• Video (above): David speaks about his unforgettable first visit to Jerusalem.
May 20 marked the celebration of “Yom Yerushalayim,” or “Jerusalem Day.” It is a national holiday in Israel commemorating the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty over the city of Jerusalem in June 1967. That victory marked a time of great excitement, not only for Jewish people, but also for many Christians who wondered how the event might fit into the larger picture of end-times prophecy. Noting the prediction of Jesus, “And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24b), enthusiastic prophecy buffs have taught that 1967 signaled the fulfillment of the times of the Gentiles. After all, for the first time since Jesus uttered those words, Jerusalem was no longer “trampled by Gentiles.”
Many still teach that this “Jerusalem Day” event was particularly significant as a fulfillment of prophecy. Whatever your convictions regarding eschatology—or current events, for that matter—it is hard to ignore the fact that throughout history and to this present time, Jerusalem continues to command the attention and fascination of much of the world. She carries within her walls the hopes and dreams, as well as the disappointments and disillusionments of millions upon millions of people.
Jerusalem presents a grand irony, an enigma that has gnawed at the edges of religious consciousness from time immemorial. How has a city so central to religious ideals become such a nexus of cosmic conflict throughout the ages? Many scholars believe the name Jerusalem actually means “City of Peace.” How ironic that more than thirty wars have been fought over this place—more than any other parcel of land in human history.
Jerusalem has a great deal of meaning for me personally, and not only because my parents have lived there for more than twenty years. I still remember the first time I visited Jerusalem, well before they made aliyah. I was leading the Liberated Wailing Wall, our Jews for Jesus evangelistic music group. We did an outdoor concert on Ben Yehuda Street in downtown Jerusalem. Many Israelis gathered to enjoy the music, but some young Orthodox Jewish men tried to disrupt the concert. Yelling and screaming, they made threatening gestures as they tried to grab our musical instruments. Eventually, a large Israeli man stepped out of the crowd to warn them; “If you touch them, I’ll touch you.” The young men backed off and we finished the concert.
To me, that incident typifies the conflict of the ages surrounding Jerusalem. It is not a geopolitical battle, not a battle over territory or the rights of one group over another that confounds this ancient city. At the nexus of this historic conflict stands nothing less than a spiritual battle for the souls of men and women.
Jesus grieved over this profound spiritual reality just prior to going to the cross in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes'” (Luke 19:41-42). If only Jerusalem had known “this your day.” I believe Jesus was referring to the opportunity the people of Jerusalem had then and there to respond to His offer of life and salvation. If they had received Him as Messiah, we can only imagine what peace could have come—but Jesus knew, as the prophets predicted, that they would not.
The tragic results of Jerusalem’s rejection of her Messiah have echoed down through the ages. In a similar expression of mourning over Jerusalem’s unbelief, Jesus cried out a bitter consequence, much like that of Old Testament prophets: “See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). He was predicting the destruction of the Second Temple, an event that took place less than a generation later at the hands of the Romans. Evidence of this destruction can still be seen today at the Temple Mount and the Western (or Wailing) Wall.
I remember taking my pastor to visit that site, sacred to so many. We prayed together at the wall. We visited the dark and dank underground synagogue to the left of the wall, where so many black-clad religious men and pale young boys fervently davened (swayed back and forth while intoning written prayers). A profound sense of sadness pervaded the atmosphere. Then as we emerged from the darkness the air was split by the sound of the muezzin, the Muslim prayer chanter, proclaiming the name of Allah and his prophet Mohammed over the site. No wonder Jesus wept. The desolation He foresaw still prevails.
Thankfully, there is another “Jerusalem Day” yet coming that will finally end this desolation, marking a new era and a new spirit for this conflict-ridden place. God promised this day, and it may not be far away: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (Zechariah 12:10; 13:1).
What a wonderful day that will be for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a day when final atonement is welcomed, when the fountain of cleansing has its full effect, a day when the pierced One finally brings “the things that make for peace” that have so long eluded the city of peace.
So today, when we “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6), what we are really praying for is the return of Christ and the final establishment of His rule and reign there. As much as we long for cessation of the strife that pervades Jerusalem, we know that true shalom, the presence of peace in the City of Shalom, will not be achieved through a political policy, but rather through a perfect person. That one and only perfect person is the Prince of Shalom, the Messiah Jesus.
The Psalmist sought to exalt the city of Jerusalem “above my chief joy” (Psalm 137:6). I wish I could summon such a strong love as that for this city. I struggle with the realization that the Zionist hope of today is not necessarily the same as the biblical hope for eternity. But I can still cultivate a hope for Jerusalem that rises above the current conflict, a hope that corresponds to this longing for the rule of our Savior and for the day when “He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Isaiah 62:7b). Watch this video and see if it doesn’t stir your heart and cultivate this hope as it has mine.
This year, as Israel observes Jerusalem Day, I am seeking to cultivate a longing in my own heart—a longing for that Day when peace will enter the hearts of those living there through faith in their Messiah. The city of Jerusalem is not only an emblem of what has been wrong in this world, but also a symbol of what will ultimately be made right. In fact, that great Jerusalem Day that Scripture promises will be a day of renewal and re-creation, a day of a new heavens and a new earth: “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). John saw in a vision what we must try to see with the eyes of faith: a New Jerusalem day. That will be a never-ending celebration that is hopefully soon to come. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!