Israel’s Radical Right Religious Nationalists Where should we as Yeshua’s Disciples stand? The First Century Zealot Movement, Parallel to Today

In the first century, there was a Messianic movement that believed that the way to see Israel’s redemption was to rise up against Rome in revolt and to cast them out of the Land of Israel.  They were the Zealots.  The Sadducees opposed the Zealots.  They controlled the priesthood and the Temple and were the party most in collaboration with Rome.  The Pharisees also mostly opposed the Zealots.  Many of these two parties believed that the Zealots would bring destruction upon Israel.  Indeed, this fear is manifest in the plan of Caiaphas to arrest Yeshua since the idea of proclaiming someone the Messiah could bring the wrath of the Romans, and the level of autonomy and rule that Romans allowed would be lost.  “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)”  

Many think that Yeshua chose two disciples from the Zealots, Judas Iscariot, and Simon the Zealot. Of course, He chose them for a different path, but some think Judas never really left his Zealot leanings.  This may have been a factor in his frustration and betrayal.  Yeshua’s predictions about the destruction of Jerusalem were based on the failure of Israel under its leaders to realize their time of visitation in Him, and hence destruction would come. However, in addition, He no doubt anticipated that with His rejection, false Messiahs would lead Israel to destruction.  (False Messiahs did not enter by the legitimate door but were as thieves and robbers. (John 10:1 ff.)  At the time of His arrest, He warned that those who take up the sword would perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52.)  This could also be an anticipation of the terrible destruction that would happen due to the Zealot revolt.  They rejected Him and thus the Zealot revolt came. 

We can look back now and see the sad history.  After Rome offended the nation with an idolatrous standard set up in Jerusalem, the Zealots finally led a revolt and gained control of the nation.  The fight was valiant and the people resisted the Romans for four years, but then, alas, all was lost. 


Today’s Zealots in the Land of Israel 

We are today seeing the same spirit in the radical nationalist Orthodox Jews who believe that the way for Israel’s messianic redemption is to take all the land and remove the Palestinian Arabs.  As the late Rabbi Meir Kahani, who led the Koch Party, said, “They must go.”  “Take the whole Land by force,” is a good description of their program.  To achieve this, their young adults set up illegal outposts in Samaria and Judea (the West Bank) with the hope that they will become towns.  The State of Israel sometimes dismantles them and sometimes legalizes them under the pressure of their one major coalition partner, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength), under Itamar Ben Gvir.  Some of these Zealots in West Bank towns/settlements abuse Palestinian Arab farmers, uproot trees, and do violence to them.  This is not to overlook the terrible violence against Jewish residents in these territories by Arab terrorists.  The zealots of today believe that the way forward is to act in faith and take the whole Land that is promised.  It is this faith action that is understood by them as the kind of faithfulness that will bring redemption.  Amazingly some Evangelical Zionists support this orientation.   I one time asked a zealot what should be done with the Arabs, and he said, “Kill them.”  This certainly is not the spirit of Yeshua and does not show the humility that should be our orientation on the basis of the teaching of the Bible.   Here are some biblical considerations. 


Attaining the Full Borders of the Land is a Conditional Promise

Deuteronomy 19:8, 9 clarifies that the full attainment of the borders of Israel was conditional upon obedience to the Covenant of Moses and obedience to His Torah/Law. “Carefully obey all these laws I’m giving you today.  Love the Lord your God, and always do what he wants you to do.  Then the LORD your God will enlarge your land as he promised your ancestors, giving you the whole Land he promised them.”  

For us as Messianic Jews, we add the important fact that our people have not yet repented and recognized Yeshua.   However, an Orthodox Jew should look at the Torah and say, do we measure up sufficiently to believe we can at this time attain the full promise of the Land?   Only about 1/5 of the Jewish population of the Land seriously seeks to obey the Torah.  One would expect therefore that we would have difficulty in attaining the full Land promise and that the struggles we are having fit the condition of the Jewish people of this Land today.  How is it that today’s Orthodox zealots do not see this?  Their actions may bring disaster, not redemption.  We add the rampant sin in this nation, the abortions, the support for homosexual sexual relations, the support for radical LGBTQ agendas, and more. 

This zealot orientation is noted by democratic nations.  I totally disagree with President Biden and his administration interfering with Israel’s elected government.  Senator Schumer calls for a change of government in Israel.  The Biden Administration points out their difficulty with Israel’s radical right-wing government leader partners and the zealot behavior in the West Bank and with the treatment of Palestinians by the Army.  They even want to sanction an ultra-Orthodox army division today over mishandling a situation two years ago under the previous government.  This is a terrible policy in the midst of this hard war we are now fighting.  This Orthodox army division is not made up of only the radical nationalists but includes the ultra-Orthodox.  They have a range from being against the existence of the State of Israel (Satmor) to being pro-Israel but not willing to serve in the army and finally those who will accommodate army service. For the anti-state Orthodox, the state delays the coming of the Messiah who alone can set up the legitimate state.   However, this essay is about the ultra-nationalist Orthodox.  These Orthodox need to read their Torah and realize that their program is foolish. 

The Biblical Picture of Today’s Return to the Land

In addition, the most important text on Israel’s return to the Land in this period is Ezekiel 36:24 ff which states that Israel will return to the Land before she is given a new spirit and the Holy Spirit within that will move them to be an obedient people.  Texts about Israel in the Age to Come describe the full borders of an obedient Israel at that time under the rule of the Messiah.  The borders are more extensive than from the Jorden to the Mediterranean!  But that is after this age.  In Zechariah 12 and 14, we read about war and the probability that we have not attained the full promise until the Messiah comes in Zech. 14 and until we look upon him whom we have pierced and mourn for Him (Zech. 12:10)


Supporting Israel to Act Pragmatically

What shall our council then be?  It is that Israel has to act pragmatically.  We on the one hand recognize God’s hand in regathering and hope in Amos 9 that we will never again be uprooted.  However, the government needs to make the best decision based on what is most likely to bring security to the people.  Arabs west of the West Bank are citizens of Israel and it would be well for Israel to be more just in the distribution of services, roads, infrastructure, building permits, and police protection.  What to do with the West Bank?  There is nothing in the Bible that says everyone has to be a full citizen of a state as developed in the 19th century.  Robust autonomy for Arab areas, no military arms, and passports for a type of residency could be linked to Israel or Jordan.  Or after a generation of education in peace, there could be a state, but this seems unlikely.  As for Gaza, it can be freed again as it was in September 2005, but only after a generation of education for peace with the Jewish state.  Until then the freedom can only be partial. 

These are difficult issues.  Though we can imagine solutions, there may not be one that can be implemented before the Messiah returns.  But we should resist the idea that we can take the whole land and expel the West Bank Arab Muslims.  “They must go,” is probably not going to happen!  This would bring the wrath of the world against Israel.  

For us, let us pray and believe for revival in the Land that will reach even to Gaza and the West Bank so that many Jews and Arabs will come to faith in Yeshua.