Jerusalem—“The City of the Great King”
“Do not swear . . . by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King.”—MATTHEW 5:34, 35.
1, 2. What might puzzle some regarding Jerusalem?
JERUSALEM—its very name evokes strong feelings in people of different religions. In fact, none of us can ignore this age-old city, since it is often mentioned in the news. Sadly, though, many reports reveal that Jerusalem is not always a place of peace.
2 This may present some Bible readers with a puzzling thought. In the past the shortened name of Jerusalem was Salem, which means “peace.” (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 76:2; Hebrews 7:1, 2) You may therefore wonder, ‘Why in recent decades has a city with this name had such a lack of peace?’
3. Where can we find reliable information about Jerusalem?
3 To answer that question, we need to go far back in history and learn about the Jerusalem of ancient times. But some may think, ‘We do not have time to study ancient history.’ Nevertheless, accurate knowledge of Jerusalem’s early history has value for all of us. The Bible indicates why in these words: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) Bible knowledge about Jerusalem can give us comfort—yes, and hope of peace, not only in that city but throughout the earth.
The Place of “Jehovah’s Throne”
4, 5. How was David involved in helping Jerusalem play a key role in the outworking of God’s purpose?
4 In the 11th century B.C.E., Jerusalem became world famous as the capital of a secure and peaceful nation. Jehovah God had the young man David anointed as king over that ancient nation—Israel. With the seat of government in Jerusalem, David and his royal descendants came to occupy “the throne of the kingship of Jehovah,” or “Jehovah’s throne.”—1 Chronicles 28:5; 29:23.
5 The God-fearing man David—an Israelite of the tribe of Judah—captured Jerusalem from the idolatrous Jebusites. The city then occupied only a hill called Zion, but that name became synonymous with Jerusalem itself. In time, David had the ark of God’s covenant with Israel moved to Jerusalem, where it was housed in a tent. Years earlier God had spoken to his prophet Moses from a cloud above that sacred Ark. (Exodus 25:1, 21, 22; Leviticus 16:2; 1 Chronicles 15:1-3) The Ark symbolized God’s presence, for Jehovah was the real King of Israel. In a twofold sense, therefore, it could be said that Jehovah God ruled from the city of Jerusalem.
6. What promise did Jehovah make concerning David and Jerusalem?
6 Jehovah promised David that the kingdom of his royal house, represented by Zion, or Jerusalem, would not end. This meant that a descendant of David would inherit the right to rule forever as God’s Anointed One—the Messiah, or Christ.* (Psalm 132:11-14; Luke 1:31-33) The Bible also reveals that this permanent heir to “Jehovah’s throne” would rule over all the nations, not just Jerusalem.—Psalm 2:6-8; Daniel 7:13, 14.
7. How did King David promote pure worship?
7 Attempts to unseat God’s anointed one, King David, proved futile. Instead, enemy nations were subdued, and the borders of the Promised Land were extended to their God-designated extremity. David utilized this situation to promote pure worship. And many of David’s psalms laud Jehovah as the real King in Zion.—2 Samuel 8:1-15; Psalm 9:1, 11; 24:1, 3, 7-10; 65:1, 2; 68:1, 24, 29; 110:1, 2; 122:1-4.
8, 9. How did true worship in Jerusalem expand under the reign of King Solomon?
8 During the reign of David’s son Solomon, the worship of Jehovah reached new heights. Solomon extended Jerusalem northward to include the hill Moriah (the area of the present-day Dome of the Rock). On this higher elevation, he was privileged to build a magnificent temple to Jehovah’s praise. The ark of the covenant was placed in the Most Holy of that temple.—1 Kings 6:1-38.
9 The nation of Israel enjoyed peace as they gave their wholehearted support to Jehovah’s worship, centered in Jerusalem. Beautifully describing this situation, the Scriptures state: “Judah and Israel were many, like the grains of sand that are by the sea for multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing. . . . And peace itself became [Solomon’s] in every region of his, all around. And Judah and Israel continued to dwell in security, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree.”—1 Kings 4:20, 24, 25.
10, 11. How does archaeology bear out what the Bible says about Jerusalem when Solomon reigned?
10 Archaeological findings lend support to this account of Solomon’s prosperous reign. In his book The Archaeology of the Land of Israel, Professor Yohanan Aharoni states: “The wealth that flowed into the royal court from all directions, and the flourishing commerce . . . brought about a rapid and noticeable revolution in every aspect of material culture. . . . The change in material culture . . . is discernible not only in luxury items but also especially in ceramics. . . . The quality of the pottery and its firing improved beyond all recognition.”
