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Jerusalem: Center of Conflict, Center of Peace

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Center of Conflict, Center of Peace

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Jerusalem has been synonymous with conflict, sieges, wars and battles almost from its very first mention in the Bible. It is now the capital of the state of Israel, whose very existence has been threatened by wars and conflicts with the surrounding nations. Today the Palestinians desperately want to take control of East Jerusalem—which includes the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and the old City of David.

This historic city—now sacred to the three major monotheistic religions and also regrettably often the site of horrendous violence— is destined to far outdistance all other cities in world importance.

Factional divisions within also trouble Israel. Secular Jews dream of an inclusive, utopian homeland based on diplomacy. The ultranationalist Jews stand on expansionist territorial claims and rely on military domination as the key to survival.

3,500 years of conflict

The 50-plus years of contemporary conflict since Israel's modern founding actually extend far back into ancient history. There we discover a climate of trouble and violence reminiscent of present-day troubles in the Holy Land.

Although very early Jerusalem is mentioned in the ancient Tell el-Amarna tablets, the first biblical reference is found in Genesis 14:18-20. Melchizedek, king of Salem (identified as Jerusalem in Psalm 76:1-2), greeted the patriarch Abraham after he had won a decisive battle, with God's help, against regional kings. Abraham had gallantly rescued his nephew Lot, who had been taken captive.

This is the only time that Jerusalem itself is mentioned in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible—though Moriah, a mountain just to the north of the original city, is mentioned in Genesis 22:2.

Yet this historic city—now sacred to the three major monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) and also regrettably often the site of horrendous violence—is destined to far outdistance all other cities in world importance. Jerusalem is destined to become the glorious global capital city of peace and truth to which all countries on earth will look.

God has had His eyes on Jerusalem since the time Melchizedek, the King of Peace (Hebrews 7:2), met Abraham—and perhaps even long before. (To understand the true identity of Melchizedek, please request or download our free booklet Who Is God?)

Judah and Jerusalem: an intertwined biblical history

To understand our current dilemmas, a strong sense of Bible history is supremely important! It is an accurate guide, especially in understanding this long-troubled region.

A relationship between the Jews (the tribe of Judah) and Jerusalem began early in the history of ancient Israel. Joshua, Moses' successor, defeated the king of Jerusalem in the course of conquering the Promised Land (Joshua 10:1-10). The ancient Amorites had occupied the city. It was part of the territory to be inherited by the 12 tribes of Israel (Joshua 12:7-10).

Later we find the Jebusites, apparently a Canaanite tribe, still occupying Jerusalem (Joshua 15:8). The Scripture states: "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 to this day" (Joshua 15:63).

The Bible also clearly states that the tribe of Benjamin was to inherit Jerusalem (Joshua 18:21; Joshua 18:28). Putting together all of these passages in Joshua (and later in Judges), plainly the tribes of Judah and Benjamin became closely associated with Jerusalem. Eventually they would ally together to form the southern kingdom of Judah. Remember that the apostle Paul was a Benjamite.

The Jews conquer much of Canaan

After the death of Joshua the Israelites asked God which of the 12 tribes should lead in fighting the pagan Canaanites (Judges 1:1).

Notice God's immediate reply: "And the Lord said, 'Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand'" (Judges 1:2). The tribe of Judah was specially chosen by the Creator Himself to fulfill both His immediate and long-range purposes in conquering the land of the ungodly Canaanites. According to the inspired Word of Holy Scripture, this choice was distinctly God's and not man's.

Judges 1:17-18 record Judah's victories over the various Canaanite enclaves, including Gaza, most notably in the more mountainous areas. However, hilly hard-to-conquer Jerusalem (then called Jebus and inhabited by the Jebusites) somehow escaped the victorious hand of Judah, just as it did in the days of Joshua (Joshua 15:8).

Benjamin also had failed to conquer Jerusalem. Judges 1:21 tells us that "the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day [the time the book was written]." So for a considerable time the city apparently remained a Jebusite stronghold in the midst of Israelite territory.

