What About Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel?

On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted to approve and recognize the establishment of a new nation. With the support of the United Nations, on May 14, 1948 David Ben Gurion, Chairman for the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel (Eretz Israel). In response to this announcement, six Arab armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iraq invaded Israel threatening to destroy the one-day-old nation and drive the citizens into the sea. But the Israelis fought to retain their independence and established their nation’s capital in Jerusalem, the ancient capital of Israel.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, not one nation has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital even though it is the location of Israel’s Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court, the President and Prime Minister’s residence and the location of diplomatic talks between Israel’s leaders and representatives of other nations. In 1995 the United States Senate and Congress voted to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But every U.S. president since that vote has declined act on that vote. Finally, on December 6th, President Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s historic capital.

Many have asked me if this was the right thing to do. Are we somehow confusing the promises God gave ancient Israel with the contemporary secular state of Israel? Is modern Israel to be equated with biblical Israel?

Personally, I am convinced that God has a future for the ethnic people of Israel. I believe that the biblical promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning the land, nation, and blessing (Gen. 12:2-3) for the people of Israel will be literally fulfilled when Jesus returns, gathers a remnant of believing Israel (Rom.11:26), establishes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and gathers the nations there for teaching and worship (Isa. 2:1-4). But modern Israel is not the believing remnant of Israel to whom God has made His promises. Today we have a secular, political state—not a theocratic nation. It would be a mistake to equate modern Israel with biblical Israel, although there is overlap, since I believe that the remnant of Israel will come out of modern Israel—the ethnic people of Israel.

So then, did president Trump do the right thing? Thinking in terms of modern politics, I would say, “Absolutely, Yes!” Since its founding, Israel has been a model of democracy in the Middle East arena of dictatorships, monarchies, and violations of human freedoms and rights. Israel has been a loyal friend, partner for peace, and ally of the U.S. for seventy years. Why would we not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? The only reason not to do so has been fear of the Palestinian reaction. Indeed, even before Trump made the announcement, there were threats of violence. And those threats have been realized. Trump’s announcement was followed by riots in East Jerusalem, Hebron, and along the Gaza border. While this was not unexpected, President Trump did the right thing. He simply recognized what Israel has always claimed—that Jerusalem is the historic capital of the Jewish people and nation of Israel. Jerusalem has never been the capital of another Arab or Palestinian country. From a political and historical perspective, Israel has every right to name Jerusalem as its capital. And the United States, as well as other nations, should recognize and respect that political reality.

About J. Carl Laney

J. Carl Laney teaches Biblical Literature at Western Seminary and is an instructor for Western's Israel Study Program. Carl has authored numerous books, including most recently, “Discipleship: Training from the Master Disciple Maker” (2018).