Jerusalem Old and New

God tells us in his word that he will send “New Jerusalem” to us. His description of it in Revelation 21-22 is so different it’s difficult to comprehend. Can we learn anything about New Jerusalem by studying the Jerusalem of the past? This presentation explores Jerusalem from the past to discover more about her future.

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One of the reasons I’m going to cover this topic is because listening to the people in my practice and family and friends, it seems like we all need to be encouraged – so many troublesome things going on in the world these days. But I have never focused on encouragement in my speaking as much as teaching folks how to do something. I’ve been told I’m more of a teacher than a preacher. I admit that Christian living sermons have been my bread and butter. I think I’m in good company there. I think that’s what Jesus did. He would say things like, “Don’t stand on the street corner and blow a trumpet when you make your offering Do it in private to God.” The Sermon on the Mount is about how to live and what to do. 

But today I want to get in step with some of the other speakers and in step with what I am intent on doing, so I’m breaking the mold for myself today. I’m not going to teach you how to do anything, but I’m going to talk about one of the most encouraging things to me personally that I’ve found in the Word of God. 

So, this is the last day. The Bible calls it the 8th Day – not a lot of information in the title – maybe even a non-name, we could call it – the 8th Day. The thought of that name though – the 8th Day – maybe that’s a communication to us from God. Maybe absence of detail is an indicator or has some sort of meaning for us. We consider this a mysterious holy day – one associated with the holy city of Revelation. It seems to fit because they both are mysterious. We think of the famous song about New Jerusalem – “new earth there seemed to be….” John said he saw the place with no sun or moon, but the light of God and Christ to illuminate it. So, while all this is very mysterious, we read the last few chapters of Revelation and it seems to raise more questions than it answers. 

Why did God call it New Jerusalem? He said that He’s going to make all things new, so why an old name – one that’s already been used – Jerusalem? Is that a communication to us? Maybe there is something to be learned about New Jerusalem by understanding a Jerusalem of old. So, today we’re going to dabble for a while in the story of Jerusalem old and new – not from the beginning and work forward, and not from the end and move back. Because, as we will see, there is no beginning and no end to the story. We will instead start somewhere else with something the apostle Paul said. He said in Hebrews 12:22:

Hebrews 12:22 – But ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…. So, who’s the you? You’re the you. And so am I. When we come to the church, we’re coming to Mount Zion and the city of the living God, He said. 

Now, when I was younger – just in the church – I had trouble with that idea – binary thinker that I was in those days. I understood that Mount Zion was in Jerusalem, and I understood that it was called what David had called it – the city of God. But I wanted Mount Zion to be Mount Zion and the church to be the church. It seemed to me they were two different things. “So, why did Paul say that,” I wondered. 

What does God mean when He calls the church Mount Zion? Well, even that understanding teaches us something about God. Let’s look in Nelson’s Bible Dictionary. He says: “Zion means fortification.” So, it was a fort originally. That’s what the word means. And the story goes this way. When Joshua came into the Promised Land with all the Israelites, they were told to dislodge the nations and take their place. The Israelites were not able to dislodge the Jebusites because they had a zion – a fort. And this fort had access to an awesome spring of water – the Gihon Spring. And this fort was on a hill with deep valleys on the sides – very near to where Solomon later built his temple in the area of Jerusalem. 

