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America's new embassy, violence in Gaza and the Second Coming of Christ 


What was it that possessed Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the divided city of Jerusalem, sparking this week’s bloodshed in Gaza?

It was an unprecedented decision that previous Presidents had shied away from, knowing it would dangerously inflame tensions with the Palestinians who lay claim to the eastern part of the city and whose Muslim faith has a number of sacred sites within its walls.

With violent protests and more than 50 Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops, the reaction has been as explosive and brutal as everyone feared.

What was it that possessed Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the divided city of Jerusalem, sparking this week’s bloodshed in Gaza? (stock image)

What was it that possessed Donald Trump to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the divided city of Jerusalem, sparking this week’s bloodshed in Gaza? (stock image)

A significant clue as to what drove Trump to make such a seemingly reckless move can be found in the two evangelical preachers who led the prayers at the embassy’s official opening on Monday.

‘We come before you, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, thanking you for bringing us to this momentous occasion in the life of your people and in the history of our world,’ intoned Robert Jeffress, a televangelist from a Texas megachurch, who also spoke at Mr Trump’s private prayer service for his inauguration.

He went on to praise the President as one who ‘stands on the right side of you, O God, when it comes to Israel’.

His sentiments were echoed by Pastor John Hagee who delivered the ceremony’s benediction. ‘We thank you, O Lord, for President Donald Trump’s courage in acknowledging to the world a truth that was established 3,000 years ago — that Jerusalem is and always shall be the eternal capital of the Jewish people,’ he said.

Why on earth should these Texan evangelical preachers make such a song and dance about the U.S. symbolically acknowledging Jerusalem as the Israeli capital?

Strange as it may seem, the reason is that they — and millions of evangelical Americans like them — believe it will help bring about the fulfilment of fire and brimstone prophesies from the Bible that are central to their very literal interpretation of Christianity.

With violent protests and more than 50 Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops, the reaction has been as explosive and brutal as everyone feared 

With violent protests and more than 50 Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops, the reaction has been as explosive and brutal as everyone feared 

Some evangelicals believe war between Jews and Arabs is part of God’s plan, involving a period of destruction called the Great Tribulation.

Donald Trump is desperate for the support of evangelicals in the U.S. And he hopes to achieve this by overturning decades of American foreign policy designed to avoid offending Arabs, and categorically accepting Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The biblical prophesies are made in the books of Revelation and Daniel. They hold that Jesus Christ will return to Earth when all the Jews are reunited in Israel and it becomes an exclusively Jewish state.

According to Revelation, once the Jews are reunited, an epic battle between good and evil will break out in Israel and good will finally triumph.

In its apocalyptic vision, the book talks of a scarlet ‘Whore of Babylon’ with seven heads and ten crowned horns, and a burning lake of fire and sulphur into which the damned will be thrown.

Dispensationalists believe God has divided human history into ‘dispensations’ — periods that illuminate different aspects of God’s plan for mankind. The final period will be the ‘millennial kingdom’, 1,000 years in which Christ will rule on earth from Jerusalem.

Dispensationalists believe God has divided human history into ‘dispensations’ — periods that illuminate different aspects of God’s plan for mankind. The final period will be the ‘millennial kingdom’, 1,000 years in which Christ will rule on earth from Jerusalem.

So-called ‘Christian Zionists’ take Revelation literally, so they want Israel to flourish. Their ‘dispensationalist’ theology is today predominantly believed by Americans but it first arrived in the U.S. with the English Puritans — protestants who emigrated to the American colonies from the 17th century onwards.

Dispensationalists believe God has divided human history into ‘dispensations’ — periods that illuminate different aspects of God’s plan for mankind. The final period will be the ‘millennial kingdom’, 1,000 years in which Christ will rule on earth from Jerusalem.

The movement, whose supporters even included Martin Luther King, received a boost in the Eighties from the rise of the American religious Right.

About a third — some 15 million people — of America’s evangelical population, but 65 per cent of their leaders, are today estimated to believe in dispensationalism.

