by David A. Reed COMPLETE BOOK ONLINE
Unlike the expressions "chosen people" and "promised land," the term "holy city" does not find a universally accepted definition. Some people may apply the term to the Vatican or Rome, while others might apply it to Mecca, and still others may apply it to Abydos in Egypt, Nippur in Iraq, Lhasa in Tibet, Ujjain in India, or a host of other cities holy to one sect or another.
However, the most wide-spread use of the expression "holy city" has application to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a holy city to three of the world's major religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Its religious importance to so many of the people of the world has helped lead to efforts to make it an international city under United Nations control. "The City of Jerusalem ... shall be administered by the United Nations." (U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, enacted in 1947)
In biblical terms, Jerusalem is the only "holy city." It is referred to as such throughout both Old and New Testaments. "And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts [to dwell] in [other] cities. ...All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred fourscore and four." (Neh 11:1, 18 KJV) "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean." (Isa 52:1 KJV) "Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple." (Matthew 4:5 KJV) "...and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." (Matthew 27:53 KJV) See also Isaiah 48:2; Daniel 9:24; Mark 4:5; and Rev 11:2, 22:19.
This usage of the term is not simply due to familiarity with the location on the part of Bible writers, all of whom were Hebrews who spent most of their lives in the Middle East. It is due to a choice on God's part. The Creator's choice of this particular city was announced at the time of King David, who took the city out of the hands of its long-time inhabitants, the pagan Jebusites. The Almighty referred to it as, "Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen me to put my name there." (1Ki 11:36) God specified, "I have chosen Jerusalem, that my name might be there; and have chosen David to be over my people Israel." (2 Chronicles 6:6) It was there that God had King David place the holy tabernacle with its Ark of the Covenant. And there is where God told David he would have his temple built.
But that was not the beginning of Jerusalem as a center of true worship. The first mention of Jerusalem's existence is found in the book of Genesis, where it is referred to as "Salem." Abraham was living as an alien in the land God promised to him, when a marauding band led by the kings of several Canaanite cities swept down and took captive Abraham's nephew Lot. Abraham allied himself with the kings of some other nearby cities and, with a small military force, he defeated the hostile kings and rescued his nephew. At this point there appeared on the scene a man named Melchizedek who is identified as "king of Salem." He was also called "priest of the most high God," and he apparently led Abraham in a celebratory worship service, at the end of which Abraham tithed a tenth of the spoils of war to this priest. "And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God." (Gen 14:18 KJV)
Besides the account in Genesis, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament tells the same story: "For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace." (Hebrews 7:1-2 KJV)
There is no doubt that Salem and Jerusalem are one and the same, because the Psalmist refers to the Jewish holy city by its ancient name: "In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion." (Psalm 76:2 KJV) So, under the priesthood of Melchizedek, Jerusalem was a holy city and a center of true worship at least as far back as the time of Abraham.
The next time we read about the city, it was inhabited by the Canaanite people called Jebusites. This was at the time of the Israeli invasion of the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses' successor Joshua. He had instructions from God to wipe out the corrupt inhabitants of the land and to empty their cities for settlement by the Jews, recently freed from Egyptian slavery. However, Joshua and his successors failed to carry out these instructions completely, and one of the cities they left intact with its pagan Canaanite population was the city of Jerusalem.
"As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out: but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day." (Joshua 15:63 KJV) "Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire. ...And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day." (Judges 1:8, 21 KJV) The Jebusites continued to live there along side the Israelites throughout the centuries of the Judges until the time of King David.
Through his prophet, God told David that he wanted his temple, which was then merely a portable tent or tabernacle, to reside in Jerusalem. The chief obstacle was the Jebusite fortress on a hill named Zion in the midst of the city. David defeated the Jebusites, and captured their "stronghold of Zion," which came to be known from then on as "the city of David." (2 Samuel 5:7 Jewish Publication Society) He had been ruling Israel from the town of Hebron, but now he moved into the city and made it his capital. "In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah." (2 Samuel 5:5 KJV) Some time later he also brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city, so that the tabernacle of worship resided in Jerusalem as well.
Later, David gave to his son Solomon the architectural plans for a more real temple of God to be built there in Jerusalem: "Then David gave his son Solomon the plans for the portico of the temple, its buildings, its storerooms, its upper parts, its inner rooms and the place of atonement. He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the LORD and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things." (1 Chron. 28:11-12 NIV) Some time after David's death, Solomon built that temple.
So, Jerusalem became the permanent center for Jewish worship of the one true God.
The Temple Mount was a separate hill, close by Mount Zion, but came to be called by the same name. In fact, the term Zion came to be applied poetically to the Holy City as a whole.
"Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years." (1 Kings 11:42 NIV) However, as he grew older, Solomon began catering to the desires of his many foreign wives to establish the gods of their native lands. He married "many foreign women besides Pharaoh's daughter -- Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, 'You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.'" (1 Kings 11:1-2 NIV)
Solomon's unfaithfulness went so far that "He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. ... On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods." (1 Kings 11:5-8 NIV) As a result, God announced that he would rip most of the kingdom away from Solomon.
Jeroboam son of Nebat of the Israelite tribe of Ephraim began a rebellion against Solomon and, after the king died and his son Rehoboam began to rule in his place, Jeroboam succeeded in getting most of the twelve tribes to break away and make him king over them. So, while Solomon's son Rehoboam and his successors ruled over the tribe of Judah in Jerusalem, Jeroboam and his successors ruled over a northern kingdom of Israel from the city of Samaria.
The two kingdoms warred against each other most of the time, Jews fighting Jews in bitter rivalry. The Bible books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings relate the parallel histories of the two Jewish realms.
Eventually the empire of Assyria invaded the northern kingdom, and carried off its Jewish population as captives. But kings in the lineage of David continued to rule in Jerusalem over the tiny kingdom of Judah.
However, the Jews in the southern kingdom followed the pattern of the northern kingdom and repeatedly broke God's covenant. There were "things used to worship Baal, Asherah, and the stars" in the temple at Jerusalem, and "men that the kings of Judah had appointed to offer sacrifices to Baal and to the sun, moon, and stars," as well as a "sacred pole for Asherah" in the temple, and "male prostitutes lived next to the temple" to carry out the homosexual acts that were part of such pagan worship rites. (2 Chronicles 34.4-7 Contemporary English Version)
God is not one to be mocked. As he had said he would a long time earlier in the law of Moses, God punished the Jews for such unfaithfulness. He used the Babylonian empire to carry out his sentence against Israel. First Judah was occupied and subjugated by emperor Nebuchadnezzar. Then, when king Zedekiah rebelled against the Babylonians, they burned Jerusalem and carried off its population as captives.
The Hebrew prophet Daniel prophesied in the royal palace of the Babylonian monarch. Later, when the Medo-Persian empire defeated Babylon, he prophesied under Cyrus the king of Persia and Darius the Mede. Finally, after a seventy year period of captivity foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, the Jews were allowed to return and rebuild Jerusalem with the blessing of the new world power. "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: 'This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "The LORD , the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among youmay the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up." ' " (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 NIV)
The restoration of the Jews to the Promised Land at the end of their Babylonian captivity gives us some insight into how God would eventually restore the Jewish people in modern times as we approach the period characterized in the Bible as the final days of this world. How did Israel manage to return to Jerusalem? Observers may not have recognized it as the hand of god. Instead, it may have appeared to be political maneuvering on the part of the world powers of the day. In fact, the Bible records those very maneuverings in considerable detail. But, it also makes it clear that these things took place as the hand of God moved behind the scenes to bring about the outcome that he had foretold through his prophets.
People who say today that the events involving Israel and Palestine are merely political events without God's intervention would probably have said the same thing back then. But God caused the seventy year captivity of the Jewish people to end precisely when he predicted that it would. And this holds great lessons for us today. Although our eyes behold only the visible maneuverings of Israeli political parties and Palestinian factions, the influence of American presidents and United Nations Secretaries General, and the climate of world opinion, behind it all the hand of God is moving again to bring about the outcome foretold in the Bible.
But, keeping that most important lesson in mind, let's return to the story of Jerusalem. The Medo-Persian empire dominated the Middle East until it fell before the armies of Alexander the Great. After Alexander's death, his empire broke into four parts. Eventually the Roman empire came to control the territory that had formerly made up the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Thus it was that Jerusalem was occupied by Roman soldiers at the time of Christ.
Jesus preached there, and he was put on trial there before Roman governor Pontius Pilate and before the Jewish Sanhedrin court. He was executed outside the city as the Scriptures about the Messiah foretold.
Shortly before his death Jesus visited the temple in Jerusalem with some of his disciples, and they pointed out to him the impressive buildings. He replied, "Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." So, later they asked him privately, "Tell us when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:2-3 NIV) The disciples actually asked Jesus a three-part question: about the destruction of the temple, about his coming, and about the end of the world, or the end of the age. In another chapter we discuss that prophecy and its fulfillment, but here we'll note that Jesus added to his prediction of the destruction of the temple, these words about the city itself: "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Luke 21:24 NIV)
A few decades after Jesus' crucifixion, Jewish zealots rebelled against the Roman empire. They set Jerusalem free from Roman occupation. However, Roman armies returned and laid siege to the city. Again, there were political and military maneuverings, but the outcome was as Jesus had said: the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem, tore down the temple, and left not so much as one stone upon another stone.
