Christian Zionism I: Where Did It Come From?

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For Edwards, the two covenants were two phases or ways of performing the same one covenant. As Edwards put it early in his career, "The gospel was preached to the Jews under a veil." The process of conversion was the same for Jews in the Old Testament as for Christians in the New. They were "convinced so much of their wickedness that they trusted to nothing but the mere mercy of God." This included the antediluvians, and indeed all those who lived since "the beginning of the world." Even the rate of conversion was the same. There were wicked and godly then, and conversions were just as frequent then as in Edwards's day. Christ saved the Old Testament saints just like their cohorts in the New, and they believed in Christ, but under the name of the "angel of the Lord" or "messenger of the covenant." In fact, Christ appeared to Old Testament Jews; Moses saw his back parts on Mt. Sinai, and he appeared in human form to the seventy elders (Ex. 24:9-11) as well as to Joshua, Gideon, and Manoah. For that matter, every time God was said to have manifested himself to humans in a voice or otherwise tangible form, it was always through the second person of the Trinity.

Though the two covenants had two federal heads, Adam and Christ, and one was a "dead" way but the other "living," "in strictness of speech" they were not two but one. For they shared the same mediator, the same salvation (which means the same calling, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glory), and the same medium of salvation: the incarnation, suffering, righteousness, and intercession of Christ. The Holy Spirit was the same person applying Christ's redemption in both dispensations, and the method of obtaining salvation was the same—faith and repentance. The external means (the word of God and ordinances such as prayer and praise, sabbath, and sacraments) were not different. Nor were the benefits (God's Spirit by God's mere mercy and by a divine person—the angel of the Lord or Mediator) and future blessings. For both the condition was faith in the Son of God as Mediator, expressed with the same spirit of repentance and humility. This is why all parts of the Old Testament point to the future coming of Christ. In sum, the religion of the church of Israel is "essentially the same religion with that of the Christian church."

Edwards also determined that the Jews would return to their homeland. This would happen, he reasoned, because the prophecies of land being given to them had been only partially fulfilled. In the mid-18th century the majority of Jews were still living in the diaspora. It was also necessary for God to make them a "visible monument" of his grace and power at their return and then conversion. Canaan once again would be a spiritual center of the world. Although Israel would again be a distinct nation, Christians would have free access to Jerusalem because Jews would look on Christians as their brethren.

According to Arthur Hertzberg, this American linkage of Jewish conversion to the millennium was why "American intellectual anti-Semitism never became as virulent as its counterparts in Europe." Christians in Europe believed the End was in the indefinite future. But in America the End seemed near because of the influence of Puritan theology and its foregrounding of Israel, and according to these Puritans the End would not come without major changes in the fortunes of the Jews. So in the colonies, the Jewish question moved "to center stage."

So Edwards declined the invitation of the intellectual elites to minimize Christianity's debt to Judaism. If Christianity was the logical end of Judaism, its meaning could be found only through Judaism. The antitype was to be fully understood only by reference to its types. Hence tension in the Jewish-Christian relationship was a family quarrel. Edwards may have exercised a certain hubris by claiming that his Jewish brethren were less favored by their common Father, and indeed had been disowned. But he believed they would someday be reconciled to their divine Parent, and regain their status as children in full favor.

No evangelical thinker would ever again approach Edwards for subtlety and theological vision. But evangelicals continued his fascination with eschatology, and the Jewish role in it. In 1791 an evangelical Baptist minister, James Bicheno, published in London what was to be an influential and systematic treatment of prophetic themes, The Signs of the Times. Bicheno there argued that the restoration of Jews to Palestine must be imminent. For had not the Jews been given the "promised land" as their possession forever? Had not they received the Law, the revelation of God? And had not St. Paul insisted that in the end "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11.26)? Bicheno was the first to assert that it was in Britain's interest to use its foreign policy to promote the restoration of Israel, as a means of ushering in the millennium.

11/14/2013 5:00:00 AM