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Christian Zionism
"a movement, largely among Gentile Christians, supporting the right of the Jewish people to return to the Promised Land which has, of course, happened right before our eyes during this century"

THE LAND OF ISRAEL - A Christian Zionist View

By Halvor Ronning, Board Member of the ICEJ

A long spiritual pilgrimage would be required of most Christians today before they would ever consider calling themselves "Christian Zionists". This is true of the writer who was trained at a seminary where the predominant theology was REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY, i.e., the teaching that the Church has replaced the People of Israel, and that therefore the land of Israel today is no longer theologically significant.

In contrast, a Christian Zionist is a Christian who looks with favor on the Jewish return to Zion, the city of Jerusalem and the land of Israel, specifically because of the biblical significance of this return.

PROBLEM: THE TERM "CHRISTIAN ZIONISM"

The term "Zionism" originated in the late 19th century in a Jewish publication called "Self-Emancipation".[1] Traditionally Christians and Jews have not believed in self-emancipation, because only God Himself is believed to have the power to emancipate fully. Within Judaism there have been serious discussions over this term. Opposition was so strong that Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Jewish Zionism, was not able to hold the first World Zionist Congress in Germany as he desired, but was forced to look elsewhere to Basel, Switzerland.

[1] April 1, 1890, See "Zionism" in ENCYCLOPEDIA JUDAICA (Jerusalem; Keter, 1971), vol. 16, p. 1032.

Redeeming a Biblical Concept

Within Christendom there are many who look favorably on the existence of the State of Israel, but do not call themselves "Zionists" because of their rejection of the perceived exclusively political origin of the term. Whatever that origin, and however we disassociate ourselves from that origin, the time has come to redeem the term. The reason we should redeem the term is because the return of the Jewish people to Zion is above all a biblical concept. This concept originated thousands of years before the specific modern term, "Zionism", with its new "-ism" ending which suggests a political connotation.[2]

We redeem the term when we support the Jewish return to Zion not because we think that Jews are heroes capable of self-emancipation, but because we look upon them as refugees whom God is capable of rescuing from annihilation. It is God Who is returning them to Zion and largely against their will. God is responsible for returning Jerusalem to the world stage.

He is doing so for His own purposes - beyond all human efforts to hinder or to help. Christian Zionist support for Israel goes beyond any weak altruism that could evaporate under difficult circumstances. It is grounded in our understanding of our own identity and therefore is not subject to fluctuation depending on circumstances such as the behavior of Israel or the threats of Israel's enemies.

[2] Is. 35:10 "And the redeemed of the LORD shall RETURN and come with singing unto ZION and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Until now this has not been fulfilled because the joy of returning has never lasted. The people have been driven out.
Jer. 16:14 "Therefore, behold, the days come, says the LORD, that it shall no more be said, "the LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt'; but, 'the LORD liveth that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither He had driven them', and I will bring them again into their land that I have to their fathers." Surely this word did already apply to the return from Babylon as originally intended, but the phrase "from all the lands" and the present dramatic return from the north fit even more precisely.
Amos 9:14-15 "'And I will RETURN My people Israel out of captivity, and they will rebuild the waste cities and inhabit them, and I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up out of their land which I have given them' says the LORD your GOD." This prophecy has never yet been fulfilled because until now the people have always been driven out.

SIX BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES - from general to specific

The Christian Zionist view of the land of Israel can be expressed by listing a number of biblical teachings to which such a Christian adheres. By following this list from the more general teachings to the more specific, any reader can determine how much he can agree with such an understanding of Scripture - preferably total agreement. Hopefully the reader can at least part company with a clearer understanding of the scriptural logic that supports the Christian Zionist position.

1. BELIEF IN REVELATION. According to the Bible, contact between God and man is a contact established by God. He takes the initiative. He is the One Who wants the contact most of all. He has created us in His image; we are not the ones who create him in our image. That image in us creates in us a longing for the fulfillment of contact with Him. Additionally, He is the One Who reveals to us how we can make that contact.

This separates us from humanist philosophers. For a humanist the universe is silent and all that matters is how we human beings interpret the silence. The humanist does not need the land of Israel, because neither any land nor any nation have any special significance whatsoever. There is no God to give any land any special significance.

