Jerusalem - The City of God


Why do we so often ask people we don’t know, ‘what do you do for a living?’  We ask them because we tend to define people by what they do.  We think that function precedes and determines identity.  In the kingdom of God, however, the opposite is true.

Identity shapes what we do

What defines you in the kingdom is who you are and your identity shapes what you do.  This was certainly true of Jesus.  He was so confident in his identity as the Son of God that he didn't need to do anything to prove it.  Think about his temptation in the desert. Satan said ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’ (Matthew 4:3).  Jesus knew he wasn't what he did.  Rather, everything he went on to do he did because of who he was.

Who you are is determined by whose you are

In the kingdom your identity is determined by who you are and who you are is determined by whose you are.  When you became a Christian you became a ‘child of God’ (John 1:12), a ‘son (or daughter) of the light’ (1 Thessalonians 5:5) and a ‘friend of God’ (John 15:15).  Your identity was not the result of a new pattern of behaviour, it was given you by God in the belief that your behaviour would catch up with your identity.


We see this principle at work in the life of Gideon when the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior’ (Judges 6:12).  At that point Gideon was hiding in a wine-press threshing wheat so as to not be seen by his enemies (Judges 6:11).  He was anything but a mighty warrior.  His identity, however, was not dependent on his behaviour.  His identity was found in what God said about him and during the course of his life his behaviour caught up with who he really was.

Identity precedes function

The principle that identity precedes function is true of individuals, groups of people and also places.  The identity of a place is a deeper issue than what happens there.  To know the identity of a place is to know what God says about it.  Only then can you begin to interpret the events of that place correctly.  To really know Jerusalem we first have to know what God says about it.  Only then can we begin to understand what has happened, what is happening and what will happen there.  To begin with the history of her events is to begin in the wrong place because identity precedes function.

The identity of Jerusalem

In this article we will cover 12 foundations that together form the identity of Jerusalem.  The 12 foundations are:

i    The city of God: Jerusalem is unique amongst the cities of the world because it is a city specifically chosen by God.  Jerusalem is described in the Bible as the ‘city of our God’ (Psalm 48:1), the ‘city of our Great King’ (Psalm 48:2) and the ‘inheritance’ of God (Psalm 79:1).

The Bible says God ‘has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling’ (Psalm 132:13).  God says ‘I am very jealous for Zion, I am burning with jealousy for her’ (Zechariah 8:2).  Jerusalem is even described as the apple of God’s eye (Zechariah 2:8).  These things are unique to Jerusalem and highlight not only her election, but also the intensity of God’s affection for her.

ii   The city of eternity: As God’s chosen city, Jerusalem has a unique destiny.  God says that Jerusalem is the city from which he will rule and reign throughout eternity.  God has promised through his prophets that he will restore and recreate the earth when Jesus returns as king. 

Through the prophet Isaiah he said ‘Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.  The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind’ (Isaiah 65:17).  The apostle Peter said ‘But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness’ (2 Peter 3:13).

The centrepiece of this transition will be the coming down out of heaven a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21 and 22).  The apostle John describes it this way:

‘I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God...'  He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'' (Revelation 21:2-5a)

He goes on to describe the new Jerusalem in more detail:

It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal... The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass.  The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone’ (Revelation 21:11-19).

These themes and promises are again unique to Jerusalem and highlight further her distinctive role in God’s eternal purposes.  That the new Jerusalem is said to be ‘beautifully dressed’ and made of ‘pure gold’ also highlights the extent to which God is committed to her beauty.

iii  The city of saints: With this in mind we might ask who, apart from God, will inhabit the new Jerusalem?  John tells us in the book of Revelation that ‘Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (Revelation 21:27).

God has revealed to us that when his Son, Jesus, returns to earth there will be a great day of judgement when every person who has ever lived will stand before God’s throne to be divinely evaluated.  Daniel describes it this way; ‘Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt’ (Daniel 12:2).

For those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life they receive entry into the new Jerusalem.  For those whose names are not in the book of life they will be thrown, God says, into the lake of fire along with the devil, death and Hades (Revelation 20:11-15).

iv  The city of the throne: The centrepiece of the new Jerusalem will be the throne of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, from which he will reign with his saints (Revelation 20:4) and exercise his authority, demonstrating his goodness and making righteous judgements (Psalm 145:17).  John says in Revelation that ‘the throne of God and of the lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him’ (Revelation 22:3).

