The Long Road To Jerusalem—Part 1Erwin W. Lutzer | March 22, 2015
Selected highlights from this sermon
When you walk through Jerusalem today, the tension is obvious. This ancient city is claimed by three religions. While suffering, division, and difficulty surround the city today, its future is biblically straightforward: it will be Israel’s.
According to the prophet Zechariah, God will come and fight for His people Israel, with much of the nation finally recognizing Jesus as the Messiah.
Jerusalem! Jerusalem is an ancient city. It is a famous city. Jerusalem is a complicated city, and most assuredly, it is very controversial. Just mention Jerusalem. I don’t believe that there is any city in the world that would say that there are three religions that claim it. Certainly that is true in Jerusalem today, as it has been throughout centuries of its existence.
We think, for example, of Judaism. Judaism says that it has a claim to the city of Jerusalem. Christianity has a claim. I mean, Jesus was there. That’s where all of the events of the New Testament took place. Many of the events of the New Testament took place there in Jerusalem. That’s our city, we say to ourselves. And then Islam!
Let’s look for example, at the claims, first of all, of Judaism regarding Jerusalem. Let’s look at that. In order to make it simple, remember that there were two temples built on the Temple Mount. There was the temple of Solomon, and roughly we’re going to say it was from 1,000 to 500 B.C. It’s not accurate, but for our purposes that’s good enough. And then let’s think of the second temple, built by Zerubbabel and later renovated by Herod. That’s the second temple period from 500 B.C. to the time of Christ, and of course, a bit after. So we have two temple periods.
Now isn’t it very interesting that in the Quran there is no reference at all to Jerusalem? The name simply does not occur. And yet today we know that the city of Jerusalem is actually the third most holy city and the third most holy site of Islam. How that all came about we can’t go into detail except to say that the Dome of the Rock, that gorgeous, beautiful stately building – iconic – a building that was built as an octagon, stands now on the Temple Mount where the two temples of Judaism stood. It was built there and completed already in 691. What a feat of architecture and a feat of work, and it still stands, of course, beautiful as it is today.
It was built there for a variety of reasons, first of all in the mind of the Islamists, to show that Islam has superiority over Judaism. The Dome of the Rock is built right over the temple area, right over the ruins of two temples. But it was also built in opposition to Christianity, as I learned when we were in Israel even last week. It was built in opposition to Christianity, and we know this because the inscriptions in the building are really opposed to Christianity. It is very judgmental of those who say that God had a Son, and it stresses the unity of God with which, of course, we agree, but we also agree that God had a Son. We believe in the Trinity. Separate topic for another time!
Now if you ask the other question, “Why is it called the Dome of the Rock?” well, I wish I could take you inside because what I would show you is a rock that is maybe fifty feet in diameter, which is really the top of a mountain, or the top of a hill at least. And if we asked what’s the significance of that rock, let’s back up and go back just a little bit.
Remember one day God said to Abraham (this is centuries now before the Jewish temples were built), “Abraham, I want you to sacrifice your son, Isaac.” And the Bible says that God said to him, “Go to Mount Moriah.” That would have been maybe a three-day walk from Beersheba if that’s where Abraham was. “Go to Mount Moriah and there sacrifice him.” Well, as you know he was not allowed to sacrifice his son, but that was Mount Moriah.
Now we wouldn’t know where Mount Moriah was, but 2 Chronicles 3:1 gives us this bit of information. Solomon built his temple on Mount Moriah. Well, isn’t that interesting? So on that mountain evidently is the place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. Centuries later Solomon chooses that site to build his temple. It’s destroyed in 586 B.C. Zerubbabel comes back and builds a temple that is renovated by Herod, and those are the two temple periods – a period of about a thousand years of Jewishness – the Jewish temples on the Temple Mount.
Now all of that takes us to the year 2000 when Yasser Arafat was here in America. And he was meeting with President Bill Clinton at Camp David with Ehud Barak, the prime minister of Israel at that time. They were trying to hammer out an agreement, and our president correctly said, “Well, the Temple Mount is the place where two Jewish temples stood. And Yasser Arafat said, “Well, I don’t believe that there were any Jewish temples.” And so I guess there was a little bit of diplomacy that took place, and the State Department evidently issued a statement later saying that it was neutral regarding whether or not the temples had been built there on the Temple Mount.