Let’s read more from Nelson: “The first mention of Zion in the Bible is in 2 Samuel 5:7. David took the stronghold of Zion – that is, the city of David.” Taking Zion is an interesting story. It’s somewhat sketchy in the Bible, but you can pick out some points. After some taunting and insults from the Jebusites when David rolled up with his army, they realized they weren’t just going to accomplish a frontal assault, so a few Israelites, by night, climbed up the tunnel that went up from Gihon Springs to the fort. And then they opened the city gates from the inside and the Israelites streamed in. So, how long did it take Israel to take the Jebusite fort from the time Joshua came into the land to when David actually took it? Well, look at this map – or, sorry, chart. Israel crossed the Jordan roughly in 1447 BC, and it wasn’t until 1052 that he took it. So, somewhat around 400 years it sat there with the Israelites around it, and they could never take the fort. That’s a pretty long time – a lot longer than we’ve been a nation. So, it seemed like, I’m sure, there was no way to breach it – like it would never happen. I think David confirms this, because after he took Zion, he made it his own. There was no stronger, more defensible place in the area than Zion. And that word Zion for hundreds of years, in the minds of Israel, stood for something – strong, solid, something that could not be moved, a renowned fortress to be sure. It continued to signify solidity and strength after Israel took it. It was their zion now. And that all means something. 

Here’s more of what Nelson said: “The name came to stand not only for the fortress, but also for the hill on which the fortress stood – Mount Zion. After David captured the stronghold of Zion, he called Zion the City of David and the City of God. The meaning of the word Zion underwent a distinct progression in its usage throughout the Bible.” So, that’s important. “The meaning of the word zion underwent a distinct progression in its usage” – it changed – “throughout the Bible.”

So, we’ve got the fort – the zion – and then we’ve got the hill that the fort is on – hill and the fort – and they’re called Zion. So, Zion now meant not just a fort, but also the hill it was on. Then he says: “When Solomon built the temple on Mount Moriah – a hill distinct and separate from Mount Zion – and moved the Ark of the Covenant there, the word Zion expanded in meaning to include also the temple and the temple area.” So now, it’s bigger. You’ve got a fort – Zion – and the hill, and then the temple and Mount Moriah – which is the hill the temple is on – and all of those things are called Zion now in common usage in the Bible and by the people during those days. 

Then he says: “It was only a short step until Zion was used as the name for the city of Jerusalem.” So, we have another expansion – the fort, the hill the fort is on – the hill and the fort – and the temple and Mount Moriah, which is where the temple is, and then eventually, the whole city of Jerusalem was called Zion. 

So, it keeps expanding and spreading and growing. Is that a communication for us about what God is doing? I think it is. I know the usage changed naturally over time because of the proximity – all these places were close together – so, when somebody said, “Zion,” back then, it just meant the whole city and the fort and all of it. But didn’t God create that proximity?  I think we can show that He did. 

Now that we’ve included the whole city, let’s take a time out in our progression. We’ll keep going with that in a bit, but for now, let’s go backward in time from that city. Now, we’ve already seen that the temple was built on Mount Moriah, but do you remember how it got there? Did David poll the people and see where they wanted the temple? No. That’s something we would do today, and then we would put it where we wanted despite what the people said. But this isn’t how they did things back then. If you read in 2 Chronicles 3, it says:

2 Chronicles 3:1 – Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the LORD appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshingfloor of Ornan, the Jebusite. 

So, God selected the place for the temple. God selected the place for the temple. He told David to tell Solomon to build there. He put it in Jerusalem – Mount Zion. So, keep that in your mind The temple was built in Jerusalem because God wanted it there. Do you remember what else happened there a long time before that? Well, in Genesis 22:2, God said to Abraham:

Genesis 22:2 – Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

So, God selected the place Abraham was to sacrifice his son – Mount Moriah. It wasn’t far from where Abraham was living. It says it was a three-day walk with a donkey and his son. So, what would that be? Maybe minimum ten miles a day to a maximum of twenty – so, between thirty and sixty miles max – the same place God told Solomon to build the temple and the same place God later sacrificed His own Son – in a place very near to the fort – Zion. So, at the very least, we can know that this place – Jerusalem – is special to God. 

Reading in another Bible help about Jerusalem, it said that the area was “not easily defended, limited water for agriculture, semi-arid with poor soil. Stabo, a Greek geographer in the first century, described it this way: ‘a place that would not be envied; one for which no one would fight.’” Now, poor Strabo. Little did he know – one of history’s ironies – so many people killed over something that nobody wanted for 3,000 years. But that’s true. It’s always been a problem for people since the time of Christ and before. 

