Next Year in Jerusalem

How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy (Psalm 137:4-6).

Jews all over the world traditionally conclude their Passover Seder with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” What is strange is that this is said even by Jews in Jerusalem. This indicates that this phrase conveys more than just the longing to be restored to the physical locale of Jerusalem. What is really being expressed is the hope of the messianic redemption, the gathering of all the exiles by the Messiah to their eternal inheritance promised to Abraham.

As believers we celebrate the Passover in the knowledge that the redemption has already taken place through the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (cf. Rom. 3:24, 1 Cor. 5:7). The first Passover in Egypt, followed by the mass exodus of the Israelites, was only pointing toward the true deliverance and redemption of the LORD’S people from slavery to sin. Likewise the Lord is presently gathering all his people into one flock to be ready for that great exodus when he finally delivers the whole creation from its bondage to sin and decay and into the inheritance that he has promised to all who put their trust in Him.

The earthly city of Jerusalem served as a shadow of the eternal heavenly city. It represented the place of God’s presence among His people where the Jews were to go up to worship for the appointed feasts, but, as Jesus declared to the Samaritan woman,

“ . . . a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain (where the Samaritans worshiped) nor in Jerusalem . . . a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21; 23-24).

The heavenly Jerusalem is the city of the Great King (Matt. 5:35) and is made up of all true worshippers whose allegiance is to the King and his Kingdom. It represents the eternal capital of God’s people and is not confined by space or time:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly 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 that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24 ESV).

If, in keeping with tradition, we say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” as an expression of our certain hope of redemption, we should perhaps qualify wherein our hope is found, in the light of the apostle Paul’s teaching on the relationship of the earthly Jerusalem to the heavenly Jerusalem. Paul contrasts the earthly Jerusalem with the heavenly city:

These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labour pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31).

Paul highlights the hostility of the children of the slave woman towards the children of promise. The Jews were very conscious of their history and very confident of their standing as descendants of Abraham through Isaac, the son of promise. But Paul proceeds to turn this right on its head comparing them with the children of the slave woman! No doubt he intended to shock them out of their complacency for relying on their bloodline rather than on walking in the faithfulness of Abraham.

The Lord made it perfectly clear through the prophet Isaiah that the city of Jerusalem represents the community of faithful people who worship him in spirit and in truth. Isaiah prophesied:

“The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you (i.e. the people) the City of the LORD, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14).

Jesus and the apostles warned that true believers in Messiah would be persecuted and oppressed by those who rejected the Messiah. In the early church the first opposition and persecutions came from unbelieving Jews, Paul being a prime example. The apocalypse was given to encourage the believers who, having been expelled from the Synagogue, and consequently losing the status and protection that Judaism enjoyed at that period, were enduring severe persecutions instigated by unbelieving Jews. The word of encouragement from Jesus to his faithful disciples echoes the prophecy of Isaiah above:

“I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:9).

In spite of the hostility from their unbelieving brethren the allegiance of believers to the cause of the earthly Jerusalem was severely tested both in 70AD and 135AD when Jewish zealots revolted against Roman rule and the whole nation was drawn into a war with Rome. On both occasions false Messiahs appeared, assuring the Jews of victory, but in 135AD Rabbi Akiva, who is still lauded as one of the greatest Sages of Judaism, pronounced Bar Kochba as the Messiah. This forced Jewish Christians to distance themselves from the rebellion and brought about a decisive split with Rabbinic Judaism. The allegiance of believers, who belong to the heavenly Jerusalem, is first and foremost to the King of Zion, Jesus our Messiah and Redeemer. The prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled that predicted both the rising and falling of Israel and the people of Jerusalem through the Messiah:

“. . . and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured” (Isaiah 8:14-15).

The earthly Jerusalem was judged because the people had failed to recognise and take refuge in the true sanctuary right in their midst (cf. Luke 2:34 & 19:44).

