Have you been wondering what all the uproar is over Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on December 6. 2017? The United States already has a consulate just blocks away from the new site for the United States embassy. Since 1948, the State of Israel has always recognized Jerusalem as their capital. Ever since the end of the Six-Day War in 1967 (fifty years), Jerusalem has been under Israeli control. So what is the problem? It was a big enough deal that the United Nations called a meeting to denounce the action. One hundred and twenty-eight nations voted to condemn the declaration. What is the big deal? This time it is a REALLY big deal! The underlining issue is of epic proportion. The main issue is control of Eastern Jerusalem.
The opponents of Trump’s declaration would tell you that giving control of all the city of Jerusalem to Israel would block the road to peace. Actually, the opposite is true. There has never been peace nor will there be permanent peace if the city of Jerusalem is divided once again into West (Jews) and East (Arabs/Muslims). Soon after the State of Israel was officially recognized by the United Nation in 1948, war broke out. The Arab nations would not satisfied with co-existence. They tried to take control of all of Jerusalem and the land given the new Jewish State of Israel by driving the Jews out. The well-trained and well-equipped Arab forces came against a ragtag group of Jewish volunteers who had no uniforms and little weaponry. Against all odds, the Jewish volunteers won. The Arab forces would again start wars in 1956, 1967, 1973 and as late as 2006. The Arab nations want to go back to the pre-1967 lines, because that would give them back the land they lost during the Six-Day War in 1967 and give them control of Eastern Jerusalem.
There are several layers to what is happening in the Middle East today. Most of what we hear about is centered around world politics, but if you trace the conflict back in time, you will realize that the issues go much deeper than what appears to be happening. There are numerous layers to the conflict, but I want to focus on three: the biblical past, the political present and the prophetic future. I realize that covering too many layers at once is almost impossible. Instead, I am going to address each one separately using three separate blogs. This first blog will deal with the biblical thread of this location throughout both the Old and New Testament. God’s promise of this land is vitally important to understanding the bigger picture.
The Promised Land
One of my favorite biblical threads is location. God weaves His love story through different locations numerous times. For instance, Bethlehem is the background for the story of Ruth and Boaz (love) and the birthplace of King David (royalty). What a perfect place for the King of Kings and His message of love to start when Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem at Christmas.
The most priceless piece of property on earth is located in East Jerusalem. It is called the Temple Mount. God weaves His story of salvation back and forth through this God-chosen property throughout Scripture. The most sacred location for the Jewish People is the Temple Mount. Every tour to Jerusalem will take you to this sacred spot. The most memorable stop on any tour of Israel is the Wailing Wall or Western Wall. This was an original retention wall and is all that is left of the original Temple grounds. Let’s look at some of the major events that took place on or near the Temple Mount.
Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22). In Genesis 12-18, God makes a three-fold promise to Abraham. God promises a Promised Son which is fulfilled in the birth of Isaac when Sarah is past child-bearing years; a Promised Nation fulfilled during the 400 years between Joseph bringing his family of 70 to live in Goshen and the beginning of Exodus 1; and a Promised Land, fulfilled during the leadership of Joshua beginning in Joshua 1. The land that God promised Abraham includes a much larger area than present-day Israel, including land that now make up Arab countries like Iran and Iraq.
In Genesis 22, God makes a very strange request. About thirteen to thirty years after Abraham’s promised son Isaac is born, God commanded Abraham to take Isaac to a mountain that was then called Mount Moriah. Abraham is directed to take all the necessary items for a burnt sacrifice, lay Isaac on the altar and slay him. Realize that Isaac is key to the fulfillment of all three promises. If there is no Promised Son, there cannot be a Promised Nation. If there is not a Promised Nation, there is no need for a Promised Land.
Even though God’s directions made no sense, Abraham trusted God to the point of preparing to drive a knife into Isaac’s heart. God stopped Abraham, because God realized that Abraham’s faith in Him was strong enough for the journey ahead. God provided a ram caught in a thicket nearby as a replacement for Isaac (a foreshadowing of Christ’s death on the Cross). The rock where God directed Abraham to for this sacrifice is on the Temple Mount.
The picture above is of the Dome of the Rock. The Rock referred to is the Rock where Abraham laid Isaac down to sacrifice him. Because the surface of the Temple Mount is controlled by Muslim imams, no Christians or Jews are allowed to walk on the site or enter the area. Those who attempt it can be shot on sight.
The Presence of God: The Temple
The Tabernacle: The First Temple. There are two buildings that God architected: The Tabernacle and the Temple. One was portable and the other was permanent. The Tabernacle was constructed under Moses’ leadership during the Israelites 40 years of desert wanderings. The Tabernacle was always set up in the center of the people with all 12 tribes having an assigned location around it. The Tent of Meeting was where the presence of God dwelt. With a pillar of fire by night or a cloud by day, God’s Presence was visibly to the Israelites each day. It served as the focal point for worship.
The sacrificial system was carried out in front of the Tent of Meeting. The intricate design of each piece of furniture and cloth told the story of Jesus (the curtains were made of blue, purple and scarlet threads, representing Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King). The Tabernacle was portable and could be set up or torn down through a God-directed process where everyone knew the part they were to carry out. The portable Tabernacle would serve as the prototype for the permanent Temple. The Tent of Meeting served as the first Holy of Holies.
