Even if we concede for the moment that the Jewish people’s continuing presence is evidence for the reliability of the Bible, we are well within our rights to raise other concerns. What, for example, is the connection between the Jewish people and the highly contested real estate in the Middle East that makes up modern-day Israel? For some, the relationship between God’s covenant promise to preserve the Jewish people and the equally emphasized “Promised Land” is highly problematic. Today even some committed Jews and Christians may wonder what relationship the present-day State of Israel has with the land it sits on. In 1948, varying numbers of Orthodox Jews were horrified that anyone could even consider a Jewish state based upon modern notions of nationality in place of a kingdom under the Messiah’s reign. This sentiment persists today.
Yet, politics aside, it cannot be denied that not only have the children of Israel endured despite the harsh treatment they have received, but against all odds, after 2,000 years of exile, the Jewish people have once again returned to the Land of Israel as the biblical prophets promised they would. The Hebrew prophets foretold a day when God would draw His people back to Israel. Although centuries of dispersion caused this aspiration to retreat into the far background of Jewish life, it never fully disappeared. If nothing else, the hope that is voiced every year during Passover—“Next year in Jerusalem!”— serves as an annual reminder of the Jewish people’s lost heritage.
So unlikely did a realistic restoration of the Jews to their Land seem that throughout church history, Christians, for the most part, could not conceive of a literal fulfillment of this promise. Therefore, many believers in Jesus interpreted these prophecies figuratively or historically—if they thought of them at all. However, some believers in the nineteenth century did indeed take the promise of a return literally and began to anticipate a Jewish return to the Land of Israel. Thus, you could say that what has become known as Christian or biblical Zionism was birthed at the same time or even earlier than rising Jewish aspirations for modern statehood promoted by Theodore Herzl.
Statehood and the Promise of the Bible
Is the existence of the modern State of Israel a further validation of Scripture’s reliability along the same lines as that of the Jewish people’s continuing presence in the world? Consider the following conditions set out in the scriptural record.
First of all, a national spiritual regeneration by turning to Jesus is not a biblical prerequisite for a major movement of Jewish people returning to and possessing the Land of Israel. In fact, the prophet Zechariah indicated the Jewish people would turn to God, through the Messiah, only after returning to Israel (Zech.12:10; 13:1). Likewise, the prophet Ezekiel stated God’s promise, “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land” (Ezek. 36:24). The passage continues, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean…. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:25–26). Note that the spiritual regeneration of Israel follows the restoration of the Jewish people to the Land. Thus regathered, Israel will, as a nation, turn in faith toward the promised Messiah.
Second, the Bible predicts Israel would return to the Land in stages. Ezekiel 37 contains the stark and unforgettable vision of a valley of dry bones. The bones come to life in stages: first sinews on the bones, then flesh, then skin, and finally, the breath of life (Ezek. 37:6–10). Then God tells Ezekiel, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel” (Ezek. 37:11). This vivid depiction of the Jewish people’s restoration to their Promised Land is well in keeping with what is actually occurring. The regathering does not occur instantaneously; rather, it is a process culminating when the nation as a whole receives the Messiah according to Jewish expectation.
The dry bones represent Israel in exile, without hope. The process of the bones coming together with sinew, flesh, and skin refers to the successive waves of returning Jews before Israel’s rebirth. This is, in fact, how the Jewish people have returned to the Land. There were five separate aliyot (immigration waves) from 1881 to 1939, returning Jewish people from Europe to the Promised Land. After Israel’s birth in 1948, an estimated one million European Jewish survivors of the Holocaust came to Israel, followed by a majority of the 800,000 Jewish people driven from their homes in Arab countries. More recently, 1.5 million Jewish people fled the Former Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel. These immigration waves show how the Jewish people have returned in stages. The body without breath represents unbelieving Israel, restored but not yet regenerated. Finally, according to this passage, God breathes life into these bodies, representing the day when all Israel turns to the Messiah.
Third, the Bible predicts Israel would return to her Land through persecution. The Hebrew Scripture says of Israel, “For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers” (Jer. 16:15). God will use “fishermen” and “hunters” to pursue His people back to Israel (Jer. 16:16). This metaphor for persecution has been literally fulfilled in Israel’s rebirth. Since the birth of modern Zionism, the primary motivation for return to the Land of Israel has been anti-Jewish persecution. In the last hundred years, Czarist pogroms, Polish economic discrimination, Nazi genocide, Arab hatred, Soviet repression, and more recently, an alarming rise in European and North American antisemitism have driven Jewish people back to their homeland.
Fourth, the Bible predicts that, after a period of exile, the children of Israel would return to reestablish national identity, thus setting the stage for the arrival of the Messiah and the consummation of history as we know it. At that time, the Messiah will deliver Israel from her enemies (Zech. 14:3).
Ask yourself, do the facts of history—particularly the emergence of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East—line up sufficiently with the predictions of the Hebrew Bible to form a credible connection? Since Israel has returned in unbelief, in stages, through persecution, the establishment of the modern State of Israel likely fulfills the predictions of the ancient Hebrew prophets and sets the stage for events yet to come.
The return to Zion is powerful evidence of the truth of Scripture. It is beyond remarkable that God would restore a dispersed and persecuted people to their Land after two thousand years of exile. Given the relationship between these events and the predictions of the Bible, would you say it is more or less likely that this has truly come about by the hand of God?
And if the above is true—what impact should this have on our lives? Certainly, we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6)! Also, if the return of Jesus is linked to the Jewish people turning to Him, then how should we view Jewish evangelism today? This question is answered by the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:11–29! As God’s people, we must do all we can to reach Jewish people with the message of the gospel!