Opposition, and even persecution from unbelievers is to be expected, as the natural man opposes the things of the Spirit, but there is now a new dimension to this struggle. The earthly Jerusalem is once again the focal point of a fierce dispute over competing religious claims, with both sides claiming “rights” through the patriarch Abraham, but neither acknowledging the true King and heir. Today we are again being drawn into the battle over the earthly Jerusalem and being challenged to give “unqualified” support to the cause of political Zionism and a Jewish state.

Although what constitutes Jewishness has been the subject of much debate, there is no doubt that Rabbinic Judaism (as opposed to Biblical Judaism) was established upon the rejection of Jesus as their King and Messiah. Yet certain Christian Zionist organisations have been invited to form an alliance with the Knesset, whose committee is co-chaired by a member of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, with the stated aim of mobilizing Christian support for the political objectives of Israel and making the Israeli public aware of “the unqualified support Christians are giving to Jewish aspirations (ambitions) in the land of Israel.”

While they may protest to the contrary, by making alliances with those who are openly opposed to the gospel they are forced to abandon the proclamation of the gospel. This was confirmed by Minister Benny Elon, speaking in the Knesset recently: “I would just add that I have made it clear to all the Christians with whom I cooperate personally and publicly, and I repeat this here, that if they attempt to missionize amongst Jews, I will have nothing to do with them, and they in fact comply with this. If they are interested in disseminating the Bible the way they see it, there are enough idol-worshippers amongst whom they can do this” (Quoted in Arutz sheva 25 February 2004). Christians are called to be ambassadors for Christ, yet these organisations are acting as ambassadors for those who oppose Christ! Thus the unbelieving Jews have effectively managed to enlist Christian support for Jewish aspirations while simultaneously silencing the gospel, their only hope for true peace or life. Christians should know that the only way to serve Israel is with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).

The sad thing is that some Christians make “unqualified” support of Israel almost a litmus test of orthodoxy and join ranks with unbelievers in opposing fellow Christians who do not share their particular view of eschatology or scheme of interpretation. Disciples of Jesus can only give unqualified, undivided support to him and to the cause of his Kingdom. We cannot be compromised through unholy alliances with the rulers of this age, whose agenda is opposed to his Kingdom:

“Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious, for those two will send sudden destruction upon them, and who knows what calamities they can bring?”  (Proverbs 24:21).

When we are drawn into the political conflict over the earthly Jerusalem, we can easily lose sight of the real goal, which is our eternal inheritance in the new Jerusalem:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations (i.e. the eternal city), whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).

The writer to the Hebrews tells us that none of the great men and women of faith received what had been promised because only together with us would they be made perfect. In other words we will all celebrate our final redemption together when we sit down at the great feast in the Kingdom of heaven along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the faithful patriarchs and prophets of Israel, but Jesus warned:

“I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11).

This should be our primary concern for the natural descendants of Abraham. Only those who receive eternal life through faith in Jesus the Messiah will receive an eternal inheritance. Only the redeemed of the Lord will enter the new Jerusalem.

Those who recognize that “Christ, our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed,” are exhorted to “keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7-8). When we understand that our Passover lamb has been sacrificed and that the real exodus is to be delivered from our bondage to sin and decay and to receive our eternal inheritance in the new Jerusalem, the words “next year in Jerusalem” come to mean far more than a temporal hope of restoration. This hope of our messianic redemption is in fact the very same hope that sustained the faith of Abraham, Moses and all who have shared in the true faith of Abraham. This is the final deliverance; the true exodus of all the faithful who will take their place at the great feast in the Kingdom of heaven in the city whose architect and builder is God.

In many people’s minds heaven is some distant ethereal realm where disembodied spirits float about aimlessly, but the reality is that heaven is the dimension where God dwells and the true restoration is when this earth is renewed and filled with the glory of His presence once more and the veil separating heaven and earth is removed. With those thoughts in mind “next year in Jerusalem” is an affirmation of our faith and hope in our final redemption through the Messiah and of the glory that will be revealed when he appears (cf. Col. 3:4, Rom. 8:18).

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1-4).

The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away (Isaiah 51:10-11). They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted (Isaiah 62:12).