2. REVELATION VIA PARTICULARITIES. The God of the Bible is presented as making specific, particular, concrete, historical choices through which He reveals His plans for the lifestyle He requires.

This separates us from the general theists who do not need the land of Israel. For such theists, or New Age pantheists, all that matters is the divine spark within every individual, irrespective of whether the source of that divinity is outside or exclusively within. The physical location of anyone is totally irrelevant.

This also separates us from mythologizing Christians. They do not need land because history is only the accidental clothing of eternal truths. From their perspective any land or any time can be the setting of mythological stories that reveal eternal truths about God and man. For them no specific land nor any specific time have any necessary bonds to these timeless truths. As one such mythologically oriented theology student put it, "It doesn't matter whether Jesus ever lived or not. It is the timeless ethical teachings collected in the 'Sermon on the Mount' which are important."

To call this kind of Christian by the name "demythologizers" is a misnomer. Their activity is rightly called "remythologizing", which amounts to "dehistoricizing". It is precisely the ancient pagan NON-biblical world which consisted of meaningless repetitions of nature cycles in which individual human beings are but historical accidents. In contrast, it is precisely the biblical message which demythologized the ancient world by introducing the concept of an ongoing development overseen by One Almighty Lord.

It is a gross injustice to attempt to reverse this process by pretending that it is the Bible stories which are mythological! Such behavior must be exposed for what it is, viz., the attempt to reduce the Bible to the level of ancient mythology which is merely to be analyzed and criticized. Though the Bible can indeed be analyzed and critiqued, it is above all God's Word to be revered and obeyed. Its prophetic critique of our sinful behavior is to be respected and not ridiculed.

3. RECORD OF REVEALED PARTICULAR CHOICES. Scriptures present us with a written record of God's earlier revelations. They record that God chose an individual who was told to leave his home and who was guided to go to another land promised to his descendants. By choosing Abraham and by promising to him the land of Canaan, God Himself created a new identity. This identity involved a specific land as the basis of the national aspect of the identity; it is also involved being bound in a relationship to God, the Giver, as the basis of the religious aspect of the identity.

The written record of these choices establishes forever an ongoing unchangeable reminder of how God did in fact create this new identity. This record has fixed forever the fact that God's style is to make choices! He chose a specific people in a specific location through whom to reveal Himself to other humans who are likewise concrete, specific, historical individuals in specific locations.

This separates us from Moslems. Moslems claim to have a revelation that makes the closeness of the Jews obsolete.

This also separates us from those Christians who think that the New Covenant was made with Christians - instead of realizing that it was made with the Jews first and only later was it expanded to include us non-Jews.[3]

[3] In Acts 10 we read of the acceptance of non-Jews into the family of believers. The very first non-Jew was a particularly hard case to swallow, an officer of the pagan Roman occupation army, Cornelius, and his family. Yet, after intense discussion among the all Jewish followers of Jesus, this expansion was accepted graciously and with a spirit of amazement at God's generosity.

4. RESPONSE TO REVEALED CHOICES. The importance of utter trust in God is reflected in the very name of the land today. The name, Israel, originated in the Jabbok River incident in which God changed Jacob's name to Isra-el, "struggling with God". Jacob is depicted as feeling totally powerless to face the dangers of the next day without God's help. Accordingly, in response to Jacob's desperate plea for God's blessing, God gives him a new name including "El", the generic Semitic name of God. This name reflects total rejection of independence from God. This means that Israel is not really "Isra-el" apart from a sense of dependence on God. The name does not mean to "struggle against God" but "struggling with God" to convince Him of our need for His blessing.

This insight separates us Christian Zionists from anyone who glorifies military might, because God wants us to feel dependent on Him above all. Since "He can save whether by many or by few", the Bible demonstrates that seeming powerlessness coupled with prayer is stronger than military coercion.

It must also be remembered that the existence of might is not a biblical evil, but the ABUSE of might is evil. The Bible is not concerned with underdog/overdog, but with responsibility in serving God's justice. This is the challenge to be faced by Jewish and Arab rulers alike in dealing with the minorities under their control.

This separates us from Moslems who believe that military coercion is an appropriate vehicle for spreading religion. It also separates us from the overzealous fringe elements in the Israeli military; such individuals are not glorified in Israel, but are caught and punished by the Israeli military courts themselves.

