As a young Christian at Sussex University in the early 1970’s, I was enthralled by David Pawson’s biblically-based teaching and coveted his weekly teaching audio cassette tapes, especially on controversial theological and political subjects. He taught me to root my faith in scripture and apply it to every aspect of life. Forty years on, I remember David with respect and admiration. View his website here.
I remember 30 years ago, as a new Christian listening with awe to David Pawson’s audio tapes, fresh from Guildford Baptist Church and finding his teaching so helpful. Over the years I have benefited a great deal from his books and I have great respect for David Pawson. We have corresponded and met on two occasions over the past year and had in-depth conversations. We have found a good measure of agreement.
I am glad that David has felt able to commend my own book, Zion’s Christian Soldiers. “my fellow Zionists… will be disturbed by my agreement with much of Sizer’s criticism of this position.” (p. 19). “I am grateful to Stephen Sizer for drawing attention to the legitimate criticisms of dispensational Zionism. He has rendered a service to the cause of Zionism which was needed.” (p. 39)
I have to say, however, that David’s book is a disappointment. I don’t think that is simply because David has put my name on the cover and admits on page 17, “Sizer is my main ‘target’” The book appears to have been written in haste and without much attention to detail. This might explain some of the factual errors it contains, besides the sweeping generalisations and occasional inflammatory language. I am disappointed most of all because David does not engage with my arguments from Scripture but rather restates his own views while taking swipes at what he thinks I believe.
This suggests that while his book was written as a defence of Christian Zionism and to refute the position I have taken in my two books, Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (IVP, 2004) and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church (IVP, 2007), he does not actually engage with either. And yes, in places, it does get a little personal.
Although David’s book has 160 pages, the font is larger than usual and the spacing wider than necessary so the book appears more substantial than it is. Also, I am sure it is embarrassing to David that on the front cover his name is unusually printed in a larger font than even the book title. Sadly, the book has no footnotes, no references and no bibliography so there is no way to check the occasional sources quoted. It is therefore a book to read but not particularly useful for Bible study.
The book has five main chapters besides and introduction and conclusion: Two Zionisms, Five Covenants, Two Peoples, The Promised Land and the Second Coming. The book concludes with an appendix critiquing a sermon by John Stott on the ‘Place of Israel’ which is included in my second book. This critique will assess each chapter and respond where David engages with my own books.
Introduction – the Controversy
The introduction begins with a definition of Zionism and then considers Jewish Anti-Zionism, Christian Zionism and Christian Anti-Zionism. In the opening sentences David makes the rather superficial claim that “Chaim Weizmann… saved Britain during World War 1 when running out of ammunition” (p. 8).
David’s definition of ‘Zionism’ is weak. Historically, Zionism reflects much more than merely the ‘return of the Jews to the land of their ancestors and the re-establishment of the nation-state of Israel, with Jerusalem (Zion) as their capital” (p. 7). It required the ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Arab Palestinians (now over 5 million refugees registered with the UNHCR), exiled to neighbouring countries, the seizure of their land, demolition of their homes, the continued denial of their right to return and their basic human rights. Zionism has only been able to maintain its control of Palestine through the brutal military occupation in the West Bank.
Later in the book, David accuses John Stott of an anachronism for apparently referring to Jesus as a Palestinian. However, David commits the same error when claims that John Owen, the Wesley brothers, Charles Simeon, Bishop Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, Andrew Bonar and Murray McCheyne were all Christian Zionists. (pp. 10-11). Strictly speaking they may have been Restorationists (hoping for the restoration of the Jews to Palestine as a Christian nation) but the term Zionism was not coined until the 1880s.
More seriously, he argues that Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism are really synonymous. While he acknowledges Anti-Zionists ‘vehemently protest’ to the contrary, it is a “complete coincidence that there is a simultaneous rising tide of anti-Semitism in western civilisation” (p. 13).
David makes reference to “Israel’s boundaries” (p. 14). The problem is the State of Israel has never defined it borders for obvious reasons. It has yet to decide how much of the West Bank and Golan to annexe.
He argues that I have apparently become “the main protagonist” formerly “a keen Zionist, even listing myself (Pawson) as an early influence” (p. 16). He goes on to suggest that “As an ex-Zionist, who blames me, among others, for misleading him in his earlier position, a reversal would be proof of supernatural intervention.” (p. 18. See also p. 149 where the claim is repeated, “Stephen Sizer blames me for his earlier Zionism, now abandoned). The fact is David is not even mentioned in either of my books. I don’t recollect him having any influence on me with regard to Israel or Zionism.
He then questions why my second book, Zion’s Christian Soldiers, does not include a section on the ‘political implications’ found in my earlier book (p. 16). This is simply because it is an entirely different book and solely examines, in an expanded form, the relationship of Israel and the Church in the Bible. I have been invited to write a third book which will address the political agenda of Christian Zionists by Pluto Press.
David also questions “why both book covers display photographs of armoured vehicles of the Israeli army” (p. 16). I suspect for the same reason his name is displayed in an overly large font on his own book – publishers discretion. In my case, because the editors of InterVarsity Press chose to do so.
