Jerusalem is perhaps the most renowned of all cities historically, religiously and prophetically. Although it has only some 700,000 inhabitants, no city has impacted or will impact humanity as much as Jerusalem.
Many nations have tried to conquer Jerusalem; many succeeded. Some significant takeovers include those of King David, Nebuchadnezzar, Roman caesars, Muslim caliphs, Christian crusaders, the British and finally the Israelis.
Centuries passed between the last Jewish government in Jerusalem and Britain's capture of the city during World War I, which brought the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland that a few decades later would become the modern state of Israel.
Over the last 60 years, various Muslim forces or groups have repeatedly claimed or attempted to conquer Jerusalem. It remains a geopolitical and religious flashpoint.
A source of religious conflict
To Muslims, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city after Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad, and Medina, where Muhammad lived and died. Jerusalem, they believe, is where Muhammad ascended to heaven from the rock outcropping where the Dome of the Rock now stands on the massive Temple Mount platform completed by the biblical king Herod the Great.
Many Bible scholars and archaeologists also believe the Jewish temple rebuilt by Herod and—1,000 years earlier—the original temple of King Solomon stood on the same spot.
Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and current president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, sees Jerusalem as a trigger for an apocalyptic global jihad.
"One aspect of the growth of jihadist militancy in the Middle East is, in fact, directly tied to the Jerusalem issue—the spread of Islamic apocalyptic thought," he writes (The Fight for Jerusalem, 2007, p. 22). He believes that militant Wahhabism, a widespread extremist sect of Islam, hopes to bring on an end-time apocalypse now, and Jerusalem plays a key role in this.
"According to the Islamic version of the end of history, a messianic figure known as the Mahdi (the rightly guided one) will appear and establish his headquarters in Jerusalem. He is preceded by the arrival of the Antichrist, known in Islam as the dajjal. According to this eschatological scenario, Jesus [Isa in Arabic] will also return, proclaim the supremacy of Islam, and smash all the world's crosses. Then Jesus and the Mahdi together will wage war against the dajjal" (p. 23).
But a threatened Jerusalem today does not prohibit a peaceful and glorious Jerusalem tomorrow. The very name Jerusalem is inextricably linked to peace, as we will see.
Today, three major religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—lay claim to Jerusalem. Adding to the conflict, both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital.
More importantly, a resurrected Christ Jesus also claims it as His. God owns Jerusalem, though it doesn't appear so now. For now, the Jews claim it; the Arabs want it.
Ambassador Gold notes that Jerusalem is mentioned in the story of Abraham some 4,000 years ago, as the Temple Mount is traditionally identified as Mt. Moriah:
"In the Book of Genesis (22:2) Abraham is told by God to take his son Isaac to the ' Land of Moriah.' The Midrash —part of the early rabbinic literature compiled after the destruction of the Second Temple—breaks down various possible Hebraic roots of the word 'Moriah,' which is understood to mean the place where instruction (hora'ah), religious awe ( yir'ah), or light ( orah) 'went forth to the world.' In short, the religious acts associated with Mt. Moriah have universal meaning for all mankind" (p. 45).
He goes on to suggest that "God chose the name Jerusalem (Yerushalayim) as a combination of Yir'eh [religious awe] and Shalem [peace]" (ibid.). Others propose that the name means "foundation (or possession) of peace."
Historical fights over Jerusalem
Jerusalem 's history is one of conflict and conquest.
In Genesis 14 we find one of the earliest indications of a special site of peace that many link to Jerusalem. Abraham was blessed by and gave tithes to "Melchizedek king of Salem" (verses 18-20). Salem ("Peace") could refer to Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2). Hebrews 7:1-3 later identifies the priest-king here as the preincarnate Jesus Christ who became the Savior of all mankind:
"For this Melchizedek, 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 translated 'king of righteousness,' and then also king of Salem, meaning 'king of peace,' without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually [forever]."
Centuries later, Joshua, successor to Moses and commander of Israel, crossed the Jordan River and conquered the Promised Land, though the Israelites failed to permanently drive the Jebusites, a Canaanite people, from Jerusalem (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:21).
About four centuries later King David captured the city. "And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, which is Jebus, where the Jebusites were, the inhabitants of the land. But the inhabitants of Jebus said to David, 'You shall not come in here!' Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David)" (1 Chronicles 11:4-5).
