What City Is Christianity’s Center?
EVER since its start Christianity has been known as the most active, vigorously evangelistic religion. Jesus Christ himself was an indefatigable worker and he infused in his followers the same burning zeal that gave Christianity a tremendous impetus from its very start. In the first century it spread like wildfire. Only a very short while after its beginning, the record shows there were five thousand active Christians in Jerusalem and, through the energetic work of the apostles and their companions, the word of truth was spread to practically all the then-civilized world.
Such activity and its corresponding success require unity, and unity requires organization. There had to be a central point to inspire and direct this activity and also a center toward which Christians could direct those to whom they preached. What was this center? And what is Christianity’s center today? Is it Jerusalem? Or could it be Rome? Alexandria? Athens? Istanbul? or Moscow? These are cities to which many of the sects of Christendom look as their center, yet these denominations of Christendom, all calling themselves by the name of Christianity, will not agree on any one of these cities as the focal point of all Christendom’s sects. The sects of Christendom looking to these cities are a part of the world empire of religion known in the Bible as Babylon the Great. Since the Bible shows that Babylon the Great is the age-long enemy of God, then it is not to any of these cities that Christians must look for spiritual direction.
Where, then, do true Christians look? First of all, true Christianity recognizes as the Source of all its spiritual life Jehovah God the Creator of the heavens and the earth. It is to Jehovah that all worship is given and toward whom the worship of others is directed by true Christians. All of this is done through Jesus Christ as God’s Son, who is the only way of approach to God and the One who sits as Coregent now with his Father on the throne. But has God not selected a city to which all attention should be directed and through which the worship of people should be brought to him? Yes, he has. At this place he also has a temple to which worshipers can come and offer their sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, just as there was a central place and a temple in the days of the nation of Israel, namely, Jerusalem. But let us examine the Scriptures to see where this city and its temple are.
On Pentecost day of the year 33 C.E., the resurrected, glorified Jesus Christ began temple-building work. It was not the building of a literal temple in Jerusalem, for the temple that had been built by Herod stood at that time. That magnificent temple of wood and stone was destroyed by the Romans later on, in 70 C.E. The work Jesus was doing then was what he had described to his disciples when he was with them on earth, saying: “On this rock-mass I will build my congregation.” Jesus as the great Rock-mass or Foundation Cornerstone was now laid in heaven. On this day of Pentecost, which was the day of the festival of the “harvest of the first ripe fruits of your labors of what you sow in the field,” “the festival of weeks,” Jesus at God’s right hand in heaven began to pour out the holy spirit upon one hundred and twenty faithful disciples. These were waiting gathered together in Jerusalem, not in a temple but in the upper chamber of a house. The spirit made a sound like a breeze, and the disciples spoke in foreign tongues understandable to people from many lands, at Jerusalem for the festival. Peter was the one whom holy spirit directed to stand up and explain to the Jews and proselytes who came together to observe this remarkable phenomenon:
“This Jesus God resurrected, of which fact we are all witnesses. Therefore because he was exalted to the right hand of God and received the promised holy spirit from the Father, he has poured out this which you see and hear.”—Acts 1:13, 14; 2:1-33.
Peter explained to the Jews there that the outpouring of the holy spirit in those last days of earthly Jerusalem and its temple was a fulfillment of the prophecy at Joel 2:28-32, which he then quoted. It reads:
“After that it must occur that I shall pour out my spirit on every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will certainly prophesy. As for your old men, dreams they will dream. As for your young men, visions they will see. And even on the menservants and on the maidservants in those days I shall pour out my spirit. And I will give portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun itself will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah. And it must occur that everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will get away safe; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will prove to be the escaped ones, just as Jehovah has said, and in among the survivors, whom Jehovah is calling.”—See Acts 2:14-21.
LOCATION OF THE CITY
Jesus had told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem until the spirit was poured out. (Acts 1:4-8, 12-15) But now, instead of the literal temple built by King Herod, which was in Jerusalem, Jesus began to build upon himself the Christian congregation, which is “a spiritual house for the purpose of a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5) Now, by being baptized with holy spirit and becoming spiritual sons of God they had really come to a spiritual Zion, a heavenly Jerusalem. Therefore, it was a heavenly city with a spiritual temple to which worshipers must come, to which they were to look and to which they must direct the worship of others. This was now Jehovah’s established place of worship and he would recognize no earthly city. The Foundation of the congregation, the immortal spirit Jesus Christ, is heavenly, not an earthly foundation, not some man on earth. The temple is spiritual, heavenly, not any literal temple or cathedral on earth. Therefore, no earthly city can contain it.
This fact that the congregation is approaching a heavenly Zion is called to our attention at Hebrews 12:22-24. The apostle Paul addressed these words first to the Christians who were Hebrews by birth. He said: “But [unlike your earthly forefathers] you have approached a Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem, and myriads of angels, in general assembly, and the congregation of the first-born who have been enrolled in the heavens, and God the Judge of all, and the spiritual lives of righteous ones who have been made perfect, and Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, which speaks in a better way than Abel’s blood.”
