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Promoting ReconciliationChristian Zionism: Right and Wrong

I have experienced Christian Zionism very extensively and many people would, with justification, still regard me as having some Christian Zionist interpretations of Scripture.  I believe firmly that God has not given up on the Jewish people but that “all Israel will be saved” when there is widespread turning to Christ on the part of the Jewish people (Rom 11). I believe that the OT prophetic predictions of a world-wide return of the Jewish people to the land are not exhausted by ancient return to the land in the 6th century BC and can legitimately be seen as related to the return of the last 100 years (even though many difficulties are associated with that return).  But I have serious problems with Christian Zionism as I have experienced it.   

I was brought up in a Christian Zionist context and saw one of my parishes dramatically transformed into a Christian Zionist stronghold. For 19 years I was deeply involved in the Church of England’s official ministry to Jewish people, which is widely seen as Christian Zionist. In the early years I took a lead in drawing the ministry back to its Christian Zionist roots and spoke about it in many places. I eventually became General Director of that ministry and this led to my wife and I living for some years in the Old City of Jerusalem where, amongst other things, I was Rector of Christ Church, a church with a 150 year Christian Zionist tradition. 

I have experienced Christian Zionism in numerous countries and was deeply involved in the strong Christian Zionist community in Israel as well as having extensive context with the Messianic (Jewish Christian) Movement in Israel.  

I want to make it clear that some of the Christian Zionists I have met are, by and large, not guilty of the criticisms I make here (and that includes some prominent people). But many are. 

My aim is to correct Christian Zionism not to undermine it. If it is not corrected it could go off the rails seriously (and in some situations already has) and fail in its true God-given purpose of combating anti-Semitism and furthering God’s purposes for the Jewish community.

Christian Zionism: a biblical basis?

I believe that it is possible to show from Scripture that the biblical Prophets foretold an End Times return of the Jewish people to the land. Further I believe the recent return to the land can be seen as the beginning of a fulfilment of those prophecies. Perhaps that, together with my desire for reconciliation, makes me what I once provocatively told a large meeting of Christian Zionists – a pro-Palestinian Christian Zionist! 

See my attempt to justify this biblical basis in “Christian Zionism: an attempt at a biblical basis.” 

THE CONCLUSION OF MY BIBLICAL STUDY ON CHRISTIAN ZIONISM 

The conclusion I reach in that paper is that: 

1.      God has a (corporate) purpose for the Jewish people to turn to Christ (Rom 11). 

2.      Jesus foretold Jewish control of Jerusalem in the End Times (Lk. 21:24). 

3.      The O.T. teaches that: 

(a)                God swore on oath that the land is an eternal possession of Israel though they don't deserve it. 

(b)                 Although he judged and exiled them for disobedience, he promised restoration and actually did restore them before they repented. 

(c)                 The people and the land are inseparable except in a time of persistent disobedience.  (It is therefore reasonable to expect that when "all Israel will be saved" - Rom. 11:25 - they will be restored to the land. Point (b) shows restoration to the land could precede repentance and salvation). 

4.      The O.T. foretold the return of the Jewish People to Israel in the last Days (Isa. 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17, 20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14) 

We can also note the following very significant facts: 

(a)                The remarkable, unique of the survival of the Jews for 2,000 years. 

(ii)               The remarkable, unique re-establishment and preservation of Israel. 

(iii)             The hatred of the world against the Jews and Israel. What is the reason for the world’s longest hatred? There are secondary causes but it seems inexplicable except from a supernatural point of view. God’s remarkable past salvation purpose, leading to the Incarnation and his future purpose (Rom 9-11) seem to be the real target.  

(iv)             The "burden of intercession" which millions of mature Christians have for Israel. 

However, I repeat one other section here because it is so important to my purpose. I address the question: 

WHAT ABOUT THE WAY IN WHICH THE STATE OF ISRAEL WAS RE-ESTABLISHED?  

Even if we believe that Scripture foretells an End Times return of the Jewish people to the land, how can we be sure that what has happened in the last few decades is a fulfilment of it? Even some Jewish people do not accept the setting up of the modern secular State of Israel as being a divine action because they believe only the Messiah can lead the people back to the land. The recent return was on a secular basis. 

After all, the Jewish people have gone back in unbelief, as far as faith in Jesus as Messiah is concerned and they are a largely secular nation with all the failings of a modern secular Western democracy. What is more, as we noted in “An outline history of and background to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”:

  • Some early Zionists wanted all the Palestinians to leave the whole land.

