Jesus the ‘Palestinian’
In some Christian circles, the theological justification for gaining freedom from Israeli “occupation” is Christian Palestinianism, a form of liberation theology that emphasizes Jesus’ humanity and portrays Him as the great liberator of the poor and oppressed of this world. It replaces the Jewish Messiah of the Bible with a Palestinian martyr.
One of the first church leaders to connect Liberation Theology with the Palestinian cause was Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican serving as canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. In 1989 he published Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, and he founded Sabeel, the Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.(See “Palestinian Liberation Theology” by Christopher J. Katulka in the July/August 2012 issue of Israel My Glory.)
Palestinian Liberation Theology has redefined Jesus Christ. Ateek wrote in 2008, “Palestinian liberation theology focuses on the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth, who was also a Palestinian living under an occupation.”1 The belief that Jesus was a Palestinian who suffered under occupation has become popular among Palestinian Christians and is an effective propaganda tool against Israel.2
Ateek’s 2001 Easter message equated Jesus’ sufferings 2,000 years ago with the struggle of modern Palestinian Arabs:
Jesus is the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint….It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him….Palestinian men, women, and children [are] being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.3
To arrive at their views, purveyors of Christian Palestinianism redefine God. No longer is He the God of Israel presented in Scripture but a God of their own making. They adopt a low view of Scripture’s authority and fail to develop their views of God and Israel from a thorough study of God’s Word.
First, they create a God who favors the Palestinian Arabs and writes off Israel. Then, they work to support their theories from the Bible. This is the opposite of how Scripture should be studied.
Ateek argues for a new hermeneutic, a new way of interpreting the Bible:
When confronted with a difficult passage in the Bible…one needs to ask,…Does this fit the picture I have of God that Jesus revealed to me?…If it does, then the passage is valid and authoritative. If not, then I cannot accept it as valid or authority.4
In a book he authored in 2008, Ateek spoke of the Old Testament as needing to be “de-Zionized” and saw the unique role God assigned to Israel for His sovereign purpose as racist.5
Ateek is not alone. Armed with Replacement Theology and a new hermeneutic, other Christian theologians are championing the cause of Christian Palestinianism. Determined to prove the nation of Israel has no modern-day, biblical right to the Promised Land, they redefine Jesus’ reason for coming to Earth to argue against Israel’s divine land grant.
In doing so, they are attempting to repackage Replacement Theology into what they call “Fulfillment Theology.” Colin Chapman, a lecturer in Islamic studies at a theology school in Lebanon, claims everything the Old Testament prophets said about the land and people of Israel was spiritually “fulfilled” 2,000 years ago through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, Israel has no future or prophetic significance because the church is “the new Israel.”6
Similarly, Gary Burge of Wheaton College claims,
Jesus does not envision a restoration of Israel per se but instead sees himself as embracing the drama of Jerusalem within his own life….The initial restoration of Israel has already begun inasmuch as Christ, the new Temple, the New Israel, has been resurrected.7
Burge is on record as saying, “Some of my friends will accuse me of Replacement Theology….There is another way to write this equation. I think I might call it ‘Messianic Fulfillment.’”8
Acts 1:6–8 anticipates a future for Israel. As they gathered together, the disciples asked Jesus if He would at that time restore the Kingdom to Israel. However, in explaining this ancient conversation about reestablishing the Kingdom, Donald E. Wagner, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University in Chicago, Illinois, says, “Here Jesus was telling the disciples not to place their trust in nor devote their energy to end-time prophecy or the militant Zionist ideology of the Zealots.”9
The Christian-Palestinian arguments against any biblical justification for modern Israel’s possession of the land misrepresent the God of Scripture. God is no longer the covenant keeper; He is the covenant breaker. He is not the God who has promised a grand future for the nation of Israel; He is the God who has rejected Israel.
Replacement Theology is a seductive misrepresentation of Scripture; and people who believe God has given the church all the covenant promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants have no choice but to deny the covenant promise of the land to Israel.
The land issue is critical, for if modern Israel has a biblical basis for living there, then it also has a divine right to possess biblical Samaria and Judea (West Bank), the territory Israel is accused of “occupying,” thus denying Christian Palestinianism its most compelling argument.
- Naim Stifan Ateek, A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008), 11.
- Paul Wilkinson, Prophets Who Prophesy Lies in My Name (Cheshire, UK: Hazel Grove Full Gospel Church, 2011), 4.
- Naim Ateek, “An Easter Message From Sabeel,” April 6, 2001 <sabeel.org/pdfs/2001%20Easter%20Message.htm>.
- Naim Stifan Ateek, Justice and Only Justice (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989), 81–82.
- Ateek, A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation, 55.
- Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 176.
- Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 60–61.
- Gary Burge, “Theology of the Land in the New Testament,” speech delivered at Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, Bethlehem, Israel, March 20, 2012 <youtube.com/watch?v=FRlgxfqB8wI>.
- Donald E. Wagner, Anxious for Armageddon (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1995), 83.