This insight most surely separates us from those Christians who get romantic and starry-eyed over Israeli military accomplishments without holding Israel to account according to biblical standards about how to treat minorities and how to treat conquered enemies. [4]

It is surely significant that Israel is the only nation in the United Nations that mentions God in its very name. It is more important, for example, than the "IN GOD WE TRUST" on United States coins. The reason is that the message on USA coins is totally insignificant, unless the people of the land take that message seriously.

The difference is that Americans themselves choose how to label their coins, but God chose to label Israel. This difference means that even if Israel would like to forget its God-given identity and its destiny to be a dependent people, God Himself does not allow it.

[4] In the Hebrew Bible there are stories of conquered enemies being killed and stories of conquered enemies being fed and freed. Israelis have almost without exception followed the second alternative.

5. GOD'S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS CHOICES.God's choice of the People of Israel and the land of Israel was confirmed and established stronger than ever before when He sent His Son Jesus to be a Jew in the land of Israel. [5]

God had promised that the house of Jacob would never be utterly destroyed, that there would always remain a remnant.[6] Accordingly He came down Himself as Immanuel to enter into that identity of "Israel", those who strive to express their utter dependence on God. Thereby He insured the indestructibility of the Jewish identity; even torture and death were revealed as impotent by the resurrection of His Son, the ultimate Jew, Jesus, the epitome of the remnant of the Chosen People.

By choosing Abraham God had created this identity, by naming Israel He had defined it, and by sending His Son He confirmed it. Since God Himself has created, defined and confirmed this identity. No other identity can successfully compete or replace this identity.

As descendants of Abraham and Israel, Jews of today still have the ongoing responsibility to be God's witness in the real world of concrete historical choices by maintaining their God-given special national-religious identity. To maintain this identity is a blessing according to the Scriptures; to attempt to be no different from any other nation is a curse.

History teaches that Jews outside the land have never found more than an all too temporary respite from trouble, and the same holds true when they have been in the land but have disregarded the instructions of the Torah.

Be it duly emphasized that trouble in itself is no proof of separation from God's purposes; on the contrary, hatred by a world of people who are not dependent on God is part of the fate of belonging to the family of God - whether a person belongs to the original chosen family or to its enlargement in the Christian family.

Some Jews thought that they could find respite by becoming Israelis - this is the mistake of the secular Zionists. But "oil has made us Jews again" said one Israeli satirist, which is to say, the oil crisis and the dependence of the world on Arab oil has again made it impossible for the Jews just comfortably to take their place among the family of nations.

It is not only the economics of oil that causes difficulties. Far more dangerous to Israelis is the religious reality that Moslems suffer from the very thought of having lost control of the land. Israelis have to face the fact that Moslems consider it a religious obligation and duty to regain control of the entire land of Israel.

This all means that Israelis are constantly being reminded that no matter how hard they try, they cannot become just one more nation. The Bible even warns that it is a curse for them to try - because they alone among the nations have a particular God-given destiny as a nation that is different in kind from any particular God-given destinies that other nations may have. No other nation was chosen to be a blessing to all other nations, to be the home of the World Redeemer, and to be the locus of His Return. This is far from being a matter of pride for most Israelis. They are more likely to feel and say, "We are tired of being the Chosen People. If you want it, just take it. You can have our sufferings!"

This understanding of the Scriptural testimony to the faithfulness of God separates us Christian Zionists from all who think that God has abandoned the Jewish people, both from those who think of Jews as just one more NATIONALITY among the nations, and from those who think of Judaism as just one more example of the pre-Christian RELIGION of one more culture in which Christianity is to be contextualized.

This understanding clearly separates us from Moslems who believe that it is a stain on the honor of Islam to have lost control of the land after 1,300 years of Moslem rule. They teach that some Jews can live in the land, but that Moslems have a religious obligation to regain control of the land.

[5] In the Synoptic Gospels the chief use of the word Jews is in reference to Jesus as "King of the Jews" - with only three exceptions.
[6] "Fear not, O Jacob My servant, says the Lord, for I am with you. I will make a full end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but I will not make a full end of you, but correct you in measure, yet I will not leave you wholly unpunished" (Jer. 46:28).

6. CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO GOD'S FAITHFULNESS TO ISRAEL. A certain deep biblical truth, unknown for centuries throughout most of Christendom, is now regaining recognition; it is the ongoing validity of God's claim on the Jewish people to maintain a specific peculiar combination identity, an identity that is at once both national and religious. Christian Zionists welcome and support the renewal among Christians of this biblical concept of Jewish identity as a sign of God's faithfulness to His historical choices.

This means that we support the national existence of the Jewish people including their political autonomy in the State of Israel, and we also support their religious existence as a people called to maintain an identity of a specific dependence on God unlike that of any other people.
We respect this dual character of the Jewish identity as being God's foundation of our own heritage. Yet we do not immigrate to Israel to become Israelis, nor do we convert to Judaism; we share the heritage but not their specific identity. This is because the early Jewish followers of Jesus were humble enough not to insist on making Jews out of all of us non-Jewish followers of Jesus. [7]

[7] See the proceedings of the Jerusalem conference held on this issue - as recorded in Acts 10.

DISCUSSION: WHO JOINS WHOM ?
This is the key question!

Do we enter the people of God by joining the faithful Jews?

Or do Jews enter the people of God by joining us in the Church?

The Ecclesiastical answer for centuries has been that they join us. The biblical New Testament answer is that we non-Jews join the Jews by our faith in the Jewish Messiah; we join the faithful remnant of the Jewish people who have always trusted in the God of Israel for their salvation and who refuse to give His Honor to any other!

We Christians join the Jews, those Jews who are the stump whose root is God, i.e., we are grafted into the remnant which is made up of those Jews who are faithful to God. But who are these faithful Jews? Karaite Jews? Rabbinic Jews? Messianic Jews?

In any case, we are not grafted into secular Jews nor into rabbinic Jews. But when we join the Messianic Jewish remnant even the secular Jews and the orthodox Jews must be accepted as somehow a part of the family. However problematic this may seem, we gain some kind of a special relationship even to them. Perhaps this relationship could be compared to the kind of relationship we have with nominal Christians, i.e., people who bear a name of which they are not fully cognizant nor serious. They are not to be rejected but to be challenged to fully live up to God's calling.

But what is this special relationship? This is not the task for one writer but for all Christian thinkers! The gloom of the Holocaust and the glow of the revival of the Jewish people in the State of Israel now challenge all Christians with an unfinished task: we must redefine our relationship in the view of what God has allowed and what God has instigated; He has allowed Auschwitz and He has instigated the return of the people of Israel to their land.

We need to redefine our understanding of Scriptures in terms of our relationship with the Jewish people whom God has not allowed to disappear, especially now in the twentieth century when we realize so vividly and so painfully what every Jewish family sings in the annual Passover Seder, "there have been in every generation those who stood over us to destroy us, but the Holy One, Blessed be He, has saved us from their hand."

GUIDELINES

Without claiming to solve the problem of how best to understand our relationship, it is possible to suggest guidelines for achieving a growing and hopefully better understanding:

1. Abandonment of the arrogant REPLACEMENT theology which claims that the Church has replaced the Jewish people. We are to reject the notion that they supposedly no longer have any theological reason for continued existence as God's people. [8]

2. Caution against overreaction leading to the opposite extreme of TWO-COVENANT theology as though God now works through two different methods with two different people. We are different peoples but are a "new creation" for whom there is only one way, God's way, of salvation.