  • Many Palestinians left the land because of Israeli military action or because they were asked to leave their homes temporarily then never allowed back.

  • Since then the Palestinians have been subject to injustice and humiliation. (I am not ignoring the terrible attacks on Israelis and the many acts of provocation they have suffered. But the question here is how can such a process be a fulfilment of God’s purposes and biblical prophecies?)

My response is as follows: 

  1. The return of the Jewish people is either

·         a most remarkable coincidence, or

·         an unacceptable human attempt to fulfil biblical prophecy by political manipulation and aggression,

·         or it is the beginnings (no more) of a genuine fulfilment of biblical prophecy. 

  1. I find the coincidence idea inherently incredible. Some would find the unacceptable human attempt idea convincing. But:

·         There seems to be far more than political manipulation and aggression in the return of the Jewish people to the land. It is a most remarkable process. There were many idealistic Jewish Zionists who were praying and hoping for a return to the land. The suffering of the Jewish people, whether in the Russian pogroms or in the Holocaust caused many nations to realize there needed to be a safe Jewish homeland. There was a significant influence on the part of Christian Zionists. There were also various remarkable events, including the UN vote to partition Palestine. 

·         God does overrule the changes, chances and wrong actions of human life so that they fulfil his purposes. For example, he overruled the selling of Joseph into slavery to achieve historic benefits for the Israelites. He used Babylonian expansionism to judge wayward Israel (whilst condemning Babylon’s wrong motives Jer 50-51).  He used the horror of the crucifixion of Jesus – humanly-speaking the result of political intrigue, selfish ambition and betrayal – to save the world.  Wrong motives and actions, though deplorable, do not in themselves mean that God is not using their effects. 

  1. It does not seem impossible therefore that, for all the deplorable human failure involved, the return of the Jewish people to the land is the beginnings of a fulfilment of biblical prophecy. To believe such a thing does not imply wholehearted support for the secular state of Israel in general or its injustices towards Palestinians in particular.

Christian Zionism: a spiritual experience

It is difficult to understand Christian Zionism without knowing about the remarkable spiritual and emotional experience which many Christians have had, sometimes completely out of the blue. A brief account of what happened in our own experience, which was not untypical, will provide a useful illustration of this phenomenon. 

My wife described it as follows: “It was June 24th 1982. I remember distinctly that I was preparing a casserole for the evening meal. Not that such mundane things are normally etched on my memory, but what happened to me at that time made a deep impression. In the afternoon a church member had casually mentioned a Prayer for Israel meeting which she had attended in London. I registered interest as I had always had a vague concern for the Jews and wondered if we should be doing more as a church to serve them. 

“An hour or so later, as I was busy in the kitchen, a sense of grief overwhelmed me. There was an experience of weeping deep within my spirit. No tears, no words, but a heart cry to God for his estranged people, the Jews. I continued my tasks only with difficulty – the burden was so great.  I knew enough to understand what it was that was happening within me. It was a form of intercession alluded to in Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  I had experienced it in this intensity only once before. Then it had been a depth of longing for creation itself to be set free from “its bondage to decay”.  No way can this form of prayer be worked up – it is just something which the Spirit gives as he chooses. This time it was for the Jews, for many to return to their land, for Israel to repent before the Lord, and for the Gentiles too that they should not be cut off from God’s mercy. Since that time I have heard of many throughout the world whom God has burdened in a similar way for Israel.” 

This move of the Spirit soon affected our whole church. 

It does appear that for a couple of decades the Holy Spirit has been drawing many, many Gentile Christians into a very deep concern for the Jewish people and Israel.  It has to be added that there are many Christians who are clearly open to the Spirit who have not experienced this and even sometimes suspect it. A significant number of these had, like me been brought up on Dispensational Pre-Millennialism (a very fundamentalist and literalistic theory about the End Times dating mainly from the 19th century[1]) and, like me, had rejected it. Dispensationalism focuses on the place of Israel. Sadly, it appears that some Christians have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and turned away from any consideration of God’s purposes for the Jewish people. 

So one of the good things about Christian Zionism is that it is deeply concerned for the Jewish people and the need to pray for them. 

Another good thing about Christian Zionism is that it recognises the seriousness of anti-Semitism and of the need to correct it.

Christian Zionism: a deep concern to combat anti-Semitism

Christian Zionists rightly have a deep concern about anti-Semitism. Sometimes called “the world’s longest hatred”, anti-Semitism has figured prominently in history, including, sadly, church history, and is still widespread in the world today. 

