Jerusalem in God’s Plan (Part 1)

Israel has always said that Jerusalem is its capital. Political expediency requires a more qualified reality and the embassies of the various countries are located in Tel Aviv rather than in Jerusalem. There is also the physical consideration. Jerusalem has a small land area and it is ridiculous to crowd all the embassies of the nations in Jerusalem. These, and perhaps other reasons, would direct the Jews to take a less assertive position on where the embassies should be located. Practical challenges notwithstanding, Israel’s choice of Jerusalem as its capital is no different from any other nation’s right to choose its own capital.

The current hooha is due to Trump’s announcement that the US embassy will move to Jerusalem. This angers the Muslims in general and the Palestinians in particular.

Many Christian leaders have weighed-in on this, and several of you have asked me about this directly and indirectly. I hesitate to write on it because many Christians have already made up their minds, and in most instances, without reference to what the Bible has to say. Furthermore, this is a complex question, and there is no simple answer. There are two broad issues to consider: (1) What does the Bible say directly about Jerusalem as the capital of modern day Israel? (2) What biblical principles and human sensitivities should we consider in this question? Emboldened by your interest, I will share with you what Scripture has to say about it (1), and leave the other considerations (2) to another time – if your interest is sustained.

It is more helpful for us to examine the NT rather than the OT on this question as the kingdom of God is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah, and that has ramifications because Jerusalem is the capital of all Israel only during the rule of David and Solomon. An examination of the OT will yield the obvious, that Jerusalem is the historic capital of Israel and later Judah. The question I seek to address here is: “What is God’s plan for Jerusalem after Jesus has come and brought in his kingdom?” This means we focus on the NT to discover God’s plan for Jerusalem.

God’s Plan for Jerusalem Explained by Jesus

What Jesus said about Jerusalem is found primarily in the Gospel accounts. The most important of which is Matthew. This is because Matthew was written to the Jews who would see, or had just witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem. Matthew frames a theology concerning Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit of God called to remembrance the things that Jesus had taught. Mark was written (before the destruction of Jerusalem), to the Romans who would be the most likely destroyers of the city, and what is said about Jerusalem would be limited to its relevance to Romans. Luke was written primarily to the Greeks, and the main relevance would be Jerusalem’s destruction according to prophecy and the possible restoration of Jerusalem during our time.

First, we see that Jesus laments over Jerusalem, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you are not willing.” (Matthew 23:37). Something bad will happen to Jerusalem. Not because Jesus abandons Jerusalem, but Jerusalem has set itself on a course that was outside of God’s plan. She opposes God’s messengers, and eventually opposes God’s Son. Jerusalem chooses destruction when Jesus wants to give her protection.

Luke records, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Jesus is overwhelmed by the suffering Jerusalem will soon experience. Jerusalem chooses her own destruction, and Jesus’s heart breaks for the city. No matter how much she has opposed God, Jesus longs for her repentance and salvation, not her destruction. But the freedom for man to choose will not be revoked. And Israel has chosen the path of destruction for Jerusalem, and Jesus honors it with grief. Jerusalem abandons God.

When Jesus enters the temple at the start of the holy week, he cleanses the temple by driving out the traders (Matthew 21:12ff.). If Jerusalem is to be rescued, it must start from its spiritual core—the temple. But the nation Israel does not welcome such cleansing.

Next, Jesus sees a fig tree without fruit. He curses it and it dies (Matthew 21:19ff). The fig tree is the national symbol of Israel even to this day. Israel, the unfruitful nation will die.

Jesus then tells them the parable of the unfaithful son who says he will do as the father asks, but does not. Conversely, the son who does not agree to obey finally obeys (Matthew 21:28-32). Jesus is rebuking the Jewish religious establishment in particular and the whole nation in general. The Gentiles who are disobedient will end up obeying God.

In the parable of the wicked tenants, the tenants refuse to give the master his due harvest. They abuse and kill the master’s servants. The master then sends his own son. The wicked tenants kill the son wanting the son’s inheritance for themselves (i.e. the Jewish leaders kill Jesus so they can keep their appointments by the Romans). Jesus declares, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” And because they reject Jesus, the cornerstone, they will be “broken to pieces” and be “crushed” by the cornerstone. “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them” (Matthew 21:33-46). Scripture depicts these religious leaders as usurpers, as pretenders to God’s Kingdom. The leaders of the Jewish people are rebelling against God and are leading the people astray.

