The mountains of Jerusalem

Session 5 in the series "Bringing sons to glory"

Jerusalem is in the center of the world,according to Ezekiel 5:5. Psalm 125:2 notes that there are mountains surrounding Jerusalem, and Isaiah 2:2 says that one day the mountain of the Lord's Temple, in Jerusalem, will be established as the chief of all mountains. What does all this mean?

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The mountains of Jerusalem (Session 5)

Part 1: The Plan. The stage.

The Bible starts with the verse, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

God is eternal. He has always existed, and He always will exist. So, what is this "beginning"?

It wasn't the beginning of eternity. It was the beginning of a plan, that God has, to brin g a people to Himself, to be with Him forever. God is going to share His glory with a people who want what He offers.

So, God created a stage ... a place ... where the plan could be enacted. God is spirit. But He created a world that we can see and feel ... a physical world.

One challenge for us is to look beyond this physical realm ... to live this life with eternity in mind.

On day two of creation, God created an expanse to separate the waters below from the waters above.

The waters below are the seas. We can't drink salt water. We need fresh water for life. Water from above. In physical terms, "the waters above" means the blanket of water vapor that covers the earth. The waters may form clouds but, when it's hot and dry, we might forget that there are waters above.

At other times, clouds form, and rain falls. Mountains attract rain, and water runs in rivers to the sea.

God set every mountain and every river valley in place ... exactly where they needed to be. God created a stage for the drama of redemption.

Four thousand years ago, the LORD called Abraham out of the city of Ur, and told him to go to a land He would show him. Abraham obeyed. He didn't know where he would be going, but he chose to believe the LORD. The Bible says that the LORD credited Abraham's faith to him as righteousness (see Gen 15:6)

The LORD promised Abraham ... "All the land that you see, I will give to you and your offspring forever. (see Gen 12:7, etc)

Later, the LORD appeared to Abraham's son, Isaac ... (but not to Ishmael) ... and said: "To you and your descendants, I will give all these lands." And later the LORD appeared to Isaac's son, Jacob ... (but not to Esau) ... and said: "The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I also give to you, and to your descendants after you."

God renamed Jacob, "Israel". "You will no longer be called Jacob. Your name will be Israel."

Jacob had twelve sons ... the twelve tribes of Israel. The land is promised to them.

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob didn't receive what was promised, while they were on earth. They were waiting for us. In the New Testament, we learn that, "Apart from us they would not be made perfect."

Their descendants are going to inherit a physical land. We are going to inherit a spiritual land. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will come into their full inheritance as we believers in Jesus come into ours.

The destiny of Israel is linked to the full number of Gentiles coming to faith. And the destiny of believers in Jesus, as a mature body, is linked to the future of Israel.

The Promised Land sits at the junction of three continents ... Africa, Asai and Europe. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea. To the east are mountains and desert.

To the south, in the high mountains of Africa, is the source of the River Nile. The permanent water of the River Nile gave rise to the empire of Egypt.

To the north, in mountains in Asia, is the source of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The permanent water of those rivers gave rise to the empires of Assyria and Babylon.

Assured water gave the empires assured harvests, and they grew rich and powerful. The empires traded, and raided, along a route known as the Fertile Crescent. Israel was a nation living on a highway. If you live on a highway, you are likely to get run over.

But Israel has a Protector ... the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. "He will not slumber and He will not sleep. He is the guardian of Israel." (Psalm 121:4)

The descendants of Israel, for their part, have struggled to find the faith to trust the LORD. He has allowed them to suffer defeat time and again, so that, in the end, they will learn to trust Him and it will go well with them.

Part 2: Israel and Mt Sinai

When we read the Bible, we must accept first and foremost the plain meaning of what is said. Actual events are described.

The Bible is unique, because about one quarter of everything written is prophetic. The writings foretell what is going to happen. God can foretell the future. And when prophecies are made they can be checked. When things happen, that God said are going to happen, then we have proof of the existence of God.

Hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Other events have been fulfilled too.

God warned Israel that, if they disobeyed Him, He would scatter them all over the world. Israel did disobey. And the Jews were scattered. But, whenever God warned Israel, He followed it up with prophetic words that one day He would bring them back to the Promised Land. Those prophecies are being fulfilled before our eyes.

When we read the Bible, we also learn that there are events, and physical things, that are symbolic. The Bible interprets the Bible. The Bible unveils what might otherwise be a mystery.

For example: the Bible describes water ... fresh water ... as being symbolic of the Word of God. It says in the New Testament, we are "cleansed with water, through the Word of God." (Eph 5:26) It's not a physical washing. It's a spiritual washing.

