The Balfour Declaration
One Hundred Years Later
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The Balfour Declaration: One Hundred Years Later
“Those stones are the most important find you have made here this summer.” My Israeli dig supervisor was pointing to the large Herodian building stones that had formed the foundation of King Herod’s expansion of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Those stones were tangible proof of the first-century monarch’s rule over the Jewish state.
They stand today as evidence for any visitor to see that the biblical and historical record is true. There was a Jewish state in the land in the first century, ruled over by Rome. In spite of attempts to deny it and rewrite history, a Jewish temple stood on the mount. All of this is a critical piece of proof that helps establish the legitimacy of the state of Israel.
The legitimacy of the Jewish state is a serious matter. Yet most don’t understand the historic and prophetic role the state of Israel fills in the plan of God.
The year was 1971, and I was a student volunteer working to clear away 2,000 years of accumulated debris at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This was only four years after the Israelis gained control of the Temple Mount in their lightning-quick victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israeli archaeologists were racing to dig through nearly 20 centuries of rubble and expose the historical record of a Jewish presence in Jerusalem. At the time I didn’t realize the importance of this political fact. But I do now!
Why is the existence of the state of Israel important to you as reader of Beyond Today? Why does it matter?
It matters because the modern state of Israel is one of God’s markers of His promises, both physical and spiritual, in today’s world. The Jewish state is a remnant of a once-larger group who held the promises God made to Abraham.
That a remnant of the people God chose for a special purpose still exists in the land promised to Abraham is a sign to all mankind that God will fulfill the greater spiritual promises of that agreement. You need to understand not only how the state of Israel came to be but also why it is a critical dimension of understanding God’s purpose and plan.
The promise of a Jewish homeland
Nov. 2, 2017, marks the 100-year anniversary of a public letter sent to a prominent British Jew, Lord Rothschild, by Arthur James Balfour, the British foreign secretary. The letter, thereafter called the Balfour Declaration, committed the government of Great Britain to the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people” in what was then called “Palestine,” the biblical land of Israel.
Palestine at this time was a part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. Allied leaders recognized that with the conclusion of World War I the map of the Middle East would be redrawn, and governance of lands would be distributed among the Allied nations. Great Britain was laying claim to Palestine and committing itself to allowing further Jewish immigration into that area.
Here is the critical text from that 1917 document: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The Balfour Declaration was debated and discussed in the years after its issuance. Some questioned its legitimacy, and subsequent British governments even ignored its intent. Sympathizers with Arab claims to the land rejected the right of Great Britain to promise the land to the Jewish people.
However, the League of Nations included the text of the declaration in its 1922 grant of a Palestine mandate to Britain, thus granting legitimacy among the international community to what Great Britain promised. In 1947 the United Nations General Assembly by resolution endorsed the division of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and the other Arab. Thus a line of international legitimacy can be drawn from 1917 to 1948.
On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel declared its existence as the first Jewish state in the land since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of Jewish sovereignty beginning in A.D. 70. Neighboring Arab nations immediately attacked Israel, beginning a long period of war, peace agreements and failed efforts to reconcile the Arab and Israeli interests in the region.
The promises to Abraham
Today the state of Israel is the only stable democratic nation in the Middle East. To maintain its precarious existence it must remain constantly on alert to terrorism, military attacks and political hostility from neighboring states and even the at times vague and fickle support from America, the first nation to acknowledge Israel’s existence.
As my archaeological experience in Jerusalem from years ago testifies, the legitimacy of the Jewish state is a serious matter. Yet most do not understand the historic and prophetic role the state of Israel fills in the plan of God. Let’s review that.
The book of Genesis records a dual promise to Abram—later known as Abraham—that included possession of the land now called Israel and a vast multitude of descendants. The promise also contained a spiritual dimension that was fulfilled in another of Abraham’s descendants, Jesus Christ.
Through Him is the promise of spiritual salvation to all races and peoples regardless of their physical descent. These promises to Abraham are at the heart of that part of the Bible we call the Old Testament and are expanded in the New Testament through the message of and about Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
The physical promises to Abraham’s descendants began to be fulfilled when the 12 tribes of Israel were miraculously delivered from Egyptian slavery and brought to the Promised Land by Moses and Joshua. Ancient Israel grew strong under King David and Solomon and later fractured into two nations, the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah.
However, both nations came to a point where they were weakened and eventually overcome and deported by the stronger nations of Assyria and Babylon. The Bible details Israel and Judah’s decline and fall and specifically and repeatedly shows it was due to sin and breaking of the agreements made by the people’s forefathers with God. History shows the kingdom of Judah, what we can refer to as primarily a Jewish state, came to a conclusion in or about 587 B.C. when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and took most of the Jews captive to the area of Babylon (2 Kings 25:7-11).
But the story of the presence of God’s people in the land does not end there.
The return to the land
The Jewish state was restored in part during the time of the Persian king Cyrus the Great. Persia took a different national policy toward captive nations by allowing people to remain in their land.
Nehemiah 1 contains Cyrus’ decree allowing Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple to God and inhabit the city (Nehemiah 1:1-4). The story of the return of this remnant of Israel is told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and of the prophets Haggai, Zephaniah and Malachi. Through much difficulty the Jewish state was reborn and endured through the Persian and Greek periods and into Roman times. It is a remarkable and little understood portion of the biblical record.