See “An outline history of anti-Semitism

Christian Zionism: an emphasis on the Jewish roots of Christianity

The church, to some extent deliberately, moved away from the Jewish roots of the Christian Faith. This has led to some unfortunate results. Jesus himself cannot be fully understood without knowledge of his first century Jewish context. Neither can the New Testament as a whole. 

JESUS AN OBSERVANT JEW 

Jesus was an observant Jew. He regularly attended synagogue (Luke 4:16) and celebrated Jewish Feasts - Passover (John 2:13, 23), Tabernacles (John 7:2-3, 10, 14), Dedication/Hanukkah (John 10:22-23). He probably kept the dietary laws otherwise the Pharisees would have criticised him publicly (Note that Peter kept the dietary laws too - Acts 10:14). Jesus probably also wore the traditional clothing of time and the “edge of his cloak” was probably the fringe (tzitzit) on his prayer shawl (tallit). 

He was recognised as a Rabbi by a lawyer, a rich man, the Pharisees and Sadducees as well as many ordinary people. He clearly upheld the teaching of the law (Torah) as is clear in Matthew 5:17-19: “"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”               

CHRISTIANS ARE COVENANT CHILDREN OF ABRAHAM 

The NT makes it clear that Gentile believers live under the Abrahamic Covenant. We are part of the spiritual family of Abraham.  Indeed Abraham was justified by faith, not works (Rom 4:2-8) and he is “the father of all who believe” Jew or Gentile (Rom 4:11-25). When we trust in Christ we receive the blessing given to Abraham, the promise of the Spirit (Gal 3:8-14).  When the NT speaks of the setting aside of the Old Covenant as obsolete, it is not referring to the Abrahamic Covenant but to the covenant at Sinai which was added to one made with Abraham (Gal 3:15-24).  So Paul concludes: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”(Gal 3:29). 

The New Covenant in the blood of Christ is that new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah who wrote: "The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. (Jer 31:31). Note, firstly it was a covenant with the Jewish people. It is a blossoming of the bud of the Abrahamic Covenant. 

Paul uses the illustration of the chosen people (initially only the Jewish people) being like an olive tree and points out that Gentile believers are “grafted into” this Jewish olive tree (Rom 11:17, 24). He makes it clear that Gentile believers should not boast that now they have become part of the chosen people (God’s olive tree) in place of the Jewish people: “If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Rom 11:17-18). The fact that Christianity has Jewish roots – ultimately, under God, Abraham and the Patriarchs – is very clear here, as is the apostle’s call to Gentiles to remember it. 

It is possible to overemphasise the importance and benefits of Jewish Roots teaching but I once listed the benefits as follows. Jewish Roots teaching is helpful:

1.      To understand Scripture more fully.

2.      To enter into the mind of Christ and the apostles.

3.      To embrace Hebrew paradox in theology as an antidote to a rigid approach to Hellenistic linear logic.

4.      To relate the teaching of Paul to the teaching of Jesus, or James.

5.      To understand better the relationship between justification by faith and keeping the law.

6.      To regain a sense of the prophetic emphasis on the justice of God and his requirements of just behaviour.

7.      To learn to celebrate joyfully.

8.      To abolish the distinction between sacred and secular.

9.      To learn to celebrate creation.

10.  To take a holistic view of life, faith and salvation.

11.  To learn how to worship God holistically.

12.  To learn how to celebrate the day of rest.

13.  To learn how to worship and celebrate the faith within the family.

14.  To blend the riches of 2000 years of Christian worship with the worship and celebrations which Jesus and the apostles enjoyed.

15.  To gain a sense of continuity with God's ancient chosen people and the Hebrew Scriptures.

16.  To understand God's purposes for the Jewish people and how this relates to the church.

17.  To counteract anti-Semitism.

Christian Zionism: an ungodly attitude to the Palestinians?

Zionists need to realize that the same Scriptures which they believe foretell the final return of the Jewish people to the land also teach that God is a God of justice; he “loves justice.” (See “The call to justice”) Through his obedient children his desire is to defend, sustain and secure justice for the foreigner, oppressed, weak, needy and poor. God hates injustice, oppression, extortion, dispossession, etc., and commands us to avoid them.  

All human beings, because they are created in God’s image, are equal in God's sight. So God commands us to love foreigners, people from another tribe, race, social or religious background as ourselves, to treat them as our native-born and help them where necessary.  