Courageous King David finally conquers Jerusalem

Conquering this almost-impregnable stronghold would be left to King David of Israel, a descendant of Judah and a royal ancestor of Jesus Christ through Jesus' mother Mary.

The biblical record briefly summarizes David's conquest some 3,000 years ago: "In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years over all Israel and Judah" (2 Samuel 5:5).

A key passage then states that "David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David)" (2 Samuel 5:7). Renamed Jerusalem (meaning "City of Peace") by the king, it would also be known as the City of David.

One key factor to always keep in mind is that God Himself chose David to be king over Israel in place of Saul and his descendants (1 Samuel 15:22-28; 1 Samuel 16:1-13). The Creator directly intervened in the affairs of the nation. He was the behind-the-scenes Author of the conquest of Jerusalem.

After the 40-year reign of David, his son and successor Solomon allowed blatant idolatry to afflict Israel—especially in the later years of his rule. As a divine punishment, God decided to divide the nation after Solomon's death.

God chose Jerusalem

In announcing His intentions to Solomon beforehand, the Creator stated: ". . . I will not tear away the whole kingdom; I will give one tribe to your son [Rehoboam] for the sake of My servant David, and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen" (1 Kings 11:13).

Later in the same chapter a slightly expanded repetition states that Solomon's son Rehoboam would retain one tribe "for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel" (1 Kings 11:32). Clearly it was the Creator who used David and his descendants to accomplish His overall purpose in this holy city. God personally chose Jerusalem!

The Bible is a divinely inspired book that reveals God's dealings with and purposes for humanity. It records His major interventions in the past and His future plans that ultimately will bless all mankind. More than one passage of Scripture tells us that the Creator owns the whole earth. It all belongs to Him.

The destiny of Jerusalem

Even while firmly challenging the chosen city for her many sins, God said: "This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations and the countries all around her" (Ezekiel 5:5). Located between Europe, Asia and Africa, for over three millennia Jerusalem has seen many invaders. Here lies the crossroads of mankind.

This crucial passage, however, isn't just referring to mundane geopolitics. It also alludes to what we might call "sacred geography"—to be fulfilled during Christ's coming millennial reign and even more so on beyond that period.

To understand our current dilemmas, a strong sense of Bible history is supremely important! It is an accurate guide, especially in understanding this long-troubled region.

But for the present and the foreseeable future, the local and regional inhabitants, surrounding nations and even faraway countries including the United States are continuing to fulfill, in part, a disturbing prophecy in Zechariah:

"Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it" (Zechariah 12:2-3).

Just as this prophecy foretold, the unpleasant regional and even international fallout from involvement in Jerusalem's affairs has been considerable.

This passage in Zechariah also applies on one level to the modern nation of Israel (more accurately Judah), custodians of the ancient city. It has developed a huge siege mentality during the 56 years of its existence as a state.

Why? In addition to enduring endless skirmishes and frequent terrorism since its founding, Israel has fought at least four major wars: 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973. Again and again, the surrounding Arab nations have periodically threatened—and attempted—to drive it into the Mediterranean Sea. Only in recent times has there been any alleviation of such "final solutions."

As noted author Conor Cruise O'Brien observed: "Does Israel have the right to exist? The State of Israel has lived since its birth—and even before its birth—under the pressure of that question. And that question was preceded by another question: Do the Jews have a right to exist?" (The Siege, 1986, p. 25).

In 1936 British Zionist pioneer Chaim Weizmann put it bluntly when he asked the Peel Commission: "Do we have the right to exist?" (ibid., p. 196).

That it would be necessary to even pose such questions says something about our so-called advanced, civilized world today. The only truly hopeful consolation is a pervasive and permanent peace prophesied to come to the Holy Land—and not by human efforts.

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem"

King David penned at least a third of the Psalms and possibly more like half. One of his most touching includes a plea for peace for the city of peace. "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces'" (Psalm 122:6-7).

This solemn prayer, penned by David some 3,000 years ago, is destined to be answered in previously undreamed proportions. The Hebrew prophet Zechariah adds: "Thus says the Lord: 'I will return to Zion [referring to Christ's second coming], and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the Lord of hosts, the Holy Mountain'" (Zechariah 8:3).