3. Development of REMANANT THEOLOGY:

  • a) Study of the behavior of the biblical remnant in relationship to the others among the people who were not part of the faithful remnant. It will be of utmost importance to note how the remnant cried out to God on their behalf, rather than abandoning or rejecting them.
  • b) Clarification of our relationship to the various kinds of Jews. Who are the best candidates for being the stump which is organically connected to the Root? The Root is the Redeemer, Who is God Himself - as is so clear in the Passover Seder, "I and not another!" But which Jews are the remnant? Who constitute the stump into which we Christians are grafted? Who constitute the core of the family into which we are adopted? Are they not the Messianic Jews?
  • c) Development of Christian evaluation of the various forms of Jewish Messianism as respectful caring critique from within the family.
  • d) Insistence on the continuing faithfulness of God to the Jews as seen in His refusal to let Jewish identity assimilate and disappear even though many Jews have chosen the route of assimilation.
  • e) Clarification of the essence of the New Covenant as being established with the same ancient people, and only later expanded to include others also.
  • f) Clarification of the newness of the New Covenant: What is meant by a later convenant being a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6)? What is the advantage of a covenant "written in our hearts" (Jeremiah 31:33)? What is the advantage of a covenant which is opened up to the whole world? Stated more abstractly, how does the internalization of the locus of a covenant (in our hearts) and the expansion of the scope of a covenant (to reach the whole world) represent the improvement which the New Testament claims to be?
[8] Already in Numbers, chap. 14, the option of replacement theology is presented and flatly rejected. The option was that God would kill all the Israelites because of their sinfulness, and He would start all over again from the beginning. He would not reject the IDEA of a chosen people, but He would destroy the people descended from Abraham and start a new people from Moses. This new start with one individual is rejected. God listened to Moses prayer for His sinful people. God the Father has surely listened also to the prayer of Jesus. Moreover, in the New Testament, Paul makes it absolutely clear: "Has God cast away His people? God forbid! … God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew" (Rom. 11:1-2).

SUMMARY

Two conclusions can be drawn about the significance of the land of Israel:

1) Because of a reawakened recognition that nationality, as well as religion, are both crucial to the full expression of God-given and God-preserved Jewish identity, we Christian Zionists realize that land is an integral and essential factor in Jewish identity.

2) Because we consider ourselves as being somehow adopted into that identity, we Christian Zionists are learning that land is critical also to our identity as Christians, though we are not Jews and do not need to become Jews.

These summary conclusions can be clarified:

1) The land of Israel is an essential part of Jewish identity. It has been proven over the centuries that Jewish identity can survive without Jews having to be present in the land of Israel. [9] But land has not been dropped from the ideal full expression of that identity as is obvious from this last century. Whether Jews actually live in the land depends on God's timing of His purposes and to a considerable extent on the condition of Jewish willingness to serve His purposes.

In other words, even though living in the land is not essential to the SURVIVAL of Jewish identity, the existence of a "Promised Land" is essential to the CONCEPT of Jewish identity. Necessarily, the ideal expression of that concept would include fulfillment of that promise by a Jewish population flourishing in the land.

Christian Zionists understand that it would be wrong to drop land from the concept of Jewish identity. The existence of a Promised Land remains as a powerful witness that the God of the Bible works in the world in specific ways to bring about His universal purposes; He works through concrete particular historical choices, including choice of land. Without a specific land as a witness to the specificity of God's choices, our own Christian identity is weakened. If the significance of earthly Jerusalem is lost, it not only becomes less likely that God will send His Son, Jesus, to Jerusalem in the future, it also becomes less likely that He did in fact send Him to Jerusalem in the past. [10]

2) The land of Israel is a part of Christian identity as well as a part of Jewish identity. The only difference is that since we were not obligated by the Jewish followers of Jesus to adopt the full Jewish religious-national identity in order to be followers of Jesus, we do not need even to consider Aliyah (immigration to Israel). But whether we live in Jerusalem or not, Jesus, as presented in the New Testament, is not conceivable without His activity in Jerusalem in the past and in the future.

This understanding of Scripture separates us from those actually anti-Christian spiritualizers who abandon any significance of Jesus' presence in Jerusalem in the past. This also separates us from the anti-Jewish spiritualizers within Christendom who abandon any notion of Jesus appearing in Jerusalem in the future. They teach that the Jews of today have no relationship to the Bible, and that Jerusalem no longer has any theological significance.

[9] In fact some Jews have been so assimilated into various cultures outside the land of Israel, i.e., so "diasporalized", as to be able to imagine a kind of Judaism that doesn't even want any present connection to the land.
[10] The "Jesus Seminar" that takes votes on whether the New Testament sayings of Jesus were really spoken by Jesus has not yet voted Him out of existence, but so little of Him is left that such a step would not be surprising. Others have in fact already taken that step of concentrating on the contents of the teachings without feeling any need of the Teacher.