Paul says in Ephesians that ‘all things in heaven and on earth’ will be brought ‘together under one head, even Christ’ (1:10) and the throne of the Son of God will be fulcrum of all Christ’s eternal authority.  The throne will be in the new Jerusalem and is perhaps why Zechariah says that God will be the ‘glory within’ the heavenly city (2:5).

As the royal city of the Lord of the whole earth Jerusalem will be the location to which the nations of the earth come to worship God at his throne.  Zechariah says that ‘the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty’ (Zechariah 14:16).  According to Zechariah, such is her royal grandeur that even the wealth of the surrounding nations will enter Jerusalem, ‘The wealth of all the surrounding nations will be collected – great quantities of gold and silver and clothing’ (Zechariah 14:14).  The eschatological significance of Jerusalem as the city of the throne is entirely unique and exceptional and a clear theme in the Bible.

v   The city of David: Further light can be shed on Jerusalem’s royal identity when we consider the role that King David played in her history because he was a prophetic personification of the royal aspect of Christ’s character.  It was in Jerusalem that David lived as king and from there that he ruled and reigned.  In Jerusalem was the throne and later also the temple.  In 2 Samuel 5:9-10 we read that:

David took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David.  He built up the area around it, from the supporting terraces inward.  And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

It’s important to realise that Jerusalem had already been defeated militarily prior to David’s reign but that it was David who conquered and subdued it and took up residence within it.  Joshua defeated Adoni-Zedek, king of Jerusalem, during the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 10), the city itself was given as an inheritance to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28) and it was put to the sword and set on fire during the period of the Judges (Judges 1:8). However, ‘The Benjamites... failed to dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the Benjamites’ (Judges 1:21).

It was only during David’s reign that the city was finally conquered and the throne of the king of Israel established within it.  This is picture for us of the relationship between Jerusalem and Christ in the unfolding of the End-Times.  Jerusalem has just one king and only when he establishes his throne will she be truly conquered.  ‘At that time they will call Jerusalem the Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honour the name of the Lord’ (Jeremiah 3:17).

vi  The city of redemption:As God’s chosen city, Jerusalem is also the city of redemption and healing.  In Genesis God told Abraham to ‘Take you son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about’ (Genesis 22:2).  Abraham obeyed and was about to sacrifice his son when an angel of the Lord stopped him and said ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy... Do not do anything to him.  Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son’ (Genesis 22:12).  This is a hugely significant story due to its location, due to what God did and due to what Abraham didn't have to do.

We read that the event occurred on a mountain in the region of Moriah, the very same mountain that many years later the city of Jerusalem was built upon.  The whole story was in fact a prophetic picture of what would later happen in Jerusalem through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  A son was sacrificed on that plot of land, an only son who was loved very much, but it wasn't Isaac it was Jesus.  God did for us in Jerusalem what Abraham didn't have to do.  Prophetically ‘Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide.  And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided'' (Genesis 22:14).

Jerusalem was the focus of attention throughout Jesus’ life and ministry.  It was to Jerusalem that the Magi went in search of Jesus (Matthew 2:1-2) and in Jerusalem that Jesus was circumcised (Luke 2:21-22).  He visited there as a boy with his family (Luke 2:41-50) and was tempted whilst on the heights of the city (Luke 4:9).  Jesus also wept over the city (Luke 19:44) and fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah by approaching it on a donkey just prior to his death (Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:4).  In fulfilment of Genesis 22 Jesus was sentenced to death in Jerusalem and was crucified just outside the city walls.  He also rose to life and ascended to heaven around the city.  God’s great act of redemption is focused clearly within the city of Jerusalem.

We get one final picture in Revelation of God working redemption and healing through Jerusalem.  In Revelation 22:2 we read ‘On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’  Even at the end of the age God’s plan is to make Jerusalem a centre for healing and wholeness and for her influence to manifest in the nations.

vii  The city of mission: Jerusalem is described in Psalm 48 as the ‘joy of the whole earth’ (v. 2) and it is God’s intention that she be a blessing to every nation.  In Micah we read that in the last days:

Many nations will come and say, 'Come, let us go to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.'  The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem’ (4:2).

