What is it? Is it biblical? Is it dangerous? Does it matter?
By Dr. David R. Reagan
“Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz Israel [Palestine] secured under public law.” — First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, 1897.
“Zionism is the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist within defined and defended borders…” — The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
“Zionism is a form of racism and social discrimination…” — United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, passed November 10, 1975.
“Christian Zionism has become the most powerful and destructive force at work in America today… they are not only inciting hatred between Jews and Muslims but are also the greatest roadblock to lasting peace in the Middle East.” — Stephen Sizer, Anglican Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, England.
I was a Christian Zionist before I knew what one was. A simple definition of a Christian Zionist is a Christian who supports the right of the Jewish people to establish and defend a state in their historic homeland of Israel.
There are two types of Christian Zionists. The minority consists of those Christians whose support of Israel is purely political in nature. For example, there is an organization called The Catholic Friends of Israel. On its website, the statement is made that they support Israel because it is “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
The vast majority of Christian Zionists are Evangelicals who believe that God is fulfilling promises today that were made to the Jewish people thousands of years ago in Bible prophecy. The cornerstone of their support is the belief that the title to the land which God granted to the Jews in the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-7 and 13:14-18) is everlasting and irrevocable. These Evangelicals should really be referred to as “Biblical Zionists” to differentiate them from Christian Zionists who are politically motivated. But that distinction is seldom ever made by anyone.
The origin of Christian Zionism is usually attributed to the development of Dispensational eschatology in the early 19th Century. This important end-time viewpoint keeps Israel and the Church separate, arguing that God has a distinct plan for each. The Church will be taken out of the world at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and then God will orchestrate all the nations of the world against Israel (Zechariah 12:2-3), hammering the Jewish people until they come to the end of themselves, at which point the remaining remnant will accept Jesus as their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10).
The Dispensational viewpoint is based upon a literal or plain-sense interpretation of Bible prophecy. It denies that the Church has replaced Israel or that God has washed His hands of the Jewish people because of their unbelief (Romans 11:1-2). It points to the preservation of the Jewish people as a supernatural phenomenon clearly prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures (Jeremiah 30:11 and 31:35-37). The worldwide regathering of the Jews that occurred in the 20th Century is also viewed as a fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 11:10-12). And the re-establishment of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948 is considered to be one of the greatest miracles of modern history and a definite fulfillment of Bible prophecy (Isaiah 66:7-8).
There is no doubt that Dispensational theology undergirds modern day Christian Zionism, but it was by no means the origin of the Movement. Tommy Ice, one of the leading Dispensational spokesmen today, has written an in-depth essay in which he clearly shows that one of the delayed consequences of the Reformation was the development of what came to be known as the Christian Restoration Movement, the precursor of Christian Zionism.
I say “delayed” because the Movement began to emerge among the second generation of Reformers, after they had been given an opportunity to study the Bible in detail in their own languages. Keep in mind that for 1500 years before the Reformation, the Catholic Church kept the Bible out of the hands of the people and refused to allow it to be translated from Latin into the various national languages. Also, during that time, the Church was virulently anti-Semitic and abused Bible prophecy by spiritualizing it. It took some time to digest the Bible once it had been translated and published in common languages, and it took great courage to begin interpreting it to mean what it said.
For example, in 1585 an English scholar named Francis Kett (ca 1547-1589) published a book in which he mentioned that the Bible prophesies the “Jewish national return to Palestine.” He was quickly arrested for espousing this heresy and was burned at the stake in 1589.
Despite the persecution, a number of books were published in the early 1600’s advocating the restoration of the Jews to their land. One of the key writers was Henry Finch (1558-1625) who published an in-depth book about the Jews in prophecy in 1621. At the time, he was a member of Parliament and was a highly respected legal scholar, but his social and political status did not protect him. King James was offended by Finch’s assertion that a day would come when Israel would be the prime nation in the world. The result was that Finch and his publisher were arrested, and Finch was striped of his status and possessions.
As time went by, the greatest proponents of Restorationism became the Puritans. This was most likely due to the great value they gave to the Hebrew Scriptures. And since the American colonies were settled primarily by Englishmen, including many Puritans, Restorationism took root quickly in the New World.
One of the leading Puritan proponents of Restorationism was Increase Mather (1639-1723) who served as the first president of Harvard. His book, The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation, strongly supported the restoration of the Jewish people to their land.
