Jerusalem: Eternal City of Faith

President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, destroyed in the stroke of the pen any lingering illusions of a shared city, the two state solution or an independent sovereign Palestine. Jewish and Christian Zionists regard Jerusalem as the exclusive, undivided and eternal capital of the Jewish state, justifying the annexation, segregation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

Following the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 and the capture of Jerusalem, in June 1971, a conference took place in  Jerusalem of over 1,200 evangelical leaders from 32 different countries. Welcomed by David Ben Gurion, the conference was billed as “the first conference of its kind since A.D. 59”. The capture of Jerusalem was portrayed as “confirmation that Jews and Israel still had a role to play in God’s ordering of history” and that the return of Jesus was imminent.[1]

The wider international community saw things rather differently. In protest at Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the United Nations passed Resolution 242, calling on Israel to withdraw its troops to the June 1967 borders and end the occupation. Refusing to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the few remaining government embassies were closed and relocated to Tel Aviv. In 1980, however,  the International Christian Embassy (ICEJ) was founded in Jerusalem, to express solidarity with Israel and to recognise a divine blessing in the ‘Reunification’ of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.

In 1997 the ICEJ also gave support to a full page advert placed in the New York Times entitled, ‘Christians Call for a United Jerusalem.’ It was signed by 10 evangelical leaders including Pat Robertson, chairman of Christian Broadcasting Network and President of the Christian Coalition; Oral Roberts, founder and chancellor of Oral Roberts University; Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority; Ed McAteer, President of the Religious Roundtable; and David Allen Lewis, President of Christians United for Israel:

“We, the undersigned Christian spiritual leaders, communicating weekly to more than 100 million Christian Americans, are proud to join together in supporting the continued sovereignty of the State of Israel over the holy city of Jerusalem. We support Israel’s efforts to reach reconciliation with its Arab neighbours, but we believe that Jerusalem, or any portion of it, shall not be negotiable in the peace process. Jerusalem must remain undivided as the eternal capital of the Jewish people.”[2]

Ironically, this flatly contradicts the Hebrew and Christian scriptures which envisage Jerusalem to be an inclusive city of peace for all who acknowledge the one true God. In Psalm 87, for example, we have a beautiful picture of a shared Jerusalem, an international and inclusive city where residency rights are determined by God on the basis of faith not race.

“He has founded his city on the holy mountain. The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, city of God:  “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush — and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ “Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.”(Psalm 87)

As Colin Chapman has observed, “This is a message which must have challenged many nationalistic prejudices.”[3]And one might add – still does. The Prophet Isaiah’s vision of Jerusalem is also an inclusive one. In Isaiah 2, for example, we learn that people of many different nations will come to Jerusalem and put their faith in God and walk in his ways. One of the glorious consequences of this is that Jerusalem will become associated with the end of war, and with peace and reconciliation between the nations (Isaiah 2:3-5).

The image of Jerusalem found in the New Testament is of a new inclusive city built by God – one in which there is no darkness – and where the gates are never shut but open to people of all nations.

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband… I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.  On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.  The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.  Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:2, 22-26).

In this one all-consuming vision, God’s people now embrace all nations, God’s land encompasses the whole earth, and God’s holy city has become the eternal dwelling place of all who remain faithful – literally the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21:9).

Far from justifying, or even tolerating, an exclusive claim to Jerusalem, in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, God reveals that he expects Jerusalem to be a shared, inclusive city of faith, hope and love.  Indeed the Scriptures reveal a glorious future for Jerusalem, one that impacts and benefits the entire world. The vision is of an inclusive and shared Jerusalem in which all nations are blessed.  Perhaps this is why, when Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for exploiting the international visitors to the temple, he quoted from Isaiah, “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7, cf. Matthew 21:13).

But today, we have to live with the reality of a Jerusalem that is associated with apartheid and racism, with exclusive claims that can only be sustained by oppression and injustice, by military occupation, the denial of human rights, the disregard for international law, denial of access to religious sites and freedom of expression. Living between Jerusalem past and Jerusalem future, what is our religious responsibility in the present? Following the decision of the US President to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the Patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem wrote an Open Letter to Donald Trump. The letter included this assertion,

“Our solemn advice and plea is for the United States to continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem. Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm. We are confident that, with strong support from our friends, Israelis and Palestinians can work towards negotiating a sustainable and just peace, benefiting all who long for the Holy City of Jerusalem to fulfil its destiny. The Holy City can be shared and fully enjoyed once a political process helps liberate the hearts of all people, that live within it, from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing.”

On Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, it is recorded,

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42).

I believe God continues to weep not only over Jerusalem, but for all his children in the Middle East, as well as those who from a distance, promote a theology of war and conquest in his name. It is a very long way from the simple teaching of Jesus who promised “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).  May God give us the courage and strength to fulfil this role which is needed more now than ever before.

 

For a longer article on the status of Jerusalem see The Battle for Jerusalem which is based on a chapter from my book, Zion’s Christian Soldiers.

[1] ‘Prophets in Jerusalem’ Newsweek, June 28th, 1971, p. 62.

[2] ‘Christians Call for a United Jerusalem’ New York Times, 18 April (1997),

[3] Colin Chapman, Whose Holy City? (Oxford, Lion, 2004),  p. 30.

Share Button