For over one hundred years the Jewish people have been returning to Zion. This has been such a universal enterprise that it can hardly be considered as some sort of fluke or accident. Today, there are many countries where Jews lived for hundreds and even thousands of years, that are now virtually emptied of their Jewish populations. The founding of the State of Israel and its rise to great international prominence, in the face of almost world-wide antagonism, simply cannot be overlooked. God has been doing something with the Jewish people in our day!
Quite often, God uses natural phenomenon to teach us spiritual lessons. It actually seems that spiritual developments run parallel and are even hidden deep within the natural ones. In the Bible we learn that the natural precedes the spiritual (1 Cor.15:46). Often the two seem to be very closely associated, like body and soul. The physical return of the Jewish people to Zion is a strong argument for the continued involvement of the God of the Bible in the historical process. It is also a strong argument that parallel spiritual things are happening. What implications can we draw from it all? Is the return to Zion relevant for the church and for us? Let us look at some possibilities.
A RETURN TO THE WORD OF GOD
The return to Zion is a return to the word of God. Truly there would have been no return without that word. Those ancient words of Israel’s prophets have resounded over the ages in the hearts and minds of God’s people. Isaiah says, “The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing” (Isa. 51:11). Jeremiah says: “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd’” (Jer. 31:10).
Many Jews have believed in that word over the centuries. In addition, we will never know how many Christians have also stood on God’s unchanging word and proclaimed the return to Zion. Many went on record with their views. There was the theologian Thomas Brightman (1562-1607), who has been credited with being the “father” of the British concept of the Restoration of the Jews. There were the two English Puritans, Joanna and Ebenezer Cartwright who published their views in 1649, with a petition to the English Parliament in favor of the Jewish return to the land.* There were countless others who dared take their stand on the eternal word of God (Isa. 40:8).
When the Jews began to return to the land, those early Zionists were not motivated specifically by the word. Some were, but not all. Nevertheless, the return to Zion brings about an inescapable encounter with God’s word. For instance, there are literally hundreds of places in Israel that speak of days of old and personalities of long ago. In Israel on a short drive one may pass Rachel’s Tomb or David’s City. In Israel, most of the city names conjure up familiar stories – names like Jaffa, Bethlehem, Hebron, and of course Jerusalem. Israel is a land of the word of God and to visit Israel is to encounter the word. With each new archaeological discovery, with each new prophetic fulfillment, the word of God continues to come alive in the land.
It is surely interesting that as soon as the vote for partition took place, making the way for Israel to be a nation once more on November 30, 1947, a drama was going on concerning the word of God. On the very next day after the partition vote in the UN, the first installment of the now famous Dead Sea Scrolls containing Isaiah and other books was handed over to the Hebrew University and to the people of Israel.** These precious scrolls containing God’s word had been hidden in jars near Qumran from the time that Israel had gone into captivity in AD 70 until their discovery. At the moment of her national resurrection, the ancient scrolls were discovered and returned to her.
A RETURN TO GOD’S LAW & GOVERNMENT
The return to Zion is surely a return to God’s law and government. I fear that we have lost much of our understanding of law. The modern church has been swept up in the liberation movements blossoming in the 60s. No doubt the trend actually began much earlier with some of the philosophers of our modern era. Nevertheless, the 60s stand out as a kind of heyday of lawlessness. This new way of life began to be preached and imposed upon the world and the church in the guise of freedom and self-expression.
Many of us remember the so called “sexual revolution” with its “do your own thing” emphasis. We remember the proclamation of “situation ethics.” All this was mixed with the drug culture which quickly came to be the form of worship for this new religion. The priests and gurus of this new way of life abounded everywhere. Laws, customs, and mores that had protected society for thousands of years were smashed to pieces in a
The effects upon our world and upon the church have been traumatic. One of our subscribers, Donavin Young, has sent in his version of a road sign in which he attempts to describe the results of all this. I quote from some of it: “Diverse City. Situation ethics apply: Speed limit 0-90: sometimes enforced. Two way traffic on one way streets, sometimes allowed: Green or red means stop and go, or go and stop – drivers discretion: Police brutality, or police bashing allowed if abused as a child….” What a concise description of our brave new world. It sounds more like a description of the City
There is no one around anymore who can stand up and say “This is wrong, because God says it is wrong!” Like the world, we have learned to go by our feelings. If it feels good it must be good. It seems that we are not much different from the men in early Israel who did what was right in their own eyes (Jud. 17:6).
We Christians believe our Messiah is the Living Word of God (Jn. 1:14). However, if he really is the Living Word, he must necessarily be the living Law of God, or the Living Torah. We sometimes foolishly think that the Law of God has passed away in Christ. However, the Lord himself makes it abundantly clear that he came to establish the Law (Matt. 5:17).
It might surprise us to learn in Psalm 19:7 that the Law of God is perfect and that it actually revives the soul. As we read the next few verses of this Psalm, we learn that it also makes the simple wise, gives joy to the heart, and light to the eyes. Rediscovering the lost Law of God is better than finding a precious store of fine gold. The gospel writer John says that we acquire complete joy only as we obey God’s commands (Jn. 15:9-11). Yes, to rediscover Law is to rediscover the Messiah, the Living Torah of God.
The New Testament assures us that we have come to Mount Zion, and it warns us to take heed and obey the living God (Heb. 12:22-25). The New Testament does not propose that Christians try to keep the law as an attempt to please God, to be accepted by him, or to gain righteousness. This matter of our acceptance by God has been worked out once and for all by the shed blood of Christ. The New Testament clearly teaches that once we are accepted into this family we will learn to love the Law just as righteous men of old loved it. Someday it will be the Law that goes forth out of Zion and instructs people the world over (Isa. 2:3).
A RETURN TO HOLINESS
The return to Zion is also a return to holiness, as Isaiah makes clear. In speaking of the return to Zion the prophet declares in Isaiah 35:8: “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.” This concept is confirmed by other prophets. It is said in another place: “But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance” (Obad. 1:17).
In my mind, one of the great failures of us ministers in the last century is the failure to teach people holiness. We have dealt with this subject before so we will not belabor it. However, it needs to be said that holiness is separation unto God. When men and women are holy, they are set apart exclusively for God’s use. Ezekiel says that God’s ministers have an important job to do. This is it: “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean“ (Ezek. 44:23).
Down through history we Christians have been quick to judge the Jewish people for their moral lapses and equally just as quick to applaud ourselves for our supposed righteousness. Perhaps God is bringing both his old and new covenant people to Zion, spiritually and perhaps even physically, in order to confront us all with his righteous decrees and our failure to walk in his ways. Scripture seems clear on these points: God wants the Jewish people back in the land, he wants Christians to honor the natural branches and he is bringing us all to a day when his law will go forth from Zion.
In Revelation we hear of that glorious city, the New Jerusalem. We read of the bliss of God’s elect, but we also read that forever locked outside that city will be the unclean and the unholy (Rev. 21:8). The true Zion is a place of holiness, as well as a place where God’s law is obeyed and where his word will be supreme.
– Jim Gerrish
*Faith and Fulfillment, Christians and the Return to the Promised Land, by Michael J. Pragai, 1985, Vallentine,
Mitchell and Co. LTD, London.
**Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ed. by Hershel Shanks, Vintage Books, NY, 1993 p. 13.
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem. Original publication date, 1995.