has staged more than 2,500 pro-Israel events in the U.S., built a presence on more than 300 U.S. college campuses and led hundreds of U.S. pastors and right-wing congressional delegations on trips to Israel.

Many of Hagee’s delegations come to Ariel, one of Israel’s biggest and most problematic settlements. With a population of 20,000, Ariel sits strategically on a hilltop in the heart of the West Bank, dividing Palestinian families and villages, which are subject to random military inspections and intimidation by Israeli soldiers. Hagee and CUFI have poured millions of dollars into the settlement. A recreation center there bears his name.

This support underscores the evangelical conviction that a strong Israel, fully in control of “Judea and Samaria,” is essential for the apocalyptic prophecies to come to pass. Which brings us back to the relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem: It is all part of the end-of-days plan.

“We see the embassy as crucial to God’s timing to bring about the revelation of the messiah,” the Rev. David Swaggerty, founder of Ohio-based CharismaLife Ministries, told Religion News on the eve of the ceremony, after a joint Christian-Jewish Bible study session at the Israeli Knesset.

Added Tommy Waller, founder of the Missouri-based Christian Zionist group Hayovel: “Israel was established, exactly where God said it would be established. I see the hand of God in this, and [in] the relocation of the embassy.” A video on Hayovel’s website declares, “The days are coming.”

And so, my brothers and sisters! Your tax dollars no longer fund a U.S. policy that at least gives lip service to a fair solution of an age-old conflict and a Palestinian state of its own. One, by the way, that would immeasurably ease tensions in the most volatile corner of the planet, help keep American soldiers out of harm’s way and reduce terror attacks on innocent citizens. Instead, we are privileging the foot soldiers in a new holy war—a war in which those of us who aren’t among the believers will end up in a lake of fire.

Sandy Tolan
Sandy Tolan is the author of "Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land," a finalist for a 2015 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the international best seller, "The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew,…
Sandy Tolan

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