Should Christians be pro-Israel?

41XUeSJQu6LMargaret Thatcher managed to achieve so much in transforming the face of modern Britain because she was specially blessed by God. And she was specially blessed by God because, on becoming Prime Minister, one of the first things she did was to meet with the Israeli ambassador and state that she would actively support the State of Israel. This fulfilled the promise given to Abraham in Gen 12.3 ‘I will bless those who bless you.’ Or so I was taught by David Pawson.

This belief is one part of a complex of ideas usually called Christian Zionism, and its influence significantly shapes Christian views about the Israel/Palestine question, and becomes evident in the polarisation of views whenever there is another conflict, as there was this time last year. Indeed, this view could be seen as one of the key shapers of foreign policy in the US, and it therefore shapes world politics. If you have ever come across the idea that the State of Israel has a right to the land it now occupies, and that this right should trump normal ethical criteria in this area, then you have encountered Christian Zionism.

So when I was sent the pre-publication draft of Rob Dalrymple‘s new book, These Brothers of Mine, I wrote the following endorsement:

Rob Dalrymple’s book on understanding the theology of Christian Zionism is a remarkable tour de force. It offers a thorough engagement with the meaning of Israel in Scripture, and the significance of the consistent testimony of the New Testament that all of God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus—including promises about the temple, God’s people, and the land. Rob’s great strength here is addressing his opponents on their home ground, and giving a thorough response to alternative views. It is essential reading for anyone who wishes to connect Scripture with the contemporary political situation.

Why did I give such an enthusiastic endorsement? Primarily it is because the debate is marked by polarisation, and Rob’s book manages to avoid this, not least because he has been on both sides of the debate. Brought up in a fundamentalist Christian context where Christian Zionism was the unquestioned norm, he found his beliefs challenged through his own study but also through his own personal experience of the situation in Israel. But, unlike many, instead of rejecting everything he had learnt before, this led Rob to reconsider what he had been taught and sift it, rather than swinging from one extreme to another. So this book continues to engage with ‘conservative’ positions and scholarship—the most ‘liberal’ he gets is citing Tom Wright.

The second thing that marks this book out is that Rob’s argument is theological, rather than either being political or cherry-picking individual verses to prove a point.

My thesis is simple: Jesus is the fulfilment of all God’s promises. I have found in my years of teaching and preaching that many Christians simply have too low a view of Jesus. The implications are significant: the people of God in the New Testament world are comprised of those from every nation and, as such, we are not to give allegiance to any one nation as superior to another, but to the people of God (“These Brothers of Mine”) who dwell in all the nations. (p ix)

This means that, along with an engagement in Christian Zionism, you will get from this book a fascinating theological interpretation of the scriptural story, centred on the way in which Jesus is the fulfilment and climax of the purposes of God—and if that sounds familiar, it should, since this is the major theme of the NT!

The shape of Rob’s approach is interesting in itself. He starts by consider why Christian Zionism should be engaged with, tracing its widespread influence and impact. From the beginning he aims to avoid polarisation:

To side with Israel against the Palestinians, or the Palestinians against Israel, is not to stand with Jesus…We must renounce terrorism and the oppression of any people, regardless of who the perpetrator is…

The fear is that in responding to Christian Zionism, many will immediately assume that I am arguing for the opposite. I am not. (p 7)

He then sets out some issue in biblical interpretation, before recounting his own experience of visiting Israel and meeting Christian Palestinian Arabs. That then leads him into the second part of the book, which offers a theological reading of Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people. This starts with the exploring the purpose of the temple, and the way in which the NT sees the temple as fulfilled in Jesus. This is a key move; the temple is most clearly associated with Jesus in the NT, particularly in John’s gospel (in the language of tabernacling in John 1.14, and in Jesus’ claim in John 2.19 for example) and in Hebrews, and even the most conservative of evangelicals would agree that Jesus has fulfilled the purpose of the temple in giving access to the presence of God.