11 Similarly, Jerry M. Landay wrote: “Under Solomon, Israelite material culture advanced more in three decades than it had during the preceding two hundred years. We find in Solomonic strata the remains of monumental constructions, great cities with massive walls, the mushrooming of residential quarters with well-built clusters of the dwellings of the well-to-do, a quantum jump in the technical proficiency of the potter and his manufacturing processes. We find, too, the remains of artefacts representing goods made in far-off places, signs of vigorous international commerce and trade.”—The House of David.
From Peace to Desolation
12, 13. How was it that true worship did not continue to be promoted in Jerusalem?
12 The peace and prosperity of Jerusalem, the city where Jehovah’s sanctuary was situated, were an appropriate subject for prayer. David wrote: “Ask, O you people, for the peace of Jerusalem. Those loving you, O city, will be free from care. May peace continue within your rampart, freedom from care within your dwelling towers. For the sake of my brothers and my companions I will now speak: ‘May there be peace within you.’” (Psalm 122:6-8) Though Solomon was privileged to build the magnificent temple in that peaceful city, he eventually married many pagan wives. In his old age, they seduced him into promoting the worship of false gods of that day. This apostasy had a corrupting effect on the whole nation, robbing it and its inhabitants of genuine peace.—1 Kings 11:1-8; 14:21-24.
13 Early in the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, ten tribes rebelled and formed the northern kingdom of Israel. Because of their idol worship, God allowed that kingdom to be overthrown by Assyria. (1 Kings 12:16-30) The southern two-tribe kingdom of Judah continued to be centered in Jerusalem. But in time they too turned from pure worship, so God allowed the wayward city to be destroyed by the Babylonians in 607 B.C.E. For 70 years Jewish exiles languished as captives in Babylon. Then, by God’s mercy, they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and restore true worship.—2 Chronicles 36:15-21.
14, 15. How did Jerusalem regain a key role after the Babylonian exile, but with what change?
14 After 70 years of desolation, the ruined buildings must have been overgrown with weeds. Jerusalem’s wall was broken down, with large gaps where gates and supporting towers once stood. Yet, the returning Jews took heart. They built an altar on the site of the former temple and began to offer daily sacrifices to Jehovah.
15 This was a promising start, but that restored Jerusalem would never again be the capital of a kingdom with a descendant of King David on the throne. Instead, the Jews were ruled by a governor appointed by Babylon’s conquerers and had to pay taxes to their Persian masters. (Nehemiah 9:34-37) Though in a “trampled” condition, Jerusalem was still the one city in all the earth specially favored by Jehovah God. (Luke 21:24) As the center of pure worship, it also represented God’s right to exercise his sovereignty over the earth through a descendant of King David.
Opposed by False Religious Neighbors
16. Why did the Jews who returned from Babylon leave off their restoring of Jerusalem?
16 Soon the Jews who had returned from exile to Jerusalem laid the foundation of a new temple. But neighboring practicers of false religion sent a slanderous letter to Persian King Artaxerxes, claiming that the Jews would rebel. In turn, Artaxerxes banned further building in Jerusalem. You can imagine that if you had lived in the city back then, you would have wondered what the future would hold for it. As it turned out, the Jews discontinued temple construction and became engrossed in their own material pursuits.—Ezra 4:11-24; Haggai 1:2-6.
17, 18. By what means did Jehovah see to it that Jerusalem was rebuilt?
17 Some 17 years after their return, God raised up the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to correct the thinking of his people. Moved to repentance, the Jews took up rebuilding the temple. Meanwhile, Darius had become the king of Persia. He verified King Cyrus’ order that Jerusalem’s temple be rebuilt. Darius sent a letter to the Jews’ neighbors, warning them to ‘keep their distance from Jerusalem’ and to provide financial support from the king’s tax so that the building work might be completed.—Ezra 6:1-13.
18 The Jews completed the temple in the 22nd year of their return. You can appreciate that this milestone would be something to celebrate with great rejoicing. Yet, to a considerable extent, Jerusalem and its walls still lay in ruins. The city received needed attention “in the days of Nehemiah the governor and Ezra the priest, the copyist.” (Nehemiah 12:26, 27) Evidently, by the end of the fifth century B.C.E., Jerusalem was completely rebuilt as a major city of the ancient world.
The Messiah Appears!
