Jerusalem’s Relentless March to Divine Destiny – Pt 7
“Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’” (Luke 13:21-32 NIV)
The oppression of Roman occupation in Israel (Judea, Samaria, Idumea, and Galilee), the land promised to Abraham’s offspring over two thousand years earlier, was a constant thorn in the side the Jews. Although there was a measure of religious freedom, the injustices of excess taxation, military abuse, and peril of imprisonment and/or death to anyone who dare challenge Roman authority were constantly looming over them. The threat of Herod the Great’s wrath upon the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, who were directed by an angelic visitation to flee to Egypt, is emblematic of the demonic assignments seeking to thwart God’s purposes for the Jewish people and their land.
When Herod died unexpectantly in 4 AD, after a thirty-seven year reign, chaos ensued in Jerusalem. At the time, the city was flooded with pilgrims attending the annual Passover celebration. With Herod’s 18 year old son Archelaus assuming the kingship, Jews rebelled, stoning his soldiers stationed at the Temple. Archelaus, seeking to establish his authority, retaliated. Attacking with his cavalry, he massacred 3,000 in the Temple area, and cancelled Passover. Needing Augustus Caesar’s official approval to be king, he then sailed for Rome to make his appeal. In his absence other claimants to the kingdom converged upon Jerusalem including various ambitious Roman successors to Herod, rebel Galileans and Idumeans, and self-appointed Jewish prophets. Herod’s palaces were burned and the Temple seized. In the end, the troops of the Roman Governor of Syria prevailed and he had 2,000 of the rebels crucified. Meanwhile in Rome, Augustus settled the matter by decreeing that the rule of Herod’s kingdom would be split between his three sons as regional governors, rather than give any one of them the supreme authority as king. Herod Archelaus was appointed to govern Judea, Samaria, and Idumea; with Herod Antipas given Galilee and Peraea (portions of modern day Jordan). Philip, their half-brother was named governor of Bataneae and Trachonitis (today’s southern Syria and northern Jordan).
When the turmoil finally subsided, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in Egypt, where he had fled with the Holy Family, and released them to return to the land of Israel. The scriptures tell us that Joseph, fearing the reign of Archelaus in Judea and being warned in a dream, was guided to settle the family in Nazareth of Galilee (Matthew 2:19-23). Archelaus turned out to be a self-serving, incompetent, and cruel ruler. As a consequence his governorship only lasted ten years. Augustus Caesar, hearing mounting complaints of his corruption, removed him from office and banished him to Gaul (Western Europe). Augustus turned Judea, Samaria, and Idumea into a Roman province calling it Iudeae (Latin for Judeae), moved the seat of government to Caesarea on the coast, and set up the office of “prefect” as his delegated authority to govern. Prefects, also referred to as procurators or governors, were primarily military rulers who collected imperial taxes and exercised judicial powers. All this was distressing to the Jews because it represented an even greater imposition of Roman control upon their lives.
Herod Antipas, the governor in Galilee for over forty years, was paranoid of anyone threatening his authority, just as his father King Herod had been before him. In 32 AD the Jewish prophet John the Baptist publically criticized Antipas for marrying Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. Herodias also incidentally, was his niece. Fearful of public opinion being stirred up against him, Antipas had John arrested. Reckoning that John was a righteous man and someone he liked listening to, he decided to preserve his life, contrary to the demands of the offended Herodias, that he be killed. Herodias however, eventually had her way. At Herod’s birthday banquet Herodias’ daughter did a dance that so pleased the governor that he boastfully made an oath to grant her anything she requested. The daughter, at the prompting of her mother, asked for the head of John on a platter. Herod though distressed at his predicament, ever the man pleaser, granted her wish.
As Jesus’ miraculous ministry in Galilee became widely known, and conjecture that He was a prophet like the prophets of old, Herod Antipas’s interest was piqued. “John, whom I beheaded has been raised from the dead!” he declared (Mark 6:16 NIV). Realizing the threat of retaliatory steps by Herod because of the widespread publicity of His ministry, Jesus withdrew from the limelight with His disciples to more remote places. After a time, He resumed ministry in Galilee but began to set His face toward His destiny in Jerusalem. “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21 NIV). In His final approach to Jerusalem, while ministering in the Jordan valley some Pharisees came to Him. “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” Jesus’ reply tells us plainly His disdain for Antipas and His unrelenting purpose to continue on to Jerusalem. “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:31-33 NIV).
Jesus then cuts to the heart of the matter, addressing the tortured fate, yet hopeful future, of Jerusalem in three prophetic sentences. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Luke 13:34-35 NIV Emphasis added).