Jesus not only fulfilled the OT prophecies regarding the temple, but he himself embodies the very nature and purpose of the temple. It is here that Christian Zionism fails in its assertions that the Bible requires that a physical temple must be rebuilt in Jerusalem. (p 28)

He then, in the following three chapters, looks in turn at the temple, the people of God and the land. These chapters are marked by three distinctive things. First, Rob offers some important and detailed exegesis of key passages, but does so in an informed way which takes seriously the way that the NT reads the OT. Second, he is reading theologically, not atomistically, and so a key question at each stage is not simple ‘What is the temple?’ but ‘What is the purpose and goal of the temple?’ In this way he is able to make sense of the claim in the NT that both Jesus and the people of God in the NT are seen as the fulfilment of God’s purposes for temple, people and land in turn. The third distinctive comes from Rob’s PhD interest in the Book of Revelation (on which he has also published)–he puts his concerns in the context of their ultimate fulfilment in the vision of the New Jerusalem in Rev 21–22.

In the final section, Rob returns to the question of Christian Zionism, and engages with it on the basis of his reading of the biblical texts. He responds to some anticipated objections, including whether he is advocating a ‘replacement theology’ and whether the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 really was a ‘fulfilment of prophecy’. His final step is quite unexpected—a detailed study of the meaning of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. He defends the reading I advocate here, that ‘the least of these brothers of mine’ refers to Jesus’ followers (and not the poor in general) but does so in much more detail, offering a convincing reading taking seriously the place of the parable within Matthew’s gospel and within this fifth, eschatological, collection of Jesus’ teaching within the gospel. This then leads into some suggestion for practical involvement in the situation in Israel and with Palestinians.

Along the way, there were some fascinating insights into the shape of the OT promises of God and how they are seen in the NT—and there are some things which could strengthen Rob’s case even more. In the chapter on Jesus as the fulfilment of the people of God, I was surprised he did not mention Jesus’ use of ‘Son of Man’, which in Daniel 7 is an image of God’s people coming before him for vindication. On the subject of the land and its fulfilment, this has been studied in depth by Chris Wright in his Living as the People of God. But I was fascinated by thinking about the land as providing a place of identity, of security, and providing the nourishment God’s people need (‘a land flowing with milk and honey’) all of which are now provided by Jesus. I think this might be why Paul talks so often of being ‘in Christ’ when in the previous dispensation he would have used the language of ‘in Israel.’ The one argument I was not convinced by was the idea that ‘olam’ (the land is promised ‘olam’) might not mean ‘forever’ but only ‘for a long time.’

robIf you read this book, you will learn much, and not just about Christian Zionism—but you will learn about that too.

To suggest that 1948 is a fulfilment of prophecy “is to read the Old Testament as though Jesus Christ had not come into the world, and as though the New Testament had not been written, for the New Testament shows that these oracles of salvation find their fulfilment in Christ and his church.” (p 135)

If we want to invoke the promise of blessing in Genesis 12.1–3, we must understand two points. First, the promise of blessings and curses applies to those who bless or curse God’s people…Second, the people of God today are not restricted to a nation but are comprised of people from every nation. (p 154)

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Good comments that engage with the content of the post, and share in respectful debate, can add real value. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Make the most charitable construal of the views of others and seek to learn from their perspectives. Don't view debate as a conflict to win; address the argument rather than tackling the person.

49 thoughts on “Should Christians be pro-Israel?”

  1. Ive encoutered Christian Zionism quite a bit and think it is alive and well in the UK, unfortunately. I don’t think it is endangering UK foreign policy, but I think it does bring the church into disrepute if people are putting forward claims that Israel can behave how she likes because she’s special.

    I really really agree with him that most Christians have a too low view of Jesus. (Actually we all do) i think all have a high view of his death, but in his life he seems to be treated as one voice amongst many and his ressurection seems to be treated as merely another proof that he was who he said he was.

    • Pete, I suppose I could be called a Christian Zionist although I wouldn’t agree with everything under that umbrella. However, I have been to many UK Christian Zionist events and I have never heard the idea expressed that “Israel can behave how she likes because she’s special”. I simply don’t know anyone who would share that sentiment.

