Zionism is a political movement that supports the re-establishment and development of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. Christian Zionism is support for Zionism from a Christian theological perspective. At its core, Christian Zionism sees the Jewish people’s return to Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and God’s divine will.
The origins of Zionism as a modern political movement can be traced to the late 19th century, though the concept of a Jewish return to Zion (Jerusalem) has roots in Judaism dating back thousands of years. Theodor Herzl is considered the father of modern Zionism. His 1896 book The Jewish State made the case for Jewish statehood and influenced early Zionist congresses.
Christian theological support for Jewish Zionism has precedents throughout church history, from the early church to the Reformation. But Christian Zionism coalesced into a distinct theological and political movement in the 19th century, particularly in Great Britain. Key figures such as William Hechler, Anthony Ashley Cooper, and Charles Henry Churchill linked biblical prophecy to their advocacy for a Jewish state in Palestine under British protection.
After Israel’s formation in 1948, Christian Zionists were disappointed that more Jews did not immigrate to Israel. But after 1967’s Six-Day War, when Israel gained control of Jerusalem, Christian Zionism grew into a major force, particularly in the United States. Key leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Hal Lindsey preached that Israel’s rebirth was the fulfillment of end times prophecies and lobbied politicians to support Israel.
Today, Christians United for Israel is the largest Christian Zionist group with over 7 million members. Within Israel, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has been an influential Christian Zionist organization since 1980.
Biblical Basis for Christian Zionism
Christian Zionists root their theological views in the writings of Hebrew prophets and the teachings of the New Testament. Some key biblical passages include:
- God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham promising his descendants the land of Israel (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:18-21).
- Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s restoration after exile (Jeremiah 30:3, Ezekiel 36:24).
- The book of Revelation’s account of 144,000 Jews converting to Christianity in the end times (Revelation 7:4-8, 14:1-5).
- Paul’s teaching about Jewish acceptance of Jesus preceding his second coming (Romans 11:25-27).
Christian Zionists see the Jewish people’s modern return to Israel and Israeli control over Jerusalem as the fulfillment of prophecy and an important sign of the approaching end times. Establishing a Jewish state is God’s divine will. Therefore, believers have a duty to support Israel politically and financially.
Key Beliefs of Christian Zionism
While not all Christian Zionists agree on every detail of theology and eschatology (study of end times), most share these key beliefs:
- God’s everlasting covenant with Israel. God made irrevocable promises to give the land of Canaan to the Jews. Israel remains God’s chosen people.
- The promised land. All of Jerusalem and the West Bank rightfully belong to the Jewish people based on God’s covenant.
- Prophecies being fulfilled. Modern events like the birth of Israel and Israeli control of Jerusalem show prophecy about Israel’s restoration is coming to pass.
- End times theology. The rapture of Christians will precede a 7 year tribulation. Jewish conversion during the tribulation precedes Christ’s return.
- Christian duty to Israel. Believers are called to financially support Israel and lobby their governments to support Israel.
Criticisms of Christian Zionism
Some of the main criticisms leveled against Christian Zionism include:
- Bad eschatology. Critics say promises about Israel’s land and prophecy are being misinterpreted or taken out of context from their original biblical meaning.
- Hurts peace efforts. Unconditional support for Israel undermines efforts for a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
- Encourages unjust policies. Some actions by the Israeli government, like settlement building in the West Bank, are unjust but supported by Christian Zionists.
- Manipulative relationship. Christian Zionists are accused of only supporting Israel to further their own end times theology, not because they care about Jews.
- Inconsistent theology. Support for Jewish traditions seems inconsistent with the New Testament’s critique of customs like Sabbath-keeping.
Responding to these criticisms, Christian Zionists say God’s promises to Israel are unconditional, so believers are simply being faithful to the Bible. They deny their support hurts peace efforts or backs unjust policies. While acknowledging theological disagreements, they feel unity around God’s purposes for the Jewish people.
Variations Within Christian Zionism
While sharing core beliefs, Christian Zionists differ on some important details of theology and politics. Some of the main variants include:
- Role of proselytization. Some want to convert Jews to Christianity, while others say Jews don’t need to convert before Christ returns.
