In general terms, Zionism refers to the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland (the process of aliyah) and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. So a “Zionist” is a Jew who supports the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel (irrespective of where he or she lives). Moreover, some believe the Jewish state could be part of any partition of the land – as in the 1947 UN Partition Plan, link.
That said, Zionism means different things to different people depending upon their political and religious persuasion. Today there is much confusion over Zionism amongst Jews themselves, link, and in the world at large, link.
See also Meaning of ‘Zion’
Lawyer and writer Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) is credited as being the ‘father’ of Zionism. More accurately, he was the father of political Zionism since he was a secular, non-Hebrew speaking, cosmopolitan intellectual who proposed a secular/political solution to the Jewish problem. So at the outset, Zionism had strong secular roots since Herzl himself did not believe in or practice the Torah.
Antisemitism in Europe convinced Herzl that the Jewish problem needed a national and political solution and that Jews needed their own Jewish state. In 1896 he published “Judenstaat” (“The Jewish State“) and he convened the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland in 1897. He later claimed, link:
At Basle, I founded the Jewish State … Perhaps in five years, certainly in fifty, everyone will realize it
At this time it appears that he did not have Palestine primarily in mind, proposing in 1903 that the Jews settle in the British territory of Uganda. Herzl refused to accept that Palestine alone must be the Zionist goal. But many eastern European Jews would not accept any homeland other than the land of Zion (in fact, the term itself comes from the hill Zion on which the Temple of Jerusalem was situated). They saw the solution to antisemitism in a return to Jewish ‘roots’ and in a renewal of a Jewish people in the land of their ancestors. So Herzl eventually came to appreciate that the creation of such a Jewish state could be feasible only in Palestine, the traditional homeland of the Jewish people. This birthed ‘political’ Zionism.
Summary: Political Zionism could be defined as:
The national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty (leading to statehood) in the Land of Israel
At the time of the 1897 Basle Congress, many Orthodox Jews completely rejected any Jewish political movement, and for many years political Zionism excluded the whole religious establishment, link. Orthodox Jews played no important role in politics except in pressuring successive governments to introduce more Jewish religious regulations into state law. For example, ultra-Orthodox Jews or “Haredim” have never recognized the State of Israel, and up to recently have been exempt from military service (recent Israeli law has abolished blanket military exemption, link).
Jewish opposition to political Zionism can be understandable. Some rabbis have opposed the secular drive to establish a Jewish state and Jewish government on the grounds that it seeks to change the essence of Judaism and substitute chauvinism and militarism and loyalty to the Zionist state for the lofty and unchangeable principles of the Jewish faith, link, link. These anti-Zionist Jews argue that the Jewish redemption will come only with the coming of the Moshiach (the Messiah), and that the establishment of the Zionist state before that time is heretical and blasphemous, link. Such Jews are also critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
Certainly, from a biblical viewpoint it is clear that the Jewish nation and the land given to the nation (Canaan) was solely the work of God and not the work of the politicians of the day:
The Lord said to Abram (Abraham) … I will make you a great nation … and in you all the families of the earth shall be a blessed
Also I give to you and your descendants … all the land of Canaan (modern Israel) as an everlasting possession
So, logically, some argue that the last days restoration of the Jewish nation must also be the work of God alone.
But surely God can use secular means, as in political Zionism, to achieve His will? Isn’t what we see today in aliyah, Jewish nationalism and the amazing restoration of the land actually an out-working of God’s unconditional and eternal Covenant with Abraham, link?
The Balfour Declaration – Jews and Gentiles work Together
The mid-late 19th century saw a great move of God amongst leading Protestants and Jews. Protestant leaders like Bishop J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon taught about the restoration of Jews to their biblical homeland, as seen in Bible prophecy. As Bible scholars, they longed for the Second Coming of Christ, but they realized from prophecy that before that can happen the Jews must be drawn back ‘home’. Such Christian teaching greatly influenced the British Government of the time. As already discussed, around the same time, Theodor Herzel (an Austrian Jewish journalist) saw the antisemitism around him and the need for a Jewish State. So with the help of his friend Rev W. Hechler (an Anglican clergyman, crusader against antisemitism, and follower of Ryle and Spurgeon), they birthed ‘political’ Zionism. Because of his Christian beliefs, Hechler was one of the first so-called ‘Christian Zionists’ (see later).
The early 20th century saw more Jew-Gentile collaboration. Chaim Weizmann (a Jew and biochemist) came to England in 1904 and soon became a leader among British Zionists. In January 1906 Weizmann met Arthur Balfour (pictured), a UK politician and former Prime Minister, and persuaded him to look to Jerusalem for the Jewish capital and to Palestine for the Jewish homeland. Being an evangelical Christian, Balfour found the spiritual side of Zionism appealing. But he took no political steps in this direction until 1917, when he was British Foreign Secretary under British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Lloyd George, who had an evangelical upbringing, made the decision to publicly support Zionism. No doubt this was backed by most of the war cabinet in 1917 since most were evangelical Christians! That said, it seems there were also political motives. Lloyd George saw that British dominance in Palestine (a land bridge between the crucial territories of India and Egypt) was as an essential post-war goal.
The Letter: Prompted by government support and Zionist leaders like Weizmann, Balfour wrote a public letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent Zionist and a friend of Chaim Weizmann. Rothschild was head of the English branch of the Jewish banking family. This historic letter became known as the Balfour Declaration. It reads:
His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country [November 2, 1917]
This letter laid the foundations for the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine.
