A Christian friend checked in with me recently, knowing that I am a Messianic Jew. But part of her email dampened my hope for any comfort her note might bring. Her spiritual mentors, she wrote, have said the Israel-Hamas war is God’s judgment for Israel’s waywardness.
I responded heatedly, “If Christians don’t support Israel, well, they can just give back the Jewish Messiah who is mourning for his people right now.”
Had I taken a moment to calm down, I would have said that Christians should refrain from claiming to know the theological meaning behind the brutal massacre of Israelis by Hamas on October 7. “None of us has a full view of the heavenly realm,” I should have said, “or perfect discernment about the spiritual nature of the attacks or the ensuing conflict.” I might have also added that we all need to recall that Yeshua (Jesus) came to save, not to judge: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17).
My friend’s mentors aren’t the only Christians to suggest that tragedies in Israel are the result of divine judgment. There are many Christians who believe this type of attack is following a biblical pattern of Israel sinning followed by God’s punishment for that disobedience. And they often forget what completes that model: Israel’s repentance and God’s restoration.
Some Christians look beyond current events to proclaim the whole modern State of Israel is unrighteous, and they deny any future biblical relevance to the land. “God’s project in Christ is not the restoration of a kingdom in the Middle East, a political nation,” said Gary M. Burge, New Testament professor, author, and Christian anti-Zionist, in a recent interview. “God’s project in the New Testament is the restoration of all his creation.” Burge’s theology ultimately erases the original land promise to the Jewish people by universalizing it.
Burge is not alone in arguing that the Abrahamic covenant—which includes God granting the land to the Jewish people (Gen. 12:1–3)—is conditional and requires Jewish faithfulness to God. “Fidelity to the covenant is an essential component of receiving the gift of the land,” he said. And for Burge, the Jews in modern-day Israel, whom he sees as mostly non-religious, are not faithful to that covenant. “A secular state is making religious claims on an Old Testament promise,” Burge adds, “and that Old Testament promise requires a religious life.” Burge claims “75 percent” of Israelis are nonreligious. He contends this version of Israel can’t possibly be committed to the covenant of Abraham.
But Burge’s Christian categories of “faithful” and “unfaithful” don’t map onto categories of secular and religious in Israel. In reality, there’s a spectrum of belief in God and religious tradition within “secular” Israeli society that may not be evident by what people wear or whether they attend synagogue—and that’s not to mention the presumptuousness of Burge’s judging the character of an entire people’s spirituality. Moreover, recent statistics in the Jewish Virtual Library indicate that only 44 percent of adult Israelis identify as secular.
While Messianic Jews do believe in an ultimate restoration of all creation, that doesn’t negate God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, including that of the land of Israel, which we see as unconditional (Gen. 12, 15; Acts 7:4–5; Hebrews 11:9) and eternal (Ps. 105). The Jewish people are exiled numerous times, as described in the Hebrew Scriptures, due to various sins against God. But God always returns them to that same land because, as the apostle Paul states, “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).
I am deeply moved—and I hope Christians like Burge might be as well—by the biblical scene where God ratified his covenant with Abraham regarding the land that he would give him and his descendants: “When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces” (Gen. 15:17–21).
God alone walked through the pieces of animals to confirm the covenant. And God remains committed throughout history to the promises in that Abrahamic covenant, and layers other covenants such as the Mosaic and Davidic covenants upon that first one. Israel’s failure to meet obligations within the Mosaic covenant does not annul God’s faithfulness in his first contract to Israel through Abraham. Grace and repentance are built into all of God’s covenants with Israel.
For me, like for most Messianic Jews, the Jewish people continue to be God’s chosen people bound by eternal covenant promises. The call to the Gentile nations to join Jews in worshipping the God of Israel does not undo those promises to the Jewish people (Rom. 11:11–12, 25–26), nor does it give non-Jews the right to assess Israel’s relationship with God. The Jewish apostle Paul actually condemns any Gentile Christian pride toward the Jewish people in his letter to the Romans (11:18–20). It is acceptable for Jews, however, to have in-house arguments, as we did in the times of Yeshua; and Christians should leave it to us to evaluate Jewish behavior and our own fidelity to our covenants.
