The Rapture Factor
Why conservative Christians' love of Israel is intertwined with the Battle of Armageddon
Continued from page 1
This belief is shared by most of the major evangelical leaders--among them Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Beverly LaHaye, Jack Hayford, and Oral Roberts--all of whom are avidly pro-Israel. Even Billy Graham shares this sentiment, despite therecent dust-up over his anti-Semitic remarks in the Nixon White House.
The evangelical view of the Book of Revelation, meanwhile, has gained widespread support among the American public because of the wildly popular Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye (husband of Christian activist Beverly LaHaye) and Jerry Jenkins, which has sold more than 30 million copies in the seven years since it was launched.
This view--though not new--is having an effect. It very likely explains why President Bush hasn't pressured Israel to curb its crackdown on Palestinians in recent weeks.
According to Land, evangelicals' relationship with Jews and Israel intensified after World War II, partly because of the Holocaust but mostly because the establishment of Israel seemed to evangelicals to prove the Bible's prophecies. By the 1950s and 1960s, Land said, affinity with Israel was an "essential part" of the Southern Baptist churches he grew up in around Texas. In fact, the late W.A. Criswell, the great pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, traveled to Israel in the early 1950s and met with David Ben Gurion. Later, he often preached that Jews' return to their land was the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
By the 1970s, Hal Lindsey wrote the best-selling book of the decade, The Late Great Planet Earth, which introduced this view of biblical prophecy to a wide audience. It was a kind of non-fiction forerunner of today's Left Behind series. Lindsey translated the "fire and brimstone" of the Book of Revelation into nuclear war and wrote that the 1960s upheaval showed the end was near.
So if evangelicals believe human history is following a predetermined divine script, and they and Israel are simply playing their assigned roles, why even bother to influence the outcome of Israel's fate?
As it turns out, evangelicals are somewhat opaque on this question.
According to Land--and most evangelical scholars--Israel's existence is critical. "We're one step closer to the end-times than we were before the Jews came back into their land because my understanding of biblical prophecy is that Israel is established in the land at the time that the events of the Second Coming take place," he says.