Since its establishment, Jerusalem has been ravaged by war, rebuilt, burned, rebuilt, ransacked, rebuilt torn to pieces again and rebuilt more than almost any city on earth. Two of the most beautiful buildings that have even been constructed have glistened in the sunlight of Jerusalem: the temple of Solomon and the temple built by Herod that stood in the days of Jesus.
Jerusalem is a holy city to three religions of the world – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is a city filled with shrines, monuments and historic sites.
Jerusalem was not always the city it appears to be today. There was a time when the hillsides were merely pastures for herds and flocks of nomadic tribesmen.
To discover the beginnings of Jerusalem as a city and to catch a glimpse into the future that God had in mind for Jerusalem, we must go back in time all the way to Abraham – 1,900 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Abraham had lived in Ur, a city of the Chaldeans in Mesopotamia. Through Abraham, God set out to build a great nation. He instructed Abraham to leave Ur for a land he would yet show him (Gen. 12:9).
On faith, Abraham journeyed to settle a land he had not seen. God promised Abraham when he arrived in the land of Canaan that this land would one day become the possession of his descendants. So Abraham knew two things: (1) God would give him children and (2) this land would be theirs.
Then a great famine set in upon the land. Abraham, and all those who accompanied him, had to migrate southward to Egypt. After the famine, Abraham and his nephew, Lot, came back into the land of Canaan. There, Lot selected the lower Jordan valley and the Dead Sea region for his homeland. Abraham settled in what would later be called the Judean hills.
During the time of Abraham there were no large nations. Instead, there were small cities where families lived or around which a tribe of nomadic people settled. The population of these cities was probably not more than a few hundred, at most one or two thousand.
Each city was presided over by a king. Often, these city-states were at war with one another. Sometimes cities would form alliances with other cities and form large armies that would then make war upon yet another city or alliance of cities. Such became the case in the lower Jordan where Lot and his family settled. An alliance of Mesopotamian cities drove Abraham’s nephew, Lot, out of the Canaanite city of Sodom where he lived and took him captive.
When Abraham heard of Lot’s capture, he rallied his forces to pursue Lot’s captors and was victorious. Upon his return to Canaan, a most unusual event occurred. Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought bread and wine and refreshed Abraham and his people (Gen. 14:18). Who was Melchizedek?
At the time of Abraham, he was king of Salem. Josephus, the Jewish historian of the late first century A.D., tells us, “The name signifies the righteous king and such he was without dispute, in so much that, on this account, he was made the Priest of God: however, they afterward called Salem, Jerusalem” (Antiquities of the Jews, I, x, 2).
This righteous king was also the priest of the most high God (Gen. 14:18).Abraham knew he was the priest of God and so gave Melchizedek his tithes (Gen. 14:20).
Paul tells us further of Melchizedek: “he was without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (Heb. 7:3).This could be said of no human being. Melchizedek, therefore, must have been the 2nd member of the very Godhead who later was to give up his divinity (Phil. 2:7) to become God in the flesh, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
For a brief period of time in the days of Abraham, a member of the God kingdom appeared on earth as king of the city of Salem (Jerusalem) and a priest of God. Those obedient to God’s way could bring tithes to Melchizedek.
Could it be God was showing long in advance where he planned to establish his headquarters once his government was reestablished upon the earth?
Strangely enough, we know little about the city of Salem (to become Jerusalem) for nearly 500 years. We do know Canaanites lived in the land.
During the years between Abraham and the settling of the children of Israel in the Promised Land, we have only one other brief encounter that directs our attention to the city of Jerusalem.
One of the best known episodes in the Bible was God’s instruction for Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and there to sacrifice him. Through this tremendous example of faith, we once again have a hint of God’s future plans for Jerusalem. Bible scholars have concluded that Mt. Moriah, where Abraham came to offer Isaac, may have been the very spot in Jerusalem upon which the Temple of God was constructed.
The willingness of Abraham to bring Isaac to Mt. Moriah to be sacrificed has a spiritual parallel. God was to offer his only Son for the sins of the world. When Jesus Christ came into the world and was put to death, that great event took place in the environs of Jerusalem. It was a spiritual parallel that Abraham brought his son to Jerusalem as a type of what would happen later.
