Zechariah 12:1 announces that the prophet is going to tell us something about Israel – the oracle which unfolds in chapters 12 and 13 concerns Israel. The context makes it clear that this prophecy “concerning Israel” will be fulfilled in the latter days, because the events described lead to Israel finally acknowledging its Messiah (v10).

Immediately following the announcement of the subject, lofty language is used to describe Yahweh as the One who “stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him”. These words clearly imply that what the prophet will say about Israel is relevant not just to the people of Israel but to all creation.

Having stated the theme of the prophecy and implied its relevance to a wider audience, it might seem surprising that, from verse 2 onwards, the focus of the prophecy switches to just one small part of the land of Israel, to the city of Jerusalem. The city is referred to by name 12 times in these two chapters – 11 times in Zechariah 12 alone. In contrast, Israel is not mentioned again by the prophet after Zechariah 12:1.

Jerusalem and Israel inseparable

The clear implication of Zechariah 12 and 13 is that Israel and its capital city, Jerusalem, are inseparable. Without Jerusalem there is no Israel. Since its capture from the Jebusites in the days of David, Jerusalem has been the focus of hope for all Israelites. Jonah praying to God from the belly of a fish directed his thoughts “toward thy holy temple” (Jon 2:4). Daniel in exile opened his windows to­ward Jerusalem when he prayed (Dan 6:10); there may be no doubt that a key theme of his prayers was Jerusalem’s restoration and the fulfilment of the promises made to the Patriarchs.

Nearly two thousand years after their disper­sion from the land by the Romans, Jews still yearn to return not just to Israel, but to Jerusalem in particular. ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ That was and remains today the plaintive plea of orthodox Jews throughout the world.

When Jews realised that the persecution they experienced in exile would never be fully overcome in the lands to which they had been dispersed, they began to embrace the spirit of national self-determination, a spirit which owed much to the forces unleashed by the French Revolution under the sixth vial of Revelation 16:12-16. Although primarily a secular movement, Jewish nationalism was dubbed Zionism, adopting a name which al­ludes not just to Israel but specifically to Jerusalem, and in particular to its central religious significance in the plan of God.

The sixth vial also refers to the drying up of the Euphrates, which facilitated the re-establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. Even though the Jewish homeland was called Israel when it was established, the nationalist movement which promoted its creation and which still today garners support for the Jewish state continues to be known as Zionism. Israel and Jerusalem are inseparable.

Conflicting claims

Not all Gentiles accept that Israel and Jerusalem are inseparable. In fact, the status of Jerusalem and control of the city has always been at the heart of Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel’s conquest of the city in 1967 and her subsequent annexation of the whole of Jerusalem reinforced the tension which surrounds this city. Today we see two political entities, Israel and the nascent Palestinian state, claiming Jerusalem as their capital, with neither side expressing a willingness to compromise.

In the past year a growing number of nations have begun to recognise Palestine not just as an aspiring political entity but as a sovereign state in its own right. European nations have largely led the way in this campaign; the latest to take this step was the Vatican, which in May 2015 recognised the sovereignty of the Palestinian state. This recognition creates a context within which the Catholic Church can play a role at the time of the end when “all the nations of the earth will gather against” Jerusalem (Zech 12:3).

Over the last four decades Israel has been will­ing to make territorial compromises in a bid to end conflict with its neighbours. Israel has handed over territory it had previously captured to both Egypt and the Palestinian authority. But to date Israel has steadfastly refused to consider any compromises with regard to the status of Jerusalem. Since the city was reunited in the Six Day War in 1967 Israel has been determined that it will remain united. This policy is being maintained in the face of growing international calls for a division of the city in ac­cordance with international support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On 23 May 2015 The Economist reported that France is working on an UN Security Council reso­lution for a clear timetable for negotiations leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. That resolution is expected to include a clause calling for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of both Israel and Palestine. On 17 May 2015 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out Israel accepting such a requirement.

