Christian Zionism?

The other day I was asked about my views on Christian Zionism, which is, in a nutshell, the belief that the reestablishment of Israel as a nation is in accordance with God’s land promises to the Hebrew people and that Christian have a biblical responsibility to stand up for Israel’s right to live in the land as a sovereign state. Christian Zionists point to Old Testament promises of an end-time restoration (Isaiah 43:5–7). They argue that only nations that side with Israel will be blessed and those who do not support Israel will be cursed (Genesis 12:3; Obadiah 10–15). And they suggest that the nation of Israel must be established before the return of Christ can occur.

Now, to set the record straight, I am a premillennial dispensationalist who does not believe God has replaced Israel with the church. I believe God continues to maintain a remnant of Israel according to faith—Jews who believe in Jesus and are members of the Body of Christ (Romans 11:5). Also, I believe that a remnant of Hebrews will be preserved through the end times judgments—believers who are saved through Christ and will constitute the restoration of Israel (Isaiah 9:27–29; 11:25–27; Revelation 7:1–8; 14:1–5). As such, I also believe that when Jesus returns He will reestablish Israel as a kingdom, fulfilling God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and reign from Jerusalem in a literal kingdom (Matthew 19:28; Acts 1:6–8; Revelation 20:4–6). Therefore, there is a future for Israel, and in the millennium God will once again show favor on a reborn nation under the kingship of their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

This is not, however, the normal view of modern Christian Zionism. Though they would likely agree with everything I’ve just said, there’s a twist. Zionism is an originally Jewish movement that sought to establish—for either political or religious reasons—a Jewish state in what was “Palestine.” As you research the complex and interesting history of the Zionist movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, you’ll discover that it’s flavored with Messianic fervor. Some believed the Messiah would come to a re-establish nation. Others believed that the establishment of the nation was the work of the Messiah, perhaps in a non-personal, corporate, or political sense. Either way, Zionists struggled to restore the nation of Israel in the land.

Today, Christian Zionists feel obligated to endorse the establishment and defense of Israel not only for political reasons, but for theological reasons. Many equate the establishment of Israel by the United Nations in 1948 as the first stage in the fulfillment of God’s promises to restore the remnant of Hebrews in their land. To stand against Israel is to stand against God and to fall under the anti-Zionist (read “anti-Semitic”) curse.

I believe Israel has a right to exist and to defend itself. And I believe it is right for the United Nations to follow through on its commitments to Israel both politically and militarily. However, this is a geopolitical matter, not a theological matter.

The modern state of Israel is not the fulfillment of God’s promise to restore Israel in the land. Why? Because modern Israel is apostate. The end-times restoration of Israel will consist of believing Hebrews under the personal headship of the true Messiah, Jesus.

Let me give one historical example of how ludicrous Christian Zionism can be. Rewind the reel of history back about 1900 years to the year AD 132 to 135. The place: Israel. Decades after Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in AD 70, Judaea had been oppressed by the Romans and was being transformed into a typical Roman province. In fact, around AD 130, the Emperor Hadrian had changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina, planned to build a temple to Jupiter where the Hebrew temple had been, and then outlawed circumcision.

The Jews revolted. After all, this land had been given to them by God. The Romans had no business there in the first place. The famous and influential Rabbi Akiva assisted the daring military leader, Simeon Bar-Kokhba, claiming that Simeon was the long-awaited Messiah who would restore the kingdom of Israel to the Jews. And the forces of Israel were successful for a few years. The Roman legion was defeated, Bar-Kokhba wrested control of many Judaean cities from Rome. He even minted his own coins. Because Jewish Christians refused to accept the Messianic claims of Bar-Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva, many were killed, driven out, and persecuted. And after a few years of Bar-Kokhba’s mini-Messianic reign, the Romans came in with overwhelming force and destroyed the kingdom. The results for the Jewish people were even more devastating than the revolt of AD 70, as Jews were then banished from entering Jerusalem and many Jews throughout the Roman Empire also suffered because of the revolt.

Now, if Christian Zionists really believe the Israelies today who reject Jesus as the Messiah have an unconditional claim to the land, then Christians in the second century should have supported the Bar-Kokhba revolt as well. They should have said, “No, he’s not the Messiah, but God gave them the land anyway.” Could Christian Zionists today support the Bar-Kokhba revolt to restore Israel in the land? The whole “theology” of Christian Zionism collapses under historical scrutiny. It doesn’t work when Israel is still hardened against the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth. And guess what? They are still hardened today (Romans 11:25).

We need to realize that while the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are unconditional and eternal, the old covenant with Moses was conditional and temporary—if they were faithful to God, they would be blessed in the land. If they were unfaithful, they would be driven from the land. If Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal Son of God who became the truly human Messiah who died and rose again, then faithfulness to God can not come apart from Jesus Christ.

For the most part, Israel today is in apostasy and rebellion against God. In fact, even by their own standards of Orthodox Judaism, Israelis are largely unfaithful to God and His laws. And according to the Bible, their rightful restoration will come only when they accept their Messiah, Jesus (Acts 3:19–32).

God has miraculously preserved the people of Israel throughout history because He promised to be faithful to them even when they are unfaithful to Him. And He will orchestrate future events to restore a believing remnant of Israel under the kingship of Jesus Christ. All the promises to Israel will be fulfilled—but not apart from Christ.

Christian Zionism is clearly Zionist. It is not, however, Christian if it asserts that God will bless Israel in the land apart from Jesus Christ.

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