However, it is not just about Jewish leaders. The general population is equally culpable. Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet. Those who are invited would not come, so the king “sent his army and … burned their city.” Instead of the original guests, the banquet is opened to all who would come. (Matthew 22:1-14). This alludes to the destruction of Jerusalem and its people, and how the Gentiles will be invited to the banquet.

Then the disciples marvel at the beautiful temple in Jerusalem, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:2; cf. Mark 13:1-2). Here Jesus clearly says Jerusalem will be destroyed and every stone in the temple will be pried apart.

While Matthew focuses on the judgment against Israel and Jerusalem, Luke focuses on what the followers of Jesus should do in view of Jerusalem’s impending destruction.

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:20-24).

The points here are:

1. Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Gentiles.

2. The followers of Jesus should flee from the destruction of Jerusalem. While it is normal for the people to hide in the city in the face of an invading army, in this instance they are to flee Jerusalem because it will be destroyed.

3. Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” There will be a time when Jerusalem will no longer be trampled by the Gentiles—suggesting the restoration of Jerusalem at some indeterminate time after its destruction.

This dire message of destruction also carries a message of hope. Jesus also says, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Luke 21:29-31). The fig tree (symbol of Israel) will again sprout leaves when the time of the trampling by the Gentiles is over.

As much as the cursing and death of the fig tree prophesizes the destruction of Israel, and Jerusalem with it, the greening of the fig tree prophesizes the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem with it.

The destruction of Jerusalem happened in AD 70 according to the prophetic judgment and every stone in the temple was pried apart. Many Christian scholars believe that the restoration of Israel began in 1948 when Israel reconstituted as a nation.


Even though Jerusalem became the capital of the nation, and is sanctified by the temple in Jerusalem, and that God’s presence is with the people through the temple, it will be destroyed because it is unfruitful, it rejects the rightful inheritor (Jesus) and kills him, it makes excuses for not accepting the invite of the king, and it chooses destruction. The temple that sanctifies the city will be desecrated and totally destroyed. God’s glory has departed. Jerusalem and the temple are now the institutions of man and no longer the place where God is please to make his presence known.

God is gracious. There is redemption even in judgment. When the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled, there will be a restoration of Israel, and the Gentile trampling of Jerusalem will come to an end.

God’s Plan for Jerusalem Explained by Paul

One of the earliest books of the NT is Galatians, written before the destruction of Jerusalem. In this epistle, Paul lowers the status of national Jerusalem on account of the teachings of Jesus, and not because Jerusalem was already destroyed.

“Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.” (Galatians 4:25-26). Paul uses an analogy to explain the freedom that Christians have in Christ. The Law is given at Mount Sinai, and that corresponds to “the present day Jerusalem” to Hagar. Our freedom in Christ is like Sarah, and like “the Jerusalem that is above.” The spiritual relevance of “present city of Jerusalem” is replaced by “the Jerusalem that is above.”

The loss of status of Jerusalem is not the same as the loss of status of Israel. Paul is equally emphatic that eventually “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). The rejection of Israel has led to the Gentiles becoming partakers of God’s inheritance intended for the children of Abraham. If Israel’s rejection has produced blessings for Gentiles how much more blessings will come to Gentiles when Israel is restored to Messiah?


We must not look at the law or Jerusalem from the Jewish point of view. It is enslaving. Our heritage is the Jerusalem above, it is freedom in Jesus our Messiah. While Paul does not talk about a restoration of Jerusalem or even of national Israel, he asserts the restoration of Israel to Messiah and points to the blessings this would bring to the whole world. Paul does not answer the question if Jerusalem will regain its status as the capital of Israel. Instead, he tells us the people Israel will be restored to Messiah.

God’s Plan for Jerusalem Explained by the Author of Hebrews

In Jewish thinking the ideal was the tabernacle in the wilderness, and not the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was God’s concession to King David, while the tabernacle was by God’s command to Moses.

