This article originally appeared on October 20, 2022 at Baptist News Global.
Donald Trump is in the news again making negative statements about American Jews while flattering his evangelical fanbase.
In my piece last week, I wrote about how the dispensationalist obsession with the end times led evangelicals to embrace the Christian Zionist beliefs that “modern-day Israel is fulfilling biblical prophecy and that Israel should receive special treatment from American politicians.”
Five days later, Trump logged on to the Truth Social app to talk about evangelical support for Israel in contrast to American Jews who don’t support him.
“No President has done more for Israel than I have. Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S. Those living in Israel, though, are a different story — Highest approval rating in the World, could easily be P.M.!” Trump boasted. Then he concluded, “U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel — Before it is too late!”
Trump’s history on Israel
Despite the fact that his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are Jewish, this isn’t the first time Trump has made controversial statements about American Jews or has spoken glowingly of evangelical support of Israel.
“This isn’t the first time Trump has made controversial statements about American Jews.”
At a rally in 2017 after his announcement about moving the capital of Israel to Jerusalem, Trump said: “That’s for the evangelicals. You know, it’s amazing with that — the evangelicals are more excited by that than Jewish people.”
In 2018, Trump told American Jews that Israel is “your country.”
During a meeting in the Oval Office in 2019, Trump said: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” The next day, he added, “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel. And only weak people would say anything other than that.”
Then in 2021, Trump told Barak Ravid in a podcast: “The evangelical Christians love Israel more than the Jews in this country. … The Jewish people, and I’ve said this for a long time, the Jewish people in the United States either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel.”
But American Jews voting against Trump doesn’t mean they don’t care about Israel. Despite Trump’s accusations, Pew Research reported in 2020 that 82% of American Jews believe that caring about Israel is either important or essential, while just 16% say it is unimportant.
There will be many reflections on the antisemitic nature of Trump’s words, his veiled threats and the connections between Christian nationalism and Christian Zionism. And such analysis is needed.
But while evangelicals fawning over Israel receiving special treatment from Republican politicians may surprise Trump, it shouldn’t surprise us.
“Trump is correct in connecting evangelicalism to support for Republican policies toward Israel.”
Trump is correct in connecting evangelicalism to support for Republican policies toward Israel. Despite Trump’s surprise, there are theological reasons for this going back to the origins of Christianity. And until we acknowledge the theological assumptions and generational wounds that are fueling evangelical obsessions with Trump and the end times, he and those like him will continue to be elected.
In the beginning, there was apocalyptic literature
More than 2,000 years before modern evangelicals were promoting Christian Zionism, the people of Israel were processing their covenant relationship with God in the aftermath of their return from Babylonian exile. Biblical scholar Pete Enns says the question they were asking was, “After all this time, is God still with us?”
From the second century B.C. to the second century A.D., the ancient genre of apocalyptic literature attempted to explore God’s plan for Israel and the end of the world. Examples of apocalyptic literature would be 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Testament of Moses, the Apocalypse of Abraham, and the book of Daniel.
While the four Gospels technically are a separate genre of literature known as Greco-Roman biography, they contain apocalyptic dialogue and imagery through the life and teaching of Jesus. According to the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, “Taken together, these four aspects — emphasis on supernatural revelation, pronounced belief in the activity of angels and demons, focus on the invisible spiritual realms, forecasts of the end of this world — are what have led many to associate Jesus in the Gospels with the early Jewish outlook known as apocalypticism.”
The apocalyptic death of Jesus
While Jesus’ life and teaching reflected character traits of apocalyptic prophecy, his death and resurrection were written about in apocalyptic language as well. The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels points out that the Gospel narratives about Jesus’ death and resurrection “are accompanied by all of the typical trappings of the end of the age in Jewish apocalypticism: the darkening of the sun’s light (Mark 15:33); various earthquakes (Matthew 27:51; 28:2-4); the rending of the veil in the temple, signifying its demise (Mark 15:33); the confession of faith in Israel’s God by representatives of the Gentiles (Matthew 27:54); the appearance of angels (Matthew 28:2-4); and, of course, the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24), in which the bodily resurrection that was expected for all Israel at the end of the age was accomplished in the person of Jesus on Easter. Indeed, in the Gospel of Matthew, the death of Jesus is so efficaciously eschatological that it actually triggers the bodily resurrection of ‘the holy ones,’ who come forth from their ‘tombs’ after his individual resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53).”
Jesus’ view of the end times
But while the authors of the Gospels may have utilized a variety of apocalyptic images in their different narratives, perhaps a more important question is what Jesus would have thought about the end times.
“Perhaps a more important question is what Jesus would have thought about the end times.”
The most concerning problem is when Jesus appears to make what some consider to be the first failed end-times prediction. In Matthew 16:27, Jesus says, “There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” In Matthew 24:34, Jesus says, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Then in Luke 9:26-27, Jesus says, “Those who are ashamed of me and my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
So did Jesus make a failed end-times prediction?
The New Interpreters Study Bible says that Jesus’ prophecy “is not accurate, but it warns and reassures disciples of Jesus’ imminent return and the triumph of God’s empire.”
The ESV Study Bible says Jesus’ prophecy most likely was referring to the transfiguration rather than to the second coming.
But John MacArthur says in his study Bible that Jesus could not have been referring to the people literally standing there at the time because “‘all these things’ … did not ‘take place’ in their lifetime.” So MacArthur concludes: “It seems best to interpret Christ’s words as a reference to the generation alive at the time when those final hard labor pains begin.”
Christianity’s wound of missed expectations
Many modern evangelicals see themselves as that generation and, consequently, as characters in the apocalyptic literature of the Gospels.
But the connection between modern evangelicals and first century followers of Jesus goes deeper than a mental hyperlink in biblical interpretation.