Salvation is of the Jews. (John 4:22)

From its inception, the Christadelphian community has taken a keen interest in the fortunes of the land and people of Israel. This interest is based on an appreciation of the key role in God’s prophetic plan of the descendants of Abraham and of the land promised to Abraham’s seed. It is no mere coincidence that the seminal work in our community is entitled Elpis Israel – the hope of Israel.

Elpis Israel

When Elpis Israel was published there appeared little prospect that Jews would return in large numbers to the land promised to the patriarchs. There had always been a small remnant of Jews eking out an existence in the land, but when John Thomas penned Elpis Israel there were in place legal restrictions on the migration of Jews to their ancient homeland. Despite that, informed by the prophets, he confidently asserted that Jews would return to Palestine, albeit in unbelief:

“The pre-adventual colonization of Palestine will be on purely political principles; and the Jewish colonists will return in unbelief of the Messiahship of Jesus, and of the truth as it is in him. They will emigrate thither as agriculturalists and traders, in the hope of ultimately establishing their commonwealth, but more immediately of getting rich in silver and gold by commerce with India …”1

While national independence might be a long-term objective of the Jews who returned to the land, it would not be the basis on which the initial settlers would come. In fact, John Thomas did not expect an independent Jewish state to emerge prior to the return of Christ (see Elpis Israel, pages 447 and 453), but he did expect to see Jews beginning the process of re-establishing themselves in the land.

John Thomas did not have long to wait, with a conference being convened in Russia in 1860 to discuss Palestine as a Jewish homeland. The following year a Zion Society was founded, while in Poland a “lovers of Zion” movement was established. These early signs soon multiplied and, over the next four decades, a fully-fledged Zionist movement emerged from these humble beginnings.

The Jews and their Affairs

In February 1874, The Christadelphian magazine began a monthly column entitled “The Jews and their Affairs”. Robert Roberts introduced the new column with these words:

“We intend to keep our readers “posted”, from month to month, as to the Jews and their affairs. The brethren ought to know about the Jews. They are Jews themselves in the highest sense. Gentiles in the flesh, they are the adopted children of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise which hath great recompense of reward. The Jews after the flesh are the national basis of the marvels to be accomplished at the manifestation of Messiah. They stand related to the matters that form our hope, even “the hope of Israel,” for which Paul was bound with a chain. Their destiny is bound up with the realization of our hope. So long as the Jews are scattered, the saints will never sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in the kingdom of God. The revival of their nation is one of the great tokens of the end; a streak of light, athwart the night, from the rising dawn.”2

Now titled “Israel and their Land”, this column has been a feature of the magazine for 147 years, often accompanying a column on wider signs of the times. It was not until July 1967, the first issue published after the Six Day War, that a column with a title along these lines was first omitted from the magazine. On that occasion, it was explained:

“For the first time for nearly a century there will be no heading “Israel and their Land” or its equivalent – not because there is little to say of Israel but because it is all about Israel. A separate heading would be superfluous.”3

In 2017 this column continues to be a monthly feature of The Christadelphian, and the magazine is still published with the by-line “Dedicated wholly to the Hope of Israel”.

Prophecies relating to the return of the Jews to their homeland were a constant feature of preaching in the days of Robert Roberts. In 1877 he published a 54-page booklet under the title Prophecy and the Eastern Question which the subtitle, among other things, included comments on “the settlement of the Jews in Syria (as Palestine was also known at the time) under British Protectorate”. CC Walker would later update and reissue the booklet in 1904.

In 1884, after Britain’s dramatic entry into Egypt in 1882, Robert Roberts penned another booklet, this time called Events in Egypt in the Light of Bible Prophecy. Again, this work largely focused on the relevance of these developments to the resettlement of Jews in the Holy Land. That work was re-issued by CC Walker in 1899 under the title England and Egypt: Prophecy Fulfilled and Fulfilling.

