Christian Zionists of the Dispensationalist variety tend to make absolute claims for their interpretation of key biblical texts. What serious students of the Bible have long known, however, is that there are different ways of reading the same texts. This is particularly true of the more difficult passages of scripture related to the Second Coming of Christ. Click on the article title to go directly to the full article, or on the author's name to go to a summary/lead-in below.
Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Christian Zionist Assumptions
by Dr. Stephen Sizer
95 Theses Against Dispensationalism
Misinterpreting Genesis 12: A Critique of John Hagee's Theology
Every Christian would agree that the misinterpretation of scripture[s] is the source of most, if not all, false doctrines and teachings. That is not to imply that we have to have our ducks-in-a-row 100% concerning all scripture–for, as long as we’re here on earth, we’ll be constantly learning and receiving revelation concerning God’s Word. It’s my impression God through the Holy Spirit, enlightens us to truth as we continue to study the Word. Saying all that, I do believe the misinterpretation of certain scriptures has grown, over decades, into actual false doctrines being taught as truth, within the Church–especially in the Western Church. Genesis 12: 3 is one such scripture: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
In Genesis 12, 15 and 17 God promises the Holy Land to Abraham and his descendents. To Christian Zionists this promise of land inheritance was permanent and unconditional. And it is as true in Biblical times as it is today.
This means that for Christian Zionists, the covenant of Abraham continues to be in play today . And as Christians this forces them to have what we call a “two covenant” theology: one covenant for the Jews and one for Christians operates in the church. In a word, the work of Christ does not replace or supplant the Jewish covenant.
Reformed theologians (like myself) believe that something decisive happened in Christ. His covenant affected not simply the covenant of Moses – making a new and timeless form of salvation – but it also affected every Jewish covenant, including Abraham’s covenant. Christ fulfills the expectations of Jewish covenant life and renews the people of God rooted in the OT and Judaism. Thus Jesus is a new temple, the new Israel, there are 12 tribes/apostles, etc.
What does the New Testament teach about the land of Israel? Answer: absolutely nothing. There are no references to the importance of the land or of Jerusalem as a holy city. Some would say that this is simply an argument from silence and that there are sufficient promises in the Old Testament to establish the land as belonging to the Jewish people without the need for New Testament confirmation. However, not only is there silence about the land but the whole tenor of the New Testament message and revelation of Gods saving purpose amongst His people points in a different direction.
To a Samaritan, despised by the Jews, Jesus makes special places of worship (including Jerusalem) a redundant concept (John 4:21). When marveling at the faith of a Gentile centurion, Jesus applied to the gathering in of Gentile peoples from all over the world the Old Testament promises of the bringing of Gods people from the east and west into the promised blessings alongside Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 8:11).
Perhaps the central doctrine of dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the church. Dispensationalism sees Israel as an earthly people with earthly promises, and the church as a heavenly people with heavenly promises. Membership in Israel is by natural birth.15 One enters the church by supernatural birth. Dispensationalists view Israel and the church as having distinct eternal destinies. Israel will receive an eternal earthly Kingdom, and the church an eternal heavenly Kingdom.
Darby, the father of dispensationalism, stated the distinction in the clearest of terms: "The Jewish nation is never to enter the church."16
Ryrie considers this the most important dispensational distinction, and approves the statement that... "the basic promise of Dispensationalism is two purposes of God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity."17
In contrast, Christian theology has always maintained the essential continuity of Israel and the church. The elect of all the ages are seen as one people, with one Savior, one destiny. This continuity can be shown by examining a few Old Testament prophesies with their fulfillment. Dispensationalists admit that if the church can be shown to be fulfilling promises made to Israel their system is doomed. If the church is fulfilling Israel's promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] premillennialism is condemned.18
To properly study Christian Zionism, it is critical to examine certain presuppositions. Universally accepted among Evangelicals is the dogma that Christ's so-called Second Coming will be personal, corporeal and visible. Once we begin from that premise, there is no alternative than to ask, "Where?" and "When?" The "How" and "Why" become subordinate.
Thus, all our time is spent on the timing and locus of the event rather than on its nature. Even efforts to counter the extremism of Christian Zionism emanate from the assumption that Jesus has to return at some concrete/specific, cataclysmic moment in human history to rescue the world from the weight of its own sin. An inconvenient truth is that this was the mission of the First Advent.
Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:11 NIV).
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-13 NASV).
We must begin our consideration of the Abrahamic Covenant not in Genesis 12 but Genesis 2. The covenant began with Gods creation of a paradise, represented in the garden. This was the place where people could receive all of God's blessings and commune in fellowship with Him. This is where the image of land begins in the Bible. This land of paradise was lost in the Fall but a foretaste of heaven is reflected in the imagery of the promise made to Abraham.
The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers". Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." (Genesis 17:1-8)
Why is there such a close relationship today between the Christian Right, the American political establishment and the State of Israel? Why after 40 years, does Israel continue to occupy territory in Lebanon (the Sheba Farms), Syria (the Golan Heights) and Palestine (the West Bank) while Syria has been pressured to withdraw from Lebanon? Why is Israel allowed to retain nuclear weapons while Iran is threatened with a pre-emptive attack for aspiring to obtain nuclear technology? And how have Britain and America become the focus of so much hate in the Arab world and the target for Islamic terrorism - despite out commitment to the rule of international law, democracy and human rights? The answers to these questions remain inexplicable unless we factor in what is now probably the most influential and controversial movement amongst Christians today – Christian Zionism.