I am saddened by the innuendo David employs when referring to John Stott’s decision to write a commendation for my first book and allow one of his unpublished sermons to be included in the second. David will not win friends for saying “I am saddened that he (Stott) is making such a public and negative stance on the Zionist question towards the close of such a ministry. (Why was I reminded of Luther’s final anti-Semitic outburst?) (p. 17) I also regret his inflammatory insinuation “His criticisms are expressed in the strongest language, not unlike that of Hamas.” (p. 17)
David then suggests that he is “not venturing into the political aspects of the Middle East conflict” (p. 17). This despite David’s strong public identification with the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, appearing as a regular guest speaker at their annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration. ICEJ are probably the most ‘politicised’ of all Christian Zionist organisations, founded in 1980 with the express purpose of coordinating political lobbying activities in Congress on behalf of Israel.
David wrongly claims that “Sizer classifies me as a dispensationalist”. David is not actually mentioned in either book and I cannot find anything that would suggest that in any of my previous articles. I do indeed cite David’s name once in my PhD thesis:
“Contemporary British Christian leaders such as Derek Prince10, David Pawson11, Lance Lambert12, Walter Riggans13, along with Americans like Jerry Falwell14, Pat Robertson15, Hal Lindsey16, Mike Evans17, Charles Dyer18, John Walvoord19, Dave Hunt20, and the German, Basilea Schlink21, have had considerable influence in popularising an apocalyptic premillennial eschatology and Zionist vision among Western Christians.”
I believe that to be fair and accurate and does not associate David with dispensationalism, although in many respects his views are identical to theirs.
Chapter 1: Two Zionisms
Much of this chapter is a critique of Dispensationalism on which David and I agree. Indeed, David concedes, “my fellow Zionists… will be disturbed by my agreement with much of Sizer’s criticism of this position.” (p. 19). “I am grateful to Stephen Sizer for drawing attention to the legitimate criticisms of dispensational Zionism. He has rendered a service to the cause of Zionism which was needed.” (p. 39)
He refutes those who equate ‘blessing’ Israel with evangelism (p. 35) and the notion of a dual covenant in which Jews are saved through law and sacrifice (p. 36)
However, David makes a profound error in the first sentence. “Stephen Sizer has written two volumes against Zionism” (p. 21) This is simply not true. My first book is an appraisal of the historical roots, theological basis and political consequences of Christian Zionism as a movement. The second book examines the relationship between Israel and the Church in the Bible. He has therefore misunderstood the purpose of both.
He further misunderstands my own theological position taking several pages to speculate on why he perceives a change in theological emphasis between the two books. “Why has Sizer made this extraordinary shift, transferring a name from one thing to the exact opposite” (p. 22)
I have not changed my theology. I continue to hold to Covenantal theology. Covenantalism and Zionism are in my opinion, intrinsically contradictory. To talk of Zionism predating dispensationalism is another example of an anachronism. David is reading back into history a movement that did not exist before the 1880s. Restorationism – that is the belief that the Jewish people would return to Palestine as a Christian nation – was held by many covenantalists prior to the 1880s. My first book traces the birth of this movement in the 1810s.
David claims that John Nelson Darby attended the Albury conferences (p. 24). He did not. Lady Powerscourt, in whose home in Ireland later conferences were organised with Darby, was a participant but Darby himself was not. David also gets confused over Edward Irving’s name. He gets both his Christian and surname wrong calling him “Henry Irvine” (p. 24).
David is also inaccurate when he says “Sizer is very mistaken to lump Zionism and dispensationalism together” (p. 40). I do not make this mistake. In my first book, I take great care to delineate covenantal premillennialism from dispensationalism premillennialism. In my second book I am only concerned with examining what the Bible says about the relationship between Israel and the Church.
David relies on Orwellian logic to exonerate Zionism of the charge of racism and apartheid. For example he claims “Ordinary citizens of Gaza suffer as much from their new government as they did from the former Israeli occupation and present Israeli retaliatory raids.” (p. 37). So Israel is apparently no longer occupying Gaza and is only ‘retaliating’? The fact is Israel controls the borders of Gaza, the airspace and sea. It is a giant prison for over a million Palestinians. Moving the guards from the inside to the outside of the prison does not lessen the brutal effect of its occupation. And in explaining why Palestinian Christians are leaving, he refers to “Muslim opposition and Israeli irritation” (p. 39). I have never heard Palestinians describe Israeli policies as ‘irritating’.
Chapter 2: Five Covenants
David’s thesis is that I fail to recognise there are five covenants in the Scriptures, the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic and Messianic. By this he means, I do not share his interpretation of them. In this chapter he summarises the five and suggests that while the Mosaic Covenant has been fulfilled in the Messianic Covenant, the other three have continued significance. I accept this premise.
David then rightly explains at the Noahic Covenant applies to mankind (God promises he will never flood the world again) and the Davidic Covenant was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That simply leaves one Covenant for debate – the Abrahamic Covenant. David seeks to show that the promises God made to Abraham (such as the promise of the land of Canaan) were not only unconditional (they were not) but also apply exclusively to Abraham’s physical descendants through Isaac, Jacob and Joseph in perpetuity. So, while the Mosaic Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant, David claims the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant still apply exclusively to the Jewish people today. That sounds remarkably like Dispensationalism.
In its classical form, Charles Ryrie insists the sine qua non of Dispensationalism to be:
“1. A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct…
2. This distinction between Israel and the church is born out of a system of hermeneutics that is usually called literal interpretation…
3. A third aspect… concerns the underlying purpose of God in the world… namely, the glory of God… To the normative dispensationalist, the soteriological, or saving, program of God is not the only program but one of the means God is using in the total program of glorifying Himself.”[i]
In its classical form, Dispensationalism keeps the promises made to Israel separate from those made to the Church so that God has, in effect, two ‘chosen’ people.
