O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Bible Trivia games can be fun, stirring the interest of the most ardent of Bible students; and sometimes stimulating spiritually those who have only a marginal interest in such things. Nothing wrong with Bible Trivia, as long as we don’t trivialize and play games with the Word of God itself. Whether in casual conversation, or in a Sunday school class, or a mother lovingly training her child in the Scriptures with an easy question to answer, most believers and even some unbelievers have asked or been asked, “What is the shortest verse in the Bible?” Many times down through the 67 years I’ve been on this earth, I’ve heard this cute little question.
Yes, I’m asking you! Agreed, a pretty easy question for some, unless you’re not all that familiar with Scripture. Answer: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
As long as we’re on the subject, how about a slightly more difficult question: What was the occasion that caused Jesus such deep sorrow, so profound that even the Son of God (though he was also fully man) broke down and cried? Nearly every time I read this passage, I’m no less impressed that omnipotent, omniscient Divinity would shed tears of grief, especially in public for all to see. Though Jesus was also the Son of Man, and cared deeply for the physical and spiritual welfare of both friend and foe; as the Son of God wouldn’t he set aside personal feelings, and rise above the grief-stricken moments of life that so many people dread and seldom discuss … such as death?
This question is only a little more difficult than the first, because many of you know the answer. The setting was the death of Jesus’s close friend, Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha, also dear friends of our Lord. But think about it: Jesus knew that Lazarus had died before he was even told. In fact, at first he was only told that Lazarus was very sick. He also knew the purpose for the untimely passing of Lazarus … so that Jesus could demonstrate his mighty power over death itself, by raising someone who had been dead four days—something that had never been done before. (The Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha and then Jesus had raised people from the dead, but very soon after they had died … before they were buried).
Jesus knew all of these things, but still he wept openly. And what was the reaction of those who saw him weeping? “The people who were standing nearby said, ‘See how much he loved him!’ But some said, ‘This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?’”
Had I been there, I suppose one of these reactions would have been mine. I’d like to think my response would have been with those of the first group … to discern that Jesus’s acute anguish was because he loved Lazarus. Which would have been the right response. Of course, Jesus loved his friend.
But he loves us all equally. And the Bible teaches us that his love is unconditional, a love that no one can totally grasp or entirely appreciate; a love that drove him to the Cross where he voluntarily allowed cruel, evil men to torture him, spill his blood, and crucify him. And yet we know full well: We all nailed him to that Cross. Might, then, there be another reason why Jesus was so passionately upset?
Let’s answer that question with a question that is more difficult than the first two, a question that I think not too many could answer off the top of their heads … without referring to the passage itself. In addition to deep sorrow and grief, did Jesus express any other emotion when he saw Mary “…weeping and saw the other people wailing with her….” If so, what were those spontaneous reactions? And were these strong feelings expressed before or after he wept?
If you said, yes—then you’re right. There were other things going on in Jesus’s mind and heart than just grief. What were they? Let’s read the text: “When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled” (John 11:33, italics for emphasis). Anger is self-explanatory, but note that it was deep (unfathomable, bottomless) and it welled (gushed, flooded) up (in his soul and heart). Deeply troubled depicts frustration, disturbance, aggravation. And these overpowering feelings were expressed before he wept. But also after … at least the anger. “Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance” (John 11:38).
Progressively, we’ve now reached a tougher (perhaps for some a very tough) question. Beyond the deep sorrow, why or at what was Jesus angry and troubled? If we look only at the passage on Lazarus’ death and Jesus raising him from the dead, we would need to speculate a bit to answer this question. But when we examine other episodes in Jesus’s life and teachings, the explanation becomes very clear.
Some Things That Troubled Jesus (Significantly)
It’s unmistakably evident in the gospels that Jesus was greatly disturbed—sometimes to the point of anger—over the appalling effects of sin in the human race. The consequences of this dreaded disease that affects all of mankind is nothing short of devastating, including physical death itself. Even worse, spiritual death which is eternal separation from God in the Lake of Fire. But it didn’t have to be this way. All Adam and Eve had to do was to believe God, listen to and obey the one command he gave them. Had they done that, they and their descendants would have lived forever, including Jesus’s dear friend, Lazarus. And, Jesus need not have died a horrible death on a Cross for our sins.