      Christian Zionists do strongly object to the way Israel is often treated differently to other countries. For example, Hamas terrorists in Gaza have fired tens of thousands of rockets into Israel, and yet when Israel tries to stop them, she is subjected to intense scrutiny. (Holding Israel to a higher standard than other nations is a recognised form of anti-Semitism, by the way).

      There is no need to invoke theological arguments to have a positive view of the only democracy in the middle-east, where Jews and Arabs live together in peace and enjoy far greater freedoms than in any other country in that region. I’d hope all Christians would want to support that.

      • Andy, there is no “recognised form of antisemitism” and that is one of the issues. It is wholly subjective, and has proved to be as malleable a concept as people want it to be. The EU attempted to define the term, and gave up. For some, simply to criticise the state of Israel, this being the focus of Jewish national aspirations, is antisemitic. There is admittedly the Natan Sharansky definition, which includes the ‘double standards’ test, but this is controversial and far from accepted.

        Also, Israel’s actions are only measured against the standards which it claims for itself, including that it is a responsible state which observes international law. Yet many would argue that its 48-year occupation and settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, its blockade of and potential war crimes in Gaza, and its construction of a separation barrier on Palestinian territory are all in violation of international law. This is not to say that Hamas have not also committed war crimes in sending rockets into civilian areas, but Israel wants to be counted as a civilised democratic state and thus it is on this basis that it must be held accountable.

        I would also dispute that Palestinians living in Israel have equal rights. Embrace did a briefing paper on this a few years ago.

        But I think this blog was intended to stimulate a theological discussion, not stray into the politics…

        • Jeremy, that is interesting and useful stuff–thanks. Just two points:

          ‘Israel wants to be counted as a civilised democratic state and thus it is on this basis that it must be held accountable.’ Hmmm…and yet in other contexts we assess the actions of all states against common criteria, not just the ones they claim for themselves. Not sure why that doesn’t hold here.

          I continue to have a problem with the use of the term ‘Palestinian’ to denote an ethnic or political group. Historically, it has denoted people living in the area–so the Jewish newspaper was called The Palestinian Times. ‘Palestinian Arabs’ is actually what we are talking about.

      • Andy – im so sorry. I was thoughtlessly characturing what ive heard others say. I think there is an opinion out there that we should overlook Israels crimes because Israelis have more of a right to live there in that region than Palestinians. I’m sorry I spoke out of ignorance just from what people I know have said. Now I am thinking, I am sure that being Zionist does not necessarily lead to those views.

        I think part of the issue is the news coverage, I have heard plenty of people complain that the media are unfairly biased towards the Palestinians…and then since I don’t live there we get into the realms of who do you believe?! My parents went on a pilgrimage to the holy land last year and both came back very angry at the way Palestinians were being treated … So I am biased by that I guess.

        • Re the term ‘Palestinian’, point taken, but there is quite a lot of misappropriation of ethnic terminology when it comes to the Middle East. For example, the term ‘antisemitism’ (which I prefer as a formulation to anti-Semitism, as Semitism is not a word) has come to be used solely in relation to prejudice against Jewish people. Yet the Semitic peoples include Arabs as well as Jews. Common usage thus trumps etymological exactitude. So it is, probably, with the term Palestinian. Also, some Palestinian non-Jews (eg the Druze and Samaritans) would not describe themselves as Arabs.

          • Hmmm..but then it appears that ‘Palestinian’ simply means ‘Those who oppose the State of Israel’ so it becomes a purely political term. Popular misuse isn’t a good reason to change language; if everyone started calling dogs ‘cats’ it wouldn’t be a reason to redefine the term!

          • The Druze don’t generally oppose the state of Israel. In fact, they serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). And nor are all ‘Israeli Arabs’ (as they are sometimes called, in an attempt to deny their Palestinian identity) opposed to their own state.

            I think we will have to agree to disagree on this. You refer to ‘popular misuse’ but sometimes meanings just change over time. The meaning of ‘antisemitic’ has become more limited than its etymological origin; so it is with the term ‘Palestinian’. Most Jews don’t want it back in any case.

