OLD JERUSALEM WILL NOT BE BUILT UP AGAIN
by Edwin M. Cotto
Ellen White said that Jerusalem would never be rebuilt again, “I also saw that Old Jerusalem never would be built up…” (Early Writings, p. 75). But today we have Jerusalem rebuilt in the State of Israel!
THE SHORT ANSWER
When Ellen White wrote this statement, Jerusalem was a habitable city with a population of about 25,354 people, so we know for sure she was not talking about Jerusalem as a mere city. Her use of the word “Old” indicates what she truly had in mind; the Jerusalem of the Old Testament. The bible Jerusalem is just as different from current Jerusalem as pagan Rome is different from modern-day Rome. Ellen White was warning against the notion by some people of her days who were advocating the Age-To-Come doctrine, which stated that ancient biblical Jerusalem with its Temple was going to be rebuilt in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecies and be a center of Christian witnessing. That Jerusalem is not the Jerusalem of today. The Jerusalem of today is like the Rome of today… same name, same location, but vastly different from how it used to be. Thus the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is neither a fulfillment of biblical prophecy nor proof that Ellen White was wrong. Today’s Jerusalem is not what Age-To-Come advocates were talking about, and consequently is not what Ellen White was warning against.
THE LONG ANSWER
The statement in question was first written in 1851.1According to an official census I found online, in that year there were 25,354 inhabitants in Jerusalem. Previously, in 1847, there were 45,000 people living there.2 I highly doubt these people lived there without houses and buildings and civil authorities. In fact, britannica.com says that there was much building that took place and cites a few instances from the 16th century forward, including new walls, water supplies, etc. Despite the political upheavals, “by midcentury (that is, the mid 1800s) all of the powers had established consulates in the city.”3 The point is that Ellen White could not have been talking about the reconstruction of a habitable city when she wrote this because by this time it was already “built up.” The alternative is that she is speaking about the historical Jerusalem in its ancient sense like that Jerusalem we read about in the Old Testament. There’s a difference. For example, think of Rome then and now. Before, Rome existed as a pagan nation ruled by emperors. But, like Jerusalem, history tells us that Rome was destroyed. Eventually, Rome was reconstructed, but not that “Old Rome” like before. Today Rome is a Roman Catholic city. You see there is ancient Rome, and there is current Rome, just like there is ancient Jerusalem, and then there is modern-day Jerusalem. Same name, same location… but vastly different from how it used to be. Ellen White was not talking about a habitable Jerusalem as it was enduring her days but rather as it was during bible times. This is why she said “Old” Jerusalem. Had she merely said “Jerusalem” then we’d have a problem.
Now lets see if this alternative view of Jerusalem is the one Ellen White had in mind. To begin, we have to remember that when reading her statements, we need to keep in mind their local contexts, additional to who she is actually talking to and about. She said, “Regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered.”4 Now let us place her “Old Jerusalem” statement in its contextual setting.
First, look at the last sentence on page 75, “…and that Satan was doing his utmost to lead the minds of the children of the Lord into these things now, in the gathering time…” Note the words “these things now.” What things? Four are mentioned:
1) The gathering time of Israel
2) the confusion regarding the word “daily” in Daniel 9
3) time setting
4) the false idea to return to Old Jerusalem
The point here is that she is dealing with issues that have arisen during her days. Now let us study those issues.
I found that a portion of those statements in Early Writings was republished in the book Maranatha. It is repeated there on the May 8th section with an added note by the compilers which I believe sheds some light into understanding her Old Jerusalem reference. I will bold the commentary:
“I was pointed to some who are in the great error of believing that it is their duty to go to Old Jerusalem, [Written in the early 1850’s when “the age-to-come” advocates taught that Old Jerusalem would be built up as a center of Christian witness fulfilling certain prophecies of the O.T.] and think they have a work to do there before the Lord comes. Such a view is calculated to take the mind and interest from the present work of the Lord, under the message of the third angel; for those who think that they are yet to go to Jerusalem will have their minds there, and their means will be withheld from the cause of present truth to get themselves and others there. I saw that such a mission would accomplish no real good, that it would take a long while to make a very few of the Jews believe even in the first advent of Christ, much more to believe in His second advent.”5
During her days, there were people who believed that the Old Testament prophecies regarding ancient Israel still needed to be fulfilled and for this to happen, the ancient Temple and Jerusalem was to be rebuilt, but in a more glorified state, during an earthly millennial reign with Christ. Consequently, they thought it a good idea to travel over there. They believed that Jerusalem would be rebuilt in this fashion to serve as a “center for Christian witness” to the Jews and to the world. This doctrine was called the “Age-to-Come.” But as stated, in order for those ancient O.T. prophecies to be fulfilled, “Old Jerusalem,” that is, the Jerusalem of the Old Testament, needs to be rebuilt. Since Ellen White did not believe that the Jerusalem of the Old Testament would be rebuilt for the purpose of fulfilling prophecy and witnessing to the Jews, efforts to go there on missions would actually hurt the cause because it would discontinue local outreach. Those O.T. prophecies which still needed to be fulfilled, will now be partly fulfilled in the Church, which, to her, constituted “true Israel” (see Romans 2:28-28, 9:6-8, Gal. 3:28-29). The center for Christian witnessing will be the whole world, not a remote historical part of it.
