The Battle for Jerusalem

The Battle for Jerusalem from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

What provides you with most security? After your faith and your family, what comes next? Probably your home.

It is probably your largest monthly financial expense or, if the mortgage is paid, your most valuable asset. You may have only just moved in yesterday. Your life, your memories, your hopes and dreams are still carefully packed away in those unopened boxes, but it is still your home. Or you may be living in your parents home. You may have been born there, grown up there, never spent a night anywhere else. What ever, your home is your security. The place where you can lock the door, feel secure, be yourself, protect your loved ones, raise your family.

Now imagine losing it. Not to a mortgage company through repossession, not because of a divorce settlement or an act of nature be it fire or flood, but lose it violently to a foreign government. Imagine being woken at 6:00am by riot police with dogs and bulldozers. They force you out at gun point.

They give you 15 minutes to remove your possessions.

They demolish your home in front of you. Then a week later, they send you the bill. It happens every day. Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh live in Anata, a village to the east of Jerusalem.

In June, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that their home could be demolished – for the fifth time. Four times it has been demolished and four times friends and international volunteers have rebuilt it.

Now an international Peace Centre, their home represents all that is best about Arab-Israeli cooperation. It stands for all who identify with constructive, peaceful, non-violent resistance to oppression. If their home is demolished a fifth time, I will be among those helping to rebuild it. Last week, the US and British government criticised Israel once again when 50 more Palestinians were made homeless in Jerusalem. They were evicted from their family homes to make way for Israeli settlers.  The British Consulate issued this terse statement:

“The Israelis’ claim that the imposition of extremist Jewish settlers into this ancient Arab neighbourhood is a matter for the courts or the municipality is unacceptable. These actions are incompatible with the Israeli-professed desire for peace. We urge Israel not to allow the extremists to set the agenda.”[1]

Since 1967, the Israeli authorities have demolished more than 24,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories. Tens of thousands of demolition orders remain outstanding in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. They can be implemented at any time. Salem, Moriah, Jerusalem, Zion, City of David, Al Quds. It is a city of many names and a long troubled history. More blood and tears must have been shed over Jerusalem than any other city in history. Today, Jerusalem lies at the heart of three world faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Israelis regard it as their capital. Palestinians do so as well. And a separation wall 8 meters high runs through the middle.

Attempts to reach agreement in the wider Arab-Israeli conflict have stumbled in part over the contested status of Jerusalem. Jewish and Christian Zionists strongly oppose joint sovereignty or the recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. It seems time is on their side. The annexation of the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem in 1967, the systematic demolition of Arab homes, the aggressive settlement programme and the construction of the Separation Barrier have all created ‘facts on the ground’.  Zionists also claim a higher mandate – the Bible.

John Hagee, for example, pastor of Cornerstone in San Antonio, Texas, reflects the view of many Christians. He says that the special status afforded the Jewish people by God supersedes the rule of international law:

A shared Jerusalem? Never! I say “never” … because the Word of God says it is God’s will for Jerusalem to be under the exclusive control of the Jewish people until Messiah comes … God doesn’t care what the United Nations thinks… He gave Jerusalem to the nation of Israel, and it is theirs.[2]

I hope that you appreciate this is not simply a matter for dry theological debate. It deeply impacts how we view the world. What we believe affects how we behave. If you believe God’s word says Jerusalem is the eternal, exclusive undivided capital of Israel you will support that. If you believe the Bible insists Jerusalem is to be an inclusive city of faith to be shared, you will work to achieve that. So what does the Bible say?

In this five week Summer series on Israel and the Church we are considering how we should apply God’s word to contemporary issues in the Middle East and among our Jewish and Muslim friends. Today we will consider why people are so passionate about Jerusalem, why some want to keep it for themselves and others to share it. Lets look at Jerusalem in Scripture – past, present and prophetic.

1. Jerusalem Past

The story of Jerusalem goes way back as far as Genesis. It is possible that Jerusalem was the home of the Melchizedek the priest and king who blessed Abraham in Genesis 14.  He is referred to as the ‘king of Salem’ which later became identified in Jewish tradition with Jerusalem. Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice, is also later identified in 2 Chronicles 3 as the same place where Solomon built his Temple. Clearly, Jerusalem had an existence long before the conquest of the land by the Israelites. In Joshua 15:63, for example, we find the Jebusites already living in Jerusalem and willing to share the city with the new Jewish immigrants. It is clear therefore that Jerusalem was a shared city long before Kind David turned it into his capital (2 Samuel 6:1-19).

