Is Chris Matthews right when he accuses Southern evangelical Christians of having a mythical view of Jerusalem?
The Washington Times featured this headline on December 6th: “Chris Matthews bashes ‘crazy’ Christians with ‘mythical’ beliefs about Jerusalem.” The writer explains this eye-catching headline: “MSNBC host Chris Matthews said ‘crazy’ evangelical Christians in the South are uninformed about President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel because they have ‘mythical beliefs’ about the ancient city.” He specifically targeted Alabama folks by asserting that “it’s the Christian evangelicals down there” as having unacceptable beliefs.
How do we as Georgia Baptists respond to his accusations/characterizations?
Dear Mr. Matthews, may we say that most Evangelical Christians have a deep and abiding appreciation for our Jewish roots in Israel. That appreciation is based not on what is mythical, but what is historically factual, supported by overwhelming biblical and archeological evidence. We as Christians believe God called a man named Abram to go to what became the Holy Land, promising: “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt … (Genesis 12:2-3). We read how God said: “I will give this land (land of Canaan) to your offspring” (Gen. 12:7). After renaming him Abraham since he would be “the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5) God promised: “… to you and your offspring I will give the land where you are residing – all the land of Canaan – as an eternal possession” (Genesis 17:8).
Jerusalem became the ancient capital of Israel during the reign of David, and the first temple was built by Solomon three millennia ago on Mount Moriah where Abraham had been tempted to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22). Although the city and the temple were both destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., they were somewhat rebuilt by Jews returning to Jerusalem under the Persians.
Jerusalem remained the center of Jewish life for centuries, with an enlarged and beautified temple built by Herod the Great shortly before the birth of Jesus, until the Romans destroyed both city and temple in 70 A.D. Israel was further devastated after another failed revolution against the Roman Empire in 132-135 A.D., leaving the Jews as a people without a country and city.
Not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century do we see significant numbers of scattered Jews returning to their ancient homeland and its holy city of Jerusalem (always mentioned by Jews throughout two millennia when observing the Passover). While a Palestinian protester may carry a sign that reads, “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,” the fact is there has never been an Arab nation with Jerusalem as its capital.
We as Christians and students of history are in awe of how Abraham’s descendants have impacted our world way out of proportion to their numbers, have survived conquests, exiles, and pandemic persecution. After two millennia being a people without a country they not only preserved their identity as Jews, but re-birthed their nation in 1948. This newborn Israel successfully fought off attacks despite being outnumbered 200-1.
Above all, we as Christians bear the name of one of Abraham’s descendants: their Messiah/Christ and our Savior/Lord. Christ’s inspiring and empowering influence is especially reminiscent of Genesis 12:2-3. These are facts not myths. Not surprisingly we have not only appreciation but affection for Israel and Jerusalem.
We are also well aware of Arabic roots in Israel. Jerusalem became a Christian city following the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Many of those Christians were Arabs who lived not only in Israel but much of the Middle East. The rise of Islam under Muhammad eventually led to the conquest of Jerusalem by Arab Muslims in 638 A.D.
While in the early days of Islam, Muhammad instructed his followers to, like Jews, pray toward Jerusalem. He shifted attention away from Jerusalem to Mecca after it was obvious the Jews were not going to embrace Muhammad as a prophet. Therefore, Jerusalem has never held the significance of Mecca or Medina in the mind of Muslims.
Nevertheless, once Muslims took control of the Jewish-then-Christian city they opted to build the Dome of the Rock holy site on Jewish holy ground as a dazzling display of Islam’s superiority to both Judaism and Christianity. Later, they added the mosque of al-Aqsa, some believing that Mohammed’s dream about flying a horse from Mecca (recorded in the Koran’s Sura, or Chapter 17) may have been to Jerusalem where he ascended to heaven. Muslims of one kind or another ruled Israel for 1,300 years except during the Crusaders’ control (primarily 1099-1187 A.D.).
After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War One, the British took control of Israel/Palestine from 1918 until 1948. They tried unsuccessfully to bring peace and harmony between Jews and primarily Muslim Arabs. When the Jewish state of Israel was approved by the United Nations in 1948, its Arab neighbors declared war and invaded the reborn nation.
Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan, with Jews not allowed to visit their holiest site (Temple Mount and the Western/Wailing Wall). Only after another defensive war and Jewish victory did Israel gain full control of Jerusalem, though still allowing Muslims to govern their holy sites on Temple Mount.
While we as Christians pray that Jews and Arabs will experience the peace and goodwill we sing about at Christmas, we realize that whether Jerusalem is the recognized capital of Israel is not the real issue. There will be no peace until and unless Muslim Palestinians stop teaching in their schools myths and lies about the Jewish people, stop supporting terrorists like Hamas and Hezbollah, and stop refusing to acknowledge the historical realities of Jewish presence in Jerusalem and Israel and the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign nation among its neighbors. Once anyone recognizes that right, then it makes perfect sense historically/factually speaking to have ancient Jerusalem as its capital.