It was the week of Passover, and because of the feast, Jerusalem was teeming with pilgrims. Roman officials were also in the city as was their custom during feasts. Pontius Pilate, the ruling Judean Prefect had traveled up to Jerusalem from his seat of government in Caesarea and Herod Antipas, Galilee’s ruler had arrived in town. Jesus and His disciples took up residence just outside of Jerusalem in Bethany. It was the village of Lazarus, whom He had recently raised from the dead. Tension-filled uncertainty gripped Jerusalem. There had been a recent Galilean rebellion in the city which Pilate had cruelly suppressed, killing eighteen Jews and mixing their blood with their sacrifices. The aftershocks of that were still reverberating as an insurrection leader and convicted murderer named Barabbas sat on death row. Jewish leaders were on edge. The chief priests and elders of the Sanhedrin, jealous and fearing the influence of Jesus upon the worshippers, gathered at the palace of Caiaphas the high priest. They were scheming to secretly arrest and kill him, but hesitant to execute the plan during the feast, lest there be a riot.
On Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus began his descent with His disciples down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. Multitudes greeted Him crying “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9 NIV Emphasis added). Referred to as the “Triumphal Entry,” the crowds of people were throwing their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him, while rejoicing and praising God for all the miracles they had seen. As they got closer to Jerusalem and Jesus gazed upon the city with its magnificent Temple Mount, He began to weep over it. “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44 NIV Emphasis added). Jesus eventually made His way into the Temple courts where even the children were chanting the “Hosanna” refrain, much to the consternation of the chief priests and teachers of the law. The Bible tells us Jesus simply looked around at that point, but then departed for Bethany with His disciples, because it was late in the day.
On Monday morning Jesus again set out for the Temple. This time, grieved in His spirit at what He had seen the day before, He was on a mission to cleanse the Temple of all those of who were defiling it with buying and selling. On the way He cursed a fruitless fig tree, which reminded Him of the fruitless condition of His people and their Temple worship. Arriving at the Temple He cast the transgressors out, overturned their tables and chairs, and would not permit any goods to be carried therein. Then reminding all within earshot of God’s original intention for the Temple, instituted by King Solomon a thousand years earlier “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:17-18 NIV). At this, with the crowds hanging upon Jesus’ every word, the chief priests and scribes determined they must destroy Him.
On Tuesday, Jesus spent the bulk of the day in the Temple teaching in parables and sparring with the Jewish religious leaders and governmental officials over His authority and doctrine. At one point some Pharisees and Herodians sought to trap Jesus with a question about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus, in a clear acknowledgement of the tension of living under Roman rule, said “”Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17 NIV).
Later in the day Jesus and the disciples were alone on the Mount of Olives. Gazing down upon the Temple Mount complex, His disciples said “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!” “’Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus.” Then, somberly repeating what He had said just two days earlier when weeping over Jerusalem “Not one stone here will be left on another; everyone will be thrown down” (Mark 13:1-2 NIV Emphasis added). As they continued to question Him as to the timing and details of such a catastrophic event, Jesus launched into a long discourse describing not only that eventuality, but also the times that would usher in His second coming and the end of the world. Terming the precursors of the end as “birth pangs,” Jesus warned of wars, earthquakes, plagues, persecution, martyrdom, betrayal, tribulation, signs in the heavens, and even Daniel’s ”Abomination of Desolation” in the holy place. Throughout the unfolding of Jerusalem’s history it is a marvel to see the accuracy and timelessness of these predictions. For two millennia, century by century, every one of these birth pangs have at some point convulsed Jerusalem. The world yet awaits their culmination, but the recognition of what has gone before is a necessary preparation for what lies ahead.
The prophetic pronouncements of Jesus regarding Jerusalem, during His final days of earthly ministry, warrant careful consideration. As stated earlier, they predict both its fateful judgments and hopeful promise. With Jesus’ Messianic visitation in His first coming, Jerusalem was at a cosmic crossroads. Tragically, the refusal to receive Jesus or His gospel message, by both the city and the nation, sealed their destruction for generations to come. The day was quickly approaching when “not one stone [would] be left on another.” But fortuitously, the promise of a second coming remains. Far more recognizable than the first, the second coming of Jesus will proceed from heaven and the whole world will behold Him. At that time, the cry of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” will be a universal one; uttered not by a enlightened few, but by redeemed Jewish Israel as well as Gentile believers the world over.
Jesus likely spent Wednesday teaching in the Temple as was His daily practice, although no direct reference is made to that day in the Bible. On Thursday, preparation was made for the Passover meal which Jesus celebrated with the twelve apostles in the evening. During the supper, Judas abruptly left the upper room where they were gathered. He had made previous arrangements with Caiaphas to betray Jesus. Later that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas reappears leading an armed mob that included a Roman cohort (60-100 men) and officers from the chief priest. The hour of Jesus’ appointment in Jerusalem had arrived. Seizing Him, they led Him into the city, taking Him to the palace of the high priest. It would be His last time in Jerusalem and in the whirlwind of destiny He would appear before all the top religious and Roman leaders of the time. The high priests Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and even “that fox” Herod Antipas would all have their say and seal their fate as they confronted Jesus.
To be continued in my next blog post. Your comments and feedback are always welcome.