The building of the Temple in Jerusalem by Solomon elevated the status of the city among the tribes of Israel. However, when God judged Solomon for his idolatry (1 Kings 11:9-13) and his empire was split in two by Rehoboam and Jeroboam, Jerusalem diminished in importance and became simply the capital for the tribe of Judah. As Peter Walker admits, “The city designed to bring unity now pointed instead to Israel’s division.”[3] Nevertheless, the belief grew that Jerusalem was invincible, because God dwelt in the Temple and his anointed king was on the throne. Prophets such as Micah (3:9-12) and Jeremiah (7:1-11) warned against this arrogance. Jeremiah highlights one of the popular mantras of the day. “Do not trust in deceptive words and say ‘This is the Temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!'” (Jeremiah 7:4). Indeed, the prophet predicted that, far from defending Jerusalem in a ‘holy war’, God would actually become her enemy (Jeremiah 21:3-10). The prophecies against Jerusalem came true in the capture and destruction of the city by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. The catastrophic events and the consequent exile of the Jews are recorded in 2 Kings 25; Jeremiah 52 and Lamentations. The prophetic message is clear. God holds his people morally accountable and will tolerate neither arrogance nor complacency. Indeed it is clear from the Old Testament that Jerusalem was to be shared.

In Psalm 87 we have a beautiful picture of Jerusalem becoming an international 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.”[4] And one might add – still does. Isaiah’s vision of Jerusalem is also an inclusive one. In Isaiah 2, for example we learn that people of many different nations would come to Jerusalem and put their faith in God and walk in his ways.

“Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:3-4)

One of the glorious consequences of this is that Jerusalem is associated with the end of war, and with peace and reconciliation between the nations (Isaiah 2:3-4).

Jerusalem Past.

Despite what some would have us believe, the Old Testament vision of Jerusalem is of an international, shared, inclusive city of faith, hope and love.

2. Jerusalem Present

So what does the New Testament add to this vision? Well, there is some good news and some bad news. First, the bad news. It may surprise you to learn that the New Testament is rather pessimistic about the fate of Jerusalem. Far from promising a prosperous future at the centre of a revived Jewish state or even a millennial kingdom, Jesus lamented the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Luke’s gospel provides us with several insights into the passion of Jesus for Jerusalem. In Luke 13 we find Jesus rebuking the leaders of Israel for not caring for the people in the way he does and predicting that he must die there. Evoking the language of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:7; 22:5), Jesus similarly laments:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ (Luke 13:34-35)

Jesus contrasts his motives with those of Herod and leaders of Jerusalem. He displays the instincts of a protective mother concerned for the people as if they were his very children.

A little later, on Palm Sunday, Jesus expresses perhaps his strongest emotions toward the city and its fickle people:

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. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you. (Luke 19:41-44)

Again, Jesus is using the language of Isaiah and Ezekiel to warn of God’s impending judgement (Isaiah 29:3; Ezekiel 4:2). Now if you were there and heard Jesus make that prediction, who would you imagine he had in mind? Who were the hated enemies? The Romans of course. With the benefit of hindsight it’s obvious that Jesus was warning the people about what was going to happen very soon, not events 2000 years or more in the distant future. With the total destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, stone by stone, the slaughter of tens of thousands of Jews and the exile of the remnant as slaves of Rome, Jesus’ sad prediction came true, to the letter.

The Times of the Gentiles

But what about Luke 21:24 you may be thinking? This is a favourite verse among those who believe it describes the events of June 1967 and capture of Jerusalem by Israel.

Here are the words of Jesus, in context.

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.   Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city.  For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written…There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people.  They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.  At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:20-28)

Now the problem with applying these verses to 1948 or 1967 is simple. If we take the Bible literally, Revelation 11:2 says that the Gentile ‘trampling’ of Jerusalem would continue for only ‘42 months’. Dating this event is therefore somewhat problematic. Is it past, present or future? It is far more likely, as the TNIV Study Bible suggests, that the ‘times of the Gentiles’ is “a conventional symbol for a limited period of time of unrestrained wickedness.”[5] If you re-read the context of Luke 21:24 again you will see that Jesus is referring to events that occurred in 70AD. In verses 25-27 Jesus specifies cataclysmic events that will be associated with his return.

In verse 28 Jesus gives encouragement to his followers referring to ‘your redemption’ not to any ‘redemption’ of unbelieving Jerusalem.[6] It is therefore perhaps far wiser to believe that the ‘times of the Gentiles’ will not be fulfilled “until the end of this present world-order when Christ will come with divine majesty and power to establish His eternal kingdom on the new earth after the Final Judgement (cf. verses 25-33)”[7]

As for the future of Jerusalem,…  the central focus would not be upon Jerusalem, but rather upon the Son of Man… The ‘restoration’ was of Jesus, not of Jerusalem.[8]

Jerusalem present – from the time of Jesus Christ to the present day – is associated with unbelief and the rejection of the gospel. In Galatians 4, for example, Paul associates  Jerusalem with Hagar and slavery rather than Sarah and freedom. In the contrast between Sarah and Hagar, between Isaac and Ishmael, “Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children.” (Galatians 4:25).