Think about how and where the mission of the church began.  When Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he gave them clear instructions, he said ‘stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49).  The disciples were in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 2) and it was in Jerusalem that the church won its first converts (Acts 2:41).

The mission of the church spread from Jerusalem throughout the entire world and continues to do so today.  This is in keeping with the missionary program first outlined by Jesus when he said to his disciples ‘you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).  Jerusalem is the epicentre from which blessing flows out to reach the nations of the world.

viii  The city of conflict: As we begin to grasp the wonder of Jerusalem’s identity it should perhaps come as little surprise that the city is the one of the most fought over and contested pieces of land on the planet.  It is after all Satan’s nature to contest the word and will of God.  He contested the authority of God in heaven prior to his demise (Isaiah 14:12-15) and first tempted Adam and Eve by questioning God’s commands (e.g. ‘Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?’Genesis 3:1).

God spoke about Israel’s identity through the prophet Zechariah when he said ‘I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, the houses ransacked, and the women raped’ (14:2).  Jesus also foretold the destruction of Jerusalem prior to his death when he said to his disciples ‘Do you see all these things... I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another, every one will be thrown down’ (Matthew 24:2).

The history of Jerusalem reads like one long history of conflict.  In BC 598 it was plundered by Nebuchadnezzar, in 587 its temple destroyed, in 320 it was captured by Ptolemy Soter, in 302 it was annexed to Egypt, in 170 it was sacked by Antiochus Epiphanes, in AD 70 it was destroyed by the Romans, in 614 it was taken by the Persians, in 1076 by the Turks, in 1099 by the Crusaders and on the story goes.  Throughout the 20th century Jerusalem was repeatedly contested, was the subject of wars, terrorism and repeated political arguments.

Only within this context does it make sense that when Jesus returns to earth he does so with the armies of heaven following him and to make war (Revelation 19:11).

ix  The city of sin: Throughout the Bible Jerusalem is also a picture of human rebellion and of the consequences of sin.  God repeatedly condemned Jerusalem’s inhabitants through the mouths of his prophets for their unfaithfulness.  In 2 Kings 22:16-17 God says ‘I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people... Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger...’  This theme is repeated throughout Jeremiah and Ezekiel and much of the conflict surrounding Jerusalem must be set within the context of God’s judgement of her sin.  Ezekiel depicts the unfaithfulness of Israel with the words:

But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.  You lavished your favours on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.  You took some of your garments and made gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution’ (16:15-16).

And Jesus anticipated the consequences of Jerusalem’s rebellion in much the same way as the earlier prophets when he said:

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls’ (Luke 19:42-44).

x   The city of peace: Despite Jerusalem’s history as a city of conflict, her identity and destiny is to be the city of peace.  In Hebrew Jerusalem means city of peace or abode of peace and the nature of her peace is not simply the absence of conflict.  The peace that will one day define Jerusalem is the very peace of God (God’s shalom) which includes completeness, welfare and wholeness.  It is peace pregnant with hope, healing and restoration and a reality that goes far beyond our everyday usage of the word.  When David urges people to ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122:6) he does so in faith believing that one day the city will align itself with her identity.  We do the same today when we pray that prayer of David.

We should note, however, that Jerusalem’s peace is dependent upon her Messiah, the ‘Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9:6).  Isaiah spoke prophetically about Jesus when he predicted his coming as a child and said ‘Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end’ (Isaiah 9:7).  Zechariah said much the same thing when he prophesied the coming of Jerusalem’s Messiah saying that he will ‘take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem... He will proclaim peace to the nations’ (Zechariah 9:10).  This explains why, as he approached Jerusalem, Jesus said ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes’ (Luke 19:42).  Jerusalem’s identity as a city of peace is congruent upon her acceptance of Jesus as her Messiah.

xi  The city of promise: God, because of his great love, mercy, compassion and forgiveness, promises also to return to Jerusalem and restore to her everything she has lost.  He even promises to restore to her double what she has lost (Zechariah 9:12).

We have already seen how God promises to recreate a new heavenly Jerusalem within which he will dwell and place the throne of his Son.  He promises also that the city will shine with the ‘glory of God’ and that its brilliance will be like a very precious jewel (Revelation 21:11).  He promises that the wall of the city will be made of jasper and the city of pure gold.  He promises even that the foundations of the city will be decorated with every kind of precious stone (Revelation 21:18-19).