19. How did the Messiah acknowledge the unique status of Jerusalem?
19 Let us, though, leap forward some centuries to an event of universal importance, the birth of Jesus Christ. Jehovah God’s angel had told Jesus’ virgin mother: “Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, . . . and there will be no end of his kingdom.” (Luke 1:32, 33) Years later, Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount. In it, he offered encouragement and counsel on many subjects. For instance, he urged his listeners to fulfill their vows to God but to be careful not to indulge in frivolous oath taking. Said Jesus: “You heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You must not swear without performing, but you must pay your vows to Jehovah.’ However, I say to you: Do not swear at all, neither by heaven, because it is God’s throne; nor by earth, because it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King.” (Matthew 5:33-35) It is noteworthy that Jesus acknowledged Jerusalem’s unique status—one that it had enjoyed for centuries. Yes, it was “the city of the great King,” Jehovah God.
20, 21. What dramatic change occurred in the attitude of many living in Jerusalem?
20 Near the end of his earthly life, Jesus presented himself to Jerusalem’s residents as their duly anointed King. In response to that thrilling event, many joyfully cried out: “Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”—Mark 11:1-10; John 12:12-15.
21 In less than a week, however, the crowds allowed Jerusalem’s religious leaders to turn them against Jesus. He warned that the city of Jerusalem and the entire nation would lose their favored status before God. (Matthew 21:23, 33-45; 22:1-7) For instance, Jesus declared: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you.” (Matthew 23:37, 38) At the time of the Passover in 33 C.E., Jesus’ opposers had him unjustly executed outside Jerusalem. Nevertheless, Jehovah resurrected his Anointed One and glorified him with immortal spirit life in heavenly Zion, an accomplishment all of us can benefit from.—Acts 2:32-36.
22. After Jesus’ death, what application have many references to Jerusalem had?
22 From that time on, most unfulfilled prophecies about Zion, or Jerusalem, can be understood as applying to heavenly arrangements or to Jesus’ anointed followers. (Psalm 2:6-8; 110:1-4; Isaiah 2:2-4; 65:17, 18; Zechariah 12:3; 14:12, 16, 17) A number of references to “Jerusalem” or “Zion” written after Jesus’ death clearly have a figurative sense and do not apply to the literal city or location. (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; 1 Peter 2:6; Revelation 3:12; 14:1; 21:2, 10) Final proof that Jerusalem was no longer “the city of the great King” came in 70 C.E. when Roman armies desolated it, as prophesied by Daniel and Jesus Christ. (Daniel 9:26; Luke 19:41-44) Neither Bible writers nor Jesus himself foretold a later restoration of earthly Jerusalem to the special favor of Jehovah God that it had once enjoyed.—Galatians 4:25; Hebrews 13:14.
Foregleams of Lasting Peace
23. Why should we still be interested in Jerusalem?
23 Having reviewed earthly Jerusalem’s early history, one cannot deny that the city lived up to the meaning of its name—“Possession [or, Foundation] of Twofold Peace”—during King Solomon’s peaceful reign. Yet, that was but a foregleam of the peace and prosperity soon to be enjoyed by lovers of God who will live on an earth transformed into a paradise.—Luke 23:43.
24. What can we learn from conditions that prevailed when Solomon reigned?
24 The 72nd Psalm reflects the conditions that prevailed during King Solomon’s reign. But that beautiful song is prophetic of blessings for mankind under the heavenly rule of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Of him, the psalmist sang: “In his days the righteous one will sprout, and the abundance of peace until the moon is no more. . . . He will deliver the poor one crying for help, also the afflicted one and whoever has no helper. He will feel sorry for the lowly one and the poor one, and the souls of the poor ones he will save. From oppression and from violence he will redeem their soul, and their blood will be precious in his eyes. There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.”—Psalm 72:7, 8, 12-14, 16.
25. Why should we want to learn more about Jerusalem?
25 What comfort and hope those words provide for lovers of God in Jerusalem or anywhere else on earth! You can be among those who will enjoy earth-wide peace under the Messianic Kingdom of God. Knowledge of Jerusalem’s past can help us to understand God’s purpose for mankind. The following articles will focus on events that took place in the seventh and eighth decades after the Jews returned from Babylonian exile. This offers comfort to all desiring to render acceptable worship to Jehovah God, the Great King.
The titles “Messiah” (adapted from a Hebrew word) and “Christ” (from Greek) both mean “Anointed One.”
Do You Recall?
◻ How did Jerusalem come to be the place of “Jehovah’s throne”?
◻ What significant role did Solomon have in advancing true worship?
◻ How do we know that Jerusalem ceased to be the center of Jehovah’s worship?
◻ Why are we interested in learning more about Jerusalem?
[Picture on page 10]
The City of David was on a southern ridge, but Solomon expanded the city northward and built the temple
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture Credit Line on page 8]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.