- Timing of Christ’s return. Some predict definite dates, while others hesitate to set specific timetables.
- Geopolitical positions. Most oppose giving up land, but some support a two-state solution if Israel agrees to it.
- Level of activism. Some focus on education and fundraising, while groups like Christians United for Israel actively lobby politicians to support pro-Israel policies.
There is also diversity among Christian Zionists in areas like their historical beliefs about Israel, which prophecies they emphasize, and their interest in practicing Jewish customs like Sabbath observances and feasts.
Christian Zionism and Judaism
The relationship between Christian Zionism and Judaism is complex. On the positive side, Christian Zionist activism has led to concrete financial and political support for Israel. But suspicions remain due to historic tensions over issues like missionizing and differences in Messianic beliefs.
Areas of theological tension include Christian Zionism’s focus on prophetic events preceding Jesus’ second coming, which some Jews see as encouragement to manipulate world events. There is also discomfort with the ultimately vision that righteous Jews will convert and recognize Jesus as their Messiah.
However, Jewish leaders have acknowledged areas of common ground as well. Both groups see Israel’s formation as the fulfillment of ancient prophecy. They share concern over threats to Israel’s security from terrorism and hostile nations. Politically, the Israeli government and Jewish organizations have frequently cooperated with Christian Zionist groups to advance shared policy goals.
Surveys show Jewish Americans overall have mixed views of Christian Zionists. While appreciating their support of Israel, majorities feel Christian Zionists only do so to advance their own religious goals rather than genuine care about the Jewish people and Israel.
Prominent Christian Zionist Leaders
Some of the most influential Christian Zionist leaders and organizations include:
- Jerry Falwell – Founded Moral Majority and spoke out in strong support of Israel. Liberty University continues his legacy.
- Pat Robertson – Host of the 700 Club. His book The New Millennium promoted prophetic significance of Israel’s rebirth.
- Hal Lindsey – Wrote the mega-bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth, which prophesied Israel’s role in end times events.
- Tim LaHaye – Co-authored the hugely successful Left Behind series of prophecy novels with a Christian Zionist perspective.
- John Hagee – Founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest Christian Zionist organization.
- Mike Evans – Heads the Jerusalem Prayer Team, which raises funds to immigrate Jewish people to Israel.
- International Christian Embassy Jerusalem – Set up in 1980 to show solidarity with Israel over Jerusalem.
Christian Zionism’s Political Influence
Christian Zionism has exerted notable influence on politics in the United States and Israel. Areas of impact include:
- U.S. public opinion – Polls show most evangelicals, a key Republican constituency, support Israel’s position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- U.S. foreign policy – America provides billions in foreign aid to Israel every year. Presidents from both parties back resolutions supporting Israel at the UN.
- Israeli politics – Christian Zionist groups lobby Israeli leaders against compromise with Palestinians. They support conservative parties and politicians.
- U.S.-Israel relations – Warm relations between the U.S. and Israel have strong popular backing. Any friction brings fierce criticism of U.S. leaders.
However, quantifying the precise policy impact of Christian Zionism is difficult. Other factors like shared strategic interests and the pro-Israel lobbying of AIPAC also exert significant influence.
Some argue Christian Zionism’s influence is exaggerated. They point out that most Americans favor Israel for reasons other than theology. And many Jews and Christians dispute dispensationalist readings of prophecy while still supporting Israel.
The Future of Christian Zionism
Looking ahead, Christian Zionism faces some potential headwinds but remains a potent force in evangelical Christianity:
- Younger evangelicals are less supportive of Israel and less focused on end times prophecy.
- Growing diversity inside Israel and Palestine challenges black-and-white narratives.
- Cooperation between Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians may increase.
- Critiques from Palestinian Christian leaders like Mitri Raheb are gaining traction.
However, surveys still show strong support for Israel among evangelicals. Major Christian Zionist organizations remain well-funded and influential. Countering dominant end times narratives is difficult.
Key factors to watch will be how younger leaders shape their movement’s Israel stance and whether emerging voices from the global church impact American Christian Zionism. But based on its deep doctrinal roots and massive support system, Christian Zionism seems poised to remain highly impactful for the foreseeable future.