The most sacred site in the Jewish faith is the Temple Mount. This elevated site is where God dwelt. It was the permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Temple, there was a section known as the Holy Place where daily rituals were carried out and the Holy of Holies, which was used once a year on the Day of Atonement. That day, the High Priest would go behind the veil in the Temple and make a sacrifice for himself and his people. The Jews’ very existence was dependent on the Presence of God. Mandated by God, Jewish men inside a 50 mile radius were required by God to come observe the major Jewish Feasts each year. In front of the Temple was where the sacrifices were made. The story of the Temple is woven into the Bible from King David to the book of Revelation.
The threshing floor David bought for the site of the Temple. In II Samuel 24:16, David is sent to buy property for the future building of the Temple (under David’s son, Solomon). That threshing floor would first serve as the location where Solomon would build the first Temple. God chose this land as the sacred place where He would dwell among His people. Although David did not get his wish to build the Temple, he did get to buy the land. This threshing floor would was located on what is known today as the Temple Mount
Solomon’s Temple: The First Permanent Temple. Beginning in I Kings 6:1, we read about how Solomon built his Temple following King David’s death. It was beautiful and adorned with gold. There had never been a building like it. On the same location as Abraham and Isaac, Solomon built this lavish building with large storage rooms that would be filled with silver and gold. The sacred land became known as the Temple Mount. Every part of the worship of God centered around this building. The sacrificial system was carried out in and around the Temple. Solomon’s Temple would stand until Nebuchadnezzar third trip to Jerusalem to take the last of the Jews back to Babylon captivity (Jeremiah 52). At that time, Solomon’s Temple was destroyed (586 B. C.)
Zerubbabel’s Temple: The Second Permanent Temple. The second Temple was actually a rebuilding on the site of the first Temple. The Babylonians were overthrown and replaced by the Persians. The Persian King, Cyrus the Great, not only allowed the exile to end, but paid for the rebuilding of the Temple. The rebuilding process is recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. Nehemiah rebuilt the protective wall. Ezra re-established worship.
For those who knew the beauty of Solomon’s Temple, there was weeping at how simple and unadorned the rebuilt Temple was. Gone was the overcoats of gold and all the special adornment found in the previous Temple. It was functional, but not a thing of beauty.
King Herod the Great’s Temple: The Expansion of Zerubbabel’s Temple. During the reign of King Herod the Great, the Second Temple of Zerubbabel was rebuilt and restored on a much more magnificent scale. The Temple Mount was expanded to its present-day size. The Courtyards were large enough to hold 200,000 sheep! The Temple itself was restored to a more beautiful scale. Although Herod was an Edomite, his expansion allowed the Temple grounds to provide room for more people to worship (an spend their money). The Sadducees were responsible for the running of the Temple business.
King Herod’s Temple was burned to the ground in 70 A.D. when the Roman army came to destroy Jerusalem. Although the Romans planned on ransacking the Temple, one of the soldiers accidentally set it on fire. Nothing of King Herod’s Temple was left standing. This is the Temple that was standing during the time of Jesus’ ministry.
The Ministry of Jesus
Jesus Cleansing the Temple. Although Jerusalem is an integral part of Jewish History, it also serves as the backdrop for the ministry of Christ. In Matthew 21:12-17 and John 2:13-22, we read how Jesus came into Jerusalem during Passover and cleansed the Temple grounds of all that were making profit off the selling of sacrificial animals and the moneychangers. Many of His teachings and miracles happened in the Temple area. The Temple was the center of focus for Jesus’ ministry, because He was the Presence of God in human flesh. Jesus’ death on the Cross would enable people to experience God wherever they were.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. The entrance where Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday is adjacent to the Temple Mount. The gate called Beautiful was a double-arched gate that enabled a person to enter the city and be right next to the Temple grounds. Although the original gate is actually located below the visible Golden Gate today, the location is the same.
Today, you will notice that the gate has been bricked in. This was done by Muslims centuries ago as an attempt to block Jesus from coming back. You would also be able to notice that there are three cemetery’s near that entrance: One cemetery is Jewish, who want to be close to the place the Messiah will return, the second is Christian, for those who want to be close to where Jesus will return, and the third is a Muslim cemetery for those who want to stop Jesus from returning.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the place of Jesus’ scourging, Calvary and the Empty Tomb are all in Eastern Jerusalem. The major events in Jesus’ ministry take place in or near the Temple Mount in Eastern Jerusalem. Although we will look at it more in-depth later, let me just say that the land that is the source of today’s conflict is where Jesus will return!
Throughout the history of the Bible, this land in Eastern Jerusalem is interwoven into both Jewish and Christian history. No question.
Denial of Jewish History
Here is the strange two-fold political twist that happened in the summer of 2016. Both these moves were made by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This organization is responsible for determining world heritage sites. During that summer, UNESCO held two separate votes: one declared that the Temple Mount held no significance of Jewish History and that it would become illegal to refer to the Temple Mount by that name. The location could only be referred to by the Islamic name Haram esh-Shariff (the Noble Sanctuary). The message was that Muslim history negates Jewish or Christian history!
Please know that wars have broken out over the Prime Minister of Israel walking near the Temple Mount. Politically, the Muslim world is trying to deny that the history that the Bible proclaims exists. This move was not motivated by President Trump’s declaration in 2017. This undermining work was going on during the summer of 2016 and before.
Here is the good news! Everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is under God’s control. His-Story is unfazed by anyone who denies it. Jesus Christ is Truth, whether we accept Him or not.