Vol. 7, No. 9
~ Page 15 ~
The most famous of biblical cities ("of mighty fame among all mankind," Josephus, WARS 7:1, 11) has had four names: Salem, Jebus, Jerusalem and Zion. In the days of Abraham, it was called "Salem" (Genesis 14:18), meaning "peace:"
He who first built it was a potent man among the Canaanites, and he is in our tongue called the Righteous King [Melchizedek], for such he really was. (Josephus, WARS 6: 10)
Later the city was called "Jebus" (1 Chronicles 11:40), named after a great grandson of Noah (Genesis 10:16), and the inhabitants were called the "Jebusites" (Joshua 15:63). Then the name "Jebus" (meaning "trodden down") was changed to "Jerusalem," which was a fusion of the name "Salem" with the Hebrew word meaning "foundation," and so the name "Jerusalem" means a "foundation of peace" (Joshua 15:63; 1 Chronicles 11:4). Notice in David's words how peace is connected with Jerusalem:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee. (Psalm 122:6-8)
The fourth name for Jerusalem is derived from one of the mountains on which the city is built, Zion, meaning "citadel" (1 Chronicles 11:4-5; Zechariah 9:9). The name "Zion," especially in songs, has become a synonym for Jerusalem:
Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King...Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. (Psalm 48:2, 12-13)
Before the Israelites invaded the promised land, Moses instructed them that the Lord would select a consecrated place for sacrifices and worship (Deuteronomy 12:13-14). In that dedicated place, Yahweh would cause his name to be recorded, and he would dwell there (Deuteronomy 12:5, 11). In process of time, Shiloh (temporarily selected) was rejected in favor of "Zion which he loved" (Psalm 78:60, 68). It was in Jerusalem, after Solomon had built the temple (about 960 B.C.), that he heard the Lord say:
I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually. (1 Kings 9:3)
After some 400 years, sin caused the ornate temple and beloved capital of Israel completely to be demolished. God allowed the heathen and merciless Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. to burn every house in Jerusalem, including the temple and Solomon's palace, as well as to destroy the walls of the city (2 Kings 25:90). Most of the city's residents were deported to Babylon (2 Kings 25:11).
In Babylon, the devout Jews were chafed in their souls, anguished in their hearts, because Jerusalem lay in ruins. The exiled Daniel "kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed," and "his windows were open in his room toward Jerusalem" (Daniel 6:10). Fervently he offered his petitions:
O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain...O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name." (Daniel 9:16, 18)
Other exiles in Babylon also expressed their grief:
"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." (Psalm 137:5-6)
The flat country around Babylon as contrasted with Zion's highlands may be part of the thought back of the famous "songs of ascent":
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth." (Psalm 121:1-2)
When the seventy-year penalty for sin had been paid, God allowed Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple, and allowed Nehemiah to rebuild the city walls, and life started again in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 29:10; Ezra 6:14; Nehemiah 6:15). Once more, pilgrim Jews from all over the world made annual treks to the city of the great King. Among them was a governmental officer from Ethiopia, likely a proselyte, who rode in his chariot hundreds of miles "to Jerusalem to worship" (Acts 8:27). Motivating him was the spirit of another song of ascent:
I rejoiced when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of Yahweh." Our feet will stand within your gates, O Jerusalem! (Psalm 122:1-2)
The pilgrim's long journey to Jerusalem displayed his love for the Lord, because God's "ordinance for Israel" specified that there "the tribes go up, even the tribes of Yahweh," to "give thanks to the name of Yahweh" (Psalm 122:4).
It is not surprising that the One "called a Nazarene" loved Jerusalem deeply (Matthew 2:23). As a lad, he made annual trips from Nazareth with "his parents," who "went every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the passover" (Luke 2:41). Years later, his heart was pierced in grief because his preaching to those who lived in Zion went unheeded:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, ...how often I wanted to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Luke 13:34)
He could see their impending destruction, when their "house" would be "left to you desolate," and "not one stone would be left upon another" (Matthew 23:38; 24:2). On Sunday before Friday's cross, Jesus rode a donkey down "the descent of the mount of Olives" toward Jerusalem (Luke 19:37). From the back of the donkey, 500 feet below, "he saw the city and wept over it" (Luke 19:41). He knew that the very name "Jerusalem" ("foundation of peace") would be mocked:
If you had known, even you, on this day, the things that belong to peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:42)
Though the destruction was 40 years away when Jesus was weeping, he could see "Jerusalem surrounded by armies" and that "you and your children with you" will be "completely destroyed" (Luke 19:43; 21:20). Those not falling by "the mouth of the sword" would "be carried captive into all nations" (Luke 21:24). Whereas the city's name, "foundation of peace," would be a taunt, and her former name "Jebus" ("trodden down") would become actual. How accurate Jesus was is seen in what a first century historian wrote:
The Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city, and burnt them down, and entirely demolished its walls (Josephus, WARS 6:9,4). It was so thoroughly laid even with the ground ...that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited (WARS 7:1, 11). The number of those that were carried captive during the whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand (WARS 6:9, 4). Yet hath not its great antiquity, nor its vast riches, nor the diffusion of its nation over all the habitable earth, nor the greatness of the veneration paid it on a religious account, been sufficient to preserve it from being destroyed. (WARS 6:10,1)
But before the predicted violent desolation (its second in the city's history, 586 B.C. and 70 A.D.), something was to happen in earthly Jerusalem that in importance would far exceed anything in its glorious and inglorious past. In God's plan, the religion of the Jews, then centered in Jerusalem, was to be replaced by Christianity, a new religion that would have its birth in the same city. The messianic prophet was precise:
Out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3)
Jesus, executing his Father's plans, announced that his new and worldwide religion would have its "beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). Accordingly, on Pentecost Day (Sunday, May 28, A.D. 30), after the Lord's Ascension (Thursday, May 18), in Jerusalem was established the last great religion from God that this world will ever have (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:1-47).
So important was physical Jerusalem, in all that preceded Jesus' new religion, the very name "Jerusalem" became symbolical of that new religion, the New Testament church. The church is called the "Jerusalem that is above," "our mother," "Mount Zion," and "the heavenly Jerusalem" (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22).
So, taken over from "the Jerusalem that now is," the spiritual Jerusalem is "the general assembly and church of the firstborn" (Galatians 4:25; Hebrews 12:22). Since Pentecost Day, May 28, A.D. 30, earthly Jerusalem has been without any sacred significance (John 4:21-24). Now there is no holy topography. Spiritual Jerusalem is everywhere that Christians are. In the past, earthly Jerusalem was significant, but now there is spiritual Jerusalem, the church.
The third Jerusalem is "the holy city, the new Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:2), in which is the "Father's house" with "many rooms" (John 14:2, "mansions," KJV), where Jesus now is preparing for those who are "faithful until death" (John 14:2-3; Revelation 2:10).
It is a cheapening thought that the third Jerusalem will be the old, earthly city renewed and purified for a thousand years. When the time comes for the third Jerusalem, then will the earthly city be dissolved and disappear in fire (2 Peter 3:10-12). In a deep faith that the third Jerusalem will be his eternal dwelling place the patriarch Abraham lived and died, "waiting for the city which has foundations, whose architect and maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10).