The Word is the written Word ... the Scriptures. And the Word is the living Word ... Jesus (John 1:14). Water is a symbol of the way Jesus cleanses us. Of course, you have to come to Jesus to be cleansed.

Now, let's understand God's dealings with Israel.

About four thousand years ago, Abraham entered the Promised Land. (ca. 2000 BC)

Because of a famine, Jecob's family went down to Egypt. (ca. 1860 BC). They were there for four hundred years, and they became slaves to the Egyptians. The LORD sent Moses to rescue them. (ca. 1460 BC).

Moses led millions of Israelites out of Egypt. God did amazing miracles and the Israelites saw the miracles.

In one of the many miracles, each Israelite family had to sacrifice a lamb, and place the blood on the doorpost and lintel of their homes. All the family had to stay inside the house, and the angel of death passed over, and nothing harmful happened to the families who were under the blood of the sacrifice. But the Egyptians, who had no protection under the blood, suffered the death of the firstborn of every family.

It was an actual event, but it was also symbolic of the salvation that is available to anyone who believes in Jesus. Jesus shed His blood on the cross to pay for the sins of everyone who trusts in Him. Jesus is our perfect sacrifice of atonement.

When Israel left Egypt, God did another miracle. Pharaoh pursued the Israelites and would have destroyed them, but God parted the waters of the Red Sea, and Israel passed over to the other side and escaped. It was an actual event, but it was also symbolic. Israel was "baptized" (see 1 Cor 10:1-4)

However, even though they experienced the power of God, most Israelites didn't tust God, and they showed their unblief. They complained ... about the enemy (see Exodus 14:10-12) ... about the lack of water (see Exodus 15:22-26) ... about the lack of food (see Exodus 16:1-3). They complained against Moses (see Exodus 17:1-3). "They put God to the test", we are told in the Psalms (see Psalm 78:18). "They did not believe in God and they did not trust in His salvation" (see Psalm 78:22).

So, at Mount Sinai, God imposed The Law ... on Israel.

Mt Sinai is a mountain in the wilderness. Mt Sinai is not in the Promised Land. Like all mountains, Mt Sinai sits solidly on the earth and reaches up to the heavens and to the waters above. The mists and dew of heaven do settle on Mt Sinai, but not enough to produce life. No rivers run from Mt Sinai.

The Law was given at Mt Sinai. The Law was a conditional covenant. God said: "If you obey all The Law, I will bless you. If you disobey, I will bring curses on you."

The Law was added, we are told in the Bible, because of unbelief (see Galatians 3:19).

The Law was imposed on Israel, and the people of Israel said they would obey. The Law is not just Ten Commandments. The Law has 613 commandments which had to be obeyed completely. All the people of Israel said, "All that the Lord has spoken, we will do" (see Exodus 19:8 and Exodus 24:3,7)

Forty years later, Moses summed up The Law before Israel crossed into the Promised Land. He said: "It will be our righteousness if we are careful to obey all the commandment." (Deuteronomy 6:25)

Israel did not obey The Law. They failed.Israel failed to obey all The Law because it's impossible for fallen man to meet the perfect standard of The Law. The Law is perfect, but man is not (see Hebrews).

God gave The Law ... to show that His standard is perfection (see Psalm 19:7) ... to show that nobody measures up (see Romans 3:20) ... to make sin obvious (see Romans 7:7)... to show that man is unable to achieve righteousness by his own efforts. We need a Saviour (see Hebrews 8:7-8). And that Savior has come ... Jesus. "Christ is the end of The Law for everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4)

God gave The Law to lead people to their Saviour, so that we may be justified by faith in Him (see Galatians 3:24). Jesus has done for everyone who believes in Him what we could never do for ourselves. Jesus obeyed The Law ... the letter and the spirit of The Law. Righteousness is by faith in Him.

And God wants all people everywhere ... very much including all the Jewish people ... to turn to Him in Christ Jesus.

After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel entered the Promised Land (ca 1420 BC). A generation died in the desert. The second generation came into the land. God stopped the waters of the Jordan River and Israel passed over. They entered the land at Gilgal, the lowest place on earth.

Through the times of the judges and the kings, Israel either thrived of suffered ... depending on their obedience to the LORD. It was never complete obedience. It was a matter of whether they looked to God in their weakness or whether they trusted themselves. Mostly, they failed to trust God.

