Save Israel, for Jesus?

Sunday morning at Robinson Drive Methodist Church in Waco, Texas, the Rev. Margaret Stratton tells her 200 attendees that no one should be surprised by the lead story in the morning news, as the crisis was developing in the Middle East.

"What is happening in Israel today with their neighbors is prophesied in the Bible. The whole world should understand the reason for the conflict in the Middle East," she said, adding this has all been foretold.

It is a sermon that takes root among Christians.

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"It is part of biblical prophecy," said congregant Teresa Randt. "I think that, we know that we pray for peace, but we also know that peace probably won't happen until Jesus comes again."

Added another attendee, "We are actually in the end of times. From what I've read in the bible and other prophetical books, I believe we're there."

The end of times, as foretold in the scriptures, is a theological reason to support Israel unconditionally so as to help bring about the return of Jesus Christ.

This is not one lone evangelical church that supports this idea. According to polls among religious groups in the United States, evangelical Christians -- which constitute about a quarter of the American people -- are second only to Jews in their support for Israel.

"Evangelicals take the Bible very seriously, and in their view certain prophesies in the Old and the New Testament point to the state of Israel as having a very special role of the return of Jesus to earth," said Dr. John C. Green, a senior fellow in religion and American politics for the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Taking the Cause to Washington

Earlier this month, as the conflict in northern Israel and Lebanon heated up, roughly 3,500 evangelical Christians descended upon Washington, DC from all 50 states as part of a new group called "Christians United for Israel".

Members like Gwen and Dean Resser from St Louis, Mo., urged lawmakers to let Israel do what is necessary to defend itself in its current conflict.

"America needs to stand with Israel according to the word of God, and for victory," Gwen Resser said. "I mean, it's for victory. It's not a time for concessions."

"If you support Israel, you will be blessed, and if you don't support Israel, you will be cursed," Dean Resser added.

The group also came together for a "Christians for Israel" dinner that featured Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a member of the Republican Senate leadership, and other powerful political officials including Ken Mehlman, director of the Republican National Committee, who said, "Today, if you love freedom, whether you are Christian, Jewish or Muslim, whether you are American, Japanese, or Indian, today we are all Israelis."

The group's organizer is Pastor John Hagee, the influential Texas minister from the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, who explains his interest in this region of the Middle East by saying Israel is not like other countries.

"The thing that's different about Israel is that Israel is the only nation in the world created by the hand of God," Hagee said.

"Many evangelical ministers and theologians actually look at the events that are occurring in the Middle East today and in Israel and Iran and Lebanon and so forth and find it to be quite relevant to certain passages in the New and the Old Testament," Green added.

Hagee explored this from a political standpoint in his interpretation of scripture, "Jerusalem Countdown," which has sold more than 600,000 copies. The book's geopolitics are very precise, beginning with an alliance between Russia and the Islamic world.

"Russia is going to get in that position and they are literally, with all that massive military force, going to attack Israel," Hagee said. "This is recorded in Ezekiel 38 and 39. God himself is literally going to destroy that army. Decimate it."

And he said that will be followed by a Chinese army of 200 million coming to the city of Armageddon where they will meet British and U.S. forces in the Battle of Armageddon.

"At that point, Jesus Christ returns to Earth and sets up his eternal kingdom in the city of Jerusalem and there's 1,000 years of peace," Hagee said. "The Jewish people are going to see the supernatural hand of God preserve them and deliver them while the enemies of Israel are crushed. That's the end-time story."

White House Refutes Religious Motivation For Support

The evangelical stance on the Middle East conflict is being heard all across the country on Christian media, including in the nation's capital.

On the "700 Club," Pat Robertson said, "Realizing the biblical implications, I would recommend some of you read the 38th chapter of the prophet Ezekiel to get a real fix on what's happening."

Jay Sekulow spoke on his radio about the need to support Israel because it's a "biblical mandate."

"The White House and Republicans in Congress take the views of evangelical Christians on the matter of Israel or a number of other matters very, very seriously," Green said. "Evangelicals are a very important part of the Republican base these days."

That said, despite the president having been born again, the White House stated that Bush does not look at the Middle East conflict from this perspective.

"He's not looking at this through a theological lens. He's looking at it through the lens of national interest, and also commitments to expanding democracy globally," White House spokesman Tony Snow said during a recent press conference.

Until the Messiah Comes, No Worries

One also might wonder how Jews who support Israel feel about this affection for the Jewish state.

"The prophetic literature that motivates evangelical Christians to support Israel have a kind of dim ending for the Jews, either having Jews be converted or being killed off in Armageddon or other sorts of grim things," Green said.

But any possible discomfort about that subject -- what may happen to Jews at the end of the End of Days, was not apparent at the Christians United for Israel event where Israel's ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon was delighted by this new Christian movement for the Jewish state.

"This is a very important phenomenon and certainly this is a real twist in history, as in the past centuries we have been suffering, now it's quite the opposite and we welcome it very much," he said.

After all he says, he is not a theologian, and the only question is whether this is the messiah's first arrival, as Jews believe, or his return.

"When the messiah comes we will ask him if he coming or returning and that would establish if we would all be Jews of Christians," Ayalon said. "Until he comes, I don't worry myself about this."

And until that day, Israel will be able to depend upon Christians from Waco to Washington for unconditional support.

Mary Claude Foster, Matt Stuart, and Bret Hovell contributed to this report.