Christian Zionism II: Is It Bad Theology?

Evangelical scholar Thomas McComiskey adds that this last promise of land is not dropped by Paul, even if most Jews in Paul's day were rejecting Jesus. McComiskey argues that Paul refers to the Abrahamic promises in Galatians 3:15-29, all of which (Gen. 12:7, 13:15, 15:18, 17:8) refer to the land. Since Christ is the offspring to whom Paul refers ("Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring . . . that is, to one person, who is Christ," 3:16), McComiskey reasons that it cannot be only justification that the offspring (Christ and—implicitly for Paul—his body) inherit. Thus the promise may function differently under the new covenant, but it has not lost its territorial connotations. For McComiskey, the land has become a world (under the dominion of Christ) and it is typified by Israel's inheritance of Palestine. Both the type (the land of Palestine) and the anti-type (the world) are the inheritance allotted to Abraham's offspring, Christ-with-his-body.

If Paul research has shown new hope for the future of Israel and its land, so too has research into the historical Jesus, with E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, John P. Meier, and Ben F. Meyer among the most important scholars showing that Jesus was far more interested in Israel than scholars had previously imagined. Evangelical scholar Scot McKnight has pushed this further by arguing that Jesus intended to renew Israel's national covenant, not found a new religion. He wanted to restore the twelve tribes, which would bring the Kingdom of God in and through Israel. By his death, Jesus believed the whole Jewish nation was being nailed to the cross, and God was restoring the nation and renewing its people. Hence, salvation was first and foremost for Israel; if the nations wanted salvation they would need to assimilate themselves to saved Israel. By his claim to dispense forgiveness of sins and create a new community of restored Israel that would inherit the Kingdom of God, his disciples saw Jesus as the savior of Israel, as God coming to them through Jesus, leading the nation out of exile to regain control of the land.

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Roman Catholic historian Robert Wilken has observed that "hopes of restoration and the establishment of a kingdom in Jerusalem were not, it seems, foreign to early Christian tradition." The angel tells Mary that "the Lord God will give to [Jesus] the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever" (Lk. 1:32-33). Jesus himself seemed to anticipate the day when Jerusalem would welcome him: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord'" (Mt. 23.39). And, according to Wilken, the same Greek word translated "earth" (gēn) in Jesus' beatitude ("Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," Mt. 5:5) is the word usually translated as "land" in the Septuagint's phrase "possess the land" elsewhere in the Bible.

If . . . one interprets Jesus as within, rather than against, his Jewish world, the translation "possess the land" merits consideration. . . . [I]t is a recurring refrain in Jewish history, and in Jesus' time it was one way of designating the messianic kingdom centered in Jerusalem. "Inherit the earth" captures neither the spiritual nor the territorial overtones of the phrase.

But if Paul and Jesus scholarship has eroded support for supersessionism, most Protestant and Catholic scholars have not embraced the countervailing notion that God has a present and future role for Jews in the land of Palestine. That is, while most Protestant and Catholic scholars since the Holocaust fall over each other reaffirming God's eternal covenant with Israel, for the most part they ignore what for most Jews is absolutely integral to that covenant: the land. Jews appreciate Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant affirmations that God's covenant with Israel is eternal, but wonder why they ignore or deny what they believe is an indispensable manifestation of the covenant. As the authors of "Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity" put it, "The most important event for Jews since the Holocaust has been the reestablishment of a Jewish state in the Promised Land." They add, "Israel was promised—and given—to Jews as the physical center of the covenant between them and God." Yet most Protestant and Catholic affirmations of the Jewish covenant ignore this central component. A letter writer to the Christian Century complained that the editor's approach to the land of Israel "is roughly equivalent to a Jew asking a Protestant teenager: 'Hey, what's up with the resurrection thing?' A Judaism without the [covenantal] component of the land of Israel is a faith shorn of most of its power." This is in part because, as the National Council of Synagogues argues, "God wants the nations to see the redemption of Israel and be impressed. . . . They will therefore learn, if they had not learned before, that the Lord, God of Israel, restores His people to His land."

11/17/2013 5:00:00 AM
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