What Yasser Arafat began, which I didn’t know about, is the teaching of temple denial. And that is what is being taught now in the Palestinian territories, in academia and in various discussions. And in order to make sure that any evidence that might indicate the temples, a couple of years ago bulldozers began to go to the Temple Mount, and they took a lot of earth and not only disturbed it, but they moved it to a place that is really north, the northern part outside the city walls, of course. You remember the Kidron Valley? Well, it’s at the far end of the Kidron Valley. It’s still at the base of the Mount of Olives, but a long, long way from the city of Jerusalem. And there Israeli archeologists have been sifting through this and discovering some artifacts that indeed continue to confirm the fact that there were temples there in the temple periods that existed on that mount.
Now the question that you may ask is, “How is Yasser Arafat able in a single sentence to wipe out a thousand years of Jewish history, Jewish history that was agreed on not just by the Jewish scholars, but actually Muslim scholars as well?” They believed in the existence of the two temples throughout many centuries of their existence, and yet today, the claim of the Jews to the Temple Mount is being denied.
I want to be kind here, but we have to understand that some minds work differently than others. In the minds of some people, if it acts like a duck, quacks like a duck, and lays duck eggs, obviously it’s a camel. (laughter) And as a result of that, you have the denial of the Jewishness of the temple area, despite centuries of agreed-upon historical evidence.
There’s something else that Yasser Arafat brought to the attention of the world, and that is this: When it comes to the issue of Jerusalem and the existence of Israel, there can really be no compromise. There may be compromise temporarily, but no permanent compromise at all because ultimately the only thing that will be accepted is, of course, for Israel to be pushed into the sea and to go into non-existence. And so that is really the issue that is at stake. Arafat made that clear. He was offered a tremendous amount. The president was surprised at all that the prime minister of Israel had offered Arafat, and yet, he refused it because he told his supporters later that they need to get Jerusalem. They need to get the Temple Mount and the whole bit. And so there may be temporary agreements. There may be two-state solutions that exist for a little bit, but ultimately it has to be all or nothing. And that’s only part of the complicated situation that you find today in the Middle East.
Now without getting political, let me simply say that I am well aware that there has been suffering on both sides. And to me as a pastor and as a Christian, whether it is a Palestinian child that suffers, whether it is a Jewish child, whether it is an Iraqi child, whether it is an Egyptian child, or whether it is an American child, suffering is suffering. And we here in the west need to remember the fact that we need to minister to as many people as we can, both physically and, of course, giving them the Good News of the Gospel.
Now that’s by way of introduction. What I’d like to do now is to announce to you something that I’m sure you already know, and that is that whatever may happen between now and the distant future, the fact is that in the end, the future of Jerusalem belongs to Israel. It belongs to the Jews as taught in the Bible. (applause)
What I want you to do is to take your Bibles and turn to Zechariah 12. Now I think that when we get to Zechariah 12 we are really in the Battle of Armageddon. If our eschatology is correct, and I sure hope that it is, we are already going to be in heaven with glorified bodies because later we are doing to be returning with Jesus, as we’ll explain in a moment. But this is the future of Jerusalem.
Notice in Zechariah 12 (and it is very important that you turn to it because there’s a passage or two that it’s critical for you to see in the text) that the prophet is talking about the future, the burden of the Word of the Lord concerning Israel. And his burden is great, and not only that but he lets us know that he’s talking about the future because 15 times in the next chapters, the expression occurs, “In that day God says, ‘I will do something.’”
Let’s just look at it quickly. For example, it says in verse 4, “On that day, declares the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic.” I’ll comment on that in a moment. Verse 6: “On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a blazing pot.” “On that day (verse 8) the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Verse 9: “And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”
On that day! What day? It’s the day of the Lord. It’s the day when God wraps up history. It’s the day when finally all the issues that are unsettled on earth finally get settled, and it culminates, as we shall see, in a moment with the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at the text for just a moment, and we’ll notice that first of all, God will defend His people. Now this passage of Scripture has a lot of figures of speech, and what we need to do is to simply unpack them. I don’t think that they are difficult to understand. I’m going to begin in verse 2: “Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples.” The imagery is they come to Jerusalem to drink, and they end up getting drunk, and stagger around without focus and without their ability to destroy the city and to capture it.
