Bill Lockwood: Problems in Zion — Premillennialism
by Bill Lockwood
Timothy P. Weber, in his even-handed review of the history of Zionism, or Dispensational Premillenialism (On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend, 2004) exposes the many contradictions of the system. Beginning with the inception of modern dispensational premillennialism by the “disgruntled” Irish Anglican priest John Nelson Darby in the 19th century (1830’s) through the current Messianic Jewish movement, Weber historically exposes the many flaws, contradictions and changing currents within the premillennial fold. Such is to be expected in an unscriptural doctrinal setting. The following are some of the points made by Weber.
Varieties of Premillennialism
First, there are countless varieties of the Premillennial doctrine, most of which contradict one another. Through this contradiction, however, all varieties share one basic flaw—crass materialistic concepts of the kingdom of God.
This materialistic view, with predictions of a new Judaized state in the future complete with animal sacrifices and legalistic practices, is featured in the NT as the primary reason for the Jewish rejection of the Messiah. Caiaphas counseled the murder of Christ to his fellow Sanhedrists on the grounds that if Christ were not taken out of the way, “the the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:47-51).
Nevertheless, this materialism is the primary ingredient of all the flavors of Premillennial thought; from the Shakers (19th century) to the Mormons (whose ‘inspired’ writings included the fulfillment of the scheme in the state of Missouri) to the 7th Day Adventist Movement began by William Miller and continued by Ellen G. White to the popular Left Behind brand now current in denominationalism; and all of the rest.
Weber highlights this materialistic concept for us. “Because of their basic hermeneutical decision that all earthly prophecies belonged to Israel and not the church, dispensationalists believed that the ‘saints’ referred to a newly restored nation of Israel that would be regathered in Palestine” (70).
Note carefully: Weber is explaining that it is the false presumption that the entire OT prophetic program referred to physical Israel which is the base of Premillennialism. That the kingdom of God is a political entity with physical boundaries—as Judaism at the time of Christ believed—has even caused many prominent dispensationalists, such as James Gray, C.I. Scofield and others to reject our “democratic government” while declaring favor for a “monarchy” (p. 84) Many wearing the name of Christ have not moved much further in spiritual thinking than Caiaphas.
If materialism lies at the heart of Premillennialism, very close to it is the supplanting of missionary work with a political program that regards international meddling as part of the gospel. This is what Weber calls the “Hijacking of Conservatism” by Zionism. Simple Constitutional conservative values are ignored.
While many American evangelicals remain politically conservative on a social scale, their belief-system drives them to support America’s much “unconstitutional meddling” in the political affairs of foreign nations. Thus, the Constitution of the United States is thrown behind the Zionist backs.
Tied to this is the falsely-labeled missionary effort of the evangelical world. Converting individuals to Jesus Christ is the biblical idea of missions. It is very different however, among Zionists.
For example, foreign “intermeddling,” flying beneath the banner of evangelism, was the planting of an “American colony” in Jerusalem, Israel in 1881. No ordinary missionary movement this, it was an actual “American colony” led by the Spafford family (p. 106-08) and supported by such evangelical preachers as William Blackstone.
“By the 1930’s the colony ceased being primarily a religious community and started operating more like a family business” (109). The primary aim, of course, was the effort, not to convert Jews to Christ, but to “relocate in order to be present when God’s promises to Israel were fulfilled.”
To say the least, it is a skewed vision of the word of God that transforms evangelism into nothing more than a sitting in the hills waiting for the Lord to bless Israel.
This fostering of the political state of Israel is the hallmark of Zionist “evangelism.” In 1917 British forces were poised to capture Jerusalem in armed conflict. Lord Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, wrote to Lord James Rothschild, a leader in the International Zionist Movement.
“His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best efforts to facilitate the achievement of this object …”
Foreign interference was in full swing. Five weeks after the Balfour Declaration, Jerusalem was surrendered by the Turks to British forces. Thus began a career of national intermeddling in the Middle East which is being happily continued by the American government with full backing of evangelicals. Constitutional it is not. Evangelistic it is not. But it does demonstrate how conservatism, which at one time was marked by non-interventionism, has been hijacked and now fits an internationalist mold.
As presented by Weber, the history of “evangelical missionary intermeddling” is rife with similar examples. The Likud Party in Israel recognized evangelical preachers such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson with awards all the while laboring to outlaw missionary work (245).
The tragic irony in all of this is that evangelicals demonstrate a complete lack of interest in Palestinian Christians but seem more interested simply in removing them from their ancestral territory (246). Evangelicals show more interest in political and physical wars with Palestinians over who owns the Temple Mount than in spiritual teaching (250); or more interest in how the state of Israel is partitioned (168) than in law and justice as we know in America.
These are just a few items among dozens more that could be mentioned. If one wishes to know where conservatives lost their way, look no further than the seeming complete takeover of the Evangelical churches by Zionists.
Gathered in Belief or Unbelief?
Another of the many self-inflicted confusions of Zionism is the question as to whether fleshly Israel should be gathered back to Palestine only after belief in Christ or would their reconstitution to a state be accomplished before the nation believes? Gathered in belief or unbelief? Converted to Christ, then gathered? Or, gathered, then converted?
Historically, reaching back to its inception with John Nelson Darby, dispensationalism believed the Bible to be clear to teach that Jews would be converted first, then gathered to Israel. But this changed in the 20th century.
In the nineteenth century, dispensationalists overwhelmingly believed that the final restoration would not occur until after the second coming, when Jews who survived the great tribulation would accept Jesus Christ …and would return to the Promised Land… for a thousand years. After the founding of Zionism, however, dispensationalists were faced with the possibility that significant numbers of Jews might return to Palestine prior to Christ’s return and without faith in Christ. (p. 168)
Zionism was organized in the 1890’s and came to full flower immediately after World War I. This question is not merely academic. First, it involves the trustworthiness of common-stock Premillennial interpretation of OT prophecies. Specifically, should we place any confidence in the interpretive keys that Zionists utilize in examining the Old Testament? Witnessing the many and vast confusions on this topic, particularly their contradictions as to whether Jews would be gathered in belief or unbelief, the answer is a resounding “NO.”
For example, the Weekly Evangel, a dispensationalist paper, editorialized in 1940 that of a truth “God swore that Israel would be re-gathered in her own land, unconverted, in the latter days. Ezekiel 36:24-38.” Note carefully that the writer felt certain that Ezekiel 36 teaches a re-gathering while in unbelief.
Yet, as Weber points out, only one year later the editors took the opposite position and cited Luke 21:24 to establish the point!
We have all been thrilled to watch the rebuilding of Palestine and the return of many Jews to that land through the efforts of Zionism. … God’s Word teaches that ‘Jerusalem will be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.’ Luke 21:24. Not until Christ returns will the Jewish nation go to Palestine as a whole, nor will the Jews get full sovereignty over the land.
Something is vastly wrong with the entire interpretation system when it pits one passage against another. It needs to be realized that the political movement of Zionism, not Scripture, caused millennialists to change their mind!
Second, and more importantly, evangelical support today for the state of Israel is somehow thought to be the mandate from prophecy. Yet, Israel has not accepted Christ. Premillennial preachers, however, unanimously tell us that when Christ comes again all the Jews will accept Christ and be re-gathered to their ancient homeland. If that is so, then supporting the state of Israel while in their current state of repudiation of Christ has nothing at all to do with prophecy! In other words, if prophecy says that Christ is going to convert all Jews when He returns and then gather them in Palestine, then supporting Israel today has nothing to do with fulfilling prophecy.
Arno C. Gaebelein, one of the leading exponents of Premillennialism in the 1940’s, saw this problem. He insisted that the political movement of Zionism was not the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Unwilling however, to relinquish his doctrine, Gaebelein would say only that the current Zionist movement was somehow a “first step” in that direction. (Weber, p. 169).
Based upon Gaebelein’s “first step” concept, let’s pose this question for Premillennialists. If Christ is to return literally to the earth, convert the Jews, and re-gather them to Palestine—according to prophecy—how will any man or even nation of people possibly “assist” the Lord’s future judgment by political brokering today? To suggest such is haughtiness in the extreme. Just as well assist the Lord on the throne of judgment.
Premillennialism is false doctrine. Let members of the Lord’s church beware!