As Jesus came near and saw Jerusalem, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Luke 19:41–42
Examine the faces of these two Romans: Vespasian on the left and his son Titus on the right. Together they commanded armies that annihilated Jerusalem a generation after Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew what they would do, and yearned to head off the catastrophe.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives at the beginning of Passover week. Shortly he would enter the holy city with crowds shouting “hosanna!” But grief welled up because Jesus saw disaster ahead for a misguided and polarized people. Some—such as the Herod dynasty or the Sadducees who ran the temple—unscrupulously collaborated with the occupying Roman power. Others were bent on armed revolt against Rome. If only you recognized the things that make for peace!
Things that make for peace abound in the ministry of Jesus: do good to those who hate, carry a Roman soldier’s pack the extra mile, heal a centurion’s servant, refuse to lord it over others, cross ethnic boundaries to show compassion, forgive enemies, speak truth. Such fruitful peacemaking grows out of deep spiritual roots. Jesus’ first public act after the triumphal entry was to liberate the temple from dishonest money changers, declaring, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 11:17). Prayer forms the center; all nations shows the reach of his love.
A generation later, Jewish rebels succeeded in ousting Roman forces—and then the empire struck back. General Vespasian commanded Roman legions seeking to reconquer Palestine. When Vespasian left for Italy to become emperor in AD 69, Titus took over to finish the brutal task. As always, Rome was ruthless against those who challenged its sovereignty.
Jesus saw disaster coming for Jerusalem: “Your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side,” he said. “They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:43–44). Jesus told his followers not to support the imminent revolt: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then . . . those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it. . .” (Luke 21:20-21). As war started in AD 66, Christians at Jerusalem in fact decamped to Pella in what today is Jordan.
War always is hell, but the final siege of Jerusalem is beyond imagining. Four Roman legions surrounded the city, with the Tenth Legion on the Mount of Olives where Jesus had wept (see more on the Tenth Legion at https://peace-pilgrim.com/2015/03/09/to-hell-with-the-pigs/). Thousands trapped in the city starved, and some turned to cannibalism.
Civil war irrupted within Jerusalem between rebel factions, while delirious revolutionaries predicted apocalyptic deliverance. To demoralize defenders of Jerusalem, General Titus crucified so many Jewish prisoners of war outside the city wall that “space could not be found for the crosses and for the bodies” (Josephus, War 3:341). When the city fell, the temple was in ashes and tens of thousands of Jews either were crucified or sold into slavery.
Violent solutions can seem attractive to aggrieved people, but in the end may lead to greater suffering.
© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************
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Join me for a Peace-Pilgrim bible study tour to Jordan, Israel and Palestine this fall! See: Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015. Watch for information on another Jordan, Israel, Palestine tour in the fall of 2016.
See my book on Christians and Jews in the Roman empire at http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Allegiance-Politics-Devotion-Revelation/dp/1587432617/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425912158&sr=8-1&keywords=apocalypse+and+allegiance