      • Sorry to leave a third reply(!)

        I think there is a difference between wanting peace in Israel and supporting everything the Israeli government does (or even supporting the Israeli government in the first place) e.g. I’m really opposed to the current UK government, but I’m not opposed to the UK. I’m opposed to the way we treat immigrants, but that doesn’t make me anti-british.

        I can identify with being held to a higher standard when nobody else sees that you are being so. However I would hope that democracies were always held to a higher standard and behaved better than autocratic regimes.

      • Andy, the last time Hamas was shooting rockets–not missiles–about 15 Israelis died. The IDF response resulted in about 1500 Palestinian deaths, including about 400 children. I don’t perceive moral equivalence in this. However, it coincides with the unwritten Israeli policy since 1947 of ethnic cleansing. The Arabs living in Israel proper “together in peace” with Jews are a ~2% minority that can’t possibly threaten the racist Jewish State. As a good ally of the West, in the Middle East: Yes, Israel is great.

  2. “My thesis is simple: Jesus is the fulfilment of all God’s promises. I have found in my years of teaching and preaching that many Christians simply have too low a view of Jesus. The implications are significant: the people of God in the New Testament world are comprised of those from every nation and, as such, we are not to give allegiance to any one nation as superior to another, but to the people of God (“These Brothers of Mine”) who dwell in all the nations. (p ix)”

    GOOD GRIEF YES YES YES!!!! Think I will need to procure a copy of this volume!!

  3. Hamas has rockets. Israel has Bombs..a LOT of difference. Anyone with a brain can see the vast difference. Also Israel has/had backing from the U.S. that basically rendered the rockets useless by their “shield” OR did U forget about that??

  4. Even more than abortion, religious Zionism shows the importance of a firewall between church and state, not just legally, but in our grounds for making policy (and I say that as a convinced supporter of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state). The Middle East is, as we all know, a powder-keg, and to avoid setting light to it, policy has to be based on reasoned pragmatism, not theology.

  5. Greetings All,

    I can’t say I am commenting from a position of indepth knowledge, however, I found reading the book “Son of Hammas” – the biography of the son of the Palestinian leader who is now a Christian particularly insightful in regards to the conflict. Most poignant perhaps that while he was in prison, his Christian Jewish friend was also in the same prison for refusing the compulsory military conscription – as he would rather be in prison than put in a position where he might have to kill a palestinian child at a checkpoint.

    Personally the words of Jesus about Jerusalem, “I want to gather your children as a mother hen gathers her young… there will not be peace in this land until I come again” has always resounded in my heart. This coming again I see as Jesus being accepted as Lord by both the Palestinian’s and Jews. For is Jesus as God incarnate not an offense to both the Jews and the Muslim’s?


  6. Apologies Ian I just read your earlier post differentiating between Palestinian Arabs and Palestinians per se.

    Also FYI Son of Hamas (this time spelt correctly) was written by the son of the original leader of Hamas. He was taken into captivity at a young age by the Israeli government and worked under-cover (agreed to under duress) as an agent for them. As such he learnt a lot about both sides, and while initially he thought he would use his position to be a double-agent, he found himself wanting to prevent suicide bombings. Ultimately he rejected the deception, violence and lack of trust on both sides, and his reflections on how the beginning of his faith in Jesus influenced this is interesting.

  7. Thanks for reviewing this, Ian. It looks like a really helpful book – Biblical Theology applied to Christian Zionism.

    I know there are some people in our church who have a particular concern for Israel, I think I might read this and see if I could recommend it to them.

  8. I notice that no one has mentioned Paul’s letter to The Romans, chapters 9-11. I will not quote a verse, because the answer is in the whole message of these chapters.

    A mention is made in the comments that Christians refer to Israel as a superior Nation – this is not the case, the point is that the Jewish people are a chosen nation, chosen by Almighty God to be a light to the nations.

    Simeon summed it up well, when he said of Jesus that He is “A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
    And the glory of Your people Israel.”
    In time we shall all understand this mystery.

