Since mid-December we have been working through the central 10 chapters of Luke that are bookmarked by simple observation telling us that Jesus was resolutely setting his face towards Jerusalem. Through this entire section Jesus has been primarily in Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, healing the sick, raising the dead, giving sight to the blind and confronting the religious rulers. He has saturated His mission in prayer, focused his attention upon the lost and marginalized of society including women and the despised tax collectors.
The reason we have been working through the gospel of Luke has been to highlight our vision statement: “To be known as Jesus’ disciples through actions that are motivated by love for God, for each other, and for those who suffer spiritually and physically.” “To be known as Jesus’ disciples” begins with knowing Jesus and His expectations for His followers. Consequently, we have begun with our study in Luke with a simple prayer: let us know You so that we may become more like You.”
With today’s lesson Jesus finally arrives at Jerusalem and Luke gives us his own unique perspective on those days leading up to next week’s focus: the last supper, the betrayal, the trail and crucifixion and the resurrection. So, for today, we begin with Jesus fully embracing the messianic title by fulfilling a prophecy from the book of Zechariah (9:9) that the Messiah would arrive humbly, riding on the back of a donkey. No team of horses pulling a royal carriage with a stream of soldiers to defend him and slaves to attend to His every need. Just a simple saddle of his disciples coats across the back of a borough that had never been ridden before. As He draws closer to the Mount of Olives the crowd of disciples cry out “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” The very proclamation the angels had used to announce his heavenly arrival in a feeding trough in a barn stall: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” His time had come; it is time to take His place as the Messiah…” and the donkey rounds the corner and Jerusalem appears before Him.
Jerusalem. The place once called “Salem” where Abraham went to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, the place where David had reigned as a king who was after God’s own heart; the place where David’s son, Solomon, would dedicate the temple to serve as an earthly residence of their heavenly God. Listen to the conclusion of his prayer in 2 Chronicles 6 and the first part of chapter 7:
“Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.
“Now arise, Lord God, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
May your priests, Lord God, be clothed with salvation,
may your faithful people rejoice in your goodness.
Lord God, do not reject your anointed one.
Remember the great love promised to David your servant.”
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,
“He is good;
his love endures forever.”
Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices before the Lord. And King Solomon offered a sacrifice of twenty-two thousand head of cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand sheep and goats. So the king and all the people dedicated the temple of God.
Since that time the temple had been destroyed because of Israel’s sin. But, being faithful to His promise, God once again blessed Israel and they rebuilt the temple on a more modest scale and King Herod would modify it to restore it on a grand scale, using huge blocks of white stone that made it shine in the open sunlight, sparkling with the ornamental gold, silver and precious stones that shimmered and glistened.
Jesus had been here many times before: when He was circumcised and, again when he was dedicated to God, embraced by the prophet Simeon and Anna, and later when he was 12 and was found debating scripture with the religious rulers, the descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother. Later, Satan would take Jesus there himself, lifting him up to the temple’s pinnacle tempting him to jump so that God’s angels would come to his rescue. Of all of the books in the New Testament, none other mention Jerusalem as many times as Luke does in this gospel and his accounting of the early church in Acts. During His ministry in Galilee, Jesus would reflect upon over 1,000 years of history and exclaim:
“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.’”
The day He had been anticipating had come and with the shouts “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” Jesus rounds a corner and suddenly welling up from deep inside, Luke tells us, Jesus weeps. Please understand that the word he uses here is not one used for a lump in your throat while a tear trickles down your cheek. When Jesus wept on this day, it was a lament. Laments were part of the fabric of the Old Testament. Yet, while this expression is not so frequent in the New Testament, this is what is happening here as Jesus looks over this ancient city and laments, overwhelmed, sobbing, hands over your face mourning. This is a holy moment as the Messiah finally enters to give this holy city one last opportunity to repent and return.
One author writes of this moment:
“That Jesus laments over Jerusalem is a clear revelation of his character, for a lament is complex in its nature, and it may be that not everyone is capable of such expression. A lament is a voice of love and profound caring, of vision of what could have been and of grief over its loss, of tough hope painfully releasing the object of its hope, of personal responsibility and frustration, of sorrow and anger mixed, of accepted loss but with energy enough to go on” (Cranfield, Luke, Interpretation Bible Commentary, pp. 228-9).
Looking into the future, Jesus knew that God’s presence in the temple would end suspended between heaven and earth on a cross. Further, this final Passover would mark a point in time when the sacrifices would continue on its alter pointlessly, to no avail. When the Romans finished with the carnage in Jerusalem in 70 AD not one stone remained atop each other. So bad was its destruction that people walking by would only note the remaining towers that the Romans would occupy to assure that the Jews did not return to rebuild the temple. The city itself was razed to the ground, gone, and destroyed completely.*
One last detail about the temple. Surrounding the temple itself was a court for the priests, descendants of Arron that were the only ones allowed. Beyond this was the court of Israel where only Jewish men were allowed. Next was the court of women. Anyone passing from one court yard to the next risked his or her very life if they were not allowed. Finally, in the outer court was the court of the Gentiles. It was here that Jesus erupted, starting a stampede and driving out everyone who was selling. “ “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ Luke tells us that from that point on Jesus would spend the day teaching in the temple. The Messiah had come to take up residence in his home for the very last time. At night, Luke tells us, He would retreat to the Mount of Olives to rest up for the next day of teaching in the temple. At the same time, the chief priests and teachers of the law are conspiring with others to find a way to kill him. The problem is that they could not get near him because the people were hanging on his every word.
During this time the religious leaders confronted Jesus: “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said, “Who gave you this authority?” This was a legitimate question for any man who would presume to have the right to teach publicly in the temple courts of the Jewish people. A legitimate question, that is, unless the one you are questioning is God Himself in His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the authority who has given them permission from the beginning…but they do not recognize him because they do not know him. And so, when he asks them whether John’s baptism was from men or from God they reply that they do not know because of their fear of the crowds.
After telling a parable that pointed towards the cross and it’s result of pushing past the unbelieving Jews and opening the kingdom’s gates to everyone the religious leaders and planted spies pepper him with further questions about paying taxes and marriage in the afterlife with the Sadducees who did not believe in eternal life. Regarding his own messiah-ship Jesus asks how the Messiah can be both a son of king David and David’s Lord at the same time. Finally, Jesus warns His disciples:
“Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
Looking up he sees the rich putting their tithes into the temple treasury out of their wealth while a poor widow drops two small copper coins into the collection box. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others….she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke concludes this section with Jesus’ teaching about God’s judgements coming: His own crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection andascension; the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and His final return on Judgement Day. Because of Jesus’ warnings, the church historian Eusebius around 400 A.D. tells us that Christian prophets went through the city to tell other Christians to get out before Titus’s army arrived from Rome to begin a 4-year siege in 66 A.D.
Luke concludes this section to prepare us for the events that surrounded the cross with a simple observation: “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple” (Luke 21:37-38).
* Josephus, Flavius, and H. St. J. Thackeray. The Jewish War. 1928 ed. Vol. III. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1979. Print. Loeb Classical Library. p. 505.