In the course of time, the descendants of Abraham came to live in Lower Egypt. Jacob and his 12 sons and their families found relief from a great famine and were to remain there about 240 years. During the first 100 years in Egypt the Israelites made a significant contribution to the prosperity of the land.
A pharaoh from Upper Egypt came to the throne who did not know the good that Joseph and the early Israelites had contributed to Egypt. He made slaves of the Israelites. This slavery lasted almost a full century. During the 240 years in Egypt, the population of Israel grew to some 2 1/2 million. It was then God’s time to deliver his peo0ple from slavery and lead them to the Promised Land – a land he promised to Abraham more than 400 years before.
Under the leadership of Moses, Israel was led out of Egypt. After 40 years wandering in the Sinai wilderness they came to the east bank of the Jordan River, which they prepared to cross.
Moses died before the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan. Joshua, meanwhile, was chosen by God to lead the people and to direct the settlement.
Many well-known events and stories of the Bible come to us from the time of Joshua and the conquest of the land of Canaan. An especially familiar story is the fall of Jericho to Joshua’s armies. Jericho, which has been excavated by noted archaeologists, is the oldest known city to be excavated. The earliest remains of the city date far back before the Flood of Noah’s time.
Shortly after the Israelites took Jericho, the next town, Ai, fell. At this point, we once again have mention of the city of Jerusalem in the Bible. The king of Jerusalem was named Adoni-zedek. Jerusalem was a city inhabited by a tribe of Canaanites called Jebusites. The name of the town was called Jebusi. Adonizedek formed an alliance with four other kings thinking they could withstand the oncoming armies of Joshua.
But God had promised Canaan’s land to the Israelites. The Jebusite army was defeated and fled through the Beth-horon pass and out into the valley of Ajalon where God rained down great hailstones.
Another event occurs in the valley of Ajalon, the long day of Joshua where the sun stood still overhead for a whole day while the Israelite army defeated the Jebusties and their allies. In spite of the victory, however, Joshua did not choose to occupy the city of Jebusi or Jerusalem. It simply was not God’s time to choose Jerusalem. Shiloh, in the north, became the tribal capital.
The area of Jerusalem and south became part of the territory allocated to the tribe of Judah (Josh. 15:8). In verse 63 we find Judah did not drive out the Jebusites who had resettled the city of Jerusalem.
After the death of Joshua, Judah did take possession of Jerusalem for a short time. “Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire” (Judg. 1:8). But Judah never really built a permanent settlement there. The Jebusites moved back in and possessed it most of the next 300 years.
Near the end of that long period, the Israelites desired a government like the nations round them. They wanted a human king whom they could see. They had rejected God’s prophet Samuel, which in reality was rejecting God as their king (I Sam. 8:7).God let them have Saul. But Saul would not follow God’s orders. God rejected him, yet again delayed choosing Jerusalem as the capital city.
As the reign of Saul became more corrupt, God began to prepare his choice for king over Israel – David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Notice the story in II Sam. 5:4-5, “David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah.
At last, some 900 years after Abraham brought Isaac to Mt. Moriah and nearly 400 years after Israel took possession of the Promised Land, Jerusalem became the nation’s capital city. This was the real beginning of what probably became the most loved, most beautiful, most controversial, most war- torn city in the history of man.
It is ironic, that the name Jerusalem means “City of Peace.” Jerusalem has not been able to symbolize peace for most of its troubled history. In the near future Jerusalem will yet become the world center of peace.
Jerusalem certainly did not have a pretentious beginning. Jebusi (Jerusalem) began as a small walled city, only a fraction the size of modern Jerusalem. After David established his residence inside the walled city and built a palace, the territory became known as the City of David. The entire area encompassed only about 1 acre of ground. Probably fewer than 2,000 people lived there. But why did David choose Jerusalem? Did he know Melchizedek had been there? Did he think Mt. Moriah was the spot Abraham came to so long ago? Did he plan originally that the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, north of the City of David, would become the site of the temple? Did he have a concept that Jerusalem would some day become the very center of the government of God on earth?
In all probability, David did not clearly realize the full significance of these threads of history. God was choosing Jerusalem for the future.
