Support for ‘the Jews’ and the State of Israel by Christian Zionists is established on the premise that God’s promise to Abraham still holds. Whether one accepts biblical truth claims or not this ‘reading’ of the Abrahamic promise is not shared by all.
Christian Zionism depends upon a particular literalist and fundamentalist reading of biblical texts which require the Jewish people to return to Palestine in order for the prophesised ‘End Times’ to begin. At the heart of this reading is an understanding that the Jewish people are the collective beneficiaries of a divine promise made to Abraham, and that this promise remains a binding component in God’s plan for the world and its end. Christianity, however, whilst ultimately being a product of first century Palestinian Judaism is a distinct religious tradition with a unique historical and theological reading of these same biblical narratives.
Stephen Sizer, an academic and priest in the Church of England, offers an insightful critique of the Christian Zionist hermeneutic in the light of the role and function of the person of Jesus of Nazareth in the Christian tradition. As an Evangelical Christian his exposition avoids both Patristic theology and the major trends of Christian thinking on Israel through the Middle Ages, opting to critique Christian Zionism solely on the basis of commonly accepted sacred scripture. This approach has its strengths and weaknesses. In sidestepping the post-Apostolic developments in theology he runs the risk ignoring the reality of theology qua truth as it is continually revealed in the life of the Church. The strength, of course, is that his approach is that accepted by the fundamentalists – by scripture alone.
Since 1948 the State of Israel has existed as a homeland for the Jewish people. On the basis of Zionism, as an ethno-nationalist ideology, this stake in a geographical territory, according to the colonialist conventions of the time, is arguably legitimate. Yet in terms of Jewish religious thinking the state is controversial. God did not send the messiah, and only the messiah – in certain Orthodox understandings – can bring the Jews back into the land of Israel. A similar position is articulated, as Sizer artfully demonstrates, in the texts of the earliest Christians. Jesus himself, as he is presented in the Gospels, is uninterested in the question of land, and later the Apostle Saint Paul elucidates the universalisation of the promise; from a land to the whole world.
More important here to the Christian are the questions of faith and repentance. Rabbinic Judaism since Yavneh has accepted exile as a consequence of disobedience, and return contingent on repentance and messiah. Christianity’s particular truth claim is that the messiah has indeed come, and that the acceptance of him as Saviour and Lord is integral to repentance – repent and believe the Gospel. Thus, without delving too deep into the Bible or theology, and without presuming any specific religious position, neither Jewish nor Christian classical theology warrant the existence of the State of Israel as a fulfilment of biblical promise. Israel exists, like other nations, as a secular state, but the claims of Christian Zionism find no comfort in Christianity or Judaism.
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Stephen R Sizer, “An Alternative Theology of the Holy Land: A Critique of Christian Zionism,” The Churchman 133, no. 2 (1999): 125–46.