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Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism is the belief among some denominations of Protestant Christians, mainly in the United States, that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, through the estabishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy, and is a necessary precondition for the return of Jesus to reign on Earth.

This belief should be distinguished from a general political belief that the Jews have a right to a national homeland in Israel. Christian Zionism is a specifically theological belief, which does not necessarily entail any particularly sympathy for the Jews as a race or Judaism as a religion. Indeed since most Christian Zionists believe (though not all say so publicy) that the Jews must eventually accept Jesus as the Messiah for Biblical prophecy to be fulfilled, some Jews see Christian Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism.

Nevertheless, the government of Israel has given official encouragement to Christian Zionism, allowing the establishment in 1980 of an "International Christian Embassy" in Jerusalem. The main function of the embassy is to enlist worldwide Christian support for Israel and to defend Israeli actions and policies before Christian opinion. The embassy has raised funds to help finance Jewish immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union, and has assisted Zionist groups establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank Palestinian territory.

The Third International Christian Zionist Congress, held in Jerusalem in February 1996, issued a Proclamation which said:

God the Father, Almighty, chose the ancient nation and people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to reveal His plan of redemption for the world. They remain elect of God, and without the Jewish nation His redemptive purposes for the world will not be completed.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and has promised to return to Jerusalem, to Israel and to the world.

It is reprehensible that generations of Jewish peoples have been killed and persecuted in the name of our Lord, and we challenge the Church to repent of any sins of commission or omission against them.

The modern Ingathering of the Jewish People to Eretz Israel and the rebirth of the nation of Israel are in fulfilment of biblical prophecies, as written in both Old and New Testaments.

Christian believers are instructed by Scripture to acknowledge the Hebraic roots of their faith and to actively assist and participate in the plan of God for the Ingathering of the Jewish People and the Restoration of the nation of Israel in our day.

The Proclamation said nothing about the necessity for the Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah, and while it explicitly condemned Islam as a false religion ("We are convinced from a biblical stand-point that the Muslim concept of "Allah" is an anti-Jewish and anti-Christian distortion of how God revealed Himself to the Patriarchs, Kings and Prophets of Israel, and how God has revealed Himself through our Lord"), it made no comment on the failure of Judaism to recognise Jesus as the Messiah.

The sources of Bible prophecy on which Christian Zionism depends are two books of the Jewish Bible or Old Testament: the Book of Daniel and the Book of Ezekiel, and one book of the Christian Bible or New Testament: the Book of Revelation. The Old Testament books describe the Apocalypse, a Jewish vision of the end of the world, while the New Testament sets out an early Christian version of the same subject, in allegorical language which can be interpreted in many ways. The contents of these books are discussed at the relevant articles, particularly in the article Book of Revelation.

American Christian Zionist theology was developed by the 19th century evangelical Cyrus Scofield (1843-1921), who popularised the doctrine that Jesus could not return to reign on Earth until certain events occurred: The return of the Jews to the Holy Land and particularly to Jerusalem, where they would destroy the Islamic holy places in the city and rebuild the Temple, the battle of Armageddon, in which millions of people would be killed, and the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. (See the article End times for a discussion of this.)

According to Hal Lindsey, a prominent American Christian Zionist, "the valley from Galilee to Eilat (a town in southern Israel) will flow with blood and 144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved." According to Lindsey, the rest of the Jews, and presumably all non-Christians, will perish in "the mother of all Holocausts".

Politically, Christian Zionism is important because it mobilises an important constituency in the United States, fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants, in support of Israel, and also in support of political candidates who express strong support for Israel. Although the Democratic Party, which has the support of most American Jews, has always been strongly pro-Israel, this has tended to benefit conservative Republicans, who combine support for Israel with conservative positions on other issues.

A good example of Christian leaders combining political conservatism with Christian Zionism is Rev Jerry Falwell, a leading figure in the Republican Party's extreme conservative wing in the 1980s and '90s. Falwell said in 1981: "To stand against Israel is to stand against God. We believe that history and scripture prove that God deals with nations in relation to how they deal with Israel."

Sociologically, Christian Zionism can be seen as a product of the peculiar circumstances of the United States, in which the world's largest community of religiously observant Jews lives side by side with the world's largest community of evangelical Protestant Christians. While there has historically been a hostile relationship between these two communities, their mutual reverence for the texts of the Jewish Bible has brought them together, as has their opposition to secularism and the anti-Israeli tendencies of the political left. They are also brought together by their mutual antipathy to Roman Catholicism, although this is seldom stated publicy. Another manifestation of this Jewish-Protestant interaction is Messianic Judaism, a movement which seeks to persuade Jews that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah.

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