City with a Glorious Future

Jerusalem Series - 2

City with a Glorious Future

Today the city of Jerusalem is becoming a flash-point in international relations - something foreseen by the Hebrew prophets two and a half millennia ago. In this second of two articles commemorating Jerusalem’s 3,000th anniversary, Rob Yule, Minister of St Albans Presbyterian Church, Palmerston North, New Zealand and Board Member of Prayer for Israel (New Zealand), looks at Jerusalem’s present situation and future role in God’s purposes for the world, in the light of biblical prophecy. This article was given as a message to St Albans Presbyterian Church on 15 October 1995, and published in the Challenge Weekly (Auckland, New Zealand), Vol. 53, No. 48 (December 13, 1995), p9.

The present status of Jerusalem is becoming a matter of great controversy. The European Union and many other nations are boycotting the ‘Jerusalem 3000’ commemoration, and even as the celebrations take place, international pressure is mounting for east Jerusalem to handed over to the Arabs to become the capital of a Palestinian state. We seem to be entering the situation predicted by the biblical prophet Zechariah, who long ago foretold that Jerusalem would one day become a focus of international conflict.

Focus of Conflict

For nearly two millennia Zechariah’s prophecies seemed wide of the mark. Only a century ago Jerusalem was a depopulated market town in a provincial backwater of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, which Austrian Foreign Minister Metternich dubbed ‘the sick man of Europe.’ Nobody could have foreseen that it would one day be centre stage in world politics and a flashpoint of international conflict involving ‘all the nations’, as Zechariah foretold in two remarkable prophetic images.

Zechariah’s first picture is of a Drugged Cup. The Lord says, ‘I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling’ (Zechariah 12:2). The image is of cup that has been laced with a stupefying drug, that causes those who drink it to lose their senses and do things contrary their normal judgement. So, in their dealings with Jerusalem, surrounding nations forsake normal standards of international relations and behave in an obsessive, irrational, and unbalanced manner.

Zechariah’s second image is of a Heavy Stone. ‘On that day...I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves’ (Zechariah 12:3). This picture is of a heavy weight that causes those who try to pick it up to rupture themselves and do themselves injury. Thus, in attempting to resolve the issue of Jerusalem’s international status, nations will take on something too big for themselves and in the process damage their own interests, doing themselves serious or perhaps irreparable harm.

There are two controversial issues which affect the present status of Jerusalem:

Whose Capital?

For Jews, the question whose capital Jerusalem is is abundantly clear. Jerusalem is the capital of the modern sovereign state of Israel, just as it was the capital of the Davidic and Maccabean kingdoms long ago. Jerusalem has been the focus of their prayers and dreams throughout their long years of exile. ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ has been the conclusion of their annual Passover seder for centuries. Every day a devout Jew prays in the Amidah or Jewish daily prayer book the prayer, ‘May our eyes behold Thy return in mercy to Zion.’

Jerusalem has always held a place of central importance for Jews. Historically the city has prospered when ruled or administered by Jews, and invariably languished when ruled by other nations. It was quite consistent with the age-long Jewish love for Jerusalem that it was made their capital shortly after Israel gained independence in 1948, and that the Jerusalem Law of 1980 should declare Jerusalem to be Israel’s ‘eternal and undivided capital’ - a claim not merely political, but based on the promises to David of an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:12-16). Most of world’s states responded to this decree by withdrawing their embassies from Jerusalem and moving them to Tel Aviv. It was this action which led prophetic Christian leaders like Jan Willem van der Hoeven and Johann Luckhoff to establish the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, to express worldwide grassroots evangelical Christian support for Israel and the Jewish people.

Jerusalem has no comparable significance for Arabs or the Moslem world. Jerusalem is mentioned 657 times in the Old Testament, and a further 154 times in the New Testament, but Al Quds, its Arabic name, does not occur even a single time in the Koran. For Palestinian Arabs, as well as Moslems elsewhere, the claim that Jerusalem should be the capital of a sovereign Palestinian state is a very recent innovation. Even in the heyday of Arab sovereignty in the Middle East, when the Moslem empire stretched from Iraq in the east to Spain and Morocco in the west, its capital was always Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo or Istanbul - never Jerusalem. Only thirty years ago east Jerusalem was controlled by the Jordanians, but King Hussein showed a haughty disregard for the city, which he let fall into decay.

