God’s promise and the land
The Bible contains God's promises to a group of Hebrews in ancient times, conditioned on their obedience to sets of rules. The main texts are found in Genesis, especially Genesis 12:1-3; 15. In the Abrahamic Covenant, the Hebrew people are given "land," descendents as numerous as "the stars in the sky" and eventually they become a great people and nation. These components are the means by which the covenant people will fulfill their calling to point people to the one and only God. The Hebrew prophets were constantly calling Israel back to their need to keep the Torah (Law) and point others to Yahweh.
Many Christians believe, as did Jesus, that land is not of central importance if one is faithful to God and the ethics of the Kingdom of God. They believe that land must be shared as the people of God live with those of differing ethnicities and religions, and that they must keep Torah and the things that make for a just peace.
In the last century, Jewish people have moved to Israel after thousands of years in other countries. Since the promise was made to Abraham, and Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim to be descendents of Abraham, the question becomes one of where the lines are to be drawn.
What does the Bible say about Jews as the "chosen people"?
The Hebrew people of the Bible called themselves "Chosen People" and many scholars believe that they were chosen to be an example to the world of the way God wants people to live. These scholars also say that the nature of being "chosen" does not imply superiority but chosen to be in covenant with God. "Chosenness" is not a privilege nor does it have any hint of exclusive rights; rather, it is a responsibility of service and mission on behalf of the covenant-keeping God. Most Christians, including the UCC and Disciples, also believe that God did not replace the covenant with the Jews but added the new covenant with the Christian community.
What is the relationship between Israel in the Old Testament and the State of Israel as it exists today?
There is little direct connection in terms of time spent living in the area or in terms of ethnic inheritance. The Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E. (Christian Era) and expelled and killed many Jews (and Jewish Christians). After the Zealot Revolt of 131-4 C.E. the Jews were completely expelled from Jerusalem. The Jewish community that remained in the area was very small. However, Jews always maintained a mystical connection to the land with the prayer "next year in Jerusalem."
Some of those diaspora Jews joined Jews who lived in the eastern Mediterranean area for centuries and others subsequently moved to virtually all areas of the world. During that time they developed a variety of ethnic expressions of the core of Judaism, differing from the Temple worship of Jesus' day.
Meanwhile, Christianity grew and eventually became the dominant religion. After the 7th century Arab invasion, the people living on the land adopted the Arab language and culture and many became Muslims, although some remained Christians and Jews. By the year 1900, the overwhelming majority (93%) of the population of historic Palestine was Arab Muslims and Christians, with Jews being less that 6%.
In order to keep the understanding clear, it is more correct to use the term "Israelite" for the biblical group and "Israeli" for the modern people.
Why do some Christians believe that the State of Israel is related to the second coming of Christ? What does the Bible say?
A certain type of biblical interpretation, which gave selected scriptures a future fulfillment, began to be popular in England in the 1800s and has continued today. Many of the texts were taken from Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel and Revelation. Other biblical scholars believed that these scriptures were fulfilled when the Jews returned to Palestine after the Babylonian captivity of the 6th century BCE (before common era). To the former group, events in the formation of today's Israel are given theological significance as fulfilling biblical prophecy.
Jesus cautioned his followers about interpreting signs of the end times on several occasions such as in Acts 1:6-7. In answer to the question about the time when the kingdom will be restored to Israel? Jesus says, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority."
This idea is sometimes called Millenarianism and has had proponents in a number of periods of history over the centuries. Those who focus their work on bringing Jews to Israel to fulfill their interpretation of the end times and to bring about the Second Coming of Christ are known as Christian Zionists (discussed earlier). More information can be found here: Christian Zionism: A Faithful Response
Are Palestinians the same as the Philistines?
The Philistines are members of an ancient "sea people" from Greece. After several battles with Egypt, they landed on the eastern Mediterranean coast and conquered some of the Canaanite people. Goliath, of the David and Goliath tale, was a Philistine and the Hebrew scripture contains many stories of the enmity between Israel and the Philistines.
The contemporary Palestinians are the indigenous inhabitants, or their descendants, of historic Palestine. They are a mixture of many races as a result of 4000 years of invasions, and their location at the crossroad of Europe, Asia and Africa.
The majority of the population in ancient (from about 2000 years before Christ) Palestine/Israel was Jews, including the earliest Jewish Christians. As time went on, they became an intermixture of bloodlines, ethnicities, and nationalities including Romans, Greeks, Armenians, North Africans, Persians, Endo-Europeans, Syrians and Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula.
Where and when did Palestine get its name?
The Romans called the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River "Palestine" in the Second century C.E. (Christian Era). Earlier the people were called Canaanites, Israelites or other tribal groups, but after the Roman era they all were called Palestinians, whether they were Jews, Christians or (later) Muslims.
The exact geographical boundaries of Palestine have been fluid over the centuries. Because Palestine is at the crossroads of Africa and Asia and had many cultures and conquerors, the population historically has included a great variety of ethnic groups. Some people refer to the whole area, accurately, as Western Asia rather than the Middle East.