The fact is that God loves the Palestinians just as much as the Israelis and Jewish people in general. It is therefore ungodly not to love Palestinians. I am not saying that all Christian Zionists consciously and deliberately hate Palestinians. But I am saying it is possible for Christian Zionists to suffer from anti-Arabism, which is a form of racism. And I am saying that significant numbers of Christian Zionists fail to love their Palestinian neighbour. 

If we Christians are really loving our Palestinian neighbour, as God requires us to do, we shall, amongst other things, grieve at:

  • the killing of thousands of Palestinians

  • the demolition of their houses

  • the uprooting of their olive groves.

  • the humiliating searches with excessive waits at border checkpoints.

  • the border closures and extended curfews which cause such hardships.

  • the unjust confiscation of some of their territory.

We shall:

·         pray earnestly for the Palestinians

·         take an interest in their welfare

·         express our love in any practical way possible

·         pray for Israel to deal rightly with them.

·         pray for the realisation of their national aspirations

·         pray for peace in the Holy Land.

 

I think those 12 bullet points are a good check list as to how much we love our Palestinian neighbour. If we baulk at any of them we need to examine our hearts carefully. (See below for a similar call to prayer for Israelis/Jewish people).

Christian Zionism: An undermining of the gospel?

One of my greatest concerns about Christian Zionism is that it is linked with a very powerful emotional movement which can lead Christians to compromise the gospel in serious ways. Those who have never experienced this emotion may not fully appreciate its power. (NB. As in all my criticisms of the Christian Zionist Movement, of necessity, I shall be generalising. There will be exceptions, but what I say is very widely applicable). 

CHRISTIAN ZIONISTS HAVE AN INTENSE EMOTIONAL EXCITEMENT ABOUT ISRAEL 

This is partly based on eschatological considerations. The re-establishment of the State of Israel is seen as indicating that the return of Christ is very near. As a result, many other signs of the End are seen in world events. The prospect of being raptured up to meet Jesus in the air or of seeing him descend in glory onto the Mount of Olives to begin his rule on earth is profoundly thrilling. 

The land of Israel itself has a powerful effect on Christian Zionists. Here again, because of devotional associations the land tends to have a profound effect on all Christian visitors.  We lived in Jerusalem for some years and it never lost its very special appeal. However Christian Zionists can lose a sense of reality. This may be a moderate reaction which does little harm. However it may be a more acute reaction which borders on psychiatric disturbance. (I am NOT saying that all Christian Zionists are mentally unbalanced but a significant number do become unbalanced in Israel). There is a recognised Jerusalem Syndrome and sufferers can be quite disturbed. The Israelis expanded the psychiatric facilities at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital in preparation for the Millennium (2000 AD, not the eschatological Millennium!). 

Obviously all this can produce a heady mixture as a foundation for approaching Israel, the Jewish people and the Middle East situation.  It hardly makes for careful exegesis of Scripture or for balanced analysis of the political conflict in the Middle East. Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, are not likely to get much of a look-in.

CHRISTIAN ZIONISTS HAVE AN INTENSE FEELING FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE 

The fact that the Jewish people are seen as the chosen people leads some Christians to have a reaction akin to hero worship towards Jewish people. It is epitomised by the (very credible) story of the Christian who said to a Jewish person: “Let me touch you. You’re Jewish.” 

Conversely, anti-Semitism – historical and current – causes huge distress to Christian Zionists.  This is, of course, a much more understandable matter as many Christians are deeply distressed by anti-Semitism. 

CHRISTIAN ZIONISTS SOMETIMES FALSELY ASSESS THE SPIRITUAL CONDITION OF JEWISH PEOPLE 

I realise that I am treading on very sensitive ground. I preface my remarks by saying that I deplore anti-Semitism in all its forms and deeply regret the history of Christian anti-Semitism. In particular I deplore the long history of persecution which has been associated with calling the Jewish community “Christ-killers.” I also deplore anti-Israelism as opposed to legitimate and fair criticism of some of Israel’s behaviour as a modern Western democracy. Furthermore I believe God has not rejected the Jewish people but has a future purpose for them in Christ. In addition, whereas I reject dispensational views, I believe a biblical case can be made out for the contemporary return of the Jewish people to Israel as being the beginnings of a fulfilment of prophecy. 

However, having said all that, I have to say that the current love affair which many Christian Zionists are having with Judaism is in danger of contradicting the teaching of the New Testament, and particularly the teaching of Jesus. 

Judaism is another religion. Its adherents, the Jewish people, should be respected and I favour dialogue between them and Christians. But both sides in this dialogue need to be true to their own faith. We are to love our Jewish neighbour, but we don’t do so by any word or action which, however unintentionally, discourages him from seeing Christ as the only Saviour. 

