Christian Zionism is a relatively recent political movement within evangelical Christianity, an attempt to harmonize evangelical theology with the political ideology called Zionism. Zionism as a political movement began in the nineteenth century as a Jewish-influenced effort to create a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. As dispensational theology began to gain traction among conservative Protestants, Zionism became a political goal affirmed in some dispensationalist circles. For the sake of clarity, we should distinguish between dispensationalism, which is a theological perspective, and Christian Zionism, which is a political paradigm. Not all dispensationalists are necessarily Christian Zionists, and not all Christian Zionists are necessarily dispensationalists. However, the overlap is significant enough that the two terms are commonly used interchangeably throughout these essays.
To begin, we should review the history of the creation of the modern state of Israel. Zionism was first coined in 1890 and with its goal “to establish a home for the Jewish people in Eretz Israel.” Zionism emerged as a major political movement in the twentieth century, and the modern state of Israel was established as a result of the social and political circumstances that developed out of the two World Wars. What the First World War set into motion, the Second World War made a reality.1
From the outset of World War I, Zionist Jews financed both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers, but generally favored Germany and the Central Powers against their Allied enemies. Many Jewish people in neutral America were from Germany and favored Kaiser Wilhelm against Czar Nicholas. The tide began to turn in 1916, as Zionist agents in Britain were able to secure the support for Zionism from certain British politicians like Arthur Balfour. With this show of support from Britain, Zionists switched sides and were able to secure American entry into the war on the side of the British and Allied Powers, despite the campaign promise by President Woodrow Wilson to remain neutral. With this change, the tide of the war changed dramatically as Germany faced defeat and unconditional surrender. Zionists secured the Balfour Declaration, which pledged British imperial support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in the region of Palestine. This would not be realized, however, until the conclusion of World War II.
Just as in World War I, Zionist bankers managed to finance both sides of World War II, before throwing their ultimate support to the Allies against the Axis Powers. Specifically, Zionist bankers financed the National Socialists until their victory in 1933, when they promptly supported the cause of the Soviets and British Imperialists against National Socialist Germany. The putative measures of the Versailles Treaty, combined with the economic sanctions against Germany by Zionist bankers in the early 1930s, precipitated hostilities between National Socialist Germany and the Allied victors of World War I. The defeat of National Socialist Germany, ironically an early supporter of Zionist goals, led to the realization of the Zionist dream. The creation of the state of Israel occurred in 1948, only after displacing many of the original Palestinian residents who were already dwelling there. Gary Burge writes, “According to U.N. records in June 1999, about 3.6 million Palestinian refugees are the victims of Israel’s nationhood.”2 Many of the Palestinians displaced have been Christians, and many churches are in ruins as a result of the ruthless activities of the Israeli paramilitary. In the next few articles, we will investigate several popular Christian Zionist myths that wrongly justify this activity.
Are Modern Ethnic Jews Lineal Descendants of Ancient Israel?
The first myth of Christian Zionism is arguably the most important, because the entire theory of Zionism in general and Christian Zionism in particular hinges on the idea that modern Jewish people are the lineal descendants of the Biblical Jacob. If this theory can be disproved, or at least discredited, then we lose any grounds to believe that the modern Jews are God’s chosen people with a divine right to the land in Palestine, and the foundation of the Christian Zionist theory is undermined.
One confounding issue in defining the Jewish identity is the meaning of the word “Jew.” Many people consider “Jew” and “Israelite” or “Hebrew” to be synonymous. But the problem with this common misunderstanding is that “Jew” is a contraction of a couple of different words which have different meanings. Originally, “Jew” was simply intended as a contraction of “Judah,” which was the dominant southern tribe that continued the Davidic line after the northern insurrection. Thus, all Jews in this sense would be Israelites, but not all Israelites were Jews. The word “Jew” eventually morphed into a contraction for “Judea,” derived from the name of the Roman province in the region of Judah. During the revolt of Judas Maccabeus, many Edomites and other non-Israelites were compelled to convert to Judaism. From this time forward, a Judean was more of a geographic identification, rather than an ethnic one. Thus, the contraction “Jew” underwent a substantive revision by the time period of the New Testament. An example of this revision is that the puppet king of Judea under Roman rule was Herod, who was considered Jewish even though he was ethnically an Edomite, not an Israelite.3
After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, genealogical records could no longer establish a Levitical priesthood among the Jewish people. Patrilineal descent from the tribe of Levi was considered essential to membership in the priesthood. For example, families had to be able to establish their priestly lineage by genealogy during the rebuilding of Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:59-62). The thorough destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem resulted in the loss of any records that could establish a Levitical priesthood. Since this time, practicing Jews have only had rabbis or teachers. No Jewish leader can legitimately be considered a priest, since they all lack the requisite genealogical records. This destruction of the temple and the ordinances of the Old Testament were predicted by the prophet Daniel in Dan. 9:27, when he wrote that Christ would cause the sacrifice and the oblations to cease until the consummation of the abomination of desolations. This was also what Christ was predicting in the Olivet Discourse, when he stated that “not one stone” of the temple would be left upon another (Matt. 24:1-2).