Jesus was equally furious with the religious leaders in Jerusalem and throughout Israel who were as he described them, “The blind leading the blind.” Most recall Jesus’s righteous anger when he overthrew the tables of the money-changers in the Temple, and actually drove them out at the end of a whip. These self-righteous double-dealers couldn’t have cared less about the sanctity of the Temple and those who were there to truly worship the Lord. These charlatans cared only about money, power, and prestige.
Many Pharisees and Sadducees had personally witnessed or were told first-hand about numerous miracles performed by Jesus, not the least of which was Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead; but they still rejected him and his claim to be their Messiah, the very Son of God. He lashed out at their hypocrisy, but he didn’t condemn them, as such, for their many sins (because their very sins had already sentenced them to everlasting judgment); rather he convicted them for their unbelief, for their stubborn refusal to see and believe that he was their Messiah Redeemer. Their mind was made up: No amount of miracles or words of truth would soften their hardened hearts. They refused to believe that they even needed personal salvation. Only “sinners” needed to be forgiven; and they certainly were not sinners!
He blasted them as hypocrites, as “sons of the devil” because they had elevated man-made traditions above the law of Moses, all the while thinking and preaching that righteousness (right standing with God) was only possible by keeping the law of Moses and following dozens of additional rules and regulations, which no one had ever done or could do, including the religious among them. Tragically, many do this to this very day, through religious systems that deem man-made traditions equal to or even greater than the Bible, the very Word of God. (See my Eye of Prophecy articles on the Woman and the Beast, or the Wiles of the Woman).
Thus, Jesus, in a brief sweeping panoramic moment of heartache over the tragic condition of the human race so agonizingly exemplified in the death of a close friend, wept. He wept in sorrow, and he wept with anger. Jesus knew what he was about to do … raise Lazarus from the dead! Still, for a moment … in the moment, the horrible consequences of man’s sin and rebellion against his very Creator, overwhelmed our Lord with grief, anger, and exasperation beyond our finite ability to fully understand or empathize.
It’s apparent that the Lord was even a little bit miffed at Martha, who had just a few moments earlier agreed with Jesus when he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this, Martha?” ‘Yes, Lord,’ she told him…’” (John 11:25-27). Because, when Jesus told them to roll away the stone, “…Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, ‘Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.’ Jesus responded, ‘Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?’” (John 11: 39-40). I’m positive, however, this was a loving, gentle reprimand, unlike his righteous indignation against the religious leaders.
And then we’re told exactly why Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, in Jesus’s prayer to the Father just before he commanded Lazarus to, “Come out.” The reason: “…so that they will believe you sent me” (Verse 42). And isn’t that the reason we believe in Christ to this day? Or the reason that anyone who really cares and is searching for truth and answers and who truly wants to live forever in heaven should believe in Jesus?
Raising Lazarus from the dead is a breath-taking example of God’s love for the individual, for every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. “For God so loved the world…” (Meaning every person ever born).
Now, let’s take a look at Messiah’s unsurpassed love and unequaled compassion for an entire nation.
Can you think of another incident in which Jesus wept? Where and why? Is it when he uttered the words which are the title of this article, O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem…? No, it isn’t, but we’ll get to that passage later on. Sorry, space is short, so I needed to be more abrupt here!
Before we examine the other scene in which Jesus wept, and clearly see that Jesus was also referring to the holy city of Jerusalem in the holy land of Israel, we need to grasp the fact that neither in the ancient past nor in the contemporary present has God ever set aside or chosen a specific (race of) people or a nation or a land to be his people or his special possession other than Israel … the Jews. Of course, he has called out and saved (redeemed) individuals from all languages and nations to be the sons and daughters of God; but the Church is not spiritually or symbolically Israel. Never was, never will be. God has two distinct plans in simultaneous operation: One for Israel, nationally as the sovereign land of Israel; the other for the Church, composed of all individuals, both Jew and Gentile, who have placed their trust in Jesus sacrificial death on the Cross.
