In this blog post series on Christian Zionism, I have tried to cover a vast amount of material, highlighting the most significant, while still trying my best to hear all sides in the debate. At this point, I can only make a tentative conclusion. The Bible is a big book after all, and so as long as the Lord tarries, I hope to keep studying and keep learning the truths as expressed in His Word.
I would hope to think that we as Christians can have robust conversations amongst ourselves on the topic of Zionism, in a spirit of “agreeing to disagree.” As long as we seek after the truth as found in God’s Word, we stand on good ground. My hope is that these blog posts have helped to move the conversation along. If you think I have something wrong, please let me know so that I can learn from you.
So here is my attempt to make a conclusion, however tentative it may be.
“My Take” on Zionism
I find it difficult to accept any pro-Zionist viewpoint without some sense of caution. First, a pro-Zionist position is relatively novel in the history of the church. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to uproot a tradition, and not on those who wish to defend it.
Secondly, what is going on in Israel today might be a fulfillment of prophecy. But then again, it may not.
It is simply too soon to tell if the founding of modern Israel in 1948 (or 1967, or whatever) was a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. If it turns out that God vomits the people out of the land again due to their disobedience and unbelief, to insist on the date of 1948 as a definite date of prophecy fulfillment would only bring further discredit to the integrity of the witness of the Christian church. Clearly, a rejection of modern day Israel would be an catastrophe, but so was the Babylonian exile and Roman destruction of the Second Temple. I would err on the more cautious side, and say that I would rather not go there with such presumptuous thinking.
Even for those who insist that God prophetically anticipates that the Jews will enter the land in unbelief (Ezekiel 36-37), this can be a difficult pill to swallow, in view of the contemporary issues of injustice evident in the Arab-Israeli conflict, on both sides. Taking sides in the geopolitical conflict among Christians threatens to taint the witness of the church. This should be avoided. Christians should be peacemakers and evangelists first. Let the Lord sort out the End Times details while we engage in the tasks He has set before us already.
Many Christians today talk about making a “stand for Israel.” I always wonder what people mean by that. If they mean that Christians should just blindly accept everything that the nation-state of Israel has done since 1948, and continues to do, then I have a real problem with that. It is very difficult for me to imagine a God who would bring the people back to the land, and in the process, evict thousands of Palestinian Christians out of their homes and olive groves, that they have belonged to their families for centuries.
On the other hand, if making a “stand for Israel” means praying for the people in this Middle Eastern country, that they might not be harmed by those who wish to persecute them, and furthermore, that they might come to know Jesus, then I am all for making a “stand for Israel.”
If it is God’s intention to use the restoration of the land, even in a prophetically partially fulfilled way, to cause the Jewish people to recognize Jesus as their Messiah, then, by all means, I want to be supportive of that. If the return to the land encourages Jews to embrace Yeshua as their Messiah, Lord and Savior, as a witness to the purposes of God, then I am behind it. But I can only imagine such a vision of Zionism if it also somehow includes a vision of peace and justice, especially for the Palestinian Christian community, that has seen so much decimation over the past century.
The bottom line comes back to what the Holy Scriptures teach. Does the Bible clearly teach that we should expect a future restoration of national Israel within its ancient, Middle Eastern borders? I am not entirely sure. When I read Joshua 21:43-45, it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that the land promise was already fulfilled in Joshua’s day, something that makes trouble for the futurist fulfillment view of the land promise. But what of other promises that point towards a literal, future fulfillment, such as Amos 9:11-15?
I pretty much take a “wait and see” attitude, on the land question. More broadly speaking, if I had to stake my position, I would probably place myself somewhere between a progressive dispensationalist and a progressive covenantalist.
I definitely reject a concept of “replacement theology,” that suggests that God is somehow done with national Israel entirely. As with all nationalities, God’s desire is that they might all be won to Christ. Any view of the New Testament “church,” that neglects the presence of converted, ethnic Jews in the mix, is simply, and categorically, a denial of the witness of Holy Scripture.
