The Jews called for our Lord to be crucified. They declared that His blood would be upon them and upon their descendants. The Jews persecuted the Church, putting to death early Christian believers. Even after their temple was destroyed and they were scattered from their homeland, they obstinately refused to hear the Gospel message. Wherever they have lived, the Jews have sought to undermine and pervert Christian society. Given all this, the phenomenon of Christian Zionism/philo-Semitism can be mind-boggling. Non-Christian or non-Evangelical observers rightly wonder how this theological abomination ever came to be taken seriously.
Christian Zionism did not emerge spontaneously in its present form. Like many of Satan’s deceptions, it was woven slowly over the centuries. Error was added upon error, until we reached the current situation where Christians have turned the apostate, Christ-hating Jews into an idol, in many cases even saying that the Jews do not need faith in Jesus to be saved. In order to better understand this heresy, we must turn to the early development of Christian Zionism in 17th century English Puritanism.
In his paper “The Idea of the Restoration of the Jews in English Protestant Thought, 1661-1701” (The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 78, No. 1/2 [Jan. – Apr., 1985], pp. 115-148) N.I. Matar explains that Christian Zionism emerged in the 17th century as a “novel” theological idea, and that in this early period, the conversion of the Jews to Christianity was just as important as their restoration to Palestine:
Three factors were seen to be instrumental in generating a hitherto novel principle in Christian theology: the military Turko-Catholic threat to Protestant Christendom, the Puritan millenarian speculations between 1640 and 1660, and England’s moral responsibility to the Jews. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the fear of Catholic Turkish military power led theologians to believe that the Jews’ conquest of Palestine would necessarily be preceded by victory over Islam and Catholicism. Consequently, they supported this Restoration as a means to their political end. Moreover, they believed that such a Restoration would lead to the fulfillment of the Pauline expectation of the millennial kingdom; the Jews’ Restoration to Palestine would inaugurate England’s messianic age. Also by concentrating on Romans 11, these English evangelists felt that they owed the Jews a debt which they could repay only by converting them to Christianity and restoring them to Palestine. This became the Englishman’s burden of responsibility to the Jews whose rejection of Christ in the first century had allowed the overall salvation of the Gentiles.
Then, as now, Christian Zionism was tied to a carnal view of the coming millennium, and to the belief that Jews can help us in our struggle against Islam. There was a striking difference, however, on the question of Jewish conversion. Early advocates of Jewish restoration to Palestine held that the Jews had to convert prior to their return. This view makes much more sense than that held by contemporary Christian Zionism. The Bible clearly states (Ezekiel 20:33-38) that only those Jews who have turned from their error to a right relationship with God can return to Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, it is clear that the territorial promises are conditional on Jewish obedience to God. This difference between early and later Christian Zionism is profound, because in early Christian Zionism the Jews are not to be trusted allies until after they convert. The current decline of Christendom rests upon the fatal error of thinking that the apostate Jews can be trusted. Christian Zionism has always been mistaken, but it did not become truly fatal to the Church until the necessity of conversion was abandoned.
However, even in its early stage Christian Zionism was still dangerous. When Christian Zionism first emerged in England, the Jews had been banned from that country for centuries. Christian Zionism was largely responsible for their re-admittance. The theological justification for re-admitting the Jews was based largely on a complete ignorance of Jewish behavior. Most English theologians had never known any Jews, and they thought of the Jews in exclusively Biblical terms. That is, they saw the Jews as figures out of the Old and New Testaments, not as the wandering, Talmud-believing parasites that they had become:
Few of the numerous writers had ever met a Jew in their lives; fewer cared for the Jews as a community of a specifically historical and religious culture. Englishmen restructured the Jews into a worldview that fitted their own Protestant ideals, and interpreted Jewish history and aspirations in light of English self-perception. Even after 1655, when Jews appeared in London, they were so few and unimposing that English writers felt no need to change their previous perceptions of them.
To their English hosts, the Jews were not an autonomous community with a distinct ethnic history, but potential Christians and spiritual descendants of Paul rather than Moses. Once the right circumstances and inducements prevailed, there was little doubt in the English mind that the Jews would renounce their Judaism and become as zealous in their Protestantism as were the Londoners themselves.
When the Jews were sympathetically treated in print, this was done in light of their hoped-for conversion to Christianity and their renunciation of their religious character and history. If “philo-semitism” means…a positive attitude toward the Jews, then it is too vaguely defined…because this philo-semitism was conditional on the Jews’ conversion to Christianity and their adoption of English culture and identity.
