Jerusalem is a holy site for three of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There is no more contested piece of real estate on the planet than the small and crowded city. Jerusalem figures large in the history of God’s people. It was the seat of David’s throne. It was the location for the temple. Not long before its destruction Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into its gates with shouts of “Hosanna!” only to cry out for His blood days later.
The Psalms of Ascent were sung by the people of God as they journeyed toward Jerusalem to worship and receive atonement for their sins. It is important to remember that for many generations of redemptive history God had chosen to dwell among His people in the tabernacle (and later the temple). If God’s people were to worship Him rightly, if they were to offer sacrifices and receive pardon for their sins then they had to go to the holy city. No wonder their arrival was met with such great joy.
How are Christians in the 21st century to understand Psalm 122? Our dispensational friends would have us believe that Jerusalem is still the holy city and the place of God’s special presence. They believe that whoever allies with Israel will have the special blessing of God. But this is not how Psalm 122 is to be understood. There is no question that for generations Jerusalem was the special place of God’s presence among His people. However Jerusalem, like so many people and places in the Old Testament, was a type pointing to a greater and eternal reality.
The earthly Jerusalem was an Old Covenant picture of that eternal “city” of John’s vision recorded in Revelation 21. It was symbolic of the eternal joy and rest that will be experienced by all those who, through Jesus Christ, have received God’s great salvation. But Jerusalem was also a type pointing toward a present reality for God’s people: the church of Jesus Christ. No longer does God limit His presence among His people to a temple or a city. Through the church God is making Himself known throughout the world among all the nations.