David probably had a variety of reasons for choosing this site. It was centrally located. It was a neutral city that none of the 12 tribes had really occupied it. Jerusalem had a beautiful climate (remember David grew up in nearby Bethlehem, only a few miles from Jerusalem). Jerusalem had an abundant supply of water from the Gihon spring; water was the life of any city-state.
The two most forceful reasons for the selection of Jerusalem as the capital city were that it was a fortified city that had been able to withstand most sieges from some 400 years and it had a bountiful water supply. The Jebusites had constructed a vertical shaft from the hilltop down to the spring. The shaft was protected by the city walls. Water could be drawn from within the walls while soldiers atop them held off enemy troops.
Later, king Hezekiah of Judah engineered a tunnel built more than 1,700 feet through bedrock underneath the city of Jerusalem from the Gihon spring to the pool of Siloam. In Hezekiah’s day this tunnel was largely responsible for the Jews being able to hold off the invading armies of the Assyrians under King Sennacherib. Hezekiah, who had turned to God for protection, witnessed angels of the Lord smite the Assyrians. One hundred eighty-five thousands troops were slain without the nation having to lift a sword (II Kings 19:35).The Jews were safely inside the walls of Jerusalem with the newly constructed water supply.
It is still possible today to walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel if one has the opportunity to visit Jerusalem. The perspective of history one envisions in the mind’s eye while walking through the tunnel gives a glimpse into the engineering capacities and importance of water to the peoples who lived there so long ago.
Once David was established in Jerusalem, God began to give a glimpse of what kind of ultimate future the city would have. David had in mind building a temple for the ark of God. But, even though David was a man after God’s own heart and is to become the permanent king over all Israel in the resurrection, he was a human being with the faults and flaws and human weaknesses men possess. Because of his warlike activity God did not permit David to expand the city of Jerusalem or to build the temple.
David did build a fine palace in the northern extremity of the city and Jerusalem became alternately known as the City of David, Mt. Zion and Jerusalem.
It is interesting that when the government of God is established on the earth, the Bible says the Messiah will rule from the throne of his father David, so we know in advance the center of government is going to be in that area of Jerusalem (Isa. 9:6-7).
After David’s death, Solomon took the throne of Israel and Jerusalem became a leading city in the world of that day. Solomon built the Temple of God on Mt. Moriah – probably the finest and most expensive building for its size and character in human history. Walls of the building were overlaid with gold and jewels. The finest workmanship and materials available were put into this building.
In addition to the temple, Solomon built his own magnificent palace. With this and many other construction projects of homes, stables and landscaping, Jerusalem became a showplace. The fame of Solomon and Jerusalem spread throughout the Middle East and the world that then was. When the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem to see for herself she said, “It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and behold the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard” (I Kings 10:6-7).
However, Jerusalem’s prosperity and peace did not last. They were conditional, based on Israel’s obedience. By then, in of the reign of Solomon, Israel had wandered far from God’s ways. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom split in two. The northern 10 tribes revolted against Solomon’s son Rehoboam and established their own nation, the House of Israel with the capital later at Samaria. The House of Judah kept Jerusalem as its capital.
The northern 10 tribes of Israel were defeated by the Assyrians and carried into captivity from which they have not returned to this very day. The House of Judah, with some remnants of the northern tribes who had fled earlier into Judea, was taken captive by the Chaldeans. Jerusalem’s inhabitants were slain by the thousands, the city burned to rubble and the magnificent temple torn down. The gold and precious jewels and accoutrements of the temple were carried to Babylon by the conquering Babylonians. The glorious city of Jerusalem was totally destroyed.
After the Medes and Persians conquered the Babylonians the Persian king permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem. A temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel. Under the direction of Ezra and Nehemiah the city walls eventually were reconstructed. The second temple had little of the glory of Solomon’s temple. But the Jews had reestablished themselves in their homeland and had a temple.
Within another 250 years Jerusalem was once again torn to pieces by war. In 167 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes destroyed large segments of the city and polluted the sanctuary by sacrificing swine’s blood on the holy altar. Thousands of Jews were killed in the onslaught. But in the end they prevailed.