It is clear to me that Jesus would have had strong criticisms of some Christian Zionists’ views of Judaism (whether those views are thought out or implied).  It would be ludicrous to call Jesus anti-Semitic (although his teaching could be misused in an anti-Semitic way). 

How did Jesus regard the post-biblical Judaism of his day, which was certainly no further away from his teaching than modern Judaism?  He was very positive towards people such as Nicodemus who was a spiritual and open-minded Pharisee.  Doubtless there were others. But he was very critical of mainstream Judaism whose adherents rejected and opposed him. (Many of these criticisms can be applied to Gentiles who do not accept Christ as well). 

Jesus’ criticism of hypocritical Pharisees 

His prime criticisms were reserved for some of the Pharisees who were misleading their followers. These will not apply to many Jewish people but will apply to any hypocritical, legalistic leaders who reject Jesus as Messiah. There will be some such today. Jesus accused some of the Pharisees of popularity-seeking hypocrisy in their public religion (Matt 6:1-2, 5, 16 cf 15:7; 23:5-12).  Jesus made some very strongly-worded criticisms of these hypocritical religious leaders. Obviously, there are many religious leaders, including Jewish leaders, who are not hypocritical. I am not going to include the details here in the main text because such passages have sometimes been used in an anti-Semitic way. Instead I shall put them in a footnote.[2]  

Jesus also made a solemn prediction: “"Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matt 21:43).  This is reminiscent of Paul’s reference to the Jewish people being rejected by God (Romans 11:15) which in context is not a permanent rejection, but one which will be reversed. 

Jesus warnings to those who hear him but reject him 

However he also made wider criticism than those to the Pharisees, which do apply to Jewish people (and others) who don’t accept him. He taught that those who refused to believe in him would not be included in the Messianic Banquet (heaven) (Matt 8:11-12).  It will in fact “be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for a Jewish community which rejects Christ. (Matt 10:14-15; 11:22-24). 

He stated: "He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him” (John 3:30). What relevance does that have to modern Judaism which rejects the Son? Jesus adds: “nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life …. But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" (John 3:38-40, 45-47). 

Later Jesus said to them: "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). He continued: “My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and keep his word” (John 8:54-55).   

Jesus made it plain: "When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. "As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say." (John 12:44-50) 

Conclusion 

It is clear that Jesus strongly condemned Jewish leaders who were hypocritical and who rejected him. He also warned that the kingdom of heaven would be taken away from the Jewish people (though Paul teaches this is to be reversed). However Jesus was clear that:

  • Those who hear and understand the gospel but do not honour the Son, do not honour the Father

  • Those who hear and understand the gospel but reject the Son do not truly believe Moses

  • Those who hear and understand the gospel but reject the Son do not have eternal life and, if they persist, will be condemned.

What does that say about Jesus’ attitude towards modern Judaism and the spiritual state of its adherents? (However, this teaching of Jesus also applies to all Gentiles who reject him). 

(I am not for one moment suggesting that we should use the sort of language Jesus used above with Jewish people and Israelis!  After all, he was a Jewish person speaking with fellow Jewish people. What I am saying is that if we really love them we shall say and do nothing – even unintentionally - which could discourage them coming to faith in Christ. And I believe that some Christian Zionism does this). 

What follows in this section needs to be said, out of genuine concern for Jewish people – and for some Christian Zionists.  Christian Zionists sometimes falsely assess the spiritual condition of Jewish people. 

The most serious example of this is those Christian Zionists who believe that Jewish people can gain salvation without coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  To say that is to deny the gospel. No-one – Jewish or Gentile - comes to salvation other than through Christ.  

But there are other Christian Zionists who don’t take that position but are nevertheless unduly impressed with modern Judaism. They forget that it is as much a different faith from Christianity as Islam. It is a religion which has developed over many centuries since the time of Christ in conscious and deliberate rejection of Jesus. The intense (often eschatological) excitement of many Christian Zionists tends to blur this issue. It is a religion which stresses the Torah as a way of salvation (though often not in isolation from the importance of faith) which is a complete contradiction of the Christian gospel. I am fully aware of the sensitivities of Jewish people after centuries of Christian anti-Semitism but if anyone feels what I have just written should not be said (let alone is mistaken) then the rot has already set in. Although it requires exceptional sensitivity to share the gospel with Jewish people, if we don’t do it we are guilty of the worst sort of anti-Semitism. 

