In late November 1947, the United Nations drafted Resolution 181 as a proposition to partition what had been British Mandate Palestine. Days later, the General Assembly voted by majority to accept the resolution. The Jewish state was but months away from reemerging on the geopolitical stage, and Jerusalem once again poised to confront the nations with “the controversy of Zion.” Decades have passed, and Resolution 181 is no longer the only resolution the UN has lodged regarding Israel—but it is one of the few resolutions not serving as condemnations.
For nearly seventy years, the world has been forced to grapple with the legitimacy of the modern state of Israel. Wars and threats of wars have nearly suffocated her. Politicians and theologians alike have drawn their swords for or against her supporters. The movement known as “Zionism,” birthed in the late nineteenth century, has driven an effective wedge into global culture, dividing Western and Arab nations alike.
As with any divisive issue, the rage thrives on two sides: those who argue against the legitimacy of the modern State and those who support the State, often unequivocally. The argument has risen to so many decibels, it seems everyone stopped listening to each other a long time ago. “Never Again” has become the mantra of the modern Jewish generation, while accusations of “apartheid” and “occupation” have drowned out the cheers that erupted out of liberated camps upon the Allied arrival as the Second World War came to a close. The two political positions now in question both share a heritage in bankrupt theological foundations and bear toxic theological, ecclesiological and sociological fruit. With mudslinging on all sides, we believe it crucial to think critically and respond biblically to what is fundamentally a Gospel issue.
The Dangers of Anti-Zionism
As the crucified and risen Jewish King was proclaimed beyond Jerusalem and His precious Name reached Rome, the growing Gentile-majority fellowship in this ancient city was admonished by the still-living apostle Saul of Tarsus to “not be ignorant” concerning the mystery of Israel’s place in God’s cosmic purposes, despite (and in light of!) her rejection of Yeshua and her corporate unbelief post-Golgotha. We worry Rome didn’t listen. Far from a modern invention, the theological foundations for anti-Zionism are nothing new. The theological system almost consistently bleeds into politics since the emergence of the State (though the political position can and does well stand on its own). The system known as “supersessionism,” “replacement,” “fulfillment,” and—most audaciously— “covenant” theology is best described as a system of divestment, built upon a hermeneutic in which all of the covenantal blessings given to the houses of Israel and Judah are “transferred” (read: divested from) to the mostly Gentile Church. To stay faithful to its self-devised hermeneutic, “covenantal theology” must necessarily redefine “covenant,” thus marring the very Name and nature of the God who makes and keeps said covenant.
Moreover, because divestment theology castrates the integrity of covenant, a bankrupt eschatology must necessarily follow. The consequences of this often include selling this unregenerate earth as already renewed, or identifying the prophesied millennial reign of the Messiah as “figurative,” with all the improvements laid upon the Church as her responsibility (nevermind that it goes without saying, unresurrected corpses cannot resurrect created order). With the covenantal purposes of God skewed and His commitment to make all wrong things right effectively robbed of potency, it follows that our ability to understand the Man Christ Jesus as He has revealed Himself is irreparably compromised.
With these tenets in place, those who hold to divestment ideology (it can hardly be called a theology, such being a knowledge of God), have nothing in place to resist opposition to the modern, supposedly irrelevant, State of Israel. Because the “irrevocable” election of Israel is compromised, mocked and redefined, so is grace. The political anti-Zionism of theological anti-Judaism has a long and sordid history, which has never once produced good fruit. Our very simple litmus test is this: Judge a tree by its fruit.
The Dangers of Zionism
In the latter years of the nineteenth century, theologians began re-evaluating the long-standing tradition that the Church had “superseded” Israel in her covenantal standing as a nation, land and people elected by God. As they formed new conclusions, some swung the pendulum equally too far in the opposite direction; in a manner equally destructive to divestment of Israel’s covenantal peculiarity, she was then elevated beyond moral discretion and, sometimes, beyond the need for Calvary. Irishman John Nelson Darby’s new theological system was transplanted to America by Charles Scofield and widely popularized by the latter’s study Bible. That which we know as “dispensationalism” was born, and not without its consequences.
