What's it all about? What is the biblical basis of the celebration?
And what does the Bible say about the future of Jerusalem?
The Jewish new year that began on September 25th of 1995 was declared to be a very special one by the government of Israel. They designated it as the 3000th anniversary of the conquest of the city of Jerusalem by King David.
The City's Significance
There is no other city on the face of the earth as important as the city of Jerusalem. All the other great cities of the earth — New York, London, Moscow, Paris, and even Rome — pale by comparison. What other city can claim to be "the city of God" or "the city of the Great King"? (Psalm 48)
God loves Jerusalem, and He intends to dwell in it eternally. Psalm 68:16 says that God has desired the mountain of Zion "for His abode" and that He intends to "dwell there forever." Psalm 132:13-14 contains a similar promise: "The Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. 'This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.'"
When you read these kind of statements, you can understand why Jerusalem is identified in Ezekiel 5:5 as "the center of the nations" and in Ezekiel 38:12 as "the center of the earth."
Jerusalem is where the Son of God shed His precious blood. It is where Jesus ascended into Heaven. It is where Jesus will return to be crowned King of Kings. It is the city from which Jesus will reign over all the nations of the world. And Jerusalem will be the scene of history's last battle when Satan rallies the nations at the end of the Millennium and leads them in revolt against the Lord. Finally, Jerusalem is where God Himself will come to reside eternally with the Redeemed.
It is no wonder that Jerusalem has always been an important topic of Bible prophecy.
The City in History
But before we look at Jerusalem in prophecy, let's briefly remind ourselves of its history.
The first mention of Jerusalem in the Bible is probably found in Genesis 14:18 where we are told that Abraham paid tithes to the King of Salem, Melchizedek. (This was about 2,000 years before the time of Jesus.) Although we cannot know for certain that this is a reference to Jerusalem, it seems likely because Abraham was in that geographical area, and the city's name, Salem, is the root word of the city's later name, Jerusalem.
Later, we are told that Abraham went to Mt. Moriah, just north of ancient Jerusalem, to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:2). That mountain was later incorporated into the city of Jerusalem during the time of Solomon, becoming the Temple Mount.
The first mention of the city by the name of Jerusalem is found in Joshua 10:1 where we are told that the city's king, Adonai-zedek, led a coalition of kings against Joshua and was defeated in the famous battle in the Valley of Ayalon when the sun stood still. However, the city of Jerusalem must not have been taken at this time by the Israelites because after the death of Joshua, we are told in Judges 1:8 that "the sons of Judah" captured the city, "struck it with the edge of the sword, and set it on fire."
But the Jebusites must have reclaimed it because it is later referred to in Judges 19: 10 as the city of Jebus. And it was still in Jebusite hands two centuries later when David conquered it and made it the capital of the Jewish nation.
The story of the city's capture by David and his forces is recorded in 2 Samuel 5 and 1 Chronicles 11. According to these passages, David reigned from Hebron for seven years while he served as king of Judah. But after he was crowned the king of both Judah and Israel, he decided to move his headquarters northward to a more central location. The city he selected was Jebus, which was also known as "the stronghold of Zion" (2 Samuel 5:7). After he conquered it, the name was changed to Jerusalem, but it was often referred to as "the city of David" (2 Samuel 5:9). This occurred 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus — or some 3,000 years from where we stand now in human history.
Now, with this brief historical sketch as a backdrop, let's take a look at the Bible prophecies that relate to Jerusalem.
The first set of prophecies relating to Jerusalem are those that pertain to it as a Jewish capital before the time of Jesus. Keep in mind that the kingdom of David split into two nations after the death of his son Solomon.
The northern nation of Israel was totally apostate from the beginning. It was given over to idolatry and did not have one righteous king in its 200 year history. In sharp contrast, the southern nation of Judah was blessed with many righteous kings. It was also blessed with Jerusalem as its capital. And it was blessed even more by having the Shekinah glory of God residing in its Temple.
But despite all these blessings, the people of Judah became proud and began to drift in their relationship with God. As the nation began to turn its back on God, the Lord mercifully raised up prophets to warn them and call them to repentance. When they refused to repent, the prophets prophesied that the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed and the nation would be taken into captivity.
The first of these prophecies was delivered by Micah in the 8th century BC — about 130 years before the city was actually destroyed. Micah spoke out against both political and religious corruption, saying, "Her [Judah's] leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, Her priests instruct for a price, And her prophets divine for money" (Micah 3:11).
He lamented the fact that every time these leaders were called to repentance lest the city be destroyed, they always responded arrogantly by observing, "Is not the LORD in our midst? [A reference to the Shekinah in the Temple.] Calamity will not come upon us." To which Micah replied: "Therefore, on account of you, Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest" (Micah 3:12).