CONSEQUENCES FOR SPIRITUALIZERS

Obviously Christian Zionists are separate from all spiritualizers. "Spiritualizing" is the counterfeit of spirituality. Spirituality is being in tune with the Holy Spirit of God. Since the actions of His Spirit have been recorded in the Scriptures, they serve to correct our various spiritual intuitions which may or may not be in tune with the Holy Spirit. Therefore reliance on the Holy Scriptures becomes the test of genuine spirituality.

A great loss occurs when genuine spirituality is abandoned in favor of its counterfeit. The genuine spiritual significance of God reaching out to us humans through real historical events in specific places is exchanged for counterfeit spiritualizations which depend on subjective experiences that are available anytime and anywhere. Objective external historical events are no longer made central to one's religious experience.

What the spiritualizers do is the opposite of caring about real historical events. They exalt the subjective experience of immediate contact with the divine and teach that the locus of the divine is supposedly within one's own soul. This focus on one's own inward spirit is what is meant by spiritualization, i.e., replacement of events subject to public scrutiny by hidden inner feelings not subject to external observation nor critique.

The Bible story, in contrast, stands or falls on its historicity. It deals with specific individuals and specific events in specific places. The Bible story is open for anyone to critique its reliability in reporting about the past and in making projections about the future. No book has ever been critiqued like the Bible, yet its historical message continues to impact people's lives also in that very personal subjective sphere to which spiritualizers try to reduce it. It is, however, precisely because of the historical character of its message about a particular people and a particular Savior in a particular land that it is able to impact each of us as particular individuals. We are not just meaningless numbers in the mass of universal humanity who are reaching inward to a nameless divinity formed in our image!

This can be expressed in philosophical abstractions: Only the particular can impact the particular. When all particulars have been impacted, then true universality will have been achieved.

Spiritualizers are wrong when they think we should start with universality; it is the end to be achieved, not the means. There will never be any universal harmony among human beings if the only universality to be allowed is the perfectly hollow and totally formal abstract universality of allowing anyone anywhere to decide or to create for himself whatever he wants to imagine as being divinity for him.

Spiritualizers, who want to get rid of a God of concrete choices, who have no use for the land of Israel, have got things backwards. They want the specific personal impact without the one kind of message, the biblical message, that is capable of giving a foundation to subjectivity that is reliable and secure, a basis that is open to scrutiny and that can stand the scrutiny.

No such testing is acceptable by the New Age disciples of inner realities. Such people feel themselves to be so spiritually or intellectually competent that they suppose themselves to be above the correction provided by the historical realities of the Bible. They trust their own spiritual experience and intellectual expertise more than they trust the Biblical account, even though that account is abundantly clear about the basic requirements of God's Holy Spirit as recorded throughout centuries of amazingly consistent prophetic perception of His will. [11]

It is no wonder that spiritualizers are so hateful toward Jews and toward Christians who sympathize with Jews. To their way of thinking we represent old-fashioned traditionalist tribalism. We obstruct any chances for world harmony by clinging to exclusivist particularist limited club memberships; according to them, we are "team players" looking out for our own interests rather than "fire-fighters" willing to help anyone in trouble. They claim that we care about Jews and don't care about Arabs. [12]

This is the lie of the spiritualizers: the claim that following particularistic historical choices is the enemy of universal harmony. The very opposite is the truth: the truth is that following God's particular suggestions is what makes for harmony. He makes specific choices as to the specific life style He requests us to follow, viz., the example of the Jewish Messiah and World Savior, Jesus. The only guarantee of growing harmony among us is growing agreement in following God's leadership.

Looking inward into the multitude of deceptive human hearts is exactly what leaves us in the mess of a multi-verse with no hope whatsoever of attaining a uni-verse. The natural result of spiritualizing is precisely to become pluralists who relativize the importance of any religion or any land. But pluralism is not the answer.

[11] "He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you, to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). The consequence of exalting one's own spiritual intuitions above the revealed Word of God is a disastrous loss of moral moorings; this is all too obvious in many Christian societies and ministries throughout Church history - not least among recent tele-evangelists in the States.
[12] They seem not even to notice that by supporting yet one more Moslem Arab state they have not moved one single step further in the direction of achieving a society in this land that would be more concerned about justice and harmony. On the contrary, they are actually supporting severe regression from such ideals; one need only look at Israel's neighbors. When there was a rebellion in Jordan in September 1970, for example, 2000 people were killed in three weeks and the rebellion was finished.