    • Thanks David–but the really interesting thing is that both the language of and promises to Israel in the OT is applied *without remainder* to Jesus and his followers in the New. As Paul says in Romans 2, Romans 11 and Galatians 3 and 6, those who have faith in Jesus are now the children of Abraham, and therefore inherit the promises made to him.

  9. A very interesting discussion about something close to my heart (the politics are very well set out above, by others)
    The point no one has made is this: Christian Zionists supporting / upholding the Biblical and theological arguments, do so on the basis of Christian beliefs. Does anyone have any answer to the *fact* that! following the very large influx of Russians (in the 1980s when Israel invited immigration) the ruling classes are predominantly secular, non-Jewish people – without faith.
    This is relevant to the theology discussion since, while it may be convenient for a secular Israel not to deny the biblical inheritance, the motivation for destruction/dispersal of the Palestinian inhabitants is entirely political…there is no compassion for the people they control.

    • LF Buckland, I would encourage you to some studying as I think your understanding isn’t quite right. Jewish people are a mixed bunch from ultra-orthodox to atheist. Zionism began as a secular movement and many of its leaders were not religious. This was reflected in Israeli politics from the beginning and isn’t a recent development. Likewise, Israel invited immigration from the beginning, although Jewish people were moving there long before 1948. And most secular Jews believe in God – they are just not religiously observant.

      I have to totally disagree with your suggestion that Israel is seeking to destroy or disperse the Palestinians and has no compassion for them. That is dreadful and you offer no evidence. Palestinian suffering results from their own corrupt leaders and the desire of the wider arab world to use these people as pawns in a war with the aim of destroying Israel. Privately, most Palestinians would say that they would rather live under Israeli rule – a liberal democracy as opposed to an Islamist state.

      • Alas, Andy, there is a chasm between us. There is enormous evidence (both in quantity, and in substance) of the War Crimes of which Israel is now accused – and it is also hard to believe you are refuting the evidence of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, from the illegal Settlements with their destruction of life, to the examples eg of those confined within Gaza, where they may not leave their own territory by air, or by sea, which are freedoms we take for granted. Even to travel to work involves checkpoints, passes, and the delays that are known to result in a sacking.
        For the rest, we have discussed the theology, the biblical right – if you like – to occupy those lands. My comment is, simply, that for a large number of the ruling echelons, they are first of all ‘Israeli’ and that is a completely secular identity.
        So, to the question ‘Should Christians be pro-Israel’ (and as a question, this does not overtly refer to the Palestinian situation) my response would be a clear ‘No’ for as long as they behave in such a manner that Christians cannot condone.

      • I think there is a problem here that we are largely dependent on where we get our news from…which is a larger issue in that I think we are probably all guilty of making reality fit our theology rather than allowing it to test our theology

  10. James…it’s important to understand the correct theology – or at least to recognize their are those who deliberately confusing scripture for their own, maliscious purposes…although not everybody who has fallen for such lies does so with evil intent..but it is undeniable that evil becomes of it…

  11. James…it’s important to understand the correct theology – or at least to recognize their are those who deliberately confusing scripture for their own, maliscious purposes…although not everybody who has fallen for such lies does so with evil intent..but it is undeniable that evil becomes of it…

  12. Hi All

    Once again I urge you read the book Son of Hamas.

    From a boy who threw rocks at a tank to a man tortured by the Israeli Intelligence, threatened in prison by Hamas leaders; friends with an Arab bomber; friends with an Israeli secret service contact:

    “Then gradually — through God’s grace and mercy, through the years — all humans became equal to me. My people see the sun every day but they never ask themselves why the sun shines on both east and west Jerusalem. The easiest thing to me was to hate my enemy but the real challenge was to love them. Later on I realized my enemy was not man anymore — not Israeli, not Palestinian — but sin and darkness within us.”