When I travelled by Bahraini Air Line from Bahrain to Cairo in 1982, the map of the Middle East in the passenger handbook did not even name the state of Israel the whole Arab world is so opposed to, or mention the city of Jerusalem Arabs now claim should be a Palestinian capital. Western countries who should know better repeat this political fiction. Official United States State Department maps carried by Secretary of State James Baker in his shuttle diplomacy on Middle East peace talks in 1991 showed all the capital cities of the region - except Jerusalem.

Biblical prophecies like those of Zechariah show that Jerusalem will become a flashpoint of international tension. I expect pressure will increase from the governments of world, the United Nations, the Vatican, and perhaps even many of the historic churches of Christendom, for Jerusalem to be placed under international control. I expect, on the other hand, that Jews will tenaciously resist these demands to surrender control of Jerusalem, because of their historic links uniquely with this city. No other issue unites the entire Israeli political spectrum as this does. Perhaps their stubborn refusal to hand over control of Jerusalem will be what provokes the nations ultimately to invade Jerusalem as described in the sombre prophecies of Zechariah 12:3-5 and 14:1-5.

The Temple Mount

The restoration of the Old City of Jerusalem to Jewish control during the lightning Six Day War of June 1967 has had an enormous impact on worldwide Jewry. It was the first time Jerusalem had been under Jewish sovereignty since the Maccabees in the second century BC. Its capture led to surge in Jewish self-confidence, following the humiliation of the Holocaust. It precipitated a sudden increase in Jewish immigration to Israel. There was rediscovery of Jewishness by diaspora Jews who till then had simply wanted to assimilate into the cultures of their host countries. The Jewish revival in the former Soviet Union dates from this time. Since 1967 there has even been a growing Jewish interest in Yeshua, as the Jews call Jesus, with a dramatic emergence of Messianic Judaism unparalleled since the first century.

Many Christians, too, saw the return of the Old City of Jerusalem to Jewish control as an important prophetic event. In 1971, Carl F.H. Henry, then editor of the world’s foremost evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, convened an international Conference on Biblical Prophecy in Jerusalem to study the implications for Christians of the modern regathering of Israel. Many Christians believed this was a fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 21:24, ‘Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.’ It seemed that the period of Jerusalem being subjected to Gentile control was over, and that we were entering a new era in the fulfilment of God’s prophetic purposes for the world, heralding the ultimate return of Jesus as Messiah to inaugurate God’s universal reign of peace on earth.

More careful examination, however, shows that one crucial part of Jerusalem is still under Gentile control. The most contested piece of real estate in the world is the fourteen hectares of the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is the remaining foundation of Herod the Great’s first century temple. Today it is dominated by two Moslem mosques, the Al Aqsa to the south and the Dome of the Rock to the north. In 1967 Israel made the mistake, from the best intentions of observing religious freedom, of putting the Temple Mount under the control of the Moslem Council or Waqf. Not even the Jordanians, from whom control of the Temple Mount had been wrested, had trusted the Waqf with its administration. Minister of Defence Moshe Dayan hoped this gesture would build relationships between Muslims and Jews. Instead, the Waqf prohibited the building of a synagogue or church on the Temple Mount, banned archaeological excavation, and forbade Jews and Christians from praying there.

Moslems today claim that Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are holy to Islam, because Muhammad ascended to heaven from there. In fact, Muhammad never even travelled to Jerusalem. He died in 632, six years before Jerusalem was first captured by the Arabs under Caliph Omar. It is another characteristic political fiction, used to shore up spurious Arab claims to sovereignty (as opposed to access) over the Temple Mount, which results in riots whenever there is any suspicion that Jews are laying claim to this area. A few years ago, even a special Commission of the Israeli Parliament or Knesset was barred from inspecting the Temple Mount by the Muslim authorities, who stirred up intimidation and threats of civil disturbance to prevent it.

