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Jerusalem, A Praise in the Earth

The Significance of the City of God

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26 Jul 2017
Jerusalem, A Praise in the Earth

The Significance of the City of God: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

4000 years ago, God chose the Mesopotamian merchant Abraham and gave him a destiny that would radically change the world (Genesis 12:1-3). With Abraham, God chose a people to whom He promised great things. These promises of blessing for Israel were not given as an end to itself. It was not about God choosing a favorite people for himself from all the nations on the earth. It was much more than that. The purpose of God´s calling of Abraham and his descendants after him was to save the whole earth. “… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you!” (Genesis 12:3) Paul saw already a first proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this promise. “Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’” (Galatians 3:8)

The Land and the People

The fact which is often ignored is that God chose not only the people – “from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah” (Romans 9:5) – but also a geographical place. God not only promised to Abraham to make him a great and blessed nation, but he also assured him of a “land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) As Abraham´s descendants are supposed to be a blessing to all families of the earth, this special stretch of land is of strategic significance for the salvation of mankind. In a way, it is the bridgehead connecting heaven and earth. In other words, in the land of Canaan, God opened the door for all mankind to gain free access to the kingdom of God.

Epicenter Jerusalem

The epicenter of this special and promised land is the city of Jerusalem. Abraham had two powerful experiences there, which would impress an eternal and momentous seal on the city. First, Abraham had an encounter with the mysterious King Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the King of Salem, later called Jerusalem. He approached Abraham with bread and wine acting as both the king of peace and the king of righteousness. Melchizedek was not only a worldly ruler but combined the office of a priest with that of a sovereign king – a distinctly messianic quality. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews also envisioned Melchizedek as a forerunner of the promised savior of the world. After his fellowship with Melchizedek, Abraham would return once more to the mountainous area of Jerusalem when God ordered him to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, the son of promise. Abraham ascended this mountain in obedience, while fully assured in faith that God was able to raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).

Almost a thousand years had to pass, until it was King David who ultimately realized the significance of this place. He relocated the capital of his kingdom to Jerusalem, understanding that God was going to establish His temple in this very city. The temple was not supposed to be just a Jewish house of prayer. The word of God teaches us that even the stranger who did not belong to the people of Israel was able to find the God of Israel there “in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you.” (1 Kings 8:43) Therefore, at a later time, Isaiah would call the temple “a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7)

The Promise in Babylon

For many Jews the world collapsed when, after several conquests of Jerusalem, the Babylonians destroyed the Temple in the year 480 BC. How could God allow this to happen? The ones taken away didn´t understand God anymore or what was happening to them. “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1) It was the prophet Daniel who never gave up hope for Jerusalem and who understood like no one else the eternal purpose of this eternal city. As a high official in the Babylonian Empire, a role that could be compared to that of a prime minister today, Daniel prayed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the return of the Jewish people from Babylon. “While I was speaking, and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill” Daniel recounted, “the man Gabriel” appeared to him and instructed him.

His words preoccupied many theologians and Bible researchers for centuries. “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophecy, and to anoint a most holy place.” (Daniel 9:24) There is hardly a more explicit passage in the Bible which describes the unique calling of the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem as clearly and distinctly as this one. God appointed a certain timeframe for the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem in which He would fulfill the following tasks: to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophecy, and to anoint a most holy place.
There is no other city on earth with such a calling.

1. Finish transgression: The transgression of God´s commandments is the huge problem of humanity. “They have all turned aside,” the psalmist declared. (Psalm 14:3) But there will be an end to this disease of rebellion against God and his commandments.

2. Put an end to sin: The root of human rebellion against God originates in the nature of man. Ungodliness has its source in our hearts, Jesus explained, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) No human is immune from it. But this sinful nature of man shall be put off. The Hebrew word also allows the translation “will be sealed.” That is, God will seal this source completely, once and for all.

3. Atone for iniquity: All sins which have been committed already shall be atoned for. Even if the sins are like crimson and cry out to heaven, they shall be as white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)

4. Bring in everlasting righteousness: Isaiah proclaims: “My righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations.” (Isaiah 51:8) There won´t be just a brief period of righteousness as there was under King David and King Hezekiah, who were then succeeded by ungodly rulers. This reign of righteousness will last forever: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!” (Isaiah 9:7)

5. Seal both vision and prophecy: All the promises of God, however great and mind-boggling they might be, shall come to fulfillment. Not one iota of God´s promises will be dropped.