Tommy Ice presents evidence of widespread support of the Restorationist Movement throughout Europe during the 19th Century. One very interesting advocate was a German Lutheran by the name of C. F. Zimpel whose writings proved to be prophetic. The pamphlets he published in the mid-1800’s warned that if the Jews were not allowed to return to Palestine, they would be subjected to persecution and slaughter.
At the same time, the Movement really gained steam in England, and the leading spokesman who emerged was Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885). He was a strong Anglican who interpreted the Bible literally and was known as “the Evangelical of Evangelicals.” Shaftesbury “never had a shadow of a doubt that the Jews were to return to their own land… It was his daily prayer, his daily hope.” Shaftesbury’s influence was widespread, both within governmental and clerical circles.
Perhaps the most influential Christian Zionist of the 19th Century, from a practical viewpoint, was William Hechler (1845-1931) who was born in India of German missionary parents. He was raised in the Church of England, became a passionate Restorationist, and in 1882 published a book entitled, The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine According to Prophecy.
In 1885 Hechler was appointed Chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna. Theodor Herzl was residing there at the time, working as a journalist. The two met, and they were united in heart. Hechler became one of Herzl’s closest friends and advisers. He constantly assured Herzl that what he was doing in founding the Zionist Movement was a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
The 20th Century
With the dawn of the 20th Century, two Christian Zionists in England were to have an even greater practical impact than Hechler. They were David Lloyd George (1863-1945) and Arthur James Balfour, later known as Lord Balfour (1848-1930).
Lloyd George became Prime Minister during World War I. He was a strong Christian Zionist who was “determined to gain control of Palestine… He also wanted his country to carry out what he regarded as God’s work in Palestine.” The British Foreign Minister at the end of the war was Lord Balfour. He was also a strong Christian Zionist. Lord Balfour’s biographer says that his interest in Zionism was rooted in his boyhood training in the Old Testament under the guidance of his mother.
These two Christian Zionists, George and Balfour, worked together to issue the most important document of the 20th Century — the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917. In that pronouncement, the British Government declared its intention to provide a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, which was in the process of being liberated from the Ottoman Empire. The document electrified the Evangelical world because its leaders considered the declaration to be the first tangible sign that the world was moving into the end-times.
Lloyd George tried later to justify the Balfour Declaration on the grounds that it was a reward to the Jewish people in response to the fact that during the war a Jewish scientist, Chaim Weizmann, had invented a synthetic form of acetone, an ingredient necessary for the production of explosives. But one of the leading historians of that period has concluded that Lloyd George and Lord Balfour were both motivated primarily by religious and sentimental feelings which they could not publicly admit.
The person who would prove to be the most influential in the long run was an Englishman named John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). He was the one who organized the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy into the systematic theology called Dispensationalism. Although Darby never became involved in politics and therefore never became a major player in British Restorationism, his Dispensational theology, when transported to the United States, became the foundation of American Christian Zionism.
The American Scene
Without a doubt, the most important Christian Zionist in the United States during the late 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century was William E. Blackstone (1841-1935). He was a businessman who became convinced of the Dispensational viewpoint of end-time prophecy. In 1878 he wrote a book called Jesus is Coming, and it became the first Bible prophecy best seller. In 1887 he founded the Chicago Hebrew Mission for the evangelization of the Jews. In 1891 he presented President Benjamin Harrison with a petition signed by over 400 prominent Americans, advocating the re-settlement of persecuted Russian Jews to Palestine.
Advocates for a homeland for the Jews abounded in the United States at the beginning of the 20th Century. There was C. I. Scofield who published the first study Bible in 1909. Another was Clarence Larkin who specialized in drawing fascinating charts in the 1920’s about Bible prophecy. Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (founded in 1886) and Dallas Theological Seminary (founded in 1924) were both bastions of Christian Zionism, training students in the fundamentals of Dispensationalism.
One of those students, Hal Lindsey, produced a book in 1970 titled The Late Great Planet Earth. It emphasized the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jewish people in their worldwide regathering, the re-establishment of their state, and their re-occupation of Jerusalem in 1967. This book was the number one best seller for ten years! It introduced the general public to Dispensationalism in a popular, easy-to-read way, and it produced a large increase in the number of Christian Zionists.
At the end of the 20th Century, Tim LaHaye’s phenomenal Left Behind series of books touched millions more all over the world with the Dispensational viewpoint, including an understanding of the biblical case for the Jewish title to the land of Israel.