Many Christians are interested in the possibility that Jews may one day try to rebuild the temple on this site. It is true that Orthodox Jews have well-developed plans to do so, and are reportedly searching for the perfect red heifer to establish the breeding stock to reinstitute the ancient temple sacrifices that Christians believe have been fulfilled and superseded by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for the sins of all humankind.

Christians who expect the temple to be rebuilt often think that it would require demolition of the Dome of Rock, assuming that it is located on the site of the former temple. However, pioneering research in the late seventies and early eighties by Professor Asher Kaufman, Israel’s leading authority on the Temple Mount, who I heard lecture in Jerusalem in 1982, has shown that the Dome of the Rock stands where the Court of the Gentiles would have been in Herod’s Temple. Kaufman’s research indicates that the actual site of the Hechal (the Holy of Holies and Holy Place, the temple proper) was on the vacant area just north of the Dome of the Rock. Kaufman remarks, ‘It is as if God has ensured that nothing of importance should be built upon the Temple site.’

Glorious Future

The reason why the present day conflict over Jerusalem is so intense is because of the city’s central place in God’s future purposes for the world. This glorious future for Jerusalem is the subject of many biblical prophecies, more than can be discussed here.

Psalm 102:13,16 indicates a clear sequence of future events: first the restoration of Jerusalem, then the return of Jesus in glory. ‘You will arise and have compassion on Zion....For the Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory.’ Before the historical climax of world history can occur, its geographical context must first be prepared. The stage is set, then the celebrity appears.

Zechariah 8:1-8 speaks of God’s jealous love for Jerusalem, his desire to restore its inhabitants and return and dwell in their midst. ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I will return to Zion, and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.’ Though this might seem impossible because of the desolations Jerusalem has suffered, God will one day save his people not only ‘from the countries of the east’ (where Jews returned from after the first exile to Babylon) but also ‘from the countries of the west’ (where Jews were never dispersed to or gathered from in biblical times).

Zechariah 8:20-23 says that a time is coming when people from many cities and nations around the world will want to accompany Jews and ‘come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty’, when they recognize that God is with the Jewish people.

Zechariah 12:10-14 prophesies that God will ‘pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication’ in the last days, causing them to ‘look on the one they have pierced’ and so recognize and accept Jesus as their Messiah. This will be so profound and emotional an experience that it will cause the people of Jerusalem to go and mourn in a very orthodox Jewish manner - each family by itself, and even the women separately by themselves.

Hineh Yeshua

‘Here is Yeshua,
the salvation of Israel.
Here he is; praise him.
He is the ruler of the universe.
Here he is, praise him.
We have accepted our salvation
and await the comforting of Zion.
We have not lost our hope
but will lift up our eyes unto the Lord.
The law will go forth from Zion
from the sides of the north.

Our redeemer will descend upon Zion
and we will go out in the dances
and celebrate victory.’

(Contemporary Messianic Jewish song)

Zechariah 14:1-9 indicates that on the day when ‘all the nations’ will gather to fight against Jerusalem the Lord ‘will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem’ and then become ‘king over the whole earth.’ The Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley to the east of Jerusalem, was the ‘launching pad’ where Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-12). Similarly it will be his ‘landing pad’ when he returns at the end of the age. When Jesus comes again at his second coming to reign over all the earth, it will not be to Wellington, or London, or to the United Nations in New York, or to the Vatican in Rome, but to this place in east Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, where he left from in AD 33.

Isaiah 2:2 4 is a glorious prophecy of the exalted status that Jerusalem, ‘the mountain of the Lord’s temple’, will enjoy in the last days, when many peoples will come there to be instructed in the ways of the Lord, and nations will enjoy the longed for age of universal peace. This is the third phase of the biblical prophets’ description of the future of Jerusalem: God’s coming reign of justice. There will be no more army bases or military training, and weapons of destruction will be melted down to make machinery for agricultural production. ‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more.’

Rob Yule
15 October 1995

© 1995, St Albans Presbyterian Church & Challenge Publishing Society Ltd.