The significance of Jerusalem
There are four questions or issues that will be resolved as we go through this study. First of all, does the modern state of Israel have a legitimate claim on their historic homeland today? It may surprise us but not every Jew living in the land believes that they do. There is a lot of difference of opinion even in the land of Israel. So the question we will address over the course of this series relates to this. Some people say that the Abrahamic covenant and the promise of the land to Israel would only apply when the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, returns. Is that true? The Palestinian or Arab position is that the Jews have illegally stolen the land from them. What are the facts?
The second question we will come to answer over the course of this series is, Is the existence of the modern state of Israel prophetically significant? What is meant by that is, does it indicate anything about setting the stage for the Tribulation period? This is not to mean, Is this a fulfillment of prophecy but is this significant? Can we attach any significance at all to the fact that the Jews are back in the land, or could they just be wiped off the map tomorrow and not come back for another 2000 years?
Third, what should the role of the believer be in relationship to modern Israel? In a little more pointed way of putting it, As a citizen of our country and as a believer what role should the believer have politically in terms of support for Israel? There are actually three basic positions that we could address here. One is the position of replacement theology. Remember, replacement theology is the view that the church has completely replaced Israel in God's plan—in terms of the promises, the covenants and the prophecies of the Old Testament. Replacement theology says that Israel forfeited their right to be God's people because of their rejection of Jesus Christ as their Messiah. So according to them there would be no compulsion, no basis, no reason whatsoever to politically support the nation Israel because they are just a people now like any other people, there is nothing special about them.
Then there is the position of Christian Zionism. This is a term that we have to be careful with because it is applied to a spectrum of people. There are two groups: Christian Zionists and hyper-Christian Zionists. Christian Zionists would be defined the same way that a number of people, for example "Friends of Israel and their ministry, and another of others, as the right of the Jews to live in their historical homeland. Notice that there are two things missing from that definition. One is a right to being their own autonomous nation. That wasn't the historic view back in the 19th century. As modern Zionism developed in the 1800s it was simply a recognition that the Jews had a right to live in their historic homeland that God had promised them. Of course, at that time they were still under the control of the Ottoman empire. Hyper-Christian Zionism is something we have to watch out for. We'll find that a certain number of evangelicals fall into this trap. Hyper-Christian Zionists would say that everything Israel does, everything that the modern nation does, must be validated and supported by Christians and by the United States. That is erroneous because they are an apostate nation right now. They are not in alliance with God, it is the most communist nation in the world, the most socialist economy, and even God in the Old Testament criticized and condemned the Jews from any decisions they make, and that doesn't make Him an anti-Semite! There are a number of people who come along and say that if we don't support everything that the Jews do, that Israel does, that we are ant-Semitic. So we have to figure out where the line of demarcation is in relationship to that question. How far should we go in approving what Israel does politically, militarily and socially?
The fourth question we will address is, what is the history of the Jews since AD 70 when they were first removed from the land?
Because of the role of Israel in God's plan for the future of mankind and its place in the future seven-year Tribulation it is important for us to address this whole topic. We are basically talking about 4000 of history, and that is a tremendous amount of history. If we just look at the Old Testament and the various periods of Old Testament history there are nine different periods related to the Jews in the biblical period, and that just takes us up to AD 70. Then we have to deal with almost 2000 years of history up to the present. As we look at the history of Israel we are going to divide it into three periods. First of all, the biblical period from approximately 2091 BC (when Abraham was 75 years old) to AD 70, i.e. the biblical period related to Israel. Following that we have the post-biblical period from AD 70 to 1839 when modern Zionism was born and the hope and desire for the Jews to return to their national homeland. Then the modern period will cover 1839 to the present, 2006.
The biblical period we will divide into nine periods: the patriarchal period, the sojourn and the theocracy. The sojourn is the time from Joseph to Moses. Then the theocracy which began with the Exodus, the united kingdom, the divided kingdom, the exile, post-exile period, the Hasmonaean period, and then the Roman period. The post-biblical period, AD 70 to 1839, and then the modern period.