The Assyrians conquered the northern tribes and took them into exile (722 BC). The Babylonians conquered Judah and took them into exile. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed (586 BC). A remnant of some thousands of Jews returned to the Land (516 BC). They rebuilt the Temple, but they were subjected to the Greeks (336 BC) and then to the Romans (63 BC).

And then, the Messiah came ... Jesus of Nazareth.

Part 3: Jesus and Mt Hermon

Knowing He had just a few weeks left on earth, Jesus took His disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a town at the base of Mt Hermon.

Mt Hermon is the highest mountain in Israel. Mt Hermon is predominantly limestone. It absorbs water. Rain and snow-melt filter into the mountain and the water flows from the mountain, from a cave at the base of the mountain. These are the headwaters of the Jordan River.

Jesus took the disciples to this place to ask the question: "Who do you say I am?" Peter declared: "You are the Christ." (Matthew 16:16)

"Christ" is a translation into English of the Greek word Christos, meaning "Anointed One". In Hebrew, the word for "Anointed One" is "Mashiach. In English, we'd say "Messiah".

The Old Testament foretold the coming of a Savior, to rescue the Jewish people. He would be anointed. The High Priest, and kingsm were anointed with oil. It was symbolic. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit.

"You are the Messiah," Peter declared. "You are the long-awaited Anointed One." Jesus answered: "... flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven." (Matthew 16:17) And then Jesus said: "Upon this rock, I will build My church." (Matthew 16:18). On this good news ... that Jesus is the Messiah ... Jesus Himself will build His church.

The Greek word that is translated "church" is "Ecclesian" ... It means "the called out ones" … believers in Jesus called out of the world and into His Kingdom; called into a community where Jesus is LORD.

This truth was proclaimed at the base of Mt Hermon, at the headwaters of the Jordan River. It's symbolic. The declaration is like the release of a river of living water.

Six days later, Jesus took Peter and James and John and went up to the top of Mt Hermon. Jesus was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became whiter than white. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked to Jesus. Peter interrupted. He wanted to make three tabernacles for them. A cloud formed overhead, and a voice came from heaven: "This is My beloved Son ... listen to Him."

Let's examine the symbolism. Moses and Elijah represent The Law and the Prophets ... a very Jewish way of referring to all the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus radiated light. The Hebrew Scriptures point to Him. Peter wanted to add his efforts, and give them a home on top of the mountain. But the Father rebuked him: "All I want you to do, all that the Scripture is saying, is "Listen to Jesus; obey Jesus."

The Law came to the people of Israel at the summit of Mt Sinai. The revelation that all the Old Testament (the Law and the writings of the prophets) pointed to Jesus, came to the people of Israel at the summit of Mt Hermon.

The spirit of the written Word is revealed in the living Word.

The simple message that was to flow from the receipt of that revelation was, and is: Jesus is the Messiah. Believe that, believe in Him, and you will be saved.

The first believers in Jesus were Jews, but most of the sons of Israel rejected Him as Messiah, and the good news of salvation by faith in Jesus, went out to the nations (ca 40 AD).

In 70 AD the Jews rebelled and the Romans destroyed the second Temple in Jerusalem. Over the next 65 years, all Jews were thrust out of the land (135 AD). They would be in exile for nearly 1800 years ... and then the return to Zion began in 1888. The most remarkable fulfillment of Bible prophecy of our time, was the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 (see Isa 66:8). Today, one in every three Jews in the world is back in the land of Israel. God says He will bring them all back, and He won't leave even one behind. God has promised that there, in the land of Israel, they will recognise their Messiah and there, in the Promised Land, they will become the foremost nation in the world.

Part 4: The mountains of Jerusalem

God's map of the world has Jerusalem at the center. Thus says the LORD God, "This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations, with lands round about her." (Ezekiel 5:5).

It's an unlikely location. It must be God's choice and not the choice of man. Jerusalem is not on an ocean, and it's not on a river. The trade route is on the coast, and Jerusalem is away in the mountains.

Visit Jerusalem, and two things impact you: Number 1 ... There are mountains all around, exactly as it says in Psalm 125."... mountains surround Jerusalem ..."; and, Number 2 ... Mt Moriah, which is where the Temple Mount and Old City sit, is lower than the surrounding mountains. Even Mt Zion, which is the high point of Mt Moriah, is lower than the surrounding mountains.

The Hinnom Valley and the Kidron Valley separate Mt Moriah and Mt Zion from the Mt of Olives and the other high points ... on three sides.

God told Israel that He would choose the place where they should go with the sacrifice. He would establish His name there. (see Deut 12:5).

