On Tuesday, approximately 300,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to show their support for Israel in an ongoing war that has claimed the lives of thousands of people. The lineup of speakers at the “March for Israel” included Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Jewish-American celebrities like Debra Messing and Tovah Feldshuh, as well as rabbis and cantors.
It also included an evangelical Christian pastor from Texas, infamous for his fire-and-brimstone prophecies about the end of the world. “Israel, you are not alone,” John Hagee proclaimed in his San Antonio twang. “If a line has to be drawn, we draw it together — Christians and Jews, we are one.”
Numerous progressive Jewish groups were aghast that Hagee was on the lineup. He’s an open bigot on any number of levels, having condemned gay people and Muslims to hell, and even getting rebuked publicly by then-Republican presidential nominee John McCain for his hatred of Catholics. What made Hagee’s presence at a primarily Jewish event particularly odd, however, is his history of bizarre and offensive comments about Jews themselves — such as claiming that “Rothschild bankers” control the U.S. economy — not to mention his embrace of a theology that views Jews as chess pieces for a massive, apocalyptic battle, in which the conversion of Jews to Christianity will set the stage for Jesus’ triumphant return to earth. Based on his many books and sermons, when Hagee says “Christians and Jews are one” what he really means is that when Jews convert en masse, the world will end in bliss for the saved and misery for everyone else.
Hagee’s theology is at the core of an evangelical movement that has seen its influence rise meteorically in recent years: a doctrine called Christian Zionism. Hagee is perhaps its most famous, and certainly among its most influential, practitioner, and his presence at the “March for Israel” on Tuesday was in many ways a pinnacle for the ideology — which welcomes the bloodshed in Gaza.
In 2006, Hagee founded the enormously influential lobby Christians United For Israel — an organization that currently claims 10 million members (significantly more than the approximately 8 million Jews that live in the United States). CUFI is a passionately Christian Zionist organization (“God is the original Zionist,” claimed Pastor Scott Thomas, CUFI’s Florida state director, in a sermon). CUFI routinely runs missions, fundraisers, campus initiatives, summits, marches, and “Stand With Israel” prayer meetings. Its calendar for just one week in November 2023 showed events in Washington, South Carolina, Utah, Maine, Illinois, Louisiana, and California. During the current war, CUFI has raised $2.65 million for Israeli charities through its large and responsive flock.
Hagee also personally despises Jews, a fact he has revealed in numerous sermons over the years. His interest in Israel and its population is purely utilitarian: Christian Zionists love Jews like a hungry man loves a chicken wing — it’s an interest borne out of need and whose end is total consumption. Despite his fiscal and propagandistic support of Israel, Hagee himself has rationalized the history of persecution of the Jews as divine punishment for their disobedience of Christ. He has stated that Adolf Hitler was a “half-breed” Jew and that the Antichrist will be a homosexual, deceiving Jew. In a 1999 sermon, he famously remarked that “God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land.”
The same year he founded CUFI, Hagee wrote a book laying out his specific geopolitical thesis of the End Times titled The Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World (later adapted to a Christian thriller film in 2011). In it, he predicts a vast and bloody war preceding Christ’s return and the Rapture, in which Islamic nations descend on Israel and are slaughtered. “How many dead will there be? According to [Ezekiel 39] verses 11 and 12, the physical death is going to be so massive it will take every able-bodied man in Israel seven months to bury the dead,” Hagee writes. “The message is that God is in total control of what appears to be a hopeless situation for Israel. He has dragged these anti-Semitic nations to the nations of Israel to crush them so that the Jews of Israel as a whole will confess that He is the Lord.”
Despite — or perhaps because of — his blood-drenched rhetoric, Hagee is a prominent figure in the American evangelical landscape, and in the Republican Party. He has appeared repeatedly with Donald Trump, while courting other prominent right-wing political figures. Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and Ron DeSantis have all prayed beside Hagee at his Cornerstone Church, a megachurch in San Antonio, during the 2023 Republican primary (Haley, a former governor of South Carolina and Trump’s Ambassador to the UN, actually launched her campaign at Hagee’s church). Not incidentally, their opinions on the Israel-Hamas war have been bullish, and several GOP presidential candidates have vowed to militarily attack Iran. “We need to go and take out their infrastructure,” Haley said during a recent GOP primary debate.
Hagee’s views, though extreme, are not entirely isolated from the evangelical community at large. In a poll conducted in 2018 by Christian research organization LifeWay Research, a staggering 80 percent of evangelicals agreed with the statement that the creation of the modern state of Israel was a “fulfillment of Bible prophecy that shows we are getting closer to the return of Jesus Christ.” Some may see this as imminent, others as eventual, though a 2010 Pew poll showed nearly 60 percent of white evangelical Christians in the U.S. expect Jesus Christ to return by 2050.
This was borne out in a number of evangelical responses to the current Israel-Hamas war, which began on October 7 with the slaughter of over a thousand Israelis by Hamas, and which has continued in a welter of bloodshed caused by the Israeli military’s bombings and incursions into Gaza. It is a humanitarian crisis that has drawn the world’s attention, but for evangelicals like Hagee — of which there are millions across the U.S. — it’s an occasion for celebration.
“Does the ongoing bloodshed in Israel point to a potential fulfillment of Bible prophecy?” asked the evangelical Christian Post on October 10, three days after the initial massacre. The evangelical pastor Greg Laurie, author of more than 70 Christian books and a former spiritual adviser to the Trump administration, had a ready answer. “Fasten your seatbelt because you’re seeing Bible prophecy fulfilled in your lifetime before your very eyes,” he said in a YouTube video that week that racked up 1.4 million views.