The church needs to be more honest in how “replacement theology,” under the cloak of covenant theology, has led to the horrors of antisemitism. Furthermore, it is really unfair for defenders of covenant theology to paint everyone who embraces Zionism as being promoters of a hard-core, Scofield-brand of dispensationalism, akin to what you often find on late night cable TV.
In the past five years, I have learned something from the newer, progressive dispensationalist movement. In this view, there is an expectation of the restoration of national Israel, but it will only be fulfilled when the Messiah returns. To speak of prophecy about national Israel being fulfilled now, or back in 1948, or 1967, is too premature. God knows what He is doing. It is not up to me to have everything figured out by reading today’s newspaper. I can still trust God, even if it is not entirely clear as to what He is doing right now. This is a much more sensible approach affirming the principle of Zionism, that does not get needlessly entangled in today’s emotionally-charged geopolitics, that often dominates more popular forms of dispensationalism. These sensationalistic forms of dispensationalism are rarely even taught in our evangelical seminaries anymore. A more modest approach to a literal fulfillment of the land promise is required in order to win over Christians who are skeptical of dispensationalist Bible interpretation.
That being said, even with what might be understood as a Christ-fulfilling or spiritual-fullfillment view of the land promise, there does not seem to be any clear evidence in Scripture that denies a future, physical fulfillment of the land promise, even to the ancient borders described in the original Abrahamic covenant, from Egypt to the Euphrates River in the central Iraq. In other words, I see no explicit warrant to rule out such a so-called “literal” future fulfillment of the Abrahamic land promise.
However, if there is a particular pet peeve I have in the whole discussion, it would be this: Some supporters of Zionism say that if God does not fulfill the land promise to national Israel, then we as Christians do not have the security to believe that Jesus Christ will keep his promises towards those in the church.
Granted, the land promise was specifically about… yes, you guessed it… land. If God promised land, then it only makes sense for God to specifically give Israel the land, assuming that God keeps His promises. However, such logic is not ultimately convincing. I will give two reasons:
- First, both sides in the dispensationalist vs. covenant theology debate agree that God keeps His promises. What they disagree about is how God does this and the nature of those promises. The real question being debated is this: can God’s promises can be aggregated under the fulfilling work of Jesus Christ, or is there a place for God to additionally make promises to a specific people that are not directly related to the saving work of Christ? To repeat: My plea is that proponents of both sides of the debate should stop beating one another up over whether or not God keeps His promises. Everyone agrees on that: God keeps His promises! The debate should instead focus on how God fulfills the promises and the nature of those promises.
- Secondly, if God desires to fulfill His promises in a manner that defies our expectations, why should we argue? For example, the Jews in Jesus’ day clearly expected the Messiah to come, not as a suffering servant, but rather as the royal King, who defeats Israel’s enemies, such as the Romans. Jesus defied their expectations by coming as the Messiah, who was also a suffering servant. Rome still held her grip on Israel, and almost fully crushed Israel within a century after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The royal King expectation is not to be fulfilled until the Second Coming. This was not on the first century Jewish radar! Is it not then possible that God could fulfill his promises regarding the land in a completely unexpected way?
So, I am open to Zionism, but I am still cautious. If a literal fulfillment of the land promise encourages Jews to recognize Jesus as their Messiah, then I would praise God for that. On the other hand, I am concerned that the modern fascination with the land promise of Israel has proven, at times, to be a distraction for the church’s obedience to the Great Commission. We should not let ethnic concerns compromise the Lord’s calling to us as believers to present the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people, Jew and Gentile, Israeli and Palestinian. The “end game,” so to speak, is that God would build a community of people, regardless of ethnicity, to inhabit the new heavens and the new earth. To the extent that Zionism’s hope, that the promise of the land might be fulfilled in the future, directs the church towards that “end game,” I can support that reading and application of Scripture.
To bring this altogether, I would like to share a parable that helps me to think more Christianly about issues like this, but I will save that for the final post in this series.