Israel and the Ends of the Earth, By Michelle Van Loon
Ever since Donald Trump announced the U.S. would relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, people have been asking me for my thoughts on the decision. I am a Messianic Jew, and serve as the U.S. Administrator for a discipleship and education ministry based in Jerusalem. I do English-language editing for a weekly round-up of stories of interest to believers gleaned from the Hebrew-language press, which gives me a unique opportunity to read perspectives we don’t always hear in this county.
I suspect most people think they know how I’m going to answer their question: Jerusalem is the ancient capital of Israel. Israel is a sovereign nation and has had possession of the Old City since 1967. However, I recognize that there are no simple answers to a conflict that stretches back to the account in Genesis of Isaac and Ishmael. The situation on the ground in the Middle East is complex, intractable, and carries ancient pain.
I have been dismayed by the somewhat maniac response of dispensational prophecy buffs who filter every current event through this interpretative lens. I wonder at the glee of those who speak about these events with the certainty that they alone have insider information about how things will surely unfold in these days. On the other hand, I am even more troubled by anti-Semitism I hear from others who claim the name of Christ. If the Church has replaced Israel in God’s plans, then modern Israel and the Jewish people in general become The Cause of all the woes in the world. It isn’t a big leap to go from that thinking to the belief that if they didn’t exist, maybe the world would be at peace. I will confront both bad ideas when I hear them – because both carry flesh-and-blood consequences that affect my people.
At the heart of the questions I’ve been receiving is an assumption that doesn’t have much to do with theology, but with our mailing address, though few would recognize this is the case. Frankly, Christians in America have been discipled by the notion of our country’s importance in the world. We are used to being known as a Superpower, of having great importance, wealth, and influence. If our government makes a decision, such as moving our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, where it will join the U.S. Consulate building in the city, we see shockwaves around the globe.
I can’t help but think of these words from the resurrected Jesus: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) When American Christians think of exactly where the ends of the earth might be, we are inclined to think of “unreached peoples” living in Papua New Guinea or the Amazon rain forest. But when I look at the geography of Jesus’ words, I recognize that we in America are included in the furthest arc in his description. We are the ends of the earth, too.
Reckoning how deeply American exceptionalism has influenced our view of ourselves in the world doesn’t come easily to most of us. If we’ve lived here for any length of time, we’ve been saturated in the idea of America’s importance. While this country is influential at this moment in history, most of us recognize that things are shifting in the world, just as they always have. A long view of history should remind us that there have been many powerful civilizations that have risen and fallen through time including the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Dutch, and British.
While our nation’s affirmation of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has gravity in this moment, and may (or just as likely, may not) shift the way in which truces and boundaries between ancient enemies are negotiated in the region, it is helpful to balance my opinion about today’s headlines with the reality that the U.S. ultimately will not ultimately have the final word on Jerusalem’s destiny. Both Scripture and history underscore that this story belongs to God alone.