The Pope’s Jerusalem Crusade

Measuring Catholic maneuvers in the Middle East against the backdrop of history
From the May 2000 Trumpet Print Edition

After refusing to recognize the State of Israel for over 40 years, the pope finally established diplomatic relations with them in 1993. A year later, he began a similar relationship with the Palestinians. The pope has since signed agreements with both sides to safeguard church property and rights in the Holy Land.

Why is the Vatican so interested in guaranteeing its rights in the Holy Land—especially Jerusalem?

History tells.

The Crusades

When Islamic forces gained control of the Holy Land shortly after the death of their prophet, Muhammad, in A.D. 632, it sparked a religious conflict that has remained in the region to this day. Early on, Arab forces allowed Roman Catholic Europe to maintain a presence in Jerusalem. Muslim leader Harun al-Rashid even christened Roman Emperor Charlemagne as protector of Jerusalem and owner of the Sepulcher.

After Charlemagne died in 814, however, Catholic Europe gradually lost its influential hold on Jerusalem. But when the Roman Empire revived in the tenth century, the tide of power began to shift from Islam to the West.

It was against this backdrop that the Vatican called on Christians to forcibly drive Islam out of the Holy Land. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church made repeated attempts to gain control of Jerusalem and other holy sites. Christians called these advances Crusades—a sugar-coated term for military invasions.

Pope Urban ii initiated the first “crusade” at the end of the 11th century. According to authors Terry Jones and Alan Ereirao, “By summoning an army under the banner of the cross, the pope was extending the church’s mantle over all Christendom. This was the idea at the very heart of the revolutionary papacy; in place of separate local churches at the center of discreet communities, there was to be one overarching church, ruled by one overarching pope. The Crusade was to be its expression and its instrument” (Crusades).

One church—one pope—one universal headquarters: Jerusalem.

Journey to Jerusalem

Promising forgiveness and eternal glory to those who joined the Crusade, Pope Urban ii raised a formidable Christian army. From 1096 to 1097, between 60,000 and 100,000 Roman Catholics answered the pope’s call. Urban commissioned the volunteers to reach Jerusalem or face excommunication at home.

With the help of Byzantine forces, the crusaders marched through Asia Minor in 1097, skirmishing with Turks along the way. That autumn, they reached the outskirts of Antioch—a Turkish stronghold just off the northeastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. After holing up during the harsh winter, Christians sacked the city in June of 1098. In the middle of the night, crusaders scaled the city walls and opened the city gates. Through the night and the next day, they murdered every Turkish man, woman and child they found. By the next night, according to author Steven Runciman in A History of the Crusades, “You could not walk on the streets without treading on corpses, all of them rotting rapidly in the summer heat. But Antioch was Christian once more” (vol. 1, p. 194; emphasis added).

A year later, 13,000 crusaders had made it to the outskirts of Jerusalem. For more than a month, the Christians diligently built three wooden towers to help them get over Jerusalem’s city walls. Like at Antioch, they chose to attack in the middle of the night. Runciman describes the details of this brutal massacre: “The crusaders, maddened by so great a victory after such suffering, rushed through the streets and into the houses and mosques killing all that they met, men, women and children alike. All that afternoon and all through the night the massacre continued …. Early next morning a band of crusaders forced an entry into the mosque and slew everyone. When Raymond of Aguilers later that morning went to visit the temple area he had to pick his way through the corpses and blood that reached up to his knees.

“The Jews of Jerusalem fled in a body to their chief synagogue. But they were held to have aided the Muslims; and no mercy was shown to them. The building was set on fire and they were all burnt within.

“The massacre at Jerusalem profoundly impressed all the world. No one can say how many victims it involved; but it emptied Jerusalem of its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. Many even of the Christians were horrified by what had been done” (ibid., pp. 237-238).

Catholics murdered an estimated 70,000 Jews and Arabs in securing their hold on Jerusalem. In so doing, like at Antioch, Jerusalem was “Christian” once again.

Two weeks later, in Rome, Pope Urban ii died just before receiving word of the Christian victory at Jerusalem. He died not knowing what he had started—for the victory in 1099 was only the first of many such crusades aiming to establish one overarching church, ruled by one overarching pope from one universal headquarters: Jerusalem.

Same Story

Nine hundred years later, not much has changed. The Vatican still regards Jerusalem, the birthplace of Christianity, as its universal headquarters. And John Paul has long considered Christian unity one of the chief aims of his papacy. While visiting Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher in March, he even referred to it as the “mother of all churches.”

The one difference, for now, is that the Vatican is working to maintain its grip on Christian holy sites through negotiation instead of violence. That’s why most believe the pope’s pilgrimage in March to be the apex of his lengthy papacy. It was an unprecedented diplomatic achievement.