Christadelphian Support for Jewish Migration

In the late nineteenth century Christadelphians scanned the horizon for signs of Christ’s coming, especially signs relating to the Jews and Palestine. Although primarily a community of working class people of meagre means, collections were taken up to assist Jews moving to Palestine. Even today, some very old members will remember the “blue box” on the mantel-piece where spare pennies were deposited for the Jewish National Fund. In addition to fund raising, sisters in many ecclesias convened sewing meetings at which garments were made to distribute to poor Jews in the land.

In the 1880s brethren in the UK worked closely with an eccentric Englishman, Laurence Oliphant, who, while not a believer in the gospel, shared their interest in the return of the Jews to Palestine. Oliphant was so passionate about the cause that he moved to Palestine, settling near Haifa. Among early Jewish settlements supported by the Christadelphians are two that still exist today – Yanna, about five miles east of Safed, near the Rosh Pinna kibbutz, and Yesod Hamolo, near Lake Merom.

Early Christadelphian Visits to Palestine

Today it is common for Christadelphians to visit Israel, but in the nineteenth century travel was vastly more expensive and difficult. It is thought that the first Christadelphian to visit the land was Viccars Collyer of Leicester. He travelled there for business reasons but also with the objective of seeing for himself the progress of Jews moving to Palestine. Upon his return, he wrote a report on his visit which ran over several issues of The Christadelphian from August 1887 onwards.

In 1889 a Brother Gee from Crewe migrated to Palestine with a view to starting up businesses which might provide employment for Jews arriving from Europe, many of whom were quite unsuited to the agricultural work conducted on Jewish colonies being established at that time. He was unsuccessful in these efforts and returned after several years.

In 1901, Frank and Clara Jannaway and CC Walker joined an organised tour of the land, which they found frustrating because of the superstitious nature of many of the sites they visited. The following year the two men returned and toured the land independently. Frank Jannaway would later draw on his experiences on these tours in his book A Bible Student in Bible Lands, while CC Walker wrote up his observations in the pages of The Christadelphian.

Excitement Grows

Excited by developments then occurring in relation to the Jews and the land, Robert Roberts published a pamphlet in 1895 under the title Is Christ Very Near? In which he said he expected Christ to return within five years. As with John Thomas, this anticipation was not to be realized, although even within this booklet Robert Roberts acknowledged that his hopes might be premature.

The following year, when he returned to England after his trip around the world, Robert Roberts delivered a series of six special lectures in Birmingham. The last of these was “England’s activity in Egypt and Jewish activity in the Holy Land”. The substance of those lectures was later published in a booklet in 1896 entitled A Look Round the Trouble Nations. The cover page notes that the lectures had also been given in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney during his trip.

The first Zionist Conference was held in Basle in 1897. Creation of a Zionist Organisation helped to unite and galvanize the disparate efforts underway in various nations. Early in the twentieth century many statesman as well as Jews started to view a Jewish homeland as the solution to what was then called “The Jewish Problem”. It was recognized that anti-Semitism was so entrenched, particularly, in Europe that Jews could never expect fair treatment. Several possible sites for a Jewish homeland were proposed – including Mesopotamia, Mexico, Uganda and even Australia – but most Jews would consider only Palestine.“Next year in Jerusalem” had been their mantra at countless Passover celebrations over the centuries; Bagdad, Kampala and other cities were simply unacceptable.

The Jannaways returned to Palestine in 1912 and spent most of their time around Jerusalem, paying attention to activities related to the support of Jews migrating to the land from Europe and taking many photos illustrating the progress of Jewish settlement in Palestine. While there, they sponsored a bed in the London Jewish Society’s hospital in Jerusalem – the “Elpis Israel bed”. At about the same time, Australian Christadelphians also sponsored a bed known as the “Hephzibah bed”.

