Jerusalem is the crucible of three world faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, Zionists deny history and the will of entire international community when they insist “Jerusalem is the undivided, eternal and exclusive capital of the Jewish people.”
The annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and the aggressive strategy of Palestinian house demolitions, illegal Jews-only settlements and the construction of the apartheid Separation Barrier have all created ‘facts on the ground’. When challenged, Jewish Zionists and their Christian supporters claim a higher mandate than the United Nations for their exclusive claim to Jerusalem – the Word of God.
This paper will refute this view and demonstrate from the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures that Jerusalem was always intended to be an inclusive city of peace for all who acknowledge the One true God. Practical steps will be offered for ways in which people of faith can work together to resolve the present conflict.
1. Jerusalem in the Hebrew Scriptures: A Shared City
The story of Jerusalem goes way back to the Book of 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 with Jerusalem. Mount Moriah, where Abraham offered his son as a sacrifice, is also identified in 2 Chronicles 3 as the same place where king Solomon built his Temple. While the right of residence in Jerusalem was always conditional of faithful obedience, God’s intention has always been that Jerusalem be shared. In Psalm 87 we have a beautiful picture of an international and inclusive city where residency rights are determined by God on the basis of faith not race.
“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.” (Psalm 87:3-6)
It is a universal norm that where we are born determines our nationality and citizenship. The same applies in God’s kingdom. Spiritual new birth brings with it the entitlement to citizenship of Jerusalem on the basis of faith not race.
This psalm therefore rebukes and challenges the narrowness of nationalistic pride and prejudice. Similarly, in Isaiah 2, we learn that people of many different nations will come to Jerusalem and put their faith in God and walk in his ways. One of the glorious consequences of this is that Jerusalem will become associated with the end of war, and with peace and reconciliation between the nations.
“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 ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:3-5).
2. Jerusalem in the Christian Scriptures: A Heavenly City
So what place does Jerusalem fulfil within Christian tradition? There is both good and bad news. First, the bad news. 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.
“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)
Quoting Psalm 118:26, Jesus displays the instincts of a protective mother concerned for the people of Jerusalem 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)
With the total destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, 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 Christian scriptures instead, look increasingly to another Jerusalem.
The focus of the New Testament shifts away from an earthly onto a heavenly Jerusalem which by faith in Jesus, we are already citizens.
“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.”
(Revelation 21:2, 22-24).
In this one all consuming vision, God’s people now embrace all nations, God’s land encompasses the whole earth, and God’s holy city has become the eternal dwelling place of all who trust in Him.
3. Jerusalem in God’s Purposes: A Reconciling City
To summarize, in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, God reveals that he expects Jerusalem to be a shared, inclusive city of faith, hope and love. The Scriptures also envisage a glorious future for Jerusalem. One that impacts and benefits the entire world. The vision is of an inclusive and shared Jerusalem in which the nations, including the Jewish people, are blessed. Perhaps this is why, when Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for exploiting the international visitors to the temple, he quotes from Isaiah, “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7, cf. Matthew 21:13). But today, we have to live with the reality of a Jerusalem that is associated with apartheid and racism, with exclusive claims that can only be sustained by oppression and injustice, by military occupation, the denial of human rights, the disregard for international law, access to religious sites and freedom of expression. Living between Jerusalem past and Jerusalem future, what is our religious responsibility in the present? In June 2009, I helped write the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism endorsed and signed by the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem. The Declaration explains the reasons for their rejection of the exclusive Zionist claims to Jerusalem.
Statement by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches In Jerusalem
‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.’
“We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation…
We affirm that all people are created in the image of God. In turn they are called to honour the dignity of every human being and to respect their inalienable rights.
We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.
We affirm that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. We reject all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.
We call upon all people to reject the narrow world view of Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.
We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.
With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonisation, apartheid and empire-building.
God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.
‘What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6:8)
By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace – and working for peace makes us children of God. ”
On Palm Sunday, the Apostle Luke tells us,
“As he [Jesus] 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.” (Luke 19:41-42).
I believe Jesus continues to weep not only over Jerusalem, but also for all his children in the Middle East. I believe he weeps , for those who promote a theology of war and conquest that contradicts the model Jesus has given us in Himself.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).
May God give us the courage and strength to fulfil this role.
Paper to be delivered at the International Conference on Jerusalem, 26-27 February, Doha, Qatar.
A longer version of this paper is available here.
For a more detailed paper on the place of Jerusalem within biblical tradition, based on my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers, see here.