There are many other promises made by God concerning Jerusalem, promises that are yet to be fulfilled and will be fulfilled, despite the conflict, war and trouble.  During Israel’s Babylonian captivity God promised that Jerusalem ‘shall be inhabited’ (Isaiah 44:26) and declared:

Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength.  Put on your garments of splendour, O Jerusalem, the holy city... Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem.  Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive daughter of Zion’ (Isaiah 52:1-2).

Through Jeremiah God said:

Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honour before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be on awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it’ (Jer 33:9) 

Such is the mercy of God and his compassion for Jerusalem that he promises to initiate great blessing.  Despite their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, God promises to ‘pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication’ (Zechariah 12:10).  God promises that they will ‘look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son’ (Zechariah 12:10).  God is not thwarted by the hardness of Jerusalem’s heart; his goodness extends beyond their spiritual blindness and promises good to them in the end.

Many of these promises will only find complete fulfilment at the return of Jesus.  This is certainly true of one of the great promises given Jerusalem – that Christ himself will return from heaven to fight Jerusalem’s enemies, to judge their wickedness and to restore her (Zechariah 14:3).  Having defeated Jerusalem’s enemies God promises that she ‘will be inhabited; never again will it be destroyed.  Jerusalem will be secure’ (Zechariah 14:11).

Interestingly we read in Zechariah that God even promises to recreate the geography of Jerusalem thus honouring her above the surrounding cities.  Upon receiving her Messiah Zechariah tells us that ‘The whole land, from Geba to Rimmon, south of Jerusalem, will become like the Arabah.  But Jerusalem will be raised up and remain in its place’ (Zechariah 14:10).  After the capture of Jerusalem, depicted in v. 1-2, this is an awesome promise.

The hills surrounding Jerusalem had traditionally been a source of protection and comfort to Jerusalem (Psalm 125:2) but with the intervention of God and the demise of her enemies Jerusalem no longer relies on the hills for her safety.  The capital city of the King of the whole earth is raised up to reflect her significance and is made completely secure.

xii  The city of the presence of God:The final aspect of Jerusalem’s identity is the most important and the pivot around which all the others rotate.  Jerusalem’s significance isn't due to any intrinsic worth on her part.  The land is no better than any other piece of land and the people no better than any other people group.  Jerusalem’s significance hinges on the fact that she is uniquely chosen by God to be his dwelling place.  As we have already said 'identity stems from who you are and who you are is shaped by whose you are.'

God said through Zechariah that he is ‘burning with jealousy for Zion’ (Zech 8:2).  He has chosen Jerusalem and promised to ‘return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem’ (Zech 8:3).  These promises are unique to Jerusalem as God has said of no other city that he desires to dwell there.  Again we can look into history to find a prophetic foreshadowing of this promise.  In 2 Samuel 6 we read the story of the ark of God – the visible and tangible representation of the presence of God – being brought into Jerusalem there to remain.

In Revelation we get a picture of what the culmination of this prophetic picture will look like.  God promises in chapter 21 and 22 to make the new Jerusalem his eternal home and dwell there with mankind in perfect unity and intimacy.  In Revelation 21:3 we read that ‘the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live them and be their God.’  In 22:4 it says that the servants of God ‘will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.’  In that hour the psalmists prayer will be fully realised:

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life’ to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple’ (Psalm 27:4).

Deuteronomy 12 is helpful on this point.  Here Moses is instructing Israel about how to worship God in the Promised Land.  He says in 12:5 that ‘you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling.’  The key issue here is not the location as at this point it is not mentioned.  The key issue is that God will choose a location to put his Name for his dwelling.  Of fundamental importance is the sovereign choice of God and his manifest presence.  To put the name of God in a place was to fill it with his availability and nearness.  What really matters is not where but who.

The ‘presence of the Lord’ mentioned in 12:7 literally means ‘before the face of YAHWEH.'  Here we find the true crux of every issue relating to the identity of Jerusalem.  Only in the new Jerusalem will the saints of God abide literally before God’s very face.











The identity of a place is a deeper issue than what happens there. To know the identity of a place is to know what God says about it. Only then can you begin to interpret the events of that place correctly. To really know Jerusalem we first have to know what God says about it

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