Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Jerusalem has served as a powerful reminder and symbol since about 1000 BC, when King David made it his capital city. It is a reminder of God’s fearsome judgment and his unfailing grace to both the faithful Hebrews of the Old Testament and the Christians of the New Testament.

Jerusalem as a Reminder
The great Temple in Jerusalem was patterned after the Tabernacle, or Tent of Meeting, which the Israelites carried with them during the Exodus from Egypt under Moses on their way to the Promised Land. It was for them the locus of the presence of God, both literally and figuratively. Through God’s continued self-revelation, the people of Israel learned that out of all the peoples of the world, he chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be his people (see for example, Gen 17:3-8 and Jer 31:33).

As King David’s reign transitioned to King Solomon’s, the Tabernacle was retired and replaced by the Temple. Jerusalem became great and highly respected among the surrounding nations. Led by these two kings, God’s people showed their obedient response to his love and discipline through their worship, prayer, generosity, and mission. David’s and Solomon’s writings in Psalms and Proverbs served as reminders of God’s faithfulness and justice to his people. It was a Golden Age for Israel.

Soon after Solomon’s death, however, the nation of Israel split in two: “Israel” to the north and “Judah” to the south. Jerusalem was now the capital of Judah, while Israel set up heathen shrines in Dan and Bethel, and appointed non-Levitical priests to discourage the people from returning to worship in Jerusalem.

The northern nation of Israel was largely rebellious and unfaithful to God, despite prophetic warnings of consequential destruction. In 721 BC, God allowed the Assyrians to overthrow them. Judah, the southern kingdom, retained the royal dynasty of King David in Jerusalem and in their worship in the Temple, but later kings led them into disobedience and idolatry as well. God spoke to both rebellious nations through his prophets, but few would listen or repent of their wrongdoing.

Eventually, in 586 BC, God allowed the dreaded Babylonians to invade Judah, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem as well as the beautiful Temple (2 Kgs 24-25). Thousands of men, women, and children were resettled in Babylon and, for seventy years, Jerusalem and the Temple lay in ruin.

After the allotted time, God reminded his exiled people of his promises to them by raising up a number of leaders such as the prophets Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Through these leaders, God prepared his people to return to Jerusalem where they would rebuild his Temple. The new Temple, however, fell short of the glory of the first Temple. People who were old enough to remember the older Temple wept in despair (Ezra 3:10-12). In response to their disappointment, the prophet Haggai encouraged these faithful people with a Messianic prophecy.  “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the Lord Almighty. “And in this place I will grant peace,” declares the Lord Almighty.
—Haggai 2:9  

This “Second Temple” in Jerusalem would eventually be enlarged and decorated by King Herod the Great. Although the construction, which had been started in about 20 BC, was still unfinished when the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD, the prophesied glory was, of course, to see the days of the Messiah Jesus before its destruction.

Jerusalem as a Metaphor
Even today, the Temple remains in ruins. Still standing is its western wall, now known as the Wailing Wall. The absence of the Temple has clearly changed Judaism in that there is no longer a central place of worship where animals may be sacrificed as instructed by the Torah (the written Law of the Jews). The “reminder” of Jerusalem has since become more of a “symbol” as a result of the teaching ministry of Jesus and of his apostles, especially Paul and John (the disciple Jesus loved).

We read in John 4 of a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Her question was whether one should worship in the Temple as the Jews insisted, or if it was acceptable for people to gather on Mount Gerizim as was advocated by the Samaritans. Jesus asserted that true worship will one day take place “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), indicating that future worship would no longer treat location with any importance, but that true worship would be genuine and personal.

The letter of Paul to the Galatians is an appeal to a Christian congregation that is apparently moving to embrace the law once more, forsaking their free gift of grace through faith in Christ.

In Galatians 4:21-31, Paul draws an analogy for his readers, comparing their attempts at keeping the law of God perfectly to the “present city of Jerusalem” (4:25), which remains in slavery to the law. Whereas, a person who lives by faith is free from that law and is like the “Jerusalem that is above [which] is free” (4:26). “Present Jerusalem,” in that time, was stuck in the mire of their many laws, while the unseen “Jerusalem that is above” freely offered a life that was pleasing to God apart from law-keeping. This is the gospel Jesus gave to the Samaritan woman.

Jerusalem as a Promise
The Revelation concludes with a stirring vision of the destruction of the whole of fallen creation. But in contrast to the nightmarish happenings on earth, John describes a “New Jerusalem” emerging from a “New Heaven” (Rev 21:1-2). It is a beautiful sight to behold, but there is no Temple in the city! As quickly as John notes this, he understands that “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple” (21:22). He then follows with the oft-repeated line expressing the fulfillment of God’s greatest desire: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’” (21:3). The promise is repeated again in verse 7, but personalized even more, “Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”

The message of Jerusalem is that this world, and life as we know it, is finite and will suddenly and completely dissolve into nothing one day. At that time, the eternal destinations of all people will be revealed. As Christians, we need not fear this eventuality because God promises us a return to the final Jerusalem where we can worship in his presence. As we consider the symbol of Jerusalem today, our concern should be for those who do not heed its warning, nor trust in its promise: friends, neighbors, family, any who do not yet put their hope in God’s goodness and trust in his perfect justice.

Rev. Mark Erickson is a retired pastor of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, living with his wife Kristin in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

1 Comment

Elsa Hainke - January 30th, 2024 at 1:18pm

Are you going to have a tour by video, because I was planning on going but now it is impossible y o make this trip. So perhaps you could make a video for some of us to watch it.

Thank you so much.

Elsa Hainke