A more accurate description of the English attitude may be obtained by distinguishing between the “Hebraic” and the “Judaic” response to the Jews… Although such a distinction did not occur within Judaism itself, it certainly did occur in the English perception of the Jews. The “Hebraic” Old Testament character of the Jews was cherished because it had anticipated Christ and the New Testament, but the “Judaic” character (the Jews as a people, the Law, the Pharisees) was completely rejected. The “Hebraic” elements could be Christianized and were sympathetically adopted by the English; the “Judaic” elements remained part of the old law and the old covenant, not only opposed but also nullified. Thus, only after the English had imposed the prospect of conversion to Christianity upon the Jews did they respond to Jews positively; they called for Jewish settlement in England or Restoration to Palestine only insofar as that served the Protestant ideals of Christian England. There was neither a sympathetic address to the Jews nor a treatise encouraging tolerance that was not explicitly conversionist in purpose or “Hebraic” in emphasis.
The English expectation of mass conversion seems highly unrealistic, and lack of personal experience with Jews does not fully explain it. Surely the English theologians of the day were aware that Jews had lived amongst Christians for centuries without showing any inclination to convert. Despite this Jewish history of obstinacy, the English thought that the conversion of the Jews was imminent because English Protestantism represented a pure form of Christianity which Jews living in Catholic lands had not experienced:
Once the Jews walked in London streets, and exhibited a social and religious identity, embryonic as it was, the writers who had zealously advocated their return to England awaited the fulfillment of their conversionist expectations. The Jews, conversionists believed, now that they were in the midst of true and unadulterated Protestant Christianity, would quickly profess Jesus as Messiah. Theologians never tired of describing not only how vicious Catholics were to Jews, but also how Catholic idolatry had invariably repelled the Jews and prevented their conversion. In Protestant England, however, it was felt that the Jews had no excuse.
Of course this English hope of conversion was quite foolish, no matter how corrupt the Roman church had become. The Jews had collectively rejected Christianity in the earliest days of the Church. The Pharisees and their followers had rejected Jesus during his earthly ministry. What boldness is it to think that our own “purified” churches can succeed with the obstinate Jews when they rejected our Lord himself? But despite their initial foolishness, the English soon realized that their opinion of the Jews had been mistaken, something that today’s Christian Zionists seem incapable of doing:
But the London Jews…sought to settle in England not to be converted but to maintain their religious practice, and to do so publicly. They had no intention of becoming Protestants; rather they aimed to preserve their cultural and historical identity. Once that attitude became evident to Londoners in the mid- 1650s and early 1660s, there was an immediate backlash against allowing the Jews’ settlement in England.
Seeing that the Jews in London did not convert, but rather continued in their Judaic “unbelief,” English theologians turned against the idea of the Jews’ Restoration to Palestine. Indeed, it is in this period that the first detailed refutations of this principle appeared. Although prior to 1660 there was varied and serious opposition to the idea of Restoration, it was only now, after the Jews had settled in England but remained unconverted, that theologians began to doubt the validity of the Restorationist speculations…Since the Restoration principle was associated with conversion and since the hoped-for conversion did not take place, there was no valid theological reason to support the Restoration. Consequently, while the Restorationists and conversionists propagated their ideas, another camp appeared after 1660 that presented a detailed refutation of the Restoration idea.
The Christian Zionism of the 17th century emphasized the neccessity of Jewish conversion because Christians of that era understood that the restoration of apostate Israel would undermine Christianity. Shockingly, many contemporary Christian Zionists not only celebrate the restoration of Rabbinic and atheist Jews to Palestine, but even look forward to the day when the temple is rebuilt and sacrifices are once again offered. Christians in the 17th century understood that restoring unrepentant Israel would be not only an affront to God, but a threat to their own national sovereignty:
New Testament scholars like George Hickes, Henry Danvers, and Lancelot Addison rejected the Restorationist thesis because it was valid only within an Old Testament context. Within the Christian interpretation of the exilic prophecies any “return to Canaan” would necessitate a return to the “Mosaical Ritual” and that was not theologically permissible after Christ. Indeed, wrote a Jewish convert to Christianity addressing King Charles in 1662, the fact that there is no Jewish government now in Palestine, neither law nor Sanhedrin, leads to the conclusion that the Messiah must have already come. To support the Restoration would undermine Christianity because it would imply the nonfulfillment of the prophecies. That is why, he added, Jews should be encouraged to convert. Henry Danvers, one of the most important anti-Restorationists, emphasized that the fulfillment of prophecies in Christ completely annulled Jewish political anticipations. All that related “Carnally” to the Jews within the framework of their religion-their Abrahamic descent, tribal allegiance, and attachment to “their holy City or Nation”-was “Typical” of the Gospel fulfillment.