Today, at the beginning of the 21st Century, Christian Zionism is at the peak of its influence. The most visible spokesman on the political scene is Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. In 2006 he formed a political action organization called Christians United for Israel.
A Serious Problem
Pastor Hagee is a good example of a problem that has plagued Christian Zionism since the mid-20th Century. The problem is that Christian Zionists sometimes become so enamored with the Jewish people and the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith that they decide that since the Jews are God’s Chosen People, the Jews must have a way of salvation that is separate and apart from accepting the Christian Gospel. This unbiblical viewpoint is known as Dual Covenant Theology.
Hagee has believed in this theology for many years, although he has consistently denied it. But his actions have spoken louder than his words, and on several occasions even his words have betrayed him when he would let it slip in interviews. For example, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle in 1988 he said: “Everyone else, whether Buddhist or Baha’i, needs to believe in Jesus, but not Jews. Jews already have a covenant with God that has never been replaced by Christianity.”
Hagee finally decided to come out of the closet with his recent book, In Defense of Israel. Incredibly, he proclaims in the book that “The Jews did not reject Jesus as Messiah.” He explains: “… if Jesus refused by His words or actions to claim to be the Messiah of the Jews, then how can the Jews be blamed for rejecting what was never offered?” These incredible words are no slip of the pen. Hagee proceeds to make the statement over and over that Jesus refused to be the Jewish Messiah, “choosing instead to be the Savior of the world.”
This is gross apostasy. Peter confessed Jesus as “the Christ [Messiah], the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Later, Peter declared in his first sermon at Pentecost “that God has made Him both Lord and Christ [Messiah] — this Jesus whom you crucified.” Paul proclaimed the same message in the Jewish synagogues, “proving that this Jesus is the Christ [Messiah]” (Acts 9:20-23). John went so far as to declare that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ [Messiah] has the spirit of antichrist (1 John 2:22). Furthermore, Jesus Himself declared point blank that He was the Messiah when the Jews asked Him (John 10:24-33).
Hagee also claims in his book that the Jews are still under the Old Covenant because the Old Testament was not invalidated by the Cross. He is correct about the Old Testament, but he is dead wrong about the Jewish Covenant. The Mosaic Covenant, which constitutes only a small portion of the Old Testament, was replaced at the death of Jesus by a New Covenant that had been promised in the Hebrew Scriptures (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The whole book of Hebrews was written to emphasize this point (see Hebrews 7:22, 8:6-13, and 9:11-16). In fact the book of Hebrews says that the Old Covenant was rendered “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13).
Those Christian Zionists who have embraced Dual Covenant Theology have embraced a lie. Paul wrote that the Gospel was meant for “the Jew first” and also for the Greeks (Romans 1:16). Loving the Jewish people so much that you refuse to share the Gospel with them is loving them right into Hell. Fortunately, the vast majority of Christian Zionists have rejected the apostasy of Dual Covenant Theology.
The Attack on Christian Zionism
The two foremost critics of Christian Zionism are Reverend Stephen Sizer, an Anglican priest in England, and Hank Hanegraaff here in the United States, known popularly as “The Bible Answer Man.” Both men are virulently anti-Semitic. Sizer has “marketed a nightmare version of Christian Zionism that paints all Christian supporters of Israel as reactionary and dangerous fundamental fanatics intent on bringing on Armageddon.” Hanegraaff bluntly asserts that “Israel is the Harlot of Revelation.” Some of the arguments presented by these men and other critics include the following:
1. “The Jews have been set aside by God because of their unbelief.”
This statement is directly contrary to Scripture. See Romans 9-11.
2. “The Church has replaced Israel.”
Says who? Where in God’s Word is this stated? The Scriptures always maintain a separate identity for physical Israel and the Church. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 10:32.
3. “The Jews were dispossessed of their land because of their unbelief.”
Not true. There are two covenants pertaining to the land, a title covenant and a usage covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant gave them an eternal title to the land (Genesis 13:14-15). The Land Covenant, given to them through Moses, made their enjoyment of the land conditional on their obedience (Deuteronomy 28-29). Even when they have been evicted from the land because of disobedience, they have retained their title to it. They still have that title today (Psalm 105:8-11).
4. “The regathering of the Jews to Israel in the 20th Century could not be an act of God because the Jews have not repented and accepted Jesus as their Messiah.”
The Bible clearly prophesies that the Jews will be regathered in unbelief in the end-times (Isaiah 11:10-11). Their regathering is not a blessing they have earned; it is a demonstration of God’s grace.