To justify this, David posits three alternatives – one, two or five covenants, and dismisses in the space of a couple of paragraphs the first two alternatives – with breath-taking generalisations. So David deftly writes off the theology of Luther and Calvin in this way:
“Reformed theology based on the protestant reformers Luther and Calvin…” emphasize, “a single covenant embracing the whole of scripture… The idea itself cannot be found anywhere in scripture.” (p. 44).
He says “I suspect that Sizer is at heart a one covenant man… But in his attacks on Zionists he basis his tactics on the assumption of two covenants.”
I find his use of words like “attacks” and “tactics” unhelpful as it suggests I believe one view and use another. The Scriptures themselves speak on two covenants – the Old and New (which Hebrews 11 describe as the ‘first’ and ‘new’ (Hebrews 8:7, 13), yet emphasize the continuity in God’s purposes and his people. Abraham is, for example, “the father of all who believe” (Romans 4:16-17). Paul understood that the promise made to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations was fulfilled in the worldwide church. It is therefore possible to hold that there is one people of God (what David insists is the position of one covenant theology) and a continuity/discontinuity between the two covenants (see Hebrews 8:13).
Speaking of the Two Covenant position, David says he cannot believe the Holy Spirit inspired the “misleading titles given to the two sections of our Bibles… anymore than I can accept that God intended the books of the Bible to be carved up into numbered chapters and verses!” (pp. 45-46). Whether inspired or not, I find them very useful, as it appears David does too.
In his book, David repeatedly equates a two-covenant position with “replacement theology, the idea that the church has replaced Israel in God’s actions and even his affections” (p. 46). He insists “Sizer argues from this assumption and its corollary that in this matter, as in every other, ‘new’ replaces ‘old’” (p. 46).
This is not my position. I do not believe the Church has replaced Israel and I am clear and emphatic on this point in my books. In fact, I do not know anyone who does hold to this view. It is a straw man. I believe in the continuity between God’s people under the Old Covenant and God’s people under the New Covenant. Both were inclusive and neither were racial, as David suggests.
Hebrews 8:13 states “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:13). David paraphrases this and caricatures my position by saying:
“The ‘new’ covenant has created a new people, no longer defined by physical descent from Abraham, but by spiritual assent to Jesus, not in any way related to ethnic origin but reproduced by evangelistic outreach. Promises of a physical land to an ethnic group are now at best an irrelevance and at worst a theological heresy and a political danger. Zionists are thought to be abandoning the ‘new’ covenant/Testament and returning to the ‘old’ covenant/Testament.” (p. 46)
David is correct in his conclusion but wrong in his assumptions. I emphasize in my books the inclusive nature and continuity of God’s people under both covenants. The Apostles are examples of those who, like Nicodemus and Paul, span both covenants. God has not created a ‘new’ people. Both the Old and New Covenant were made with the same people – predominantly but not exclusively Jewish under the Old Covenant and predominantly but not exclusively Gentile under the New Covenant. God’s people were never defined on the basis of physical descent but always on the basis of spiritual assent.
In explaining the significance of the Abrahamic Covenant, David insists, “God promised to bless him and his descendents, who would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore and stars in the sky… he would give them, as a possession for all time, the land he had brought them to.” (p. 49). In this David neglects the conditional clauses added by God in the Mosaic Law and by the prophets. These he sees as ‘fulfilled’ in the Messianic Covenant, while the terms of the original ‘unconditional’ Abrahamic covenant apparently still apply. David also neglects to take account of the conditional clauses God gave to Abraham concerning circumcision (see Genesis 17:9, 14).
David then offers one of his least convincing (and least biblical) arguments:
“This covenant had international as well as national promises. This family of three generations would channel benefits to all other families on earth. But they could mediate harm as well as good, depending on the attitude of others. Those who blessed this people (with helpful words and deeds) would enjoy a divine blessing. Those who cursed them (with hurtful words and deeds) would suffer a divine curse. The way God’s people on earth are treated matters greatly to God in heaven; hurt them and he is hurt – and will in turn hurt those who hurt them.”
With some subtlety, David takes this promise made exclusively with Abraham (Genesis 12:3) and reiterated by Isaac to his son Jacob (Genesis 27:28-29), and then applies it to Jewish people today. This is an error for three reasons: First, the original promise was not given in perpetuity but to individuals. Second, the New Testament insists the promise was fulfilled in and through Abraham’s ‘seed’ Jesus (John 8:56; Galatians 3:16; 29). Third, the Apostles insist that only those who recognize Jesus are God’s ‘chosen people.’ (Colossians 3:11-12).
David wrongly claims “This covenant is full of “I will” promises (count them in Genesis 12-17), but there are no “you shall” or “you shall not” commandments given with them.” (pp. 49-50). Here is one example:
“For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised,including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” (Genesis 17:12-14)
Again, referring to the Mosaic Covenant, David wrongly suggests this covenant promised “ownership” of the ‘promised land’ to Abraham’s descendants (p. 50). The Jewish people were never the ‘owners’ of the land. It would be more accurate to say they were ‘tenants’ not owners. God says in Leviticus “The land must not be sold permanently; because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23). It will not do to say this injunction was terminated in the New Covenant so that somehow, ownership of the land reverts to the Jewish people. Rather, it is that the terms of the first covenant are fulfilled and extended in the second to embrace all nations and encompass the whole world.
