Question: I asked a pastor at Rick Warren's church about the end times and the nation of Israel. Here is the response I received: "As you probably know, those with a strongly dispensational view of the end times believe that Jesus must return to the literal temple in Israel. This strongly affects one's politics, because for Jesus to return to the literal temple in Israel, there must still be an Israel, and Israel must control the temple area that is not the Dome of the Rock mosque.
"We teach that there are a number of views of the end times that are equally biblical. Because of this, our belief that the nation of Israel has a right to exist is not based on end time theology. It's based instead on our respect for Jews as the people of God, and the clear rights that God gives to nations in the Bible. We also believe strongly in the teaching in Romans 11 that there will be a great ingathering of the Jewish people to faith in Christ. Whatever plan God wants to use to bring as many of the Jewish people to himself as possible is the plan we'll rejoice in!
"...we support Israel's right to exist, but more out of respect for Jews as God's people than out of any dispensational theology."
I would appreciate your reaction to this attitude toward the nation of Israel.
Response: You are right that the issue is the nation of Israel, not Jewish people in general. From the reply you received, Saddleback Church does not believe the many clear promises Scripture makes—not to some Jews scattered around the world, but to Israel itself—that she must and will continue to exist as a nation. Saddleback's position surprises me because Rick Warren personally put Judgment Day into President Bush's hands (for which I am grateful).
(By the way, I'm almost certain that Rick supports the pre-trib position, but this question is about Israel and has nothing to do with the Rapture.)
What does it mean to support Israel's right to exist "out of respect for Jews as God's people"? As we prove beyond dispute in Judgment Day, it is precisely because the Jews are God's chosen people that the God of the Bible made hundreds of promises to preserve, protect, bless Israel, and restore her fully so that her end will be better than her beginning. These promises are unambiguous and are the only biblical basis for Middle East peace now and always.
For Saddleback (or any other Christians) to ignore God's promises to Israel in Scripture is to thumb one's nose at God. To refer to "dispensational theology" is beside the point. It is irrefutable that God has promised Israel an eternal inheritance in the land He gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, These promises are so clear that they cannot be misinterpreted no matter what one's eschatological or dispensational position.
What does it mean to support Israel's right to exist based on "the clear rights God gives to nations in the Bible"? What rights does the Bible give to Germany, or France, or the USA, et al., to exist? None! Is that all the right Israel has to exist? Within what borders? So the "Palestinians," too, have biblical rights to the land God gave to Israel?! And there are several "equally biblical" views?! God is being defied!
Israel was only voted into present existence by the UN in 1948; the Arabs rejected the UN decision and attacked Israel, swearing to annihilate her. They have continued to insist that Israel is occupying their historical land. In fact, the Arabs are occupying Israel's historical land! There is no way to settle this matter except for the world (including Arabs and Jews) to accept what the Bible says. But the paper you received from Saddleback treats God's promises as questionable "dispensational theology."
Contrary to Saddleback's granting Israel "the clear rights that God gives to nations in the Bible," the Bible itself declares that Israel is in a different category from all the other nations. Three times Israel is called "the apple" of God's eye (Dt 32:10; Lam:2:18; Zec:2:8). God promises the nation of Israel that He will bless those that bless her and curse those that curse her (Gn 12:3). No such promises were ever given to any other nation. To suggest that Israel only has the rights that God has given to all nations is a shocking rejection of clear biblical teaching! God distinctly tells Israel that He has "separated [and] severed [her] from other people" (Lev:20:24,26) and that she will not be "reckoned among the nations" (Num:23:9) because He has chosen her to be "a special people...above all people" (Dt 7:6).
God promises repeatedly, "O Israel...I am with thee...to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee" (Jer:30:10,11). How can any Christian who takes the Bible seriously say that Israel has rights no different from other nations and that alternate views about Israel's status today and in the future are all biblical?!
God promises to bring His chosen people back from all the countries where He has scattered them and to bring about a special "rebirth" of Israel as a nation. We have certainly witnessed the fulfillment of that promise by Israel's rebirth in 1948 and the subsequent immigration of millions of Jews to Israel from more than 100 countries—something unprecedented in the entire history of the world!
To believe in a last days "great ingathering of the Jewish people to faith in Christ" has nothing to do with Israel but with the church, and they are separate entities. Furthermore, it is only through God's establishment of Israel to the Promised Land that Israel will be restored to faith in Him.
The battle right now is between Islam (which says Israel must be destroyed) and the God of the Bible (who promises to preserve the nation of Israel forever). The God Christians believe in is called "God of Israel" 203 times in Scripture. Israel is the major topic of God's Word. To be wrong about Israel is to miss most of what the Bible says! If the Muslims' determination to destroy Israel is successful, then we will have to renounce Christianity as based on lies and all become Muslims! This is the issue. I think it is a bigger one than anything Rick Warren has addressed; and I pray that he will take the leadership in speaking out on Israel's behalf from a biblical viewpoint!