Should Christians be Zionists?

israel-flagAccording to the Encyclopedia Britannica Zionism is the Jewish nationalist movement that has had as its goal the creation and support of a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews (“the Land of Israel”).

Should Christians, for theological and religious reasons, be supporting Israel and Jerusalem?

I would argue no. Christians may support Israel but,  it should not be for theological or biblical reasons.

The city of God

Jerusalem or Zion was the city God chosen to be the capital of Israel in the time of King David.  Jerusalem housed the temple of the LORD where God symbolically , reigned and ruled.  The mercy-seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant was the throne of the LORD where he was pictured to be seated surrounded by the cherubim – a small hint of the heavenly reality.

Any Israelite who walked past the temple in Old Testament times would automatically think to themselves – God is with us.

Jerusalem was known as the city of God. It was to the temple in Jerusalem that Israelites under the old covenant came to offer their sacrifices, enjoy the festivals and “meet with God”.

Old Testament prophecy

There are numerous prophecies in the Old Testament that speak of the renewal and transformation of Jerusalem. Isaiah foretold that in the “last days” Jerusalem would be established as the chief city, and people from all nations would stream to it (Isaiah 2:1-3). Jerusalem would be filled with righteousness and justice (Isaiah 33:5), there would be everlasting peace (Isaiah 2:4-5), God would supply all the needs of his people (Isaiah 33:16, 21), God’s enemies would be destroyed (Isaiah 33:1), there would be no sickness, and all sin would be forgiven (Isaiah 33:24). Perhaps most importantly, God himself would be king (Isaiah 33:22).

Reading the Old Testament through a gospel lens

How does the New Testament handle the prophecies concerning Jerusalem and the temple in Jerusalem? This is an important question because the answer shapes our understanding of Jerusalem.

On one occasion when the disciples were admiring the temple, Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” John, the gospel writer, then provides the interpretation, “but the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken”. (John 2:19-22)

Jesus understood that the temple was simply a picture of the LORD’s presence and rule. God does not dwell in houses made by human hand. All that the temple pointed to and pictured is fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus is the LORD’s presence. We go to Jesus to meet with God. Jesus is our sacrifice and high priest. Jesus is our temple.

Iain Campbell in an excellent sermon entitled, “Zion, City of God” says:

“The glory of the gospel is that we no longer have to go to the temple in earthly Jerusalem because the temple has come to us!”

Campbell then reminds his listeners that when Jesus was born, Matthew wrote, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)

Heavenly Jerusalem

The New Testament authors understood that Jesus – his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and return – is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. The writer of the letter of Hebrews, in a letter that is perhaps the classic exposition of the Old Testament concepts, says to his Christian readers,

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly…” (Hebrew 12:22)

In other words, because we belong to Jesus, we are members of the real City of God – the heavenly Jerusalem.

In Revelation 21, John sees the heavenly Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God to earth. Jerusalem symbolizes the real and ultimate dwelling place of God with his people. God will live with his people. In this city there will be righteousness, justice, forgiveness, health and all our needs will be provided for by God himself. In this city there will be people from all the nations of the world – all who belong to Jesus.

The last days

Isaiah prophesied that Jerusalem would be transformed in the “last days”. Hebrews 1:1 tells us that the last days started at the first coming of Jesus 2000 years ago. The last days are indeed upon us. And as people from all over the world, in these last days, put their faith in Jesus, they become members of the “heavenly Jerusalem” of which the earthly Jerusalem under the old covenant was only a small picture. We await the day when Jesus returns as king to establish the new heavens and new earth, when we will dwell with God in his city. Isaiah also knew that more was in view than earthly Jerusalem. In Isaiah chapter 65 he prophecies a “new heavens and earth” (v17) and it’s in this renewed universe that the new Jerusalem will exist (v18).

The modern state of Israel

Earthly Jerusalem is not it. Earthly Jerusalem was a shadow of a much greater reality in Jesus. Now that the reality has come we need not live in the shadows. You may support (or not) Israel and Jerusalem for all kinds reasons, but don’t think the Bible tells us to support Israel. The Bible tells us to trust Jesus.

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