The Significance of Jerusalem to ChristiansPublished on: 2.6.2011
Jerusalem Day Prayer Breakfast speech
by Susan Michael
Jerusalem has always been significant to Christians because of the places there where Jesus ministered and, most importantly, where he died and rose again. This is the obvious and simple significance of Jerusalem to the Christian world. This is why Helen, mother of Constantine, built churches there in the 4th century that commemorated these events in the life of Jesus and is why Christians from every denomination on earth visit Jerusalem and these very churches and sites.
Unfortunately, throughout a lot of church history, while the Church held the Holy sites in Jerusalem to be sacred, they did not regard the Jewishness of Jerusalem to be revered. In fact, they had little regard for anything Jewish because they saw themselves as having replaced the Jewish people as the Chosen People – they were the spiritual Israel and they focused instead on the heavenly Jerusalem.
But, today, there is a historic shift taking place in the Christian world in the growth of a more Bible-based Christianity. This segment of Christianity has its roots back in the 16th century when the Bible began to be translated into the vernacular languages. For the first time, Christian laypeople could read the scriptures for themselves and study it in depth.
This, of course, challenged the power of the state churches over the people and so these early Bible-believers were highly persecuted. Just the translation of the Bible into English alone brought about a revolution in England and of course, the establishment of America as believers fled and sought freedom of worship.
As soon as Christians began reading their own Bibles they learned of the Jewish roots of Christianity and of God’s promises to gather the Jewish people back in their homeland. Now, some 500 years later, Bible-believing or what we also call Evangelical Christianity is the fastest growing, and soon-to-be the largest, segment of Christianity worldwide. But what does this have to do with the city of Jerusalem?
Because there is now a much stronger connection in the Christian world to the historical and earthly city of Jerusalem, which we read about in our Bibles every day, we are not only interested in going there to visit the Churches built over Holy sites, but we want to go see the city.
The city where many believe Abraham brought Isaac up Mt. Moriah and passed God’s test of faith.
The city where King David established his kingdom, made it a center of worship, besought generations to “Pray for the peace” of this city, and wrote his Psalms declaring the beauty and significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people.
The city where King Solomon built the magnificent Temple and made it a house of prayer for all nations.
The city Isaiah envisioned as the world’s center where the nations will be taught the Law of the Lord, and would beat their swords into plowshares, and learn war no more.
And the city Jesus wept over and foretold it would be ruled by Gentiles for a time.
We understand the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people because we read about it every day in our Bible. We share in that history because the New Testament says we have been grafted into the people of faith who lived out that history. Their national history has become our spiritual history.
And it is important to note here that whenever the Bible speaks of Jerusalem, it is speaking of what we know today as East Jerusalem. None of these many verses of Scripture refer to western Jerusalem, because that portion of the modern city only arose within the past 100 years. Just because East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, was ethnically cleansed of Jews during 19 years of Jordanian control, it does not negate the 3,000 years of Jewish history and connection to that part of the city.
This is why, in 1980, when the Israeli Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law, and declared Jerusalem to be the eternal, undivided capital of the State of Israel, we understood and we stood with them. It was a very traumatic moment during which the Arab countries threatened oil embargos and therefore the countries that had Embassies in Jerusalem packed them up and moved to Tel-Aviv.
A group of Bible-believing Christians who were living in Jerusalem at the time seized the moment and declared “We do not support what the governments of the world have done and are therefore opening an International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem to represent millions of Bible believing Christians around the world who understand the significance of the Jewish people and stand with Israel in her claim to Jerusalem.”
Thirty-two years later, we are still in Jerusalem, with branches in over 60 countries of the world, and a track record of assistance for the people of Israel, of support for the State of Israel, and still we are standing with Israel in her claim to Jerusalem. In fact, we are still the only Embassy in Jerusalem.
The significance of Jerusalem to Christians cannot be separated from the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. We are intertwined through our scriptures and spiritual bonds and we share this heritage in Jerusalem as our spiritual capital while Israel also claims it as her national capital.
It is unfair to say that the significance of Jerusalem to Christians is all about our Holy sites – as important as they are – for in reality, all of Jerusalem is a Holy Site. Nevertheless, I do want to say one thing about the Christian Holy sites. Israel has not only voiced a commitment to, but placed into law which they have observed for over 45 years now, a respect for the Holy sites of Christians and Muslims and has allowed freedom of access and freedom of worship.
There is considerable concern throughout the Christian world about what might happen should our Holy sites be turned over to Palestinian control. Yes, there are churches throughout the Palestinian areas and I am sure that any Palestinian government will say that Christians will be given freedom of worship. But will they conduct themselves as a government that will protect the Christian churches and worshipers against fellow Muslims should this be necessary?
Their lack of respect for the Jewish Temple Mount gives us great cause for concern. Not only have there been incidents of Arab crowds on the Temple Mount throwing stones down on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, but there has also been the wanton destruction of Jewish antiquities from the First and Second Temple periods by the Muslims as they excavate and build underground the Temple Mount.
There is a growing Islamist movement throughout the Muslim world that is totally intolerant and they are attacking Christians and burning their churches. There are many recent examples of this in Egypt and Iraq that show the growing danger to Christians in the region.
But we don’t have to look that far for warning signs. The Palestinian Authority has just signed a unity pact with the Islamist group, Hamas, which did not protect the Christians in Gaza from attacks and bombings, such as the owner of a Christian bookstore who was murdered and thrown in the street.
In fact, it was a joint Hamas-Fatah force of thirteen terrorists that took refuge in one of Christianity’s most holy sites, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002. They held the clergy as hostages for 39 days, stole any icons or religious artifacts of value, used pages of the Bible for toilet paper and left the church filled with 40 booby trap explosive devices.
In short, one of Christianity’s holiest sites was thoroughly desecrated by adherents of the very same political parties that seek control over Jerusalem’s holy sites. Today, Muslims are building on top of the hill many believe is Golgotha. And they are building a wall on top of the Garden Tomb that is illegal, and threatens the integrity of the site and endangers its visitors. I am so glad that we have the Israeli authorities to turn to for help, and I plead with them to please stop this encroachment on the Protestant world’s most holy site.
Church leaders in Jerusalem and believers worldwide are worried. Just think what it would be like if that site was under Palestinian control. We want to maintain the status quo – Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
To summarize, we stand with Israel and her claim to Jerusalem because:
- We share the same biblical and historical connection,
- We honor the unique national and spiritual connection that the Jewish people and the Jewish Nation have with the city of Jerusalem,
- We trust Israel to maintain the safety and freedom of worship for everyone throughout Jerusalem and lastly,
- We believe that just as you can not separate Christianity from its Jewish roots, you can not separate Jerusalem from its Jewish history. It is an eternal, spiritual and historical reality.
Yes, Jerusalem is significant to Christians. We also have a history and important religious sites in Jerusalem. But only the Jewish people have the historical, national and legal connection to the city of Jerusalem that goes back some 3,000 years.
The world needs to honor this and recognize Jerusalem as the eternal, undivided capital of the State of Israel.
This speech was delivered at the Jerusalem Day Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2011. The event was sponsored by the International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation.
Susan Michael serves as US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and is based in Washington, DC.