So, it always seems that humans can never figure God out. Why would He build His base in such a place? What good would it be? Did you know also, that beside Abraham, there lived someone else in the region that is mentioned in the Bible? His name was Melchizedec. You can read about an encounter between Abraham and Melchizedec in Genesis 14 later, if you want. But right now, we want to go to Paul’s account of it in Hebrews 7. Paul says in verse 1 of Hebrews 7:

Hebrews 7:1-3For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him…first being by translation of His name, King of righteousness – that’s what Melchizedec means – and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace. So, Salem, which is a part of the word Jerusalem, means peace. So, He – Melchizedec – was the King of Righteousness and the King of Peace. Okay now, do you know anybody in the Bible delivering those qualities, who is also a priest? Only one – Christ. Now, if that isn’t enough, let’s look at something else Paul said. This really should blow our minds! It did mine when I first read it. He said of Melchizedec: He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he continues a priest forever. 

So, this Melchizedec, if He continues a priest forever, He would still be a priest today, wouldn’t He? Who’s our High Priest today? Well, Christ is. Who reveals Himself as the beginning and the ending – the Alpha and the Omega? Well, only Jesus. So, this Melchizedec was not a man. He was an immortal. And the fact that the word continues is there indicates Paul is telling us that Melchizedec continues on as a priest forever. So, who could that be? Who is our High Priest today? I think the reason he didn’t say that directly was that he wanted to let the Jews he was talking to come to that conclusion themselves. So, his point being to his audience – Jewish Christians – “You people don’t even see that Jesus is not something new. He’s always been around. Your father, Abraham, worshipped Him.” 

So, this means that the one we call Christ, our High Priest, was in operation in Jerusalem during the time of Abraham – a long time before Christ was there. So, His title King of Salem tells us where He was – Jerusalem has been translated the City of Peace – the word Jerusalem has – seeing God and the City of God from ancient times. Even today, the city is named what it is, what it has always been and what it will always be. 

Let’s look at one last thing about old Jerusalem – the Jebusite Fort Zion. We mentioned that one of the reasons it was impregnable was because of a spring that they could access from within the fort. They always had water. It made it hard to hold a siege against them. Do you remember the name of that spring? Gihon, yes. Look at this scripture in Genesis 2:10.

Genesis 2:10,13 – A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. Then in verse 13, it says: The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 

So, what if that spring had, at its source the river Gihon? Well, nobody knows for sure, but what if Jerusalem was on the location of the Garden of Eden? We see a spring in Jerusalem with the same name as the river with its source in Eden. We read already that Jerusalem itself is not good for farming – poor soil, topographically hard to defend, hot climate, not much water. It’s been speculated – not by me – that the reason the area is so difficult and so lacking is because, when God closed the Garden of Eden, He really closed it and didn’t leave much there. And, if that’s true – and I’m not saying it is – it’s just sort of a fun what-if to think about – then there it sat for hundreds of years undesired, just waiting for the next big thing God would do with it – out of sight, out of mind – until some Jebusite goatherder discovered the spring. And other Jebusites heard of it and came, and one day, one of them said, “Hmm, what a great place for a zion,” or something like that, perhaps. 

But, even if we discard the speculation, and we think back from the fort, the hill, the spring, we can still know that God was doing something with that place. Melchizedec – God – was there. God called His servant, Abraham, to sacrifice his son there. And He sacrificed His own Son there as well. But let’s think about something else. Look at this with me. This is in Ephesians 3:11. 

Ephesians 3:11 – This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord…. So, God’s plan is eternal. It existed before the universe, before old Jerusalem. That means we can easily believe – after reading how God has used Jerusalem in the past – that Jerusalem, at some point existed, but as an idea in the mind of God. 

