Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” Psalm 122:6-7 ESV
With Jerusalem’s recent official recognition by the United States as Israel’s capital the city has once again been thrust into a firestorm of contentious world opinion. Jerusalem, of all cities upon the face of the earth, is no stranger to contention and controversy. Three thousand years ago when David penned the appeal to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” no one could have imagined how prophetically imperative that prayer request would become. Nobody knew the incessant battles that would be fought, both in the natural and the spirit, in seeking to establish a lasting “peace within [its] walls and security within [its] towers” and yet to no avail.
In its tumultuous history Jerusalem has experienced the antithesis of peace. According to Eric H. Cline, historian and archaeologist, the city has been “besieged 23 times, attacked an additional 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.”* As a result it has been estimated to have been destroyed as many as 18 times. In the process it has repeatedly been the scene of bloodshed, massacres and unspeakable atrocities while suffering all manner of deprivation, desecration, and defilement. Arthur Koestler, Hungarian born Jewish author and journalist wrote of Jerusalem some fifty years ago “The angry face of Yahweh is brooding over the hot rocks which have seen more holy murder, rape, and plunder than any other place on this earth.”
Ironically, even today, Jerusalem is known more as a place of strife than peace. Although one city, it is divided geographically, politically, religiously, ethnically and even by name. Affectionately known as Yerushalayim, Zion, the City of David and the City of Shalem (Peace) by the Israeli Jews, it is called Al Quds, The Holy or The Holy Sanctuary by the Palestinian Moslems. The claims upon the strategic significance of this city by these two opposing people groups is just as factious. Both believe the city is exclusively their own with the Israelis designating Jerusalem as their capital and the Palestinians declaring East Jerusalem as theirs. The two great monotheistic religions they represent, Judaism and Islam along with the third, Christianity, each revere it as their holy city and its’ holy sites as their exclusive possession. Tracing their origins all the way back to Abraham these three faiths each reverence their beginnings to Jerusalem and firmly believe the world will one day end there. And if that were not enough to uniquely distinguish Jerusalem, it is the only city according to the Bible that exists in two places – both in heaven and on earth. One day the war torn terrestrial Jerusalem will be eclipsed and replaced by a glorious celestial New Jerusalem that will descend out of heaven (Revelation 21:2).
From a study of the Scriptures we know that God Himself has a vested interest in Jerusalem and a clearly stated plan for its future. Remarkably Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in the Old and New Testament Scriptures. In sum it is the centerpiece for the unfolding of God’s purposes for the Jewish people, all Christian believers, and the second coming of Jesus Christ. God’s promises with regard to Jerusalem are varied but center around five primary predictions.
- The return of the Jews to the land of Israel and Jerusalem from a diaspora that extended over 2500 years. “I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God” (Zechariah 8:8 NIV).
- The reestablishment of Israel as a sovereign nation ruled by the Jews. (Isaiah 66:8).
- The restoration of the city’s ruins and blooming of the desert wilderness (Isaiah 35:1-2 & 44:26).
- The rebuilding of the Third Jewish Temple (Ezekiel 40-47 & Daniel 8:14).
- The return of Christ to rule in the city for a thousand years (Zechariah 14:2-5).
The first three of these 2500 year old prophetic promises have all singularly come to pass within the last 100 years. That is, in and of itself, nothing short of miraculous, given over two millennia of adverse circumstances and every indication that they could never happen. In fact, a clear case can be made that the situations surrounding the fulfillment of these ancient predictions, played out on the world political and religious stage, were divinely orchestrated. The journey to arriving at this point in history has been a tortuously long and winding one. In retrospect it has been marked by God’s intervening hand in either allowing or restraining the course of events that will lead to the realization of Jerusalem’s ultimate destiny. Interestingly, what He has allowed or restrained has often stood in stark contrast to what those devoutly praying for Jerusalem’s peace would have chosen. Yet God in His infinite wisdom has fixed a timetable within which He is working, and man’s impatient attempts at short cuts have invariably ended in disillusionment.
At the heart of it all is the fact that God has Jerusalem on a relentless march to divine destiny. To fully understand and appreciate the momentous events that have brought all this to pass particularly within the last century and the import of the ongoing contention regarding Jerusalem’s present and future we need to know and understand its history. Beginning with this article and continuing over several blog posts to follow I will lay out a brief overview of the history of Jerusalem, the land of Israel where it is situated, and its numerous occupiers.
Your comments and feedback are always welcome.
*As quoted in “Do We Divide the Holiest Holy City?” Moment, March/April 2008.