For political reasons, Jerusalem became David's capital. "David believed the new capital could bind the  tribes together as a single people under the authority of his newly created United Monarchy. So he situated himself there rather than in Hebron, where he had previously ruled over the Tribe of Judah" (Gold, p. 36).
The Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and deported many of the Jews. Persia then conquered Babylon (539 B.C.) and allowed the Jews there to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and the city in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
About a century after Nehemiah, Alexander the Great, during his military campaign through the area in 331 B.C., visited Jerusalem and was favorable toward the Jews. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote that Alexander the Great even brought an offering to the temple there (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, chap. 8, sec. 4-5).
In 168 B.C., one of the successors of Alexander's divided kingdom, the king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes, conquered Jerusalem, deliberately desecrating the temple. "The introduction by Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes of foreign deities inside the Temple in the second century [B.C.] helped spark the Maccabean revolt, which was also fueled by his decision to make Sabbath observance and circumcision punishable by death" (Gold, p. 47). The Jews revolted (167-4 B.C.) and regained their independence.
The tribe of Judah enjoyed independence until the Romans attained control of Jerusalem in 64 B.C. Following a Jewish revolt, in A.D. 70 the Romans razed Herod's temple and almost wholly destroyed Jerusalem.
In A.D. 132-135, the Jews again revolted, unsuccessfully, against Rome, leading to another devastation of Jerusalem. Hadrian overcame them and decided to plant a pagan Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, on the site.
The fourth-century Roman emperor Constantine the Great encouraged the building of religious shrines in Jerusalem, which carried on until the sixth century through the reign of the emperor Justinian.
From 638, various Muslim caliphs controlled Jerusalem, interrupted only by the medieval Crusades for less than a century, until British General Allenby took the city in 1917. Between then and 1948, Jerusalem again became a capital under the British mandate, headed by a high commissioner.
After the United Nations declared nation status for Israel on May 15, 1948, Israel won the ensuing war launched by neighboring states, leaving Jerusalem divided between Jews and Arabs. The Jews proclaimed it their capital in 1949.
The Six-Day War in 1967 allowed the Jews to capture the Old City and reunify Jerusalem. Brief wars have followed since, and Jerusalem remains a tinderbox for both Jews and Arabs, constantly threatened by firebrand extremists.
A final fight, followed by a glorious future
According to God's Word, Jerusalem will be a focal point of global war at the end of this age (Zechariah 12:1-9; 14:1-2).
Massive armies will gather near Megiddo (Armageddon) in northern Israel (Revelation 16:16), only a short distance from Jerusalem where the final battle will take place. These armies will meet their destruction there (see Joel 3:9-16; Revelation 14:14-20; Zechariah 14:12), and then the Messiah, the returning Jesus Christ, will establish peace in His great city of peace.
Jerusalem will then begin to fulfill its role as the Holy City for all humankind. Everyone will go up to Jerusalem to learn God's way of life (Zechariah 14:16).
Peace will eventually pervade the earth, beginning from there: "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth . . . Jerusalem shall be raised up and inhabited in her place . . . The people shall dwell in it; and no longer shall there be utter destruction, but Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited" (Zechariah 14:9-11).
The prophet Isaiah paints an even more detailed and glorious picture of the future for Jerusalem: "Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; and they shall call you The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, so that no one went through you, I will make you an eternal excellence, a joy of many generations . . .
"I will also make your officers peace, and your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise" (Isaiah 60:14-18).
The city will be God's earthly capital, from which the Messiah will rule all nations (Jeremiah 3:17; compare Isaiah 2:2-4). And ultimately, God the Father will descend with a glorious New Jerusalem to the earth, from which He will reign supreme, as He now does from heaven, over all creation (Revelation 21-22).
Your part in Jerusalem's future
In the end, God will protect and restore Jerusalem. Christ's followers of this age, then glorified, will reign with Him from His throne there (Revelation 3:21; 20:4, 6).
Jerusalem is named, appropriately, the City of Peace, although for now there's precious little peace there. What can you and I do today? As we obey Christ's command to pray "Your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10), we would do well to heed King David's appeal as well—to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6).
And we must do our part to live the way of peace (James 3:18). The Prince of Peace will ensure that Jerusalem will survive, endure and flourish, ultimately in the most wonderful future imaginable. Until that prophecy finally becomes a reality, may we learn from both history and God and become true peacemakers. GN