During the 1st century B.C., the war machines of Rome began to absorb the world. Jerusalem fell to the Roman general Pompey in 63 B.C. Thus, Judea became a Roman protectorate.
The Romans appointed Herod the Great as the king of the region. Under his rule Jerusalem was rebuilt into a showplace for the Roman world. Herod restored the second temple, which, by this time, had existed longer than Solomon’s temple. It was in this temple that Jesus Christ would appear and teach during a brief 3 1/2 year ministry.
Christ didn’t really spend a great deal of time in Jerusalem. As his custom was, he went up for the annual festivals (Luke 2:42).But he loved Jerusalem. Of course, he had known its tumultuous history, and he knew the glory that was prophesied for the future. He knew it would one day be his very headquarters and that the resurrected David would be there, too. He knew his 12 apostles would each rule over one of the tribes of Israel and that he would become King over the entire earth. But that was not to be accomplished during Jesus’ first appearing; it would be centuries later at his Second Coming, when the government of God would be reestablished over the earth.
In the meantime, Jerusalem’s painful history would continue. When Christ looked upon Jerusalem he longingly sighed, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38).
In 70 A.D. the Roman armies under General Titus marched into Jerusalem and once again that great city was destroyed. The temple that Herod had constructed was torn to the foundations till finally, as Jesus had foretold, not one stone was left upon another (Matt. 24:2). (Today, we know that a wall is still left standing that was part of the temple, so another invasion is coming to Jerusalem that will tear that wall down Zech. 14:1-2.) The Jewish people were scattered throughout the known world and, until comparatively modern times, Jerusalem was not a predominately Jewish city.
In the 300s A.D., the Roman Emperor, Constantine, professed himself a Christian and Christianity became a dominant influence in the Empire.
In the 600s A.D., the Moslem Arabs gained control of Jerusalem. A structure called the Dome of the Rock built by Ahd el Maleck Ibn Marwan was constructed on the existing temple mount. The temple mount to Moslems is the sight from which their prophet Mohammed traditionally ascended to heaven.
By A.D. 1100 the Europeans Crusader-Christians had taken Jerusalem, but lost it once again to the Moslems less than a century later.
Early in the 1500s the Ottoman Turks captured Jerusalem. Under the administration of the Turks, additional Jews, many of whom were being persecuted in other nations, were permitted to emigrate to Jerusalem once again. Buy the late 1800s Jews formed the largest ethnic population in Jerusalem but it was still under Turkish government.
Turkey chose to ally with Imperial Germany during World War I. In that war British forces fought in the Middle East. In 1917 under General Allenby, the British took control of what was then called Palestine. For a period of time, the British ruled Palestine under a mandate.
In 1947 the United Nations approved the establishment of a Jewish state. The modern nation of Israel was born. Following the decision, war broke out between Arabs and Jews and Jerusalem became a divided city. Jordan controlled the east portion, Old Jerusalem and the territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River. The Israelites controlled modern Jerusalem in addition to its original territory.
In 1967 war once again broke out between Israel and the Arabs. During this Six Day War the Israelis recaptured all of East Jerusalem, the West Bank territories, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai. Jerusalem was united and the entire city thus became the capital of the state of Israel.
More important than the 4,000 year history of Jerusalem is the future of this great city in relation to the world. When the ancient nation of Judah went astray from God, God said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I have said, My name shall be there” (II Kings. 23:27).
Through the prophet Zechariah, God has promised, “Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; My cities through prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem” (Zech. 1:17).
God did not cast off Jerusalem forever. Jerusalem shall become the world capita,l never to be cast off again, permanently and forever the headquarters of the government of God.
Isaiah prophesied, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. Behold, the Lord God will come with a strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his world before him. He shall feed this flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isa. 40:1-2 – 10-11).
Yet another of God’s prophets foretold the wonders to come, “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountains of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills: and people shall flow into it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Mic. 4:1-2).
Notice what Zechariah saw for the near future, “And his (Jesus Christ’s) feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half toward the hinder sea; in summer and in winter shall it be. And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one” (Zech. 14:4-5, 8-9).
God speed the day when Jerusalem really is the City of Peace and the whole world will enjoy the peace and prosperity of the New World to come.