Upon returning from this visit, Frank Jannaway compiled a book entitled Palestine and the Jews, and subtitled The Zionist Movement an evidence that the Messiah will soon appear in Jerusalem to rule the whole world therefrom. Published in 1914, immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I, the book was illustrated with the photos taken during the 1912 visit and a map showing the then existing Jewish colonies. Promoted within the brotherhood and to the broader community, it attracted a degree of interest. Copies were sent to leading British statesmen, some of whom replied confirming they had found the contents of interest. This included David Lloyd George who later became Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922 (during which time the Balfour Declaration was issued) and who was a key player in the 1919 Peace Conference after the war.

The first edition sold out within a few months and CC Walker published an expanded version in 1915 retitled Palestine and the Powers, the change of title reflecting the relevance of Palestine to the war that had since broken out. That work also sold briskly, and a second edition of that volume published at the end of the war was fully subscribed before it had left the binders.

These works included detailed information about the history and geography of the land as well as comments on the Jewish settlements then being established. In addition, they included considerable comment about prophecy and how it was being fulfilled in the return of the Jews to the land. Like John Thomas, the author, being informed by the prophets, could make some remarkably prescient comments which the later course of the war would confirm. For instance, he asserted that:

“We have not the slightest doubt that in due course the United States will take her place among the Young Lions.”4

Frank Jannaway also wrote of the confidence he shared with John Thomas and other students that Britain would acquire control of Palestine:

“Britain must, of necessity obtain a protectorate of Palestine, which has long been looked for by students of the writings of Israel’s prophets.”5

The Great War and Preaching

In Australia, efforts were made to seize on the events of the time to proclaim to all whether great or small the hope of the coming kingdom of God. Immediately following the declaration of war in August 1914, Charles Wauchope gave a series of four lectures on Armageddon in the Adelaide ecclesia. Interest in the subject was so great that they were repeated in September 1914:

“Many hundreds, hitherto strangers to the theme, heard these lectures and appreciated them in August and again in September. At times the building was full to overflowing, and the request to repeat was complied with in the hope that the Bible might emerge from its enforced hiding, to be studied in a new light.”6

In a letter to CC Walker, dated 14 January 1915, Charles Wauchope commented that “they were by far the most successful effort we have had in Adelaide”. The lectures were later published as a book under the title Four Lectures on Armageddon. A second edition was issued in April 1915 and a third, expanded edition in 1921. This last edition included two further chapters on developments since 1915 and the text of a speech made in the Commonwealth House of Representatives by Mr Walter Marks, an MP from NSW, in which he commended the book to his colleagues (Mr Marks was the nephew of Brother and Sister Marks who lived in the Tweed River area).

Charles Wauchope delivered another series of four lectures in September 1915 under the theme “The Troubled Nations” which were repeated in November 1915. These also were published in a book of that title in 1916, and Mr Marks also commended that work to fellow Parliamentarians.

Back in Britain, brethren likewise seized on opportunities to proclaim the hope of Israel in the light of current events and their bearing on prophecy. Henry Sully had published a book in 1904 with the title Britain in Prophecy. In 1915 he updated the work and renamed it Is It Armageddon? Marketed to the public, the book sold well: the initial printing in September 1915 was followed by a reprint in December the same year. A feature of the book is the return of the Jews to the land and Britain’s role in facilitating this.

The Glad Tidings magazine, at the time published monthly, included in each issue an article on “The Great War”. Its editor, William Grant, published a book in 1916 entitled The World-Crisis, with the subtitle Does the Bible give any light upon it? One of the three chapters is titled “The Turkish Empire in Prophecy and its End”, reflecting the author’s assurance that, in the demise of the Ottoman power, we were witnessing in 1916 the drying up of “the great river Euphrates”(Rev 16:12).

The Great War and Prophecy

When World War I broke out efforts were made to persuade the Ottoman Empire to remain neutral but Turkey decided to throw its support behind Germany. This pitted the Turk against Britain and accelerated the drying up of the Euphratean power which had been underway for the past century. Ultimately, Turkey lost most of her remaining territory in the Middle East, including Palestine.