And then he says later: “The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the people. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves.” The imagery is you wanted to steal this very, very heavy stone, and you grabbed it and you’ve run with it, but you have to drop it because it’s too heavy, and you hurt yourself in the process of trying to destroy the city.
And it says in verse 4: On that day, declares the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness.” Let’s stop there for a moment.
I don’t believe that when the prophet makes a statement like this that we have to interpret it as a physical horse. I just can’t imagine that this final battle involves horses. I mean, how archaic when you think of modern technology and so forth, but if you put yourself into the shoes of Zechariah, how else is God going to reveal this to him? God wouldn’t have been able to say to him in any meaningful way, “On that day, I will jam their computers. On that day, you will find that the tanks don’t work.” But God is saying, “I’m going to bring confusion to all those who are going to come up against Jerusalem in order to besiege it, in order to capture it, and to finally put an end to its Jewishness.”
So what you find is God says in verse 8, “On that day the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day will be like David, and the house of David shall be like God (obviously an exaggeration), like the angel of the Lord, going before them.” And a kind of summary statement is there in verse 9. “And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”
So no matter what happens today, and all kinds of things may happen today, Israel’s situation is very, very complicated. I wish I had the time to tell you how complicated it is. It has, of course, occupied territories where the people in those occupied territories cannot become citizens of Israel, or else Israel would cease to exist. And how to negotiate all of that! I don’t have the wisdom. I hope somebody does as to how to take care of the situation as best as possible. But on that day, the day of the Lord, when God decides to wrap up history, on that day God says, “I will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
One of the things you have to realize is that when Zechariah is writing, he’s not necessarily writing chronologically so that there’s some repetition. There’s going back over it to be able to sort all of that out. I don’t know that I’m able to do that. I’m just looking at what the text says and its application in the future, but the sequence and how it’s all going to work out is something that is known perhaps only to God. You know when it comes to matters of prophecy, I’ve always said it is best to say much too little than a little too much. We don’t want to make any prophecies by setting dates, or saying, “This is going to happen this way.” There are all kinds of books that have been written about the way in which God is going to do it. I once sarcastically, with a smile on my face, said to somebody, “It’s good that you have that chart because if God should forget how He planned to do it, He could check your chart and see what comes next.”
But now we come to this. It is not just physically that God is defending the city of Jerusalem. It is not just the physical protection of Israel. Now we get to the spiritual aspect, and now this becomes a passage that you have to look at with a great deal of care, and you need to follow me. And actually it’s all plain if we just take time to read it slowly.
I’m in verse 10: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, (There’s going to be a work done in the human heart to bring Israel nationally to repentance, and now notice) so that, when they look on me, (Who? Jehovah!) on him whom they have pierced.” Well, whom is Jehovah talking about now? He’s talking about His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is Messianic, and it is clear that Jehovah – God the Father - has not been pierced, but God the Son. “They will look on Him (that is, on Jesus) whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him as one weeps over a first-born.”
Wow! A couple of comments! First of all, obviously this is Messianic. There are even quotations from some of the Jewish rabbis who say this is Messianic. And if you aren’t convinced that this is, then you don’t really believe the Bible, because in John 19 there are two prophecies that have to be fulfilled. It says that the soldier pierced Christ’s side, and he did that so that what was written might be fulfilled, namely that not a bone of Him was broken. And then secondly it says that “they shall look on him whom they have pierced.” So obviously this is a reference to Jesus, and obviously this is a reference to a future time when Israel is going to look on Jesus.
Now I’m going to pause to comment for just a moment because you know that throughout the centuries the Jews have always been criticized and persecuted for having been the Christ killers. What’s important for us to see is a number of different things. First of all, the New Testament really broadens the conspiracy. It says very clearly in Acts that gathered together there were Pontius Pilate and Herod and the Jews and the Gentiles to do what God had planned. So the Gentiles were involved. You and I were involved because we also crucified our Lord. This is part of a worldwide conspiracy, really.
