Suppose, for a moment, that a stranger came to your house and asked a favor, “My people live in another country. I don’t have a house here. May I stay with you?”
You welcomed the stranger and led him to your guest room. You made sure that he was comfortable.
After a few days, you noticed that he brought his family to live with him in your house. In a matter of weeks, he brought more of his relatives and friends until they outnumbered your family. Their attitude toward you began to change.
Before you could muster courage to oust your guests, they overpowered you and your family. You were locked up in a tiny room! They forced you to transfer your house to them. You were forced to sign on dotted lines.
Your guests siezed your important documents. You were forced to seek their permission each time you wished to come out of the room to use the rest room, the kitchen, or to seek medical help. They let you at times. More often, they denied you permission. Everything depended on the whim of those who stood guard outside your door.
When you protested and asked your guests to get out of your house, they said, “This entire ward belonged to our ancestors two thousand years ago. It was given to us by the local king. When we fell out of his favor, we were banished. We have come to take back our land.”
You shouted and created a scene. You banged on the door and cried out aloud. Your ‘guests’ controlled your water and food supllies and your access to electricity. Your medical supplies were destroyed. They went on a rampage and ruined your property.
Whenever neighbors came over to check on you, they were told, “These folks are dangerous. They are attacking us. We are just exercising our right of self-defense. And defend ourselves, we will.” The neighbors pitied your oppressors and went away silently. Some of them wanted to help you but were too scared to question the ‘official’ narrative.
It is my hope that this little story will help you get a tiny glimpse of the immense human rights abuses and sufferings Palestinian Christians and Muslims have been subjected to for several decades. The Jewish organisation B`TSelem and Human Rights Watch recently published independent reports accusing Israel of committing a crime against humanity such as Apartheid towards Palestinians.
The Palestininans lived on their land peacefully for centuries. The Jews lived in America, Europe, Russia, and other lands. The Jews had religious as well as political reasons to demand a homeland. But before they did so, Christians, citing religious reasons, were toying with the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. British officials who were influenced by Christian Zionists promoted the idea as if Palestine was an empty land seeking inhabitants. That wasnʼt true. There was already a people in the land! They too had been demanding statehood for themselves. Ignoring truth and justice, Britain decided to partition the land between Arabs and Jews.
If this was just a geopolitical issue or if the British were merely worried about protecting Jews, the latter could have been given a homeland in America, in Russia, in Europe, or in Australia. Britain’s desire to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine was based on religious considerations—not merely on temporal political considerations. For Christians, the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine was a necessary precursor to the “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ. According to Dispensationalist John Darby and his followers, there had to be a Jewish state and a Jewish temple in Jerusalem before Jesus could return to Earth!
Jews and British Christians in the 19th century sought legitimacy for their Zionist ambitions from Godʼs covenant with Abraham that promised the latter the land of Palestine—extending from River Nile in Egypt to River Euphrates in Iraq—as an eternal possession. They claimed that this gift of land was given to Abrahamʼs offspring without any pre-condition. No one, they say, can take away their inheritance from them even if they were absent from the land for centuries.
If a group of people were to come to your estate or house with a similar story, would you just let them occupy your land? Even by principles of natural justice or by common sense, how can anyone claim a land that belonged to their ancestors two millennia ago? Will North America be given back to the native American Indians? Will New Zealand be handed over to the Maoris or to those who were there prior to their arrival? Will Australia be surrendered to the Aboriginals?
You will then say that unlike the case of America or New Zealand, God had given Palestine to Abraham and his offspring. What is apparently a “geopolitical issue” suddenly becomes a religous issue.
Let’s examine the Abrahamic covenant, shall we?
Instead of interpreting the New Testament using the Old, we need to interpret the Old Testament using the New. A vast majority of Evangelical Christians are guilty of violating this cardinal principle of Biblical interpretation.
The New Testament praises Abraham for his faith (Romans 4; Hebrews 11). What did Abraham believe about the inheritance God had offered him? What was his perspective?
By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: for he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. — Hebrews 11:9-10 KJV
Abraham was not interested in earthly real estate! If he were, he could have built cities all across Canaan. Instead, he set his eyes on a heavenly city, a heavenly inheritance. That’s why God was not ashamed to call Himself, ‘The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’
But now they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. — Heb 11:16
This clearly shows us the Promised Land of Canaan was just a shadow or an ante-type of the real thing, the heavenly city that God was preparing for his faithful saints. If only Christians of today had a similar perspective on the Promised Land, given their exposure to a more complete revelation afforded by the New Testament!