But what was that idea? Well, let’s go back to Nelson and continue our story in to the future. Here’s what he says: “It was only a short stop until Zion was used as the name for the city of Jerusalem and the people of Israel as a whole.” Wow! So, now it’s not just a fort, or the fort on the hill, or the fort and the temple, or the city of Jerusalem, but the word Zion now stands for Israel – the people of Israel – as a whole. So, that meaning is much bigger and much more inclusive than just a single city. 

So, why was the name Zion so important to Israel? I think it could be because of its reputation as a strong and impregnable place. But this unfolding dwarfs everything we’ve seen so far – from a city to a whole nation. God said we should not despise the day of small things. You remember that scripture? God always starts small and grows things big – from a captured fort to a nation. 

So, what else does Nelson say? Continuing, he says: “The important use of the word zion is in a religious or theological sense. Zion is used figuratively of Israel as the people of God. The spiritual meaning of Zion is continued in the New Testament, where it is given a Christian meaning of the Church of God.” So, there it is! Just like Paul said in Hebrews – just like he said it would be. We have come to Mount Zion – that’s you and me – which is the Church of God. So, everyone can relax. I get it now, even though I didn’t when I was a freshman at college. Not just a fort, or temple, or a city, or a man’s family grown great, but all whom God has called of every age, people of all nations – not just one man’s family grown great – but the whole church. 

But Paul tells us something astounding about the church you and I are in. This is where you and I start to come into the picture. He said in Ephesians 3:10:

Ephesians 3:10 – so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 

So, it wasn’t until there was a church that God’s plan began to be made known in more detail to even the angels and other heavenly beings. Paul speaks of God’s plan as a mystery. And here, even, to beings in heaven – a mystery realized in Jesus Christ. And he later said that that mystery could be called “God in you, the hope of glory.” So, if God is in you, that means you have the Holy Spirit. Right? And that didn’t happen until the church was founded. He tells us that God is explaining this mystery through what is happening every day in the church. So, does that mean that church people set angels down and explain it to them? No! The term through the church is informed by another verse. Here it is:

1 Peter 1:12 – It was revealed to them – this is 1 Peter 1:12 – Peter and Paul agree. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves – and he’s talking here…the context is that he’s talking about the prophets – it was revealed to the prophets that they were not serving themselves, but you – in the things that have now been announced  to you through those who preach the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven – things into which angels long to look. 

In times past, God told the angels that we were going to become God. And it seems that they may have had a hard time visualizing that. And if you look at all history, it’s no mystery why. But the angels and the others in heaven are now seeing that it can happen because of the church – people with the Holy Spirit of God in them. 

Think about this: This year, at the Feast, we heard a letter from the crew of the teen boat cruise complimenting the teenagers – our teenagers – on their behavior. They saw something different. And we also had a witness from Mr. & Mrs. Hoyer – he spoke this past Friday – and they are the couple who taught the teens. They said that these teens are different in an amazingly good way. So, you see, that’s how it works. Respect and kindness that they were manifesting are, as Anika Hanson taught us in her workshop this year – fruits of the Holy Spirit. Because of it, when in a group, our kids are noticeably different – not just to us, but also the people outside. 

Now, all of you who are younger, the way you are is not only giving hope and inspiration to the boat crew of the teen cruise and to the Hoyers, you are affecting all of us in a powerfully good way. You, as you sit here, are part of the proof that God’s plan is working, proof for angels. By the way, did you know that one-third of the people here are 18 years old or younger? That’s a pretty good thing. 

The prophets and the angels may have, in times past, wondered how God was going to pull it off, but now that there is a church, well, the cat’s completely out of the bag. So, the next time you feels sorry for yourself, just remember, God is using you, even as a former blubbering mass of self-pity to prove t angels that He can change even you. And they will all smile when they see it happen, and nod their heads, and say at the same time, “God is great!” 

