“Fasten your seatbelt because you’re seeing Bible prophecy fulfilled in your lifetime before your very eyes,” Greg Laurie, a prominent American evangelist, writes of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Laurie’s statement reflects a view, common among some Christian Zionists, that the return of Jews to the Holy Land is hastening the apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ and that the ongoing conflict there is a potential sign of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. According to Samuel Goldman, a professor of political science at George Washington University, this belief is derived from a theological concept called dispensationalism, a somewhat nebulous idea dividing history into ages, or “dispensations,” including the End of Days, the great turmoil and destruction characterizing the end of the world; Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil; and the Second Coming of Christ, wherein Jesus will return to rule the world. And when war breaks out in the Middle East, this notion has a way of finding purchase.
Today, eschatological interpretations—theological theories of the end of the world, final judgment and the destination of the soul—spread most evidently on social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter), where, today, big names like Laurie are joined by a host of lesser known pastors and Christian influencers scrambling to draw comparisons between the Israel-Hamas conflict and biblical prophecy. But such behavior is not necessarily new. During the Yom Kippur War, for example, American Christians visiting the Holy Land refused to leave despite the fighting, believing the Egyptian-Syrian invasion could well be a harbinger of the end of days and the return of the Messiah.
It’s important to note that dispensationalist interpretations are not universally held by all Christian Zionists or even by all Evangelical Christians, those Protestant Christians who identify as “born again” and, according to a 2021 Pew report, make up 24 percent of Americans. And while a poll by the Christian media company LifeWay found that 80 percent of Evangelical Christians see the creation of the State of Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, this is not necessarily the only impetus for Christian Zionism. Sean Durbin, a research associate at Manchester Metropolitan University, says that “It’s not so much that events many believe are prophesied in the Bible compel them to act in ways that will make those events happen, it’s more that Israel’s existence is proof that God remains active in history—it’s proof that their interpretation of the Bible is true.”
Pastor Larry Huch, founder of New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas (near Dallas-Fort Worth), says this doctrine is a recent development, noting that in many denominations, Christians see themselves as replacing the biblical Israel as the chosen people of God. He explains how, through his own reading of the Bible, he realized that this interpretation was fundamentally inconsistent with the text. “I really started discovering the Jewish roots of our faith. And through that just fell in love with Israel,” he says, adding that, “all of a sudden I realized that this whole concept of replacing the Jewish people is not only wrong, it’s unbelievably wrong.”
Huch argues that only in the past decade have Christians, and evangelicals in particular, begun to change their interpretation of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible), influenced largely by what is seen as a correlation between the biblical gift of Israel to the Jewish people and the birth of the State of Israel in 1948. Huch contends that his doctrine, that which takes a literal reading of the Bible and sees today’s Jews as the biblical Israel, has become “the fastest growing revelation in the church today.”
Jordanna McMillan, the U.S. director of the international branch of the Israel Allies Foundation (IAF), a multi-faith, pro-Israel organization that facilitates diplomatic exchanges between Israel and international lawmakers (from countries as disparate as Brazil, Japan and Madagascar) explains that many biblical passages foretell the founding of Israel, in particular God’s gift of the Land of Israel to Abraham. “God said he would bring his people back to the land and he’s done that. How many times in modern history do you see this sign in the sky?” McMillan asks.
American Christians respond ambiguously when asked if they want a particular set of events, such as the Rapture, when all good Christians ascend to heaven, or various signs of the end-times, to occur. “Most people don’t think in those terms,” says Goldman; what is more powerful is “a sense that God has chosen the Jews, that God has made promises to the Jews, that those promises still hold and God is still delivering.”
“I don’t think it’s true that the only reason, historically or today, that Christians are concerned about the State of Israel and affairs in the region is expectation of the end-of-days,” continues Goldman. “But it is true that the return of the Jews has historically been seen as one step in the process that leads to the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the Second Coming of Christ.”
Dispensationalism is a touchy subject among Christian Zionists. While most evangelicals believe, at least in part, in the concept—the LifeWay survey found that more than half of evangelicals cited Israel’s role in fulfilling biblical prophecy as a contributing factor to their support for the state—Jack Moline, a rabbi and former head of the Interfaith Alliance, a pro-democracy interfaith political organization, says that biblical prophecy is not the primary reason many support the State of Israel so ardently. He explains that “They’re not looking for the apocalypse. They are not people with malice in their heart toward anybody.” And evangelical support for Israel is not exclusively expressed in terms of religious belief. Durbin says that many Christian Zionists hold up Israel as a model for the United States, citing its advances in defense, technology and agriculture. McMillan agrees, calling the State of Israel “a blessing on the world.”
