There is no greater view in the world than that of Jerusalem from the top of the Mount of Olives. There isn’t a more wonderful picture of world history, of rhythm and harmony, of political breadth and religious magnificence. The Holy City is a labyrinth of streets and alleys surrounded by fortifications and battlements, all bowing toward the Temple at the obstinate heart. It is a rigidity and inflexibility which stood against invaders for a thousand years. Perhaps that same obstinacy was the cause of her destruction and the ejection of Israel from the land of her forefathers. Did Jesus have a premonition?
And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it… (Lk 19:41).
And Jews have been weeping over it for two millennia – its destruction, desolation, and days of vengeance. There came the prophesied distress upon the land and wrath upon its hardhearted people. The Jerusalem which condemned and crucified Jesus was extinguished in a hail of stones and inferno in AD70.
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (21:24).
Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled?
The United States of America has decided to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Or, if you prefer, Donald Trump has decided to honour his campaign pledge to the Zionist Jewish lobby. Whether you agree or not with this decision largely determines which of these reasonings you favour. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter: Israel has always regarded Jerusalem as its capital city, whether or not the rest of the world recognises it. The Muslim world (in so far as it exists) never has and never will, not least because parts of that world do not even recognise the State of Israel. East Jerusalem, as far they are concerned, is the capital of the State of Palestine (in so far as it exists), and so an indivisible Jerusalem is not only a threat to Middle East peace; it is an ontological absurdity.
As the supersessionists now commence exegetical battle with the biblical literalists and the pre-tribulation rapturists over the eschatological significance (or otherwise) of the US decision (/Trump’s Zionist collusion), it is worth reflecting on the fact that the city walls of modern Jerusalem are patently not the same as those which existed in the time of Solomon or Herod, or even Jesus: Old Jerusalem, the City of David (Zion) is just a small corner of today’s sprawling metropolis, which has stretched over the centuries along the Road to Damascus and the Joffa Road, incorporating the hills of Gareb, Goah, the Valley of Dead Bodies and the Kidron brook. The growth of the city has been constant and incremental.
So when the US declares its intention to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city, it is not a dogmatic assertion of boundaries and borders: there is (or ought to be) no threat to any Middle East peace plan (in so far as it exists), for the modern enlargement of Jerusalem extends well beyond Zion, and Donald Trump isn’t about to insist that the new US embassy should be built right next to Temple Mount in the hope of basking in the shekinah glory of the Holy City.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that the city shall be built to the LORD from the tower of Hananeel unto the gate of the corner.
And the measuring line shall yet go forth over against it upon the hill Gareb, and shall compass about to Goath.
And the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes, and all the fields unto the brook of Kidron, unto the corner of the horse gate toward the east, shall be holy unto the LORD; it shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever (Jer 31:38-40).
Until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled?
There are those, of course, who will wonder why on earth fundamentalist obsessions with an ancient religious book should determine contemporary geo-politics. Yet one man’s fundamentalist obsession is another’s divine promise.
Perhaps the best way now would be for the whole world to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and they could construct their embassies in their preferred quarters. Let the Muslim world opt for the horse gate toward the east, as they wish, and the US could occupy somewhere between the Tower of Hananeel and the Road to Damascus. And for those nations which can’t make up their minds, there is always the Valley of Dead Bodies toward the north, well outside the ancient city walls, where neither Israelis nor Palestinians care very much at all about the cursed ash of ancient sacrifice.