By: Dr. Mojmir Kallus, Vice President for International Affairs
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)
One way to determine the importance of a subject in the Bible is to see how often it is mentioned. By this measure, Jerusalem appears to be quite significant, as it is directly mentioned 660 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and 146 times in the New Testament. If we add synonyms and endearing terms, such as “Zion,” we get another 165 times—almost 1,000 verses that mention Jerusalem, the only city declared “holy” in the Bible.
You may have seen the medieval painting in which Jerusalem is depicted as the centre of the world. It is based on a Scripture from Ezekiel where God declares that He has set Jerusalem in the midst of the nations (Ezekiel 5:5). So, again, what makes the city so special?
First, Jerusalem is close to God’s heart. The prophet Zechariah declares that the Lord has chosen Jerusalem (Zechariah 3:2) and that He is zealous for Zion with great zeal (Zechariah 1:14).
Secondly, God makes choices. We find a key passage in the book of Psalms: “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it’” (Psalm 132:13–14). So, Jerusalem is a dwelling place for the presence of God.
God made a covenant with the Jewish people and set them apart for His redemptive plan to bring blessing to all mankind. All the world owes a debt of gratitude to the Jewish people because they brought us the very word of God. And from them came the Messiah—Jesus, our Saviour. He chose Israel to be the vehicle through which to bring salvation and blessing to the whole world. Likewise, He chose Jerusalem for a special purpose. And again, we see that it is meant not only for Israel but for all nations. Isaiah declares: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
In this city, His Son was also sentenced, crucified, and buried. In this city, Jesus rose from the dead, demonstrating the power of God that overcomes even death. In this city, the Holy Spirit fell upon the first disciples, and the Church was born. Different denominations may have their particular centres—some look to Rome, others to Constantinople, Moscow, Geneva, or Wittenberg. These locales emphasize their differences. But when Christians look to Jerusalem, we emphasize what we have in common. Focus on Jerusalem brings unity—or at least it should. In my experience, when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we are united despite our differences.
But there is more to Jerusalem than just the past. The Lord has chosen Jerusalem for a central role in His still-unfolding plan. It involves a connection between Jerusalem and the nations. Jeremiah foresaw Israel being gathered “out of the land of the north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to your fathers” and “at that time Jerusalem shall be called the Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts” (Jeremiah 3:17–18). So the same time that the Jewish people are regathered, all nations shall come to Jerusalem.
The prophet Zechariah points ahead to a great conflict over the city, and following it, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16). A foretaste of this prophecy has taken place since ICEJ started a Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) more than 40 years ago.
A connection between the Jewish return and Jerusalem exalted among the nations is confirmed by history. When the first waves of Aliyah started in the 1880s, Jerusalem turned from a neglected provincial town to a highly coveted place. In those days, all the major powers insisted on having a foothold in the city. And as the Jewish nation grew, so did the global importance of Jerusalem. The United Nations tried to make it an international city. The Arabs ignited a war in 1948 that tragically left Jerusalem divided. In 1967 it was reunited under Jewish sovereignty, but the world has largely refused to recognize this. Jerusalem is the only national capital in the world not recognized by most governments. US President Donald Trump broke from the consensus and moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but the pressure on other nations not to follow is enormous. It is as if the whole world is irrationally fixated on Jerusalem, which brings to mind the words of the prophet 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)
There have been numerous UN resolutions about Jerusalem and yet no peaceful resolution over its fate. Indeed, Jerusalem seems to have an intoxicating influence over people. The prophets foretell of a coming conflict over Jerusalem that will involve all nations. This is one of the signs of the coming of the Messiah. The disputed status of Jerusalem is an indication of our prophetic times. If you want to discern the times, look to Jerusalem. Jesus said: “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Jerusalem was occupied— trampled—by the gentiles from the Roman destruction in AD 70 until June 1967. With the liberation of Jerusalem, a paradigm shift occurred. Jerusalem is now at the centre of world attention. And God is restoring Israel. We are moving toward the fulfilment of all the remaining prophecies, of salvation for Israel and judgment on the nations. And then His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. Jesus will come to reign from Jerusalem, and all nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship Him. And in the end, there will finally be a “New Jerusalem” coming down from heaven—pure and holy.
So, Jerusalem is close to God’s heart. It is the place where significant events in salvation history occurred, and it is the future throne of God to rule over all nations. One final thought on why Jerusalem plays such a critical role. Genesis 14 tells the story of Abraham returning after defeating five kings and meeting Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem) and also meeting the king of Sodom. The two kings are opposites. Melchizedek is a righteous king and priest of the one true God. He offers bread and wine to Abraham, who accepts the gifts and offers back a tithe of his increase. In contrast, the king of Sodom offers him the ill-gotten spoils of war and is refused (Genesis 14:17–23). Abraham was put to a test. He had to make a choice. Would he choose material possessions from Sodom or a humble life of righteousness and peace before God? Abraham understood the choice perfectly—and chose well! I believe Jerusalem represents this choice for all peoples and nations. This city demands a decision. God chose Jerusalem to be a measuring stick by which He is going to judge all nations. May Jerusalem never lose its spiritual importance.