In describing the Messianic Covenant, David seems to hold a weakened view of the atonement. He writes that because of Jesus death, resurrection and ascension, “Sins can now be forgiven… it is a conditional covenant, depending on the continued repentance and faith of the recipients. It is an offer of salvation… but only to the penitent faithful” (p. 54). The Apostle Paul insists however, that salvation is a free unmerited gift of God’s grace (Romans 5:12-20) In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul explains that God’s sovereign grace initiates and ensures our salvation:
“Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions —it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:3-10)
Because David insists there are five covenants, not two, and that the Abrahamic Covenant supersedes the Mosaic Covenant, not subsumed or incorporated by it, he admits being surprised that the writer to Hebrews calls the Old Covenant the “first” covenant. The verse states “For if there had been nothing wrong with the first covenant, no place would have been sought for another… By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:7, 13)
David writes, “Surprisingly, he calls it the ‘first’ covenant, though historically it was the second with Israel, centuries after the first with Abraham.” (p. 56) And one might add, ‘the third’ if one counts the Noahic Covenant.
At times David wants to preserve a permanent and uniquely racial dimension to the Abrahamic Covenant (The Jewish people get the land) but then acknowledges that its parameters embrace the Gentile believers (p. 57). In doing so he seeks to keep circumcision and baptism separate under the New Covenant. “It was not because baptism had superseded it (no one even thought of saying this).” (p. 57). But is not this precisely what Paul says to the Colossians when he takes circumcision language and applies it to baptism (without undergoing physical circumcision)?
“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptismand raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:6-15)
David insists “Quite simply, if the new covenant Jesus would establish by his death (Luke 22:20) annulled or even altered in any way the Abrahamic, Jesus could and should have informed Abraham of the change. There is no record of him having done so or even needing to.” (p. 61).
True, the Law did not annul the covenant made with Abraham (Galatians 3:17). The point is not one of annulment but one of fulfillment. The New Testament insists Jesus fulfilled the Abrahamic Covenant and the promises flow to all his children (Jewish and Gentile) by faith (Romans 3:28-4:17; Galatians 3:16-18)
“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. 17 What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. 18 For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” (Galatians 3:16-18)
Nevertheless David insists, “It is a major mistake to assume that the emphasis on the international aspect has excluded the national. It is a classic case of ‘both-and’, rather than ‘either-or’. Abraham is both the father of one (Jewish) nation and many (Gentile) nations. But for the credited righteousness that brings salvation, both the one and the many need to share Abraham’s faith.” (p. 62).
So David is saying, I think, because God’s promises to Abraham concerning the land were unconditional (and to his physical Jewish descendants for ever), they can safely ignore the conditions given in the Mosaic law and by the Prophets, and in fact don’t even have to believe in Jesus to receive their earthly inheritance. This logic is very worrying.
Jesus was scathing toward those who thought their relationship to Abraham gave them certain rights, privileges or security (John 8:39). Indeed Jesus explicitly warned that apart from faith in him, people would be excluded from God’s people (John 15:5-6). To suggest that the Abrahamic covenantal promises still apply to people who reject Jesus because of their race and because “God cannot lie”, is to set Scripture against Scripture. For example, Jesus warned,
“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)
“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:43-44)
The Apostle Peter reiterated this soon after the Day of Pentecost.
“For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’ (Acts 3:22-23)
David appears to want to re-erect the wall of partition which Jesus has broken down in his death on the cross. As the Apostle Paul insists:
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men) — 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peaceto you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have accessto the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizenswith God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:11-21)
How there can possibly be a continuing earthly ‘blessing’ of land, based on the Abrahamic Covenant for those who reject Jesus, defies the spirit and letter of the New Testament. David seems to be suggesting that the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the Church age reflects a postponement rather than fulfillment of the promise to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). In his rather imaginative paraphrase of Jesus’ reply to the disciples, (p. 68) he suggests it was merely a question of timing which is in God’s hands.
This is in error, as Calvin and numerous other commentators have pointed out. Jesus was not going to restore the kingdom to Israel because he had explained that his kingdom is “not of this world”. Before Pilate Jesus insists, “But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). Jesus had also warned that he was taking the kingdom away from unbelieving Israel and giving it to another people who would demonstrate their citizenship (Matthew 21:43). David claims this was only said to the leaders of Israel but Jesus refers to the people.
David then attempts to suggest that in Acts 15, at the Council of Jerusalem (p. 70), James quotes Amos 9:11-12 as proof that God will indeed restore the kingdom to Israel. But this is precisely the opposite of what James is saying! He is citing Amos as confirmation of the testimony of Paul and Barnabas of the incorporation of Gentiles into the Church. It was in the Church that David’s fallen tent was being rebuilt!
In his summary, David insists that the Abrahamic covenant (the promise of territory from Egypt to Iraq) continues alongside the New Covenant, so keeping unbelieving Israel and the Church separate. That this looks remarkably like dispensationalism is purely coincidental. “So the ‘new’ does not rule out the national hopes of the people of Israel” (p. 71). If their national ‘hope’ was to live at peace with God and one another, how can this be experienced apart from faith in Jesus Christ? David does not explain.