That’s the Mount Zion that you and I have come to. It’s not just about our congregation, or the drive to church every week – if we still do that anymore, since a lot of us, it seems, are doing it electronically – or, it’s not just about a way to keep the kids occupied during services, or the potlucks we have, or the sermons, or the music. It’s about God’s big idea – God’s eternal plan – a society of God, a family of God – that we are a part of. And what does God call that plan? Mount Zion, the city set on a hill that cannot be hidden – the city of our God, the holy city – Jerusalem.

But there’s even more. Once we get past the present era, we go into what the Bible has called the Millennium, and that’s when God’s body of people are going to explode in size like never before! We just finished celebrating it – a thousand years of Christ’s Kingdom on earth – in the Feast of Tabernacles. The church of this age will be so much bigger than the church of our age. We just can’t imagine it all. After Christ’s return, it’s going to undergo unbelievable growth. There will be so many, it’s hard to even calculate it. 

And, oh, I almost forgot, we haven’t even mentioned yet the second resurrection. Toward the of Revelation, the white throne judgment appears. At the end of the millennium, everyone who has ever lived before Christ’s return, who did not know Christ, will get a chance to be a part of the church in the white throne judgment. Think about that! Everybody who ever lived! So, how many more people is that? Well, I don’t know. But when you add up the church of yesteryear, and the church of the present, and the church of the millennium, and the church of the second resurrection, you have the population of what? New Jerusalem. So, how many will that be? Well, billions and billions of children will be ready to be inducted into God’s family – the society of God. We heard a sermon earlier in this Feast about the Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. That Faith Hall of Fame is going to get a lot, lot, lot bigger at that point. 

What’s the point of all this? What do I hope to send you home with? Jerusalem. What is it? Well, it’s an idea that God has been working on from before time began. And my point – by focusing on the plan – is to show you what the plan Creators are doing for you – for all of us – and why They are doing it. Their plan has been rolling like a juggernaut from before time began. It’s rolling now. It’s showing changed hearts in the lives of His people. We have seen it here. Eventually, God will draw in every rebellious heart. 

In the song, it says, “The gates are open wide and no one will be denied.” Well, that’s because most people who have ever lived will repent and draw close to God. So, if you feel discouraged, or like things are closing in, take the long view. It’s coming! With their plan, God and His Son are obliterating every obstacle – all sin – every machination of those seeking world domination, every ploy of the devil, every nuclear device, every bio-weapon, and every oppressor, every psychopathic dictator, all false religion, everything contrary to God. And as we speak, they’re methodically forming scenarios to move the nations into position for the final reset. 

I heard that word reset recently. And it was talking about people in the elite of society, who think the whole world needs to have a governmental reset, where they can control everything. There is going to be a reset, but it’s not the kind of reset these people are thinking about. Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, king of all the earth, He will come! And He’s going to go through them like a lawnmower through short grass. And that will commence a thousand years of God’s rule – a rule of peace and justice – too good to be true! From there, God’s plan will continue to move forward for all eternity with us a part of it. 

Do you know what that means for us? Right now? With just a few good choices, we can become unstoppable, too! God has overcome every problem – all of our weaknesses – in the person of Jesus Christ. The deceiver is being vanquished. The Door is open. All physical elements of Zion before, and Jerusalem, the city, and the whole earth, even, will one day be gone. But the plan – Jerusalem – will continue to roll out. And we will be rolling with it, because this plan, driven for the love God has for us, was created to help all God’s children become literally at one with Him and His Son, Jesus Christ. 

We all face trials. We’ve all suffered painful losses in our lives. We suffer heartbreak and exhaustion in this life. We make plans that sometimes fail. We make mistakes with serious consequences. We’re all the walking wounded in some way. And around us, we see a world on the verge of terrifying chaos, with only more to come. Nevertheless, as we go home, we can remember: It’s coming! Nothing can stop it. God is going to have His way. His plan will not fail. It will succeed. And so will we succeed also, if we roll on with God, Christ and their eternal plan.