Wayne J. Edwards, a pastor of the Heritage Baptist Church in Perry, Georgia, also responded with palpable glee. “It is obvious that Israel’s enemies do not recognize that God has given that land to the Jews, and that the Jews must be in the land for the final end-time prophecies to be fulfilled,” he wrote as the death toll continued to rise. “Just think! God has allowed us to see the day when His prophetic clock started running again. We are the generation to see the final biblical prophecies come to pass. Rejoice! The King is coming!”
This cheering-on of the apocalypse from the cheap seats, this heady sense that Christ’s return and the end of the world has started in the field of corpses, epitomizes evangelical reliance on the literal and exhaustive interpretation of Biblical prophecy.
The Christians who see the contemporary conflict — and the generations of signs and omens that preceded it — as the beginning of the end of the world generally adhere to a doctrine called premillenarian dispensationalism, which was developed in the late nineteenth century and holds that the world is divided into eras, or dispensations, which will culminate in Christ’s triumphant return. At that point, as the Institute for Christian History puts it, “the divine script can be played out to the end. The Antichrist will rise, Christ and his saints will break through the clouds and destroy him and his followers in battle (the Second Coming), the nations of the world will be judged, and Satan will be thrown into a bottomless pit. The victorious Messiah will restore the throne of David, and the millennial kingdom will begin, followed by the Last Judgment and a new heaven and earth. The seven dispensations then over, time shall be no more.”
Anticipation of the End Times does not mean believers are content to passively await the coming of the Messiah. They seek to “hasten the coming,” as 2 Peter puts it, treating the world as an apocalyptic chessboard whose pawns they may manipulate to set up the triumph of their King. And the chief square on the chessboard — the place where the end of the world kicks off — is Israel. It’s why volunteer “Christian farmhands” have devoted their labor to further shoring up Jewish presence in the “biblical heartland,” with the faithful soliciting their hearts, minds, and dollars to make imminent the end of the world. Christian Zionists have spent some $65 million in support of ongoing Israeli settlement within the disputed territory of the West Bank.
The most striking and specific example of the endeavor to “hasten the coming” may be the decades-long effort by eschatologically-minded evangelical Christians in the United States and a fringe sect of Jewish zealots in Israel to breed a red heifer — or young, female cow — without blemish. As dictated in the purity rituals outlined in Numbers 19, the sacred cow’s ashes are a precondition for the return of Jewish sacrifice in a rebuilt Holy Temple.
“These prophecies require … the Temple, the center of worship and sacrifice in the ancient Jewish world, which was last destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., [to be] rebuilt,” the author Lawrence Wright wrote in a 1998 New Yorker article about the red heifer initiative. “In order for the Jews to rebuild the Temple and prepare the way for the return of the Messiah they must be purified with the ashes of a red heifer.”
For a generation, a collection of Mississippi cattle breeders, led by a Pentecostal preacher named Clyde Lott, have tried to breed the perfect heifer to bring to Israel so its ashes may be scattered over the beginning of a new world. As recently as September 2022, five red calves were shipped by Texan rancher and minister Byron Stinson to Ben Gurion Airport.
The red heifer is a very literal prophecy, but it also works double-time as a symbol of the way Christian Zionism fundamentally works. It’s a prophecy of a new world born out of the ashes of living beings, a fantasy of consumption and destruction that will lead to a new and holy world.
The remains of living beings other than cattle are necessary, as well — which is part of why Christian Zionists have also been working so hard to shape American foreign policy. The more military aid funneled to Israel and the more death and destruction erupt in the Middle East, the closer believers come to witnessing global-scale conflict — or the “Battle of Gog and Magog” as prophesied by Ezekiel, a precursor to the Second Coming and the ultimate vindication of Christian faith.
Israel’s military firepower has brought plenty of death and destruction to Gaza since the latest conflict broke out, and while Christian Zionists view Jews as intensely utilitarian (they must own the land of Israel, then die en masse as a trigger condition for Jesus’ return), their views on Palestinians are even more grotesque. Palestinians, being extraneous to the apocalypse, are considered an obstacle to its arrival. Evangelicals have accordingly made alliances with the most extremist elements of Israeli society, joining together in a mutual desire to expel or annihilate Palestinians from God’s kingdom of Zion. The necessity of such an annihilation is a major part of why Christians are so militant about “standing with Israel”: by eliminating Palestinians, Jews edge closer to the eschatological preconditions that presage Christ’s return. Some 2,000 evangelical leaders affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention signed a letter last month lending unconditional support to Israeli military action, granting “the power to bear the sword.”
This has borne out over decades, with evangelical advisers to George W. Bush convincing his administration to slow-walk any support for a nascent Palestinian state, and the Trump administration openly supporting ever-more-aggressive Jewish settlement within Palestinian territory. “President Donald Trump made no secret of his desire to keep Hagee and Christian Zionist voters happy as a key part of his base by abandoning even the pretense that the U.S. was a neutral player in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” wrote former Guardian Jerusalem correspondent Chris McGreal in March 2023.
At the present moment, the American public is divided, with many people distressed by the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and calling for a ceasefire. However, the large, muscular and well-connected Christian right, particularly the millions of an apocalyptically oriented bent, are opposing it. Demonstrators at the “March for Israel” on Tuesday even chanted “No Cease-fire!” The crowd’s motivations for opposing a cease-fire surely vary, but for Christian Zionists like Hagee, who spoke from the same stage as Jones, more war means more deaths and “God’s timepiece” ticking closer to the blissful Rapture when true believers will be “snatched up into the clouds,” evading the stench of the deaths they’ve funded, to sit beside Christ among His elect host.