20 Apr 2017 (All day)
Fifty years removed, it is hard for us to imagine today the painful division of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967. Israel’s capital city is now so bustling and alive. But old-timers will tell you that life was extremely difficult here during those dismal nineteen years when the city was torn between Israel and the Jordanians.
Local Jewish residents were certainly relieved in 1948 when the siege on western Jerusalem was lifted by the arrival of aid convoys along the “Burma Road.” But for the next two decades, the Jewish half of the city remained precariously surrounded by Arab forces on three sides, with a narrow corridor through the Jerusalem hills linking them to the rest of the country. They still faced the threat of sniper fire by Jordanian troops perched on the Old City walls. Arab artillery batteries with commanding views ringed the hilltops around the Jewish side of town. Windows remained boarded up in many homes and businesses. Some neighbourhoods still had curfews at night.
Perhaps the greatest hardship for the city’s Jewish population was being separated from the Old City and Western Wall. The Jewish Quarter had been emptied at gunpoint during the fighting in 1948. Jewish graves were desecrated, and synagogues destroyed. Arab squatters built a hovel of tin shacks in front of the Western Wall. A long line of bunkers, concrete walls, minefields, and barbed wire fences were strewn along no-man’s land, cutting the city in half. The main road to Jaffa Gate dead-ended into a war zone.
Jerusalem’s ancient Christian communities also faced abuses under Jordanian rule. The Old City and Bethlehem were only opened to Christian visitors at Christmas and Easter. Christians could not buy properties and church-run schools were forced to teach the Koran. Because of these repressive policies, half of the 25,000 Arab Christians in east Jerusalem abandoned the city between 1949 and June 1967.
Then came the Six Day War, when Israeli forces scored a surprisingly swift and complete victory over five Arab armies, and liberated the beloved city of Jerusalem. After two decades of division, isolation and neglect, a reunited Jerusalem was free to grow and prosper once more.
This year, the Israeli people will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city, an incredible moment immortalized in the song “Jerusalem of Gold.” It is also one hundred years since British General Edmund Allenby liberated the city from another Muslim ruler – the Ottoman Turks. These two major milestones in the history of modern Jerusalem attest that there is a Jubilee cycle operating over the city of God, propelling it forward into its ultimate destiny in Him.
The Bible describes the Jubilee as a special time every fifty years when the Land of Israel was to be freed from all leases and encumbrances, and all its inhabitants set free from debts and servitudes. According to the commands given in Leviticus chapter 25, all lands were to revert to their original owners. Now down through the centuries, Israel was rarely able to keep all the requirements of the Jubilee. But today, we can see that God Himself still works in Jubilee cycles. This means that if Jerusalem experienced a dramatic liberation one hundred years ago, and another fifty years ago, we can expect yet another amazing release for the city this very year of 2017. God is slowly but surely rolling back the forces that would continue Gentile rule over Jerusalem, so that the city can finally reach its destiny back in Jewish hands. That destiny is to be the throne of Messiah and a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7, Luke 19:46; see also Psalm 2:6, Isaiah 2:3, Isaiah 24:23, and Revelation 14:1).
One key passage of Scripture in this regard is Psalm 102, which declares that there is an appointed time of divine favour on Zion. In verse 16, the psalmist proclaims: “For the Lord shall build up Zion; He shall appear in His glory.” Two verses later, we are told this was written “for the generation to come;” in the original Hebrew it reads dor achoron, or “last generation”. So this Psalm is referring to the restoration of Israel in the last days, and specifically to the Jewish return to Jerusalem.
The name Zion appears some 170 times in the Bible and generally refers to Jerusalem. But the Hebrew word tzion (צִיּוֹן) means a “burnt or parched place” and thus it points more specifically to Mt. Zion, where the Temple and altar of sacrifice stood. From their very first mentions in Scripture (Genesis 14:18 and 22:2), this city and this specific mountain are always tied to God’s redemptive purposes. Eventually, the Lord placed His shekinah presence there, and later gave His life as a ransom for sin on this very mountain.
Today, the Lord is once again building up Zion for redemptive purposes. But He does this through the Jewish people. In Scripture, they are identified as the “builders” of Jerusalem. We can glean this from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as from the powerful reference in Psalm 118:22. Likewise, Psalm 147:2 says that the Lord builds up Jerusalem by “gathering together the outcasts of Israel.” This is a work He is very “zealous over” (Zechariah 1:14, 8:2).
Ultimately, we know that “the Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob…” (Romans 11:26; see also Psalm 14:7, Psalm 53:6 and Isaiah 59:20, 21). So in the same place where they once rejected their Messiah they will now receive Him as King.
No doubt, this is why there is such an intense diplomatic battle over the fate of Jerusalem, but at heart it is a spiritual battle. New US President Donald Trump has expressed a desire to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital. Many Arab and Islamic figures are enraged and threatening a violent response. But in a year of Jubilee, we can pray for and expect divine favour, so that the entire city will revert to its original owners and be released into the purposes of God.