  13. Ian, how fascinating but sadly unsurprising to see how a blog about a book about the Bible and the correct interpretation of prophecy, in particular how the New Testament reads the Hebrew Scriptures, turns into a discussion about Hamas and the Israeli Defence Force! It has struck me more and more over the years that those who argue from a Christian Zionist perspective (and I have come across it often) quote almost exclusively the first testament, and almost totally ignore the new. I was convinced not only by Tom Wright’s views but particularly by the arguments of PWL Walker in Jesus and the Holy City (1996), a very careful and thoughtful exegesis. I was also stunned when I reread Hebrew 11.9-10 a couple of years ago to see what a strong statement that is that even Abraham viewed ‘the promised land’ as ‘a foreign country’ (NIV). So yes, let’s separate exegesis and politics, and try to let the former influence our views on the latter rather than the other way round. Thanks for the blog!

    • Thanks Simon. Interesting observation on Heb 11.

      I have just had a hilarious three-day debate on Twitter with a guy in the States who kept quoting the OT. So I asked him to point out one single verse in the NT that gets even close to saying that the Jews will be restored to the land of Israel when or before Jesus returns. He decided I was being ‘obnoxious’!

      • Why do you think it’s necessary for the NT to repeat that? Every author of the NT had that as a working assumption. Are you reading the OT the same way the authors of the NT did? No, you’re not. You really think the Jewish apostles rejected their Jewish reading of the OT? This is a remarkable opinion to hold.

        • Thanks for visiting Peter. Easier to discuss here than on Twitter! Several things to say:

          1. To suggest ‘every author had [the return to the land] as a working assumption’ is an argument from silence. To defend this, you would need to look at contemporary Second Temple Judaism and its expectations. It turns out that there was a range of expectations of what Messiah would do, and this variety is partly represented by the different groups we meet in the NT—to which we would add the Essenes. Tom Wright has argued for an over-arching expectation of ‘return from exile’ (metaphorically, since many were already in the land) but he has not persuaded everyone.

          2. It is also worth noting that the majority of Judaism actually lived in Diaspora, and (as Rodney Stark points out) it was far from clear that ‘return the land’ was chief amongst their expectations.

          3. ‘Are you reading the OT the same way the authors of the NT did?’ Well, let’s have a look shall we. Here is a simple example of Mark’s use of the OT: I wonder which of our readings looks more like Mark’s?

          4. Let’s take a specific example in relation to our question. This site suggests that Acts 15.14-16 supports your position:

          ‘It is quite clear from these verses that before “restoring the kingdom to Israel” and building “again the tabernacle of David,” God would turn in grace to the Gentiles and call out of them a people unto His name. After this God promises to return and build again the tabernacle of David.’

          So the commentator is claiming that a. the gentiles will believe and b. Israel will be restored. But the verses say the opposite! Here is the text:

          Simonb has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
          Acts 15:16    “‘After this I will return
          and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
          Its ruins I will rebuild,
          and I will restore it,
          17 that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord,
          even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
          says the Lord, who does these things’c—
          18 things known from long ago.d

          It is quite clear that God rebuilds and restores *in order that* the Gentiles might come to believe—and this is what James thinks is now happening. After all, in Acts 2.16 Peter claims that Pentecost is ‘the last days’ and Jesus claims in Luke 19.44 that his arrival was God’s coming to the temple to restore it. (Note that James is not here quoting from our, Hebrew OT, which says something different, but is quoting from the Dispora’s Septuagint, Greek OT.)

          Rob looks at this whole theme, and demonstrates how the NT consistently sees the promises of the OT fulfilled *in* Jesus.

          Hope that helps—do come back to me if you are still not convinced.

    • Hi Simon

      I defer not all my comments have not been scholarly theology commenting on ‘should Christian’s be pro-Israel?’ But the inference is there of Christ being the fulfillment to the promises of peace to the land of His elected people and to those of us he has grafted in (aka Romans 11).

      I find the OT prophecies concerning the end times and the role of Israel (as a land) difficult. I waver between their relevance to events which happened to Israel later on, and their potential relevance to a future end-time. It is easier to comprehend in Daniel the idea of the fifth Kingdom being the one we are living in now, of everlasting dominion over all the earth, the Kingdom of God.

      I think as Christians we are to be more pro Israel the people who decended from this literal nation by sharing with them the grace and mercy offered us, rather than pro Israel as the promised land.