Such stark anti-Israeli efforts are blind to Isaiah's vision, shared by many Israelis, of wanting to be a blessing to the Arabs. "In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel Mine inheritance" (Is. 19:25-25).

CONSEQUENCES FOR PLURALISTS

There is a justifiable fear that causes people to become spiritualizers and thereby also pluralists. The fear is justified; but pluralism as the method for overcoming that fear is not justified. The justifiable fear is based on the historical fact that human particularisms always tend to become absolutisms. Absolutisms use coercion, including torture and murder, against their own citizens; they use military might against their neighbors in order to achieve their goals.

What is not justifiable is to suppose that all particularisms must necessarily lead to absolutism and that therefore pluralism is the only alternative to absolutism. Now it is true that all humanly based particularisms do ultimately lead to absolutism. But a particularism that is genuinely divine has no need to be absolutistic; its foundations in reality are so absolutely secure that it has no need to resort to absolutistic methods to prove or establish itself. This is why Jesus is willing to be killed rather than to kill, because no one can touch the reality for which Jesus stands, no matter how many people would be ridiculed or tortured or murdered in any attempt to deny that reality. What is of God simply cannot be overthrown no matter what any human does.

Therefore the test of true tolerance is not refuge in relativity and pluralism, but the willingness to suffer from others rather than to cause suffering, to allow them to live in error if they so choose, rather than turning to coercion to correct them. One can and should plead and warn, but that is all that one should do, because that is what God does according to the Bible. He then leaves us to ourselves to learn from the horrible consequences that it would have been better to have turned to Him earlier rather than later. God has simply chosen for His reasons (the creation of the possibility of love?) not to use coercion. He is so absolute that He has no reason to be absolutistic.

Genuine and very deep confidence in God is the only protection against the horrible evils of absolutism, not the ineffective hope for protection via pluralism as a philosophy. Pluralism as a philosophy of life is achieved by relativizing all absolute claims - this is unacceptable to traditional monotheists, whether Jews, Christians, or Moslems.

There is only one very specific kind of pluralism acceptable in a truth oriented religion. It is the pluralism of allowing others the right to be convinced, or not convinced, about absolute truth. We who are absolute about God are to use non-absolutistic means of persuasion. Only that religion which is so confident in God as to refuse to stoop to coercion is a viable alternative to the absolutisms that continue to plague us, that continue to reduce us to less than human in our behavior toward one another.

CONSEQUENCES FOR EVANGELICALS

That spiritualizers should turn their backs on Israel is not surprising, since they turn their backs in distrust against the Bible itself. But what about the circles of Evangelical Christian supporters of Israel? How is one to explain the recent defections? Why should someone who was once excited about the Jewish return to the land of Israel now turn their backs on Israel?

The problem seems to lie with the lack of perception of God's faithfulness to the DUAL ASPECT of Jewish identity. Professor Simon of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem has said, "Though I am a social scientist and not a prophet, I dare to prophesy that if any Jew thinks that being Jewish is only a religious identity or if any Jew thinks that being Jewish is only a national identity, then his grandchildren will not be Jewish." [13]

Some Christians, indeed maybe most Christians, would look favorably upon such a consequence. The loss of Jewish identity may be seen as something desirable rather than something tragic. But even some Evangelical Christians, who may not wish Jews to disappear, are nevertheless weakened in their understanding of Israel, and some are not just abandoning their support for the State of Israel, but opposing Israel.

A major reason is that they emphasize only one aspect of Jewish identity. Those who emphasize Jewishness is being a NATIONALITY can point to all kinds of mistakes made by the various Israeli authorities; these become reasons for backing away from Israel the nation - rather than praying all the more for Israelis to bring God into their daily decisions. But Jews are not just one more nationalistic group to be treated sympathetically only as long as they appear to be underdogs, and then to be abandoned when they seem to be underdogs no longer. [14]

Those who emphasize Judaism as a RELIGION can easily tire when they experience the high level of suspicion and opposition that exists toward Christians - rather than repenting all the more for the kind of witness of hatred against Jews which has been the Jewish experience of Christians for centuries. But Jews are not members of some religious group to be treated nicely only until they rebuff us - at which point one could supposedly feel justified in turning angrily away.

