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What does it mean when people say Israel and Hamas are fighting a ‘holy war?’

Some Christians are interpreting the violence as the culmination of prophecies about the End Times

When war broke out between Israel and Hamas, Sen. Lindsay Graham declared it a “religious war.” He’s not alone — politicians and internet influencers have been framing the violence in religious terms, drawing parallels to both the Bible and the Holocaust. Jews, Christians and Muslims have all, at points, called the violence a “holy war.”

It is, of course, hard to deny that there’s a literal truth to the idea that this war is religious, and disputes in the Middle East often revolve around religious divisions. Hamas’ statement on the attack it named “al-Aqsa Flood” implied that Israel posed an existential threat to Islam itself. And those defending Israel’s response to the attack have repeatedly talked about protecting Jews, not just Israelis.

But for some American Christians, a population with fewer obvious connections to the disputed nation-state or the Jewish and Palestinian populations in danger, the war is just as personal, and just as religious. For them, this is a holy war — literally — and the fighting is not between Israel and Hamas, but between God and Satan.

Evangelical Christians have long been strong supporters of Zionism, and of the state of Israel. Some scholars have criticized this support as inherently antisemitic, saying it comes from the desire to bring about a biblical prophecy about the End of Days, during which Jews who do not convert will perish.

Not all Christian Zionists believe this prophecy, nor does all Christian support for Israel stem from it. But for those who do believe the End Times are near, the current war is a near-literal fulfillment of a web of prophecies in the biblical books of Ezekiel and Revelation. Sermons and discussions have popped up across social media, carefully mapping each group and location involved in the modern-day war to biblical figures and territories — Iran to Persia, Palestinians to the Philistines, modern Israel to the Israelites and Jerusalem to, well, Jerusalem.

Jonathan Cahn, who runs a Messianic congregation in New Jersey and has published several books connecting biblical prophecies to modern events, posted a widely viewed sermon to YouTube.

In the video, which has been viewed over 1 million times, he frames support for Israel in the war as a religious command.

“God loves all people, but it’s clear in the Scriptures that he gave the land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to their children, the children of Israel,” he said in the sermon. “To use the word Palestine to speak of the land of Israel is to take part in a war that goes against the word and promise and will of God.”

“Could this present conflict lead to a greater conflict, a war, lead ultimately in time to the war prophesied in Ezekiel? It could,” he continued, adding that Jews will need to accept Jesus to end the conflict. “Only when they turn to him, who is the hope of Israel, will they find their shalom, their peace.”

Though Cahn’s sermon is certainly extreme — it also contains his theory that the Bible predicted 9/11 — he is far from alone in his views. 

Christian news network CBN published an interview with Jeff Kinley, a “prophecy expert,” explaining that the war in Israel and Gaza is proof that we are living through the “last days.” Pastor Greg Laurie, discussing the war in one sermon, said “when you see these things, look up because your redemption is drawing near.” And in a video viewed 2.3 million times, David Jeremiah, a megachurch minister with a radio show and a new book titled The Great Disappearance: 31 Ways to Be Rapture Ready, explained how viewers should prepare for Armageddon: accept Jesus.

Meanwhile, on social media, Christian users urged their followers to “get right with God” and expressed excitement for the Rapture. One woman posted a hand-drawn diagram with arrows connecting current events to biblical prophecies. “Jesus is coming!” she concluded. 

Even Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who is not particularly religious, despite his heavily Haredi governing coalition — pulled in some prophetic references to a speech about the war. “We shall realize the prophecy of Isaiah,” he said.

In the sermons and social media posts, the discussion does not turn on whether Hamas’ atrocities merited Israel’s bombs, nor on questions of international law, proportionality or the humanitarian crisis Gazans are living through. Instead, Hamas is neither a Palestinian revolutionary group nor a terrorist one, but an embodiment of the Antichrist, and its violence is not simply horrifying but literally demonic. Israel, meanwhile, is God’s team.

While certainly not all Christians believe that Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 is the first sally of the Antichrist, it’s hard to avoid the moral rhetoric that creeps into many Western politicians’ discussions of the war. 

Just as preachers and believers online don’t talk about the war in terms of specific atrocities, international law or geopolitics, instead talking about God and Satan, politicians boil it down into what is ultimately the same black-and-white schema: Israel must be supported, and Hamas wiped out — whatever the cost. In the same speech in which Netanyahu referenced Isaiah, he described the war as “a test for all of humanity — it is a struggle between the axis of evil of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and the axis of freedom and progress,” describing Israelis as “the people of light” and Palestinians as “the people of darkness.”

Western culture is steeped in Christianity, and even for those who are not devout, it’s hard to escape the way that unconscious religious assumptions shape conversations. Israel the modern state shares a name with Israel the biblical people and nation, which adds rhetorical and symbolic weight — if you’ve ever been in a choir for a Christmas concert, or performed almost anything in Latin, chances are you’ve sung prayers for the “glory of Israel,” even if you weren’t thinking about it, and even if the state of Israel didn’t exist when the carol was written.

Talking about the war as a moral conflict, with or without overt religious parallels — using language of light and dark, or freedom and evil — rhetorically encourages people to think of it in stark terms. And this takes attention away from the real situation: a fraught geopolitical conflict with real, human lives in the balance. It makes it impossible to truly grapple with the toll, and the real moral questions involved.

That leaves little space for real humans who are rarely purely good or evil — individual Israelis and Palestinians suffering the loss of friends and family killed in the war. Assuming Jesus does not “return to Jerusalem and put all things right,” as one site put it, that’s what the world needs to pay attention to if there will ever be an end.

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