The Out-working of Zionism
Whilst Christians claim the universal blessing came through Christ, by then, God’s flagship nation and chief witness had mostly lost her identity amongst the nations. Israel was scattered in disgrace and some maintain that the New Testament Church has now replaced Israel as God’s witness (replacement theology). But since God gave Abraham an unconditional covenant, then national Israel must one day fulfill her role as God’s witness and return to the Promised Land (this is also required by other key prophecies). In fact, God did not destroy national Israel – He simply gave her a ‘writ of divorce’ (see for example Jer 3.8) – and there are many prophecies of the ingathering of national Israel and her ‘remarriage’ to her God. For example:
Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone … and bring them into their own land (Ezek 37.21)
I will say to the north,’Give them up! … bring My sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth’ (Isa 43.6)
And (the Lord) will lift up a standard for the nations, and assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth (Isa 11.12)
These prophecies have seen recent fulfillment as the concept of Zionism and the in-gathering and restoration of Israel started in the late 19th century.
Some Restoration Facts
- 1882: First wave of emigration (first ‘Aliyah’ or ascent) to Palestine, particularly from Russia and Romania
- 1897: Theodor Herzel convened the First Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland
- 1917: General Allenby liberated Jerusalem from the Turks, giving Jews access to the city
- 1948: State of Israel established; David Ben Gurion became the first Prime Minister
- 1950: Law of return passed by Israel’s Parliament – opening Israel to Jews from over 60 countries
- 1967: All of Jerusalem came under Jewish rule
- Jewish population: 1915: 0.08m; 1945: 0.55m; 1967: 2.4m; 2005: 5.3m; 2016: 6.4m or 75% of the population; link
Note that 1917 saw Jerusalem liberated from Gentile control after some 2500 years, link. This was the start of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy:
Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Lk 21.24)
Jerusalem then came under the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine, and after the 1967 six-day war all of Jerusalem returned to the total control of national Israel. Many see this as the fulfillment of Lk 21.24.
Today, the goal of a State of Israel has been achieved, but the Aliyah continues. For example, to date, some 130,000 Ethiopian Jews have migrated to Israel, with more to come, link. Also, a tribe called the Bnei Menashe in India has maintained their Jewish roots and believe they belong to the lost 10 tribes. In 2014 some 7,000 returned to their ancient homeland. And the role of Zionist organizations like the Jewish Agency & WZO continue to oversee aliyah, immigration, settlement and education.
Christian Zionism is based upon God’s Covenant with Abraham and so can be defined as Christian support for the Zionist cause, as in the return (aliyah) of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland in Israel. These Christians believe that, according to direct interpretation of Bible prophecy, scattered Israel (Jews in the broadest sense) must return to her Promised Land (Canaan) before Jesus returns to Earth as king. They believe there remains a national destiny over the Jewish people and her national homeland is her everlasting possession in fulfillment of God’s plans and purposes for her, link. They hold to dispensational theology (fostered by John Darby) and believe that the Jewish people have a crucial role to play in the end time confrontation between good and evil (Armageddon) and in the return of Christ. Christian Zionists also recognize the fundamental Jewish foundation of Christianity, without which there would be no Christianity.
Such belief motivates Christian Zionists to provide political and financial support to Israel and Jewish causes. Zionists represent a powerful political force in America and often oppose a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution since they see it as unbiblical. Sadly, many Jews are uncomfortable with Christian Zionism and perceive it as an opportunity for evangelical proselytizing!
God’s Covenant with Abraham does not of course mention a latter-day ‘Jewish state’ or ‘Jewish government’ as seen by ‘political’ Zionism; prophecy simply describes the return of scattered Israel to her homeland. Nevertheless, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is seen by Christian Zionists as fulfillment of God’s Covenant with Abraham, link. This fundamentalist interpretation of Bible prophecy puts Christian Zionism in a bad light with the institutionalized church, with academia and with the media. It is seen as a gross misreading of the Bible, as ignoring the plight of the Palestinians, and as uncritical support for Israeli politics, link. Such Christian anti-Zionist views lead to church boycotts of Israel.
The Meaning of ‘Zion’ in the Bible
The word ‘Zion’ (Heb: tsiyon) occurs over 150 times in the Bible. It first appears in 2 Sam 5.6,7 where the term refers to the Jebusite fortress or stronghold in Jerusalem captured by David. It was then renamed the ‘City of David’. So Zion is synonymous with Jerusalem and the City of David and it is generally agreed that it was located on the long eastern ridge (running north-south) of present-day Jerusalem, link. It is interesting that the ‘elevation’ of Zion is actually referred to in Ps 2.6 and Ps 48.2. Later, when Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, ‘Zion’ expanded in meaning to include the Temple and the area surrounding it. So Mt. Zion is synonymous with Mt. Moriah, the site of the Temple, a mountain of Jerusalem, link.
Whilst Zion generally refers to the city of Jerusalem, it is also used in scripture to refer to the land or cities of Judah (Isa 40.9 Ps 137.1-4) and to God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel (Isa 51.16 Zech 9.13). The following prophecy was fulfilled when the State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948:
Shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor she gave birth to her children (Isa 66.8)
Prophecy shows that Zion (Jerusalem) becomes of prime importance in the millennial age because Christ reigns as King from there:
For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place (Ps 132.13) … And I will make the place of My feet glorious … and they shall call you The City of the LORD, Zion of the Holy One of Israel (Isa 60.13,14)
Looking even further into the future, Zion also refers to the future heavenly Jerusalem, a ‘city’ which embraces all the saved of mankind:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12.22)
You Need to Watch this Video
The following video highlights the restoration of Israel (her ingathering from the nations), the recent persecution of the Jews, the making of a nation from nothing, the revival of the Hebrew language (formerly a dead language), the making of a democracy in the Middle East, the benefits of modern Israel to the world, the hatred of the world towards Israel, and the eventual recognition of the Jewish people by the Gentile nations.