Darby’s construct brings division where Christ brought unity, supposing not one kingdom, but two; not one salvific covenant, but two. Though dispensationalism affirms the future fulfillment of all prophecies and promises to the national, ethnic and geographic Israel, it also advocates a pre-tribulation rapture, accusing Israel’s Shepherd of removing His witness from the earth just before Jacob enters his “time of trouble.” Consequently, the emphasis upon Israel as God’s “chosen” divorced from any prophetic foresight breeds unbiblical nationalism and conceives naïve political support—which is particularly troublesome with the modern Palestinian controversy. Though both parties involved in the conflict have filthy hands, too many evangelicals (typically American) excuse or overlook any of Israel’s legitimate transgressions and funnel huge amounts of money to the Israeli government—not believers in the land, but to the secular political institution. Perhaps most injurious, however, is its logical deductive end: the ideological abortion of missional efforts to bring the “Gospel of the Kingdom” back to wayward Jacob.
Why this is a Gospel Issue
If the arguments and mud swirling and slinging around Jerusalem were simply about soil—dirt—or a geopolitical tension in the Middle East along with every other war and fractured boundary line in the bleeding Arab world, we’d leave it well alone.
If the consequences of these ideologies hadn’t historically resulted in genocide and political partnership with a pagan nation, we’d leave it well alone.
If the Judeo-Christian Scriptures were silent on the future of this people, land, nation and city, we’d leave it well alone.
Trouble is, Jerusalem is not just any city. She is “the city of the Great King.”
Trouble is, Luther was never quite rebuked for spouting anti-Semitic and anti-Judaic rubbish. Hitler quoted him centuries later to gain Germany’s support for the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish question.”
Trouble is, the modern State isn’t the fruition of Abraham’s holy dream.
Trouble is, all of the prophets, all of the apostles and Jesus Himself looked to the Day when Jerusalem would be “established, far from oppression,” “majestic forever, a joy from age to age,” “a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD,” shining with “salvation as a lamp that burns” which all “Gentiles shall see.”
Trouble is, this isn’t ultimately about Israel. This isn’t ultimately about Abraham. This isn’t ultimately about Jerusalem.
This is about the King who promised to rule and reign from her hill.
This is about the Savior who promised to impute His righteousness upon her soiled soul.
This is about the God who promised to crush the head of the serpent for all our sake’s.
Ultimately, this is about His Name.
If we misunderstand or misrepresent Jerusalem, we misunderstand and misrepresent her—and our—Messiah.
1. Isaiah 34:8
2. Romans 11:25
3. This word, and its synonyms, is not uncommon amongst divestment theologians. NT Wright uses this word in The Climax of the Covenant [(Minneapolis: Fortress Press October 1, 1993), 25.] to say: “[Paul] has systematically transferred the privileges and attributes of ‘Israel’ to the Messiah and His [new] people [the Church]. It is therefore greatly preferable to take… “Israel” as a typically Pauline polemical redefinition…”
4. Romans 11:29
5. See Our Hands are Stained with Blood by Dr. Michael L. Brown, Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from antiquity to the Global Jihad by Robert S. Wistrich, Future Israel: Why Christian anti-Judaism Must be Challenged by Barry Horner, Semites and anti-Semites by Bernard Lewis. Where and when theological philo-Semitism is allowed to flourish there is health to the group that produces it. Likewise, there is death where the inverse is true.
6. See Matthew 7:15-20; 12:33; Luke 6:44
7. "I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption....In fact, trying to convert Jews is a waste of time. Jews already have a covenant with God and that has never been replaced by Christianity." John Hagee in the Houston Chronicle, 30 April 1988 (6) 1.
8. See Ephesians 2:14-18
9. Jeremiah 30:7
10. Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2; 1 Kings 3:8
11. Matthew 24:14; See also Romans 1:16
12. Matthew 5:35
13. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Final Solution. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007328. Accessed 23 July 2015.
14. See Genesis 15:12-21
15. Isaiah 54:14; 60:15; 62:1-3
16. See Psalm 2
17. Isaiah 46:13
18. Genesis 3:14-15
19. Deuteronomy 7:7-11; 9:6; Psalm 23:3; 25:11; 31:3; Ezekiel 20:44; 36:22; Acts 9:16