Have you ever been angry at a television commercial? Many commercials manipulate people’s emotions and make misleading promises. It is easy to become desensitized to this. However, when I see commercials that make something that is meaningful and noble into a sales pitch, it arouses my sensitivities. The loftier the sentiment the more upset I become to see it manipulated via commercials. For example, I hate seeing the concept of love used to line people’s pockets, as though the right car or right phone or right gift of jewelry will result in a satisfying relationship.
Recently two commercials pitched specifically to Christians—asking them to give money to support Israel—made me particularly angry.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Don’t you want Christians to support Israel?” Yes I do, and that’s exactly why I am angry. Allow me to explain.
The first commercial is sponsored by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s organization, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. It aired on the Fox News Channel quite a bit, especially during and after the war between Israel and Hezbollah last August and September (and is still being aired as I write). It speaks of Israelis suffering because of the war and shows footage of the rabbi comforting an elderly Jewish woman who is crying inconsolably. (I could be mistaken, but the footage was so very familiar that I think it was recycled from his previous infomercial requesting help for Russian Jews.) The rabbi’s voiceover reminds Christians of their duty to bless and comfort Israel, and assures them that by giving to his organization they will fulfill that duty.
Rabbi Eckstein is tapping into a very deep, strong current of Christian emotion when he speaks of the importance of supporting Israel, praying for the peace of Jerusalem and blessing the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am so grateful for the genuine, Bible-based conviction behind Christian love for Israel. I believe it is a God-given commitment that is very, very special.
But why do so many Christians respond to Rabbi Eckstein’s appeals for Bible-based support (evangelicals in America have given over a quarter of a billion dollars for this fundraising effort) for projects that have nothing to do with reconciling Jewish people to God? I can understand it to a certain extent, inasmuch as Eckstein’s approach to Christians, in my opinion, is ambiguous at best and has misled many in the Church, who think he is a Jewish Christian. They do not know that some of the funds Rabbi Eckstein collects go to groups that oppose efforts to tell Jewish people that they need to know Jesus as Messiah and Lord. However, the high profile Christian leaders who deal with Eckstein certainly know that he is not a Christian. Still, they encourage Christians to express their love for Jewish people by giving to leaders who are spiritually blind. Because yes, as offensive as that statement sounds, the Bible does say that without Jesus, my people are blind (Romans 11:25).
Am I saying that only Christian ministries can do good? Not at all! I am saying that when someone taps into your spiritual, biblical motive to love the people of Israel or anyone else, what flows from that love should have spiritual, biblical impact.
The second commercial is even more difficult for me to understand than the first. It is produced by well-known Christian televangelist John Hagee. Many Christians understandably appreciate Rev. Hagee’s support for Israel, his messages on television and his best-selling books. But now Rev. Hagee wants Christian donations to help build an Orthodox Jewish school for orphans in Israel. We watch as he shakes hands with an Orthodox rabbi in front of the half-built school. We are then encouraged to give donations. Suggested amounts start at $1,000.
Of course we should care for orphans in Israel and elsewhere! But is building Orthodox Jewish schools the best way for Christians to do this? In these schools, Jewish orphans will be taught that Jesus is not for Jewish people, and that Jews who trust Him as Messiah and Lord are traitors to God and the Jewish people. I am not blaming the rabbis for teaching this, for that is what they believe. But what does John Hagee believe? If there is one thing in common between Rabbi Eckstein and Rev. Hagee it is that the vast sums of cash they raise will never, ever be used in any way to make the name of Jesus known to the Jewish people.
And therein lays a great irony, an amazing mystery, a stunning tragedy. Evangelical Christian donations in America are funding anti-Jesus education and instruction for my Jewish people in Israel. Can anyone explain this to me? Help me understand. Please! I can understand that Rabbi Eckstein would be satisfied with this outcome. But what about Rev. Hagee? No one doubts his faith that Jesus is the Messiah.
John Hagee seems to believe that when the Apostle Paul states, “. . . and thus all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26), he was declaring that Jewish people have an automatic pass, so they don’t need to believe in Jesus in this life in order to be with Him in the next. Furthermore, Hagee indicates that since God placed a veil over the eyes of Jewish people, it is futile for Christians to share Christ with them.
Thankfully, many Christians are concerned enough to share their faith with Jewish people and, as those of us in Jews for Jesus can attest, God has used those efforts to lift the veil from many Jewish eyes. For the time being, those of us who receive Christ are in the minority, but we would be even fewer if all Christians thought as Rev. Hagee does. His kind of theology fails to address Paul’s gut-wrenching profession of great sorrow and unceasing anguish, and even his wish that he himself could be accursed for the sake of his brethren (Romans 9:1).
If there is no consequence to Jewish unbelief, why would Paul be in such anguish? What do we do with Scriptures that clearly teach that believing with one’s heart and confessing with one’s mouth are necessary for salvation (Romans 10:9)? Those who think this refers to Gentiles only need to read the rest of the chapter! But if there is indeed so grave a consequence to Jewish rejection of Jesus, why is it that John Hagee and others don’t seem to realize or speak to their danger of eternal damnation?! Help me understand. Please!
Isolating certain texts, failing to read them in their context, and neglecting to compare them with the clear teaching of other Scriptures is a recipe for false interpretation. This is a life and death issue. And I don’t mean to pick on John Hagee exclusively. I am equally upset by mega-church leaders who invest their time advising rabbis on ways to grow larger synagogues, rather than advising them that Jesus—and the narrow road that He pointed to—is the way of salvation.
It pains me that believers in Jesus who read their Bibles nevertheless feel their Christian duty to Jewish people can be fulfilled through supporting those who don’t believe that Jews need Jesus. Christians seem to understand that Muslims need Jesus, and that Buddhists, animists and atheists need Jesus. But what about Jewish people, the ones to whom the prophets prophesied, the ones who are called the people of the Book, the ones over whom Jesus wept and for whom Paul was willing to be cut off from Christ? Otherwise discerning Christians seem to develop a great deal of uncertainty and angst when it comes to Jewish souls. Those who struggle with this issue mean well, but they often miss the implications of their own uncertainties.
Almost every believer who was not raised in a Christian home can tell you that at some point, someone risked offending them by explaining their need for Jesus. Yet many Christians whose friends are perishing seem so intent on protecting their friendships, as though if they pray enough, the friendship itself could somehow save the person with no risk involved. I would never underestimate the importance of friendship in a witness, but when the gospel message is made clear, there is always some risk of rejection. Until folks realize that the risk of their friends going to a Christless eternity is more terrible than the risk of losing a friendship, their witness will be compromised.
I think you know that my request for help understanding all of this is rhetorical because I’m pointing out a serious problem. There is no way to make it out as anything other than a problem. And the solution is you. I hope that you who realize the need to evangelize Jews (and everyone else) will be salt and light wherever you see uncertainties cropping up in the Church concerning Jewish people’s need for faith in Jesus. And when someone makes an appeal for Christians to show their love for Jewish people, please remember that our love is incomplete at best and misleading at worst if it does not point beyond ourselves and to the One who loved us so much that He sent His Son to die, so that WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM will not perish, but have eternal life.