Paul gives special point to his words in the next chapter when he speaks of the Leader of Christians: “Hence Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate [of earthly Jerusalem]. Let us, then, go forth to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach he bore, for we do not have here a city that continues, but we are earnestly seeking the one to come.”—Heb. 13:12-14.
Therefore, while Jerusalem had been spoken of by Jesus as the city that was the killer of prophets, yet the place where Jesus died to provide the ransom price for his followers was outside Jerusalem; and since the Christians of Jesus’ day did not look to Jerusalem with its temple, which had previously represented God, Christians today cannot look to any city of Christendom that claims to represent God but actually persecutes preachers of Christianity as “outside” their organization, as undesirable or unfit to be part of what they call Christendom.
“CHILDREN” OF WHAT CITY?
Paul made a clear distinction between the heavenly and earthly cities when he said to the Galatians: “Now this Hagar [slave girl of the patriarch Abraham’s household] means Sinai, a mountain in Arabia [where the Ten Commandments were given], and she corresponds with the Jerusalem today, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. Wherefore, brothers, we are children, not of a servant girl, but of the free woman. For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.”—Gal. 4:25, 26, 31; 5:1.
So while the early Christians would not in any way be disrespectful of that which God had used, namely, the temple in the city of Jerusalem, yet when it was destroyed by the Roman legions in the year 70 C.E. it did not matter to the Hebrew Christians. They obeyed Jesus’ instructions and fled from the doomed city before it was destroyed. Why did this destruction not leave them confused and disorganized? Because they were children of their heavenly mother, the Jerusalem above, and they had approached the real city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem. Neither did they afterward become the children of some other city, say, Rome, so that they deserved to be called “Roman Christians.” The Jerusalem above was the mother they acknowledged. (Luke 21:20-24) Those who were natural-born Jews were no longer merely natural Israelites; they were now spiritual Israelites.
JERUSALEM TRAMPLED ON
Ancient Babylon, which had long been recognized as the center of world religion, finally became an uninhabited ruin, to remain such to this day. But before Babylon fell into complete ruin Jerusalem underwent its second destruction. The Coming wrath of which John the Baptist had warned came, and Jerusalem was baptized with the fire of destruction that burned up the Jewish chaff, but Christians escaped this baptism.—Matt. 3:7-12.
It came about in this way: After the Jews revolted against Roman domination and the Roman troops attacked Jerusalem and then temporarily withdrew in the year 66, the Christians in Jerusalem fled mainly across the Jordan River to the mountainous region of Gilead, Pella being one noted place where they located. They did this in obedience to Jesus’ prophecy: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea begin fleeing to the mountains, and let those in the midst of her withdraw, and let those in the country places not enter into her; . . . For there will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations are fulfilled.”—Luke 21:20-24.
Jerusalem underwent a terrible trampling under General Titus and his Roman legions in the year 70 C.E. But from Jesus’ words as compared with the prophecy of Daniel, chapter 4, we can see that Jesus did not mean that the seven times of the Gentiles, or the appointed times of the nations, would begin in that year. They had begun already in the year 607 B.C.E., when the Babylonians trampled Jerusalem in her first destruction. From that time on, Jerusalem never had a king of the line of David sitting on “Jehovah’s throne,” and the Gentile Times were to continue for 2,520 years, or until the early autumn of the year 1914 C.E. Jesus merely meant that the trampling had to continue until the end of the appointed times, which means until in 1914.—Ezek. 21:27.
So while Jerusalem was the location of the visible governing body of the Christian congregation during the early part of the first century, for it was the place where the apostles and those associated with them dwelt, Christians did not look to the city as the center of their religion. True, Jerusalem was the place where Paul and Barnabas went to meet with the council on the issue of circumcision, and a letter of instruction went out from the governing body, then located there. However, later on, the apostle Paul traveled and made his home base the city of Antioch in Syria. He wrote letters from many different cities, and though these did not come from Jerusalem these letters were considered by Christian congregations as coming through the channel of instruction God had established, from the governing body, and binding upon the congregation. The same is true of Peter, who wrote from Babylon, and of John, who, in the year 96 C.E., was given a vision by an angel of Jesus Christ and wrote it down in the book called Revelation or Apocalypse. This was from the isle of Patmos. The later writings of John were from around Ephesus.