6. Anoint a most holy place: This can be everything: A future temple in Israel, the eternal sanctuary of the heavenly Jerusalem, the church as a temple or each individual believer as a temple. John Wesley saw therein primarily the threefold anointing of the Messiah as king, priest and prophet.

“What a marvelous prophecy!” the theologian H. C. Leupold writes. “These six statements include all good things which God pledged to the humans.” Daniel links these tremendous promises tightly to the Jewish people and to the city of Jerusalem. “About your people and your holy city…” Therefore, it is not surprising that Jesus had to fulfill his mission in Jerusalem from the beginning. No other city was qualified for this. On the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus conferred with Moses and Elijah “who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:30-31)

God predestined Jerusalem to be the city for the world´s redemption. Jesus died in Jerusalem “once for all” for the sins of the world. Abraham could see this day to come, as he was binding his son on the altar on mount Moriah. (John 8:56) Daniel anticipated that Jesus atoned for the sins of the world outside the city gates on Calvary hill (Golgotha). He conquered death when he rose from the dead and accomplished a complete redemption for humanity.

The Model Church in Jerusalem

At first, it was a cause of concern for the first disciples that Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives in eastern Jerusalem. But Jesus promised them that he would not abandon them. A comforter was to come. And he did come precisely on the Day of Pentecost, again in Jerusalem. The Spirit of God rested like tongues as of fire on each one of the 120 disciples. Ordinary people were filled with the presence of God and started a powerful ministry which brought thousands of people into the Kingdom of God. The first church was founded in Jerusalem. It was a powerful community which relied not only on well-elaborated theological teachings but also on the effective dynamic of the proclamation of the gospel. This Jerusalem church did not believe in cultural adaptation to draw people into the congregation, but they trusted in the changing and miracle-performing power of the Holy Spirit. They did not own cathedrals or big church coffers, but they were able to say: “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6) Among all model churches and all revival movements of Christianity, there is none which has more impact on us than the church in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem or Rome?

Tertullian asked once: “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” His answer pointed out that the gospel of Christ has little to do with Greek philosophy. On the contrary, we are well advised through Scripture to look to Jerusalem. The cross and the resurrection, so inherent to Jerusalem, do impact Athens, Berlin, Beijing, New York and the rest of the world. Even today Jesus comes out of the city gates of Jerusalem to approach every human being with bread and wine. Not by chance the psalmist writes: “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!” (Psalm 137:5) We should never forget: The cradle of our faith stands in Jerusalem, not in Rome.

Conflict over Jerusalem

It is thus not surprising that this city is embattled like no other. The prophet Zechariah foresees a global escalation over the city of Jerusalem: “Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about … and a burdensome stone for all people … and all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.” (Zachariah 12:2-3) Jerusalem shall be divided, internationalized or even subordinated to the Vatican. The plans for the future of this city are numerous. God is warning the nations: All who want to lift this burdensome stone “will surely hurt themselves.” Jerusalem is the city of God. (Psalm 46+48) And God is passionately concerned about this city. “I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy.” (Zachariah 1:14; 8:2) When God calls something his own and expresses his zeal so clearly then we would be wise to “let Jerusalem come up on our heart.” (Jeremiah 51:50)

Jerusalem, our Hope

Not only are our roots in Jerusalem; the hope of our faith also lies there. The redeemer will come back to Jerusalem “in the same way you saw him go up into heaven!” (Acts 1:11) His feet will neither stand in Azusa Street or in Brownsville nor in Wittenberg or Herrnhut but again on the hill east of Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives. At that very time, Christ will take up his Messianic rule as the Prince of Peace. The promises of Daniel will be accomplished completely. Jerusalem will stand firmly established as the head of the nations. “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3) As a result, they will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:1-4) Jerusalem will be a praise in the earth and no longer a cup of trembling for the nations. But this will not happen automatically. God seeks our cooperation. Isaiah describes our task as follows:

“On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the Lord in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth!” (Isaiah 62:6-7) God is searching for intercessors who are ready to be involved in his great plan of redemption for the world and for Israel. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! Those who love Jerusalem will prosper! (Psalm 122:6)


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