If the God of history, the God of Israel, is restoring Israel, then the era of the Temple Mount is surely on the agenda. During this redemptive process, Christians have to decide what relationship we will have with what God is doing.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, Israel was desolated by the Roman Empire. During the First Jewish Revolt, the Holy Temple went up in flames. In the Bar Kokhba Revolt, Jerusalem was further desolated and Jews were banned from the city. The Jewish people were then driven from the land (though a small Jewish remnant has always maintained a presence in the land). The land itself began to languish and fall into disrepair for centuries. Foreign empires took turns ruling it from afar. The land degraded to the point that Mark Twain famously described it as a barren wasteland in the 1800s.
This desolation of Israel can be described as a three-stage process—first the Temple, then the City, and finally the Land.
Shortly after Twain’s famous words, great numbers of Jews began to return. In the year 1917, Christians working together with Jews brought about the Balfour Declaration to restore the Jewish homeland. Three years later, it became law in San Remo, ultimately leading to the land being reborn into the modern State of Israel. But that was not the case with Jerusalem. The 1948 War of Independence did not restore biblical Jerusalem to the Jewish State. The war left the city divided and the Kingdom of Jordan occupied the Old City for nineteen years with no Jews allowed. Ancient synagogues were destroyed and historic Jewish graves were desecrated.
Fifty years after the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Jerusalem was restored to Israel in the miraculous Six-Day-War. The year was 1967—a “jubilee” of years after Balfour—and the world was rocked by the news that Jerusalem was again in Jewish hands. The Christian world was also stunned, and often jubilant. A good friend told me how his grandfather used to listen to BBC radio deep in the jungle where he worked as a Tyndale Bible translator. At the news of Israel’s liberation of Jerusalem, he was beyond jubilant, assuring anyone within reach that world redemption was around the corner.
But unbeknownst to most Christians at the time, the Six-Day-War victory excluded Zion—the Temple Mount—the heart of Jerusalem. Moshe Dayan, the Defence Minister at the time, represented a secular identity and a secular government. He quipped, “What do I need all this Vatican for?” In a move that Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik recently called “a terrible mistake, the worst in Israel’s history,” Dayan had the Israeli flag taken down from the Dome of the Rock and handed the keys of the holiest place in the biblical world over to Jordanian Muslim authorities–the Waqf. Jews, and all non-Muslims, would be forbidden to pray at the holiest place in the world. Contrary to fundamental Israeli laws and freedoms, they would only be begrudgingly allowed to visit as tourists.
Now, more than 50 years have passed since the Six-Day-War. The jubilee celebrations of Jerusalem’s liberation took place in 2017. Remarkably—or perhaps, predictably—the restoration of the Temple Mount has increasingly taken center stage in Israeli politics and around the world. Jews are ascending in record numbers annually.
According to then Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan, over 670,000 Christians and tourists ascended the Temple Mount in 2018. Only 180,000 ascended in 2013. That is an increase of over 270% in five years. The Mount continues to inhabit the spotlight this year as Israeli public security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir took a fifteen-minute stroll around the Mount (as he routinely did before becoming security minister). The visit immediately led to condemnation by the Kingdom of Jordan, lament at the US State Department, and a hurried convening of the UN Security Council.
Is there a pattern here? If Israel’s destruction was a process of Temple, City, and Land; is its restoration a reverse of that process? The land took a concrete step of restoration with the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which led to independence in 1948. Fifty years after Balfour, Jerusalem was liberated and began to be restored. Fifty years after Jerusalem’s liberation, are we not now living in the era of the Temple Mount?
If experience has taught us anything, then no one knows exactly how the future will develop in Israel and how Mount Zion may be restored. Its restoration looks as politically remote as a Jewish State must have seemed a dream to Jewish pioneers who built up the land under Turkish Ottoman rule. But if the God of Israel, the God of history, is restoring Israel and Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount, then the time to favor Zion is surely on the agenda.
During this process of redemption, we Christians have to decide what relationship we will have with what God is doing. There are some Christians who believe the rebirth of modern Israel is a political fluke, which has nothing to do with God, perhaps even evil. Other Christians love Israel and the Jewish people, but are very uncomfortable with the Temple Mount. Even those who reject Replacement Theology might still hold that surely all things Temple-related are replaced and gone forever. Some believe the Temple will be restored, but that it must be a work of the devil, not God, for God must forever be done with such old covenants.
One thing is certain, God is confronting the Church with the restoration of Israel. No one can remain neutral to Israel. We must decide, what is the God of history actually doing. I, for one, can only see that, in His faithfulness, justice, and mercy, God is doing what He promised all along. “You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come” (Ps. 102).
John Enarson is the Christian Relations Director at Cry For Zion (cryforzion.com). He is happy to receive input or questions about his articles.