The Bible characterizes the ancient capital city of Jerusalem as a holy city as well as a type of Sodom and Egypt, two ancient cities that typified sin. This is quite a contrast for a city that three major religions revere.
Talks that seemed to promise peace suddenly broke down in 2000, leading to weeks of bloody violence in the last months of the year. The central contentious issue was Israeli and Palestinian disagreement on who should control Jerusalem.
An article in The New York Times during negotiations summarizes the problem: “Jerusalem is rarely publicly discussed by Israeli or Palestinian leaders in anything but black-and-white terms. It is the 'eternal, undivided capital' of Israel, on the one hand, and the future capital of the Palestinian state on the other: seemingly irreconcilable concepts that have led many intelligent politicians to recommend that the issue be left unresolved in the current, supposedly final, peace talks” (May 21, 2000).
The most hotly contested part of the city is the area called the Temple Mount, the site of two Islamic mosques as well as the Western Wall of the temple precincts destroyed by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago, which is important to the Jews. The Palestinians hope to claim permanent sovereignty over the site and gain a significant victory in the long-standing struggle between Arab and Jew.
Indeed, Jerusalem's status remains unresolved and a huge stumbling block in any effort to reach a meaningful accord.
The prophet Zechariah predicted the politically central position and troublesome nature of the city in the end time: “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples … 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 Zechariah 12:2-3 2 Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling to all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem.
3 And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.
American King James Version×).
A history of continuing conflict
We have been there before. Jerusalem has seen a succession of revolutions, sieges, surrenders and famines-followed by restorations and rebuilding. Its time of greatest glory was under Solomon, son of Israel's famous King David. Solomon built the fabulous temple described in 1 and 2 Kings.
Over the centuries Jerusalem has inspired much contention. Christians and Muslims have alternately slaughtered each other to wrest control of the “city of peace.” Many thousands have died under the banner of the cross and the crescent within its walls and gates. Aldous Huxley once called her the “great slaughterhouse of religions.”
From 1948 to 1967 the city was divided between Jews and Arabs. Author and lecturer Amos Oz observed: “The years 1948 through 1967 saw Jerusalem divided by trenches and barbed wire.
The frontier between Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem and Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem ran erratically through gutted houses and deserted streets; great scars of no-man's-land marred the city centre” ( Jerusalem: City of Mirrors , 1990, p. 39).
In 1967 Israel gained control and united the holy city during the Six Day War. Since then Israelis have guaranteed the major religions access to all holy sites. The push to achieve a settlement of the Palestinian-homeland issue has again highlighted Jerusalem's emotional pull.
Tension remains high over the Temple Mount area, which is sure to continue to spark hostilities.
Calm before the storm
Bible prophecy shows Jerusalem to be the focal point of important events before the return of Christ to inaugurate His rule over the earth. Notice what Jesus revealed: “Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (Matthew 24:15-16 Matthew 24:15-16 15 When you therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoever reads, let him understand:)
16 Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains:
American King James Version×).
Jesus was referring to a prophecy in Daniel 9, a detailed prediction of the coming of the Messiah. Daniel described “one who makes desolate” (verse 27). Here God reveals a conflict that will involve a sacrifice and a covenant (treaty or other legal agreement). Apparently Jerusalem will see a respite from conflict when outside powers become involved and lead-or force-the combatants into a brief peace. But such a peace will only be the calm before the final storm.
Notice these additional details from Jesus' Olivet prophecy: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her.
“For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:20-24 Luke 21:20-24 20 And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near.
21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the middle of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.
22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
23 But woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! for there shall be great distress in the land, and wrath on this people.
24 And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
American King James Version×).
Revelation 11:2 Revelation 11:2But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given to the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
American King James Version×tells us that this period of gentile (non-Israelite) control over Jerusalem will last 42 months. During this same 3½-year period a powerful person will lead a military, economic and religious power that will arise in the end time to rule over much of the world (Revelation 13). This great power will diametrically oppose God and persecute and even murder those who are faithful to God (verses 5-8).
At the same time, God will raise up two prophets in Jerusalem who will proclaim His truth to a world growing ever more ensnared in religious deception (Revelation 11:3-6 Revelation 11:3-6 3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and three score days, clothed in sackcloth.
4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceeds out of their mouth, and devours their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
American King James Version×). The world will celebrate when they are martyred, but then be stunned when God raises them to life again (verses 7-13).
Jerusalem again will be the site of a great battle. God says that at the time of the end He will “gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken, the houses rifled …” (Zechariah 14:1-2 Zechariah 14:1-2 1 Behold, the day of the LORD comes, and your spoil shall be divided in the middle of you.
2 For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
American King James Version×). Christ will return at that point and battle the armies gathered around Jerusalem (verses 3-4; Revelation 19:11-19 Revelation 19:11-19 11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war. 12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. 13 And he was clothed with a clothing dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. 14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. 17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the middle of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together to the supper of the great God; 18 That you may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. 19 And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.
American King James Version×).
Coming: Gentile control of Jerusalem?
In the meantime, the issue of Jerusalem's status awaits a resolution. Will the Vatican offer its services to break through the Gordian knot that prevents a peace settlement?
In July 2000, while Israeli and Palestinian leaders met at Camp David with President Clinton, the pope urged that Jerusalem be governed under international protection. “… I want to ask all the parties not to neglect the importance of the spiritual dimension of the city of Jerusalem, with its sacred places and the community of three monotheistic religions that surround them,” he said.
In September he reiterated his desire for international intervention in Jerusalem: “The history and present reality of interreligious relations in the Holy Land is such that no just and lasting peace is foreseeable without some form of support from the international community.”
Since then spokesmen for the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as other national leaders, have called for intervention not only from the Vatican but from the European Union and United Nations. Growing numbers are calling for exactly the kind of solution prophesied in the Bible: the passing of Jerusalem to gentile or Vatican control-or both.
Of the climactic circumstances that will overwhelm Jerusalem at the time of the end, Jesus says: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28 Luke 21:28And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near.
American King James Version×). At Christ's return He will rescue the then-downtrodden city. It will regain its status as a font of light, truth and glory. Ruling from Jerusalem, Jesus Christ will liberate mankind and bring peace to this war-torn world. GN