British intervention in the history of the Jewish people continues to impact the world a century later.
The Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, became the major catalyst for one of the great turning points in world history—the return of the Jews to a national homeland after almost 2,000 years of exile.
On this 100-year anniversary, let’s take the time to consider how and why this groundbreaking Declaration came into being and discover, most importantly of all, how it is closely associated with the fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
Lord Arthur Balfour was Foreign Secretary in David Lloyd George’s British war cabinet. Both were committed Zionists, reflecting the convictions of Chaim Weizmann, the Zionists’ chief lobbyist. Balfour became convinced that a homeland for the Jews in the area commonly called “Palestine” was desirable for a variety of reasons, and in the best interests of both the Jews and Britain.
Theodor Herzl was a Hungarian Jewish journalist who became convinced that anti-Semitism could be neither defeated nor cured. It could only be avoided, and hence the only solution was for the Jews to have their own state. In 1896, his influential book The State of the Jews was published, and he founded the World Zionist Organization, with Chaim Weizmann becoming even more influential over time. The impact of World War I greatly accelerated discussion about a Jewish homeland and gave it more urgency.
In June 1917, Balfour asked Lord Walter Rothschild, titular head of the British Jewish community, and Chaim Weizmann, together with his Zionist colleagues, to produce the first draft of a declaration for the cabinet to consider. It took several months of canvassing a variety of opinions and creating several carefully worded drafts before a final declaration was achieved and agreed upon. Here is the exact wording, contained in a letter from Balfour to Lord Rothschild:
His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors 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.
Regrettably, the Declaration did not address the political rights of existing (Arab) communities in the area—a fateful omission that would contribute to decades of intense Middle East conflict, which has continued to the present day. The search for a lasting peace continues. The local population of the Holy Land region was never consulted on any of the drafts; at that time “Palestine” was barely discernable as a separate entity, mainly comprising a sparsely populated and neglected area of lower Syria.
Reaction to the Declaration was inevitably mixed, but it enjoyed strong British, American and French support. The reaction from the Middle East was at first muted. Britain, caught between conflicting political imperatives, seemed at one time to side with the Arabs’ aspirations for their own homeland in the same area, in return for opposing the Ottoman Turks. The stage was set for a major clash of interests. Furious opposition inexorably built, as Arab nationalism rapidly developed alongside a burgeoning Jewish nationalism.
The 1920 San Remo Conference in Italy and the 1922 agreement by the League of Nations confirmed the concept of a British mandate to govern “Palestine,” based on the Balfour Declaration, to start in September 1923. This Mandate lasted until May 14, 1948, when the creation of the State of Israel was proclaimed, at which time the importance of the Balfour Declaration was acknowledged, and Chaim Weizmann was appointed the first President of Israel.
It is little known that the United States produced its own version of the Balfour Declaration in September 1922 called the Palestine Lodge-Fish Resolution. It used very similar language to Balfour, but included the phrase “…and that the holy places and religious buildings and sites in Palestine shall be adequately protected” (see, for example, The American Balfour Declaration by Paul Azous).
One significant element of support for the Balfour Declaration came from what is called Christian Zionism—those who believe that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is prophesied prior to the return of Jesus Christ, and that a Jewish return to the Land of Israel should be supported as a means of fulfilling such prophecies. The roots of such thinking go all the way back to the Protestant Reformation. The biblical truth, however, about the Jews returning to the Holy Land is on an altogether more epic scale.
God made it very clear to the twelve tribes of Israel that if they disobeyed the terms of His covenant made at Sinai, they would all be removed from the Promised Land (see Deuteronomy 28:58–64; 29:24–28). And over the centuries this is what happened.
But God is ever faithful! And His faithfulness will extend to all twelve tribes of Israel, not just the two, Judah and Benjamin (and their portion of Levites), that are represented by the Jews. He promised that all twelve tribes scattered around the world would return to their lands, be reconstituted as one single nation under God, and given an obedient heart to receive even greater blessings than before (see, for example, Deuteronomy 30:1–5; Jeremiah 31:31–34). The timing of these prophecies is yet future and associated with Christ’s return (see also Ezekiel 37:15–28).
So, does the Bible support the idea of a Jewish return to the Holy Land before the return of Jesus Christ? In the famous Olivet prophecy of Matthew 24, timed to occur just before Christ’s second coming (v. 3), there is an enigmatic reference to “the ‘abomination of desolation’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet” (v. 15). Daniel records two references to an abomination of desolation (Daniel 11:29–32; 12:7–13) that is associated with the cessation of the daily sacrifice.
For this to happen today, the daily sacrifices must first start! And who is going to start such sacrifices? Most likely it is the very people whose historic job was to conduct them—Levitical priests, found among the House of Judah, some of whom have now returned in their own nation.
This is but one of the seminal events that will one day signal the rapid fulfillment of end-time prophecies, heralding the end of the age and the beginning of a better world under the glorified Jesus Christ. If you would like to learn more, request a copy of our fascinating and detailed free booklet The Middle East in Prophecy, also available on our website.