Having had physical contact with Jews in London, some English writers demonstrated intense hostility to their presence. They were appalled by Jewish adherence to the Mosaic law which they believed had long been repealed by Christianity. They could not understand why the Jews did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Having been subjected before 1660 to extensive writings on the Jews’ inevitable conversion and Restoration, theologians were shocked that such expectations were not forthcoming. More dangerous was Jewish messianism, which challenged both New Testament doctrine and the theological legitimacy of the English state. The Restoration to Palestine without the proviso of conversion undermined Christian doctrine and made England subservient to Israel.
“Jewish messianism”–the belief held by apostate Jews that the Old Testament prophecies promise their return to Israel–is the default view of contemporary Jewish Zionists. Today’s Christian Zionists eagerly make common cause with an ideology that 17th century Christians saw as a threat to their Church and nation.
Having looked at the emergence of Christian Zionism in England, we now turn to the spread of the ideology in early America. Americans were, naturally, heavily influenced by their English heritage in matters of religion, while also adding their own distinctive contributions. Robert K. Whalen (“Christians Love the Jews!” The Development of American Philo-Semitism, 1790-1860. Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, Vol. 6, No. 2 [Summer, 1996], pp. 225-259) explains how Christian Zionism in America developed:
In the early national period, religious literature abounded that foresaw the conversion of the Jews and the restoration of Israel as the ordained task of the millennial nation-the United States. This scenario was, allowing for exceptions, socially and theologically optimistic and politically liberal, as befit the ethos of a revolutionary era. By the eve of Civil War, however, countless evangelicals cleaved to a darker vision of Christ’s return in blood and upheaval…The deep emotional link between America and the Jews, forged earlier amidst an ethos of millennial optimism and national messianism, was reinterpreted through the immensely powerful, dark, and poetic imagery of premillennial apocalypticism. Philo-Semitism became enmeshed among conservative religious and social values espoused by those who looked to the Second Advent, not social reform, to remedy evils.
The Christian Zionism in the early American period was very similar to that of Puritan England. Like Puritan England, America had just emerged triumphant from a great military conflict, the results of which were thought to have world-historical significance. America was seen as the millennial nation that would lead mankind into an era of republican liberty. For many American Christians, the hopes for the blessed future of their own nation were tied together with the future restoration of the Jews to Palestine. And just like in 17th century England, at this time there was still a strong emphasis on Jewish conversion. According to Whalen, during this period there was:
…an optimistic philosophy of history that increasingly identified republican virtue with God’s incipient kingdom. The millennium, “the kingly government of Christ,” would begin in America. Naturally, the Jews would be Christianized (for how could there be a Christian millennium populated in part by those who reject Christ?) and, naturally, the millennial state-America- must take the lead in converting them and restoring them from their fallen status.
If the devout Christian wished to hurry the millennial glory…then feelings toward the Jews must center on the future (the millennium) and not the past (the crucifixion). The Christian could not walk once again in the Garden (a restored millennial earth) unless the Jew walked with him. As warned [a contemporary] journal, “The ultimate triumphs of Christianity are in a measure suspended on the conversion of the Jews.” Fulfillment of the Christian hope must be realized in company with the Jew or not at all…
The Jews were regarded prospectively and not retrospectively; as dear and future partners in God’s millennial bliss, not as guilty murderers from a distant era.
It is also important to note that early American Christians understood that the Jews were depraved. These Christians trusted that Jewish moral defects would be remedied in the coming millennial age, but for the time being, the Jews could not be viewed as equals. Another similarity to earlier English Zionism was that most Americans had absolutely no first-hand experience with Jews.
American Protestant philo-Semitism was, in fact, embarrassed from the start by the reality that “real life” Jewish-Christian interaction in America was scanty indeed….
[I]n 1819, the Female Society of Boston and the Vicinity for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews was forced to admit, “The Jews in our own country are inconsiderable.” It estimated the American Jewish population “at no less than three thousand living in unbelief.” So sparse were American Jews that these ladies were reduced to sending funds to Bombay, India-a place believed to have a larger Jewish settlement than any city in America.
