When the U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem, evangelical Christians hailed it as the fulfillment of Bible prophecy. In the wake of anti-Trump sentiment and a suspicion of evangelicals, some suggested that Trump moved the embassy because he or his supporters secretly believed that doing so would usher in the End Times.
Hogwash. Evangelical Christians may interpret the state of Israel and the Jerusalem embassy as fulfillments of Bible prophecy, but there is no indication that President Trump chose to move the embassy for this reason. Instead, the president had three secular abundant reasons for doing so.
Perhaps most importantly, Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem to fulfill a campaign promise and to make good on a 22-year-old law. “I fulfilled my campaign promise — others didn’t,” the president tweeted last December. Along with his tweet went a video montage of former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — as candidates — promising to recognize Jerusalem as the formal capital city of Israel.
The U.S. Embassy was a long time coming. In 1989, Israel — which considered Jerusalem its formal capital in 1949 — began leasing to the U.S. a plot of land in Jerusalem as the location of a new embassy. In 1995, Congress passed a law requiring the U.S. to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Clinton, Bush, and Obama each decided not to fulfill their pledges, in the interest of preserving peace in the area around Jerusalem. Indeed, after the U.S. Embassy opened, violent mobs erupted in the area — many instigated by the terrorist group Hamas.
Despite the violence, this unfulfilled promise seemed a perfect opportunity for Trump to make good on his pledge to support Israel and to “Make America Great Again,” by asserting unilateral U.S. leadership. This move demonstrated Trump’s leadership and trustworthiness at little direct cost to the U.S., and showed that while former presidents were right to fear violence, the resulting violence was perhaps less than they feared.
Secondly, while President Trump identifies as a Christian and goes to church, many have described him as a “baby Christian.” It would be out of character for a man of bravado like Trump to make such a large policy move for religious reasons — especially when he had many other personal and political reasons to do so.
The president’s daughter Ivanka and her husband, a Trump advisor, Jared Kushner, are Orthodox Jews. Their relationship to the president helps explain — better than any Bible prophecy — why Trump would firmly support the state of Israel and carry out the embassy move.
Thirdly, President Trump’s foreign policy represents a drastic and welcome sea change from the blunders of President Barack Obama. During the same week the U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem, Trump formally withdrew from the disastrous Iran Nuclear Deal, which was seen as a betrayal of Israel and utterly impotent at stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
The embassy move, like pulling out of the Iran Deal, signified that America was once again firmly behind the state of Israel, after Obama’s tenure.
That said, Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress did pray at the embassy’s opening ceremony. “Father we are also grateful as we think about what happened 70 years ago today at this very moment, when you fulfilled the prophecies of the prophets from thousands of years ago and regathered your people in this promised land,” the pastor said.
Another pastor at the event, Rev. John Hagee, leads Christians United for Israel, an organization dedicated to dispensationalist theology that ties Israel to End Times prophecies.
Around the same time, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro declared, “Donald Trump recognized history. He like [the ancient Persian] King Cyrus before him, fulfilled the biblical prophecy of the Gods worshipped by Jews, Christians, and yes Muslims that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state.”
Jerusalem does indeed carry deep historical significance. After King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and carried many Jews into exile, Jeremiah prophesied that God would restore Jerusalem, and indeed that prophecy came to pass when King Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon and allowed many Jews to return to Israel. The Persian king even financed the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls (Nehemiah built a wall and got the Persians to pay for it!).
In the biblical book of Revelation, St. John prophesied that the city of God would be a new Jerusalem with streets of gold, no more tears, and the presence of God filling the city with light.
For these and other reasons, evangelical Christians associate Jerusalem with Bible prophecy, and they are right to do so. They often go overboard, however, suggesting that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 suggests that Jesus will come again soon.
Indeed, a LifeWay Research survey from last December found that 52 percent of evangelicals said one reason they support Israel is that the state is “important for fulfilling biblical prophecy.” A full 80 percent said that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was one of the events that constitute “fulfillments of Bible prophecy that show we are getting closer to the return of Jesus Christ.”
These kind of arguments are not only wrong, but they alienate non-Christians, who seem to have a hard enough time grasping that Jesus is the only way to God (Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney attacked Jeffress for this), or that some polygamy Bible passages describe history rather than a pattern for family life (leading to the hysteria over evangelicals supposedly wanting to usher in “The Handmaid’s Tale”).
The Bible does indeed prophesy that God will bring His people from the ends of the earth back to Israel, but Jesus specifically warned against prophesying the exact time of His Second Coming. “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only,” He said (Matthew 24:36-37).
Furthermore, many interpret Bible prophecy as “already and not yet.” While the true fulfillment of Bible prophecy may still be in the future (not all Jews have been brought to the Holy Land, if that is indeed the meaning of the prophecy), partial fulfillments have indeed happened — the Jewish return to Jerusalem at the time of King Cyrus and the establishment of Israel in 1948.
Christians must be extremely wary of the pride of thinking they can bring about the fulfillment of End Times prophecy, or that they can know when Jesus will return. Some Christians have actually committed sins against others thinking that by making the world worse they may bring the End Times to pass. Nowhere did Jesus suggest any such thing, and efforts like this only make Christianity less plausible to non-believers.
Wherever Christians come down on the issue, Trump almost certainly did not make the decision to open the Jerusalem embassy to fulfill Bible prophecy or to usher in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.