For four decades the spotlight of world events has largely focused on the state of Israel, and the city of Jerusalem.

How strange that a place so small and of seemingly little consequence should make such a great impact on the world scene today.

Or is it strange?

What does the Bible say?

A City from Heaven

THERE are scores of cities mentioned in the Bible, and some of them are used symbolically in the sacred Word. One of these is Jerusalem. In the time of Abraham, Jerusalem was known by the name, Salem. Melchizedek was then king of Salem, and in welcoming Abraham he “brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the Most High God.”—Gen. 14:18

Centuries later, when the Israelites conquered the land of Canaan, Jerusalem was in the hands of the Jebusites, and was known as Jebus, or the city of the Jebus. When the country was portioned out to the tribes of Israel the territory of Jerusalem was promised to two tribes—the northern part to Benjamin and the southern part to Judah.

King David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital. He called it the city of David. David’s son, Solomon, built the Temple, and thus converted the city into the religious and spiritual center of the tribes of Israel. After the country was divided into two kingdoms, Jerusalem remained the capital of Judah—the two-tribe kingdom—where its successive kings reigned.

In the reign of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who destroyed it. This was about 600 years before Christ. After seventy years’ captivity in Babylon, the Jews returned to their land and Jerusalem was restored under the leadership of Nehemiah. Jerusalem continued to be the heart of the Hebrew revival after the captivity, until the Greeks captured it about 320 B.C. However, in 165 B.C. the Maccabean insurgents recovered the city and converted it into the capital of the Hasmonean dynasty, which lasted until 37 B.C., when it was usurped by Herod the Great. With his advent to power, Herod embellished the city, adding many magnificent buildings, and fortified it.

Thus, at the time of Jesus’ first advent, Jerusalem was under the rulership of the Roman Empire, although the Jews were allowed a great deal of religious liberty. The Roman authorities did not interfere with their worship as long as they did not attempt to interfere with the authority of their civil rulers. Because the Jewish religious rulers of Jerusalem and Israel at that time desired to get Jesus out of the way they were glad to appeal to the Roman civil rulers to help them. To procure this help they charged that Jesus claimed to be a king, which, if true, would have been treason against Rome.

Because of the opposition of the religious rulers of the day, the people in general, although they liked what Jesus said and did, were hindered from coming out boldly and accepting him. The crowds followed Jesus, probably largely because of his miracles, and once proclaimed him their king, but in the end many of them clamored for him to be put to death. Just a few days prior to his death Jesus said to that generation, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”—Matt. 23:37-39

In this prophecy Jesus uses the city of Jerusalem as representing the entire Jewish polity. “Your house is left unto you desolate,” he said. The typical house was coming to an end. This entailed also the desolation of the literal city of Jerusalem, which was brought about by the Roman army in 70-73 A.D.

After this desolation Jerusalem became a Roman town, and was called Aelia Capitolina. In 636 A.D. the Arabs possessed the city, and because they acknowledged its sanctity called it Makdas—the Venerable Sanctuary. Under Arab rule, many mosques were erected in the city, and by this means it acquired an additional measure of religious importance. The Crusaders captured the city in 1099, making it the capital of their domain in Palestine, sometimes known as the kingdom of Jerusalem.

The Crusaders held Jerusalem for about one hundred years. Then the Saracens wrested it from them, occupying it for over three hundred years. Next the Turks captured the city, and fortified it by building a wall around it which still exists. It was in 1860 that the first Jewish suburb was built outside the wall of the old city, and thus that part of Jerusalem which is now known as the new city was born. The new town expanded rapidly, and soon its population exceeded that of the old city.

The Turks continued to hold control of Jerusalem until the British occupied it during the First World War—in 1917, to be exact. It then became the military headquarters of the British operation in Palestine. In 1920 the British civil administration was set up in Jerusalem, and this lasted until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

However, at this time the city was divided, the Israeli Government controlling only the new part of the city located outside the walls, while the Arabs controlled the more ancient portion of the city within the walls. These two parts of the city remained separate for nearly twenty years, but were finally joined under Israel’s domination at the conclusion of the Six Days’ War in June, 1967.

Today Jerusalem has a population of over 300,000, of which 230,000, mostly Jews, live outside the walls, and about 70,000 in what is now known as Eastern Jerusalem, including the old city. The majority of these are Moslems, with a minority of Christians of various denominations.

Much of the city of Jerusalem which existed in Jesus’ day is buried under the rebuilt city of today. However, there are some remains of the old city still to be seen. The Wailing Wall is believed to be part of the wall of the Temple—that is, Herod’s Temple—which was visited by Jesus and where he drove out the money changers. This Wailing Wall is very sacred to the Jewish people, and they gained free access to it when the walled city was captured by the Israeli Army in 1967.

