On May 15, 1948, the modern nation state of Israel was created. Ever since then, students of the Bible have taken a great interest in the Jewish return to the Holy Land. Is this a fulfillment of biblical prophecy?
Many people are interested in events surrounding the End Times. A number of Christians say that the establishment of the Israel in 1948 is proof that God has fulfilled biblical prophecy. Other Christians are not so sure. Some even question the idea that the Scriptures teach about a literal return of Jews to the Holy Land as a modern nation state. How do we sort these difficult and complicated issues out?
Here we begin a multi-part series1 of blog postings that examines the question of the founding of the modern nation of Israel and its relationship to Bible prophecy. We will look at the history of why there was a felt need to create a Jewish state in the modern Middle East. We will address some of the events that led to the creation of this Jewish state and the conflict that resulted. We will then consider the relationship between modern Israel, Judaism, and the Christian community in the Holy Land. After that, we will survey different Christian approaches to Bible prophecy that address the role of modern Israel. Towards the end of the series, I hope to share some of my personal reflections as I have studied this issue in the Bible.
Many Christians have strong views on “Israel,” and this has forced me to dig into both Scripture and history to work this out. As you will see, I mainly offer some food for thought, as I seek to submit to the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, that this might become a blessing to others as they struggle in this area. I invite your feedback in the comments section, as we think together through this.
What is Zionism?
The idea of Christian support for the Jewish return to the Holy Land is often called Christian Zionism, or simply Zionism. “Zion”, from the Hebrew, is another name for Jerusalem. One typical reference to Zion comes from Psalm 137, where the psalmist laments the Jewish Exile in Babylon in the 6th century before Christ. Singer and songwriter, Don McLean, covered a song based on this famous psalm on his 1971 album, American Pie. Verse one of the psalm itself reads:
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
Zionism is the Jewish people’s longing for a return to their native land, with Jerusalem as its capital city. Why do so many Jews long for such a return to Zion? In Genesis 15:18-21, God promises this land in the Middle East to the most prominent patriarch of the Hebrews, Abraham, and his descendants.
But Jews have found that staying in this promised land has not been very easy. The Exile into Babylon was understood by many Old Testament prophets as a judgment upon His people. God in His providential mercy and care allowed the Jews to return to the land and rebuild the Temple. However, the Jews faced yet another dispersal by the Romans in the year 70 A.D., when the rebuilt Temple was destroyed. Some Jews were able to stay in the land of Israel after that, but the majority were scattered across wide regions of the Roman empire.
This situation, what Bible scholars call the Jewish diaspora, has remained pretty much the same until the modern era. Events surrounding World War I, created an opportunity for the re-establishment of a Jewish state in this ancestral homeland. But before we get there, we must take some time to think about what happened between 70 A.D. and the 20th century A.D. We will look at that in our next post.
1. So far, I have about 17 posts queued up, with about 5 years (on and off) of research behind it, to be released over the summer. I have tried to keep each post limited to just one aspect of the issue, as it is very complex. You will see a lot of footnotes in this series. too, pointing to various books and other resources that might be helpful to the serious student. I really did not start thinking about this issue in depth until about 1994, when I took a trip for a seminary class to the Holy Land. It was a life-changing experience in many ways, especially when it came to a re-examination of the theology that I had learned during my college years. But about 5 years ago, I was challenged to rethink things yet again, as the situation has greatly changed over the intervening years. In running up to this series, I wrote a few introductory posts, but I will also post a few other random posts along the way to supplement the main series:
- Christian Passion About Israel: Can We Talk? This features two 90-minute documentaries from two different Christian viewpoints on the topic of Zionism. If you just watch these two films, you will get a sense of why this topic is such a difficult issue.
- When is a Gentile Not a Gentile (or Pagan of Heathen). Definitions of terms are SO important when discussing this issue.
- Who is a “True” Jew? Theological systems, such as dispensationalism and covenant theology, play a major role in this discussion.
- Replacing Replacement Theology? This is a plea I wrote from a few years ago, urging Christians with different theological viewpoints to learn to listen better to one another, myself included!.↩