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Is Jerusalem in Daniel and Zechariah the heavenly city?

January 20, 2011

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD demonstrates that while some of the things in the 70 weeks of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy apply to Jerusalem, and the temple, events included in the final half-week could apply to the heavenly Jerusalem, which is the church, rather than the earthly city. This may also apply to Zechariah’s prophecies.

Preterism relies heavily on the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. His account of the Jewish War is their primary source for facts to which they apply Bible prophecy. But, Zechariah’s prophecies don’t fit very well into preterist constraints. Zechariah wrote of Jerusalem under a siege; he said: “And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.” [Zechariah 12:3]

Daniel’s interpretation of the dream of king Nebuchadnezzar mentioned a “stone cut without hands” that smote a great image, and destroyed it. Daniel identified the stone with the kingdom of God, which grew to be a mountain, and filled the earth. It is the heavenly Jerusalem which becomes a “burdensome stone for all people,” and its light extends to the entire earth. However, preterists try to apply Zechariah’s prophecies, and Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks, exclusively to the earthly city.

In the siege against Jerusalem in 70 AD, four Roman legions surrounded Jerusalem. The 5th, 12th, and 15th legions were camped on the western side of the city, and the 10th on top of the Mount of Olives east of the city.

Zechariah’s prophecy said: “In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” [Zechariah 12:8-9]

Jews living in Jerusalem in 70 AD, reading Zechariah’s words, must have thought their victory was assured, because these prophecies seemed to be coming to pass. How else can one understand their behavior?

But, as all now know, God did not fight on behalf of the Jews. Some preterists claim that Zechariah’s prophecy about God fighting against Jerusalem’s enemies was fulfilled by the decline of Rome, in the centuries following the Jewish war, but if God had “sought to destroy” the nation of Rome, it has not happened yet! The city still exists. The Roman legions were not “cut to pieces.”

Consider Zechariah’s prophecy in chapter 14: “Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.” [Zechariah 14:1-3]

Jews in 70 AD may have thought this prophecy was coming to pass, when the Romans surrounded their city, camping on the hills west of the city and on the Mount of Olives. And then, the city was taken, and the temple was destroyed. Why didn’t the Lord fight against the Romans?

Preterists point out that the decline of the Roman Empire began after the “Jewish war.” But there was another Jewish war, the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, in 132-135 AD. Hadrian’s armies overcame the Jews, and the city of Jerusalem was plowed like a field; Jews were sold into slavery, and forbidden to live in the city, which was renamed Aelia Capitolina. None of this fits the description of Jerusalem’s future given by Zechariah, who wrote: “And this shall be the plague wherewith the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.” [Zechariah 14:12] None of this happened to the armies of the Romans, in their wars against the Jews.

Zechariah wrote: “And Judah also shall fight at Jerusalem; and the wealth of all the heathen round about shall be gathered together, gold, and silver, and apparel, in great abundance. And so shall be the plague of the horse, of the mule, of the camel, and of the ass, and of all the beasts that shall be in these tents, as this plague.” [Zechariah 14:13-14]

It would certainly have been noted in history, if such a plague had affected the Roman legions, and even their animals! But those prophecies describe spiritual armies, which come against the saints, and the church, misinterpreting prophecy; horses and mules stand as symbols of those having no understanding. David wrote: “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” [Psalm 32:9]

Armies of various kinds have taken many Christians captive; those Christians who are spoiled and seduced, by false teachers lack understanding! The prophecy describes those affected as affected by a plague; the eyes of their spiritual understanding are consumed, and their tongue, representing their words. For example, preterism claims that all these prophecies were fulfilled in the first century!

Zechariah said: “And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee.” [Zechariah 14:4-5]

The Mount of Olives was not cleaved in the midst, in the first century, but Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives, when he gave the Olivet Discourse to his disciples. I suggest the Mount of Olives represents that prophecy of Jesus. His prophecy, which is represented by the Mount of Olives, has been “cleaved in the midst,” and displaced to the north, and to the south, by the two opposite interpretations of his prophecy, represented by preterism and dispensationalism!

Zechariah said to flee to the valley between those two mountains. I take this to mean, apply Jesus’ prophecy to the present age of the church, instead of to the Jews living in the first century, and instead of to Jews in a hypothetical future seven year tribulation. The church is the “Jerusalem” of Zechariah’s prophecies, which God defends!

If there is anything that the history of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD should teach us, it is that the Jerusalem of prophecy is not necessarily the earthly Jerusalem. But, both preterism and dispensationalism apply most prophecies about Jerusalem to the earthly city. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Jerusalem to which those prophecies apply is the heavenly city, the Church. This explains why the Jews of the first century were disappointed. Similarly, Christians who fail to learn the painful lesson their experience teaches, that those prophecies apply to the Church, are likely to be disappointed.