Another prominent figure in the Old Testament who saw things from a heavenly perspective was King David, a man after God’s own heart. He was also a prophet. Therefore he prophesied, in Psalm 95, that Israelites should prepare themselves in obedience to receive the real Abrahamic inheritance. Jews have been reading Psalm 95 for centuries without understanding its prophetic value. The writer of the Epistle to Hebrews (11:6-11) points this out under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
[God] again sets a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time [after Joshua] just as has been said before [to those who undertook the Exodus from Egypt],
“Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. Consequently, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. …
Therefore let’s make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following the same example of disobedience.
This must have sounded incredible! Joshua did not give the Israelites the real rest promised to them. This ‘rest’ is nothing but the Promised Land. In other words, the land of Canaan wasnʼt the real Promised Land. Now, there remains a heavenly Promised Land for Jews and Gentiles. The author of Hebrews encouraged Christians to make every effort to enter that Promised Land. If only modern Christians would come to their senses and stop seeing Palestine as the “Promised Land”!
Was just the Promised Land meant to have a heavenly fulfillment? What about Kingship and the eternal dynasty of David?
The Messiah on David’s Throne
King David was promised an eternal dynasty. God said that David’s heir would remain enthroned forever. Thus was born the Jewish expectation for a Messiah (anointed king) in David’s lineage.
Was that promise fulfilled? Christian Zionists believe the promise is yet to be fulfilled. They think Jesus will return to this earth and sit on a literal throne in Jerusalem in fulfillment of that prophecy!
Take a look at what apostles Peter and Paul preached in their two great sermons recorded in Acts 2 and 13 respectively. Both the apostles proclaimed that God had fulfilled His promise to David by exalting the risen Jesus to the right-hand of God Almighty. Thatʼs why Jesus is called the Christ (Messiah or King). Hereʼs what Peter preached:
So because [David] was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ … It is this Jesus whom God raised up, … He has been exalted at the right hand of God … Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”— Acts 2: 30-36
The Apostle Paul states it plainly:
“And we preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to those of us who are the descendants by raising Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm …” — Acts 13:32-33
So, it is not just the Promised Land thatʼs in heaven; David’s throne, too, is in heaven! There was no earthly fulfillment of the promise. If you donʼt believe Jesus was made Lord and Messiah on Davidʼs throne, you cannot call yourself a Christian! The confession, “Jesus is Lord,” is the shortest creed of Christianity.
When Jesus’ disciples asked: “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:5) their Zionism came head-to-head with their Master’s Kingdom. They, like other Jews, expected an earthly kingdom for ethnic Jews. They were ethnocentric and parochial in their outlook. God was up to something big. He was preparing a heavenly kingdom for all nations who would believe in His Son. That’s why the disciples were given marching orders, in reply to this query, to be Jesusʼ witnesses “as far as the remotest part of the earth.” (1:8) The apostles who expected to gravitate toward Jerusalem were sent away from it! They who preferred a Jewish Kingdom were commanded to testify to people of all nations! The apostles eventually learnt their lesson. I hope modern Christians will see Jesusʼ eagerness to trash the apostlesʼ dream of a Jewish state ruled by a Jewish Messiah with earthly Jerusalem as its capital! Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not approve of Zionist agenda. You can either be part of Jesusʼ heavenly mission that is global in scope; or, you can be part of a completely contrarian agenda called Zionism. You cannot be part of both of these at the same time without being a mass of contradictions. If you still donʼt get it, read Acts 1:5-8 prayerfully. May the Lord open your eyes to see how Zionism and Jesusʼ mission are completely opposite to each other.
‘Seeds’ or ‘The Seed’?
Jewish rabbis spent centuries studying the Hebrew Bible. But it took a former Jewish Rabbi who was filled in the Holy Spirit to notice the fact that God had promised an inheritance to Abraham and his “Seed.” It is “seed”—not “seeds.” Who would have thought this point of grammar would be so critical in understanding God's covenant with Abraham?
Letʼs hear it from the man himself:
Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as one would in referring to many, but rather as in referring to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. – Gal 3:15-16
If you were a Jew, and if you understood what Paul had written, you would be shocked!