How often have you heard the Jewish people described as God’s ‘chosen people’? Probably so often that you have never even questioned it. It is so ingrained that to deny it is often seen as evidence of anti-Semitism. As is the assumption that God blesses and curses nations on the basis of how they treat Israel – which is sometimes used as a threat. This view goes back to Genesis 12:3. Jerry Falwell, for example, says God is blessing America because ‘America has been kind to the Jew.’1 He claims that God ‘will bless those who bless the Jews and curse whoever curses the Jews.’2 That is why Christians United or Israel conducts ‘a Night to Honor Israel’3 in as many cities as possible so that God will continue to bless America and Canada.
It may surprise you to discover that the New Testament never uses the term ‘chosen’ to describe the Jewish people. It is only used of those who follow Jesus. Does that mean God has two separate ‘chosen people’? Some like to think so. They are usually called ‘dispensationalists’ and this is a popular viewpoint among evangelicals in the United States.
In this chapter we will begin by looking at the evidence for two ‘chosen people’ and then tackle the ‘blessing and cursing’ issue. Then we will examine the term ‘Israel’ in the Old and New Testament. We shall then consider some of the biblical imagery God uses to describe his relationship to his people such as the analogy of the vine and the vineyard. We also need to define what we mean by words like ‘Jew’, ‘chosen’ and ‘children of God’.
In this chapter we will consider what the Bible has to say about the significance and purposes of the Promised Land as well its geographical extent. Then we will look at whether the land was intended as an ‘everlasting possession’ of the Jewish people or whether they were only temporary residents. Then we will examine the terms under which they were allowed to return after the exile, and whether the kingdom was nationalistic or universal. Finally we must consider what Jesus and the apostles have to say about all this.
Many evangelicals, especially in America, accept unthinkingly the Zionist mantra that Jerusalem is the undivided, eternal and exclusive capital of the State of Israel. However, Jerusalem existed before the time of the Israelites. Today, Jerusalem lies at the heart of three world faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Israelis regard it as their capital. Palestinians do so also. Attempts to reach agreement in the wider Arab-Israeli conflict have partly stumbled over the contested status of Jerusalem. Jewish Zionists and their Christian supporters are strongly opposed to joint sovereignty or the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. It seems time is on their side. The annexation of the Old City, the aggressive and illegal settlement programme, the systematic demolition of many Arab homes and the construction of the Separation Barrier have all created ‘facts on the ground’ in Jerusalem. Christian and Jewish Zionists also claim a higher mandate for this agenda – the Word of God.
Just 500 metres by 300 metres, the Temple Mount, or Haram Al Sharif as it is called in Arabic, is probably the most disputed plot of land on earth. Hal Lindsey claims, ‘I believe the fate of the world will be determined by an ancient feud over 35 acres of land.’
Many Christians share the belief that the Islamic shrines must be destroyed and that a Jewish Temple must and will be rebuilt - very soon. But this won’t be a museum replica of the one king Solomon built or be just another attraction for pilgrims to the Holy Land. No, this Temple will be built for one purpose and one purpose only - for bloody animal sacrifices, and lots of them.
In this chapter we want to explore the case for rebuilding the Jewish Temple; consider whether the Bible predicts such an event; and if so, where and how it might be built. We will then look at what the New Testament has to say on the subject and some of the implications for Christianity should the Jewish Temple be rebuilt. Finally, we will reveal that the Temple is actually under construction (but don’t peep).
The doctrine of a "Rapture" does not originate in the book of the Revelation. The word "rapture" is not actually found anywhere in any English translations of the Bible. It comes from the Latina word, rapere, which is is usually translated "caught up" in the English translations of 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Here is what we read in I Thessalonians 4: 15-18:
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18)
In the next few posts I shall discuss the handling of Scripture in Christian Zionism (CZ). I will suggest it is marked by a proof-texting mentality that not only misunderstands the nature of biblical prophecy, but also displays a naïve and inconsistent hermeneutic. In a later post in this series I’ll also suggest why this subject isn’t merely a theological curiosity – and something best left alone - but impacts world politics. In fact, I suggest it also negatively distracts discipleship to Jesus and thus needs to be challenged. And the use of Scripture in Christian Zionism gets right to the heart of the problem, hence the focus of this small series.
Jews have an ongoing role in the furthering of God’s ultimate redemptive purposes. But no matter what standard or position one adopts, Christians must not be blind to Joseph Klausner’s objection that Christianity has sought to remove the national and political aspects of the prophetic hope (The Messianic Idea in Israel, p. 10). God works through the sacred and the secular. . . .[I]f God can call a pagan Persian named Cyrus ‘his anointed’ (Isa. 45:1), and another pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, ‘my servant’ (Jer. 25:9), and accomplish his holy purposes among the nations through both, who can say what plans God may yet have in store for those who from of old have been his people? (ibid, p. 268).
Real estate theology is, at best, precarious theology. . . .For centuries Jews suffered discrimination and victimization at the hands of Christians whose theological convictions seemed to permit [encourage] such unjust activity. . . .Therefore, we conclude, as long as Arabs and Jews argue from nonnegotiable theological absolutes, human beings can offer little hope for peace