Gal. 4:21 ff. represents, perhaps, the sharpest polemic against Jerusalem in the New Testament… Far from being pre-occupied with hopes for a glorification of the earthly Jerusalem, Paul’s thought represents a most emphatic repudiation of any eschatological hopes concerning the earthly city.[9]

The Apostle John in his Revelation uses even less flattering language to describe Jerusalem in unbelief. He writes, the “great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”  The reference to ‘Sodom’ refers to immorality and ‘Egypt’ to slavery.  The Jerusalem that crucified Jesus Christ at Passover; rejected the signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; repudiated the message of the Apostles; executed Stephen and  James; tried to assassinate Paul; and instigated ‘a great persecution… against the church’ (Acts 8:2), has now become associated with the immorality of Sodom and the oppression of Egypt. The status of Jerusalem has changed irrevocably. From now on the earthly Jerusalem will be associated not with the Patriarchs or with David or with the Temple of Solomon or Herod but with a simple wooden cross and an empty tomb. “The coming of Jesus has been its undoing.”[10] And here is at last a hint of the ‘good news’ about Jerusalem in the New Testament. Jerusalem past and Jerusalem present.

3. Jerusalem Future

In Galatians 4, Sarah and Hagar are representatives of two peoples and of two Jerusalem’s. One that had rejected Jesus and even now persecutes the Church and another. Verse 26,

But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: ‘Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labour pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.'” (Galatians 4:26-27 – Isaiah 54:1)

Significantly, Paul quotes from Isaiah 54:1 about the earthly Jerusalem and says Isaiah is talking about the new Jerusalem, the home of all who believe in Jesus Christ.[11]

So the focus of the New Testament moves away from an earthly Jerusalem on to a heavenly Jerusalem which by faith in Jesus, we are already citizens. So, in Hebrews, for example, Christ followers are promised residency in the heavenly Jerusalem:

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22-23)

Access to heaven has no longer anything to do with earthly Jerusalem. Jesus began to reveal this change in his conversation with a woman of Samaria.

Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:21-23)

Peter Walker observes:

It is Jesus himself… who gives us the warrant to view Jerusalem in an entirely new light… Jerusalem could never be the same again, now that Jesus had come… Jesus, not Jerusalem, would now become the central ‘place’ within God’s purposes, the place around which God’s true people would be gathered.[12]

In the Book of Revelation we have a glorious picture of future Jerusalem.

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.” (Revelation 14:1)

But this is not the earthly city revived. It is a new city, the new Jerusalem, a heavenly one.

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 peoples, God’s land encompasses all nations, and God’s holy city has become the eternal dwelling place of all who remain faithful – the Bride of Christ, the wife of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9). And what of the Temple? John writes, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Revelation 21:22).  And yet it is here that the contradiction between the flow of New Testament revelation and contemporary speculation is most sharply brought into focus. The expectation of a future Jewish Temple is probably the most controversial issue uniting Zionists and their Christian friends – and that is our subject for next week.

Chapter Summary Points

1.  Many Christians defend and justify Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem claiming it is the eternal, undivided and exclusive capital of the Jews.

2.  Jerusalem became the capital of Israel briefly under David and Solomon before its decline following the disintegration of tribal alliances and their eventual exile.

3.  The Old Testament vision of Jerusalem enjoying God’s blessing is of an international and inclusive city of faith, justice and holiness.

4.  Jerusalem in the New Testament is associated not with Israel, the Jews or the Temple, but with Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection.

5.  The end of the ‘times of the Gentiles’ far from being a sign of Jewish national sovereignty more likely points to the return of Jesus.

6.  The Jerusalem that rejected Jesus and his followers is associated with the immorality of Sodom and oppression of Egypt in the Book of Revelation.

7.  Christians look instead to a heavenly Jerusalem as our spiritual home.

Passages to Review

2 Samuel 6:1-19; Psalm 87; Isaiah 2:3-5; 63:3-6; Jeremiah 7:1-11; 21:3-10; Micah 3:9-12; Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35; 19:41-44; 21:20-28; John 4:21-23; Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrew 12:18-29; Revelation 21:1-27.

Questions for Further Study

1.  What role does Jerusalem fulfill in the purposes of God?

2.  Why did the Prophets criticize the people of Jerusalem?

3.  How did the coming of Jesus redefine the role of Jerusalem?

4.  Why did Jesus weep over Jerusalem?

5.  How should we interpret the ‘times of the Gentiles’ in Luke 21:24?

6.  What do we learn about the ‘New Jerusalem’ from Psalm 87, Isaiah 2 and Revelation 21?

7.  How should we pray for the peace of Jerusalem today?

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