Every Jew who claims the land of Palestine as their rightful inheritance via Abraham should read this carefully. Jews cannot walk into Palestine and say, “This land belongs to Abraham and to his descendants forever. God had given it to us!” The promise that God had given was to Abraham and his Seed, Jesus Christ! How radical are Paul’s observation and interpretation! It pulls the rug from beneath the Zionistsʼ feet.
How can anyone receive this inheritance? God decided to offer this inheritance to all—Jews and Gentiles—who believe in His Son Jesus Christ. Thus, Abraham became the father of all believers, Jewish or Gentile. All who believe in Jesus Christ are children of Abraham and heirs according to the divine promise. I didn’t say that; St. Paul did.
27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:27-29)
Evangelicals are famililar with Galatians 3:28. It is one of the most abused verses, plucked out of context, by complementarians and egalitarians to prove their point, as if Paul had written an essay on equality of the sexes. I am sure many Evangelicals missed the message of the larger passage (v 16-29) because of their misplaced interest in “Galatians 3:28”. Paul wasn’t interested in our gender-debates. He was on to something bigger and more significant! The apostle Paul was driving home his point that all who believed in Jesus Christ were heirs to God’s promise to Abraham.
The flip side of this astounding claim is that no one—Jew or Gentile–can get hold of what God promised Abraham until he or she comes to Jesus Christ! This is good news for all who believe in Jesus. At the same time, this is bad news for Jews who reject Jesus and continue to trust in their physical descent from Abraham. They will continue to fight for a parcel of land – as if it were their inheritance in Abraham — without caring for the rights of anyone who comes in their way. But what happens to their God-intended heavenly inheritance? No Jesus? No inheritance!
My prayer is that Christians will align themselves with the teachings of the New Testament on this matter.
Where did the Zionists go wrong?
Long before Jews ever thought of coming together to Palestine to claim their ‘ancestral homeland,’ Christians in Britain were studying biblical prophecy with a futuristic outlook. Under the leadership of Edward Irving and John Darby and others, a series of prophetic conferences were held between 1826 and 1833. Such views were spread all over the world by the “exclusive Brethren.” Their Scofield Reference Bible played a very important role in disseminating their views among pastors and seminarians.
The “Brethren” believed that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was still in the future. For the Second Coming to happen, they knew there should be a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. All prophecies about the Second Coming are tied to the Temple one way or another. If there should come up a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, there ought to be a Jewish state in Palestine. They were right on this observation: The Second Coming indeed was tied to the Jewish nation and the Jewish temple. But they were wrong in assuming that the Second Coming hadnʼt already happened while the Temple was still standing in AD 70.
The religious beliefs of Darby and his followers took concrete shape when influential British politicians – Lord Palmerston, David Lloyd George, and Lord Balfour – came under the influence of these teachings. They also had a political interest in siezing control over Palestine in order to restrain the Russians. Lord Shaftesbury pushed for a Jewish homeland in Palestine for religious as well as politcal reasons.1
After dining with Lord Palmerston, he wrote in his diary on August 1 1840:
‘Dined with Palmerston. After dinner left alone with him. Propounded my scheme which seems to strike his fancy. He asked questions and readily promised to consider it. How singular is the order of Providence. Singular, if estimated by man’s ways. Palmerston had already been chosen by God to be an instrument of good to His ancient people, to do homage to their inheritance, and to recognize their rights without believing their destiny. It seems he will yet do more. Though the motive be kind, it is not sound … he weeps not, like his Master, over Jerusalem, nor prays that now, at last, she may put on her beautiful garments.’2
Palmerston took up Lord Shaftesbury’s request seriously. Two weeks later, on August 17 1840, The London Times reported the British governmentʼs call for plans to “plant” the nation of Jews in Palestine. Thus began the long journey toward the creation of a modern state of Israel. The actions of these British Lords were based on these erronneous religious beliefs as seen in Lord Shaftesbury’s note:
- The Jews are God’s special people
- The land of Palestine was their inheritance from God
- A restoration of Palestine to Jews would be a fulfillment of biblical prophecy
Why are these erronneous and dangerous?
- God took away the special status of Jews as “God’s People” when they rejected the Messiah. The right to be called the Children of God (or “God’s People”) went to whoever believed in Jesus Christ (John 1:10-12). Every title that belonged to ethnic Israel went to the Church of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:9) The Lord himself said to unbelieving Jews, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matt 21:43 ESV) We cannot tinker with the definition of “God’s People” without attacking the core ideas of the Gospel. The identity of Godʼs people is tied to the identity of Jesus Christ.