The patriarchal period begins when God first calls Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees, Genesis 12:1-3. This would be about 2091 BC. Joseph enters as a slave to Egypt in 1899 BC, and that would be the beginning of the transition to the Jews being in Egypt. So we date the sojourn from 1899 BC to the Exodus in 1446 BC. From 1446-1051 BC was the period of the theocracy. This is when God is the ultimate authority in Israel and it covers the period of the forty years in the wilderness, the period of the conquest under Joshua, and the period of the judges up to the anointing of Saul as king in 1051 BC. Then we have the period of the united kingdom when there was one king over the twelve tribes of Israel. There are three kings in the period of the united kingdom: Saul, David and Solomon. At the end of Solomon's reign and Solomon dies his son Rehoboam is young and refuses to listen to the wise council of the older counselors of his father. He listens to the young men and decides to increase the already heavy taxation. There was one of the first tax revolts in history and the ten northern tribes of Israel under the leadership of Jereboam I rebel against Rehoboam and establish the northern kingdom of Israel. So now Israel is divided into two sections, the southern kingdom of Judah (Judah and Benjamin), and the northern kingdom of Israel. None of the northern kings are ever said to be good. Every one of them does what is evil in the eyes of the Lord and follows in the sins of Jereboam the son of Nebat. The sin of Jereboam is that he recognizes that there needed to be a unity of not only political unity but there needed to be a religious unity, and he couldn't have all of his citizens traipsing down to Jerusalem for all of the festivals, so he established an alternate religion in the northern kingdom. Her had his people construct a golden calf and he said, "This is the god who brought you up out of Egypt." So he introduced idolatry and a new worship center for the northern kingdom, and all of the kings in the north followed him in that idolatry. This is the period from 1051-931 BC. Then from 931-722 BC in the north when the Assyrians destroy the northern kingdom and it goes out under the fifth cycle of discipline. Then the southern kingdom is destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC and the temple is destroyed. According to the legends of the Jews the day that the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar is the same day that the second temple was destroyed by Titus in AD 70. The period from Solomon to 586 BC is also called the period of the first temple. Then comes the period of the exile, the post-exile, the Hasmonaean period, and the Roman period.
One other terms that is used is the term of the first temple, from Solomon to the exile. Once the exile occurs and Babylon comes in, that period from 586 up to the present is called the time of the Gentiles. Even though at times, like today, there is a Jewish state it is still dominated by Gentile powers. It does not have the same kind of autonomy that it had under David and Solomon.
We start back with the patriarchs. Just after 1000 BC we are pretty sure that the date of the dedication of the temple was in 966 BC. We know from 1 Kings 6:1 that this occurred 480 years after the Exodus which occurred in 1446, 430 years after Jacob entered Egypt in 1876 BC. Isaac would have been born 2066 BC and Abraham 2166 BC. So that gives us the time frame of the patriarchal period from Abram's birth up to the Exodus. When we look at the Old Testament from the time of the Exodus on we can break it down like this. There was the theocracy from 1446 up to 1051 when Saul is anointed king. The there was the united monarchy from 1051 to 931, and then there was the division of the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom. The northern kingdom goes out in 722, the southern kingdom in 586, and then there is the return from the exile which is referred to as the post-exilic period.
Why do we study this? Why is Israel so important? What is so significant about the Jews? This is something that we must address. It might be a good principle not to give foreign aid to anybody but Jews are different, they are still God's people. Look at the emphasis in the Scripture. Over a 185 times in the Old testament the Jews are called "My people," even when they are apostate, even when they are idolatrous, even when they are in rebellion against God, even when they are out of the land during the exile they are still God's people.
Jerusalem is mentioned 671 times in the Old Testament; 813 times in the entire Bible. If we expand that to other names for Jerusalem, such as Salem and Zion, then there are over 980 references to Jerusalem which is the center of Israel, as well see. Jerusalem is not mentioned one time in the Koran. Jerusalem only became a holy city in Islam when the Jews started coming back. It is all part of the angelic conflict.
So what does the Scripture say about the importance of Israel and the importance of Jerusalem? The first thing we see is that God has staked out a city that is His city, and it is this city that He is going to use the impact on the entire world. Psalm 48:2, "Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." Psalm 78:68, "But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved." Psalm 132:13, "For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place." Even if they are apostate this is till the city that God has chosen and indicated that will be His eternal place. Jerusalem is the only city on the earth that is going to last into eternity. Psalm 133:3, "It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion: for there the LORD commanded the blessing, even life for evermore." Zechariah 2:8, "For thus says the LORD of hosts; He sent me after glory to the nations which plunder you: for he that touches you touches the apple of his eye." The context there is not talking about Israel; it is talking about Jerusalem, the place He chose to dwell in in the Old Testament, the city He first visited after His birth in Bethlehem, the place where He was crucified, the place where He rose from the dead, the place where He ascended to heaven and the place where He will come when he returns. Isaiah 59:20, "And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and to those that turn from transgression in Jacob, says the LORD." (Incidentally, that is a good Trinitarian passage: the Redeemer is different from the speaker) Zechariah 14:4, "And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west, making be a very large valley; and half of the mountain shall move toward the north, and half of it toward the south."