5. “The Jews stole the land of Palestine from the Arabs and exist there illegally.”
This is nonsense. First, the land belongs to the Jews as a grant from God (Genesis 13:14-15). Second, when the Jews started returning in the early 20th Century, they bought the land from the Arabs, paying exorbitant prices. Third, the state of Israel was created in response to a declaration of the United Nations, passed in November 1947, authorizing the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
6. “The state of Israel is an accident of history.”
One would have to be spiritually blind to make such an assertion. The whole world hated and persecuted the Jews for 2,000 years after the Romans evicted them from their homeland. Yet, God preserved them, regathered them, and miraculously orchestrated the vote of the United Nations that authorized the re-establishment of their state.
7. “Christian Zionists believe that God has a different way of salvation for the Jews.”
Unfortunately this is true of a handful of Christian Zionists. But the vast majority hold no such belief. They would argue that being the Chosen People of God does not guarantee salvation and that the only hope for the Jews is the same as for Gentiles — namely, faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
8. “Christian Zionists are trying to manipulate American foreign policy toward Armageddon in order to hasten the Lord’s return.”
This is drivel. In the first place, Christian Zionists do not have that much political power. In fact, most Christian Zionists are not political activists. They are content to teach the truth about Israel and pray for God’s will to be done. The key to hastening the Lord’s return is not orchestrating a war in the Middle East. Rather, it is by preaching the Gospel to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible (Matthew 24:14).
9. “Christian Zionists blindly support every action of the Israeli government.”
This is poppycock. Many Christian Zionists believe, like I do, that the greatest enemy of Israel today is its own leaders who have been deceived into believing that they can gain peace through appeasement.
10. “Christian Zionists have no sympathy for the oppressed Palestinian people.”
Wrong again. My heart goes out to them, not because they have been oppressed by Israel, but because they are victims of a long string of wretched leaders like Yasser Arafat who have imprisoned them under a rule of tyranny and have stolen the billions in aide that has been provided by the international community. Their leaders could have established a Palestinian state in 1948 at the same time the state of Israel was established because the United Nations resolution called for the creation of two states. But their leaders decided instead to launch an attack on Israel. They have been afforded several opportunities since 1948 to create a Palestinian state, but each time they have responded with violence because their aim is the annihilation of Israel. As the Israeli diplomat, Abba Eban, once put it: “The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
The Scriptural Basis
Let’s conclude by taking a look at the scriptural basis of Christian Zionism.
To begin with, the Bible makes it clear that God Himself is a Zionist. Psalm 132:13 proclaims that “The Lord has chosen Zion” as His everlasting dwelling place. Psalm 87:2 says “the Lord loves the gates of Zion.” In the Abrahamic Covenant God promised to bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse the Jews, and history is littered with the carcasses of nations who mistreated the Jews. We are commanded by the Lord “to pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).
Through the prophet Zechariah, God warned that those who touch Israel, touch “the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). A similar warning is contained in Psalm 129:5 — “May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned back.” The passage goes on to say that no blessing of any kind should be given to those who hate Zion.
We are exhorted to comfort the Jewish people and to speak tenderly to them (Isaiah 4:1-2). We are commanded to speak out for Zion’s sake and to be watchmen on the walls for Israel until the Lord “makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:1, 6-7). We are warned not to be arrogant toward the Jews (Romans 11:18). And we are reminded that due to our spiritual debt to them, we should minister to them in material things (Romans 15:27).
With regard to the Jews in the end-times, here is a list of prophecies:
1. Regathering in unbelief (Isaiah 11:10-12 and Ezekiel 36:22-28).
2. Re-establishment of the state of Israel (Isaiah 66:7-8 and Zechariah 12:3-6).
3. Reclamation of the land (Isaiah 35:1-7 and Joel 2:21-26).
4. Revival of the Hebrew language (Zephaniah 3:9).
5. Re-occupation of Jerusalem (Luke 21:24).
6. Resurgence of military strength (Zechariah 12:6).
7. Refocusing of world politics on Israel (Zechariah 12:3 and 14:1-9).
Jeremiah twice says that when God has accomplished all His purposes in history, the Jewish people will look back and consider their regathering in unbelief to be the greatest of God’s miracles among them — greater even than their deliverance from Egyptian captivity (Jeremiah 16:14-15 and 23:7-8). What an exciting time we are privileged to live in! Maranatha!