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Weeping over Jerusalem
What war portends for the Middle East and the world
“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).
War in the Middle East is a constant threat. I know that the UAE was very aware of the possibility of an Iranian attack over the stone’s throw distance that spans the Straight of Hormuz and Ras Al-Khaimah. For many people rockets dash hopes of global peace. But war in this region is clearly part of God’s plan. Armageddon will take place in Megiddo the valley northeast of Jerusalem. “Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Revelation 16:16). While no man knows the day and hour of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:36), we wonder when but not where these things will take place.
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Israel declared war after a deluge of rockets by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip. Terrorists have invaded the southern border of Israel and taken hostages to beat, rape, torture, and kill. Jerusalem represents the seat of Israel the way that Washington represents the United States of America. In cities throughout southern Israel, a high alert was sounded as various attacks were launched and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) responded by destroying buildings in Gaza. Hamas has taken “hostages and prisoners of war” while killing hundreds and injuring thousands. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel is on war footing and will eradicate the threat.
Events in the Promised Land resonate with Christians who anticipate the end times. Dispensationalists believe that as we are soon drawing near to the Day of the Lord we should prepare for persecution. Praeterists and many post-millennialists believe that Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled soon after the ascension of Jesus. There is clear historical evidence that Jesus’ prediction that the second temple would be destroyed happened just as he said. “As Jesus was leaving the Temple, one of his followers said to him, “Look, Teacher! How beautiful the buildings are! How big the stones are!” Jesus said, “Do you see all these great buildings? Not one stone will be left on another. Every stone will be thrown down to the ground” (Mark 13:1-2).” But that leaves open the question of events surrounding Jesus’ second coming in the future.
In 70 AD on Tisha B'Av, Jerusalem and the second temple were destroyed and burned to the ground by the Roman Army under Titus the son of Emperor Vespasian. Was this just coincidentally 40 years after Rome had executed the son of God, Jesus Christ, by crucifixion? Jesus lived within a generation of this momentous event that had profound impacts on both Judaism and Christianity. Jerusalem is the center of Jewish life. "For the Lord has chosen Zion (Psalm 132:13)" and "The Lord loves the gates of Zion (Psalm 87:2)." Jesus often cried over this city which abandoned Him (see above in Luke 19).
Tensions soon escalated after Jesus’ resurrection due to heavy taxes and corruption, both of which Jesus spoke to. In 66 AD, the Jewish Revolt expelled a Roman garrison from Jerusalem. Around this time and prior to the siege, many Christians fled to Pella in Perea in modern Jordan where they settled and thrived.1 Emperor Vespasian then ordered his son to put this rebellion down.2 Titus’ army of 60,000 men besieged the city for five months. Thousands of Jews were killed while survivors faced enslavement or exile. Judaism was heavily modified as Rabbinic Judaism spread to replace the Temple priesthood. Peter, James, and John led the church in Jerusalem “After this, Paul made plans to go to Jerusalem. He planned to go through the regions of Macedonia and Achaia, and then go to Jerusalem. He thought, “After I visit Jerusalem, I must also visit Rome.” But Paul never made it back to the capital city, and the pastors of the early Christian church were martyred.
Roman Emperor Hadrian (76-134) put statues of himself and Jupiter on the grounds of the Temple Mount by 130 AD. He then built temples in Jerusalem for Roman gods including Venus the sensual goddess of fertility. Nearly 200 years later, Constantine’s mother, Empress Helena, and Bishop Macarius claimed to have found the cross of Christ under the Temple of Venus. The Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre was founded around 313 AD the same year that the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity. On this site, the pagan temple was removed and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in 326 AD.3 Constantine had led a mass conversion to Christianity within the fading Roman Empire beginning in 306 AD.
This land was known as Judea until it was renamed Syria by emperor Hadrian4 following the suppression of the Bar Kokhba revolt in AD 135.5 Around 390, the province was split and renamed Palaestina Prima and Palaestina Secunda.6 For years after the fall of Rome (410-476), Jerusalem lay in waste.
Unattended. Rejected. Forgotten.