Note how one of the most prominent advocates of the Age-To-Come doctrine put it (notice the key phrases “building up, built up, etc” in connection with how Ellen used it, I will bold them):
“Jerusalem will be rescued from the gentiles, and fitted for the place of the throne of his glory.Numerous prophecies as clearly and positively predict the building up again of Jerusalem as they do of its fall. And as they make Jerusalem rebuilt, the glorious city of the Lord during his millennial reign, it is evident that the new Jerusalem, which is not to be re-built, cannot be that city . . . .It [Isa. 54] does not speak of the new Jerusalem which is to be located on the new earth, but of literal Jerusalem in its redeemed, cleansed, beautified, and glorified state, in the Age to come, under the millennial reign of Christ…After the close of this gospel age, Christ would “return” and build again the tabernacle of David, which was thrown down… This cannot be the new Jerusalem or “tabernacle of God,” (Rev. xxi.3,) for it was never thrown down . . . .We are forced to the conclusion that there are three Jerusalems named in the Bible.1) Jerusalem, that is trodden down, and now in bondage. 2) Jerusalem, redeemed, rebuilt… the beloved city during his millennial reign on the earth. And 3) The new Jerusalem which will come down from God out of heaven, after the close of the thousand years reign of Christ.This prophecy [Isa. 66:15-24] first clearly predicts the coming of the Lord; then informs us that “the slain of the Lord shall be many” in that day, but gives us to understand that “some will escape” that destruction, who, we think, will not then be changed to immortality, but will be sent to declare the fame and glory of the Lord unto the Gentiles, and the isles which have not heard his fame nor seen his glory…The remnants of the nations that will escape the great destruction, at or near the time of the coming of the Lord, will be favored with the gracious privilege of submitting to his universal law; but in case of noncompliance with his offer of mercy, instead of expostulation and entreaty being made to the offenders, as in this probationary age, judgments will be speedily executed.”6
I am going to avoid offering a reply to this theory because that is not the scope of this article. But the Review and Herald wrote a very good analysis of this history, places Ellen’s statement in its proper context, and offers the Adventist’s reply to Marsh and other advocates. To get a true understanding of Ellen’s statement, please read the article for yourself. Click here: The Gathering of Israel: A Historical Study of Early Writings, pp. 74-76.
To Seventh-day Adventists, and to Sister White, their beliefs had nothing to do with the restoration of the national Jews and their old city as it was in biblical times. They looked for a new Jerusalem which would come down from heaven. Thus, “Old Jerusalem” would not be rebuilt… God has a better one above.
Let us conclude by summarizing the three main points made above::First, Jerusalem was already habitable when Ellen White made her statement. It had buildings, homes, a government(s) and so on. This is important because it proves she was not talking about the reconstruction of edifices. Second, contextually, she was warning against current theories which she considered false. This is important because local theological theories set in context her statement and helps us better understand who she is addressing and why. A historical investigation reveals she was speaking about the Age-To-Come theory and its advocates. And finally, by “Old Jerusalem” we know she was addressing the then-current belief that the Jerusalem of the Old Testament needed to be rebuilt in order to serve as a Christian witness to Jews during an earthly millennial reign, thus fulfilling Old Testament prophecies. Her use of the term “Old” indicates she had in mind the Jerusalem of bible times, not the Jerusalem of her days.
Here’s a statement from The Gathering of Israel: A Historical Study of Early Writings that nicely concludes our analysis:
“Take (Adventist pioneer) Himes, for example. What would he have said if he could have looked into a crystal ball and seen the establishment of the twentieth-century State of Israel? Would he have decided that the prophetic views of the age-to-come people were right after all? Hardly–no more than he would have swung over to the British-Israel doctrine if he could have seen Allenby entering Jerusalem and the League of Nations setting up the British Mandate in Palestine. He would have said, presumably, just what he did say as early as 1849, in discussing M. M. Noah’s great expectations: that even if the Jews should be restored nationally in Palestine under conditions of probation, their occupancy of the land would not constitute a fulfillment of the prophecies. The promise, says Himes, was of… “the land . . . for an everlasting possession.” … No mere sojourn in the land of promise could be a fulfillment of it… As no mere residence in that land, whether as a nation, or as individuals, was the promised possession, so the longer continuance of the Jews, or another restoration of them there, under the same probationary conditions, would or can be no fulfillment of the promise…Already in 1842 Henry Dana Ward had written: ‘Were they restored to Palestine to-day, they could not have it more than Jeptha, Samuel, and David had it; but as their possession was not the promised possession, for all these ‘received not the promise’ (Heb. 11:39, 40 cited); neither would the possession by the modern Jews be the promised possession. . . . Those who inherit with [Abraham and Christ] will not expect it in this mortal life, but in the resurrection and eternal life.”
Thus the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 is neither a fulfillment of biblical prophecy nor proof that Ellen White was wrong. The Jerusalem of today is not what Marsh and his advocates were talking about, and consequently is not what Ellen White was warning against.
1. See: https://whiteestate.org/books/booklist/, scroll down to “EW – Early Writings.”
2. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_history_of_Jerusalem#cite_ref-39
3. See: https://www.britannica.com/place/Jerusalem/Roman-rule
4. Ellen G. White, 1 Selected Messages, page 57.5. Maranatha, page 136.6. Joseph Marsh, Advent Harbinger, n.s. 2:12. June 29, 1850.