Christian Zionism and the Pre-Tribulation Rapture

Does a belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture doctrine tally with the essence of Christian Zionism?

pope in jesus grave (photo credit: Channel 1)
pope in jesus grave
(photo credit: Channel 1)
I find many Christians who support the restoration of the Jewish people to their homeland in Israel also subscribe to the end-time teaching known as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture. This teaching holds that Jesus will return first as a “thief in the night” to snatch away the Church prior to a hellish reign of terror by a false messiah in the last days. Jesus will then come again with his Church to destroy all satanic rule on this planet and establish the long-awaited Messianic Age.
But have Christians who hold this view stopped to consider, as I finally did, that this teaching is fundamentally opposed to the heart and soul of Christian Zionism?
As a new Christian in the mid ’70s, I too believed the teaching that Jesus would come suddenly to remove his Church before the rule of the anti-Christ. The prophet Daniel called it “a time of distress such as has never occurred since there was a nation” (Daniel 12:1). Jeremiah called it “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:5-7). And Jesus said “if those days had not been cut short, no one would survive” (Matthew 24:22). So who would want to be here for that if you were told you could avoid it? Since the most respected Christian teachers in the land said we’d fly away with Jesus, I was right there.
But that was before I awakened to the “Jewish roots” of my faith. In the process of this awakening I discovered that God had not rejected the Jews, as we had been taught by a doctrine known as Replacement Theology. Indeed, He is even now reestablishing them in their national homeland, as all the prophets foretold. It wasn’t long before my wife and I became “crazy” Christian Zionists praying for Israel and the Jewish people, attending pro-Israel rallies, writing letters to papers that misrepresented the truth about Israel, encouraging the Jewish people, teaching other Christians about God’s plan of restoration for the Jews, and contributing to any ministry that supported Israel.
And in the middle of this Zionist awakening I began to sense a growing tension in my spirit concerning the Rapture.
It didn’t take long to see where the problem lay. At almost every pro-Israel event there would be a time of public repentance for turning our backs – and often our weapons – on the Jews. We’d loudly proclaim “we will never abandon you again” – either by keeping silent in times of persecution, as so many did during the Holocaust, or by distancing ourselves through the acceptance of Replacement Theology.
Yet by embracing a Rapture theology, aren’t we already planning to abandon them at a time when Israel and the Jews will need us most? Worse, we crow about our “saving event” without a word of apology to our Jewish friends. What must the Jews think? No doubt they are grateful for our present support, but I’m sure they won’t be holding their breath waiting for us once the feathers hit the fan.
What is wrong with us? Have we learned nothing from our past betrayals of our brothers? Are we just going to be happy-clappy cheerleaders for Israel as long as the skies are sunny, but when dark clouds come will we start looking for the Rapture bus to get us out of here, fast?
And if our love is that conditional, what does it say about our message of God’s eternal love for Israel? For years we have been quoting Isaiah 40:1,2: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, and that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” 
Do we believe that or not? If we do, then we should stop telling the Jews they are going to face the ultimate holocaust alone. Rather, we should be saying over and over that God will be with His chosen people, both Jew and Christian, protecting and providing for us throughout this coming Tribulation. And that eventually He will deliver us out of it and destroy our enemies in the Day of His wrath, as surely as He drowned the army of Pharaoh. This is what Jesus and all the prophets and apostles prophesied (see Daniel 12:1; Jeremiah 30: 1-11; Isaiah 52: 7-12; Joel 3: 14-17;1 Peter 1:5; Matthew 24:22, 29-31; Revelation 12:14). 
But still, how could Christians who have confessed undying love for Israel be so ready to abandon Israel in the “twinkling of an eye” via a pre-trib Rapture?
I believe the problem lies in a deeply held Christian misperception that God has two separate sheepfolds, namely the Church and Israel. This belief of two separate chosen people, also known as “spiritual Israel and physical Israel,” can be traced back to the teaching of John Nelson Darby, the man most responsible for developing the Rapture teaching. Darby developed his theology in the 1830s, but it didn’t go viral until the early twentieth century, when the Scofield Reference Bible included it in its commentary.
Darby, known as the “father of dispensationalism,” believed God has dealt with mankind in different ways in different ages or “dispensations.” Christians belong to the latest dispensation, an age of grace, and are considered God’s “heavenly people.” But the descendants of Abraham – at least those who came before Jesus, plus those who don’t accept Him as Messiah – belong to the dispensation of Law and are God’s “earthly people.”
Although he taught that the Church and Israel would always remain separate, he believed both groups play parallel roles in God’s plan of salvation, and will receive parallel inheritances. That is, he didn’t teach that the Jews had been disenfranchised by the Church, as Replacement Theology taught. But he didn’t see the Church as a continuation or enhancement of Israel, either.
Regarding the last days, Darby saw in the Scriptures that Israel would indeed be brought back to the Land (making him a Christian Zionist in that respect). And that anti-Christ would halt the daily sacrifice and defile the Temple by setting up “an abomination of desolation” in the holy of holies (Daniel 12:11). But since neither Israel nor the Temple with its sacrifices were then in existence, he concluded that after the Jews reestablished their state, God would have to bring back the dispensation of the Mosaic Law.
But that created a problem, since the world now lived under the dispensation of grace. His solution then was to teach that God would remove the Christians before He reintroduced the Law prior to the Tribulation. Hence, the Rapture.
Once the evil in this world had been destroyed by God, Christians would receive a glorious inheritance in the heavenly city of Jerusalem in transformed bodies. And the Jews would enjoy a time of supernatural peace and prosperity in the physical city of Jerusalem. 
It is obvious that Darby’s theology is a huge stumbling block for Christians who sincerely want to promise undying support for Israel.  For if Christian Zionism is anything, it is a deep emotional and spiritual identification with Israel and the Jewish people, an identification that surpasses theology or rationalization. It understands at the heart level that through our faith in the Jew Jesus, even if we are not Jewish, we are somehow included in this unique family of Abraham. So that when we read, “If you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise,” (Galatians 3:29), our heart shouts, “Amen!” Not, “see you later, alligator!”
Therefore, if we are going to be solidly in Israel’s corner as wepromised, we can’t also be planning an early exit. Their fight is ourfight. We must come alongside them, not just as fans, but as family. Itdoesn’t matter that the majority of Jews don’t recognize us or acceptus yet as mishpochah. We know it’s true! Therefore we have to act infaith and believe we have a stake in this game. The blessings of Israelare something we will share if we faint not.
We must be in thisfor the long haul. We must be one with the Jews, come what may, andtrust we will rejoice with them at the glorious deliverance our God haspromised.    
The writer is the author of Valley of the Steeples: How Jesus saved us from Christianity. He lives in southeastern Pennsylvania.

This article appeared in the June Christian edition of The Jerusalem Post.