Two thousand years before Jesus, God sent Abraham to Mt Moriah to sacrifice his son, Isaac. How symbolic! (see Gen 22:2). One thousand years before Jesus, King David bought a threshing floor on the top of Mt Moriah (see 1 Chron 21:18; 1 Chron 22:1; 2 Sam 24:18-25); and David's son, King Solomon, built the first Temple there, on Mt Moriah (see 2 Chron 3:1).

Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Jesus rose from the grave in Jerusalem. Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mt of Olives on the east side of Jerusalem (see Acts 1). Jesus is going to return, to Jerusalem ... to the Mt of Olives (see Acts 1:9-12; Zech 14:4-5).

The apostle Paul related Jerusalem to Mt Sinai, because most Jews rejected Jesus and that means they remain under The Law (ee Gal 4:21,25).

They are still under The Law today. It's "the Jerusalem that is above that is free" (Gal 4:26). But, that doesn't mean that the LORD wants Jerusalem, and the Jewish people, to remain under The Law. The LORD wants them to be free too. It's His intention that they also will receive the righteousness of Jesus. He has promised salvation for the remnant of Israel (Rom 11:26).

Now, let's pause and consider ... There are mountains to the south, in Africa, that give rise to the Nile River. There are mountains in Asia that give rise to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. There is a mountain in Israel that gives rise to the Jordan River. The Jordan River is like a stream compared with the Nile and Tigris and Euphrates. The Jordan River flows a relatively short distance, and ends in the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.

There are mountains in Jerusalem but, by comparison with the mountains of Asia and Africa, they are not impressive. We might not be impacted by the symbolism of the mountains and rivers, until we see what the Bible says is going to happen.

A time will come when the Nile River will dry up (Isa 19:5-8), and the Egyptians will suffer a war among themselves.

A time will come when the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers will dry up (Isa 11:15), and the land of the former Babylonian empire will become desolate and uninhabited (Jer 51:29,37,43). They have been empires. They have been symbols of power and wealth. They received rivers of blessing from heaven ... but they didn't acknowledge the source. They typified self-confident people.

A state religion serves well to unify and control people. Many empires have embraced religion. The Egyptians and Babylonians created many gods out of their imagination. They were "gods" to serve the people ... not gods at all.

Empires, many empires, have looked impressive. They all come to nothing.

One day, even the symbols, the mighty rivers, and all mountains will disappear. But, "the mountain of the LORD's Temple will be raised as the chief of the mountains ..."

Mt Moriah will be raised above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it (see Isa 2:2). "The LORD alone will be exalted in that day." (Isa 2:11).

People may not be impressed now. But one day they will be. God humbles ... and God exalts. Humble yourself, or God will humble you. And God humbles so that in the end it will go well with us. His purposes are redemptive.

But, those who trust in their own strength and cleverness ... who never learn to trust in the LORD ... will suffer loss. While the weak and despised, those who have come to an end of themselves, will inherit the blessings of heaven.

The Jordan River comes to an end at the Dead Sea. We are making the climb to Jerusalem ... to the heavenly Jerusalem ... guided by the Psalms of Ascent. The Word of God has brought us to an end of ourselves. We must draw from the river and carry what we need as we ascend.

Now this is what the LORD is going to do ... The dew of heaven falls on Mt Hermon. The river flows from the mountain, and ends at Gilgal. As God's purposes are accomplished, that same dew of heaven is going to bring life to Mt Zion.

"Behold how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity" (Psa 133:1) "It is like the dew of Hermon coming down on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD commanded the blessing ... life forever more." (Psa 133:3).

Scripture is hinting ... the dew of heaven came down on Mt Hermon. It was symbolic. A river of life flowed from the mountain ... to give life to people who would believe, and to take them to a place where the old self-life was exhausted. Now, we want to take hold of the life that is truly life, and we start climbing. We see the goal, ahead ... unity.

Psalm 133 is the second-to-last of the Psalms of Ascent. It gives us the key to victory. Unity. Unity in Christ Jesus.

God's people Israel, in faith in Jesus, united with Gentiles of faith in Jesus. One.

Denominational walls broken down. Diversity of thought, but united in the Spirit. One.

And then, the LORD will play His part. The dew of heaven will come down on the mountains of Zion. Power will be released. The mountain of the LORD's house will be raised above the hills, and will become the chief of all mountains. And a river will flow from that place, and this path that we are climbing will be replaced by a river that will bring life to the Dead Sea.

A circle will be completed. The Lord will complete what He began.