But it is important to remember that the Vatican’s Holy Land objectives have not changed. It has initiated dialogue with Jews and Muslims alike—the pope has even apologized for the church’s past sins. But through it all, as William Orme noted in the March 23 New York Times, “Vatican diplomacy has been dictated by its own ecclesiastical interests.” That’s why, after signing an agreement with the Jews to protect Christian holy sites, the pope made a similar move with Palestinians. He wants assurance that no matter what happens in Jerusalem between Jews and Arabs, the Vatican will retain its holy sites. That’s why the pope has long been in favor of making Jerusalem an international city, which would give the church even greater control of its sacred sites.

“Israel and the Vatican have reached an understanding more out of political consideration than heartfelt friendship,” wrote Anton La Guardia in the Daily Telegraph. “Recognition by the spiritual authority of 1 billion Roman Catholics is a diplomatic achievement for Israel, while the Vatican is keen to protect its interests at a time of rapid political change” (Dec. 31, 1993).

No one can deny that we live in a time of rapid political change. And through it all, the Vatican has skillfully negotiated with all necessary parties to help protect its interests in the Holy Land.

But what happens when those interests are threatened? What if violence should erupt in the region? Actually, it will. The Trumpet has warned of this for many years, based on the sure word of Bible prophecy. Jerusalem will explode with violence in the near future. And when that happens, the Vatican will revert to its old ways—stirring “Christian” forces to gain control of the region by force.

The Bible Tells

In Zechariah 12:3, God says, “And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.” In the latter days, Jerusalem is prophesied to be a burden for mankind. It will not be a city of peace, which is what the name “Jerusalem” means. It will be a burden!

In Zechariah 14:1-2, we begin to see why so much turmoil will revolve around Jerusalem: “Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.”

This prophecy, revolving around the Day of the Lord, is for the end time—when Christ will gather all nations. At that time, shortly before the return of Christ, your Bible says the city of Jerusalem will be divided in two. Right now Israel controls the entire city because of its conquests during the 1967 war against the Arabs.

But Israel will lose East Jerusalem—the half it acquired in 1967—according to Zechariah 14:2. As we wrote in the November 1996 Trumpet, when half of the city is taken it will be “like the first domino to fall, leading to Christ’s return and battle against all nations in Jerusalem! It all begins and ends in Jerusalem.” That is when God will begin to gather all nations.

Notice what else will occur once that city is again divided: “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over” (Dan. 11:40). God says there will be a clash in this end time between the kings of the north and south. These are the same two forces that were pitted against each other during the Crusades—Catholic Europe and the nations of Islam! History will repeat itself! The Bible says Islamic forces will aggressively “push” at Europe. The Trumpet believes this prophesied clash will somehow revolve around Jerusalem—just as it has historically. The European Union will retaliate forcefully against the Islamic push—like a whirlwind, verse 40 says.

After responding to this Islamic push, Vatican-led Europe will then enter Jerusalem. “He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown …” (v. 41). The Hebrew word for “enter” implies that European troops will come in by invitation, not by force. Jewish officials will undoubtedly invite them into Jerusalem to keep peace.

Jesus also prophesied of Europe’s “peaceful” entry into the Holy Land: “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh” (Luke 21:20). When God’s people see those armies enter Jerusalem, they will know the Great Tribulation is near. It may look like the world is about to have peace, but that will all change suddenly. The peaceful entry will turn into a deceitful double-cross—one in which many nations will be overthrown, including Israel, Britain and America.

Then, toward the end of the Tribulation, this final resurrection of the “Holy” Roman Empire will be troubled by events in Asia. “But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many” (Dan. 11:44). Fearing an attack by the Asiatic hordes, the European beast power will unleash a pre-emptive strike against them.

Notice what happens next: “And he [the religious head of this Eurobeast] shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain …” (v. 45). This verse refers to a religious leader who moves his headquarters—the tabernacles of his palace—to a holy mountain between two seas. The two seas refer to the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. And the holy mountain between these two seas certainly denotes Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

These verses reveal that the Vatican’s dream of one “overarching church” ruled by a pope in Jerusalem will finally be realized! But it will be a short-lived relocation, as the rest of verse 45 indicates: “… yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.”

This is when God will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle, as we have already noted in Zechariah 14. Revelation 9, 14 and 16 also refer to this final climactic battle between the armies of this world and Jesus Christ’s army. Zechariah 14 goes on to describe the gruesome details of this battle in verses 12-13. Isaiah 31:9 says Jerusalem will be like a fiery furnace after Christ puts down man’s final rebellion.

That is where it all leads—to the return of Jesus Christ as king of kings and lord of lords. In the short run, Jerusalem will not be a city of peace. Only after Jesus Christ returns to this earth to set up God’s government, as it says in dozens of Bible prophecies, will there finally be peace in Jerusalem—and in the whole world