Some Jews and Christians took an interest in the Holy Land, but the city of Jerusalem became a haunt for thieves and wanderers. The plateau city was ungoverned until a military force occupied it. In the years following Justinian I (482-565), the Byzantine army defended a wide area stretching from Constantinople to Alexandria. On January 23, 635 the Eastern Latin forces were defeated by the Islamic Rashidun Caliphate at the Battle of Fahl. Then Palestine, Jordan, and Southern Syria were occupied by Muslim forces except for two cities: Jerusalem and the port city of Caesarea.
Conquest by the newly founded and fractious Islamic empire after the death of Mohammad enflamed cycles of violence in the Middle East stretching back to ethnic divisions between Jews and Arabs in the Abrahamic era.
According to the Qur’an “retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain… there is life for you in retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves (Surah 2:178-9).” Leadership succession was contested after the death of Mohammed as the caliphate shifted to a series of kings or emirs. Rashidun, which means “Rightly Guided” was led by Abu Bakr (573-634). Later Umar ibn Khattab (584-644) with his general Khalid ibn al-Walid (592-642) captured the Jewish capital during the Siege of Jerusalem in April 637. Between 688 and 691, Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. He modeled mosaics and architecture after the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.7 David ben Abraham al-Fasi wrote that some Muslims once allowed Jews in Jerusalem to pray at the Temple Mount which was prohibited under Byzantine rule.8 That is suspect. Even if true, this was a short-lived reprieve in cycles of violence.
Muslim jurisdiction of Jerusalem continued mostly uninterrupted for centuries until the city was taken by Christian crusaders in 1099.
The Order of Solomon's Temple was founded in 1119 during a holding period. This protective force of warrior monks became known as the Knight Templars.9 Jerusalem, the Davidic capital of the ancient kingdom of Israel and the site of Jesus’ crucifixion by the Roman authority in the person of Pontius Pilate (d. 36) was the primary objective of four main offensive campaigns, collectively called The Crusades (1095 to 1270). Catholic warriors sought to defend this area for pilgrims and as part of their sacred duty. But, this state could not hold. Eventually, Jerusalem was abandoned and returned to control by various Muslim emirs, Turkish warlords, and the Ottoman Empire until the British seized it in 1917 following World War I.
Great Britain occupied Zion until the formation of Israel in 1948 by order of the UN as a homeland for diaspora Jews around the world. Following the horrors of the Nazi holocaust and World War II a move to establish a Jewish nation was met with widespread approval, except by Islamic neighbors. Many Arabs were bought out, pushed out, and relocated to Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Those who stayed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip claimed the name of a country without a government, Palestinians. From June 5–10, 1967, the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan took place. Miraculously the Israeli Air Force destroyed 452 planes, and only 46. The Yom Kippur War took place from October 6 to 25, 1973 with the US supporting Israel and the USSR backing Egypt and Syria. Israel prevailed once again solidifying its borders and existence. Over the next 50 years, the nation of Israel has grown prosperous and free despite internal apostasy, political turmoil, and withering attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah, and the PLO intifada “uprising.”
Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed at least twice. Yet it remains to this day a city that features prominently in God’s plan. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). It is a promised inheritance to the people of God those who call Jesus Lord. “‘The one who conquers—I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will by no means go out from it anymore, and I will write upon him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the New Jerusalem that descends out of heaven from my God, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12).
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee” (Psalm 122:6, KJV).
Josephus, F. (2017). The Jewish War. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Moše Šārôn / Moshe Sharon, 1988, Pillars of Smoke and Fire: The Holy Land in History and Thought.
Vaux, Roland de. (1978). The Early History of Israel. United Kingdom: Westminster Press.
Di Segni, L. (2018). Changing borders in the provinces of Palaestina and Arabia in the fourth and fifth centuries. Liber Annuus, 68, 247-267.
Creswell, K.A.C. (1924). The Origin of the Plan of the Dome of the Rock (2 Volumes). London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. OCLC 5862604.
Al-Fasi, D. (1936). Solomon L. Skoss (ed.). The Hebrew-Arabic Dictionary of the Bible, 'Kitāb Jāmiʿ al-Alfāẓ.' New Haven: Yale University Press.
Addison, C. G. (2012). The History of the Knights Templars. United Kingdom: Skyhorse.
Title image in public use: Walkerssk - https://pixabay.com/en/jerusalem-israel-old-town-1712855/ archive copy