Dr. Thomas McCall, the Senior Theologian of our ministry, has written many articles for the Levitt Letter. He holds a Th.M. in Old Testament studies and a Th.D. in Semitic languages and Old Testament. He has served as Zola’s co-author, mentor, pastor, and friend for nearly 30 years.
This article appeared originally in the April 1996 Levitt Letter.
Jerusalem, the Holy City, the City of the Great King, God’s Holy Hill of Zion, the Center of the Earth, the Cup of Trembling, the Burdensome Stone, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Egypt. Jerusalem is called by these and many other names in the Bible. As Israel and the P.L.O., under international pressure, enter into the most critical aspect of the current “peace process,” which is the effort to make a permanent settlement concerning Jerusalem, many claims and issues must be dealt with.
The Jews say it belongs to Israel. It was the political capital and Temple worship center of the ancient Commonwealth for over 1,000 years, has been the spiritual home of the Jewish people ever since, and is understood to be the future capital of the Messiah.
The Arabs say it belongs to Islam. It is the third most sacred place to Moslem believers, next to Mecca and Medina. The city was under Moslem control from the seventh century until World War I, with the one-century exception during the Crusades.
The Papacy says it belongs to Christendom. Jerusalem is sacred to Christians because of both Old and New Testament associations, and is the site of the death and resurrection of Christ. The holy sites are of great concern, of which the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is supreme.
The United Nations says it belongs to the world. Jerusalem is revered by the world’s three great monotheistic religions, and is critical as a hot spot that could well endanger world peace. Therefore, the U.N. wants to “internationalize” the city, so that no one ethnic or religious group would have control.
What should the attitude be among those of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are evangelicals? Our conviction is that all of the Land of Israel, including Jerusalem, belongs to the Jewish people by divine decree, and we should recognize their rights of ownership. During the last three decades, in which most of the Land has been under Israeli control, evangelical Christians have had full and free access to just about all of the country. Christian tourists have been welcome, and there has been no problem seeing all of the marvelous biblical sites. The holy places of all religions are kept sacrosanct, and Jews, Moslems and Christians may visit these places and rest assured that no important site will be desecrated.
Such could not be said when the country in general, and Jerusalem in particular, was under Moslem control. My wife and I were in Jerusalem in 1965, on a tour with Dr. Charles Feinberg. This, of course, was before the Six-Day War in 1967, and Jerusalem was part of the Kingdom of Jordan, and ruled by King Hussein. East and West Jerusalem were separated by a jagged zone called “no man’s land.” The Mandelbaum Gate was the only way anyone could get from one side to the other. It was like Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. As a practical matter, no civilians could pass from Israel into Jordan, and about the only civilians who could pass from Jordan to Israel were foreign tourists. Once Christians got into Jordan, they could visit most of the New Testament holy places, but getting to Jordan was a serious problem, and the problem was created by the unwillingness of Jordan to cooperate with Israel.
As the Jordanians would not allow tourists to go from Israel into Jordan, we had to go to Jordan first, via Egypt, and then go into Israel through the Mandelbaum Gate. When Jerusalem was divided, it was difficult for pilgrims to visit the many important biblical sites.
The entire Old City in 1965 was in Jordan, along with most of the biblical sites. This included the Dome of the Rock, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. One of the places we wanted to visit was the Western Wall, sometimes called the Wailing Wall. Those who are familiar with the Wall as it is today, with its spacious plaza and daily crowds of people who come to worship and pray, can scarcely imagine what it was like in 1965. In actuality, it was a slum. The Arab houses were built up to within about ten feet of the Wall, and the space between was like an alley. Really, it was worse than that, because all around were the odors of a latrine. The Western Wall, closed in as a dank alleyway, was deserted then. No Jews were praying at this most sacred of sites to Judaism. No young boys were performing their Bar Mitzvah rites of reading the Torah, with all their admiring family rejoicing at the Wall. It was deserted when Jordan had control of the Old City. No Jews were allowed at the Western Wall for about 20 years.
What a difference when Israel recaptured the Old City in 1967. Within months, the old slum was cleared away from the Wall, a grand plaza was established, and hundreds to thousands of people began gathering there daily to pray and worship the God of Abraham and Moses.
Once Jerusalem was reunited under Jewish control, the Moslems had free and total access to the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aksa Mosque, and all their holy places throughout the Land. Christians also, including evangelicals, have had complete and unfettered access to all the important places in Israel, including the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden Tomb, the Mount of Olives, and all the Sea of Galilee.
One shudders to think of what might happen if Jerusalem were again to be taken out of the hands of the Jewish people, even if it were placed under the U.N. or the Papacy, much less the P.L.O. Both evangelical Christians and Jews could well find themselves having much-reduced access to the scriptural sites. Furthermore, God never gave legal title of Jerusalem to Moslems or Christians or the United Nations. He gave the legal right to Jerusalem to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. What right do we have to try to nullify this grant to Israel from the Lord?
Our conviction, therefore, is that both the scriptural mandates and the interests of Jews and evangelical Christians (and peace-loving Arabs, for that matter) are best served by Jerusalem remaining in the hands of Israel until the Lord returns. Already, for years, our U.S. government under two administrations and the U.N. have applied pressure on Israel to surrender strategic territory to Moslem interests. In spite of the strong reservations of many Jews and evangelical Christians, it appears that our various governments may well try to remove Jerusalem from Israeli control. This is very regrettable, and we should resist such efforts wherever possible. Nevertheless, as the Bible teaches that Jerusalem will be a cup of trembling and a burdensome stone for all the nations in the End Times (Zech. 12:2–3), we should not be surprised.