Years ago when I first started my Christian journey and studying the Bible, I was saturated with the idea that the modern nation-state of Israel was a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. It seemed reasonable and straight-forward enough. In my church in college, it was pretty much a given that this was a clear Scriptural truth: God’s people, the Jews, had finally come home to worship their God. What could be a more obvious demonstration that the Bible is true? However, while I still find a measure of this to be compelling, I became aware that the situation was a lot more complicated than I had earlier thought. When I made a trip to the Holy Land in 1994, I discovered that Zionism, the quest for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East, was not quite what I thought it was. Here are some of the things that I learned… and the discovery of these things sent me searching.
Before going to the Holy Land, my impression was that Israel was filled with an overwhelming majority of devoutly spiritual, dedicated Jews. Every Israeli citizen was taking their turn praying by the remaining Western Wall of the old Temple, or so I thought. But during my visit there, I learned that most of the people living in Israel then were, at best, nominally Jewish.
The situation is not terribly different today. Yes, most citizens of Israel have some ethnic association with Judaism, but very few believe in the actual, traditional God of Judaism. In many ways, modern day Israel is about as secular as are countries in modern day Europe. The majority of Israelis consider themselves to be mainly atheistic or agnostic. Statistics vary, but only somewhere between 10% and 25% of the population consider themselves to be “orthodox Jews,” with even smaller percentages of other, less theologically-conservative Jews.
The Jewish people may have finally returned to their homeland, but they have done so mostly in a state of unbelief. These facts raise some difficult questions concerning Zionism.1
Differing Views of Zionism Among Jews and Christians
Because of the secular roots of the modern Zionist movement, there are a number of Orthodox Jews who actually oppose Zionism, for that very reason. For example, the Neturei Karta, an Orthodox Jewish sect, believe that modern Zionism is actually a political movement to hijack the Jewish identity. For these contrarian Jews, a true return to the Promised Land would be one that God orchestrates without the need for guns or military might. Instead, such a true Jewish movement would be spiritual:
While most Jewish young people in Israel serve some sort of required military service, many Orthodox Jews are exempt from such service, for theological reasons. “Some trust in horses, some trust in chariots, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God,” as the writer of Psalm 20 would say.
But what shocked me even more was the story of Christianity in Israel. Out of a total national population of 8 million, the followers of Jesus number only in the thousands. For many Israelis, Christianity and Judaism is like oil and water: They just do not mix well. This is quite sobering.
However, on the bright side, the number of Israeli Jews coming to faith in Jesus is increasing every year. Many of these followers of Yeshua (a common Jewish way of naming “Jesus”) are messianic Jews, those who have a Jewish background, yet who are convinced that Jesus is indeed the Risen Messiah.
Many of these messianic Jews share in the hope of Zionism, believing that despite the problems associated the secular aspects of Zionism, God’s plan to restore the people of Israel back to their ancient homeland is all part of God’s providential purposes:
Nevertheless, the story would not be complete if there was no mention of other Christians living in the land, many of whom tell a much different story.
1. Many Christians today believe that the idea of Jews re-entering the land in a state of unbelief was actually prophetically expected in the Bible, a teaching I was never taught in my early years as a Christian. I will address this point in Scripture in more detail in a later blog post… What is really difficult to wrap my head around about Israel are the rules for getting a visa for Jews who wish to return to the land. You have to demonstrate that you possess some sort of ethnic Jewish lineage. But there is a caveat. If you believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Jewish Messiah, you can be denied entry into Israel. You can be a practicing Jew, or an atheist, or even a Buddhist, but if you believe in Jesus, your visa application can be denied. A friend of Carl Medearis tells his story.↩