Britain’s first major foray against the Turk was the ill-fated attack on Gallipoli in 1915. Although now seen as a major military disaster, the campaign was a close-run contest at the start. It was, however, a failure and, in retrospect, it is clear why it was doomed to fail: the Gallipoli Peninsula and the Dardanelles were located near the heart of the Euphratean Ottoman power, and rivers dry up from the edges rather than the centre. Thus, British Empire troops enjoyed more success when attacking Turkey from the extremities of her territory in Mesopotamia and Palestine, and the boundaries of the Euphratean power receded before Britain and her allies.

1917 was a significant year for many reasons. The war on the Western Front was at a stalemate but there were dramatic developments elsewhere which enthused brothers and sisters looking for signs of our Lord’s return. These included the:

  • capture in October of Beersheba by the Australian Light Horse, opening the way for British empire troops under General Allenby to seize Palestine;
  • issue on 2 November of the Balfour Declaration, promising British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine;
  • Russian Revolution in November and the overthrow of the Czar, paving the way for the rise of the Soviet Union; and
  • taking of Jerusalem by General Allenby in December, and the occupation of remaining parts of Palestine over the following weeks.

The pages of The Christadelphian in December 1917 and early in 1918 capture the excitement of the brotherhood as so many of its long-held expectations started to be realised. Seventy years before, John Thomas had anticipated that Britain would foster the return of the Jews to the land, and now the land was in British control. at control was to be formalised after the war in the granting to Britain of a mandate for administration of Palestine. Sir Herbert Samuel, the first High Commissioner appointed by the British to administer the land, was the first Jew to rule Palestine since the time of the Maccabees.

Interest in Palestine Builds

After the war, Frank Jannaway revisited the land, now under British administration, and was amazed by what he saw. Following that visit he published a further book, Palestine and the World, which was an update of his earlier works with updated information and newer photographs. This book also was promoted to the wider community and received mixed reviews from various journals.7 The fact that it was thought worthy of criticism, however, testifies to the reality that it had some impact on the public which was being invited to consider the evidence of God’s hand at work in the affairs of the Jews.

Christadelphian interest in the land was intense in the days following World War I. In the early 1920s, at the Ilford ecclesia, a Bible Research Class published a pamphlet on The Geography of Palestine and its reflection in the Bible. Elsewhere in Britain, in the early years of the twentieth century, a sister named Evangeline Estella Swaish wrote three substantial books and one pamphlet, all dealing with themes related to the Jews, Israel and prophecy. Three were published under the pen name Marcus Justus – Men and Nations: The Coming Struggle for Palestine, Universal Peace rough the King’s Son, and the pamphlet Israel and Palestine: Their Coming Exaltation. A third book, this time under her own name, The Romance of Zionism, was published in 1923.

In Australia, interest was also strong. In Sydney, Alfred Pearson in 1923 published a substantial book of 492 pages entitled The Climax of the Ages. Intended for distribution to the public, it covered all aspects of latter-day prophecy including the place of the Jews and their land in those prophecies.

Travel to the land became more affordable and more convenient in the inter-war period, and many brothers and sisters took the opportunity to visit. They were amazed by what they saw and wrote of their impressions in various magazines. A party from Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide who visited the land in 1936 (a trip which took several weeks each way by ship) wrote of their impressions in the September 1936 issue of The Logos.

The Christadelphian continued to cover developments in the land. Other magazines also reflected the brotherhood’s keen interest in these matters, with The Testimony publishing a special issue on “Jerusalem” in March 1935.

References:

  1. John Thomas, Elpis Israel (14th edition), page 441.
  2. The Christadelphian, 1874 (Volume 11), page 78.
  3. The Christadelphian, 1967 (Volume 104), page 325.
  4. Frank G Jannaway, Palestine and the Powers, page 142.
  5. Ibid, page 156.
  6. CP Wauchope, Four Lectures on Armageddon, page 3.
  7. These reviews are summarised in The Christadelphian, 1922 (Volume 59), pages 557-558.