Does the US Moving Its Embassy to Jerusalem Have Prophetic Significance?
Many in the Arab and Muslim world are in an uproar because Pres. Trump honored a campaign promise to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, thus, acknowledging that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
Of course, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Long before there was Islam or Palestinians, there was Israel. Jerusalem has been its capital of Israel since the reign of King David. It’s true that a majority of Jews were driven out of their land in AD 70 by the Romans, but this did not change the fact that the nation continued to exist, Jews continued to live there, and Jerusalem was its capital
Moving an embassy to Jerusalem has no biblical significance, however, and neither does the United States acknowledging or not acknowledging Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Bible doesn’t make any mention of these types of political maneuverings. Many Evangelicals who disagree with Trump’s pronouncement about Jerusalem do so because of the political fallout the decision might bring about. I’ll leave that discussion to others.
What I would like to answer is the claim that this particular event and others like it regarding Jerusalem have prophetic significance. According to modern-day prophecy theorists, a time will come when God will take His church off the earth in something called a “rapture.” At that point, God will once again deal with national Israel for a period of seven years. “Setting the stage” for this end-time event is said to have started in 1948. The first half of the seven years will seem like heaven on earth for Israel and the world. Israel will rebuild its temple, Jews will flow into Israel from around the world, the sacrificial system will be reinstituted, and peace will break out. But in the middle of the seven years, a world leader that the Jews had made a covenant with will show his dark side. This is said to be the antichrist. He’ll break the covenant he made with Israel, and all hell will break loose. He will lead the world to Armageddon where billions of people will be killed, including two-thirds of the Jews living in Israel (Zech. 13:8-9).
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There’s more detail to this interpretation. I explain how this view of the end times developed in my book Truth About the Rapture: A Biblical Study. Also, see my books Last Days Madness, Wars and Rumors of Wars, 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered, and Identifying the Real Last Days Scoffers.
What does the Bible say about the future of Israel as it relates to the question of Jerusalem’s prophetic significance? The Old Testament teaches that Israel was taken into captivity, first, the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and the southern kingdom by the Babylonians between 597 to 581 BC. God promised He would return Israel to the land after a period of time. They did return, the capital city of Jerusalem was reestablished and the temple rebuilt (See the books of Ezra and Nehemiah). Any promises in the Old Testament related to Israel returning to their land and rebuilding the temple were fulfilled in the post-exile period and continuing in the ministry of Jesus Christ.
The New Testament doesn’t say anything about the Jews returning to Israel, the significance of physical Jerusalem, or the rebuilding of the temple. The claim is often made that the budding of the fig tree in Matthew 24:32 is clear evidence that Israel would be reestablished sometime in the future. While this has been a popular belief for some time, most prophecy writers do not believe this verse has anything to do with Israel’s reestablishment as a nation. If the fig tree is Israel, Jesus said of the fig tree, “No longer shall there be any fruit from you” (21:19). Then there’s the parallel passage in Luke 21:29–30, “Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know yourselves that the summer is now near.” Jesus was describing what was going to happen to that generation (21:32; Matt. 24:34).
Even dispensationalist author John Walvoord admits that the fig tree is not Israel:
Actually, while the fig tree could be an apt illustration of Israel, it is not so used in the Bible. In Jeremiah 24:1–8, good and bad figs illustrate Israel in the captivity, and there is also mention of figs in 29:17. The reference to the fig tree in Judges 9:10-11 is obviously not Israel. Neither the reference in Matthew 21:18–20 nor that in Mark 11:12–14 with its interpretation in 11:20-26, gives any indication that it is referring to Israel, any more than the mountain referred to in the passage.1 Accordingly, while this interpretation is held by many, there is no clear scriptural warrant.
A better interpretation is that Christ was using a natural illustration. Because the fig tree brings forth new leaves late in the spring, the budding of the leaves is evidence that summer is near. In a similar way, when those living in the great tribulation see the signs predicted, they will know that the second coming of Christ is near. The signs in this passage, accordingly, are not the revival of Israel, but the great tribulation.2
The tribulation period that Jesus is describing in the Olivet Discourse took place before that first-century generation passed away in the lead up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Jesus had this to say about the redemptive center of Jerusalem in His discussion with the Samaritan woman:
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers (John 4:19-24).
There are two Jerusalems: earthly Jerusalem and heavenly Jerusalem:
Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem [that was in existence when Paul wrote to the Galatians], for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother (Gal. 4:25-26).
There is nothing in the New Testament that mentions any change in these two Jerusalems. The truth of this revelation is even more clear in the book of Hebrews:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:22-24).
What about the need for a rebuilt temple? There isn’t a single verse in the New Testament that says anything about a rebuilt temple. In fact, Jesus is the temple (John 2:19-22), its cornerstone (Eph. 2:20; Luke 20:17; 1 Peter 2:6-9), and we are living stones with Him in it (1 Peter 2:4-5).
So while acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has political significance, it doesn’t have any redemptive or prophetic significance.
- Walvoord is clearly wrong about this. First-century Israel is the object of Jesus’ judgment discourse in Matthew 21:18–20 and Mark 11:12–14. See Gary DeMar, “Fruitless Trees and the Nation of Israel,” Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1994), 303-310. [↩]
- John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago, IL: Moody,  1980), 191–192. [↩]