To be sure, there are some universal principles in Scripture whereby God relates to and deals with nations in similar fashion as he does with Israel. For example, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…” (Psalms 33:12). With the obvious reverse connotation: Any nation whose corporate leaders and national laws deny, distort, diminish, or even trivialize God’s spiritual and moral laws will be a nation that God will leave to itself. The worst thing that can happen to any city, state, or nation that deliberately turn their back on God is that the Lord will withdraw his blessings and protection. It is said: Be careful what you wish for! If by our words and actions we respond to God’s Word of truth, life, justice, and peace, with, “No thanks, we’ll do it our way;” then that’s precisely what will happen. He’ll give us our own way. Then look out: We’re on our own!
Of course, that’s perfectly okay, if citizens of a country place their trust and confidence in their political, social, and economic leaders! To the extreme of making all things secular and shaping that secular humanism into a godlike status. What’s to worry? The State or Federal government will take care of us! Our military will save us! Scripture is clear on that, too. Without God’s sovereign guidance and protection, all the military might in the world is futile. God’s own chosen people did that and look what happened: Total destruction of Israel and exiled captivity at the hands of their worst enemies.
Obviously, I’m referring now to this great country called the United States of America. I only hope it’s not the late great country. But in the grand scheme of things, this wonderful Republic is just one of many nations on earth, all of which will be ultimately judged (as a nation) by our treatment of Israel and/or our expulsion of God from every facet of our society. If we ever become a godless nation, we will go the way of other once mighty kingdoms who have fallen into ruin, or have become a shell of what they once were, or have ceased to exist altogether.
Israel, and only Israel, was given through Abraham the awesome covenant promise that the land of Israel belongs exclusively to the Jews, and will remain forever as their land. With Jerusalem, itself as the ultimate dwelling place of the Most High God. And that God’s Messiah (his very Son) will rule and reign from his throne in Jerusalem as promised through the covenant promise with King David, the mightiest king in Israel. Until that is, Christ returns as the King of kings. Last but not least, the words of Jesus, himself, when he said, “…salvation comes through the Jews” (John 4:22). There are several other promises unique to Israel, but these three are top of the list.
And, I’m certainly not belittling America or demeaning any other nation. She was founded by men and woman who acknowledged the sovereign providence of God, many of whom were born-again believers in Christ. This nation has seen millions upon millions of people come to faith in Christ; a direct result of the unabridged freedom of worship and liberty to pursue life and truth and peace unparalleled in the annals of human history.
I am as patriotic as anyone I know (of). I still get chills when I hear our National Anthem. I still shed a tear or two when I hear songs like, God Bless the USA (Lee Greenwood). Go, ahead, you know the melody. Sing the chorus aloud, or to yourself if you’re (for example) in a library or on a plane while reading this!
That I’m proud to be an American,
Where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died,
Who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up,
Next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.
But we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that this country has been and still is beyond God’s discipline and even withdrawal of his protection, especially if we oppose Israel or even ignore her. Or, if we continue to remove God and the name of Christ from our governments, schools, public squares, and military. I mean, even military chaplains can no longer pray, “In the name of Jesus.” God help us.
The Second Weeping
Messiah Jesus loves each person who ever lived, enough to die for us. But the Lord also loves Israel as a nation, with a unique love that is special to/for her people. So much so, that he wept a second time (on Palm Sunday) five days before he was crucified and eight days before he arose from the dead.
“But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to weep. ‘How I wish today that you of all people (meaning his very own chosen people by birth/blood) would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation’” (Luke 19: 41-44, italics for emphasis).
The New American Standard Bible translates the last part of this passage, “…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
Both versions are saying the same thing: In spite of overwhelming evidence then—and even more so after Jesus arose from the dead—Israel deliberately and (some) out of ignorance refused to recognize and acknowledge that their Messiah (Immanuel, God with them) had come to Israel at the appointed time, prophesied to the very day by one of their prophets. God, himself, through the Son of God, Jesus, had visited his people and lived among them, urging them to turn from their sins, call upon the Lord and be saved. But they did not accept their opportunity for salvation.
This broke Jesus’s heart. And, he wept.