Other prophecies tell us that Jerusalem's destiny is to become a center of peace for all nations on earth. Nations will send representatives to her even from faraway places to learn and take God's ways back to their peoples. As Isaiah 2:1-3 says: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it."

In Bible prophecy, "mountains" and "hills" are often used to refer to governments, nations or kingdoms. This prophecy tells us that the government of Jesus Christ will be established and rule over all the nations on earth.

Then Isaiah continues: "Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem."

Under the reign of the Messiah, war, weaponry, military forces and even military academies will be consigned to the distant past (Isaiah 2:4). Peace with justice will be administered to all peoples from Jerusalem.

But in no way do these sure biblical prophecies represent conditions in the Holy Land today—a region plagued by corruption, bombings, terrorist acts, kidnappings and murders. Watch the news on television or simply read your daily newspaper.

Yet these millennial prophecies assure us that "old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing" (Zechariah 8:4-5). Both old and young alike will at last be safe from harm's way during Christ's coming 1,000-year rule. Suicide bombers will have passed into the dim recesses of history.

The Bible pictures a majestic, millennial future with a relaxed and peaceful life in the golden city. This is Jerusalem's destiny, foretold centuries ago.

Looking beyond: The New Jerusalem

Jerusalem is far more than just a physical city. It is symbolic of an entire nation. Human frontiers and borders tend to blur when they touch the infinite. Jerusalem has a spiritual dimension that extends into eternity.

The New Testament Church is called "Jerusalem above . . . the mother of us all" (Galatians 4:26). The patriarchs, prophets and kings of Hebrews 11 never received God's ultimate promises during their human lifetimes. Neither will true Christians today.

Yet these promises of God are absolutely sure! In faith the patriarch Abraham "waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). The Creator is the divine architect of the New Jerusalem. All men and women of faith have envisioned the fulfillment of God's promises, "having seen them afar off" (Hebrews 11:13). They know that God "has prepared a city for them" (Hebrews 11:16).

In His message to one of the seven churches of Revelation, Jesus Christ referred to "the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven" (Revelation 3:12). Then the dwelling place of God will be with spirit-transformed men and women in a transformed world (Revelation 21:3). Death, sorrow, pain and suffering will have passed into history as the ultimate new world order takes shape on a brand-new earth (Revelation 21:4-5).

In summary, this is the true message of the enduring presence of Jerusalem in the world. In spite of today's terrible conflicts, it remains a city like no other, one with an awesome future that is unique. This is one reason Jerusalem is mentioned some 850 times in the Bible. It is the symbolic cornerstone of crucial prophetic messages promising permanent peace to all of mankind—forever.

Coming : International Control of Jerusalem?

While the court of world opinion wishes to internationalize Jerusalem, many Israelis are absolutely determined to resist such a move.

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firmly stated: "Israel could not under any circumstances negotiate over any aspect of Jerusalem, anymore than Americans would negotiate over Washington . . . The notion that Jerusalem will be redivided is sheer fantasy."

Yet he acknowledged that "it is not only the Arabs who cling to this fantasy. In practically every foreign ministry in the West, including the U.S. State Department, there are maps that do not include East Jerusalem as a part of a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty" (A Place Among the Nations, 1993, p. 346).

Still, even under the overseeing Jewish umbrella, in some vital respects the city remains divided. Author Bernard Wasserstein described the situation in Jerusalem in 2001, a situation that has only grown worse since.

". . . In many ways Jerusalem . . . is divided more than ever. Walls and fences were beginning to appear between Jewish and Arab districts. Jewish taxi-drivers were reluctant to take passengers to destinations in Arab neighbourhoods. Israeli ambulance drivers would go into Arab districts only if accompanied by security forces. The [outside] Palestinian Authority's Governor of the Jerusalem District was reported to be exercising effective authority in the Arab community" (Divided Jerusalem, 2002, p. 359).