Chapter 3: Two Peoples
In this chapter David vainly tries to maintain a separate role for Israel within or alongside the New Covenant. While agreeing with much of my argument regarding the use of Old Testament imagery for Israel to describe the Church, he wrongly assumes this means I and those who challenge Zionism must be ‘supercessionists’ (p. 76). It is equally vacuous to suggest that to hold, as scripture rightly says that, Gentiles have been grafted into the people of God makes one a Zionist (p. 77).
David is wrong in his interpretation of Ephesians 2. He states “Christians are now ‘fellow citizens with God’s people’ [i.e. Israel] (Ephesians 2:19)” (p. 77). Paul is actually stating that Gentile believers in Jesus are ‘fellow citizens’ with Jewish believers in Jesus, not that Christians are ‘fellow citizens’ with unbelieving Israel.
Nor is David correct in suggesting Paul teaches in Romans 11 that “Gentile Christians have been grafted into the one olive tree of God, alongside Jewish branches (Romans 11:17-18). It would be more accurate to say that Gentile believers in Jesus have been grafted into the one olive tree of God alongside Jewish believers in Jesus. For unbelieving branches, according to John the Baptist and Jesus himself have, or will have, already been cut off (Luke 3:7-9; John 15:5-6).
David erects another straw man when he writes, “Supercessionists are prone to calling Christians ‘true Jews’ and the church ‘new Israel.’” (p. 77). In my books I carefully avoid such unbiblical language. I never suggest that Jews cease being Jews when they believe in Jesus or that Christians become Jews. Such designations merely cease to have any significance in salvation terms.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
David on the other hand seems to place more emphasis on ethnic identity than our spiritual identity. If Jews and Gentiles have been grafted into the one people, how can the designation “Israel” not apply to the one people (Galatians 6:16), especially as the contextual contrast is with the “Israel of the flesh”? Yet David insists on identifying his opponents as “Those who persist in using this verse to attempt to prove that the church has superseded Israel and is entitled to take her name.” Not so. I repeat, I am not saying the Church has superseded Israel. The two are one.
David rightly identifies the crucial question thus: “the real question is not the continued existence of Israel, but whether the significance of Israel has also continued. Are they still God’s chosen people?” (p. 83). The New Testament answers with an emphatic ‘no’. The term ‘chosen people’ is only used of follows of Jesus.
Yet David claims “Sizer and his like have laid down the axiom that God cannot possibly have two peoples on earth at the same time… why not? Reasons are not clearly given.” (p. 83). In Zion’s Christian Soldiers, I provide 33 pages of closely argued reasons, from the New Testament, to show that God has only ever had one people, a people always inclusive, never racial, always by faith never by works.
It is not at all clear whether David understands the core doctrine of Dispensationalism, namely the keeping of Israel and the Church as separate and distinct with different calling, purposes and destiny.
One of the most astonishing claims David makes is in answer to the question “What was Israel chosen for? It must be stated emphatically that they were chosen for service, not salvation.” (p. 85). If salvation means to be in a right relationship with God, how can service be acceptable to God that does not flow from our salvation? According to Paul in Ephesians, we are saved by grace, through faith, for good works, and in that order. We are saved to serve.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)
In his exposition of Romans 11, David mistakes Paul’s references to Israel’s past “the others were hardened” (Romans 11:7) and equates it with contemporary Israel suggesting a continuing role within God’s purposes in unbelief. When he asks “Have they missed their opportunity and forfeited their right to be God’s special people?” (p. 86), David would have us say ‘no’ yet those who have already died clearly have.
In insisting that references to Israel in Galatians and Romans only apply to Jews (p. 90), the unanswered question remains, what have Gentiles been grafted into, if it is not the inclusive people of God, namely Israel? The writer to the Hebrews emphasizes the inclusive nature of God’s people embracing both Old and New Covenant believers.
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40).
If as David insists, it was the land that the Jewish people did not yet receive, then this promise would suggest that it is believers under the New Covenant who will share it with them not those who have rejected Jesus.
Believing that the Lord has kept the Jewish people distinct in order that in the last days he might show his mercy upon them and draw many to himself in Christ, as both I and David do) does not warrant endorsing a political reality that is willfully disregarding the very Mosaic and Prophetic injunctions the Lord laid upon them as conditions of residence in his land.
Romans 11 looks forward to the day when there will indeed be a spiritual revival among Jewish people, and for this we must pray earnestly, but this cannot and must not be confused with Zionism or the State of Israel.
Chapter 4: The Promised Land
David deduces that “If the Jews are still ‘his people’, then the land must still be theirs. If ethnic Israel is still special, then territorial Israel is as well.” (p. 95). As has been shown, David separates the promise God made to Abraham from the conditions Moses and the Prophets attached to residence in the land, in order to assert that the land remains an unconditional ‘gift’ rather than a tenancy. This does violence to the flow of biblical revelation. Further more, it has been shown that while God will bring many Jewish people to himself before Jesus returns, this does not require their residence in the land, especially in unbelief, let alone a Zionist State.
In this chapter, David tries unsuccessfully to convince the reader by faulty logic and dubious historical analogy, why the Jewish people are back in the land, relying heavily on a section entitled “Circumstantial Evidence” (pp. 119-125).
David argues that because God is sovereign and the Jews are back in the land, it must be God’s will. He then insists because some Old Testament prophecies concerning the land do not appear to have been fulfilled literally, they must do so now or in the future.