Throughout history Jews and Christians have extolled the beauty of Jerusalem. Ezekiel 5:5, "Thus says the Lord GOD; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her." We know in the New Testament that it was from it was from Jerusalem that the church began to expand. Jesus told the disciples to take the gospel to Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth—Acts 1:8. The Babylonian Talmud stated that "Israel lies at the centre of the earth and Jerusalem lies at the center of the land of Israel." They are not talking geographically, they are talking ideologically and theologically that Israel is at the center of all history. We can't begin to understand history until we understand the place of Israel. Everything revolves around Israel, everything since the Abrahamic covenant is related to the Abrahamic covenant. So the basic assumption that we are going to make at the beginning of this series is that Jerusalem is the theological center of the world and that Israel is at the theological center of history, and that the Jews are God's chosen vehicle to bring blessing to the world. No city on earth has the value, the prestige, the security has that Israel has, its history goes back 4200 years and will extend into the future into eternity in the new heavens and the new earth.
So let's start looking at Israel in the past. Why does God love Zion so much? Psalm 87:2, "The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob." This is one of the many references in Scripture to Zion. Zion originally has the idea of a fortress and it referred initially to the mountains where the Jebusites had a small fortified city. Under David the Jews conquered Zion, the Jebuzite city of Salem, and began to establish themselves there. But as we look at the Scriptures we see numerous Scriptures that emphasize the importance of Zion to God. Zion technically refers to the original fortification, the fortified hill, the temple mount, and it comes to refer to other mountains there and to Jerusalem itself. Ultimately it is applied to the entire nation. 1 Kings 8:1, "Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, and all the heads of the tribes, the chief of the fathers of the children of Israel, to king Solomon in Jerusalem, that they might bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion." Psalm 48:2, "Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King." Psalm 50:2, "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shined." Psalm 74:2, "Remember your congregation, which you have purchased [redeemed] of old; the rod of your inheritance, which you have redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein you have dwelt." Revelation 14:1, "And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads," a reference to the 144,000 Jews who will be sealed, twelve thousand from the twelve tribes, and their function will be to take the gospel throughout the world during the Tribulation period.
Not only does the Old Testament emphasize the value and significance of Israel and Jerusalem but so does the New Testament. In Romans 9-11 Paul gives us his theological basis for arguing that God still has a plan for Israel and he ultimately will fulfill His Old testament promises to Israel and He will bring them back to the land. Romans 9:3-5, "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: who are Israelites; to whom pertain the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." When is Paul writing Romans? Around 62-63 AD, after they have rejected Christ, after the church has been founded. He is still emphasizing that the Jews have a central place in the plan of God. They are still God's people even in apostasy.
To understand this and the significance of Israel in the New Testament, and why it is important to study this, we have to take a trip all the way back to genesis to lay our foundation. The significance of Jerusalem and the land of Israel can't be separated from the special place that the Jews have in the plan of God. Deuteronomy 7:6-8, "For you are a holy [set apart] people to the LORD your God: the LORD your God has chosen you to be a special people to himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people: but because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn to your fathers, has the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." God's choice of Israel was His own sovereign choice to impact the world through the descendants of Abraham.
Jerusalem began as a small Canaanite city on the site of the hills of Moriah. Moriah is where Abraham took his son Isaac to sacrifice him when the Lord commanded him to do so and, of course, the Lord provided a substitute for him. It remained a Canaanite stronghold of the Jebusites for over 1000 years. It's past history is going to be very different from it future history. Zechariah 14:21, "Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness to the LORD of hosts: and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them, and cook therein: and in that day there shall be no longer a Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts."
The city is first mentioned in Genesis 14:8 when we read about Abraham returning from defeating the four kings" alliance, and he returns and is going to go to the king-priest of Salem. The king-priest is Melchizedek—Melchizedek means king of righteousness—and we are told we are told that he comes to give a tithe, a special offering to God. It is actually Melchizedek who comes out of Salem in order to greet Abraham. This takes us back to the Abrahamic covenant, reminding us that there are three components to that covenant—land, seed, and blessing. And it is the land that God has given to Israel, and He gives them the title to that land on the basis of this covenant. Just because they don't live there doesn't mean the title is lost. It just means that God as the land owner is not allowing them to live there because of their disobedience. But it is out from that land, those people, that a world-wide blessing would come.
Along with that there is a prediction that Israel would be disobedient and that there would be a world-wide dispersion of the Jews because of their disobedience. But the promise in Leviticus 26 and 27 is that there would be a world-wide restoration that would take place. That has never happened yet. Just as there was a world-wide dispersion, which is what we have seen for the last 2000 years, so there would e a world-wide regathering. The regathering from Babylon wasn't world-wide. Abraham was told to take Isaac to the mountains of Moriah, and that was where he was to offer Isaac the promised as a sacrifice. And it was there that Abraham passed his test, recognizing that God had given him Isaac and that even if he were forced to sacrifice Isaac God would raise him from the dead. Hebrews 11:19.