“‘When you see soldiers camped all around Jerusalem, then you’ll know that she is about to be devastated. If you’re living in Judea at the time, run for the hills. If you’re in the city, get out quickly. If you’re in the fields, don’t go home to get your coat. This is Vengeance Day – everything written about it will come to a head. Pregnant and nursing mothers will have it especially hard. Incredible misery! Torrential rage! People dropping like flies; people dragged off to prisons; Jerusalem under the boot of barbarians until the nations finish what was given them to do.'” Luke 21:20-24.
Why is it that this one city should have experienced more war and destruction than any other city in the world? What does Jerusalem have that makes it the focus of so much conflict? It has no strategic geographical significance, no major economic or industrial function, some historical and archaeological interest, perhaps, but not enough for nations to have fought over it for more than three thousand years.
Once again the issue is a spiritual one. Three major faiths claim Jerusalem as their own. Judaism claims it because Jerusalem was the City of David, their greatest king. It was the capital of their Promised Land and the Temple the symbol of God’s presence among them. Islam claims Abraham as the ancestor of their race; their great Mosque of Omar occupies the place where he offered his son and where the Temple once stood. Christians love Jerusalem because it was the city where Jesus was crucified and rose again.
Jesus’ answer to His disciples’ question, ‘Teacher, when is this going to happen?’ takes in two major events, the destruction of Jerusalem under the Roman general, Titus, in 70 AD and the tumultuous events preceding His return. It is not easy to separate these two happenings because, in His predictions, they seem almost to run together. Perhaps He did this on purpose to prevent people from assigning dates to the ‘end of the world’.
When we read about the fall of Jerusalem, it fills us with horror because God appears to be cruel and heartless, subjecting people to terrible suffering out of revenge for not taking Him seriously. But that is not God’s way. From the beginning of their history He made it clear that their protection lay in their trust in Him and obedience to His word. He showed His love for them by rescuing them from slavery and by giving them a good land but they chose to reject Him and worship the worthless idols of the surrounding nations.
It was their choice, not God’s, that brought destruction on them. “Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when He led you in the way?” Jeremiah 2:17 (NIV).
The Jews sealed their fate by thoughtlessly calling God’s judgment upon them at Jesus’ trial. “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood.’ he said, ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let His blood be on us and on our children.'” Matthew 27:24-25 (NIV).
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to claim His rightful kingship of His people, the sight of the city reduced Him to tears because He saw the outcome of their rejection of Him.
“‘The days will come when your enemies will build an embankment against you and will 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 recognise the time of God’s coming to you.'” Luke 19:43-44 (NIV).
God’s word makes it clear that whatever fate we suffer is the end result of our own choices. He has given us the option to receive the mercy He offers us because Jesus died in our place. He honours our freedom to choose right up to the choice of our own destiny. For those who honour Him, there is mercy, forgiveness and a new life which never ends; for those who reject His offer, the eternal rubbish heap of wasted opportunity.