Like Matthew, “Hebrews” is written to the Hebrew people. This epistle is written after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. What does it mean for the Jewish Christians now that the temple is gone?

The writer of scripture explains, God had set up the old tabernacle for worship. There is the Holy Place, and the inner room called the Most Holy Place. That is where the presence of God is represented (Hebrews 9:1-10). “But when Christ came as High Priest … he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not part of this creation.” And this he did by the sacrifice of his own blood. (Hebrews 10:11-14). “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (Hebrews 9:24). The earthly tabernacle is only a copy of God’s true tabernacle. The true tabernacle is heaven itself (melding with the image of a tabernacle in heaven). The sacrifice of Jesus is once for all. He did not enter any earthly tabernacle with a sacrifice, but he entered the true tabernacle (heaven) with the sacrifice of his own blood.

Next concerning the Christians, “… you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” (Hebrews 12:22-23). Christian Jews are already living in the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. This is both present reality as it is future fulfillment. When we enter the church of Jesus Christ, when our names are entered into the book of life in heaven, we have come to the “heavenly Jerusalem.”


People of Jesus the Messiah have an eternal high priest (Jesus) who has given the unlimited sacrifice of his own blood, and has entered the true tabernacle, that is, heaven. The inheritance of Christians is the heavenly Jerusalem. As much as the true tabernacle is (in) heaven, Mount Zion, the city of the living God is the heavenly Jerusalem to which we have come. Nothing is said of the national Jerusalem while much is said about the heavenly Jerusalem.

God’s Plan for Jerusalem Explained by John in Revelation

The depiction of Jerusalem in Revelation stands the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem (AD 70).

The Spirit of God writes to the Church in Philadelphia, because “you have kept my command to endure patiently.” Consequently, “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave i. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.” (Revelation 3:12). It is clear the language here is figurative. The old Jerusalem is no more and the new Jerusalem “is coming down from heaven.”

At the close of Revelation, John declares, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God …” Also, “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Revelation 21:10). The new Jerusalem does not appear to be national Jerusalem. It is coming down from heaven, and it comes from God.

Revelation talks about the temple in heaven in the same way Hebrews talks about the tabernacle in heaven and the two are one and the same. “After this I looked, and I saw in heaven the temple—that is, the tabernacle of the covenant law—and it was opened.” (Revelation 15:5). And in the eternal state, John tells us, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” (Revelation 21:22)


Like the other NT writers, John does not suggest a restoration of the old Jerusalem or the old temple. The Christian Jerusalem is in heaven, and it will come to earth when we have the New Heaven and New Earth.


It is clear to me that while Israel will be rescued as a nation and the people of Israel will eventually recognize Jesus and be saved to bless others, there is no promise of a national Jerusalem or a rebuilding of the temple. The New Testament is quite consistent. The Christian focus is to shift from the old Jerusalem of the flesh to the heavenly Jerusalem that is now heaven itself. And eventually, when heaven and earth shall merge into the New Heaven and the New Earth, the city of God will be a place that accommodates everyone, and there will be no temple because God himself is there, and where God is, there the temple is.

From the biblical point of view, the restoration of Jerusalem today is subsumed under the restoration of Israel as a nation. It may be assumed, but it may not be asserted as a divine promise. At the same time, it is possible that the restoration of Jerusalem is not literal, given the collective evidence pointing us to the new Jerusalem that is heavenly and not earthly.

The OT contains some references to the restoration of Jerusalem. There are two things for us to note. (1) Do they refer to the restoration that is already fulfilled in the second temple? If they do, they are already fulfilled, and do not speak of present day fulfillment. (2) Assuming the OT references are talking about restoration under Messiah, the NT itself is consistent in depicting Messiah’s Jerusalem in terms of a heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God where God rules; and it does not suggest national Jerusalem. Therefore, there is no clear biblical prophecy about a restored Jerusalem but less a unified Jerusalem.

This does not mean the Jews today do not have a right to a unified Jerusalem. There are principles of truth and justice on which Israel can lay claim. That will be a different discussion. However, Scripture does not have either a divine promise or a prophecy on a unified Jerusalem during our time or in the future.

Pastor Peter Eng


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