UA-34994781-1
The Times of the Gentiles and the Redemption of Jerusalem
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Date First Published: January 22, 2014
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hen the Israeli soldiers captured the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War, many Christians regarded this event as the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy in the New Testament: “Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,”[1] (Luke 21:24).[2] There is no need to wonder at this reaction within certain Christian circles, since there has always been a stream within Christianity which looks forward to a return to Zion at the end of days.[3] Their hope is based both on the words of the Hebrew Scriptures and upon certain passages in the New Testament that reflect the hope for Israel’s national redemption. In the modern era there have been Christian movements to allow the Jews to return to their land even before the renewal of the Jewish resettlement of the Land of Israel.[4] We have also seen that Jewish revival movements, whether secular or religious, have established their historical right to the Land of Israel by relying on the Scriptures and on Jewish beliefs and ideas that emerged after the Scriptures were written, and many of these movements consider the State of Israel to be “the beginning of the sprouting of redemption.”[5]

Thus today we are met with parallel mentalities among Jews and Christians toward the return to Zion, mentalities that are nourished by the same roots.[6] There is, of course, a key difference between the hopes of the Jews and the parallel hopes of the Christians: the Christians believe that the Messiah who will be revealed at the end of days will be none other than Jesus who has returned. Aside from this, the overwhelming majority of Christians who support Israel, even those who do not believe in the return to Zion at the end of days, believe that all Israel will accept faith in Jesus in the end.[7] This belief in the Christian conversion of the majority of Israel is fed especially by Paul’s words that, in the end, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).[8] We shall return to this statement again in the course of our discussion. Most of the Christians who believe in the return to Zion suppose that this will come prior to the second coming of Jesus and the conversion of the gathered exiles to Christianity,[9] and therefore they regard the return to Zion, the founding of the State of Israel, and the liberation of Jerusalem as important signs of the approach of the end of days.

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  • [1] Hans Bietenhard, Das tausendjährige Reich (Zürich: Buchdruckererei F. Graf-Lehmann, 1955), 96-98, 108-111, 114-116. Bietenhard approaches the prophecy not only as a scholar, but also as a believing Christian who endeavors to learn from the New Testament the correct relationship of the Church to Israel and its future.
  • [2] [Scriptural quotations follow the RSV, occasionally with slight adaptations—JNT.]
  • [3] On this stream which has existed in Christianity since the time of the early Church Fathers, see Bietenhard, Das tausendjährige Reich, 90-94. Bietenhard is correct in his statement that an exhaustive study of Christian Zionism has yet to be written.
  • [4] See, for example, מ. ורטה, רעיון שיבת ציון במחשבה הפרוטסטאנטית באנגליה בשנים ציון לג (תשכ”ח) עמ’ 179-145.
  • [5] National Prayer for Peace. It would be desirable to conduct a philological study of the differences that have appeared in this prayer over time until it reached its present accepted form.
  • [6] On the beliefs of the Sages and their opinions regarding the redemption, see especially Ephraim E. Urbach, The Sages: Their Concepts and Beliefs (trans. I. Abrahams; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1975), 1:649-690.
  • [7] On Jerome’s stance, see Bietenhard, Das tausendjährige Reich, 91-92. For Augustine’s statement (on the basis of the conclusion of Malachi) that this will be accomplished by the prophet Elijah who will “return” Israel to the Christian faith, see Civ. XX, 29, 30:3-5.
  • [8] It is interesting that, in his commentary, Calvin admits that in the opinion of many the name “Israel” is understood to refer to the Jewish people, but he himself believes that “Israel” refers here to the Church composed of Jews and Gentiles. See Ioannis Calvini, Novum Testamenum Commentarii (ed. August Tholuck; Berlin: Apud Gustavum Eichler, 1831), 5:179-180. [For an English translation see, John Calvin, Commentary upon the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans (trans. Henry Beveridge; Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 330—JNT.] Hugo Grotius came close to this interpretation, even though he was aware of the statement in the Mishnah that “All Israel has a portion in the world to come,” (m. Sanh. 10:1). Grotius believed that Paul’s prophecy was fulfilled after the destruction of the Temple when many Jews converted to Christianity. See also Otto Michel, Der Brief an die Römer (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963), 281-282; Johannes Munck, Christus und Israel—Eine Auslegung von Röm. 9-11 (Kobenhavn: Ejnar Munksgaard, 1956), 24, 101ff.
  • [9] The theory that this will be the order of events, and its wide acceptance within the apocalyptic stream of modern Christianity, obviously warrants further study. In any case, it already appears in an article by the Jesuits of Chile written in 1790: Manuel Lacunza, La Venida del Mesías en Gloria y Majestad (I found this author in a publication prepared by Mario Gongora which appeared in 1969 in the series Escridores coloniales de Chile, Editorial Universitaria SA). The article was published in English in 1827 and 1833 by Edward Irving (1792-1834), the Scottish priest who founded the sect known as the Catholic Apostolic Church.
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