“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Romans 10:1-2)
Why is there such a close relationship today between the Christian Right, the American political establishment and the State of Israel? Why after 40 years, does Israel continue to occupy territory in Lebanon (the Sheba Farms), Syria (the Golan Heights) and Palestine (the West Bank) while Syria has been pressured to withdraw from Lebanon? Why is Israel allowed to retain nuclear weapons while Iran is threatened with a pre-emptive attack for aspiring to obtain nuclear technology? And how have Britain and America become the focus of so much hate in the Arab world and the target for Islamic terrorism – despite out commitment to the rule of international law, democracy and human rights? The answers to these questions remain inexplicable unless we factor in what is now probably the most influential and controversial movement amongst Christians today – Christian Zionism.
The Significance of Christian Zionism
Let me give you a flavour of the movement and their strategy from a recent speech given by John Hagee. Hagee is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church, an 18,000 member evangelical church in San Antonio in Texas. Hagee broadcasts a national radio and television ministry to Americans on 160 T.V. stations, 50 radio stations and eight networks into an estimated 99 million homes worldwide on a weekly basis. In 2006 he founded Christians United for Israel with the support of 400 other Christian leaders.
For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the evangelical community over television. The bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits “I believe the Bible,” I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have the Christians over a barrel, you might say.
The assumption Hagee makes, that Bible-believing Christians will be pro-Israel, is the dominant view among evangelical Christians, especially in the USA. In March 2007, Hagee was a guest speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. He began with these words: “The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened.
There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the State of Israel…” As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, his speech did not lack clarity. He went on to warn:
It is 1938. Iran is Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat and stand boldly with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… Think of our potential future together: 50 million evangelicals joining in common cause with 5 million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven.
The Pew Research Centre recently discovered that 60% of evangelicals said they supported the state of Israel, and 32% cited their religious beliefs as the primary reason for such support.
The Unity Coalition for Israel, which brings together over 200 different autonomous organizations, is the largest pro-Israel network in the world. They claim to have 40 million active members, and lobby on behalf of Israel through 1,700 religious radio stations, 245 Christian TV stations, and 120 Christian newspapers.  Besides, Christian’s United for Israel, the other three largest Christian Zionist organizations are the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, Christian Friends of Israel and Bridges for Peace. A powerful lobby movement? You bet. Christian Zionism is undoubtedly a dominant force shaping US foreign policy in the Middle East.
What about your Presuppositions?
Discovering what the Bible has to say about the relationship between Israel and the Church, in history and prophecy, is not just an academic exercise. What we believe and understand affects how we behave and act. Let me illustrate. If you believe the Bible predicts an imminent war of Armageddon with Israel and the United States on one side and the Islamic and Communist world on the other, then you will not lose any sleep over the stalled peace process. And when you read about yet more bloodshed and suffering in the Middle East it will confirm what you already think is going to happen.
However, if you believe peace and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is not only possible, but also God’s will; that the UN Declaration of Human Rights is based on Judeo-Christian principles; and that the consistent implementation of international law should form the basis for our diplomacy in the Middle East, then you will act to achieve peace with justice. Our presuppositions not only shape our beliefs but also our actions.
Postponement or Fulfilment?
Why does this subject arouse such strong emotions among Christians, and evangelicals? Because the very gospel is at stake. The question to have at the back of your mind as you read further is this: Did the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection and the founding of the Church, fulfil or postpone the biblical prophecies concerning Israel? Is the Church central to God’s purposes on earth, or a temporary side show? In answering this question, evangelicals tend to fall into one of two camps – covenantalists and dispensationalists. Now there are variations of each, but if you haven’t heard of the terms before, you are not alone. Most evangelicals don’t necessarily know which they are.
Covenantalism or Dispensationalism?
Covenantalists tend to see the coming of Jesus as the fulfilment of the promises made to Israel while dispensationalists tend to see it as the postponement of those promises. Covenantalists believe the Bible teaches that God has one ‘chosen people’ called out from among the nations. Dispensationalists believe the Bible teaches that God has two separate and distinct peoples – the Church and Israel. They believe that the biblical promises made to the ancient Israelites apply to their Jewish descendents today. If Covenantalists emphasize the continuity within God’s progressive revelation, Dispensationalists emphasize the discontinuity, distinguishing seven ‘dispensations’ in biblical history when God has tested mankind in a different way, and each time they have failed. They believe the present Church Age or Dispensation of Grace will fail and soon come to an end. Then during the Millennium, Jesus will reign as King of the Jews in Jerusalem and the unfulfilled promises of the Old Testament will be realised.
Covenantalists tend to regard promises relating to the Land, Jerusalem and the temple as annulled or fulfilled in the Church. Dispensationalists tend to see them as still in force and either being, or about to be, fulfilled in Israel today. Covenantalists tend to be neutral or positive about the future before the return of Jesus being either amillennial or postmillennial. Dispensationalists tend to be premillennial and pessimistic about the future.
Read more here and other chapters here. Buy the book here.
Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions summarises the book.
A set of Seven Bible Studies can be downloaded here.
 John Hagee, The One Jerusalem Blog, 25 January 2007. http://www.onejerusalem.org/blog/archives/2007/01/audio_exclusive_12.asp <Accessed March 2007>
 “Christians for Israel” Editorial, The Jerusalem Post, 14 March 2007. http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1173879085796&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull <Accessed March 2007>
 The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Many Americans Uneasy with Mix of Religion and Politics,” August 24, 2006. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, http://peoplepress.org/reports/display.php3?PageID=1084 <accessed March 2007>
 The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, “Americans’ Support for Israel Unchanged by Recent Hostilities,” July 26, 2006. The Pew Research Center, http://pewresearch.org/reports/?ReportID=37
 http://www.israelunitycoalition.org/about/index.php <Accessed March 2007>
 See Robert Jewett & John Shelton Lawrence, Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2003); Timothy Weber, On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals became Israel’s Best Friend (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2004); and John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, ‘The Israeli Lobby’, The London Review of Books, 23 March 2006, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/mear01_.html
 See chapter 7 and the glossary for an explanation of these terms.