Christian Zionists, or at least those who are awaiting the imminent second coming of Christ, see the Promised Land as stretching from the Nile in Egypt all the way to the Euphrates, taking in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and parts of Saudi Arabia and Iraq. “And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession” (Genesis 17: 8).

At the heart of the area lies Jerusalem with its Temple. According to Isaiah 2:2: ‘Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it…’

Christian Zionists believe there will be no peace in the region until Jesus “stages his ‘Second Coming’ and establishes the 1,000-year reign of peace.” These biblical clues, for them, “accurately and literally describe present and future events”. They expect “plagues and earthquakes and meteors, fire and brimstone, armies as numerous as ‘the sands of the sea’ coming against Jerusalem, mass slaughter and the overthrow of the Beast (Satan), the Jews and Jerusalem centre state… [until] Jesus returns to earth, with a ‘new Jerusalem coming down out of the heaven from God, prepared [according to Revelation 21:2] as a bride adorned for her husband’ (see Victoria Clark, ref below, p.3).

What they see as the miraculous return of the Jews to their ancient homeland, after thousands of years of wandering exile, and the very survival and success of the Jews in their re-established country since 1948 in themselves prove that God’s plan is under way.

Once Jerusalem had become Israel’s undivided capital – which happened in 1967 after the 6-Days’ War – the next step is for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock, the Haram al-Sharif, Al Aqsa. Then the Temple can be rebuilt, but this in turn will herald the appearance of an Antichrist, probably a European diplomat or the head of the United Nations (according to an interpretation of a few lines in Daniel 7: 1-28).

This, according to the Christian Zionist narrative, leads to a period of seven years known as the Tribulation or Jacob’s Trouble. This in turn triggers the Battle of Armageddon, at Megiddo, on a hill above the Plain of Jezreel in Israel. Most Jews (well, two-thirds, according to Zechariah 13:8 “in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein”), who continue to refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the saviour will be slain here, as will all those non-born-again Christians. But once the slate is wiped clean of these unbelievers, there will then be a 1,000 year reign of peace and prosperity, whose global HQ will be based in Jerusalem.

Luckily for all true (born-again) Christians, at least if you believe 1 Thessalonians 4:17, those “which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” This is the Rapture (from the Latin, raptare, to catch up), and it enables those who believe they are going up in the cloud to contemplate Armageddon and its horrors with equanimity and even with eager anticipation. This Rapture doctrine was first created in 1830 by John Edward Darby of the Plymouth Brethren (Clark, p.61). His seemingly far-fetched theory has apparently gained wide acceptance amongst American Christian Zionist groups – a Newsweek poll of May 2004, for instance, found that 55% of Americans believe in the Rapture (Clark, p.151).

It’s a bleak and pessimistic view. By this reasoning, the Holocaust was essential as it facilitated the return of the Jews to Zion (Clark, p140). A second bloodbath is also necessary, in order to get rid of the unbelieving Jews, as well as of those Christians who aren’t born again.

Biblical studies were of great importance in the history of early American education. For instance, every single one of the ten American colleges founded before the American Revolution in 1775 offered the study of Hebrew (Clark, p.44). This religious background continued into modern times. President Harry S Truman’s strong Christian beliefs played an important role in convincing him to recognise Israel (Clark, p142). Jerry Falwell, TV evangelist and co-founder of the Moral Majority, had a framed picture of the Palestine Post announcing the “State of Israel is Reborn” from 16 May 1948 behind his desk.

By the end of 2006, one in four Americans apparently judged it “likely or somewhat likely” that Jesus’s second coming was due for the following year, 2007. America’s Bible Belt was even known as ‘Israel’s safety belt’. Hal Lindsey, dubbed “the Jeremiah of today” by the New York Times, published several bestsellers, most notably, The Late Great Planet Earth, in the 1970s. It sold in its tens of millions. To his critics, Lindsey offered this much-quoted rebuttal: “To the sceptic who says that Christ is not coming soon, I would ask him to put the book of Revelation in one hand, and the daily newspaper in the other, and then sincerely ask God to show him where we are on His prophetic time-clock.”

By this reckoning, every disaster, natural and man-made, is another tick on the clock towards the end, the End Times. 9/11, ebola, Syria, Hurricane Katrina… all proof, to Christian Zionists, that Armageddon is approaching.

Various preachers, writers and organisations, such as Chuck Missler, Bill Koenig, Jan Markell, John Hagee, Tim LaHaye, Gary Bauer, Joel C Rosenberg, Dr Randall Price continue to promote versions of this theme.

References: Much of this information is from the excellent Victoria Clark, Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2007