Lovers of Zion: A Brief History of Christian Zionism

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Lovers of Zion: A Brief History of Christian Zionism
Thomas Ice


I have seen a number of books and articles over the last few years chiding those of us who believe the nation and people of Israel have a positive future detailed in Bible prophecy. They think that Evangelical support for Israel is something negative because, the modern state of Israel is viewed negatively by them, totally unrelated in any way to Bible prophecy. These naysayers often like to blame J. N. Darby and Dispensationalism as the modern source for these views. The truth of the matter is that a love for Israel was well entrenched among Bible-believing Christians long before Darby in 1830.

The Early Church

While there is some evidence that a few ante-Nicene fathers envisioned the Jews back in the land of Israel, by and large, they did not really look for a restoration of the Jews to the land of Israel, even though premillennialism was widespread. There was a statement or two by some of these early believers that implied a Jewish return to Israel. For example, Irenaeus writing about A.D. 185 expressed this view in the following way:

"But when this Antichrist shall have devastated all things in this world, he will reign for three years and six months, and sit in the Temple at Jerusalem; and then the Lord will come from heaven in the clouds, in the glory of the Father, sending this man and those who follow him into the lake of fire; but bringing in for the righteous the times of the kingdom."1

Carl Ehle has summarized the views of the Early Church as follows: "What is singularly absent from early millenarian schemes is the motif of the Restoration of Israel, . . . the Church Fathers from the second century on did not encourage any notion of a revival of national Israel."2 Apart from a few sporadic Medieval statements, Christian belief in the restoration of Israel to her land would not surface until "the second generation Protestant reformers."3 An example of one Medievalist who held to the restoration of the Jews to Israel was Gerard of Borgo San Donnino (around 1255). He taught that some Jews would be blessed as Jews in the end time and would return to their ancient homeland.4 For the most part, Medieval European Christendom remained overwhelmingly anti-Semitic in thought and deed.

The English Protestant Era

The path that led to the widespread belief in the end-time restoration of the Jews to Israel started with the study of the Bible, first in the original languages, followed by the influence of the newly acquired English translations.5 When both scholars and laymen alike for the first time in the history of the Church, had the text of Scripture (both Old and New Testaments) more readily available, it led to greater study and a more literal interpretation with a greater awareness of the Israel of the Old Testament. This provided the atmosphere in which a major shift occurred in England: from Medieval Jew-hatred, which led to the expulsion of all Jews from Britain in 1290, to their invitation under Cromwell to return in 1650. "From such a context and from among this people," notes Douglas Culver, "now growing more and more intimate with things Jewish, the early millenarian protagonists for the restoration of the Jews to their Palestinian homeland arose."6 However, it would be a tough road to get to the point where belief in a Jewish restoration to their ancient homeland would become so widespread.

One of the first Englishmen to put forth the view that the Jews should be restored to the land of Israel was a scholar named Francis Kett who had taken two degrees from Cambridge. In 1585 he had published a book entitled The Glorious and Beautiful Garland of Man's Glorification Containing the Godly Misterie of Heavenly Jerusalem. While his book primarily dealt with other matters, Kett did have a section in which he mentioned "the notion of Jewish national return to Palestine."7 This notion, which some think was likely gaining many followers,8 was deemed heretical to the English establishment of the day and Rev. Kett was quickly burned at the stake on January 14, 1589, for expressing such views about the Jews' return to their land.9

As the 1600s arrived, a flurry of books advocating Jewish restoration to their land began to appear. Thomas Draxe released in 1608 The Worldes Resurrection: On the general calling of the Jews, A familiar Commentary upon the eleventh Chapter of Saint Paul to the Romaines, according to the sense of Scripture. Draxe argued for Israel's restoration based upon his Calvinism and Covenant Theology.10 Two great giants of their era were Thomas Brightman (1552-1607) and Joseph Mede (1586-1638) who both wrote boldly of a future restoration of Israel. Brightman's work appeared in 1609 and Mede's contribution was released in 1627.11 Momentum was certainly building toward widespread acceptance of English belief in Jewish restoration, but a few bumps in the road still lay ahead.

A key proponent for Israel's future restoration was Henry Finch (1558-1625) who wrote a seminal work on the subject in 1621, called The World's Resurrection or The Calling of the Jewes. A Present to Judah and the Children of Israel that Ioyned with Him, and to Ioseph (that valiant tribe of Ephraim) and all the House of Israel that Ioyned with Him.12 Finch, at the time of the publication of his book was one of the most highly respected scholars in England at the time. "The book had been published for a matter only of weeks when the roof caved in on the author's head," notes Culver. "In the persecution which ensued, Finch lost his reputation, his possessions, his health--all precipitated by his belief in Jewish national restoration."13 King James of England was offended by Finch's statement that all nations would become subservient to national Israel at the time of her restoration.14 Finch and his publisher were quickly arrested after his book was released by the High Commissioner (a creation of King James) and examined.15 Finch was stripped of his status and possessions and then died a few years later. "The doctrine of the restoration of the Jews continued to be expounded in England, evolving according to the insight of each exponent, and finally playing a role in Christian Zionistic activities in the latter part of the nineteenth and in the first of the twentieth centuries."16

Colonial America

Since the American colonies (especially in Puritan New England) were settled primarily by Englishmen who brought with them to the New World many of the same issues and beliefs that were circulating in the motherland, it is not surprising to find in Colonial America many zealous advocates in America for the restoration of the Jews. One of the standout advocates of the restoration doctrine was Increase Mather (1639-1723), the son of Richard and the father of Cotton. Increase Mather wrote over 100 books in his life. His first work was The Mystery of Israel's Salvation, which went through many revisions during his life.17 His support of the national restoration of Israel to her land in the future was typical of American Colonial Puritans and was generally widespread. Ehle notes the following:

"The first salient school of thought in American history that advocated a national restoration of the Jews to Palestine was resident in the first native-born generation at the close of the seventeenth century in which Increase Mather played a dominant role. The men who held this view were Puritans, . . . From that time on the doctrine of restoration may be said to have become endemic to American culture."18

From the earliest times, American Christianity has always tilted toward support of the restoration of national Israel in the Holy Land. American Christians, when compared with predominantly Anti-Semitic Euro-Asian Christianity, has always had a pro-Semitic disposition. Thus, it is not surprising that this pro-Semitic tradition continues today in America especially in Dispensational circles.