      NB: The book I referenced is not political but biographical and theological, for it shows the influence of the bible in transforming the life and worldview of a supposed enemy of Israel; it is harder when reading it to conceive of the nation Israel being purely Jewish in origin.


  14. Isn’t the main arguement in favour of Christians being pro-Isreal that if God doesn’t keep his promises to the Jews then how can we be sure the NT promises through Christ will be kept?

    For instance I believe that Isreal has never controlled the land promised in Gen 15 (this map may be a bit over optimistic but you get the idea).

    I suppose the counter arguement is how much should Christian countries(?) try through human means to achieve what they believe God has promised? If God is God does He need human intervention to achieve his purposes? (Although I do believe He works through human actions, both good and bad, to achieve His purposes).

    But it does amaze me how the Jews have kept their cultural identity despite centuries of persecution and having (from 70AD to 1948) no land of their own.

    • But Tim, the argument is *not* that God has failed to keep his promises–it is that all those promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

      Paul’s wrestling with the question in Romans 9-11 is not a puzzling about why the Jews do not have the land (they do, even if they are under Roman rule)—it is about how come many of God’s people continue in disobedience. Will their sin have the power to frustrate the purposes of God? (His answer, but the way, is ‘no’).

    • I should add that I agree with NTW and others who read ‘and in this way all Israel will be saved’ in Rom 11.26 with ‘Israel’ here referring to the sense it has at the end of Galatians and in Romans 2, the ‘Israel’ of God being those who now, by faith in Jesus, have become Abraham’s descendants, rather than the ethnic nation.

      • Thanks Ian

        Fundamentally I agree that Christ’s fulfils the OT, but it worries me that too often I feel Christians stretch Biblical interpretation so that scriptural infallibility is maintained.

        So as Genesis 15 v 14 – 16 is clearly a prophecy relating to the end of Genesis, and the Exodus, of Abram’s physical descendants; it would seem reasonable that v 18 – 21 also refer to the same group.

        But if we do accept that Roman’s 9 v 8 extends the promise to the “children of promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” then the territory mentioned in Genesis is too small – as Christianity is now a global faith (or is the area in the map Abram’s known world?). Albeit neither Jews nor Christians have physically owned the world or indeed the area described in Genesis – I think saying that they have under Roman or any other power is stretching the definition of ownership. (If I was being mischievous I could point out that currently this area of the Middle East is controlled (in a fragmented way) by Islam and Muslims regard themselves as Abram’s true heirs.

        And what is the interpretation of Romans 11 v 28 “As far as election is concerned, they (the Isrealites) are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his calls are irrevocable”? Doesn’t this imply God’s promises to the specific people He made them to will always stand?

        As Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18 v 36) Christians should be pro making disciples of all nations (not just Isreal). Whether God is working to re-establish a physical Isreal, is another question.

        • Thanks Tim. But if Paul sees ‘Israel’ in spiritual rather than literal (ethnic) terms, why wouldn’t he read the promise of the land in a similar way? He seems clear that being a ‘Jew’ is now about obedience to God, rather than ethnic identity (in Romans 2.29 and Gal 3.7). And the promise of e.g. Ez 39 to be ‘gathered from every nation’ is seen by John in Revelation as being fulfilled in the Gentile mission; God’s people are now comprised of people from ‘every tribe, language, people and nation’.

          I am puzzled by the idea that returning a particular people to a particular territory is seen as the epitome of God’s faithfulness–as if living in a particular geographical area was the most important spiritual thing in the world. It is a strangely materialist view of God and of faith. The New Testament doesn’t appear to need this to believe in God’s faithfulness—the idea of Jews returning to the land as part of the ‘end times’ is mentioned precisely nowhere in the NT. Paul seems much more concerned about God completing the underlying purpose of blessing all the nations and ‘putting all things under his feet’ i.e. that the glory of God should fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

          That was the whole purpose of people, temple and land—each in themselves a means to this end, and not an end in itself. So Paul focussing on God’s ultimate purpose, whereas Christian Zionists focus on something penultimate, not seen as of importance in the NT, and therefore they stick with the OT—a really odd move for anyone who believes in Jesus.

