The Jewish Messiah
Dr. Michael Brown’s Paper on John Hagee’s “In Defense of Israel”
By Dr. Michael L. Brown
Pastor John Hagee’s new book, In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State (Lake Mary, Florida: Front Line, 2007), was publicized by announcements stating that the book would “shake Christian theology.”
The following positions are explicitly laid out in the book:
1. The Jewish people, as a whole, did not reject Jesus as Messiah.
2. Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah.
3. Jesus refused by word and deed to be the Messiah.
4. The Jews cannot be blamed for not accepting what was never offered.
Statements like this must be evaluated in light of 1 John 2:22: “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ [i.e., Messiah]. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son.” As commentator Stephen S. Smalley explained, “The true believer is the one who accepts the Christhood of Jesus, whereas those who deny his messianic identity declare themselves to be on the side of the antichrist” (Word Biblical Commentary).
What could possibly be the motivation for teaching such error? First, In Defense of Israel desires to dispel once and for all the notion that all Jews are Christ-killers, a terrible lie that has fueled anti-Semitism in the Church for more than 1,500 years. Second, the book wants to refute the false teaching of replacement theology, explaining that, “Replacement theologians have said that ‘the covenant with Israel was broken because she would not accept Jesus Christ whom God sent.’” (See p. 132 of In Defense of Israel.) Tragically, in the attempt to fight against these serious errors, a more serious error has now been introduced. Yet some believers – and even leaders! – are buying into this error hook, line, and sinker, and some have begun to teach and preach it as well.
Since the publication of the book, Pastor Hagee issued some clarifying remarks, but the clarifications only complicate the issues and fail to renounce and remove the error.
Here are three fundamental statements that all believers should be able to affirm without hesitation:
1) Jesus came to be the Messiah. This is the fundamental message of the New Testament, which is why we call him “Christ” (meaning, “Messiah”). And it is a fundamental message of the Scriptures that the Messiah had to suffer and die if he was one day to rule and reign (see, e.g., Luke 24:25-27, 44-47), a biblical truth that most of the Jewish people of Yeshua’s day missed, a biblical truth that most Jews through the ages have continued to miss, and a biblical truth that In Defense of Israel has now fed into as well.
In the clarifying statements that made since the publication of his book, it was explained that Jesus came to be the suffering Messiah but not the reigning Messiah – something, of course, that we all knew, and something that would hardly “shake Christian theology” – but these statements have simply introduced another nuance to the error, since nowhere in the New Testament is such a distinction made.
In other words, God did not say to Israel, “It’s fine that you rejected Jesus as Messiah because he did not come in the political way you expected. He had to die in order to be the Savior of the world, so you are not guilty.” There is not a hint of such a message in the Scriptures, which simply proclaim him as the Messiah, period.
That’s why Jesus explicitly identified himself as the Messiah in the Gospels (see, e.g., Matt 16:16-17; Mark 14:61-62; Luke 7:20-23; John 4:25-26; 5:39, 45-47; 10:24-25) – not as the suffering Messiah, whom his people were supposed to reject so that he could die, as opposed to the reigning Messiah, whom they would one day receive, but simply as the Messiah – and that’s why the Gospel authors frequently announced him as the Messiah (in Greek, the Christ; see, e.g., Luke 2:11, 26; John 1:41; 3:28; 11:27; 20:31). And that’s why the apostles proclaimed him as the Messiah in Acts (see, e.g., Acts 2:31, 36; 3:18, 20; 4:26; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:2-3; 18:5, 28; 26:23).
I would encourage you to look up every reference cited here. It is all quite simple, forthright, and easy to understand, and nowhere is any distinction made between the suffering and reigning Messiah. To repeat: Jesus is proclaimed as the Messiah of Israel, period, and because he is the Messiah of Israel, he is the Savior of the world.
2) The Jewish people rejected their Messiah. Although all Jews are not Christ-killers (God forbid!), and although the entire Jewish nation did not play a role in the crucifixion of Jesus, God held the Jewish people in Jesus’ day responsible for his death and, more significantly, he held them responsible for rejecting Jesus the Messiah after his resurrection. The New Testament witness is explicit and consistent on this.
That’s why the apostles preached to “the people of Israel” that they were guilty of rejecting the Messiah (Acts 2:22-23, 36; 3:13-15, 17, 19; 4:10-11; 5:30; 7:52; 13:27-28; see also John 1:12), and that’s why Paul spoke of Israel’s hardening, breaking off, stumbling, transgression, and rejection (see Rom 9:31; 10:3; 11:7, 11-12, 15, 20 – although with the full expectation of Israel’s future redemption; see Rom 11:11-15, 25-26). Again, I encourage you to take a moment to look up these passages. They are striking in their force and consistency.
Because of this rejection, severe judgment came on the Jewish people in the first century, as prophesied by Yeshua with tears (see Luke 19:41-44; see also Matt 23:29-37) and as taught in his parables (see, e.g., Matt 21:33-46; 22:1-14).
As painful as this witness is, it cannot be rewritten, nor can anyone lessen Israel’s guilt because it was God’s will that Jesus died on the cross. To the contrary, just as it was God’s will that Joseph be sold into Egyptian slavery and yet at the same time his brothers were guilty of sinning against him (Gen 44:16-45:5; 50:14-20), so also it was God’s will that Yeshua die for our sins while at the same time the Jewish people, along with Herod and Pilate and the Romans, were guilty of having him crucified (see Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).
It is scripturally impossible to claim that “the Jews cannot be blamed for not accepting what was never offered.” A glorious offer was made and refused, and that’s why Paul’s heart was broken (see Rom 9:1-5).
3) Jesus remains the Jewish Messiah, and there is no salvation for the Jewish people outside of faith in him. Although Pastor Hagee has consistently stated that he does not teach “dual covenant” theology, referring to the false concept that Jews can be saved outside of faith in Jesus, his new teaching certainly aids and abets that error. After all, if “The Jews Did Not Reject Jesus as Messiah” (as stated in bold print in his book), and if “Jesus refused by word and deed to be the Messiah” (be it the “reigning Messiah” or not), then, not only can it be said that “the Jews [in Jesus’ day] cannot be blamed for not accepting what was never offered” but that the Jews in any day cannot be blamed for not accepting Yeshua.
This again is a fundamental denial of the Word of God, and although In Defense of Israel claims that the “message of the gospel was from Israel, not to Israel,” Jesus, Peter, and Paul declared that the message of the gospel was to Israel first, and then from Israel to the nations (see Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 3:26; 13:32-39; Rom 1:16; in Paul’s words to the Jewish leaders in Rome, it was “for the sake of the hope of Israel” that he was bound in chains; Acts 28:20).
To be sure, there are a number of other errors found in the critical section of In Defense of Israel (including the myth that there was a so-called cup of the Messiah, the alleged fourth cup of the Passover meal that Yeshua supposedly refused to drink), but this is not the place to address those concerns, and to focus on the smaller problems would detract from the larger picture.
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