Jerusalem was several things. It was the seat of power, where the civic power ruled from. It was the capital city from the time of David and in Jesus’ time where King Herod had his palace.
Jerusalem was a cultural centre, it had a place in the hearts of the people as it represented through its long history what it meant to be Jewish.
It was a centre of commerce. Allowing for the agricultural peasant farming of the time, Jerusalem was a trading centre,
Jerusalem was also the religious centre where God’s temple could be found. It was a place of pilgrimage at the great religious feasts of the year, you had to take your sacrificial offerings to the temple in Jerusalem. As a religious, comercial and civic centre it is like, if you are English, London, Canterbury and York combined.
But it was far more than that …
The Gospel of Matthew is written as a series of six narrative sections, telling the story of Jesus’ life, interspersed with five sections of teaching. The beginning of the Gospel links back into the past of the Old Testament. This, the last of the teaching sections, links forward to the future. Advent is a time when we look forward to the return of Christ.
Lament over Jerusalem
‘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. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”’Matthew 23:37-39 NIV UK
Jerusalem was more than just a religious, cultural, commercial and religious centre. Jerusalem was where God lived on earth. When the glory of God filled the temple at its consecration in the time of King Solomon, it was so overwhelming that the temple musicians were unable to sing or play, God became to live on Earth in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the centre of the universe because God was there.
Jesus was saying this in Jerusalem at Passover.
Passover we know as a religious celebration, it was and it is. Passover or Pesach was one one of the three Biblically ordained pilgrimage feasts but it was more than that. The Passover, when God passed over the Israelite houses, followed by the exodus from Egypt was when the nation of Israel was born and a time for pride. To celebrate Passover was a political event, in a time of foreign occupation it was a time to talk about the return of Jewish sovereignty.
Into this baffling mix of religion, culture, politics and nationalism walks Jesus. The reading above is after he has just laid in to the teachers of the law and Pharisees, getting stronger in his condemnation of their practices at each point. This is part of the same speech and it shows that what Jesus said, although very strong was said in love.
It is also based on the Old Testament, the scriptures that the Pharisees based their rules on. The people persecuted the prophets perpetually in Palestine, over and over and over again. You only have to skim read Jeremiah to see how he was treated. Jerusalem was not just for the Jews though. “The joy of the whole earth … is mount Zion,” wrote the sons of Korah in Psalm 48:2 (my added bold). The words of love from Jesus about gathering your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, were spoken by Moses in his final sermon in Deuteronomy 32:11. These are words of love, protection and willingness to die for the people, not just of Jerusalem, or Judea, but for all people of the world for all time.
Yet Jesus leaves Jerusalem with a promise. He will return to Jerusalem and they will then accept him. The words are clearly apocalyptic. Jesus is moving from the words of Moses to the rule of the Messiah on Earth and is linking the practises of the Pharisees, via the purpose of Jerusalem to the end of the age in just a few words. I wish I could be that concise, well done if you have got to the end of this blog.