- The land of Palestine was just a shadow of the real inheritance that God offers through Jesus Christ. With the arrival of Jesus, the focus on “land” shifted to Christ’s eternal Kingdom of heaven. Going after a shadow or an ante-type after the real thing has been inaugurated by God is foolish and dangerous.
- The Lord Jesus Christ had predicted the destruction of the Jewish Temple. He had also predicted the sacking of Jerusalem. In fact, He demonstrated it through the cleansing of the Temple. After the Lord had predicted this destruction, God did not speak about the restoration of ethnic Israel or of Jerusalem. What about predictions in the Old Testament about the gathering of globally scattered Jews? That was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost! That’s why Peter addressed “all the house of Israel” when he spoke that day.
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Peter did not make a mistake here. He very well knew what that phrase meant. He was full of the Holy Spirit when he uttered those words. He knew that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost came as a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and of Ezekiel 37. Ezekiel prophesied about i) the outpouring of the Spirit; ii) the gathering and unification of all Israel; and iii) the installation of David as Israel’s king. All three predictions were fulfilled that Day. Peter announced to ALL ISRAEL that Jesus was enthroned as Messiah on David’s throne and that He had poured out His Spirit to prove his exaltation. That's why what happened on the Day of Pentecost must not be interpreted in a simplistic way. It was a day of massive prophetic significance.
Apart from the theological blunders Lord Shaftesbury and his ilk espoused, he foolishly assumed that the land of Palestine was lying vacant to be occupied by Jews. He had therefore come up with the appalling slogan, ‘A country without a nation for a nation without a country.’ 3 Is it any wonder that the actions of these ill-advised Lords led to such an insoluble problem in West Asia?
If the West Asian crisis was just another geopolitical matter, I would not have waded into it with theological arguments. The root of the crisis is theological in nature. The problems that arise out of these theological absurdities are evidently geopolitics issues, human rights violations, propaganda, and war crimes. However, there cannot be an enduring political solution to this crisis.
Appeal to Fellow Christians
1. Stop short-circuiting the gospel
If the apostles were to preach the crucified Christ through the week and visit the Jewish Temple on Sabbaths to offer animal sacrifices, how would you describe such behavior? Theirs would be nothing short of spiritual schizophrenia.
Similarly, if Christians preach the Gospel of the heavenly Kingdom of God, they must not at the same time support attempts of unbelieving Jews to set up an earthly version of it in Palestine! Believe it or not, the founding of the state of Israel was in anticipation of the Messiah’s return to lift up “the fallen tent of David.” That parochial and earthly view of the Kingdom is not in line with what the Lord Jesus taught us.
Let us therefore stop supporting this spiritual schizophrenia called Christian Zionism. It is an oxymoron. If you are a Christian in the true sense, you cannot be a Zionist.
2. Preach the Gospel to the Jews
If Christians believe all who are in Christ are heirs to the inheritance of Abraham, they must stop supporting the exclusive Jewish claim to an earthly parcel of land as an inheritance from Abraham. Instead, Christians should preach the gospel to the Jews so the Jews too can lay hold of the eternal inheritance in Christ.
If only those British Lords had known the Gospel was the only way for Jews to receive their inheritance from Abraham! If only the Church had offered the Gospel’s promises to the Jews, they would have realized their greatest need was not an earthly homeland but an eternal Promised Land.
There are no two Gospels—one for Gentiles and the other for Jews; one of grace and the other of Jewish genes. There is just one Gospel for all. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
If we preach the very Gospel the apostles preached to the Jews in the first century, today’s Jews will persecute us the way Jews persecuted the early Church. The Lord Jesus seeks faithful disciples who don’t mind being persecuted for His name’s sake.
1. Lord Shaftesbury, cited in P. C. Merkley, The Politics of Christian Zionism 1891-1948, (London: Frank Cass, 1998), p14.
2. Anthony Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury. Diary entries as quoted by Edwin Hodder, The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, (London, 1886), 1, pp310-311. Cited by Sizer, p 19.
3. Albert H. Hyamson, Palestine under the Mandate, (London, 1950), p10.
4. Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon? IVP, 2005.
About the Author:
Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realised that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip also teaches Christians in order to equip them for service.