The other thing that is very clear is that when the Jews said, “His blood be upon us and upon our children,” they had no right to speak on behalf of future generations. This is why Jews all over the world are coming to Christ. In Israel last week and the preceding week, we were with a Bible teacher who has begun seven Messianic congregations. He has a great opportunity to lead Jewish people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
And then sometimes the Bible just strikes you with its accuracy. It says this in the book of Revelation, chapter 1, and I’m quoting verses 7 and 8. It says, “Behold he comes with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn because of him.” So there are going to be more people who are going to believe on Christ than just the Jewish people here. It is going to be a worldwide turning to Christ both by Jew and Gentile. But the way you identify the Savior and the Messiah is that He was pierced.
By the way, I think in heaven about the only thing that is ever going to remind us of our sin is the wounds that Jesus has. You know, it says, “I saw as it were a lamb as it had been slain.” Isn’t that beautiful? Well, how come it looks as if it’s been slain? Well, that lamb was slain. Thankfully he was raised from the dead triumphantly and gloriously, but he was slain.
So they will look on Him whom they have pierced, and they will mourn and they will weep bitterly. The weeping of the world, Jew and Gentile, will be intense. People will understand that the major sin was not what we normally think it to be, but the major sin was all about Jesus and rejecting Him as Messiah and as Lord. It will be a national forgiveness. You see, now Jewish people are coming to saving faith in Christ, but then all Israel shall be saved. It doesn’t mean every individual Israelite. What it means is that there will be a generation of Jews living at the time of the glorious return of Jesus, who will believe on Christ as Messiah and as Lord. It will be a cleansing.
Look at what the text says in chapter 13, verse 1: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”
I have to pause here because some of you are here today, and you didn’t necessarily come to hear about Israel and the future, and all those things. You have a conscience that troubles you because of what you did this past week. You are struggling with sin in your life. This fountain of cleansing is available to you right now through Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel as it will be applied in the future, but thankfully the Gospel is today, and it is for you if you believe on Christ as Messiah. And you can do that if God has worked in your heart to do it.
I have to tell you a story. I want you to just get the picture now. You know, there are times when God just looks down from heaven and says, “I want to do something that Erwin Lutzer really enjoys.” Well that happens often. But I am standing at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. And people are lining up to go into the tomb and out of it. And I’m standing along a railing just watching. And two young women come up to me. They were a little older than college age – two beautiful young women. And they said to me, “Oh, what’s going on there? Is somebody buried there?” Okay! (laughter)
Long story short! These two young ladies happened to wander into the Garden Tomb area, not knowing or having a clue what they were looking at. They were from Sweden and they gloried in the fact that they were secular and they believed nothing. So I helped them understand why they needed Jesus and why they needed a Savior. And you know, you have to do this always with a smile on your face, and you have to enjoy it because you don’t want to turn people off. But this one woman said, “Well, you know you have to respect my opinion of secularism.” And I looked at her and I said, “You know, if you believe that two plus two is equal to five, I’m sorry, I can’t respect your belief. I respect you as a person but secularism, that there is no God and that we’re just left here in this world to make do with whatever it is that we can, all of that is irrational. Let’s just say it flat out. Atheism is logically irrational.”
So we discussed that. Now one of the things I said to them was this. At some point you are going to experience guilt. You’re going to know that you have violated God’s standards, and that you cannot reach God’s high standard of holiness. You will know that, and you’ll say to yourself, “Do you remember in Jerusalem we happened to bump into that guy who told us that Jesus was a Savior who could save us from our sins.” And I said, “That is going to come back to you.”
Now they said that they had a Bible. They said that they would take up my challenge of reading the Gospel of John (and so forth). I don’t know, but I said, “Before you leave (and this conversation went on for about maybe 10 or 12 minutes – max 15) I’m going to do something for you that maybe nobody has ever done before.” I said, “I’m going to pray for both of you.” By then I knew their names, and I just kind of put my arms around them and called on God and said, “God, hear these precious young women. They don’t know any better. Overcome their blindness. Show them that Jesus is a Savior, and that they can call on Him and be saved.” And with that they left the garden area. I often think, “I wonder what they said to each other after they left.” (laughter)
And that’s my message to you. The fountain that is going to be opened for Israel is the fountain that is open for us today.