The teaching of the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith is a valuable practice, but those roots are found in the Old Testament Jewish Scriptures written before 400BC and the contemporary Judaism of Jesus’ time. They are not found in subsequent centuries, let alone in modern Judaism, which usually neglects the Tanach (Old Testament), stressing rabbinic teachings developed in the centuries after Christ. 

The history of heresy in the church shows that it is often caused by Christians stressing one aspect of truth (in this case combating anti-Semitism or stressing the Jewish roots of the Christian faith or the significance of the return to Israel), taking it to extreme and forgetting the balancing truths. However important combating anti-Semitism, teaching Jewish Roots or the significance of the return to Israel may be, Jewish people need Jesus and faith in him. That is the essential balancing truth. 

CHRISTIAN ZIONISTS SOMETIMES NEGLECT RECONCILIATION WHICH IS AT THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL. 

In so far as Christian Zionists neglect the call to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, they are neglecting the gospel. See “The call to reconciliation.”

Christian Zionism: An enemy of Israel?

It is obvious that we are to love the people of Israel because we are to love all our neighbours.  But what does loving our neighbour involve?

If we Christians really love our Jewish neighbour, as God requires us to do, we shall, amongst other things, grieve at:

  • the killing of millions of Jewish people throughout the centuries

  • the killing and maiming of many Israelis through more recent terrorist attacks

  • The sad history of anti-Semitism in the church.

  • continuing ant-Semitism in the world.

We shall:

·         pray earnestly for the Israelis

·         take an interest in their welfare

·         express our love in any practical way possible

·         pray for their protection from terrorism and attack from other countries.

·         pray for them to act justly and wisely.

·         Pray for the security of the state of Israel. 

I think those 12 bullet points are a good check list as to how much we love our Israeli/Jewish neighbour. If we baulk at any of them we need to examine our hearts carefully. (See above for a similar call to prayer for Palestinians). 

However, if we are going to love Israel genuinely our love needs to be informed by the teaching of Scripture. There is a big distinction between human sympathy and divine compassion.  Peter had human sympathy, not divine compassion when, on hearing Jesus foretell the crucifixion, “took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’ (Matt 16:22-23)

Human sympathy often means one can’t ever bear to hurt people, can’t bear not to be nice and so one is gentle when a rebuke is called for. This encourages sinners to remain impenitent. 

As we have seen, Jesus, the epitome of genuine love, showed his love on occasions by roundly rebuking those Pharisees who were hypocritical and driving out the moneychangers from the Temple court.  Again, I am not for one moment suggesting that we should start saying that sort of thing to Israelis!  After all, Jesus was a Jewish person speaking with fellow Jewish people. What I am saying is that if we really love them we shall, when appropriate, deliver a loving rebuke. I know we have to be very sensitive, “earn the right to speak” and choose the right time and context. But if we don’t express our sorrow, disappointment and disapproval whenever innocent Palestinians are killed or maimed by Israeli action, or there is injustice against or humiliation of Palestinians then we don’t truly love Israelis. 

It goes without saying that the same applies to loving Palestinians. If we don’t express our sorrow, disappointment and disapproval when innocent Israelis suffer terror attacks or when anti-Semitic views are expressed then we don’t truly love Palestinians.  

Similarly we don’t truly love Israelis or Jewish people (or Palestinians) if we don’t seek to encourage them to have faith in Jesus. 

Christian Zionists must beware actually damaging Israelis/Jewish people by confirming them in neglecting or rejecting Jesus or confirming them in wrong behaviour, as individuals or as a nation.

Christian Zionism: A mistaken approach to eschatology?

Some people conclude that anyone who holds that God has any future purpose for the Jewish people and for Israel is a “dispensationalist.”  Dispensationalism holds that there are seven dispensations (different ways in which God deals with humanity. "Dispensation" means stewardship or type of economy). It teaches that the way God dealt, or will deal, with people in any other dispensation is irrelevant, or at best, secondary to the dispensation in which we live. We are said to live in the sixth dispensation, the Dispensation of Grace, i.e. the age of the church, which will give way to the final seventh dispensation, the Dispensation of the Kingdom or Millennium, in which the Jewish people and Israel will be dominant. 

I do not agree with the dispensational view and in the paper “Dispensing with Dispensationalism” I give my reasons.  

In some ways it would be much simpler if the NT had no reference to a future purpose for the Jewish people. But, in my view, it does, especially in Romans 9-11. So I do not believe it is a mistake to include that in one’s eschatology. 

