Is God a Zionist? – Part 1

Reinhold Federolf

For some, this provocative topic is on par with the impossible question of whether or not the devil can be saved. But that shouldn’t stop us from getting to know the God of the Bible better. “But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:39).

What is “Zionism?” Zionism is the term used to describe a modern political movement, whose goal was and is to bring Jewish people back to the land of their ancestors. The movement gained more and more traction toward the end of the 19th century, primarily because of discrimination, persecution, and extermination. The horrors of the Holocaust compelled people to be sympathetic to the return of the Jews to their own state, at least for a few years.

The Israeli national anthem, Hatikva (“The Hope”), is a positive reinterpretation of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones: “Our hope is lost” (Ezek 37:11). The text is taken from a poem with nine stanzas by Naftali Herz Imber (1856-1909), who was born in a part of the former Austrian Empire that is now part of Ukraine. His poem Tikvatenu (“Our Hope”) initially became a well-known Zionist song. When the first stanza was chosen as the national anthem of the newly-formed state of Israel in 1948, the text expressing the desire to return to Zion was modified. The anthem makes it clear that the concerns of Zionism go beyond the purely political and include a religious longing:

As long as in the heart, within,
A Jewish soul still yearns,
And onward, towards the ends of the east,
an eye still gazes toward Zion;
Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope two thousand years old,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Is Christian Zionism a dangerous heresy? We often hear statements like, “Fundamentalists impede the ‘peace process!’” Or, “Bias toward Israel makes it difficult to evangelize Muslims. Zionism is comparable to racism and apartheid politics!” Such dire warnings, especially when they come from within Christian ranks, must not remain unanswered. One claim that strikes at the very heart of the conflict among Christians is, “There is no promise of land in the New Testament!” The problem is that there is a lack of understanding in many circles concerning what the term “Zion” includes, though this term occurs around 160 times in the Bible.

Those who carefully study the relevant passages inevitably conclude that Zion was, is, and will be enormously important to our God. Paul cites the prophet Isaiah in this context, and points out that what the Old Testament prophet foretold long ago will be fulfilled in the future: “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written [in Isaiah], There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom 11:26). In this verse, the restoration of Jacob (the people of Israel), the land, and the presence of God in the New Testament is confirmed.

The Bible is Jewish: Jesus is called the lion of the tribe of Judah, and our hopes for the future are characterized by Judaism. Therefore, in Romans, Paul warns against possible pagan-Christian exclusivism: “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee” (Rom 11:17-18).

Here it becomes clear that God has by no means replaced Israel with the church. This erroneous view is frequently expressed in Christian circles where no one ever hears a sermon on the subject or brings a prayer for the Jews before the God of Israel. However, doctrinal weightlessness with regard to Israel causes disorientation, uncertainty, and often anti-Semitic tendencies.

The last chapters of Revelation notably forbid a New Testament internationalization of the new Jerusalem. For example, the mention of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel being visible above the pearly gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, should give us food for thought. Israel is especially emphasized in the context of the new heaven and the new earth: “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain” (Isa 66:22). There is another New Testament reference to Zion in Revelation: Jesus will stand on Mount Zion with 12,000 descendants of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads” (Rev 14:1). If we interpret this as somehow allegorical or symbolic and cause it to reference the church, then we are among those who are taking something away (Rev 22:19)!

All Christians who are faithful to the Bible agree that when Jesus returns, He will stand on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem (Acts 1:10-12). This tremendous event will change everything, and is described in detail at the end of the book of Zechariah: “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east…and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee” (Zech 14:4-5). This will herald the beginning of the reign of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. Then comes the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21), and the promised time of refreshing and blessing for Zion dawns (Acts 3:19). That will be wonderful!

We should be cautious with biblical teaching, not to take anything away or add anything: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev 22:18-19). From this very serious warning, it follows that God expects us to properly understand what has been revealed. The above-mentioned adding/taking away may refer to ignorance due to the lack of Bible study, but also to deliberate manipulation (for example, to impose certain theological ideas, or to justify sin or sectarian tendencies).

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom 11:25). This is a very central Bible verse. Paul explains the subject of Israel to the saved non-Jews in three chapters of Romans (9—11). He doesn’t highlight individual salvation during the ongoing church age, but what comes after the church; namely, the salvation of Israel! Paul calls the conclusion of the church “completion” or “fullness of the Gentiles.” This expression refers to a concrete number only known to God in His omniscience. The word “until” flashes as a red warning light, especially for the churches and denominations that allow for replacement theology, and to whom Israel isn’t especially important!

This “until” appears elsewhere: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt 23:37-39, NIV). The Lord is speaking strong words of judgment against the people of Israel here. Today, we look back on a historical period of almost 2,000 years of Jewish dispersion.

Jesus also announced this in another place: “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). The “until” in these two prophecies of Jesus is clearly directed at Israel, not the church. And it is undeniably drawing close, because these prophecies automatically include the land promise given to the patriarchs. The return of the Jews to the land of their forefathers is without doubt a great sign for us all! As soon as God’s patience with the Gentiles is over, the situation in Jerusalem will definitely change. From a biblical perspective, we’re living in a transitional period today (at least since the establishment of Israel in 1948). And, by studying biblical prophecy, we know what will happen after this phase: the complete restoration of Israel!

News from Israel - 12/2018

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