Christians are drawn into the commonwealth of Israel. That gift should lead to gratitude and love for the Jewish people—not criticism in our times of distress. Paul reminds non-Jews of that shared citizenship: “Remember that at that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Recalling this should shape how Christians speak about Israel now.
Gentile Christians should also remember that God works through them to elicit jealousy among Jewish people who have not yet recognized Yeshua as Messiah (Rom. 11:11), so that they too may be drawn to him. Christian judgment of Israelis’ present suffering is not only presumptuous, it will also repel Jewish people from their own Messiah.
So how can Gentile Christians truly comfort Israel now? Messianic Jews hope Christian churches and leaders are fervently praying for Israel, talking about Israel from their pulpits, and learning the history of that holy piece of geography where the Jewish Messiah lived, died, arose, ascended, and will eventually return in the end of days (Zech. 14:4).
As Messianic Jewish theologian Mark Kinzer argues in his book Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen—and in a debate in 2020 with theologian N. T. Wright—there’s an enduring significance of this land as the center of a redeemed world. Paul’s ministry strategy was one of continuous return to Jerusalem, Kinzer argues, so the Book of Acts ending in Rome is a cliffhanger that still awaits resolution—a final return to Jerusalem, the future city of the Messiah’s second coming.
For me, the entire context of Christian faith flows from the Jewish world in the Israel of the first century. Israel maintains importance in the present, even with its imperfect politics, and Christian hope will culminate in Israel with Messiah’s return. Jesus can never be severed from the Jewish community he continues to love in the land (and in diaspora).
It is crucial for Christians to vocally confirm the history of the ancient Israelites’ possession of that land and to understand that the promises to the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs have not been superseded. It’s also incumbent upon Jesus’ followers to uphold that bond between Israel and her God by condemning brutal crimes committed against Israelis and rising global antisemitism.
Messianic Jews also hope that Christians can recognize that all Jews (including Messianic ones) are currently in mourning. The vicious murders of 1,200 Israelis—together with thousands injured and 240 people taken hostage from the south of Israel on that Sabbath almost two months ago—still feel like fresh wounds to our hearts. It is as if each innocent baby, sister, brother, mother, father, and grandparent were part of our immediate family. We are still experiencing a combination of shock, deep sadness, anger, desire for revenge, horror, and helplessness, all molded into one compressed emotion.
In Jewish tradition, we mourn for seven days when someone in our family passes away. It’s called Shiva, which means “seven” in Hebrew—the period of time after the burial when Jewish people sit on unconventionally low chairs as we weep for our deceased loved ones. As Messianic Jews, we aren’t yet ready to rise from those chairs, and we don’t know when our mourning will end, partly because those attacked are still being identified and buried.
There is a time for mourning, as the Book of Ecclesiastes notes wisely (3:4), so please don’t ask us to move on or judge us for being unspiritual because of our ongoing tears. As we continue our lament, we will find moments to pray to God and to praise God for all his promises to Israel and for drawing the nations to himself through the Jewish Messiah.
As a Messianic Jew, I am grateful for Gentile Christians who take courageous stands on behalf of Israel. On one of my regular walks in my neighborhood, I saw a front yard sign in the blue and white Israeli flag colors that read, I Stand with Israel. The people who live there are not Jewish, and this symbol helped to momentarily dispel my fears that have been growing about antisemitism.
My neighbor’s action contrasted with my own thoughts of whether I should remove my mezuzah from my home’s doorpost. The next day, I left a note of thanks in their mailbox.
Right after the initial attacks on Israel, I was invited to attend an evening prayer meeting for Israel at a local church. I jumped at the opportunity to share my thoughts and to engage in prayer with Christians. Some of the Christians at that meeting had decided they were going to bring white roses, a symbol of resistance to Nazis during World War II, to the local Jewish community center to show their support. Among other plans, they would also continue to pray for the hostages taken by Hamas and for the safety of Jews worldwide.
That night, I witnessed and treasured this small group of Christians. They had offered comfort, not judgment.
Deborah Pardo-Kaplan is a religion reporter living in Austin, Texas.