However, quiet apart from dispensationalism, I have seen a mistaken approach to eschatology in Christian Zionist circles. One mistake is: 

RELATING ESCHATOLOGY DIRECTLY TO MODERN POLITICS 

I wrote above: “It does not seem impossible … that, for all the deplorable human failure involved, the return of the Jewish people to the land is the beginnings of a fulfilment of biblical prophecy.” I am therefore relating the eschatological prophecies of the Bible to a series of modern events. 

However, it is necessary to be very careful indeed in doing this. To make a simplistic leap from eschatology to modern politics can lead to ungodly conclusions. For example it can lead to an attitude which says: “Israel is promised the land, and that includes Judea and Samaria (or the West Bank) so any giving away of land, including the West Bank, is disobedience to God’s word.” (This view is Christian Zionist). Here are my difficulties with this view: 

1.      God promised the Israelites the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. Should Israel therefore invade Jordan and Iraq etc?  Where does one stop over territory? Why do the Jewish people need any more territory than Israel excluding the West Bank as a safe homeland? Surely that is what it is all about – a safe homeland. I have made clear elsewhere that I am aware of the security issues of such a small country and the dangers of Palestine being ruled by extremists. But Israel has defended itself effectively for six decades and no doubt can continue to do so. 

2.      This view totally ignores the biblical requirement of just dealing with (and compassion for) the (Palestinian) people who were already living in the land before Israel was re-established and who have legitimate national aspirations. In fact this view also shows a lack of faith. The way of faith is to do the right thing by other people even to one’s own cost and disadvantage. Which is right: obeying the God of justice in dealing with others or grabbing what we think is ours by divine right? Clearly the right thing is to obey the God of justice in dealing with others and to leave the consequences to God.  

3.      This view also has an inadequate view of divine sovereignty. Do we really believe that God needs the Israeli political hawks to work out his purposes? God’s sovereignty is complex. He can work out his purposes through the free choices of human beings, including their serious mistakes and events which seem to contradict his purposes. Put it like this for the sake of argument, just suppose God wanted Israel ultimately to include the West Bank, but Israel, for good motives, does in fact give it away to a Palestinian State, do we fondly imagine that this would permanently frustrate God’s purpose for a larger Israel? I don’t. How big is our God? I sometimes think there are Christians who feel we have to help God out in fulfilling his eschatological purposes. Such a thought is ludicrous. We are called to obey the whole of biblical moral teaching, however inconvenient and costly it might be to us. We can leave the eschatological consequences and purposes to God. To live with a rather narrow view of eschatology as our guide could lead us into all sorts of unethical behaviour. It is important that we judge each event and action in the Holy Land by the whole teaching of Scripture – especially the call to justice - not just by the criterion of what appears to suit our personal eschatology.

Christian Zionism and American right wing fundamentalism

Some Christian Zionists, especially in the UK, do not appreciate that many right wing American Christians hold an extreme (dispensational) view of Zionism and they have great influence on the US Government. The Israeli government has deliberately courted some prominent US Zionists. For example, in 1978 Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin invited prominent right wing Evangelical leader, Jerry Falwell to Israel and, the following year gave him a gift – a business jet. 

Many of these right wing Christian Zionists believe: 

·         Israel should annex the whole of the West Bank and Gaza. Some would hold that Palestinians should leave these territories for Arab countries. 

·         Christians should strongly support Jewish West Bank settlements, including financially, and even buy land for new settlements (via Jewish Israelis). This is a multi-million dollar operation. 

·         Christians should support all Israeli military action. 

·         Christians should press the government not to criticize Israel. When the US government criticised Israel’s attempt to assassinate Palestinian Islamist Abdel Aziz Rantisi in June 2003, the Christian Right mobilized Christians to send millions of emails to the White House threatening not to vote in the national elections. The government changed its approach. The same sort of protest has been mobilized against US support for a Palestinian state. Pat Robertson has said publicly that God will judge America if it doesn’t give unconditional support to Israel. 

·         Christians should press the government not to provide aid for the Palestinians. 

·         Christians should finance Jewish people to make Aliyah (emigrate to Israel). This is not just oppressed Jewish people but rather trying to fulfil prophecy by getting as many Jewish people back to Israel as possible, even if they are well settled where they are. 

·         Christians should support the restoration of the Jewish Temple (on Temple Mount) in Jerusalem (with its animal sacrificial system, despite the fact that Jesus sacrifice has fulfilled those sacrifices and it is fundamental to Christianity that now he is the only sacrifice for sin). This is a sign of the End Times. 