One hundred years later Jeremiah also warned that Jerusalem would be destroyed (Jeremiah 7:12-15). Speaking for the Lord, Jeremiah declared, "I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant" (Jeremiah 9:11).
When the people refused to believe his words and even sought to kill him as a traitor, Jeremiah reminded them of the previous prophecy of Micah (Jeremiah 26: 18). But the people still refused to repent, and the prophecies were fulfilled in 587 BC when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and its temple.
Consider one of the saddest statements in the Bible: "And the Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, until there was no remedy" (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).
After 70 years of captivity in Babylon, the Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt their temple and their city. But they refused to receive their Messiah, and so the Lord gave a second group of prophecies relating to a period of time when Jerusalem would fall under Gentile control.
Jesus Himself delivered these important prophecies during the last week of His life. As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives talking with His disciples, He pointed at Jerusalem and its temple and said: "As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down" (Luke 21:6).
Later, in the same discourse, Jesus stated that the city would be surrounded by armies which would proceed to desolate it (Luke 21:20). Referring to the Jews in the city at that time, He said, "they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations..." (Luke 21:24a).
These prophecies were fulfilled 40 years later when the Romans under Titus completely destroyed the city, including the Temple.
But notice, Jesus made another prophecy about the city in the same speech: He said, "Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21: 24b). The Romans were followed by the Byzantines, and they were succeeded, in order, by the Muslims, the Crusaders, the Mamelukes, the Turks, the British, and the Jordanians.
Just as Jesus prophesied, the city suffered under a long period of Gentile control until June 7, 1967, when — for the first time in 1,897 years — the Jews regained sovereignty over the city. It was on that day that Rabbi Shlomo Goren went to the Western Wall and cried out: "I proclaim to you the beginning of the Messianic Age."
The third group of prophecies about the city explain why he said these words.
End Time Jerusalem
Four hundred years before Jesus, the prophet Zechariah gave a remarkable series of prophecies about the events that would affect Jerusalem in the end times, right before what we call the Second Coming of the Messiah. These prophecies are recorded in Zechariah 12:1-6. Specifically, the prophecies are as follows:
- The Jews will be back in the land of Israel (verse 1).
- The Jews will be back in the city of Jerusalem (verse 6).
- The Israeli army will be like a "firepot among pieces of wood" (verse 6).
- Jerusalem will become the focal point of world politics (verse 3).
- All the nations of the world will come together against Jerusalem (verse 3).
Please note that these are prophecies that have been fulfilled! The Jew is back in his land and his city. Despite the minuscule size of the nation, its military forces are considered to be among the most powerful in the world. They have truly been like a "flaming torch among sheaves" in war after war.
Israel became the focal point of world politics in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. When the West came to the aid of Israel, the Arabs pulled an oil boycott (remember those long gas lines?), bringing the Western nations to their knees. The result was that all the nations of Western Europe withdrew their support from Israel and either took a neutral position or else lined up with the Arabs in their determination to annihilate the Jewish state.
Concerning the last prophecy cited above, in just the past few years, all the nations of the world, including the United States, have come against Israel, forcing her into a suicidal appeasement policy of trading land for peace.
Zechariah lists some other end time prophecies regarding Jerusalem that have not yet been fulfilled. These exciting prophecies are contained in Zechariah 12:8-10. They state that the Lord will defend Jerusalem against its enemies and that the result of all the end time battles will be the repentance of a great remnant of the Jews "who will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a firstborn" (Zechariah 12:10). In response, the Lord will save this remnant by opening a fountain of salvation in Jerusalem "for sin and for impurity" (Zechariah 13:1).
In chapter 14, Zechariah describes in detail how the Lord will rescue Jerusalem at the last moment when there appears to be no hope: "then the Lord will go forth and fight against those nations, as when He fights on a day of battle" (Zechariah 14:3). He will speak a supernatural plague that will kill all the enemy soldiers in their tracks (Zechariah 14:12). Verse 9 tells us that the outcome of this momentous day will be the coronation of Jesus as "king over all the earth."
This wonderful promise introduces us to the fourth category of prophecies that relate to Jerusalem.
A glorious day is coming for Jerusalem, for when the Lord returns, He is going to reign over all the world for a thousand years, and His reign of peace, righteousness and justice will be based in Jerusalem: "For from Zion will go forth the law, even the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3 and Micah 4:2).
Jerusalem will be the political, economic and religious center of the world (Micah 4:1-7).
The city will be very different from the one we know today. The great worldwide earthquake that will occur when Jesus returns will radically change the earth's topography, including that of Jerusalem (Isaiah 40:4, Revelation 6:12 and Revelation 16:18). The Bible indicates that Jerusalem will be greatly expanded in area and will be lifted up higher, perhaps becoming the highest point on the earth (Zechariah 14:10).