He knew this from the beginning, which is why he knew that he must fulfill his very purpose on this earth—an unbelievably cruel death on a Cross—for the sake of the Jews first, but also for the Gentiles (Romans 1:16). He knew that his people would not heed the plea of God Almighty when he said long before “…O Israel, if you would only listen to me!” (Psalms 81:8). And when God told the disciples (and the whole world) on the Mount of Transfiguration, “…This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him” (Matthew 17:5, italics for emphasis).
This was not the first time Jesus agonized over Israel. Earlier, some Pharisees (of all people) who apparently had listened and were at least half-way receptive to what Jesus was teaching and doing came to warn him. They said, “Get away from here if you want to live! Herod Antipas wants to kill you!” (Luke 13:31).
I love the Lord’s reply: “Go tell that fox that I will keep on casting out demons and healing people today and tomorrow; and the third day I will accomplish my purpose. Yes, today, tomorrow and the next day I must proceed on my way. For it wouldn’t do for a prophet of God to be killed except in Jerusalem!” (Luke 13: 32-33). Astounding! Profound! But everything Jesus said and did was off the mind-boggling chart.
So, you didn’t think Jesus could be sarcastic if he wanted to? But the sarcasm was reserved expressly for Herod and the religious leaders who would later demand his crucifixion. Imbedded in his reply was a prophetic reference to his resurrection on the third day—to accomplish his majestic, but spiritually and physically painful purpose for coming to earth as the Son of God, but also the Son of Man.
Next comes an even more starling response, which is an abrupt change in his words and emotions. But nevertheless a continuation of his train of thought regarding Jerusalem … as represented by the all-powerful, highly respected, seldom questioned or challenged religious leaders … but even to include many common people, who would later join their pious leaders during Jesus’s trial, sentencing, and death.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now, look, your house is abandoned. And you will never see me again until you say, “Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13: 34-35).
I have learned the Hebrew expression for that last sentence. Baruch, haba, beshem, Adonai. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Though Scripture doesn’t record that Jesus shed tears when he uttered these heart-rending words, he may have. At the very least, he vented his incredible passion and compassion for Israel and for Jerusalem. So great a love, and so great a salvation that most of Israel missed during his first visit to this beloved land, and city of Jerusalem that many call: The center of the universe.
As Jesus solemnly predicted in both passages: Forty years later Jerusalem would be sacked by the Romans, the Temple demolished with not one stone remaining on another, and the Jews exiled to the four corners of the earth.
Does the story end there? Not on your life. Or the life of any Jew today. Jesus said they forfeited peace when they wouldn’t let him bring them together and show what he would do for them … by believing and receiving him as Messiah and as God. To this very day, Israel still longs for that peace. To this very day, her enemies have sworn not to seek peace with Israel, but to destroy her. Many of my Eye of Prophecy articles have touched on that subject.
But soon, very soon, there will come a day when Messiah Jesus declared that the surviving remnant of Israel will, “…look on me whom they have pierced and mourn for him as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him as for a firstborn son who has died” (Zechariah 12:10).
But when mercilessly attacked by their enemies, they will also fight alongside of Messiah: “On that day the Lord will defend the people of Jerusalem; the weakest among them will be as mighty as King David…For on that day I will begin to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12: 8-9).
And on that day Israel will shout from the rooftops in unison, with hearts of gratitude and gladness: “Blessed is he (Jesus) who comes in the name of The Lord (God the Father)!”
Things to Ponder
Who do you say that Jesus is? Is he just one of a few great men and/or teachers who ever lived? How will you answer his question, his challenge directed specifically to his disciples, but also universally to every individual … to you?
“Then he asked them, ‘But who do you say I am?’” (Matthew 16:15, italics for emphasis). Amazingly, his question contains the answer … I am? That was the sacred name God gave to Moses (Yahweh).
Can you, will you say what Peter said in response? “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Verse 16).
Jesus doesn’t merely show us a way to God. He IS The Way.
He doesn’t just give us truth. He IS Truth.
He doesn’t only explain what life is all about. He IS Life. (John 14:6).
See the Eye of Prophecy blog site page entitled, God’s Plan of Salvation.