THE FIRST CHRISTIAN ZIONIST
by David Kiern
Have you ever asked yourself this question: "I'm not Jewish, so why do I care about Israel?" Have your friends and family asked the same question?
It's a good question.
We explore this world-changing phenomenon happening in our generation in the opening pages of I AM ISRAEL: The Believer's Guide to the Rebirth of the Promised Land. Enjoy this excerpt from the book!
I AM ISRAEL:
The Believer's Guide to the Rebirth of the Promised Land
If you're reading this book, chances are you're a follower of Jesus who is interested in Israel. You may have already experienced the joy of walking on the golden streets of Jerusalem, or you may be dreaming of visiting the Holy Land for the first time. You may be a new Believer seeking to learn about the Land where Jesus was born. Or you may be a mature Believer wanting to deepen your understanding of the Jewish roots of our faith.
To every disciple from the nations reading this book, I want to tell you from the start — You are a miracle foretold by the prophets long ago, and have an integral role to play in the unfolding story of Israel's redemption.
Throughout our history, much of Christianity has not paid much regard to Israel and the Jewish people. Generally, it's been us and them. For many reasons, Jews and Christians have been separated for the last 2,000 years, with very little relationship.
But in the last few decades, a spiritual shift has taken place throughout the Jewish and Christian world. How can it be that in our time, so many non-Jewish Believers from all over the world, millions in number, are being drawn to connect with Israel? To pray for Jerusalem? What is God doing in our generation? Who are we? What is our identity?
TWO STREAMS OF CHRISTIANITY
From at least the 4th century, two major streams of Christianity have developed. One stream of Christianity separated itself from Israel, believing that after the resurrection of Jesus, the promises and calling of the Jewish people were removed by God and given to the Gentiles. This group has been responsible for much division in the church and suffering toward the Jewish people.
I remember the first time someone told me stories from history about so-called Christians burning down synagogues, deporting Jews from entire countries or even murdering Jewish communities, I was shocked. "Those people must not have been real Christians," I said. As simplistic as my reaction may sound, I still stand by that statement. Those "Christians" are not my people.
By God's grace, there is a second major stream in Christianity which has existed since the time of the Apostles. These followers of Jesus never divorced their hearts from the Land of Israel, nor the Jewish people. This stream of Christianity believes that God's promises and calling on the Jewish people are irrevocable (Rom 11:29). In recent generations, this group has been privileged to play a role in the regathering of the Jewish people back to their homeland, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the restoration of the Land.
If you're reading this book, you probably identify with this second stream of Christianity. Love for Jewish people is a natural part of your faith. Israel is in your heart. But who are we? What is our identity?
The Jewish community calls us "Christian Zionists." Much of the world mocks this title, calling us simple-minded for taking the Bible literally. But for those who know stories of the heroes of faith who have come before us, it is a title we can be proud of.
A Christian Zionist is a follower of Jesus who loves the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. A Christian Zionist is a Believer who rescues Jews from danger, and helps them return to their ancient homeland (Isa 49:22). They give charity to Jews in need (Luke 7:5). They labor in the mountains, valleys and agricultural fields of Israel, participating in the restoration of the Land (Isa 61:5). They hold strong to the promises of God, longing for the day when the King of Israel will sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem (Luke 1:32).
Who was the first Christian Zionist?
THE FIRST CHRISTIAN ZIONIST
Our history can be traced all the way back to the 1st century, to the first Gentile who received the Holy Spirit and was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. His name was Cornelius, and he lived with his family on the Mediterranean Sea in the city of Caesarea.
Most likely born in Italy, Cornelius was a Roman Centurion stationed in the Holy Land who had military authority over about 100 men. Of all the Gentiles during this era who could have been chosen, God divinely selected Cornelius and his family to be trailblazers in the faith.
Perhaps we can discover why. About this man, Cornelius, the Bible says:
Cornelius was a devout man, striving to honor God in every aspect of daily life. He helped Jews in need through acts of charity and was a man of prayer. Cornelius was a "God-Fearer," which was an established title for righteous Gentiles during the time of Jesus (Acts 13:26, Acts 16:14, Acts 17:17, Acts 18:7).
God-Fearers practiced the faith of Israel while retaining their identity as non-Jews. God-Fearers followed the Hebrew Bible, celebrated the Jewish festivals and were lovers of the Land of Israel.
Perhaps God chose Cornelius to be the first Gentile baptized in the Spirit because his heart was already aligned with the heart of God. His personal walk with the LORD and love for the Jewish people served as a model for all Believers who came after him.
I believe Cornelius was the first Christian Zionist.
In recent generations, others have followed in the same spirit as Cornelius and influenced world events. From Rev. William Hechler, who inspired the earliest Jewish Zionists to re-establish Israel as their homeland, to Corrie Ten Boom, who hid Jewish families from the Nazis in secret rooms in her family home. From William Blackstone, who lobbied the U.S. President to support a Jewish safe-haven in Israel, to Captain Orde Wingate, who was instrumental in creating the first Israeli defense army. You'll hear more about their stories later in this book.
Today, a phenomenon is taking place throughout the Christian world. As the times grow darker, Believers from every nation are turning their hearts to Israel in greater numbers than ever before in human history. They are saying to Israel, "Your God reigns!" They are saying to the Jewish people, "We are with you!" They are serving Jews in need, remembering the invitation of Jesus: "Whatever you did for these brothers of mine, you also did for Me."
Why do we, as non-Jews, love Israel? Because we are followers of the Savior of the World, the King of Israel.
I hope this book strengthens your faith and the identity God has given you. And now, in the words of our narrator, John Rhys-Davies, I invite you to "Journey with us now to the Land of Israel, and meet the people who call this place home."
Read more in our new hardcover coffee table book, I AM ISRAEL: The Believer's Guide to the Rebirth of the Promised Land.
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