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Is Jesus a Zionist?

Jesus would find modern Zionism peculiar. More than that, in his own day, he rejected the closest thing to it. But first let’s explain our terms.

Zionism is a political ideology that promotes the aspirations of the modern state of Israel. Christian Zionism shares these same political views but integrates theological interests. Thus Christian Zionism employs the Bible in order to say that faithfulness to God should be expressed in terms of faithfulness to modern Israel’s future. This is not about defending or respecting Judaism (though some may make that claim). It is about claiming that the secular state of Israel has divine privileges that no other nation has. It asserts that God’s purposes are being realized in the pursuit of Israel’s security and prosperity.

It is about claiming that the secular state of Israel has divine privileges that no other nation has.

In Jesus’ day, there were many Jews urging their neighbors to engage in political activism on behalf of Israel—they said that this was a divine duty. Some used diplomatic leverage (the Pharisees, the Herodians) while others used raw violence (the Zealots). But in each case, the aim was the same. Advancing Israel’s political fortunes was a matter of faith.

In Mark 12:13-17 (also Matt 22:15-22 and Lk 20:20-26) Jesus is approached by political strategists (Pharisees and Herodians) who want to know if Jews were obligated to pay taxes to Caesar. This is a veiled political question.

In AD6 a political revolt was begun by a man named Judas the Galilean (see Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1) who declared that Jews should refuse to pay taxes to a pagan oppressor like Caesar. This was, he argued, treason to God. The revolt was crushed but this political resistance lived on into Jesus’ day. Jesus is being tested here.

The revolt was crushed but this political resistance lived on into Jesus’ day.

Now that we know more about its context, we might paraphrase the dialogue in this way: Jesus, do you agree with the resistance movement that wants to purge non-Jews from the Holy Land by defeating the Romans? Do you agree with the tax revolt? Jesus’ answer is simple: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Or to paraphrase again: Gentlemen, I am not interested in these political ambitions. My kingdom is of a different order. Jesus is rejecting an ancient Zionist agenda to promote Israel’s fortunes as a matter of faith.

For many Jews, the coming of the messiah was linked to Israel’s political restoration. So in Luke 19:11, as Jesus nears Jerusalem, people believe that the kingdom of God would appear immediately. They are incorrect.

Something similar occurs in Acts 1:6. Here the disciples see Jesus’ amazing resurrection glory and immediately their minds are consumed with political questions. Would Jesus now restore Israel to its previous glory? This question is understandable. When Jesus talks about the Spirit (1:8) and the kingdom, we have the two ideas that supplied Jews with their “restoration hope:” The messiah would establish a Spirit-filled kingdom and this kingdom would be found in Israel’s political restoration.

Jesus is rejecting an ancient Zionist agenda.

But Jesus rejects this notion. Instead, the mission of his kingdom is to transform the world (not just Israel). If Jewish expectation was local (Israel), Jesus’ expectations was global (all the earth). If Jewish expectation was tribal (blessing Israel), Jesus’ expectation was universal (blessing all).

What is clear is that Jesus separates himself from those who would merge political aspirations for Israel into matters of personal faith.

There is no political exclusivism for Israel in the gospel.

Jesus announces his messianic kingdom. But this cannot be confused with the kingdoms of this world. Jesus’ respect for his own Jewish culture and the land of Israel itself is profound. But God’s purposes are not confined to one ethnicity or one land. There is no political exclusivism for Israel in the gospel. And therefore, there is no room for a political theology like Zionism in Jesus’ teachings.


This is the second post in our 6-part series Israel-Palestine: The View From Here. Don't want to miss a post? Join in here (or at the button below) for weekly email updates


Editor's note: The Middle East Study Trip report concluded that the major contribution the CRC can make as agencies, institutions, and individuals is to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians -- particularly our sisters and brothers in Christ -- among our members and friends. Its recommendations were accepted by the Board of Trustees (now the Council of Delegates) on behalf of Synod, and were subsequently implemented. To learn more about how the Christian Reformed Church thinks about injustice and the persecution of the Church, see the Belhar Confession and the Belgic Confession, respectively. 

[Image: Mariano Avila]


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