We can well understand the high regard the Jews have for the ancient city of Jerusalem, and because of the unique circumstances associated with this particular city in the Holy Land, the Lord uses it as a symbol of what the Bible describes as ‘New Jerusalem’. We read, “I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”—Rev. 21:2-4

Think of the war after war by which ancient Jerusalem has been ravished, with the consequent sorrow, pain, and death. Besides, these same evils have, through the centuries, afflicted the people of all nations and races. But these ‘former things’ are to pass away with the coming down out of heaven of the New Jerusalem of promise. God’s rulership over Israel, beginning with David, was exercised from ancient Jerusalem; and divine rulership over all mankind will issue from the New Jerusalem—come down from God out of heaven.

God promised father Abraham that his seed would bless all the families of the earth. (Gen. 12:3; 22:15-18) Actually, this was a promise of rulership on the part of Abraham’s seed. Later the governing part of this promise was narrowed to the descendants of Judah, a great-grandson of Abraham. We find this in a prophecy given by Jacob when he was pronouncing blessings upon each of his twelve sons. The prophecy reads, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies: thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.—Gen. 49:8-10

This prophecy was uttered in Egypt at a time when a couched lion was the symbol of the right to rule. So the implication is that from the tribe of Judah would come the great ruler, the Messiah of promise, described by the Prophet Ezekiel as the one “whose right it is,” to rule over Israel and the whole world.—Ezek. 21:25-27

When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of God’s promised Messiah, he explained that this great one would sit upon the throne of his father, David. As the Scriptures reveal, David sat upon the throne of the Lord. (I Chron. 29:23) The promise of God was that David’s ruling house would be established forever: “Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever.” (II Sam. 7:16) This prophecy is fulfilled through Jesus.

The nation of Israel shared in the rulership of the kingdom of David, and could have gone on to share in the rulership of the antitypical David had the nation accepted him when he presented himself to them at his first advent. A few did, of course, and these were given power, or authority, to become the children of God in the new age then dawning, and thus were made joint-heirs with Christ.—John 1:11,12; Rom. 8:17

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of Israel, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” (Matt. 21:43) These are the fruits of humility and obedience which the nominal Israelites of Jesus’ day failed to display; therefore the nation, as a nation, lost its messianic kingdom privileges of spiritual rulership as joint-heirs with Christ, and this was given to another nation.

Peter identifies this new nation to which the kingdom privileges, first offered to Israel, were transferred. Addressing followers of the Master, Peter wrote, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that he should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; which in time past were not a people: but are now the people of God.”—I Pet. 2:9,10

In other words, the faithful followers of Jesus comprise the nation to which now belong the kingdom privileges once possessed exclusively by the natural descendants of Abraham. Believing and faithful Jews can still share these privileges, but no longer exclusively so. Probably the larger proportion of this group will turn out to be Gentiles. James said that God visited the Gentiles to “take out of them a people for his name’; that is, to be his people and members of that group which are depicted in the Scriptures as “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”—Rev. 21:9

The expression, “the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” is used by the Apostle John in identifying the holy city which comes down from heaven. After explaining that as a result of the coming down of this city there shall be no more pain and death, and that former things are passed away, he relates, “There came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.”—Rev. 21:9,10

Some have supposed that this city which will come down from heaven is a literal city, but even a brief look at its description dispels the possibility of this being true. For example, the measurement of the city is given as follows: “The city lieth four square, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.”—Rev. 21:16

In Bible times a furlong was one-eighth of a mile. This would mean that the size of the New Jerusalem, if taken literally, would be fifteen hundred miles in all directions, including its height! Obviously, the entire description of the New Jerusalem is intended to be symbolic. But it does contain important identifications; for example, in its twelve foundations are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Rev. 21:12) And the whole city is “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”

In Revelation 19:7,8 we read, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” Thus it becomes evident that the bride, the Lamb’s wife, is made up of his faithful followers who suffer and die with him inspired by the hope of being united with him in glory and sharing in his thousand-year reign which is designed for the blessing of all the families of the earth.

The work of God in the earth, then, since the first advent of Jesus, has been largely the gathering out from the world of this people who would share the messianic throne with Jesus. They are called by means of the Gospel, and the terms of the calling are a full dedication of themselves to know and to do God’s will. It is God’s will for these that they walk in Jesus’ steps of sacrifice even unto death.—Rev. 2:10; 3:21

This “bride class” further makes herself ready by being emptied of self and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Under the influence of the Spirit they grow in grace, put on the whole armor of God, and produce the various fruits of the Spirit. This making ready is the work of a lifetime for each member of the bride class, and when the last one has finished this work, the bride will have made herself ready for the marriage.

Not until then will the marriage of the Lamb take place, and therefore not until then can the holy city come down from God out of heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. This holy city, the New Jerusalem, is another of the Bible’s symbols of the messianic kingdom; and it will be when that kingdom of blessing commences to function that pain and death will begin to vanish from the earth. And when the work of that kingdom is complete there will be no more pain and death at all, for the former things shall have passed away.

Isaiah 2:2-4 reads, “It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

The explanation that the law shall go forth from ‘Zion’, and the Word of the Lord from ‘Jerusalem’ suggests that there will be two phases to the kingdom of Christ symbolized by ‘Zion’ and ‘Jerusalem’. Zion was the capital hill in the typical Jerusalem, and would well picture the spiritual phase of the messianic kingdom. Revelation 14:1 shows the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who follow him wherever he goes. (vs. 4) These are the ones—both Jews and Gentiles—who will share in the invisible rulership of the Messiah.

