Why is Jerusalem important to Christians?Published on: 7.5.2021
Dr. Mojmir Kallus, ICEJ Vice President for International Affairs
As we mark Yom Yerushalayim in the coming days, it is vital to understand why Jerusalem holds such a central place in Christian thinking. The importance of Jerusalem to Christians is rooted in the significance attached to Jerusalem in the Bible.
One way to determine the importance of a subject in the Bible is to see how often it is mentioned. By this measure, Jerusalem appears to be quite significant, as it is directly mentioned 660 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and 146 times in the New Testament. If we add synonyms and endearing terms, such “Zion”, we get another 165 times. That is almost 1,000 verses which mention Jerusalem – the only city declared “holy” in the Bible.
However, this is just a quantitative answer. It is more essential to ask the qualitative question: What is it that makes Jerusalem so prominent? You may have seen the medieval painting in which Jerusalem is depicted as the center of the world. It is actually based on a scripture from Ezekiel where God declares that He has set Jerusalem in the midst of the nations (Ezekiel 5:5). So, again, what makes the city so special?
First of all, Jerusalem is close to God’s heart. God makes some strong statements about Jerusalem which reveal His desire, His emotions. The prophet Zechariah declares that the Lord has chosen Jerusalem (Zechariah 3:2), and that He is zealous for Zion with great zeal (Zechariah 1:14). A key passage is found in the Book of Psalms: “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.’” (Psalm 132:13-14)
So, Jerusalem is a dwelling place for the presence of God. He is omnipresent, and we can experience His presence anywhere in the world. Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, He is present. When the Holy Spirit fills us, we experience the presence of God. Yet God presence rests in Jerusalem in a special way, because God chose this place.
God makes choices; He draws distinctions. Just as He loves all nations, He also has chosen one particular nation as a “special treasure, a special possession” (Exodus 19:5). God made a covenant with the Jewish people and set them apart for His redemptive plan to bring blessing to all mankind. This plan appears already when God first called Abram, saying: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The New Testament affirms this, such as when Paul explains that the advantage of a Jew is “much in every way, mainly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). All the world owes a debt of gratitude to the Jewish people, because they brought us the very word of God. And from them came the Messiah, Jesus our Savior.
So, we can see that God makes choices for a purpose. He chose Israel to be the vehicle through which to bring salvation and blessing to the whole world. Likewise, He chose Jerusalem for a special purpose. And again, we see that it is meant not only for Israel but for all nations. Isaiah declares: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).
It was in this city that His Son also was sentenced, crucified and put into the grave. It was in this city where Jesus rose from the dead, demonstrating the power of God, which overcomes even death. It was in this city where the Holy Spirit fell upon the first disciples and where the Church was born.
This alone explains why Jerusalem is so important to Christians. Different denominations may have their particular centers – some look to Rome, others to Constantinople, Moscow, Geneva or Wittenberg. These locales emphasize their differences. But when Christians all look to Jerusalem, we emphasize what we have in common. Focus on Jerusalem brings unity – or at least it should. It has been my experience that when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we are united despite our differences.
But there is more to Jerusalem than just the past. The Lord has chosen Jerusalem for a central role in His still unfolding plan. The Hebrew prophets spoke of a future time when Jerusalem will be prominent once more. Jeremiah foresaw Israel being gathered “out of the land of the north to the land that I have given as an inheritance to your fathers”, and “at that time Jerusalem shall be called the Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts.” (Jeremiah 3:17-18)
So we see in this city a unique connection between Israel and the nations. When the Jewish people return to their land, all nations shall come to Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah explained that after a great conflict over the city, the nations shall come at one particular season of the year: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zechariah 14:16)
It has been the mission of the ICEJ to make the global Church aware of this prophetic call, and thus we started a Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) more than 40 years ago.
This connection between the Jewish return and Jerusalem exalted among the nations is being confirmed by history. When the first waves of Aliyah started in the 1880s, Jerusalem turned from a neglected provincial town to a highly coveted place. In those days, all the major powers insisted on having a foothold in the city. Until today, we have a German Colony, a Russian Compound, an American Colony, a French Quarter, etc.
And as the Jewish nation grew, so did the global importance of Jerusalem. The United Nations tried to make it an international city. The Arabs ignited a war in 1948 which tragically left Jerusalem divided. In 1967 it was reunited under Jewish sovereignty, but the world has largely refused to recognize this. Jerusalem is the only national capital in the world which is not recognized by most governments. US President Donald Trump broke from the consensus and moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but the pressure on other nations not to follow is enormous. It all confirms the special importance of the city. It is as if the whole world is irrationally fixated on Jerusalem, which brings to mind the words of the prophet Zechariah:
Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it. (Zechariah 12:2-3)
There were so many UN resolutions about Jerusalem, and yet no peaceful resolution over its fate. Indeed, Jerusalem seems to have an intoxicating influence over people. Recall all the major Arab/Muslim riots in recent decades over minor Israeli moves in the city.
The prophets foretell of a coming conflict over Jerusalem which will involve all nations. This is one of the signs of the coming of the Messiah. The disputed status of Jerusalem is an indication of our prophetic times. If you want to discern the times, look to Jerusalem. Jesus said: “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). Jerusalem was occupied – trampled – by the Gentiles from the Roman destruction in 70 AD until June 1967. With the liberation of Jerusalem, a paradigm shift occurred. Jerusalem is now at the center of world attention. And God is restoring Israel. We are moving towards the fulfilment of all the remaining prophecies, of salvation for Israel and judgement on the nations. And then His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives. Jesus will come to reign from Jerusalem. And all nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship Him. And in the end, there will finally be a ‘New Jerusalem’ coming down from Heaven – pure and holy.
So, Jerusalem is close to God’s heart. It is the place where significant events in the salvation history occurred, and it is the future throne of God to rule over all nations.
One final thought on why Jerusalem is so critical role. In Genesis 14 we find the story of Abraham coming back from defeating five kings and meeting Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem), as well as the king of Sodom. They represent the very opposite. Melchizedek is a righteous king and priest of the one true God. He offers bread and wine to Abraham, who accepts the gifts and offers back a tithe of his increase. In contrast, the king of Sodom offers him the ill-gotten spoils of war, and was refused (Genesis 14:17-23).
Abraham was put to a test. He had to make a choice. Would he choose material possessions from Sodom, or a humble life of righteousness and peace before God? Abraham understood the choice perfectly – and chose well!
I believe Jerusalem represents this choice for all peoples and nations. This city demands a decision. God chose Jerusalem to be a measuring stick by which He is going to judge all nations. May Jerusalem never lose its spiritual importance to us.
FOR MORE on this topic, make sure to watch the ICEJ Webinar: Why is Jerusalem Important to Christians?, from Thursday, 6 May, featuring Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Ms. Fleur Hassan Nahum and ICEJ Vice President for International Affairs Dr. Mojmir Kallus.