It was at this point that the Romans carried off the remaining Jews captive and scattered them throughout the Roman empire. This was the fulfillment of the words God gave Moses to record: "But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God...the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth." (Deuteronomy 28:15, 64 NASB)
The Romans re-took and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Roman empire continued to control Jerusalem and its environs until the empire itself began to fall apart. Then the eastern or Byzantine empire ruled from Constantinople. Centuries passed. The city's site was occupied by nomadic Arab tribesmen. Then Mohammed founded a new religion. The Islamic holy war of conquest began and spread across the Middle East and North Africa. Jerusalem fell to the Muslims in the year 638 A.D., six years after Mohammed's death.
During the first hundred years of Muslim control over Jerusalem, ruling Caliphs built two new stuctures on the mount formerly occupied by the Jewish temple: first, the Dome of the Rock, and then the al-Aqsa mosque. Because they held Jesus to be a prophet and recognized some of the Hebrew prophets, and because their Koran says that the Jews "were required to preserve the Book of ALLAH" and that "they were guardians over it" (5: 45) Jerusalem was already a holy city for Muslims. Now the construction of these edifices further cemented its status.
Events moved slowly in those days, but Islamic suppression of Christian worship in Jerusalem eventually brought a reaction from the nations that called themselves Christian. Armies of Crusaders reached Jerusalem and took the city in 1099 A.D. But it was difficult for Europeans to control land in the Middle East during the dark ages, and Crusader influence lasted a scant hundred and fifty years or so.
Egyptian influence prevailed over the city for the most part until the early 1500's, when the Ottoman Turks took control. Napoleon hoped to extend his influence that far after capturing Egypt, but he failed. The Ottoman Turks held onto Jerusalem until their alliance with the Kaiser's Germany in the First World War led to defeat.
British forces under General Allenby marched into the holy city in 1917. The League of Nations legitimized British occupation through an official Mandate. The Balfour Declaration (quoted in full in another chapter of this book) spelled out Britain's intention to restore a Jewish state in the region. But, when Britain dragged its feet and years passed, Jewish radicals began using force to persuade the British to leave.
In 1947, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 called for a division of the land between Jews and Arabs, between the new states of Israel and Jordan. Finally, in 1948 as British forces withdrew and the State of Israel was proclaimed, the surrounding Arab nations attacked. Their aim was to destroy Israel and to drive the Jews into the sea. That war ended in 1949 with an agreement dividing Jerusalem between Israel and Jordan.
During the Six-Day War, Jewish control over Jerusalem was expanded on June 7, 1967, when the Old City was captured. Then, in 1980, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared the united Jerusalem to be its capital.
During the 1990's the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians appeared to be moving forward and was about to result in an independent Palestinian state in part of the territory controlled by Israel. Virtually everything had been agreed upon, accept the status of Jerusalem. When the topic came up, however, it resulted in the collapse of the peace process and the resumption of the Palestinian uprising.
Under the administration of President George W. Bush the United States government abandoned to its long-standing policy of outward neutrality between Israel and the Palestinians. With tacit American support Israel used its military to resolve the conflict in its favor. And that is the status of Jerusalem as of this writing.
And this brings us to the present situation, with Jerusalem now a problem for the whole world, and with the nations of the world working together to impose a solution. "Jerusalem will be a heavy stone burdening the world," as the ancient Hebrew prophet Zechariah said, and, "All the nations of the earth unite in an attempt" to impose their solution. (Zechariah 12:3 The Living Bible Catholic edition)
As detailed in other chapters of this book, there are United Nations resolutions calling for the state of Israel to abandon its claim to Jerusalem as its eternal capital, and to withdraw from at least part of the city. Other U.N. resolutions call for all of Jerusalem to be an international city under direct United Nations control. There are strong political currents in the international community for these resolutions to be enforced.
What will happen? Eventually, the nations of the world, 'united' as Zechariah foretold, will move to enforce their will. But, they will find themselves up against the will of God. The battle of Armageddon will be fought, and God will prevail.
What, then will be the future of Jerusalem? God's intention is for it to be restored as the center for His worship for the whole world: "At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD , and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD . No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts." (Jeremiah 3:17 NIV) The words of Jeremiah 31:33-40 (NIV) make very plain what lies ahead for the holy city Jerusalem:
According to the second Psalm, God's annointed Messiah will rule the world from Mount Zion in Jerusalem: