This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 41, number 3 (2018). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal please click here.
The promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. —The apostle Paul (Rom. 4:13 NKJV)
Christian Zionists are convinced that the land promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are as yet unfulfilled. They are convinced that Israel must gain control of a land mass roughly thirty times its present size. Here is how John Hagee explains it: “The Royal Land Grant that God, the original owner, gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their seed forever, includes the following territory which is presently occupied by Israel, the West Bank, all of Lebanon, one half of Syria, two-thirds of Jordan, all of Iraq, and the northern portion of Saudi Arabia.”1 But is this really true?
First, the land promises that God made to Israel were fulfilled in the fore future when Joshua led the descendants of Abraham into Palestine. As the book of Joshua records, “The Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there” (21:43).2 Even as the life ebbed from his body, Joshua reminded the children of Israel that the Lord had been faithful to His promises: “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (23:14). Solomon, during whose reign the glorious temple was constructed, was equally unambiguous: “Not one word has failed of all the good promises [the Lord] gave through his servant Moses” (1 Kings 8:56). In fact, at the height of the Solomonic kingdom, “the people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River [Euphrates] to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt” (4:20–21, emphasis added).
Furthermore, the land promises were fulfilled in the far future through Jesus, who provides true Israel with permanent rest from their wanderings in sin. The writer of Hebrews made clear that the rest the descendants of Abraham experienced when they entered the land is but a type of the rest we experience when we enter an eternal relationship with the Lord. The land provided temporal rest for the physical descendants of Abraham, but the Lord provides eternal rest for his spiritual descendants. The land was never the focus of our Lord; instead, our Lord is forever the locus of the land. The quintessential point of understanding for the disciples began to dawn at the time of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances. Previously, they had been under the same misconceptions as modern-day Christian Zionists. They had expected Jesus to establish Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign Jewish empire. The notion was so ingrained in their psyches that, even as Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, they asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Jesus not only corrected their erroneous thinking but expanded their horizons from a tiny strip of land on the east coast of the Mediterranean to the farthest reaches of the earth: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, emphasis added). In effect, Jesus left His disciples with instructions to exit Jerusalem, embrace the earth, and never again entertain the thought of establishing a Jewish theocracy.
Finally, the land promises will be fully and completely consummated when paradise lost is reconstituted as paradise restored. Canaan is thus typological of a renewed cosmos. Accordingly, Abraham was anything but a Zionist. Like Isaac and Jacob, he viewed living in the promised land in the same way that a stranger would view living in a foreign country. Why? Because as the writer of Hebrews made plain, “He was looking forward to a city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (11:10). Abraham looked beyond binding borders and boundaries to a day in which the meek would “inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5; cf. Ps. 37:11, 22).3 —Hank Hanegraaff
- John Hagee, Should Christians Support Israel? (San Antonio, TX: Dominion, 1987), 99.
- Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from NIV 1984.
- This article is adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book — Collector’s Edition, revised and updated (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016), 488–91.