Zion, the very name meant something special to the Jew of Old. It was considered the center of the earth.1 It is interesting however to consider that during the entire period of the judges, and for the entire 40 year period of Saul’s reign, the city of Jerusalem was actually considered to be an enemy city avoided by and hated by the children of Israel!
The Temple was considered the center of the center of the earth. To gain some idea of the significance of Zion/Jerusalem one can scan the Psalms and read there the descriptions. In Psalms 50:2 the writers calls the city “the perfection of beauty.” Read the book of Lamentations as Jeremiah considered the once magnificent city now in ruins after the Babylonian invasion. The Encyclopedia Judaica says, ”The Temple and its appurtenances were pictured as symbolizing the entire universe, including the stars of the firmament, and the Temple service was considered to be a source of blessing to all the nations of the world and even to the heavens and the earth and all it contains.”2
Every male Jew had to travel to Jerusalem every year to observe the feast days, Leviticus 23. It was at Jerusalem that the copies of the Law were kept and there the great Rabbis expounded the Law. It was only in Jerusalem that acceptable worship could be offered to the Lord, Deuteronomy 12/ John 4. Legally, the decisions of the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem were considered paramount even though other cities had minor Sanhedrins to handle local issues. Thus, from almost any perspective Zion was the truly the center of the world for the Jews. But Zion was also the center of the world from a prophetic perspective and this is what we wish to address.
ZION IN PROPHECY
Space will not permit an extensive examination of all of the prophetic themes centering around Zion. We will list some of the scriptures that predicted events relating to the Messianic kingdom and Zion. These events deal with the very heart and soul of soteriology and eschatology.
It is both interesting and sad that in the amillennial tradition one aspect of some of these predictions is emphasized while other equally significant subjects are totally ignored or divorced from the elements being emphasized. For instance, in Isaiah 2-4 the prophet predicted the establishment of the house of the Lord. What is often ignored, or even denied, is the judgment context of that establishment (Isaiah 2:4, the Day of the Lord (2:10f),3 the time of Israel’s judgment (3:10-24), the time when the Branch of the Lord would be glorified at his coming (4:2), the salvation of the remnant in that day (4:3), and the establishment of the new tabernacle of God (4:6).
All of these are constituent elements of Isaiah’s “last days” prediction. Yet the amillennialist historically gives little attention to these subjects outside of Isaiah 2:2-3. If attention is given to these items, “gap-ology” takes over and huge gaps of time are injected between the establishment of the church, supposedly complete on Pentecost, and the judgment of verses 4f. Or, Pentecost is affirmed of 2:2-3 and the “end of time” in 2:10f. The amillennialist therefore, makes the prediction of Isaiah 2-4 a panoramic view of history, with occasional “flashbacks” for those items that cannot be extended into the future, extending over the millennia. This hardly finds support in the context. Let us turn now to consider some of the predictions about Zion.
The priestly prophet foresaw the time when the kingdom would be established (2:2), God’s New Covenant would be established to include all nations (2:3) and the Law would flow from Zion.4 The Lord would judge the nations (2:4). The Day of the Lord would judge the wicked at a time when the wicked would flee to the mountains (2:10-21), because God would turn his face from them. This would be when “the Lord stands to judge his people” (3:13f) a time of warfare (3:24), when the men of Israel would fall by the edge of the sword. This would also be the time when the Branch of the Lord would be glorified because the Lord would save the remnant, and remove the sin of Israel (4:2-4). Finally, the Lord would establish His Tabernacle for a place of dwelling and safety for his people (4:6). This Tabernacle would be in Zion.
In what is known as the “little apocalypse” Isaiah described in graphic form the things concerning Israel’s future–her judgment and her salvation.
In 24:1-4 we find the destruction of creation. Verse 5 tells us the reason, “they have broken the everlasting covenant.” This is a judgment determined because Israel broke her Old Covenant with Jehovah! This would be a judgment of fire (v. 6), and earthquake (v. 19) when, “the earth is violently broken, the earth is split open, the earth is shaken exceedingly…it will fall and not rise again” (v. 19-20). Here is the destruction of “heaven and earth” in the context of judgment on Israel!
In verse 21-23 the Lord judges the wicked and in verse 23 he reigns, “For the Lord of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before his elders gloriously.” See Revelation 5.
Chapter 25 continues the Messianic predictions. In verse 6 we find the removal of the veil/curse mentioned in 24:4-6. The Lord prepares a great banquet “in this mountain, (Zion! DKP) the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces.” This is the Messianic Banquet so central to Jesus’ public teaching. See Matthew 8:11; Matthew 22; Luke 14:14; Luke 22:29f; Revelation 19, etc.
