Can an Anglican be a Zionist? Most of us think the answer is no, because when we think of Christian Zionism, we think of fundamentalist dispensationalists with crazy eschatologies. The term calls to mind date-setting, a rapture theology that suggests that Christians will not suffer, and the refusal to entertain criticism of the state of Israel. Most Anglicans have problems with all of these presumptions.
But there is a new Christian Zionism that some Anglicans are embracing. It is willing to criticize the state of Israel, has nothing to do with premillennial dispensationalism, and is agnostic about the details of the end times. It wants justice for both Jews and Arabs. But it is convinced that the state of Israel is needed to protect God’s covenanted people, it wants to support the only democracy in the Middle East, and believes that the return of Jews from all over the world to the land of Israel in the last two centuries was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Those of us Anglicans who are among these “new” Christian Zionists see prophecies about this return not only in the Old Testament but also in the New Testament.
Let me explain. All Bible readers know that the Old Testament’s primary focus is on the Jews and the land of Israel. But most Christians think the New Testament authors are focused not on the tiny land of Israel but on all of planet Earth. For support they quote Jesus’ beatitude in Matthew 5:5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Yet more and more scholars are recognizing that a better translation of this verse is “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.” Matthew was no doubt translating into Greek the Hebrew in Psalm 37:11, where it is universally recognized that the Hebrew erets refers to the land of Israel. In fact, four other verses in Psalm 37 repeat the phrase “inherit the land,” with the clear meaning of the land of Israel. The implication was that Jesus’ disciples would be able to enjoy the land of Israel in the era that he described later in this same Gospel as the palingenesia or “renewal of all things” (Matt. 19:28).
When Jesus’ disciples asked him just before his ascension, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6), Jesus did not tell them they were wrong to think there would be a future Israel that God would establish. Instead he said that the timing of that future was not to be known then.
In the same breath in which Paul predicted that someday “all Israel will be saved,” he said Israel’s “deliverer” then would “come from Zion” and he would “banish ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom. 11:26). Again, the land of Israel had a future for Paul, with a special destiny in that future for Jews.
Peter also looked forward to a special future for the land of Israel. In his second speech in Jerusalem after the Pentecost miracle, Peter spoke of a future apokatastasis or restoration that was to come (Acts 3:21). This was the Greek word used in the Septuagint—which was the early church’s Greek translation of the Old Testament—for the future return of Jews from all over the world to the land of Israel to reestablish a Jewish nation. (1)
The book of Revelation also shows that Israel as a particular land has a place in God’s plan for the future. We are told there that the Lamb will stand not on the earth in general but “on Mount Zion” (Rev. 14:1). The new earth that is to come is to be centered in Jerusalem, and that new Jerusalem will have twelve gates inscribed with the names of the “twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” (21:2, 12). At some point the nations will trample upon “the holy city” of Jerusalem for forty-two months. The author makes clear that this holy city is the one “where their [the two witnesses’] Lord was crucified” (11:2,8).
Christians are right to say that the Bible speaks of the whole earth being renewed. But not all Christians have seen that the center of that renewed earth will be Israel.
The upshot is that for the New Testament authors the land of Israel was going to be important in the future history of redemption, stretching out beyond the closure of the New Testament era. The land was holy in Jesus’ time, and it would be holy again in the future, when Jews would return to it.
So if the recent return of Jews to the land might have been predicted by the New Testament, what about the present Jewish people who live in Israel? Do they have any special significance to God? Most Anglicans have assumed that they do not, since most Israeli Jews do not accept Jesus as messiah.
I will never forget the day that I stumbled upon Paul’s insistence that Jews who rejected Jesus were still beloved by God and that God kept his covenant with them as a people. He told the church in Rome that “they are enemies of the gospel for your sake,” but they “are still beloved of God because of their forefathers” and “because the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:28–29; my translation).
I had always assumed that Paul was talking only about Jews in the past, before Jesus came. But as I looked more closely, it became clear that Paul was talking about Jews in his own day who had heard his preaching of Jesus and rejected it.
These Jesus-rejecting Jews “are beloved” of God, he said. Not “were beloved” but “are beloved.” Not past but present tense. Even though they chose not to believe the gospel, they are still beloved of God. God still loves them. And not in the way that God loves all people, but with a special kind of love. That is clear from Paul’s long discussion of Jews in Romans 9–11.
Their “gifts and calling” were still in place. Their “calling” was their covenant, enacted when God called Abraham into a special relationship with himself, so that Abraham and his descendants would be God’s chosen people.
Paul used the word “covenants” explicitly in this passage where he discusses the majority-Jewish rejection of the gospel: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart… [for] my kinsmen according to the flesh… [because] to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, …and the promises” (Rom. 9:2–4).
At first I was confused by Paul’s reference to (plural) covenants. Then I saw that Jesus spoke of the “blood of the covenant” (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24), suggesting there was one fundamental (Abrahamic) covenant and that the other covenants, such as the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, were aspects of that one basic covenant with Abraham.
So can Anglicans be Zionists? Most of us cannot endorse the Zionism of dispensationalism. But if we are open to learning new things from Scripture, we might see that the New Testament suggests that the land of Israel is still significant to God, and so are its people. We can support the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians while at the same time believing that the Jewish people and the land of Israel are still connected to God and His promises.

Gerald McDermott is Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School. This article is adapted from his recentbook, Israel Matters: Why Christians Must think Differently about the People and the Land (Brazos, 2017). He is also editor of The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land (InterVarsity, 2016).
(1) “I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to their own land that I gave to their fathers” (Jer. 16:15); “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back [apokatastēsō] to this land” (Jer. 24:6); “I will restore Israel [apokatastēsō] to his pasture” (Jer. 50:19 [27:19 Septuagint]); “They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return [apokatastēsō] them to their homes, declares the Lord” (Hosea 11:11).

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