The following post is from Jesse Zaplatynskyj. Jesse is a registered nurse and has a Degree in Theology from Tabor College Adelaide, South Australia.
I’ve often heard Christian Zionists say that the promise in the Old Testament (OT) regarding the Land that was given to Israel is something that is still to be fulfilled (and apparently happening currently). I hear of all the passages they speak of – the Torah (esp Genesis 12) and the thousands of mentions throughout the prophets which speak of a ‘return’ to the land.
But I have to then ask them (and myself) why isn’t there such a big emphasis on this in the New Testament (new covenant)? If this was such a huge part of our belief system as Christians today and the New Testament church then, why didn’t Jesus speak of it with the passion I hear from Christian Zionists? And while Paul spoke about it a bit in Rom 9-11 there isn’t much else mentioned about it? Why is this? I hear a lot about the “kingdom of God” throughout the gospels, and the struggles Paul has with his Jewish friends regarding all sorts of problems regarding how to now understand Jesus as the Messiah everyone’s been expecting – but not a lot about the necessity of ethnic Jews returning to a specific land in order to usher in a new age. Why is this? Every Jew knew that the messiah was to come in and get rid of the Romans and establish an ever-lasting Israel. But for some reason Jesus seemed to predict the end of the Temple (and the end of Israel as a nation) with agreement (eg Matt 21:12-27). What’s up with that?
Let’s briefly look at Romans 9-11 as I’m sure some may not think I’m taking this seriously if I just pass over it so casually. Firstly, Paul is challenging the established idea of what it means to be an Israelite. In Romans 4 we here that Abraham was righteous not because of his nationality “according to the flesh” (v 1) but because he “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (v 2). This was not about circumcision (or the law) (v 9-11a) but “was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised” etc (v 11b). In chapter 9 again he is challenging what it means to be Jewish by looking at Jacob and Esau concluding that “it does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (v 16). The Gospel according to Paul is not about being God’s people through the traditions of Israel anymore but about believing in God. He is challenging the identity of Israel now that Jesus has come! He says “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (9: 6). Paul then goes on to discuss how Israel has misunderstood its call (9:30-10:21) but refuses to believe that they have been abandoned and speaks about the engrafted branches (11:1-24). He is one of them, and he speaks with great emotion – he wears his heart on his sleave here. And as such, “all [re-defined] Israel will be saved” (11:25-32).
The problem for Christian Zionists however, is that there is not one mention of the land throughout this section! Furthermore, this section is heavily filled with OT references and not one of them is about returning to the land. Why? Because it’s about righteousness, belief, and being God’s children: “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him” (10:12).
But what about all those OT prophecies? How do we then interpret them? I believe the prophets were talking of an earth where God would be known to all and the land was a symbol for that message. Essentially, they were speaking in terms they understood about something they could not explain. The Land was always given so that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3). The land, along with the rest of the Old Covenant, only did a partial job of the restoration of our hardened hearts. It needed something more. It needed to be more directly connected with God. It needed Jesus (see book of Hebrews).
Jesus said “I have not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil them” (Matt 5:17). Jesus (Immanuel), as God, came to be with us (humanity) – for all. This is the way the first church understood it. In Acts 2, Peter uses OT passages such as Joel that already started to understand this where God “will pour out his spirit on all people” (Acts 2:14). Other OT prophesies such as Ezek 34 speaks of a true Shepard (compare John 10), Ezek 37 speaks of the dead bones of Israel being made alive by the spirit of God (compare John 3). Jesus has done this. This is the Gospel. This is the new covenant where we do not need a temple to have access to God, but all have direct access to the Father through the life and death of Jesus (see Hebrews again).
As such, why would anyone want to go back to the old way? If Christian Zionists want to be so strong about the Old Covenant calling about the land then what about the other laws of the Torah? Should we also be circumcising our boys, following food laws, and all the other hundreds of laws in the Torah? A quick reading of Galatians’ should clear that question up (answer is an emphatic ‘no’ in case you’re wondering).
As Christians we do have a hope that Jesus will return and bring heaven and earth together in a way that resembles God’s initial plan: the Garden of Eden. The groans of the world (Rom 8) will end and a new order will be established. God will bring a “new Jerusalem” from heaven and heaven and earth will be united (Rev 21). I don’t personally think that that is now happening in Israel at present. Do you?