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

Dr. Paul Raabe
Professor Emeritus of Exegetical Theology

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6 Comments

  1. Tracy Pace October 28, 2023
    Reply

    Great exposition Dr Raabe. I was hoping someone reverent would lead the way on that. Thank you. What is happening is wrong, there is another Way.

    And similarly, when we say ‘one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,’ I believe that is the ages-long collective of believers and seekers we join who are called variously reflected via their cultures, learning and personalities. The teachings of Jesus lead us to God, not what we name our churches or religions or factions or nations. We’re all meant to collaborate, support and work together to serve God, I really believe that.

    The scripture which came to mind then was Luke 7,

    ‘“To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying:
    ‘We played the flute for you,
    And you did not dance;
    We mourned to you,
    And you did not weep.’
    For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’
    The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

    But wisdom is justified by all her children.” ‘

    ‘…wisdom is justified by all her children…’ Even then as I was recalling all that I was thinking ‘what version of Jesus’ words should I use?’! People say ‘The Bible is the Word of God’ when more accurately it is ‘The God-inspired words of people.’ ‘Through a glass darkly’ as opposed to ‘face to face’. Interpret with caution and compassion.

    • Rev. Michael Mueller November 26, 2023

      No, the Bible is exactly “The Word of God”, inspired, inerrant and infallible plenary words of God.

  2. Tom Koenig October 29, 2023
    Reply

    What does this mean? “We are not dispensational premillennialists.” Good article about mid east thinking

    • Kevin Golden October 30, 2023

      Among the interpretive missteps of dispensational premillennialism is interpreting prophetic texts outside of their historical context by reading them as being primarily a foretelling of 21st century events. Thus, Dr. Raabe references Ezekiel and Zephaniah as speaking to their own historical context. As Raabe also points out, when prophetic texts are interpreted to be about 21st century events, the interpreter leapfrogs over (and effectively ignores) the New Testament, namely, the centrality of Christ in the interpretation of all of scripture.

  3. Tracy Pace November 1, 2023
    Reply

    Well said Dr Golden. Dispensationalism and the literal interpretation of the Bible creates numerous problems for people who would follow the teachings of Christ. NZ theologian Bosco Peters calls it ‘flattening the narrative’. Which is also exactly what the US and Israel have done with regards to modern history, since the 19th century invention of Zionism, and the ongoing lack of fair and Christian treatment of the Palestinian nation. Premillenialism in practice can be an ugly representation justifying cruelty and discompassion, ‘we are living in the end of times’ we can say, defending violence and chaos, but no Bible date has been given to us, and the world has many troubled eras to live through. Jesus does clearly foretell what it means to us to follow his teachings and be included or excluded from God’s kingdom, what will be judged of us, in Matthew 25, ” ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ” If we must obsess on the end of the world, let’s focus on that. Ordinary people everywhere need equal consideration, equal rights to God’s blessings, equal freedoms. One of Martin Luther’s theses was ‘To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.’ Some of the recent leadership ideas on eschatology (and other matters I suppose) damage the churches and the Christians similarly, not to mention cause chaos for others around the world caught up in conflicts.

    • Rev. Michael Mueller November 26, 2023

      First of all, there is NO Palestinian Nation. They keep rejecting a State and only seek the destruction of Israel and all Jews. We have no Biblical date of His return, because even Jesus does not that day and hour. Also, I guess the Bible got it wrong when it said we are to serve, in order, God, family, church and the world.

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