Moment contributor and expert on Christian nationalism, Sarah Posner, contends that Christian Zionism, in its popular political incarnations, is not focused on the best interests of Jews or Israel. Rather, she says, “the fact that there are going to be wars and bloodshed and death and destruction is part of the plan.”
For whatever reason, Christian Zionist organizations have a history of delivering for Israel. Posner describes evangelicals as “the heart of the base of the Republican party” adding that “elected Republicans know that this is a crucial voting block for them that they need to satisfy.” Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest Christian Zionist lobbying group in the United States, holds significant sway. The annual meeting of CUFI, for example, is a customary stop for Republicans trying to win the GOP nomination; in July 2023, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pence and most other Republican candidates attended to make their case and tout their pro-Israel bona fides.
Likewise, McMillan’s Israel Allies Foundation helped to put together a pro-Israel caucus in the Guatemalan legislature, which in turn lobbied Guatemala’s president to move their embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And of course the majority of Protestants in America ardently supported moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—Donald Trump once said that “The evangelicals are more excited by that than the Jewish people”—so much so that the location has become a pilgrimage site of sorts for Christians from the U.S. “Jerusalem is the center of the prophecies,” explains Goldman. “That’s really where it’s all going to go down.”
In the days following the October 7 attack, Christian Zionists were quick to act. A group of 90 evangelical pastors and leaders put out a statement in support of Israel, touting the justness of the war. CUFI set up a fundraiser for first responders in Israel, and their chairman, John Hagee, has gone on cable news and church telecasts to preach his ardent support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas. Hagee was even invited to speak at the October 14 “March for Israel,” a decision that was criticized over Hagee’s history of problematic statements and his purported outwardly dispensationalist views on Zionism.
Pastor Huch has also gone on a press tour advocating continued support for Israeli military action, and his congregation has been fundraising for survivors of the attack. McMillan’s IAF continues to push congressional support for Israel’s response through their Israel Allies Caucus in the House of Representatives and their pro-Israel caucuses worldwide.
And what of the Biden administration’s response to the conflict? Does the generally Republican-aligned Christian Zionist community approve of what many on the left see as an overly pro-Israel tack? McMillan expresses cautious optimism about the administration’s ongoing response, and hopes that Biden will maintain “unequivocal support for what Israel needs to do.” But Huch is unimpressed. “What saddens me is to see so many Jews that still vote Democrat when the Democratic party is so anti-Israel. So pro-Iran.”
Not all American Jews are in agreement that Christian Zionism is a net good. In an interview with The Guardian, Debra Shushan, director of government affairs at J Street, a left-leaning pro-Israel advocacy group, said that Christian Zionism, “which sees Jewish control and settlement in the entire land of Israel as a requirement for fulfilling their end-times prophecies,” is by and large detrimental to politics in the United States and policy toward Israel. In particular, she notes the asymmetry between hardline, pro-right wing sentiment prevalent among evangelicals and the generally more left-leaning policy preferences of American Jews.
Conversely, critics like Posner argue that the friendly overtones of many Evangelical Christian Zionists is something of a ruse and that the messianic elements (the return of Jesus, the battle of Armageddon, and, yes, the mass conversions) are the very point of the Christian Zionist message. “Jews should just be allowed to be Jews and not have to hear from these evangelicals who think that Jews should be converted.”
Dispensationalism as a whole imagines the fulfillment of the book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament, generally understood as describing the end of days. “That’s where this whole notion that they’re waiting for the apocalypse of the Jews, so that Jesus can return and they can take over,” comes from, says Moline. “It sounds terrible to modern Jewish ears, but if you read the Book of Revelation in a particular way, it doesn’t sound any more ridiculous than our imaginings of what the Messianic era is going to look like.”
This distinction seems, in many ways, to be about the primacy of ideas. McMillan makes the case that few Christian Zionists attend events or give money explicitly because of the idea of dispensationalism. Rather, she says, “They love Israel. It’s the land of the Bible. They love the Jewish people. They see God’s hand on the Jewish people. They want to be a part of that in a small way.”
And, small or large, many Christian Zionists are all in. “I do believe that we’re closer to the Messiah coming than we’ve ever been before,” says Huch. “But that’s not why I stand with Israel. I stand with Israel because that’s what the word of God says.”
Featured image: Pastor Larry Huch delivering a sermon on Israel. Photo credit: Larry Huch Ministries.