Sixty years ago today, the state of Israel declared its independence. Since then, the state has been in locked in almost perpetual conflict with the neighbouring Arab countries. Today is therefore a good time to revisit our 1996 Cambridge Paper Centre stage: Jerusalem or Jesus?, which asked: How much should we support Israel or Zionism? How should we 'pray for Jerusalem' (Psalm 122:6)? It began its conclusions:
"In the light of the New Testament some questions may legitimately be raised about the centrality which is given to Jerusalem by so many people. Precisely because of this over-emphasis, the city today has become a political battleground, fuelled by religious convictions. In such heightened cirumstances, has not the time come for the many competing voices which enthuse over Jerusalem to hear again the central message of the New Testament - the uniqueness of Jesus? But with the departure of Jesus from the city, the 'glory has departed' (cf. Ezekiel 11:23 with Luke 24:50-51; 1 Samuel 4:21). How much of Jerusalem's painful history is a desire to possess something of the divine which is no longer there?
"Such a stance might seem to encourage a disengagement from concern for Jerusalem; and in a diplomatic context it might appear self-defeating. Yet, rightly understood, it leads to a proper engagement and a way forward for a creative peace. For if, despite its special historical associations, Jerusalem has no theological status today which sets it apart from any other city, then the normative pattern of God's will as revealed in the Scriptures must apply in Jerusalem just as much as anywhere else. There are, as it were, no special rules for Jerusalem."
Among the practical implications this has for Israel and the Church today, the Paper tantalysingly speculates, "in years to come Jerusalem could witness in a unique way to the overcoming of this ancient division [between Jewish and Arab believers], and open up a whole new episode in the church's history in Jerusalem ... Perhaps God has brought back into such close proximity within Jerusalem those who through history have often been bitter enemies for a distinct reason - to reveal that unity which alone can be found in Jesus?"