On October 27, 1994, President Bill Clinton, while addressing the Knesset (i.e. the legislative assembly in Israel) cited one of his former pastors when he said, “If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you…it is God’s will that Israel, the biblical home of the people of Israel, continue forever and ever.” This widely held sentiment has had a substantial impact on American politics and foreign policy over the past 70 years. six years ago, President Trump made the controversial decision to declare Jerusalem to be the capitol of the state of Israel. Last month, war has erupted between Israel and Hamas, over the barbaric attacks of this Palestinian terror organization. These events have reopened numerous questions about the place of the state of Israel, and the city of Jerusalem, in the consummate purposes and plan of God.
When Jesus began his Messianic ministry, he did so by calling 12 Apostles. The calling of the Twelve mirrored the formation of the 12 Tribes of Israel. In short, Jesus came to reconstitute Israel in Himself. He is the true son of Abraham in whom all the promises of God are “yes” and “Amen” (2 Cor. 1.20). In The Israel of God, O. Palmer Robertson emphasized the significance of the choosing and ministry of the 12 apostles when he wrote:
“The beginning of Jesus’ ministry indicates the ongoing role of Israel in the kingdom of the Messiah. The designation of exactly twelve disciples shows that Jesus intends to reconstitute the Israel of God through his ministry. He is not, as some suppose, replacing Israel with the church. He is reconstituting Israel in a way that makes it suitable for the ministry of the New Covenant.
From this point on, it is not that the church takes the place of Israel, but that a new Israel of God is being formed by the shaping of the church. This kingdom will reach beyond the limits of the Israel of the old covenant. Although Jesus begins with the Israel of old, he will not allow his kingdom to be limited by its borders” (The Israel of God, p.118).
Phil Ryken also explains that Jesus chose the twelve Apostles to be the foundation of New Israel:
“By ordaining these twelve men, God was establishing a new Israel. Just as the twelve sons of Jacob founded the Old Testament people of God, so also the apostles established the foundation for God’s new people in Christ. To this day, the church rests upon their ministry. We are ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ (Eph. 2:20). And since a building can have only one foundation, their ministry is non-repeatable” (Luke, vol. 1, p. 256).
This is no small observation. When Jesus told the members of Old Covenant Israel that “the kingdom will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it” (Matt. 21:43), we are meant to ask the question, “To what nation did God give His kingdom to in the New Covenant?” The only answer that can be supplied is that He has established His kingdom (i.e. His redemptive reign and rule) in the lives of His people–the true Israel who He has raised up in Christ.
We are still left with the question as to whether there is any divinely-intended role for the land of Israel in general and for the city of Jerusalem in specific. In his book, Understanding the Land in the Bible, Robertson distills the meaning of the land down to its essential redemptive-historical significance when he writes, “This land was made for Jesus Christ. All its diversity was designed to serve him. Its character as a land bridge for three continents was crafted at Creation for his strategic role in the history of humanity.” The land of Israel was strategically located between three continents. It served, therefore, as the perfect land bridge for the evangelistic mission of God to the nations. The land served its purpose when the Redeemer came to Israel to accomplish all that was typified and foreshadowed in the Old Testament.
All of this was God’s original intention when He called Abraham. The Lord told Abraham that he would be “the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen. 17:4-5). The land of Israel was a downpayment of the eternal inheritance that God promised to Abraham. When Christ came, he fulfilled the promises made to Abraham. Jesus is “the heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2). Everyone who believes in him–as Abraham did (John 8:58)–becomes the heir of all things in union with Christ.
The Apostle Paul understood that the original promise to Abraham was much larger than simply the inheritance of the land of Israel. In Romans 4:13, he wrote, “The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” During his lifetime, Abraham only came to possess a burial place in the land–the place from which he (buried there in hope of the resurrection) will one day rise to inherit the earth. This is also true of all those who are trusting in the son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, and in his finished work of redemption.
As far as the city of Jerusalem is concerned, it’s important to recognize that God set apart this city to be the place of the Temple and the king’s house. It was the capitol of the theocratic nation of Israel in the Old Testament. It should not, therefore, come as a surprise to us to see that Jesus’ ministry ended in Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been established by God to be the focal point of the whole earth during the Old Covenant era. Jesus was crucified there (i.e. he was lifted up there) because he is the great King to whom all worship is to be directed. As Robertson observes:
“The lifting up of the Son of God could occur only in Jerusalem. No other place, no other city could substitute. To the covenant people of God he must come, and by the covenant people of God he must be rejected. Only then could the purposes and plans of God as revealed through all the ages be realized” (Understanding the Land, pp. 121-122)
As the earthly ministry of Jesus came to a close in Jerusalem, so the ministry of his Apostles began in Jerusalem. From there it broke out from there into the whole world to show that the reign of God was now the reign of the resurrected Christ in the heavenly Jerusalem. From the rejection of Christ onward, the earthly Jerusalem became a symbol of fleshly, earthly, man-centered religion. The destruction of the Temple in A.D 70 marked the end of the Old Covenant era and the fact that the spiritual, heavenly reign of Christ had commenced throughout the earth. Robertson goes on to contrast the present Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25) with the heavenly Jerusalem–a contrast that the Apostle’s make in Gal. 4:23-26 and Heb. 12:18-24–when he notes:
“To know the new way of living with God, a person must look to the ‘Jerusalem above,’ where the resurrected Christ reigns over the heavenly and earthly powers. For the present, earthly Jerusalem known to men continues to be in bondage to men (Gal. 4:25). The power flowing from the heavenly Jerusalem and its reigning, resurrected King was displayed openly at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ last Passover meal. The disciples had been told to remain at this same earthly Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father. It was in the temple area…that visible, audible manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit came on the assembled disciples.
These first twelve recipients of the Spirit of the new era of redemption instantly became the vehicles for transporting the new life that had its source in the heavenly Jerusalem. The new Israel of God was born in a day, and soon the worldwide kingdom of the cosmic Christ began to spread into the vast regions occupied by men of all nations. While the Jerusalem of this earth continues in bondage to the corrupting pride of man’s sense of personal accomplishment, the Jerusalem above gives birth to men newly freed” (Understanding the Land, pp. 124-125).
Robertson summarizes his thoughts on the city of Jerusalem when he says:
“Like all Old Covenant shadows, glorious prospects [i.e. those restoration prophecies in the OT prophets] have been realized in the days of the New Covenant, when people worship neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria, but wherever in the world the Spirit of God manifests himself (John 4:21-24). The redemptive reality that the Old Covenant city could only foreshadow finds its consummate realization in the “Jerusalem above,” which is “the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26). The “Jerusalem above” is not merely a “spiritual” phenomenon that had no connection with the “real” world in which we live. Its reality injects itself constantly into the lives of God’s people” (Israel of God, p. 17).
While recent developments concerning the state of Israel have given us reason to revisit this subject–it would do us good to be settled in our minds about the fact that all who are united to Jesus by faith have been made children of Abraham and heirs of God (Gal. 3:29). Believers are the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (Phil. 3:20). This is the only Jerusalem that ultimately matters. As John Newton put it, “Solid joys and lasting treasures, none but Zion’s children know.”