The Bethlehem Bible College Conference on the Land
Recently a conference was held at Bethlehem Bible College that could be characterized as generally against Christian Zionism. Citizens of Israel are not legally permitted to travel to some Palestinian areas, including Bethlehem, therefore Arab Christians and their Evangelical supporters provided the predominant viewpoint. I have had several discussions on the conference; with an Arab Christian leader who was invited to the conference, with a group of attendees at a subsequent lunch meeting and with several others that were present at that time.
Those who are anti-Zionists generally hold to replacement theology, although they prefer to call it fulfillment theology. This is the view that the Church is the fulfillment of the meaning of Israel and is the ongoing reality of Israel. In that view, ethnic Israel has no great significance. I think it is significant that Romans 11 is amazingly absent in the books and papers of these writers. While Christian Zionism opens Jewish hearts to the Gospel, our Arab Christian friends tell us that Christian Zionism closes Arab hearts to the Gospel. The conference presenters generally referred only to the most right-wing Christian Zionists and seem to be unaware of more moderate versions of Christian Zionism. Moderate Christian Zionists support the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and see that return as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
I believe that Arab Christians are very important in the plan of God. They could be a key to the salvation of Israel. However if they become anti-Israel they could miss this purpose. Furthermore, they could find themselves under a persecuting Moslem regime that is a danger to their very existence. I should also note that there are vibrant Arab Christian evangelists and leaders who do believe in the return of the Jewish people to the land as part of God’s purpose of redemption.
It is crucially important to deal with the large picture issues. Many people are only prepared to focus on the significant but personal issues of micro justice and what the Jews have done to the Arabs and visa versa. This will not help us.
The Sovereignty of God
There are many Scriptures that predict the Jewish people’s return to this Land and the attendant promise to never be uprooted again. (see, for one example, Amos 9:9-15) There are also Scriptures that indicate that this return will at least in part precede our people turning to Yeshua. (Zech. 12:10, Zech. 14:1, Ezek. 36:24 ff, Ezek. 37). The attendees and presenters at the Bethlehem Conference believe in the sovereignty of God. The Calvinist attendees believe that history is predestined. Those with a non-Calvinist view hold that God rules in the affairs of men and that the events on earth only take place with God’s providential oversight or permission. Yet some of them seem blind to the implications of their own theology. Even if one holds to a replacement theology, the shared belief of all Christians in a personal and sovereign God, would still confirm God’s return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.
The 20th century has seen two events that are unparalleled and we must interpret them in light of our belief in God’s sovereignty. The first event was the Holocaust wherein six million Jews were intentionally murdered by the Nazis and their supporters. This was at least allowed in God’s sovereignty. Such an enormous event must have some meaning. Some would say that this event shows God’s wrath for those He rejects. It could also be interpreted to show the intensity of the forces of evil against God’s plan and something that God allowed in order to show the depth of evil in human beings. However, this event has to be interpreted in the light of the other unparalleled event that followed it – the creation of the State of Israel.
In all probability, the State of Israel would not exist were it not for the Holocaust. Before Nazism, despite the 1920 San Remo Resolution incorporating the Balfour Declaration, later confirmed in international law by all the voting members of the League of Nations, Jewish immigration to the Land was a limited movement. Orthodox and Reform Jews opposed it for various reasons. During the Nazi era leading up to the Holocaust, immigration increased. After the Holocaust there was massive immigration. In addition, in a rare moment of sympathy for the Jewish people, the world – through the United Nations – voted into being a sovereign Jewish State. This state survived several wars started by others to annihilate her. Before these wars, all the land was acquired by purchase. The outcome of these wars however, greatly increased the territory controlled by Israel. For the most part, world political opinion sided with Israel; the Arab nations’ loss of territory was a just result because they had been the aggressors in the conflict. One could say that the death of European Jewry led to the resurrection of Jewry in the Land of Israel.
If God is sovereign, then these profound occurrences must have meaning. Can any Christian truly believe that such immense and unprecedented happenings, that point so dramatically as symbols of death and resurrection were just the hand of man completely apart from the plan and purposes of God? If the State of Israel’s reemergence had no spiritual purpose wouldn’t the sovereign King of the Universe be allowing momentous events to occur that would be grossly and almost certainly misinterpreted as being decisive and significant? If the significance of the Jewish people is now at an end, then what a blunder on God’s part to allow the Holocaust and the founding of State of Israel! He has allowed the most unparalleled events in all of modern history to be Jewish events! Only the resurrection of Yeshua or the Exodus could be seen as greater. What could this mean? The answer cannot be that the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel have no meaning. They must have great meaning; as great as the unparalleled nature of the events themselves.
My view is that the meaning of these events is primarily about the sovereignty of Yeshua over Israel and the nations and only secondarily about the fulfillment of prophecy. This Land belongs to Yeshua, and He has the right to allocate it and all other lands to the peoples as He chooses. He has begun by declaring His will for this Land as the primary but not exclusive residence for the Jewish people. This Land belongs to Yeshua, not Mohammed. Those who fight for Arab rule may be fighting to restore this land to Mohammed spiritually. This would be a disaster for Arab Christians. However, the Jewish people and the nations in general have not acknowledged Yeshua and His sovereignty. This results in continued conflict over the Land of Israel. Herein lies the real meaning. These events are set up to lead to an ultimate confrontation where all will come to acknowledge the sovereignty of Yeshua, first over this Land and then over the whole world.
If we miss this picture of what God is doing in these days, then we will be fighting against God’s purposes. In light of these great purposes, Jewish and Arab evangelism is central to the present hour. May we invest our prayers and resources to these ends.