Jerusalem Day

Each year Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day to com­memorate its ‘liberation’ in 1967. Celebrations this year fell on 19 May when the Israeli Cabinet held a special Cabinet meeting to discuss, amongst other things, a package of measures to strengthen Israel’s grip on the city. Newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu introduced a communiqué about the Cabinet’s deliberations with these words: “We will make several important decisions today about the development of Jerusalem. We will not go back to a divided city, a torn city, a city with barbed wire fences and snipers on the walls.”

At that special meeting on 19 May the Cabinet made several decisions designed to strengthen the city of Jerusalem and prepare for the 50th anniver­sary of its unification. In taking such decisions the new Israeli Government made clear that it has no plans to loosen its grip on Jerusalem. Steps it ap­proved include:

  • a plan will be formulated on the economic de­velopment of Jerusalem in 2016-2020 focusing on growth engines to strengthen the city;
  • to prepare for the 50th anniversary of the uni­fication of the city, the Cabinet established a preparatory team for events to be held in 2017 that will include various events in the fields of education, tourism, culture and sport, with an emphasis on the 2017 Maccabiah games;
  • a five-year (2016-2020) plan will be formulated on upgrading infrastructure and encouraging visits to the Western Wall plaza including continued development of the plaza and adja­cent tunnels, the preservation of archaeological finds, upgrading transportation infrastructure, and expanded educational activity for students and soldiers; and
  • significantly, the Cabinet decided to transfer responsibility for Jerusalem affairs to the Prime Minister’s Office and to change the name of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs to the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.

The importance of this final decision, which might be dismissed as symbolic, should not be underestimated. Linking Jerusalem affairs with those of the Diaspora was a legacy of the time when Jerusalem was not in Israeli hands. Moving responsibility for Jerusalem from the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs to the Prime Minister’s Office does more than address an anachronistic anomaly; it underlines Jerusalem’s place at the heart and centre of Israeli life, its centrality to the life and future of the state.

Against Jerusalem AND Israel

In graphic language the prophet describes the challenges that Jerusalem will pose to all nations at the time of the end:

“Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah. On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the na­tions of the earth will gather against it.” (Zech 12:2-3, ESV)

Jerusalem today is indeed a cup of staggering and a heavy stone. Many have suffered in their attempts to resolve the tensions surrounding this city. Given the failure of previous efforts, the in­transigence of the protagonists in the dispute, the growing boldness of the Palestinians and burgeon­ing international support for their cause, we may expect pressure to mount upon Israel to compromise on the future of the city. There are no indications that Israel is likely to compromise, and that may force the nations to consider more aggressive action.

We know from Ezekiel 38, Joel 3, Zechariah 14 and other prophecies, that a confederacy of na­tions will invade Israel at the time of the end. One catalyst or justification for such an invasion may well be the desire to resolve the impasse over the future of Jerusalem. Certainly we know from Daniel 11 and Zechariah 14 that Jerusalem is a focus of that campaign.

With that final conflict of Armageddon in mind, it may be significant that Zechariah says that “the siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah”. This implies that when the nations take military action to secure control of Jerusalem, their action will be directed not just against Jerusalem but also against Judah, or Israel as we would say today. In other words, the conflict that Zechariah 12 and it will involve the whole nation that is governed from that city.

We are truly blessed to have so many clear tokens of the near return of our Lord. We must be careful, however, that we do not become absorbed only in the geo-political significance of the signs of the times. These signs are meant to invigorate the new man and enliven our commitment to the service of our Master, not to make us clever prog­nosticators of the likely progress of world events. As Brother Robert Roberts puts it in Seasons of Comfort, page 174: “Mere prophetic politicianism would be no qualification for association with Christ in the day of his appearing. The preparation of the bride for union with her Lord, consists of something much higher than acquaintance with the political symptoms of his approach.”

Most glorious things are spoken of Jerusalem, but ominous things also, as recorded in passages such as Zechariah 14. As we yearn for the brightness of Zion’s glad morning let us watch with interest the machinations of Israel and the nations as they grapple with the heavy stone that is Israel’s capital. And as we pray for the peace of Jerusalem let us labour to make our calling and election sure.

Footnote

1 Matt 23:37-39. Taken from Jesus’ lamentation over Jerusalem.