It is not impossible that someone who is considered to be Jewish would be descended from the original Israelites, but many are descended from non-Israelites who converted to Talmudic Judaism. Jewish people can be considered as broadly Caucasian, though not originally of Indo-European extraction. There are several ethnic divisions among modern Jews. The largest of these are the Ashkenazim, who historically have dwelt in Germany and Eastern Europe. Another large division is the Sephardim, who dwelt in Spain, Portugal, and some areas of North Africa. The Ashkenazim have an extensive history in Europe and comprise the majority of Jewish people whom we encounter here in the United States, as well as the majority of Jewish people who comprise the modern state of Israel.
Most Ashkenazi Jews descend from a Turkish-Mongolic tribe called the Khazars, who converted to Judaism in the late eighth and early ninth century. They do not originate from the ancient Israelites. The definitive work on the conversion of the Khazars to rabbinic Judaism is The Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler. Koestler himself is of Hungarian Jewish descent, and he wrote his magnum opus in order to refute both National Socialist and Zionist theories of the origin of Eastern European Jews. Why does this matter? This is crucial, because Zionist claims about an intrinsic, God-given Jewish right to Palestine hinge on theories that most or all Jews descend from the original tribes of Israel. Koestler’s work, along with the works of other ethnologists, has demonstrated that most of the Jews in Palestine today have a decidedly weak claim to an ancestral tie to the land there.
The result of this is that Christian Zionists have based their entire paradigm upon a faulty premise: namely, that today’s modern Jews are (or at least mostly are) descendants of the ancient European tribes. Many of the most hard-line supporters of Christian Zionists are whites. One can easily wonder if some of the staunch support that white Christians show to Israel is due to their own loss of racial and ethnic identity. In the wake of the overwhelming vilification of white ethnic interests, many white Christians have consequently turned to the more politically acceptable support for Jewish people and for Israel.
Ironically, most white Christians have as good as a claim on ancient Israel as anyone. I’m not invoking far-fetched theories derived from specifically Christian Identity or British/Anglo-Israel claims, either. It seems that, during the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid overlords of the Israelites, the Israelites established a pact with the Spartans based upon the fact that both the Israelites and the Spartans were descended from Abraham (1 Macc. 12:21). The Spartans (sometimes referred to as the Lacedemonians) are portrayed in the movie 300 for their heroic stand against the Persians at Thermopylae, and are a major pillar of European civilization. If the Spartans are descendants of Abraham, as the ancient Israelites believed, then it would seem logical that all Europeans are likewise descended from Abraham. This could explain at least in part how Japheth (the general ancestor of Europeans) dwells in the tents of Shem, according to Noah’s prophecy in Gen. 9:27. It is a truly sad irony that European Christians expend so much energy on lobbying for a group of people with a less clear claim to descent from the ancient Israelites than they have themselves.
Regardless of where one believes that the ancient Israelites ended up, or where they were scattered, it should be clear from research done by ethnologists like Koestler that modern Jewish people do not have the kind of claim that Christian Zionists maintain. Interestingly enough, Christian Zionism is essentially a form a Jewish supremacy. It is contrary to Biblical teaching to assert that anyone has an intrinsic covenant with God based solely upon ethnicity. Unfortunately, in today’s climate of consummate hypocrisy, many Christians do not bat an eye at overt Jewish supremacy, but consider any claim to white solidarity to be irredeemably “racist.”