As foretold far earlier through the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 44:24-28, God directed through Cyrus the return of Israel to the land during this period. God’s plan was linked to the presence of His people in the land promised to Abraham.
Prophecies concerning Jesus Christ’s first coming are found throughout the Old Testament, even to the naming of the city in which He would be born (Bethlehem). He was born of the line of David, a Jew. All this had to occur as foretold, and the place where this would happen would be in the land promised to Abraham, the ancient land of Israel. God restored a Jewish state in the land to fulfill messianic prophecies and provide the environment for the birth of both His Son and His Church.
We read of this through the New Testament Scriptures. The presence of the people of Abraham in the land is clear. We read the incontrovertible evidence in the Bible. What today’s archaeologists have unearthed in the land proves this fact beyond doubt. It is only political scheming that attempts to deny this truth.
The Jewish state lasted until A.D. 70, when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and dispersed many Jews after a revolt that had begun a few years earlier. From A.D. 70 to 1948, although there was a scattered Jewish presence in the land, there was no sovereign nation here composed of the descendants of Abraham through Israel and Judah, those who held the Abrahamic blessing promised centuries before by God.
What does this mean for today?
Fast-forward to our modern times and we can begin to understand why the state of Israel is important to the purpose of God and why the Balfour Declaration of 100 years ago was a key step in this story.
The Bible contains prophecies of the time of the end, prior to Christ’s second coming, that must include a Jewish state—a remnant of the ancient nation of Israel—in Jerusalem and the land of Israel.
One prominent prophecy was made by Jesus Christ Himself on the Mount of Olives—His Olivet Prophecy in Matthew 24. In answer to the question from His disciples, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3), Jesus began to list a number of events.
In Matthew 24:15-16 He said, “When you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place . . . , then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” His disciples knew what He was referring to. This was a reference to an event in 168 or 167 B.C. when the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the Jerusalem temple by offering swine’s blood on the holy altar. He ended for a time the daily sacrifices at the temple and sought to stamp out all presence of the faith of God among the Jews. He didn’t succeed, but he did for a time impose a kind of a holocaust on the nation.
In referring to these events, Christ was saying there would be a similar end-time occurrence. For this to happen as Jesus foretold, there would have to be in Jerusalem a restored system of sacrifices on a consecrated altar as described in the biblical laws of the Old Testament. This of necessity would require a Jewish presence and a form of the faith as practiced under that ancient system. This could not happen without a Jewish national state in that land.
Jesus referred to the prophet Daniel. In the prophecy of Daniel 9 we find what is called the “70 weeks prophecy,” which gives amazingly precise information about the holy city and the coming of Christ at His first appearance and even to His second coming. It is an intricately complex prophecy but includes unmistakable references to “sacrifices and offerings” and “abominations” and “one who makes desolate.”
Taken together with Christ’s statements, it is understood that this prophecy stretches from the sixth century B.C. to the time of Jesus Christ’s return. Again, the presence of sacrifices can only be possible within the context of a restored Jewish state in the land.
A key event of prophecy
Many other prophecies referencing Jerusalem and Judah can be understood and fulfilled only with an end-time Jewish state in the ancient land.
The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 is a key event in not only modern history but also prophetic history. It is a signpost in the long story of God working with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the 12 tribes of Israel, as part of His grand purpose to bring salvation to all nations through Abraham’s promised “seed,” Jesus Christ (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16).
While salvation, the passage to immortal glory in the family of God, is a promise for all people, God chose to work through the family of one man to make this possible. Jesus Christ was born as a descendant of Abraham, and His sacrifice and resurrection are the means for forgiveness of sin and the path to eternal life.
Israel and Jews have been connected to not only Great Britain but America as well. The three are connected by bonds that go deeper than modern history. They are connected through the promises made by the Creator God to Abraham, the father of the faithful. Those promises, both spiritual and physical, are sure and just. Space here does not permit a complete explanation of this truth, but you can read about it in our free study guide The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.
Many sense this connection to a certain degree, feeling it is of God. It causes people to feel that as Israel goes, so goes America. Does God favor and protect Israel and America? The question has been raised by the eminent American scholar Walter Russell Mead. In a piece for The American Interest on May 25, 2011, titled “The Dreamer Goes Down for the Count,” he wrote about relations between the two nations. Mead glimpsed that the connection between the two is indeed something special.
He wrote: “The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race. For many American Christians who are nothing like fundamentalists, the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and their creation of a successful, democratic state after two thousand years of oppression and exile is a clear sign that the religion of the Bible can be trusted.”
Indeed, the “religion” of the Bible can be trusted—as the truth. When connected to events in the modern world, we achieve a deeper level of understanding. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was a key step in creating today’s state of Israel. It is well worth noting at this centenary point.
The state of Israel today sits in a precarious yet important juncture of world affairs. Few understand the role of the Jewish state from the dimension described in this article.
Fifty years ago one observer peered through the fog of misunderstanding and commented on the importance of Israel. The moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote: “As it goes with Israel so it will go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the holocaust will be upon us” (“Israel’s Peculiar Position,” The Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1968).
Although Israel faces many enemies, we need not fear that the state of Israel will vanish. The Bible shows it will play a key role in the time leading up to the return of Jesus Christ!