We need to understand Jews biblically as a people whose dual identity was: 1) created by God, 2) defined in naming Israel, 3) confirmed by Jesus, and 4) faithfully affirmed by God even now as a continuing witness to Him as the Jewish refugees continue to escape persecution and return to Israel…"that the nations will know that I am the Lord!"

We will argue about how they ought best to give that witness. But the reason we argue is because we care about a biblically true witness to the God of Israel, because we see Him continuing to care for the well being of the people of Israel, because we see Him able to bring the people back to His land today. With this understanding we may on occasion be furiously angry at the behavior of some Jews, but we will never turn our backs on the Jewish people because of some offensive individuals.

Contrast this understanding with the anti-Semitic attempt at self defense which so often is expressed by stating that "Some of my best friends are Jews"; this only proves that the speaker doesn't like Jews in general for some reason or another, but allows a few exceptions. A Christian Zionist does just the reverse; he is quite willing to express disgust at a particular individual but that would be the exception to the rule of general good will to the people.

We Christian Zionists are willing to make the necessary theological corrections to our traditions in order to bring those traditions more into line with the Scriptures and with what God is doing in our time. Accordingly, we challenge all Bible-believing Christians to uphold the importance of the land of Israel as an essential element of our faith; the land serves as an essential part of the historical context of God's revelation.

We keep faith in the God of history precisely because we observe Him keeping faith with His choices and with His methods. He has not abandoned His choice Israel, nor will He abandon the method of outreach through Israel's Messiah to all nations. Accordingly we trust Him to send Jesus the Savior to Jerusalem again - to be all, if not more, than any rabbi ever hoped or dreamed that the Messiah would be.

[13] This statement was made in an unpublished lecture given at the Hebrew University in the context of a public lecture series on JEWISH IDENTITY.
[14] Underdog theology needs to be replaced by biblical theology. God cared for His people not only when they were suffering in Egypt, but also when they were unjust and were causing suffering to the Gibeonite minority. How God expresses care may change radically from sympathy to anger, but there is no question of abandoning the chosen people.

POSTSCRIPT: Variety within Christian Zionism

In general, Christian Zionism can be defined as Christian support for Jewish return to the land, but there is an immense amount of variety among these supporters. This article has dealt primarily with the lowest common denominator of Christian Zionism, i.e., the belief that being Christian links us inextricably with the Jewish people and should lead all Christians to be favorably disposed toward Jewish people and toward their return to the land of Israel.

This unflinchingly "favorable disposition" is a far cry from being a support club which is pro-Israel right or wrong. A few Christian Zionists may favor right wing Israeli politics, but others favor the left wing. A few Christian Zionists may be fascinated with the rebuilding of the temple, but others think that Jesus' sacrifice fulfilled all that the temple ever stood for - and are therefore opposed to any thought of ever rebuilding the temple. A handful of Christian Zionists even serve in the Israeli army, but others would be opposed to such military service.

Christian Zionism is most definitely not to be characterized by any one of its subgroups alone. Some of these subgroups represent no more than a minute extremist fringe. Rather this article has aimed to make clear the biblical relevance of the Jewish return to the land of Zion as important for all Bible-believing Christians.

Allow a Lutheran to conclude with a reference to Dr. Martin Luther's lectures on the book of Genesis. Luther was fascinated by the wonderful promises made to Abraham's descendants in Genesis chapter 12. Luther asked who those descendants might be. He looked at the Jews of his day and concluded from his observations that they could not possibly be the descendants to which the Scriptures referred. "If the Jews are Abraham's descendants, then we would expect to see them back in their own land. We would expect them to have a state of their own. But what do we see? We see them living among us scattered and despised." So Luther concluded that the Church was the spiritual heir of the promises to Abraham. Luther committed the sin of spiritualizing - just as he had been taught in the schools of his denomination.

What happened to Luther is that he thought the Turkish Moslem attack on neighboring Vienna Austria indicated that he was living in the Last Days. Luther could not imagine that God was quite capable of yet blessing the Jews in the future. Luther's false eschatology destroyed his excellent biblical methodology of looking at history to determine what God is doing! What if Luther had been alive today? He would have been a Christian Zionist!


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