In verse 8 God promises to destroy death and take away all sorrow and tears from the eyes, a passage foundational for Paul’s resurrection doctrine. In verses 9f we find the prediction of the time of glad worship and thanksgiving for this salvation, and this is all posited as the time of Israel’s ultimate salvation. Compare this verse with Romans 11:26f.
At the end of his discussion of the helplessness and despair created by sin, the prophet said, “He saw that there was no man and wondered that there was no intercessor” (v. 16). Jehovah’s response to Israel in sin would be, “His own arm brought salvation for Him and his own righteousness, it sustained Him.” This is a prediction of the coming of Messiah. It is a prediction of the judgment coming of Messiah, for, “He put on the garments of vengeance and was clad with zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay, Fury to his adversaries Recompense to his enemies” (v. 18).
But this is also a prediction of the Lord’s coming for salvation of the remnant, “The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob.” Paul cites this verse as he anticipated the consummation of God’s promises to Israel at the Parousia (Romans 11:26-27). For Paul, the salvation associated with Zion was inextricably linked with Israel and the parousia.
These two chapters contain the most specific references to the New Creation to be found in the Old Covenant prophecies. While Zion is not specifically mentioned at length, it is nonetheless at the foundation of the predictions for it is the New Jerusalem that is being foretold.
In 65:6 the prophet said that Israel would ev
entually fill the measure of her sin and God would repay. Yet the remnant would be saved (v. 8). The disobedient would perish, for God would destroy Israel and create a new people with a new name (v. 13). This new people would participate in the wonderful banquet of the Lord (v. 13)– this is the banquet of Isaiah 25:6ff, the resurrection banquet— and rejoice in the New Heavens and Earth, the New Jerusalem, i.e. Zion, where the Lord would remove sorrow. Peace would be the order of this new creation (v. 24-25).
In chapter 66 Zion brings forth a people for God (v. 7). The Lord would come with fire to judge the nations (v. 15), but the remnant would be saved and bring salvation to the Gentiles “in Jerusalem,” (v. 14, 19-20). Together, the remnant and the Gentiles would comprise a new priesthood to offer sacrifice and worship to Jehovah, “in my holy mountain Jerusalem” (v. 20). The New Heavens and Earth created by the Lord’s coming would stand forever (v. 22).
Thus, just as in the other prophecies in Isaiah the constituent elements of the blessings associated with Zion/Jerusalem are Messianic, eschatological and soteriological. “Zion” was to be the center of God’s blessings for His New Covenant World.
In the predictions of the New Zion there is an implicit contrast between the two Mountains of God, Sinai and Zion,5 between the Two Cities of God, Old Jerusalem and New; between the Two Tabernacles of God, and between the Two Covenants of God.
In this great prophecy of the last days the Lord revealed wonderful things for Zion. It would be in that last days period that the Spirit would be poured out as a sign of the impending great and terrible day of the Lord (2:28-31). Salvation for the remnant would be “in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem” (v. 32). The judgment of the nations would occur at the Great Day (3:1-2, 11). It would be the time of the harvest and the time when Jehovah would “roar from Zion and utter His voice from Jerusalem.” The heaven and earth would be destroyed (v. 16). But the Lord would dwell in Zion and, “a fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord,” for the healing of the sin of Israel and the nations. Twice the text tells us that “the Lord dwells in Zion.” The Messianic content of the prophecy can hardly be denied.
From these selected verses one can begin to see the significance of Zion in Messianic prophecy. It is associated with the salvation of Israel, the remnant, the New Tabernacle, the New Covenant, the resurrection, forgiveness of sin, the kingdom, even the destruction of “heaven and earth” since God would dwell in Zion after the destruction of the Old “Heaven and Earth.”
The question of course is, has this New Zion been established. Do the Messianic and salvific blessings promised to Israel in her new Mountain of God exist for the believer today or are those blessings still a hope extended for thousands of years since Jesus came, “to confirm the promises made to the fathers” (Romans 15:8)? Put another way, does the New Testament ever speak of the Messianic Zion, or the other mountain of God and constituent blessings as present day realities?
One could answer this question by several different avenues of investigation, e.g. one could search to see if the Messianic Banquet has been established. If it has then Zion has been established and the soteriological promises, including resurrection life, associated with the Banquet are a reality. We shall confine our study to the idea of the New Zion or the New Mountain of God and what the New Covenant writers have to say about this. Our next article will deal with the New Testament application of these Old Testament prophecies.
3. In Luke 23:28-31 Jesus quotes from Isaiah 2:11-21 in his prediction of the fall of Jerusalem. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 quotes the identical verses as did Jesus. Now since Jesus applied Isaiah 2 to the fall of Jerusalem, what right does the modern commentator have to apply 2 Thessalonians, which springs from Isaiah, to an "end of time"?
5. See my book Who Is This Babylon? For a full discussion of the Biblical concept of the Two Jerusalems. The book is available from our website: www.eschatology.org