David cites an obscure book (which I have) by Dr Arthur Kac, The Rebirth of the State of Israel – is it of God or of Men? (1958) as “one of the factors which led to my own convictions” and highly recommends it, yet laments that it is out of print for 50 years. One has to ask why in a day when popular books are easily reprintable.
To insist that in God’s covenant with the Patriarchs found in Genesis 12-17, “by far the most prominent ‘gift’ is the ‘land’ never to be taken away” (p. 95) contradicts Jesus own plain teaching when he warns: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Matthew 21:43-44)
Jesus makes faith in him a condition for continued residence in his kingdom as does Peter in Acts 3:17-26. If David would reply that Jesus is referring to a separate kingdom – that Israel may have a kingdom on earth (service)and Jesus is referring to a heavenly kingdom (salvation), then we may once again legitimately say, this is classical Scofield dispensational teaching.
David lamentably perpetuates the myth that the land was empty when the Jewish immigrants arrived in Palestine (p. 99). Nor is it true to say the “growing economy… attract thousands of Arab immigrants and gave them employment” (p. 100). Nor was it a “dry and barren landscape… barely able to support its meager population.” (p. 123). Zionism displaced 700,000 Arabs from Palestine whose families had been resident for centuries in over 500 villages. These villages and their residents were erased from the maps but not from the memory of the Palestinian people who under international law have the right to return. Zionism has turned those Palestinians who were allowed to remain into cheap bonded labour.
Because of historical reality (the Jewish people are back in the land largely in unbelief), David must prove that the Scriptures predicted that the return to the land would precede a return to the Lord. This despite the warnings of blessing and cursing given by Moses, King David and the Lord Jesus (see Deuteronomy 8:1-9:7; 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Luke 6:17-26).
David nevertheless attempts to show from Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel that God “would always bring them back to the land and back to himself. Predictions about this physical/spiritual return are so numerous that they cannot be ignored.” (pp. 103-104). Indeed they cannot. But by slight of hand David has reversed the consistent order of the Prophets. Notice David says they will come ‘back to the land and back to himself’ and that it will be a ‘physical/spiritual’ return. This is patently not what the Prophets teach.
David claims, “where a chronological sequence is clearly indicated, the physical return to the land precedes the spiritual return to the Lord. Readers are invited to check the following scriptures – Isaiah 4:2-3; Jeremiah 33:6-9; Ezekiel 36:24-26; 37:1-14; Joel 2:18-29; Zechariah 13:8-9.” (p. 107). The list sounds impressive. What do the passages teach? Just the opposite!
Isaiah 4:2-3 does not teach a return to the land before a return to the Lord – the ‘Branch of the Lord’ refers to Jesus. In context, Isaiah 5 warns of the exact opposite. In the parable of the vineyard, an analogy so popular with Jesus (Matthew 22:33-41), Isaiah warns of impending exile because Israel has failed to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 33 speaks of healing preceding the return. “I will heal my people and let them enjoy abundant peace and security. I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity…” (Jeremiah 33:6-7).
Ezekiel 36:16-21 describes how Israel was exiled from the land precisely because they had defiled it. Ezekiel 36:24-37 is a beautiful description of how the Lord would bring people back to himself in Jesus and bestow his Spirit upon us. To ignore how this was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus and at Pentecost, and then apply this passage to events 2000 years later stretches the imagination somewhat.
Notwithstanding the dubious interpretation of the parable of the valley of dry bones (flesh before spirit), verse 14 is clear on the chronology, “I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.” (Ezekiel 37:14)
As is so often the case, the context of the passages David cites, teaches the opposite of what he deduces. This is true of Joel 2:18-29 which describes God having pity on his people. However, this follows the description of the way the land has been occupied by foreign invaders (Joel 1:1-6) and so the Lord calls upon his people to repent (Joel 1:8-20). “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12). The verses David cites follow this call to repentance and lead into Joel 2:28-32 which describe the Day of Pentecost. If there is a chronology here therefore, the events describes in the passage David cites preceded or led to the coming of the Lord Jesus, not events 2000 years later.
Zechariah 13:8-9 describes the Lord’s discipline of his people in the land but does not describe a return in unbelief. One has to ask the obvious question which David does not answer: why were the Jewish people exiled from the land in the first place? None of the passages David cites teaches what he claims.
However, one passage David conveniently ignores is much more explicit. In Ezekiel 33, the arrogant attitude displayed then seem remarkably similar to sentiments expressed today.
“Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession.’ Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife. Should you then possess the land?” (Ezekiel 33:23-26).
The answer to the rhetorical question is clearly ‘no’. In the following verses Ezekiel leaves us in no doubt as to the consequences of disobedience:
“I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.” (Ezekiel 33:25-29)
On the basis of such sober warnings it could be suggested that unless there is an imminent spiritual revival, Israel is more likely to experience another exile rather than a restoration. The Abrahamic and Mosaic promises were always conditional. ‘Obey and stay or rebel and be removed.’ The message of the Prophets was consistent with the warnings of the Torah. ‘Repent and then return’, never the other way round.
David misinterprets Hebrews 6:13-18 (p. 106) when he suggests the writer is concerned with national Israel’s claim to the land rather than the promise that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and sand on the sea shore. What Abraham was promised, wanted most and eventually received (past tense) was a son and heir (Hebrews 6:15).
On occasions, David comes out with some eccentric and provocative statements and you are left wondering “where did that one come from?” An example occurs on page 108 where David is referring to Jewish believers in Jesus.