The faithful servants of God of past ages, whom we often speak of as the Ancient Worthies, will be the perfect human representatives of the divine Christ. These seem well represented by the ‘Jerusalem’ of the prophecy. These intermediaries, while not the kingdom in the proper sense, will be so fully the representatives of it among men that they will be recognized as the kingdom by men. (Luke 13:28; Matt. 8:11) In the resurrection these will be restored to human perfection, which will enable them to communicate with those in the spiritual phase of the kingdom even as Adam, in his perfection, could communicate directly with the heavenly powers.

These Ancient Worthies will be made “princes in all the earth.” (Ps. 45:16) Isaiah 32:1 reads, “Behold, a king [Jesus] shall reign in righteousness, and princes [the Ancient Worthies] shall rule in judgment.” Another prophecy referring to the position of the Ancient Worthies in the kingdom reads, “I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city.”—Isa. 1:26

While the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 pictures more particularly the heavenly phase of the messianic kingdom, the earthly representatives of that ‘city’ are appropriately also here referred to as a city of righteousness—not another government or city, but the human rulership phase of the one glorious messianic kingdom.

Isaiah’s prophecy refers to these human representatives of the kingdom as judges and as counselors. Since they will be perfect, and able to commune directly with the divine Christ, their judgment will be just and their counseling wise. The people of all nations will quickly recognize the superior qualities of these princes, and will be glad to fall in line with their instructions, for it will be discerned that they are speaking and acting for the Lord. It will indeed be an administration of righteousness with the laws originating in Zion and the Word of the Lord going forth from Jerusalem.—Mic. 4:2

John observed that the holy city which he saw in vision come down from heaven had no temple in it. The Temple and its services were an important part of ancient Jerusalem, beginning with the reign of Solomon. But that was merely a symbol, as it were, of a much better arrangement, in the form of the city which comes down from heaven. John explains that God and the Lamb are the ‘temple’ in this city. Another picture of this government is a throne—“the throne of God and of the Lamb.”

It is important to realize that this New Jerusalem is not a city made up of literal buildings and walls. We remember Jesus’ reply to the woman of Samaria concerning the proper place to worship. He said, “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. … But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”—John 4:21,23,24

The New Jerusalem is a beautiful picture of the messianic kingdom arrangement and how all the personnel associated with it, spiritual and human, will direct the people of all nations to the worship—not of a city—but of God, and his beloved Son. The Lamb will be the light of that city which will guide the nations into the true worship of God, “that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”—Zeph. 3:9

The coming down of the city out of heaven is God’s way of telling us that the messianic kingdom is not of human origin, and is not established by human wisdom and strength. It is God’s arrangement for the blessing of the sin-cursed and dying race. This arrangement calls for the exercise of divine power in the resurrection of the dead—first, Jesus, two thousand years ago; and at this end of the age those who are brought forth in the “first resurrection” to “live and reign with him a thousand years.”—Rev. 20:6

Then there will be the “better resurrection” of the Ancient Worthies to perfection of human nature to be the representatives of the divine Christ. (Heb. 11:35,40) Finally there will be the resurrection of all the dead, Jews and Gentiles. Those Jews at various times who saw their sacred city of Jerusalem pillaged and destroyed will be awakened and learn that there is now a New Jerusalem to give them light and guidance, health and life—the invisible city or government of Jehovah and his Son, the Lamb who was slain for their redemption.

We can well understand the great love the Israelites now have for literal Jerusalem—although there is very little of the ancient city still to be seen. The Wailing Wall is meaningful and sacred to them now, but with the joys of the messianic kingdom available to them it will lose its significance, except as a reminder of some of their harsh experiences of the past. With the earth filled with health, joy, and life, all mankind will rejoice, and will learn the advantages of worshiping their God in spirit and in truth.

With the establishment of the messianic kingdom will come the fulfillment of Revelation 22:17: “The Spirit and the bride say come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” It is interesting to note that all who hear and respond to this invitation to partake of the water of life will have the opportunity of relaying the invitation to others. We believe that to begin with the majority of those who hear and respond will be the Jews who are restored to their land of promise. But it will not stop with them, for these blessings of life have been provided for all families of the earth!

The Jewish people who respond will have the privilege of joining in the happy proclamation, offering the water of life to others, as will responding Gentiles. The ‘whosoever’ of this text includes all nationalities and races, all of whom, in turn, have the opportunity of saying, “Come.” Thus the glorious work of the kingdom will continue through the city or government provided in the divine plan for the recovery of the human race from sin and death.

Meanwhile the events taking place in Israel today are among the strong indications that Messiah’s kingdom is near, for the prophecies reveal that the Lord would restore his people to the Promised Land just prior to the manifestation of that kingdom. And how enthusiastic the Israelites will be when they realize that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets are in their midst to govern and guide them on the highway that will lead to their restoration to health and everlasting life! And, thank God, this joy they too may quickly spread to the people of all nations. Let us even now rejoice as we look forward to this glorious time of blessing for all!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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