British and American Support for Israel

A significant number of English speaking Christians during the last four hundred years were thoroughly saturated with Jewish restoration theology. It should not be surprising that many such Christians in the last two hundred years have risen up to play key roles in the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

President John Quincy Adams expressed his desire that "the Jews again [were] in Judea, an independent Nation."19 I could document many significant British and American Christians who have expressed similar views as those of President Adams. British Christians such as Lord Balfour and General Allenby had a love and respect for Israel and the Jewish people, spawned through their biblical heritage.20 But perhaps one of the most outstanding examples of a Christian Zionist is that of American William Blackstone (1841-1935).

Blackstone became very interested in what the Bible had to say about Israel. Like many Christians with similar interests, this led Blackstone to evangelize Jewish people with the Gospel. He founded in 1887 the Chicago Hebrew Mission for the evangelization of the Jews. Other than writing the best-selling book Jesus Is Coming in 1908, he is best known for his tireless work on behalf of reestablishing the Jewish nation in Israel. In 1891, he obtained the signatures of 413 prominent Americans and sent this document to President Benjamin Harrison advocating the resettlement of persecuted Jews in Russia to a new homeland in what was then called Palestine.21 Blackstone later made a similar appeal to President Woodrow Wilson that influenced his acceptance of the Balfour Declaration of 1917.22 Today in Israel there is a forest named the "Blackstone Forest" in his honor: "William E. Blackstone, once dubbed the 'father of Zionism' for his political activities on behalf of the Jews."23

Herzl's Number One Advisor

The modern Jewish founder of Zionism is recognized to have been Theodor Herzl. His earliest and closest advisor just happened to have been the Christian minister William Hechler who was a zealous Christian Zionist. In 1882 he had published his book entitled The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine according to Prophecy.24 In 1896 Hechler introduced himself to Herzl and thus became his most important aid, advisor and advocate. It was said, "William Hechler would prove to be 'not only the first, but the most constant and the most indefatigable of Herzl's followers'".25

Even that cussing Baptist from Missouri, President Harry S. Truman was influenced by his Christian background regarding his decision to recognize Israel in 1948, when he rejected the advice of the State Department not to recognize the newly formed state. After his presidency, his longtime Jewish friend Eddie Jacobson introduced Truman to a group of professors by saying, "'This is the man who helped create the state of Israel,' but Truman corrected him: 'What do you mean "helped to create"? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus.'"26 Truman was comparing himself to Persian King Cyrus in the Old Testament who enabled the Jews to return to their land in the sixth century B. C. after their 70-year captivity.

God has greatly used many Christians during the last few hundred years that have prepared for Israel's return to the land. God will continue to use believers in the future who believe His prophecies about a national future for His people Israel. Maranatha!

Dr. Thomas Ice is Executive Director of The Pre-Trib Research Center and author of many books and articles. He is a long-time member of IFCAInternational

1 Irenaeus, Against Heresies: Book V, Chapter 30, Paragraph 4.

2 Carl F. Ehle, Jr., "Prolegomena to Christian Zionism in America: The Views of Increase Mather and William E. Blackstone Concerning the Doctrine of the Restoration of Israel," Ph.D. Dissertation at New York University, 1977, p. 31.

3 Ehle, "Prolegomena," p. 32.

4 Ehle, "Prolegomena," pp. 41-42.

5 See Douglas J. Culver, Albion and Ariel: British Puritanism and the Birth of Political Zionism (New York: Peter Lang, 1995), pp. 51-70.

6 Culver, Albion and Ariel, p. 60.

7 Culver, Albion and Ariel, p. 73.

8 Culver, Albion and Ariel, p. 73.

9 Culver, Albion and Ariel, pp. 71-73; Ehle, "Prolegomena," pp. 47-48.

10 Culver, Albion and Ariel, pp. 75-78; Ehle, "Prolegomena," p. 49.

11 Culver, Albion and Ariel, pp. 79-82; Ehle, "Prolegomena," pp. 53-56.

12 Culver, Albion and Ariel, p. 101.

13 Culver, Albion and Ariel, p. 101.

14 Culver, Albion and Ariel, pp. 102-03.

15 Culver, Albion and Ariel, pp. 116-17.

16 Ehle, "Prolegomena," p. 61.

17 Ehle, "Prolegomena," p. 67, 80

18 Ehle, "Prolegomena," abstract.

19 Michael J. Pragai, Faith and Fulfilment: Christians and the Return to the Promised Land (London: Vallentine, Mitchell, 1985), p. 49.

20 See Pragai, Faith and Fulfilment, pp. 10, 35, 46, 84-98, 104-07, 122, 271, 276.

21 Ehle, "Prolegomena," pp. 240-44.

22 Ehle, "Prolegomena," pp. 290-93.

23 Ehle, "Prolegomena," abstract.

24 Paul C. Merkley, The Politics of Christian Zionism: 1891-1948(London, Frank Cass, 1998), p. 3.

25 Merkley, Politics of Christian Zionism, p. 25.

26 Merkley, Politics of Christian Zionism, p. 191.


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