The first mention in the Old Testament of Jerusalem as the “City of David” is found in 2 Samuel 5:7: “David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David.” In this account, David had been made king of the entire nation of Israel, and he led his army to take the city of Jerusalem from the Jebusites (verse 6). Upon winning this city, David “took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him” (2 Samuel 5:9–10).
Though Jerusalem had already existed as a city, it became known as the City of David after David conquered it. During his reign in the city, David developed it into a much larger urban area. Later, the ark would be brought to Jerusalem, and David would make plans for a temple to be constructed under the direction of his son Solomon.
In the Old Testament, the phrase “City of David” is used of Jerusalem 45 times. In the New Testament, the phrase is found twice—although, in the New Testament, the phrase refers to Bethlehem, where David was born.
The practice of naming a city by the name of its leader was quite common in the ancient Mediterranean world. Heshbon was the city of Sihon, its king (Numbers 21:26). First Samuel 15:5 refers to the city of Amalek. Some cities took their names from a founder (Alexandria), from a notable characteristic (Jericho, the City of Palm Trees), or from a local deity (Susa).
Jerusalem has been known as the City of David for more than 3,000 years as God has continued to keep the memory of His servant David alive for many generations. There is also a close association between King David and Jesus Christ, the Son of David (Matthew 1:1). Both were born in Bethlehem and died in Jerusalem. Both came from obscurity to be kings. Both were devoted to God. Jesus was a descendant of David (Revelation 22:16) from the tribe of Judah, where David first reigned.
In fact, the City of David is the place where Jesus is to reign in the future. The final chapters of the Bible describe a New Jerusalem where God’s people will reign forever, marking the earthly City of David with an eternal honor.