Well some of the rest of the thirteenth chapter is complicated to understand, and you can read that on your own. But now we get to the fact that God is actually going to come and be with His people and personally fight for them. We’re in chapter 14. Verse 2 is a difficult verse about all the terrible things that are going to be happening. Once again, the sequence in getting it straight may be difficult.
But I’m in verse 3 now, one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament. “Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when he fights on the day of battle. On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward, to create a valley where people shall flee.” When you look at the Mount of Olives today you can already see that it seems to come in two parts, and so the mount is going to split.
Now let’s back up. Let’s remember the New Testament and let’s put this in context, okay? Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, and so He takes the disciples to the top of the Mount of Olives, and before He ascends He gives them instructions, and then He is received out of their sight, and He disappears. And the disciples are wondering, “What in the world do we do now? What’s the situation?” And you remember some angels come and say, “Why do you keep gazing into heaven? This same Jesus who left you is going to come again from heaven.”
Well, it only makes sense, even it does not say so explicitly, to realize that Jesus is going to return to the Mount of Olives, and this is where He’s going to land. I have to smile at those who think that God has no future for Israel, you know, that the church inherits all the promises, and all the promises have either been fulfilled or they are fulfilled spiritually. Why does Jesus come to Jerusalem just outside the city to the great and wonderful Mount of Olives? Well, He comes there and He begins to fight, and He begins to establish the Kingdom. And at this point I know that I have scared up a lot more rabbits than I’m able to shoot because if you have a chart you know that there’s a resurrection here. There are judgments and all that that we can’t get into today, but Jesus returns. And it says in verse 5 that He returns with His holy ones.
I think that the question is, “So who in the world are these holy ones that it says are with Him?” Angels possibly! Ah, there may be another explanation. There are three passages of Scripture that discuss this event and they are incredible. One is this one showing that this is an unbelievably traumatic event. One is Matthew 24 where Jesus says, “As lightning shines from the east and even unto the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” And then Jesus says that the stars are going to be affected, and you’ll see the sign of the Son of Man coming in power and great glory. Same event! Different description! Same event!
Perhaps every eye shall see Him because He will descend very slowly, and the earth rotates. We don’t know, but all that we know is that when He does land, His feet will land outside of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives.
And then you have the other passage which is in the nineteenth chapter of Revelation where you have the white horse coming from heaven, and you’ll notice that He has a sword because He is going to do some very serious judgments as outlined there. And who comes with Him there? Well, it says those who are arrayed in white linen. And who are the ones that are arrayed in white linen? Well, we’re told earlier in the chapter. Those who are at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb! I expect to be there. I hope that you are going to be there. And you can be there if you believe on Jesus and trust Him as your Savior. And also I believe that the Old Testament saints are going to be there. They are the invited guests, because, after all, a bride isn’t invited to her wedding.
So you have the bride, which is the Church. You have invited guests, and it says that they are clothed in white linen. And we come back with Jesus as He descends to the Mount of Olives. You say, “Wow!” Yeah, I know, you can go ahead and say that if you want!
So if you missed it, and can’t afford to go to Israel with Dr. Rydelnik, it’s a little sad, but not permanently sad. You’re going to get the royal tour, complete with a glorified body. And Jesus is going to return. And then, do you know what’s going to happen? The kingdom is going to be established. And then Isaiah finally is going to be fulfilled.
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths. For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
At last peace in Israel and peace in the whole world because the Prince of Peace has come, King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all gods. And finally all of this is going to be settled and taken care of. (applause)
When people ask you, “Who does Jerusalem belong to?” you can say, “Well, it belongs to this group or that group,” but why don’t you just answer this. Smile and say, “Jerusalem belongs to God.” He chose it. It is His and it’ll be His forever because that Jerusalem eventually morphs into the New Jerusalem, and Jerusalem goes on forever. And so do you, and so do I. (applause)
Father, we want to thank You today that even though we do not fully understand Your Word, You have given us insights whereby we can understand it and we can see that the future is Yours. It’s not in the hands of Israel or Hamas. It’s not in the hands of the negotiators, however important their work may be in a temporary way. We thank You today that Jerusalem is Your city, and we thank You that that is where we are destined to be. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.