Americans interested in the Jews dealt with a purely hypothetical commodity-the Christian’s Jew. This idealized Jew was regarded with benevolence leavened with a large dose of contempt and condescension. “A number of pious ladies” shook their heads in 1820 over “the deplorable situation of the Jews” and sighed that “the moral degradation of Israel is great.” They accepted unquestioningly centuries-old bromides, for of the Jews they noted: “Their obstinacy, their avarice, and their property are an astonishment to all nations.” The supposed property especially seemed to gall, for it was gotten in the age-old fashion of usury. A District of Columbia Episcopal magazine noted the Jews’ supposed abhorrence of honest labor: “With few, very few, exceptions, it may be said of them, they are no where occupied in agriculture; they are no where merchants; or, if at all, only on the most limited scale.” The result, naturally, was a chilliness of heart on the part of the Jews, an obsession only with gold and their own interests: “With the politics of the world they have no concern; and with the happiness or sufferings of others, little or no sympathy.”
In 1823, the Reverend J. Sanford was apologetic about his solicitude for the Jews, explaining to his auditors that the Jews’ degenerate nature was well enough understood: “I know they are stained with the Saviour’s blood, I know that the fearful imprecation of judgment still cleaves to them. I know that they are the children of those who killed the Lord of the prophets, and will contemptuously spit on the ground whenever his name is mentioned.” Nonetheless, charity led him to add: “It is not for us to avenge the wrongs of Christ.”
In short, Christians thought of the Jews as depraved and hostile to Christianity, but also as necessary allies in the coming age. We certainly cannot fault these Christians for their earnest efforts to convert the Jews. However, a major shift in Christian Zionism seems to have occurred in the mid-19th century (this is the same time period which saw the rise of the philo-Semitic heresiarch John Nelson Darby). Christian Zionists were gradually beginning to see the Jews less as wicked outcasts and more as glorious priests. They increasingly confused the current reality and the hoped-for future. The image of the redeemed Jew of the millennium was superimposed over the depraved Christ-killers who plunder and corrupt every nation naive enough to grant them refuge. Together with this increasing confusion there is an ever more exalted role for the Jews of the future to play in the salvation of the world. The Temple priesthood is even to be revived, despite the fact that Christ the perfect high-priest has already offered the perfect sacrifice:
The transformed relationship of Jew and Christian in the coming dispensation was spelled out by David Nevins Lord, a wealthy Manhattan dry goods merchant and leader of the New York millenarians. In 1849, he wrote: “That people are to be raised to a relation to him [Christ] of immeasurable dignity; and their office and agency are to be most important elements in the administration under which all the nations are to be sanctified, and the world made through an endless round of ages the abode of righteousness and bliss.” It was Lord’s belief that the Jews would resume their role as God’s priestly people on behalf of humankind: “The descendants of Levi are to be the ministers of the temple, sacrifices are to be offered in it, and all nations are to go to it to worship.”
Such views are far different from the scenario of scheming rabbis and distraught Judaism proffered a few years earlier by would- be Christian benefactors. In 1844, a gushy Charlotte Elizabeth enunciated the remarkable millenarian conviction that the Jews were once and future kings: “Though Judah has neither temple, or altar, nor sacrifice … all the arguments of all the theologians who ever wielded a pen, touching the supposed abrogation [of the role of the Jews as God’s anointed] would be, to me, as chaff before the wind, in the presence of a simple Cohen-or Aaronite-even were he but measuring me for a shoe.”
Mrs. Elizabeth’s “simple Cohen-or Aaronite” has little in common with the “Unsaved, unpitied, unforgiv’n” Jews of a few decades earlier. He is a figure of immense moral authority. Joseph A. Seiss, whose leadership in the millenarian movement continued into the twentieth century, warned Christians that “when we come into Israel’s presence, we should rather be humbled and solemn.” The prophetic destiny of the Jew was yet to be fulfilled: “He stands in our luxurious cities, and before our churches, as Jonah amid Nineveh, summoning us to repentance and mourning.” Philo-Semitism could go no further.
The Jew was now not simply equal to Christians, but actually superior to them, his DNA apparently more precious than the Christian’s faith. The apostate Jews, who have rejected the Messiah, are elevated to the level of an Old Testament prophet, while Christians, who enjoy the imputed righteousness of Christ, are compared to heathens. It is precisely this attitude, this veneration of Jewish blood, that is killing our society.
In this post I hope to have provided some important information on how Christian Zionism developed. Zionism is closely tied to particular views on the millennium, a very complex topic which I hope to examine in more detail in the future.