The city will be considerably enlarged and greatly beautified, and the most magnificent temple in history will be built in the midst of it under the personal supervision of the Messiah. That temple is described in detail in chapters 40-48 of Ezekiel.
The glory of Jerusalem in those days is best summarized in Isaiah 62:1-7 where we are told that the city will be "a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord" (verse 3). The prophet also says the city will be "a praise in the earth" (verse 7). For the first time in its long bloody history, it will be a refuge of peace (Joel 3:16-17 and Zephaniah 3:14-20).
It will also be the greatest wonder on the earth. Think about it — it will house the Prince of Peace and will contain His temple. It will also serve once more as the home of God's spectacular Shekinah glory. But that glory will not be contained within the Holy of Holies. Incredibly, Isaiah says that the Shekinah will hover over the whole city of Jerusalem as a cloud by day and a fire by night, providing a canopy to protect the city from heat and rain (Isaiah 4:5-6).
Zechariah says the nations of the world will send delegations to Jerusalem each year to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. And the last verse of Ezekiel says that in that day the name of the city will be changed from Yerusaliam to Yahweh-shemmah, meaning "The Lord is there" (Ezekiel 48:35).
Finally, the prophets tell us that the millennial Jerusalem will be replaced by a new Jerusalem which Jesus is preparing in Heaven now.
At the end of the Millennium, after the earth has been renovated by fire, the new Jerusalem will be lowered down to the new earth, and the Redeemed, in their new glorified bodies, will live in this new city in the presence of Almighty God, who will come down from Heaven to live forever with His children (Revelation 21:1-3). This very clear teaching from the book of Revelation comes as a shock to a lot of Christians who have always been taught that they will live eternally in an ethereal world call Heaven.
What an amazing city this new Jerusalem will be! The Apostle John devotes 24 verses to its detailed description in Revelation 21 and 22. It will be a 1,500 mile cube with 12 foundations made of precious stones — each one named for one of the 12 apostles. Likewise, there will be 12 pearly gates, one named for each tribe of Israel. The walls will be made of jasper. The city itself will be pure gold, like clear glass.
Have you ever stopped to think about the shape and size of this phenomenal city? For example, why will it be 1,500 miles high? The reason, of course, is that in our glorified bodies, we will be immune to the laws of gravity. We will thus be able to utilize all the space of the city, and not just the ground floor.
And how much space will we have? Will there be enough for all the Redeemed? Henry Morris, founder of the Institute for Creation Research, has calculated the space that would exist for each person, assuming that at least 50% of the area would be used for common purposes (streets, parks, recreation centers, etc.) and assuming that 20 billion people have been saved in the course of human history. The result is astounding: each person would have a cube with 75 acres on each surface! That's certainly more space than most of us have now.
But the best part of this city will not be its beauty or its spaciousness. The best part will be the personal presence of Jesus our Lord and Almighty God, His Father. Revelation 22 says we will eternally serve God in this city and that we will "see His face." I think that means we will have intimate, personal fellowship with our Creator eternally. And that causes me to stand in awe.
The Message for Us
What does all this mean for you and me?
First, it means that God is faithful. Just as He has fulfilled prophecies about Jerusalem in the past and is doing so now, we can be confident that He will continue to do so in the future. There is going to be a millennial Jerusalem and there is going to be an eternal one, and we, the Redeemed, are going to be richly blessed by both beyond anything we can imagine.
Second, the record of Jerusalem in prophecy means that God is sovereign. He is in control. Even when everything seems to be out of control here on earth, we can be assured that God has the wisdom and power to orchestrate all the evil of Mankind to the triumph of His will in history.
Third, God is calling you and me to live with an eternal perspective. In Hebrews 11 we are told that Abraham lived by faith as "an alien" in this world, "looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:9-10). Isn't that interesting? Abraham did not consider his arrival in the Promised Land to be the fulfillment of God's promises to him. Rather, he lived yearning for his ultimate reward, namely, life with God in an eternal city — the new Jerusalem.
In Hebrews 11:13 it says that all the heroes of the faith who are listed in that chapter lived their lives as "strangers and exiles on the earth" because they desired the city which God had prepared for them. The book of Hebrews concludes with a reminder to us that in this world we do not have a lasting city. Instead, we are to seek "the city which is to come."
Jesus is adding rooms to that city right now to accommodate the members of His body (John 14:1-4). Let us therefore live as aliens and strangers in this world, never becoming comfortable with it. Let us live looking for the coming of the Lord (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
And let us live praying for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6), realizing that in doing so we are really praying for the return of the Lord, for Jerusalem will never experience true peace until the Prince of Peace returns.