“I don’t call them ‘Jewish Christians’ because that is a contradiction in terms, ‘Christian’ being a nickname coined by and for Gentiles; (Acts 11:26)” (p. 108). Really? What does the passage actually say?
“Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:25-26)
Where in the text does it say Gentiles gave the disciples the name ‘Christians’? Were there really no Jewish believers in the church in Antioch? Were not Barnabas and Saul members of the church at least for a year? Were they not included?
Similarly, he claims, “Matthew was written in the 60’s (as proven from a fragment in the library of Magdalen College, Oxford)” (p. 117). While I agree Matthew was probably written about this time, it is not ‘proven’ from the fragment he refers to. Evangelical scholars concur that it was probably written around 200AD. (See http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Tyndale/staff/Head/P64TB.htm)
Again, on the same page, David insists, “most of the New Testament books were written for largely, if not exclusively, Gentile communities” (p. 117). Really? His reasoning is that this explains the absence of an emphasis on the land. “A return to the land was irrelevant to their expectations of the future.” (p. 117). Convenient! If so, then why, in the very two books David acknowledges were primarily for Jewish communities (Matthew and Hebrews) there is no explicit teaching on the land?
The imagery is now taken up with a ‘better land’. Hebrews 11 describes the journey of the Old Testament saints and shows that Abraham’s descendants were never destined to live in Canaan forever; indeed, the writer insists they knew this!
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)
And how does this journey of faith end? In what are Israel’s future hopes consummated?
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:39-40)
The writer to Hebrews is describing the unity of God’s purposes in bringing together one people of faith from all nations and all generations, to be consummated in heaven when Jesus returns. His return, if it is to be to Jerusalem, does not require a Zionist State to receive him. We are told “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7; Daniel 7:13) which suggests more than merely a local visitation or appearance on global TV networks. What a contrast then, to compare this glorious vision of Hebrews 11 with David’s assertion that:
“His gifts to them are ‘irrevocable’ (Romans 11:29). This one gift mentioned throughout the account of the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:17) is the land as a permanent possession of his descendants. This verse alone is enough New Testament endorsement of the Old Testament promises of a full and final return.” (p. 118)
Really? David actually means Genesis 12:7 not 17. The ‘gift’ of land promise made to Abraham, as I show in my book, becomes conditional on faith and obedience, and ultimately on faith in Jesus Christ. It was never a ‘permanent possession.’
David then cites Acts 3:21 suggesting this promises “a full and final reunion of the people and the place to prove the point.” (p. 119). In context, the Apostle Peter’s argument actually proves the opposite.
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, 20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. 23 Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’ 24 “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days.” (Acts 3:19-24)
Notice the chronology of Peter’s argument and emphasis upon faith in Jesus:
- Peter insists on repentance first (3:19)
- Then Jesus will return (3:20)
- Then Jesus will ‘restore everything’ (3:21)
- As promised by the Prophets (3:21)
- Those who reject Jesus ‘will be cut off from among his people’ (3:22)
Restoration promised here follows the return of Jesus to earth not the return of the Jewish people to Palestine. To suggest the land is somehow “a permanent possession of [Abraham] his descendents” who remain in unbelief and apart from faith in Jesus undermines the very gospel itself.
What David advocates sounds remarkably like another ‘gospel’ like the message propagated by the legalists from Jerusalem who were infecting the Galatian church with their insistence on circumcision and obedience to the law. Paul’s anathema of eternal condemnation is a sober warning (Galatians 1:6-9).
Chapter 5: The Second Coming
In this concluding chapter David asks and then answers questions concerning the return of the Lord – how, where, when and why?
When I state in my book that the return of Jesus will be personal, visible and unmistakable, sudden, unexpected and glorious, David takes me to task for not apparently mentioning that Jesus will be accompanied by the angels and departed saints. In fact, on pages 134-136 of Zion’s Christian Soldiers, I do several times. This is an example of David’s lack of care in critiquing those he disagrees with.
Even more surprising, he goes on to suggest, “Far more important is that he avoids any adjectives which indicate a physical return.” (p. 129). Now either David has not read my books or he was having a ‘senior moment’ when he wrote that. Of course Jesus return will be bodily. How else could it be personal and visible and unmistakable? As a good premillennialist, David wants to emphasize the bodily return of Jesus because he believes Jesus will return to Jerusalem to reign there as the Jewish Messiah for a thousand years. This reinforces his case for the Jewish people dwelling in the land before Jesus returns. To question my commitment to a bodily return because I question Zionism is a little tenuous.
However and to wherever Jesus returns, we are assured that “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1:7). That will be difficult if Jesus only returns to Jerusalem.
While David provides no footnotes or sources for his quotes, he does claim that at an Evangelical Alliance seminar on Israel, “I asked Sizer where he believed Jesus was coming back to. I cannot recall his exact words but his answer was both vague and evasive.” (p. 131). Why does David rely on his failing memory rather than read what I have actually written in both books? Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)
Jesus tells us we will meet him in the air and the angels will gather his elect from all over the world, suggesting a large number of people. Indeed, the dead in Christ will be raised first, so it is going to be a very great number of people who will gather with Christ “from every nation, tribe, people and language”, – so many in fact that the Apostle John says that “no one could count” (Revelation 7:9).
To insist Jesus is going to return to Jerusalem to accomplish all this stretches the imagination somewhat. The geological disturbance which Zechariah describes in 14:4, if taken literally, will render Jerusalem uninhabitable anyway. Similarly Matthew 23:39, which David cites as evidence that Jesus will return to Jerusalem, simply states that believers will cry “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Unbelievers will not be so enthusiastic. Furthermore, Jesus is speaking to people in Jerusalem then, not their descendents now, thousands of years later.
David asks again, “Is this why Sizer and others carefully avoid any language which would imply a physical location of Jesus return?” (p. 131). The answer is ‘no’ – the return of Jesus will be visible and bodily, and may indeed be to Jerusalem or perhaps above it. But we must not set one verse – Zechariah 14:4 – over against many other passages which speak of the apocalyptic, cataclysmic and universal nature of the return of Jesus. It will not merely be localized.
In answering the question, “Why will Jesus return?” as a premillennialist, David insists it will be to rule the nations from Jerusalem for 1000 years. This is a respectable theological position to take. However, David unwisely insists that the Book of Revelation provides a chronological timetable, “That these events are intended to be read as a chronological sequence is clear from the text itself” (p. 137). Wiser counsel recognizes that apocalyptic language needs more careful handling (see sources quoted in Zion’s Christian Soldiers, pp. 27-31).
While in my two books, I summarize the relative merits of four eschatological views, premillennial, postmillennial, amillennial and preterist, David denigrates those he disagrees with.
For example, in referring to an amillennial position held by theologians like John Calvin and Louis Berkhof, David writes, “apparently nothing means what it says and we need theologians to explain it to us. Pity the original readers… I leave the readers to judge for themselves whether the above ‘explanations’ are really interpretation or manipulation of the text to fit a pre-conceived conclusion.” (pp. 144-145).
Of Post-millennialists, who included Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, David insists “The British magazine Restoration, after a successful run, devoted an entire issue to anti-Zionism – and went out of circulation shortly afterwards… All Post-millennialists share a negative attitude towards the modern State of Israel” (pp. 142-143).
David does not appear to understand or have heard of Preterism, a position held by theologians such as R.C. Sproul, Max King and Gary DeMar. David writes, “This novel and recent contribution achieves nothing but more confusion, to my mind. By introducing it, does Sizer hope to make the debate so complex as to discourage it altogether?” (p. 146).
The answer is ‘no’. I simply wish to show that respected theologians have held to four different views as to whether the reference to a Millennium is to be understood literally, figuratively or symbolically, and whether prophesies relating to the Last Days were, are or will be fulfilled. I remain agnostic, but favour a simple eschatology that eagerly expects and prays for the imminent return of the Lord Jesus. I trust him to bring about his purposes in and through his ‘chosen’ people, the Bride of Christ. I want to be on the welcoming committee not the organizing committee.
Conclusions: The Consequences
The saddest aspect of the book is the tone with which David occasionally writes. There is an impatience with positions he disagrees with and sometimes barely concealed anger. Sometimes David implies Divine judgement on those who challenge his position.
For example, in his conclusions he refers to an international conferences held in 2004 and sponsored by Sabeel in Jerusalem, entitled ‘Challenging Christian Zionism’. The participants included evangelicals, liberal and Catholic Christians together with Jewish and Muslim speakers and participants, who were deeply troubled by the failure of the international community to bring about justice for the Palestinians, peace for Israel and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. Nevertheless, David, who was not a participant, writes,
“Now a rising tide of anti-Zionism is added to the mix. The Archbishop of Canterbury consents to speak at a conference in Jerusalem… specifically denouncing Christian Zionism… The most belligerent speaker died shortly after returning home. Stephen Sizer was a delegate. Some preachers deliberately attack Israel… How does the Holy One of Israel feel about all this?” (p. 154)
In the Appendix, David summarizes, despite very few actual quotes, an unpublished sermon by John Stott, which he graciously allowed me to include in Zion’s Christian Soldiers. In my opinion, the book is worth buying just for this sermon. David begs to differ however.
“It is unlike such a careful scholar to build so much on so flimsy a foundation… when it comes to expounding particular texts Stott gets into difficulties, coming up with some unusual, even bizarre explanations… For Stott ‘Jerusalem’ does not refer to the Jewish capital at all but to “the whole present world order” which will be brought to an end before Jesus returns. This extraordinary claim…” (pp. 159-160).
David seems unaware that this is how the Apostle Paul associates Jerusalem with the opponents of Christ (Galatians 4:21-27) as does the Apostle John (Revelation 11:8). The writer to Hebrews calls us to look to another Jerusalem as our true home (Hebrews 12:22-23).
He concludes with the regrettable comment, “it is a great pity that this sermon had not remained unpublished.” Perhaps it would be charitable to suggest it would have been better if David’s comment had remained unsaid.
My question to David is this. Was the coming of Jesus the fulfillment or the postponement of the promises God made to Abraham?
David’s case for Christian Zionism requires him to show that unconditional promises concerning the land were made by God exclusively with a racial group descended from Abraham, and apply in perpetuity to their physical Jewish descendants, apart from faith in Jesus Christ. This he cannot and does not prove from Scripture.
This is why I continue to regard Christian Zionism as an oxymoron, a basic contradiction in terms. Nothing in David’s book leads me to think otherwise.
Originally published 21 May 2008
For further information on text, audio and video resources that can be freely downloaded, visit www.sizers.org
[i] Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, (Moody Press, Chicago, 1995). pp.39-40.