Was the Recognition of the Nation of Israel in 1948 a Fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy?
Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists will often suggest that the “rebirth” of the nation of Israel was a fulfillment of a prophecy that Christ gave in his famous Olivet Discourse (so called because Jesus was revealing these prophecies on the Mount of Olives, according to Matt. 24:3). The primary text used by Christian Zionists to assert this is Christ’s illustration using the fig tree in the Olivet Discourse. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus is predicting the destruction of the temple and a period of great tribulation that would precede His coming in Judgment upon the ungodly. The passage of interest to Christian Zionists is Matthew 24:32-33, in which Jesus states: “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.”
If you find it difficult to see how this passage relates to events in post-World War II Palestine, you are not alone. Very few theologians historically made the connection that Christian Zionists make regarding this passage. However, fairness dictates that we investigate the rationale behind the Christian Zionist usage of this passage as a proof for their position. Most dispensationalists and Christian Zionists assert that the image of the fig tree represents the nation of Israel herself. This is based upon a couple of passages in which figs or a fig tree seems to represent Israel or at least Judah. Let us examine these passages in turn. The first passage is Jeremiah 24, the second is Matthew 21:19-20, and the third is Luke 13:6-9.
In Jeremiah 24, the nation of Israel is symbolized as two baskets of figs. One of the baskets contains good figs and the other basket contains bad figs. God explains to Jeremiah that the good figs are the faithful of Israel whom He will return home from the Babylonian exile (vv. 5-7). God then explains that the bad figs are the faithless of Israel who will be scattered among the nations to be a reproach and a taunt (vv. 8-10). With this in mind, it should be noted that only the faithful among true Israel will return from exile. For reasons already established, I believe that it is incorrect to consider modern Jewry as equivalent to Israel in this passage, but even if this passage is referring to modern Jewish people, it should be obvious that they cannot qualify as the good figs in this prophecy. Modern Jews have not experienced the national repentance and conversion to Christianity that this passage requires for restoration.
It is significant that most dispensationalist commentaries written prior to 1948 believed that Jewish people would experience this national conversion prior to being restored for this very reason. The events of 1948 then became a post hoc explanation to dispensationalists that the fig tree “prophecy” in the Olivet Discourse had been fulfilled. As for the fulfillment of this prophecy, we can see that God did take care of the faithful Israelites among the captives. The book of Daniel is filled with information on God’s provision for the faithful captives. God ultimately did restore this remnant to the land under the Persian King Cyrus, who allowed Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem under David’s descendant, Zerubbabel (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). An ultimate fulfillment can be perceived when the Israel of God, which includes all of the faithful, is restored to paradise in the New Heavens and the New Earth (Rev. 21-22). There simply is no concrete connection between what is predicted in Jeremiah 24 and in the Olivet Discourse.
The next two passages can be considered together because of their similarity. In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus gives a brief parable in which a man plants a fig tree in his vineyard and observes that it produces no fruit for three years. The vinedresser pleads with the Master to allow him one more year to tend to the fig tree, after which it would be cut down if it produced no more fruit. Matthew 21:19 (cf. Mark 11:12-14) is a similar story. Jesus is hungry and sees a fig tree from far off in the distance and approaches it in order to eat off of its branches. When Jesus and the disciples reach the tree, however, they discover that there is no fruit. Jesus curses the tree and says, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever.” It is certainly possible that Jesus is referring to the faithless and fruitless people in Judea who were rejecting him, but this does not help the Christian Zionist cause, since Jesus curses the tree and suggests that it will never be fruitful ever again. This is hardly congruous with a prediction that Israel as the fig tree would one day bud again. A much clearer symbol for Israel is the olive tree of Romans 11. In this passage, the Apostle Paul calls the tribes of Israel the “natural branches” that had been given the covenant but were cut off in unbelief. The Gentile nations are “wild branches” that have been grafted into the covenant (here illustrated as an olive tree) through their faith. Israelite believers can be re-grafted into the covenant by faith, and the Gentiles can be cut off in the future by disbelief. This is a far more concrete illustration than the tenuous connection that is drawn between the fig tree illustrations in the Olivet Discourse to the nation of Israel.
