From Puritan Zionism to a Christmasy Hanukkah for Jerusalem

In between Thanksgiving and Christmas, President Trump gave to the nation of Israel perhaps one of the biggest Christmas gifts of all time: the long awaited recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  While Israel has never seen it any other way, the nations of the world have been reticent to acknowledge the obvious.  Jewish people have been waiting since ancient times for Jerusalem to once again be its capital, particularly since 1948, when Israel was born following the great consequential aftermath of both world wars.

Yet the Jewish return to the land of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital was actually predicted by more than a few Puritans and pilgrims who gave to America its first Thanksgiving.  The Puritans and pilgrims prided themselves in going back to the teachings of the Bible without interferences coming in from the Protestant state church.  Their crusade was a biblical one, in great contrast to the time of the Crusades in previous centuries, when European crusaders were sent to Jerusalem to protect the holy land from the Muslims.

Many Puritans were convinced that Israel would one day be regathered back to the land, with Jerusalem honored as its capital, not merely because of the divine authority of the Old Testament itself, but also because of the writings of Paul in Romans 11, not to mention the book of Revelation.  Moreover, they made such predictions based on biblical prophecies, irrespective of the fact that at the time, the Ottoman Empire was running the Middle East and had pushed up as far as the gates of Vienna.

Swiss theologian Theodore Beza (1519-1605) was perhaps the first significant Reformer who unleashed what should be understood as a form of Protestant Zionism when he taught that "Israel" in the New Testament refers to the Jews rather than to Christians.  Many in the Catholic Church for centuries had presumed that the Church is the true "spiritual" Israel.  Undergirded by its allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures that was deemed more spiritually minded, the importance of Israel's covenantal history tied to the Promised Land was ignored.  Thus, while the Medieval Church did expend much time, energy, and blood during the Crusades, the holy land was to be taken from the Muslims for themselves – not for the Jews.  This was largely because Catholicism after Augustine buried Jewish eschatology under a replacement theology that taught that the New Testament Church completely supplanted Old Testament Israel.  (Eschatology is the study of the last things related to ultimate salvation.)

Yet the early Catholic Church before Augustine strongly held to a premillennial eschatology.  Early Catholics believed that the Second Coming of Christ would usher in upon the Earth His promised Messianic Kingdom as anticipated in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament and the Gospels.  premillennialism essentially means "before the kingdom," with the term "millennium" standing for the Messianic Kingdom.  However, Catholicism after Augustine subscribed to amillennialism, which means there will not be a millennium after all, as the Church essentially became the kingdom of God on Earth that inextricably tied religion to the state for centuries to come.

Leaders of the Protestant Reformation like Luther and Calvin generally held to this Catholic default position during the 1500s, but more and more Protestants began to reconsider the early Church's eschatological views.  This time around, however, when Puritan and pilgrim divines went back to biblical prophecies, they not only began to recover a premillennial eschatology again, but depicted the coming Messianic Kingdom in much more Jewish terms than previously envisaged.  Hence, the birth of what is today called Christian Zionism goes back to the Puritans and pilgrims.

With no small thanks to the publishing success of the Geneva Bible, Beza's views on the future salvation of Israel became widely dispersed among the Puritans in England, Scotland, and New England.  Early on, the Anglican rector of York, Edmund Bunny (1540-1619), looked forward to Israel's future restoration to the land and called on fellow Christians to love the Jews and minister to them with the gospel.  In 1608, English theologian Thomas Draxe wrote a commentary on Romans 11 called "The World's Resurrection or the General Calling of the Jews."  Draxe taught that the Jews are still peculiarly God's people by virtue of the fact that God gave them His everlasting covenant in the Old Testament, which could not be forfeited.  In great contrast to Luther's belligerent anti-Semitism, Draxe strongly discouraged Christians from acting likewise precisely because they are so indebted to the Jews and their Old Testament heritage.

In 1621, English lawyer Henry Finch predicted that the Jews would physically return to the promised land of Israel and that this homecoming would be a sign of the impending apocalypse.  Finch also sharply distinguished Israel from the church, as he sharply criticized those who said God's promises have been transferred to the church as untrue "allegories."  Finch presumed that God's covenant given to Israel was eternal and that a revived Jewish state would one day cause consternation in the world.  Not surprisingly, Finch was arrested, tried, and forced to acknowledge that King James was his only sovereign – not some future Jewish king!  Such eschatological views were strongly suppressed by both the government and the Protestant state church that included book-burning.  William Gouge (1575-1763) was briefly put in jail in 1621 for publishing one of Finch's works in his own name.

Thomas Goodwyn (1600-1680), who was Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)'s chaplain, was also an early Puritan Zionist.  It was Cromwell who dethroned and beheaded the king of England for treason toward the end of the English Civil War (1642-51) – all of which was a precursor to the American Revolution.  At relatively the same time, English divine Robert Maton wrote that the Second Coming of Christ is connected to the restoration of the Jews to their homeland.  The English Civil War provided an opportunity for Puritan Zionists to write their theological works without being shunned or persecuted by the royalist state church that had even less influences on the other side of the Atlantic.

Contrary to popular opinion, more than a few American Puritans also rejected the notion that North America was slated to become the New Jerusalem of the New World.  According to Puritan expert Reiner Smolenski, some of the American Puritans even associated the apocalyptic theme of the woman running away into the wilderness to escape the pressures of the Antichrist (Revelation 12:6) with their own colonial experience.  In other words, rather than set up the New Jerusalem in the new world, they wanted to run away into the wilderness of North America to escape the clutches of the Antichrist in Europe before the restoration of the Promised Land to Israel.

Neither should such apocalyptic views be considered dangerous in themselves.  It is simply not true that Christian Zionists are helping to facilitate the end of the world, as all too many have suggested.  It is the Islamo-fascists and the leftist compromises with them that are at the heart of the problem, as their policies of dividing up the Promised Land of Israel have done nothing to foster peace in the region.  Such foolish policies have left the entire Middle East in flames today with no signs of improvement anywhere on the horizon.  Perhaps it is time to finally acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel's capital after all?

Neither is it a coincidence that Jewish Christian scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote that Christmas is rooted not in paganism, but in the Jewish Festival of Lights called Hanukkah.  Commemorating the re-dedication of the Temple (165 B.C.) following its desecration at the hands of Antiochus Ephiphanes, Hanukkah begins on the 25th of the Hebrew month Kislev, which normally occurs in December.  John 10:22 makes reference to Hanukkah, and Jesus often characterized Himself as the Light of the World (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46) that refers back to Isaiah 9:1-7.  This opens the door for December 25 to become the exceptional day when the Jewish Messianic Light of the world was born on Christmas Day.

Happy Hanukkah to Israel and its capital city, Jerusalem!

Mark Musser is a part-time pastor, author, missionary, and farmer who lives in Olympia, Washington.  He is a contributing writer for the Cornwall Alliance.  His book Nazi Oaks provides a sobering history lesson on the philosophical foundations of the early German green movement, which was absorbed by National Socialism in the 1930s and proved to be a powerful undercurrent during the Holocaust.  Mark is also the author of Wrath or Rest, a commentary on the warning passages found in the epistle to the Hebrews.