On a frigid day last December, 300 conservative preachers and other faithful gathered over brisket and prayer at a billionaire fracker’s rambling Texas ranch. The house was packed so full, notes The Washington Post, that the billionaire, Farris Wilks, had to throw open his patio doors, and about 100 of the “faith leaders” spilled outside, obliged to stand poolside in the 28-degree weather. But they endured. After all, the star of the $500-a-plate gathering, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is a warrior for their main issues, including opposition to gay marriage and abortion, repeal of the Iran deal—and unquestioning support of Israel and its complete dominion over the Holy Land, Palestinians be damned.

Most of the presidential campaigns’ fealty to Israel, including those of Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton, is due largely to billionaire donors with long-standing ties to Israeli politics. But for Cruz, as virulently pro-Israel as any candidate, Christian Zionism is the key. This is not the cult belief of a few thousand fringe followers. Christian Zionism, which holds that Israel must maintain full control of the Holy Land to facilitate the second coming of Jesus, is a fundamental tenet of the core religious right. Fully 59 percent of white evangelicals, and an astonishing 41 percent of all Americans—tens of millions of voters—believe Jesus Christ will return to earth by 2050. A lot of them believe that can happen only with a strong Israel in place.

Many of the preachers who stoke that fervor were at Wilks’ Texas ranch house on that cold December day. Most important among them was John Hagee, the influential, firebrand preacher, founder of the Cornerstone megachurch in San Antonio and of Christians United for Israel, an organization that now rivals the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in its American political influence. Hagee is a fervent supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s settler colonization of the West Bank. He and Republican candidates have appeared many times in Ariel, a settlement of 20,000 in the heart of the West Bank and one of the single biggest obstacles to a peace deal with the Palestinians. Cruz, whose expressed views hew closely to Christian Zionism, calls Hagee “my dear friend.”

Hagee once claimed the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to drive surviving Jews out of Europe toward Palestine. The remarks led Sen. John McCain to reject the Texas preacher’s 2008 presidential endorsement. (Hagee, ever the tolerant Christian, also declared that Hurricane Katrina was part of God’s plan to punish New Orleans for a gay parade.) Yet Hagee’s Holocaust remarks were part of a larger Christian Zionist worldview that sees modern Israel as part of divine destiny. In this belief, God’s will made Israel, and Christians now must protect that covenant and keep Jerusalem “united” under Israel’s control, in order for Jesus to return to earth. In his book “Jerusalem Countdown,” which sold more than 700,000 copies, Hagee pushed for a confrontation with Iran to hasten global conflagration and Christ’s return. “From this moment forward, for the rest of our lives, until Christ comes, Jerusalem is the center of the universe,” Hagee declared from the pulpit.

The second coming is at the heart of Hagee’s theology, most recently in his best-seller “The Four Blood Moons.” The title refers to a lunar oddity, which Hagee claimed historically coincided with major events in Israel’s history, including the 1948 war and the Six-Day War of 1967. The rare appearance of four blood moons in 2014-15, Hagee argued, would signal the End Times. “What is the prophetic significance of the four blood moons?” Hagee asked in promoting his book. “Is this the end of the age?”

Unfortunately for Hagee’s prophecies, the blood moons came and went and our time continued. Nevertheless, he and other Christian Zionists believe, global Armageddon will soon be at hand. “They’re counting down the hours now, eagerly expecting the implementation of the remaining items on their biblical prophecy agenda, anticipating the thrilling climax of the cosmic story,” writes Victoria Clark in her 2006 book, “Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism.” According to this belief, Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam, will “be destroyed, and replaced with a new Jewish temple. The completion of that temple … will herald the appearance of an Antichrist who might be a European diplomat or the head of the United Nations.” Eventually, Clark writes, this “will trigger the battle of Armageddon … all non-born again Christians—including two-thirds of all Jews—who refuse to accept Jesus as their personal savior … will be slain in the conflagration.”

But true Christians, according to this belief, need not worry about their own destruction, for they will be saved by the rapture. “Jesus will come in the air, catch up the Church from the earth, and then return to heaven with the Church,” declares the evangelical website, raptureready.info, which cites the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess, 4:16-18): “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel. … Then we which are alive and remain...READ MORE