A couple of final considerations demonstrate that the creation of the state of Israel in the Middle East in 1948 was not a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. The first is to notice the way that the fig tree image is used in the Olivet Discourse. Matthew’s account of the Olivet Discourse is the most detailed, and we can recall that in Matthew 24:32-33, Jesus suggested that the budding of the leaves of the fig tree means that summer is drawing near, so, likewise, when the disciples see the signs that Jesus predicted, they should know that His coming was near. The reason that this allusion to the seasonal budding patterns of the fig tree cannot be taken as a prophecy of what occurred in 1948 are twofold. The first is that we can compare this statement to Luke’s Gospel account of the Olivet Discourse and see that Jesus is not drawing a specific reference to the fig tree, but simply making an analogy based upon the budding patterns of trees in general. Luke’s version of this statement in Luke 21:29-31 begins as follows: “Behold the fig tree, and all the trees.” As Ralph Woodrow points out, if the fig tree is supposed to represent Israel, then Luke’s reference to all trees must be indicative of all nations! For this reason, even a strong dispensationalist commentary notes that among dispensationalists, “the fig tree . . . is universally interpreted to mean the Jewish nation, BUT THIS COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE THE MEANING.”4
The second of these final considerations is what immediately follows the fig tree illustration. Jesus says, “This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled” (Matt. 24:34; Mark 13:30; Luke 21:32). Jesus makes several references to “this generation” in the Gospels, and there is not a single one that isn’t obviously referring to his contemporaries. Passages like Matthew 12:38-45, 16:3-4, 17:17, and 23:36 clearly bear this out. In all of these passages, Jesus obviously means to address those present at that time. There is no reason to interpret “this generation” in the Olivet Discourse any differently. Dispensationalist C.I. Scofield suggested that “generation” in the Olivet Discourse was a reference to the fact that the Jewish race would survive until the prophecies of the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled. But there are a couple of problems with this explanation. One is that the Greek word genea is best translated as “generation.” If the Evangelists wanted to convey the idea of “race,” they could have used Greek words such as genos or ethnos to confer this idea. A second problem is that this would make Jesus’s response to the disciples’ question of when this would take place nonsensical. Simply stating that there would always be Israelites does not answer the question of when these events would take place. By interpreting the phrase “this generation” naturally, we understand Jesus to be making a time frame reference and providing a reasonable answer to the disciples’ question.
The idea that the prophecies in the Olivet Discourse were fulfilled in the past, as opposed to awaiting a future fulfillment, is termed preterism. There is not space to provide a comprehensive defense of the preterist viewpoint, but the basic premise can be defended easily enough. A preterist will contend that the prophecies of the Olivet Discourse have been fulfilled in the first century A.D. within the lifetime of Jesus’s contemporaries. Those who oppose preterism, called futurists, argue that this is impossible because Jesus’s prophecies were not fulfilled. Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple (Matt. 24:1-3), which futurists understand to be a future temple that has not yet been built. Jesus also predicted that the nations would see Him coming on the clouds in judgment (Matt. 24:29-31). Many futurists consider Matthew 24:40-41 to be a prediction of the rapture, in which they suggest that Jesus will gather all of His elect at the end of a future tribulation. They connect these verses to Paul’s prediction in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Have these prophecies been fulfilled, as preterists contend?