·         That the restoration of Israel (including on the West Bank and Gaza) is not so much for the benefit of the much-persecuted Jewish people but rather as a necessary precursor to Armageddon (when two thirds of Jewish people will be killed) which will usher in the return of Christ.  Their Zionism is more eschatological (to do with the End Times) rather than caring for the Jewish people. It is sometimes called the “Armageddon Lobby.” 

I do not believe that these approaches are consistent with biblical principles, the biblical principles highlighted by Paradox. 

True Christian Zionism: An attempted definition

True Christian Zionism is a belief that: 

1.      God has a future purpose for the Jewish people in Christ as taught in Romans 9-11 

2.      The current return of Jewish people is the beginning of a fulfilment of biblical prophecies. 

3.      God loves the Jewish/Israeli people and the Palestinians equally. 

4.      The Jewish Israelis (and the church) are obliged by Scripture to show justice, respect and compassion to the Palestinians as much as to one another, even if that requires sacrifice. 

5.      We must all pray and work for reconciliation in the Holy Land.

Conclusion

When we moved to Jerusalem, I was the senior director of a 200-year old Church of England ministry to Jewish people. I had responsibilities enshrined in my contract to major on ministry amongst Jewish people. But I could not ignore my Muslim (and Christian Arab) neighbours. I was not free to major on reaching out to them, but I sensed the love of God for them (as well as for our many Jewish neighbours) and I had to do something. I sought to get to know and befriend our (Arab) neighbours and on one occasion invited them to a reception on our compound. More important, I began to feel passionately about God’s heart for reconciliation. This was as profound a spiritual experience and transformation as that which gave us a deep intercessory concern for the Jewish people back in 1982 (and the two experiences were complementary, not contradictory). 

I began to study and to pray about reconciliation. I spent time with our Israeli Arab staff, listening to their concerns.  Apparently this was a new experience for them and they felt free to tell me things which perhaps they would not previously have felt free to tell their employer (as head of a Ministry to Jewish people). This was a very valuable experience for me. (Obviously, I spent time with our Jewish staff too). I also spent time attending gatherings in many of the Arab churches in the Old City, as well as in Messianic Jewish congregations. 

All of this led to a vision that Christ Church, Jerusalem, of which I was Rector at the time, should become a Centre of Reconciliation, there in its strategic position inside Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. Christ Church had always been known as a centre of Christian Zionism. (I also heard it said that Christ Church hated Arabs. I don’t believe that was ever true, but it shows the sensitivities of the situation).  

As part of this vision, during my time as Rector, on Sunday morning we would start the service with a symbolic statement and prayer about reconciliation. We lit three candles on the Communion Table: a blue one (representing the Israelis, who have blue in their flag), a red one (representing the Palestinians, who have red in their flag), standing on either side of a taller white one, (representing Christ, the Light of the world). Then we prayed for reconciliation – through Christ. 

I eventually heard on the grapevine that this new emphasis at Christ Church had been duly noted and at least to some extent appreciated by the Arab community in the Old City. On the other hand, some of the Christian Zionists became very worried about it, which was sad because I’m sure God approved of it. 

My wife and I believed a great vision could be opening up in the Old City, but unforeseen circumstances were such that it became necessary for us to move back to the UK towards the end of 2005. The Rector after me was a more typical Zionist.  

But trying to play a small part in furthering reconciliation in the Holy Land remains a priority for me. Like evangelism, which has been a passion since I was a teenager, I have a passion for reconciliation. It is, I believe, a passion in the heart of God who loves all the people of the Holy Land with an infinite and eternal love. What I can do now is to seek to encourage Christians to pray for both sides in a balanced way and to support practically ministries of reconciliation. 

© Tony Higton


[1] Dispensational Premillennialism, dating largely from the 19th Century must be distinguished from Classical Premillennialism which was the main view of the early church fathers. Both views agree that Jesus returns before (Pre-) establishing a 1000 year reign (Millennium) on earth but are very different in other ways.

[2] Jesus used strong language: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matt 23:25-28).

When the Pharisees accused him of being demon-possessed, he responded by calling them a brood of vipers who were evil and couldn’t say anything good (Matt 12:34 cf 23:33). He said to them: “you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: "'These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" He also called them blind guides (Matt 15:6-9, 14) and fools (Matt 23:17). He even accused them of not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God (Matt. 22:29). They do not enter the kingdom themselves and they shut the kingdom in men’s faces (Matt 23:13). They made converts who were twice as much sons of hell as they were (Matt 23:15).  He urged the people not to follow the example of the Pharisees because they don’t practise what they preach (Matt 23:1-3).

 

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