As to the trampling of literal Jerusalem continuing, in 130 C.E. the Roman Emperor Hadrian, the Pontifex Maximus, visited the ruins of Jerusalem and ordered the city to be rebuilt. But the Jews revolted under the leadership of Bar-Cochba, for fear of the establishment of pagan worship there. By 134 the revolt was crushed, with great losses to both Romans and Jews. Afterward Jews were slaughtered en masse. The Roman colony on the site of Jerusalem was called Aelia Capitolina. Statues of Jupiter and Emperor Hadrian were set up in the temple area and a sanctuary to the pagan god Jupiter was built on the temple site. Jews were forbidden to enter the city on pain of death. This continued until 312 C.E. When Constantine became emperor and Pontifex Maximus and then professed to become a Christian, the city took on a new aspect. It was cherished as a site of sacred Christian history, and Constantine the Great built in it the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
TRAMPLING COMES TO AN END
Did this mean that the Jerusalem of Constantine’s day became the Zion of true followers of Jesus Christ? No, it was merely designated by Babylon the Great, God’s enemy, as a holy city. Earthly Zion had rejected Jesus Christ at his triumphal entry as King in 33 C.E. It and its temple were destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, but the true Zion of the still-living apostle John and his fellow disciples continued standing, for it is spiritual, heavenly, with a heavenly temple, the central point for worship.
As to kingship, Jerusalem, before being trampled by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E., stood for the seat of God’s typical earthly kingdom. Kings of the royal line of David sat on what was called “Jehovah’s throne.” While Jehovah did not in 607 B.C.E. abandon his covenant with David for the kingship, the throne, the kingdom of God, was overturned until the time he would come whose right it is. (Ezek. 21:27) This was the Heir and Lord of King David, Jesus Christ, the high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek. He was to hold the offices of both High Priest and King.—Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5:10; 6:20.a
When would the end of the trampling down of Jerusalem come and what would it mean? It would mean reestablishment of the kingdom of God in the line of David. But it would not be in earthly Zion, for it would mean the enthroning of the heavenly Son of God after sitting at God’s right hand since 33 C.E. It would be in heaven, the place where God’s kingdom is established. The time for this would be at the end of the seven “times of the nations,” in 1914 C.E.—Heb. 10:12, 13; Ps. 110:2.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR DIRECTION
Jesus Christ himself said: “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:24) Christians do not have to have earthly representations of God or reminders of him or of his spiritual temple to worship him. They know today that Jesus Christ is established as King, also as the great Melchizedekian High Priest in God’s spiritual temple, on heavenly Mount Zion. By means of God’s Word, which, as Jesus said, is spirit and life, and by means of God’s holy spirit as a comforter and helper, they are directed in a theocratic way. This means that they are ruled by God from the heavens through his appointed king, Jesus Christ. They cooperate with God’s organization in all the earth in its work and recognize the spiritual appointment of overseers in the organization. So their organization cannot be properly labeled by any national names such as Roman or American.
God commands at Isaiah 51:1, 2: “Listen to me, you people who are pursuing after righteousness, you who are seeking to find Jehovah. Look to the rock from which you were hewn out, and to the hollow of the pit from which you were dug out. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who gradually brought you forth with childbirth pains.” They look to the great Rock, Jehovah God, the Greater Abraham, and to the free woman, their spiritual mother above, who is the spiritual Zion, and to his theocratic organization for direction. The evidence that they do this is clearly manifest in their activity, in which they are in complete unity world wide, carrying on the very same preaching work that was done in the days of Christ and his apostles wherever they are. Their conventions are models of such unity, for among them all national and social barriers have been erased, as the apostle Paul wrote: “You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one person in union with Christ Jesus. Moreover, if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.” (Gal. 3:26-29) Yes, they have come to spiritual, heavenly Zion for the truth that sets men free and as the city where the Center of their worship exists.
a In Hebrews 5:10; 6:20 occurs the Greek word arkhiereús (ἀρχιερεύς) meaning “high priest.” In the Latin Vulgate the translator Jerome rendered this Greek word by “pontifex.” In Hebrews 5:6 occurs the Greek word hiereús (ἱερεύς), meaning “priest”; but there Jerome renders this word as “sacerdos.” Properly, he should have translated the Greek word arkhiereús as “princeps sacerdotum” as in Matthew 2:4; 16:21; 20:18; 21:15, 23, 45; Acts 4:6; 26:10, 12. Also, in Psalm 110:4 (Vulgate, 109:4) Jerome uses the word “sacerdos” for “priest” the same as in Genesis 14:18 regarding Melchizedek. In Leviticus 21:10, for “high priest” he uses “sacerdos maximus,” but he inserts “Pontifex” into the text, saying “Pontifex, id est sacerdos maximus inter fratres suos” (“The Pontifex, that is, the Greatest Priest among his brothers”). In this way Jerome wrongfully introduces the word “pontifex” into the Latin Version of the Holy scriptures, evidently in order to justify the Roman Catholic pope who had made him his secretary, namely, Pope Damasus, who was the first pope to take over the title Pontifex Maximus after Emperor Gratian had rejected it.—See Latin New Testament, by Wordsworth and White, edition of 1911.