Thinking Theologically about the Middle East Today
We are all horrified by the ongoing armed conflict between Palestinian militant groups led by Hamas and Israel. Television brings these scenes straight into our living rooms. It is deeply disturbing and raises the question: How should we Christians think about such events from a theological perspective? Here are a few comments intended to generate reflection.
It is important, first of all, to state what is not going on. Current events in the Middle East are not the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, they are not the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38–39 or Zephaniah 2:4–7. The Old Testament prophets were referring to nations of their own day and not predicting what would happen in these same geographical areas over 2500 years later. The proper approach to the Old Testament prophets is not to leap over the New Testament and land in the Middle East of the twenty-first century. We are not dispensational premillennialists.
Well then, what can be said from a theological point of view? Good question. The perspective I want to bring to your consideration is that given in Revelation 5–6. Revelation 5 depicts the ascension and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth. “For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Alleluia.” The Lamb is the only one worthy to open the book and break its seals. And the first four seals present the four horsemen of the apocalypse who are under the rule and authority of Jesus of Nazareth, the exalted King and Lord over all things. The first represents conquering tyranny, the second, war, the third, famine, and the fourth, death. These four horsemen will wreak havoc and inflict untold misery throughout the world, but it is all under the rule and reign of the exalted Lamb who was slain, who is the lion from the tribe of Judah, the root of David (Rv 5:5). He will protect those who belong to him by faith, both those of natural Israel and Gentiles who worship the One who sits on the throne and the Lamb, as Revelation 7 pictures it.
Jesus is Lord over all nations. And what is he doing? While we do not have any explicit word from the Lord on the events of today, we know that he is exercising his government over all nations according to his good and gracious will. Judging from the Old Testament prophets, we might say this: he might be changing the geography and international relations in the Middle East for the better, to bring about conditions on the ground that will promote civil righteousness and encourage nations to cooperate with each other in external peace, and ultimately that will allow churches to operate more freely. When it comes to international relations in the Middle East, our primary interest as Christians is the spread in every land of the pure gospel, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper and thereby the spread of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
So, what do we pray for? We pray to the Lord Jesus, the Lord over all things, to restrain the forces of murder and violence, to establish civil righteousness and external peace among the nations, to govern all nations according to his good and gracious purposes. And we pray to the Lord of the church to open up additional avenues for the church and the gospel to spread in every land, including throughout all lands in the Middle East. For he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Paul R. Raabe