        • I should also add, from a historical point of view, that in the first century the majority of Judaism lived in the Hellenised diaspora, and had become so separate from Judaism in Jerusalem and Judea that they needed to have the Hebrew bible translated into Greek (the Septuagint). They were much less interested in the issue of the land, and it appears that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 and again in 136 did not provoke anything like the crisis that it provoked in Hebrew-speaking Judaism who were affected directly.

          The early Christian movement appeared to continue to have strong links with diaspora Judaism, and this lack of concern with the land and temple would have been a view it shared.

          • Thanks Ian

            Sometimes I wonder whether I should have left the lid on the can of worms. Your challenge about the NT not mentioning the physical restoration of Israel intrigued me so I googled it and (of course) ended up at a Christian Zionist site – which say it does. Maybe Rob Dalyrmple’s book addresses the misuse of the verses quoted in this link?

            I don’t see returning a particular people to a particular territory as the epitome of God’s faithfulness. It’s just if I’d promised to give my kids pocket money and then didn’t: arguing that the love and family they enjoy is far more important than the miserly material wealth I was going to give, I’m sure these very real intangible blessings would be (temporarily) undermined by my duplicity. So whilst I am very much aware of God’s goodness and blessing, and my gratitude would not lessen if for instance the territory in Genesis 15 v17 – 21 was never given to Jew or Christian, I would still feel (if one is allowed such feelings in heaven) disappointed that this prophecy didn’t occur in a way that the secular world had recognised.

          • Tim, thanks for this list, which desmontrates the wilful misreading of the NT that you must undergo to believe this doctrine. Just to take one example, the text from Acts 15. Without cutting it off where the commentator does, it reads like this:

            ‘After this I will return
            and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
            Its ruins I will rebuild,
            and I will restore it,
            17 that the rest of humanity may seek the Lord,
            even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
            says the Lord, who does these things’c—
            18 things known from long ago.d

            The writer suggests that the Gentiles will come to faith, and then Israel will be restored. But James says exactly the opposite: the purpose of God’s rebuilding his people (‘I will rebuild’) is that the Gentiles will then come to faith. James is pointing out that the faith of the Gentiles proves that God has indeed kept his promises (in that Jesus has renewed the people) and so the ultimate goal is being fulfilled.

            This is the consistent pattern of the NT, and is what Rob highlights in his book. Happy to comment on the other verses likewise–but I hope you can see the way he has twisted this around and claimed it is the exact opposite of what it says.

          • On the pocket money analogy, God’s ‘apparent failure’ to fulfil a literal promise appears to have transformed the Roman Empire, reshaped world history, and made the love of God known to, what, 3 billion people.

            You’d really be disappointed with that? You’d rather that 3 million people had a piece of turf and the rest of the world carried on as it was? Really?

          • And yet, Ian, the theme of exile from the land continues to cast a long shadow over normative Judaism. Orthodox Jews pray three times a day for the restoration of Temple worship in Jerusalem. For centuries, Jews have ended the Passover meal by expressing the wish, “Next year in Jerusalem”. Any meaningful presentation of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah has to take these longings into consideration, though I accept that Christian Zionism does not provide adequate answers.

  15. I’m two years late to this party, having just seen a link to it from another post. Interesting discussions. I suspect I would agree with much, though possibly not all, of what Dalrymple says. One extract from the review stuck out: “He then sets out some issue in biblical interpretation, before recounting his own experience of visiting Israel and meeting Christian Palestinian Arabs.” I have seen others who write on this area express similar sentiments and I always wonder whether they have also met Israeli Messianic Jews, of whom there are now around 10-20,000 and who are increasingly starting to be accepted as part of mainstream Israeli life. I am cautious of claims that the modern state of Israel is a fulfilment of) any particular part of) OT prophesy, but it also seems clear that God’s word is going out with saving power to Israeli Jews (and Arabs). This is surely something to rejoice over, whatever the other theological and political complexities of the situation!


Leave a comment