taking the words of Jesus seriously

Excerpt from Red Letter Revolution by Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne. Reprinted with permission.

TONY: I was on a radio show in New Zealand with a Christian Zionist who believes that Christ cannot return until the Jews are in sole possession of the Holy Land. I remember saying, “Wait a minute! Do you realize that the land that was promised to Abraham reaches from the Euphrates to the Nile? That’s what you read it in the book of Genesis. I mean, we’re not talking only about what we now call the state of Israel, or even the land occupied by Palestinians. It’s all the land from the Euphrates to the Nile. That includes a good chunk of Jordan, all of Lebanon, a good part of Egypt, and a good chunk of Syria. All of these lands would have to be cleared of non-Jews according to your beliefs, and only Jews would be allowed to live on that land. What do you propose should be done with all the people who live in that land right now?”

He said, “Well, they will have to leave, and if they won’t go voluntarily they must be forced to leave. And if they won’t budge, they will have to be killed.”

Shocked, and disbelieving what I had just heard, I asked, “Are you talking about genocide?”

His response was: “Well, didn’t God ordain genocide when the Jews went into the Holy Land the first time? Were the Jews not ordered to kill every man, woman and child, along with every animal? Were they not called upon to exercise genocide back then? The God who ordered genocide back when Joshua invaded the Holy Land is the same God we have today.”

I had to tell this Christian that my understanding of God as revealed in Jesus Christ trumps whatever was thought about God back there in Old Testament days. I do not believe that the God who is revealed in Jesus is a God who wills genocide. “If you and I hold opposite positions on this,” I told him, “I am not sure we worship the same God.”

Two things to be said about this. First, when Christian Zionists believe that Christ cannot return until the Jews are in sole possession of the Holy Land, they make Paul into a mistaken man. Paul said that every Christian, at every moment of every day from his time on, should live in the expectancy of the immediate return of Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:1–11). If Paul was right, then let it be said to anyone reading this book that, before you finish this paragraph, a trumpet could sound and Christ could return, whether or not the Jews are sole possessors of the Holy Land. To deny that is to deny what Scripture teaches.

Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus said to his disciples, “This generation shall not pass away till all these things are fulfilled” (Matthew 24:34). Was Jesus lying? His words led those in the early church to fix their attention on Saint John. He was the last surviving disciple, so folks figured the second coming of Christ would have to occur before he died. The early Christians lived with the expectation that Christ’s return was in the immediate future. There isn’t a theologian or a biblical scholar who I know of who will debate the fact that the early church, following the resurrection of Christ, expected Jesus to return at any moment. Are the Christian Zionists then saying, “Oh, those early Christians were wrong. They were mistaken because it’s already been more than two thousand years and Christ hasn’t returned”? Are they suggesting that Jesus was misleading his disciples, and that Paul made a mistake when he challenged the church to live in the expectancy of a Christ who could return at any moment? To think that way, I say, is blasphemy.

The Scriptures talk about the eschaton (the conclusion of history) when Christ returns. Christians shouldn’t talk as though the earth will end by being burnt up by fire. The Bible tells us that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; Revelation 21:1).

Isaiah 65 describes this world in wonderful terms. It says that when that great day comes, that everyone will have a decent house to live in. Isaiah tells us that everyone will have a job and that everyone will get the fair pay for his or her labors. That means that there won’t be children in Thailand producing sneakers and being paid only a dollar a day, so that we can buy those sneakers at bargain prices at Walmart and Target.

Children will no longer die in infancy, and old people will live out their long lives in health and wellbeing. That’s a vision of the eschaton that is “good news.” It is a vision of the future that challenges me to work toward those ends in the here and now.

SHANE: One of the clearest signs of hope I’ve seen happened in the West Bank this year; I got to visit a family who are new heroes of mine, the Nassar family. They put a name and a face on the conflict. They are Palestinian Christians who have lived simple lives off the land for generations, until recently. Israeli settlements have been built all around them, and the Israeli government tried to take their land. Unlike most families who lived in communal handshake agreements on land deals, they actually have deeds going back over a hundred years that prove they own their land, which made things tricky for the Israeli government.

As the Nassar family continued living on their land, a new strategy evolved—harassment. Olive trees were uprooted. Piles of boulders were dumped on the road leading to their home, so they couldn’t get any vehicles in and out. Even though they owned the land, they were refused permits for electricity and water. So, they went off the grid and used solar and rainwater collection. When they were refused building structure permits for their home, they started building underground, which is where I got to visit them.

It is one of the most inspirational stories of persistent love and Christ-driven nonviolence I have ever seen. At the front of their property is a sign that reads, “We refuse to be enemies.” After their olive trees were uprooted, a Jewish group caught wind of it and came and helped them replant them all. One story after another of reconciliation. One final attempt was made to buy them out, and the Israeli government offered them a blank check, telling them to name the price, however many millions of dollars they want for their land. But the Nassar family said, “No, there is no price.” They continue to live there and have gotten to know their neighbors. At one point they invited one of the Israeli settlers do dinner. When she came into their house, she started weeping, and said, “You have no water, and we have swimming pools. Something is wrong.” And when asked how they retain hope in the midst of such injustice, they simply say, “Jesus” with a big smile. (4)

Chapter 22. On the Middle East
4. Here’s where you can learn more about the Nassar family: http://www.tentofnations.org. And here are some powerful videos from our last visit: http://vimeo.com/37434264, http://vimeo.com/37416952, and

About The Author


Tony Campolo is Professor of Sociology at Eastern University, and was formerly on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania. For 40 years, he founded and led the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that created and supported programs serving needy communities in the Third World as well as in “at risk” neighborhoods across North America. More recently, Dr. Campolo has provided leadership for the Red Letter Christians movement. He blogs regularly at his own website. Tony and his wife Peggy live near Philadelphia, and have two children and four grandchildren.

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