While Israel has welcomed the support of evangelical Christians and encourages them to visit holy sites, Jewish sceptics note that the evangelicals believe Jews can be saved only if they convert to Christianity

While Israel has welcomed the support of evangelical Christians and encourages them to visit holy sites, Jewish sceptics note that the evangelicals believe Jews can be saved only if they convert to Christianity

What is so extraordinary is not just the fundamental and unlikely nature of the beliefs of these evangelicals, but that they could not be more different in outlook from the metropolitan Jewish lobby on the East and West coasts — traditionally thought to be the reason U.S. presidents so readily rush to Israel’s aid.

Evangelists are mostly poorer and less educated than the average American.

Huge numbers live in the Bible belts of Southern and some Midwestern states.

Their small-c conservatism means, ironically, that they regard the traditional sophisticated Jewish lobby with the utmost suspicion.

Trump aides have denied that theology was behind the incendiary embassy move, insisting it was motivated by a genuine attempt to create peace in the Middle East by bolstering an increasingly beleaguered Israel. One reason Trump pushed for the embassy move might be that he has a prominent Jewish Zionist backer — Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — who contributed $25 million to his election campaign and urged him to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

However, the fact is that the only Americans who really supported the move by a significant majority were evangelical Christians.

The Christian Zionism movement has spread beyond the U.S. across the world. Every year, thousands of supporters parade through Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot to noisily profess their love for Israel

The Christian Zionism movement has spread beyond the U.S. across the world. Every year, thousands of supporters parade through Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot to noisily profess their love for Israel

A survey by the Brookings Institution found 63 per cent of Americans opposed the decision, as opposed to only 40 per cent of evangelicals.

Mr Trump is widely regarded as having done more to please evangelicals than any president, giving them a string of positions on his cabinet.

They have become increasingly crucial to him electorally, as support among other voters has dwindled. 

Vice President Mike Pence, who calls himself an ‘evangelical Catholic’, has close links with Christian Zionist groups.

Then there is the choice of American pastors for the opening ceremony in Jerusalem. Mr Jeffress is an ardent Apocalypse proselytiser, frequently stating that Israel’s future is tied up with Bible prophesies.

Like some other evangelicals, he has claimed that Mr Trump was chosen by God as leader, comparing him to the ancient Persian king Cyrus who allowed exiled Jews to return to what is modern-day Israel.

In 2014, Mr Jeffress wrote a book claiming that Barack Obama was paving the way for the coming of the Antichrist, Christ’s foe in the book of Revelation.

It was an unprecedented decision that previous Presidents had shied away from, knowing it would dangerously inflame tensions with the Palestinians who lay claim to the eastern part of the city and whose Muslim faith has a number of sacred sites within its walls

It was an unprecedented decision that previous Presidents had shied away from, knowing it would dangerously inflame tensions with the Palestinians who lay claim to the eastern part of the city and whose Muslim faith has a number of sacred sites within its walls

He has condemned every other religion but Christianity as a ‘heresy’ that will lead followers to the ‘pit of hell’.

Pastor Hagee — who gave the embassy benediction on Monday — founded Christians United For Israel.

This organisation boasts more than four million members and likes to quote a verse from the Bible’s book of Genesis which states that God will bless those who bless the Jews and curse those who curse the Jews. 

Mr Hagee — who described Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, as God’s punishment for sinful ways — says he believes Jews will be saved in the imminent Second Coming of Christ.

The Christian Zionism movement has spread beyond the U.S. across the world. Every year, thousands of supporters parade through Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot to noisily profess their love for Israel.

However, the alliance between evangelical Christians and Israelis remains uneasy.

While Israel has welcomed the support of evangelical Christians and encourages them to visit holy sites, Jewish sceptics note that the evangelicals believe Jews can be saved only if they convert to Christianity.

Otherwise, according to the Book of Revelation, they will be tossed into the burning lake along with all the other heretics.

It is a story of theological fundamentalism that other Christians will find hard to believe. But in the Middle East, where religious zealots have battled for thousands of years, history always seems doomed to repeat itself.

 



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