Israeli writer and intellectual Amos Elon adds: "For the most part, the two main communities, Palestinians and Israelis, still work and live apart from one another, in separate quarters, much as though the city were still divided by minefields and barbed wire" (Jerusalem: City of Mirrors, 1996, p. 47).

The struggle for the Holy City and the divisive issue of Jerusalem's status still awaits a resolution.

Will the Vatican eventually offer its services to bring a peace settlement? It's interesting to note that between 1948 and 1967 the papacy showed little interest in the fortunes of Jerusalem. That suddenly changed when the Jews took control of the city in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War.

In September 2000, Pope John Paul II urged that Jerusalem be governed under international protective bodies. "The history and present reality of interreligious relation in the Holy Land is such that no just and lasting peace is foreseeable without some form of support of the international community." Perhaps he meant the Vatican in conjunction with the United Nations and the European Union.

Some are calling for exactly this type of "solution," internationalizing the city and bringing in outside military forces to keep the peace. In recent years the European Union, the Vatican, Russia and the Palestinians themselves have all called for just such a solution.

Curiously, this meshes surprisingly well with Bible prophecy, which foretells that Jerusalem will again come under the domination of non-Jews shortly before Jesus Christ's return (Luke 21:24-28; Revelation 11:2).

The real resolution, however, awaits the second coming of Jesus Christ. He will then rescue the downtrodden, history-burdened city. Only then will Jerusalem gain its biblically intended role as a font of light, glory and truth.

Searching for the Peace of Jerusalem

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, a British document that formed the basis for an upsurge of Jewish emigration to Palestine, stated that nothing should be done toward a Jewish national home that might be detrimental to other ethnic communities in the area.

Though often scarred by violence and bloodshed, words of peace have periodically surfaced during the 20th century. British historian Sir Martin Gilbert summed up the undergirding thoughts:

"At its heart, Zionists had striven for a hundred years for the recognition of its legitimacy by the Palestinians. The many conflicts before and after 1948 . . . could not hide the basic imperative, that a way had to be found for the Jews and Arabs of the small strip of land running between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan to find a way of accepting each other's right to live and prosper" (Israel: A History, 1998, p. 560).

Not long before succumbing to an assassin's bullet in October of 1995, Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin appealed to the Palestinians: "We are destined to live together, on the same soil, in the same land . . . We harbor no hatred towards you. We have no desire for revenge. We, like you, are people who want to build a home, plant a tree, love, live, side by side with you—in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men . . . Let's pray that a day will come when we all will say, 'Farewell to arms.'"

This appealing prayer for the peace of Jerusalem and Israel will only be answered by the arrival of God's Kingdom on earth (see Micah 4:3-4). But first the Bible foretells that massive armies will gather their forces outside Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16)—culminating with the divine deliverance brought about by the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Something for Jerusalem to Celebrate

Is a time of peace and safety still possible in Jerusalem? According to Bible prophecy, it will serve as a model city for the entire world. But only under the righteous government of God, compassionately administered through Jesus Christ, will such a wonderful time arrive.

Jesus will bring to fulfillment many prophetic passages that picture a glorious future for Jerusalem. At Christ's coming, King David will be resurrected to eternal life to lead all of Israel into paths of righteousness, peace and justice (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24-25). The "Israel" referred to in these prophecies includes far more peoples than just the tribe of Judah. (If you would like to understand more, please request our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)

Some 3,000 years ago, David began a healing process when he was crowned king of the 12 tribes of Israel in Hebron. Notice what the tribes said during his coronation acclamation: "Indeed, we are your bone and your flesh. Also, in time past, even when Saul was king, you were the one who led Israel out and brought them in; and the Lord your God said to you, 'You shall shepherd My people Israel . . .'" (1 Chronicles 11:1-2).

King David's coronation in ancient Israel foreshadowed a far greater future coronation: that of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus Christ will return not only as a conquering King, but also as a loving Shepherd. He will heal and unify a world torn by strife and sin. Then Jerusalem will at last see true and lasting peace for the benefit of all peoples throughout the entire world.

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