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Is “Back to Jerusalem” Biblical?

On a visit to China in 2002, international evangelical leader Luis Bush asked a group of Chinese pastors, “What is the biblical foundation for the Back to Jerusalem movement?”

Launched in the 1940s and later revived in the 1990s, the effort to send Chinese missionaries westward toward the Middle East had, by that time, gained considerable momentum both within and outside of China. Yet the slogan “Back to Jerusalem” also drew criticism from those who questioned its biblical basis—particularly the notion that Chinese Christians had been divinely tasked with clearing the final hurdles to world evangelization.

Among the pastors quizzed by Bush was Rev. Ezra Jin (金明日), who would go on to become founder of Beijing’s Zion Church following his seminary studies in the United States. Bush’s question became the topic of Jin’s doctoral research, which was later published under the title Back to Jerusalem with All Nations (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2016).

In his forward to the book, Gordon-Conwell Seminary professor Kevin Xiyi Yao highlights Jin’s two major contributions:

What Rev. Jin tries to do in his book is precisely to develop a more adequate biblical foundation for BTJM [Back to Jerusalem Movement], and to correct the errors in the theological framework of the movement. Identifying the “Zion Theology” as the theme running through the mission theologies of the Old and New Testaments, he highlights the indispensible role and significances of Jerusalem in the biblical theology of mission, and argues convincingly for the correlation between “salvation for all nations” and “back to Jerusalem.” . . .

Second, the significances of this work actually go beyond BTJM. As we know, in contemporary missiological and biblical scholarship, Christian tradition’s early separation from Judaism and its cross-cultural nature are often emphasized very much. It is obvious that Rev. Jin seeks to strike a balance between Christian tradition’s unique universality and its ties with Israel. . . As he points out toward the end of his book, it is simply unbiblical to either completely ignore the key role of Israel in God’s plan or to misunderstand this role to thus give blind support to today’s Israelite State. (xi-xii)

Jin approaches the topic by first providing a survey of the movement from the 1940s to the present, highlighting some of the controversies that have emerged in the past decade and a half. He then turns to a study of the Zion tradition in the Old Testament by focusing on Isaiah 40-55, which foretells the restoration of Israel and salvation of the nations. Looking at Jesus’ and Paul’s relationship to Jerusalem in Luke and Acts, Jin defines “Back to Jerusalem” as:

the vision that captured the heart of great prophets. It is a term that reminds us of the suffering of our savior and Lord Jesus. At the same time it is the confession that Jesus is already resurrected as the king of Zion. Also, it is a confession of faith and the commitment to be YHWH’s servant for all people with the hope of seeing the unity of all nations, an unfinished task which is our task. (109-110)

In his conclusion, Jin asserts that the Back to Jerusalem vision is biblical, but warns against ignoring mission to other nations. Jin also emphasizes the Chinese church’s need for theological maturity and the need to differentiate between a biblical BTJ vision and “the Replacement Theology from Western Europe and Zionism, which caused such great pain and suffering in the Islamic world by advocating the conquest of Palestine by force.” Jin rejects the attitude that China is the “last missional major player.” (163)

Finally, Jin calls on Chinese churches to do the hard work of equipping the next generation for mission,

The Gospel will be taken to nations by obedient servants who hear God’s voice and devote themselves wholeheartedly to mission. This issue cannot be solved by money or power. In order for Chinese Churches to become missional churches they need sound ministry, systematic training, and an effective mission strategy. (163)

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Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio

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