First, we should point out that the temple that Jesus predicted would be destroyed was not a future temple which has yet to be built, but rather the temple that existed during His own lifetime. Jesus makes it clear in the early verses of Matthew 24 that it was the current temple that He was predicting would be destroyed. There is no warrant for assuming that this prophecy has some future temple in view. What are we to make of Jesus’s prediction that the nations would see Him coming on the clouds in judgment? Christ repeats this prediction before Caiaphas prior to His crucifixion in Matthew 26:63-64. While modern readers might misunderstand Christ’s imagery, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin most certainly did not! They understood that Christ’s reference to “coming on the clouds of heaven” was a reference to his divinity. Jesus is making a reference to the coronation of the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision (Dan. 7:13-14). Jesus combined this imagery with David’s proclamation in Psalm 110 that his Lord would sit on the Lord’s right hand on high. It was precisely this claim to divinity that caused the Sanhedrin to condemn him (Mark 14:63-63). Moreover, when Jesus speaks of His coming on the clouds, He is simply using a common Old Testament symbol for divine judgment. Clouds are used as an image when discussing judgment in passages such as Ezekiel 30:3, Joel 2:1-2, and Isaiah 19:1. This same imagery is reiterated by John in Rev. 1:7: “Behold, he cometh with clouds.” David Chilton concludes, “The crucifiers would see Him coming in judgment—that is, they would experience and understand that His Coming would mean wrath on the Land. . . . In the destruction of their city, their civilization, their Temple, their entire world-order, they would understand that Christ had ascended to His Throne as Lord of heaven and earth.”5
Finally, Matthew 24:40-41 is not a prediction of the rapture. It is apparent from the context of this prediction that it is actually the unjust that are swept away in judgment and the righteous that are left behind. There is neither any warrant for trying to connect the prediction made in Matthew 24:36-41 to 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.6 Thus, when we understand the proper meaning of the predictions that Jesus is making in the Olivet Discourse, it is easy to see that these were indeed fulfilled in the first century within the lifetime of his contemporaries. The temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by Roman soldiers crushing a Jewish rebellion in the year of A.D. 70. This was indeed Christ’s divine sentence upon the city of Jerusalem for her unbelief, as the unrighteous were swept away in judgment. Since this time, there has been no formal worship according to Old Testament precepts, no Levitical priesthood, and — most importantly — no temple. Christ’s claims have indeed been verified quite vividly, and His divinity has thus been confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt.
In this first installment on Christian Zionism, we have investigated two of the more prevalent myths that are popular within Christian Zionist circles. The idea that the Jewish people have a divine right to most, if not all, of the land of the Middle East is rooted in two myths. One is that those whom we typically identify as Jewish today are predominantly the lineal descendants of the original tribes of Israel. This thesis has been formidably challenged by Arthur Koestler, himself an Eastern European Jew. Koestler neither deifies nor vilifies the Jewish people, and has no apparent axe to grind. His only goal is to challenge the more extravagant claims to Jewish origins proposed by National Socialists and Zionists.
The second myth is that the creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East was a fulfillment of Christ’s fig tree illustration used in the Olivet Discourse. This makes current Jewish settlements seem as though they are a fait accompli from a prophetic perspective. The reason that this is untenable is because the connection of the fig tree illustration to the Israelite identity is tenuous at best. Within the context of the Olivet Discourse, it is implausible to draw such a conclusion from Jesus’s illustration of the fig tree, since He couples this illustration to all trees as recorded in Luke’s account. The fig tree cannot represent Israel, unless all trees represent all nations. This would of course reduce Jesus’s words to absurdity and cannot possibly be the meaning of the passage. Jesus also did not defer the fulfillment of His predictions in the Olivet Discourse to some future generation, but rather insisted that His predictions would come to pass during the lifetime of His contemporaries. Finally, many who interpret the Olivet Discourse as containing a prediction of the creation of the modern state of Israel overlook the symbolism of Christ’s prediction that He would come on the clouds. Clouds are a common symbol given in the Old Testament in conjunction with divine judgment. By invoking this symbol and appropriating it to Himself, Christ was claiming divinity and predicting His divine retribution on the wicked in Jerusalem. Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin understood Christ’s intended meaning perfectly, which is why this pushed them past the brink and caused them to demand Christ’s execution.
In the next article, we will investigate more Christian Zionist myths about the modern state of Israel. The next article will investigate Israel’s supposed allegiance to American interests, and the idea that America has been blessed because of our support for Israel.
Read Part 2
- I recommend the website, Take Our World Back for an excellent summary of Zionist history and Zionist atrocities. http://www.takeourworldback.com/zionistcrimes.htm#holocaustianity ↩
- Gary M. Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians, pp. 208-210. According to Human Rights Watch, “Palestinians are the world’s oldest and largest refugee population, and make up more than one-fourth of all refugees.” http://hrw.org/doc/?t=refugees&document ↩
- For a brief biography of Herod’s life see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod_the_Great ↩
- Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, p. 27. Emphasis in original. ↩
- David Chilton, Days of Vengeance, p. 66. ↩
- For more information on the subject of eschatology, I recommend Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code. ↩