For the love of his servant David, Yahweh freely chose to make a house (or dynasty) for David. Yahweh also freely chose to fill with his glory the house made for him by David’s son Solomon and completed in 1005 BC. By doing so, Yahweh made his temple and Jerusalem the spiritual center of his people Israel. He gave the city of Jerusalem spiritual in addition to political significance.
When Jesus came, Yahweh’s glorious presence was no longer defined by and limited to his temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus came, he embodied Yahweh’s presence. Wherever Jesus went, Yahweh’s Kingdom of Heaven became present there in all its fullness.
The replacement of Jerusalem by Jesus meant the replacement of Israel as the people of Yahweh by faithful witnesses to Jesus. To be clear: initially, almost all of these faithful witnesses, such as the apostle Paul, were Jews. Soon many more were Olympians invited and enabled by Jesus to live as faithful witnesses. These witnesses eventually came to be called Christians. Never, however, did all people who called themselves Christians live as faithful witnesses to Jesus. Today hardly any do. Today some Jews, Muslims, and even self-identified Olympians continue to be.
Jesus told religious leaders opposing him that he himself would replace the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”…But he was speaking of the temple of his body (John 2:19, 21).
Jesus also pointed to the destruction of the temple building in Jerusalem. As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:1-2). In AD 30, the temple of Christ’s body was destroyed but raised to new life on the third day. In AD 70, the temple buildings in Jerusalem were destroyed but never rebuilt. They had served their purpose.
Jesus, by becoming the substitute for Jerusalem, or its replacement, profaned Jerusalem. He took away its quality of being holy and made it plain, conventional, Olympian only, once again. There is no longer anything sacred about it.
All the fuss made over Jerusalem since the resurrection of Jesus has betrayed a complete ignorance of the meaning of Jesus. It has been a witness not to Jesus but to the six false gods of Olympianity and to their religion of power.
This profanation of Jerusalem by Jesus also meant that everything else lost any intrinsic holiness. Everything else was made just plain ordinary once again. After Jesus, there are no more holy mountains, fountains, cups, rituals, robes, buildings, or persons.
We may also say that, once Jesus makes the city of Jerusalem just plain Olympian again, it in truth replaces Babylon as the quintessential city.
When [the two witnesses] have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified (Revelation 11:7-8). Jerusalem was literally the city where Jesus was crucified. Here it is said to be spiritually like Babylon, the city previously called great, as well as Sodom and Egypt. With the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem, it became the great city and sum of all rebellion against Yahweh.
This Olympian nature of Jerusalem had always been a part of its nature. Jesus had no illusions about it. “‘Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Luke 13:33-34). Even Jerusalem, like all other cities, served the gods as a focal point for their destructive work and happily murdered witnesses to the one true god who disturbed its tranquil devotion to them.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34-35). Again: As he came near and saw the city, [Jesus] 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. Indeed, the days will come upon you when your enemies…will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:41-44). No, Jerusalem wanted to keep all its children away from Jesus. Even though its inhabitants imagined themselves devoted to the true god, they did not recognize him when he came to them in person.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem…See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:37-39). Jerusalem has been materially devastated many times during its long mediocre history. The virulent contradictions of its various religious groups remind us that its spiritual devastation remains to this day.
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those in the country must not enter it; for these are the days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written” (Luke 21:20-22). To live as faithful witnesses to Jesus, we must always flee the city; that is, we must always abandon the Olympian worldview which all cities embody. To live as Christians, we must also occasionally abandon the cities themselves if we are to avoid being destroyed along with them. Perhaps this a word of truth which Jesus seeks to speak with us through Luke today.
(Today we continued our reflections on Jacques Ellul’s The Meaning of the City [Eerdmans, pp. 135-147]. Today’s biblical quotes come from the New Revised Standard Version.)
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