What's the big deal about Jerusalem?
There’s not just one Christian view about the Israeli capital
Geography, politics and Bible prophecy collide in Jerusalem, and the proposed move of the Australian embassy to the Israeli capital is caught up in all three.
It is only 70 kilometres between Tel Aviv (where the embassy is currently) and Jerusalem. It is 70 years since the modern state of Israel declared independence. And the number 70 crops up several times in the Bible with regard to Jerusalem – 70 years of Babylonian captivity and, in Daniel 9:24, “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.”
Israel’s birthday and the US embassy move occurred in the same week.
When Donald Trump moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, he appealed to Jews and other supporters of Israel’s claim to the city. But he also appealed to Christians who regard the foundation of the state of Israel as fulfilment of bible prophecy.
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Israel’s birthday and the US embassy move occurred in the same week. “In fulfillment of prophecy, God brought the nation into being, and He is sustaining them for the day when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will return and establish His throne in Jerusalem as Scripture tells us,” wrote Franklin Graham – and his was a typical response of many US Christians.
US evangelicals have a leaning towards “premillennialism”, an interpretation of the Bible that sees the return of Christ ushering in 1,000 years of peace on the earth. Many, perhaps most supporters of this view believe that restoring Israel as a Jewish nation has to occur before the return of Christ. Others go further and say that the temple system of sacrifices must also be restored before Jesus can return. This makes Jerusalem, in particular the old city occupied by the Israelis in 1967, central to their view of what the Bible teaches about Israel.
One group of these Christians believe that a certain sort of cattle, the “red heifer”, needs to be bred to take part in sacrifices as described in the Jewish law (Numbers 19:2). They are breeding them in the hope that the third Jewish temple will be built some time soon.
A more mainstream Christian view is that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice that has been offered (on the cross) once for all time, replacing the old Temple sacrifice system.
Premillenial Christianity is no longer the dominant force in Australian protestantism; it was 100 years ago when it was at its height. The “Schofield Bible” which contained notes about bible prophecy is not the top seller it once was. However, some churches remain officially premillenial in their statements of faith, such as the Australian Christian churches.
There are two Jerusalems in the Bible.
Many Australian evangelical Christians are “amillennial” either from a conviction the Bible does not teach a literal millennium, or because it is as issue not often addressed in churches today.
There are two Jerusalems in the Bible. One day there will be a new Jerusalem, as promised in Revelation 21 as part of a new heaven and earth. Whatever path a Christian takes as to whether there is a literal millennium, or exactly how God’s promises are fulfilled for Israel, the promise of God’s new dwelling place with us is the Christian’s great hope.
The earthy Jerusalem is the capital city of a people, the Jews, who Paul reminds us in Romans 11 are the ones to whom “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable”.
Some Christians will have particular views about the significance of Jerusalem in Bible prophecy which, in Australia rather than the US, are in a minority. But all need to share Paul’s concern for his people. “Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!” (Romans 9:5)
And there is a third Jerusalem for us to consider. In a satirical column about Scott Morrison, SMH writer Tony Wright tries to capture the inner working of the PM’s mind. He has him remembering the hymn Jerusalem, by the mystic William Blake “Why, gazing on the young prince and the princess as they arrived in our fair city this week I began humming their song,” Wright has the PM thinking about the Australian visit of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan.
“Jerusalem. You’d know it. Beautiful. ‘And did those feet in ancient time/Walk upon England’s mountains green?/And was the holy lamb of god/On England’s pleasant pastures seen?'”
… that might be a good Jerusalem for us to think about.
Eternity doubts whether the Blake hymn has ever been sung at Horizon church, or even Hillsong.
Day by day, though, that might be a good Jerusalem for us to think about. Not England, but our own nation.
It is impossible for us to build a heavenly Jerusalem, but the ideal of the kingdom of God should keep us from erecting “dark satanic mills.”