Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Lament Over Jerusalem

Life of Christ 146

          We last saw Christ on Friday night at the celebratory dinner put on by Simon in Bethany. Saturday was the Sabbath, and would have been spent quietly in Bethany. On Sunday morning, Jesus and the Apostles got up and headed into Jerusalem. This is the day of the famous Triumphal Entry, otherwise known as Palm Sunday. Before we get to that, however, we must examine something that takes place along the way, namely, the lament over Jerusalem. (Luke 19.41-44)
          The key to understanding this story is to see the contrast in it between Jesus and everyone else present.
  Jerusalem, normally a city of 200,000 is packed with millions of Jews. They have spilled out of the city on every side almost all the way to Bethany. This tremendous crowd had one man on their mind and one name on their lips – Jesus. Then, when the news began to trickle through the vast throng that Jesus was about to come riding into the city (Matthew 21.1-5) hundreds of thousands of them surrounded an impromptu parade route. There were certainly many Christians in the crowd, and as they cheered the arrival of Jesus the crowd began to pick up on the enthusiasm. As it will, excitement bred still more excitement, and soon everyone and their brother was cheering.
          The Apostles, meanwhile, surrounding the ass and the colt on which Jesus was riding were thinking about one thing – the kingdom. It had been on their mind for weeks now. (see Life of Christ 139 and Life of Christ 142) When Jesus told them to get the animals in order to fulfill Zechariah's prophecy, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, (Zechariah 9.9) His words confirmed what their hearts had so long craved. Now, strolling along with Him, they are smiling and laughing. They are soaking it all in.
          They gave up their lives to follow Christ. They tramped with Him all over Palestine. They slept under the stars. They ate poor man's food. They were criticized, attacked, slandered, laughed at, and mocked. They endured awful nights, such as the one when Jesus had earlier rejected a crown (see Life of Christ 74). They have struggled to understand and to follow Jesus. Now then, their ship has come in. Their faith is being repaid. Jesus is taking charge. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin are about to get a kick in the teeth. The Roman Empire is about to be turned upside down. Israel will be on top. And this Man, to whom they have been supremely loyal, and to whom they were closer than anyone else is about to take charge. Finally. This is it.
          The crowd cheers itself hoarse. The Apostles build air castles out of their dreams. And all alone, astride the animals, without a soul noticing, Jesus silently weeps. And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it. (Luke 19.41). The crowd made the mistake of being excited about the excitement. The Apostles made the mistake of being excited by their own desires. Jesus saw, not the present excitement, but an awful tragedy in the not distant future.
          Thirty years later in AD 66 Emperor Nero, running out of money, demanded that Florus (in charge of Judea) confiscate the Temple's money. One of the responses was a group of Jews who mockingly begged for money on the street to provide for a bankrupt Roman government. Enraged, Florus tried to find them but could not. He settled for grabbing some random citizens off the same street and crucifying them. Without warning, like dry tinder to which a spark is suddenly laid, the Jews rose up in revolt against Rome.
          Initially their rebellion met with success. They captured the Roman fortress at Masada. Using weapons captured from the fortress, they rooted out the Roman garrison at the Fortress Antonio in Jerusalem. In response to this Rome sent in portions of four legions, and was soundly beaten. In fact, the Jews even captured one of the legions standards, a grave sin in the eyes of Rome. The revolt thrived, casting the Romans out of the rest of Judea, and most of Galilee.
          Rome, of course, did not take this sitting down. They sent in three full legions under the command of Vespasian. In a year's time he reconquered Galilee and most of Judea. He was closing in on Jerusalem when Nero suddenly died. As it often did, the death of a Roman emperor sent the empire into a short but nasty civil war as claimants fought each other for the throne. Vespasian was involved in this and actually won the throne, becoming the next emperor. In the process, though, he largely abandoned the war in Palestine and the Jews, once again, rolled back the Roman gains.
          In AD 69 the now Emperor Vespasian sent his son, Titus, back to Judea to finish the job. Titus well knew that until he reconquered Jerusalem the rebellion would continue to smolder. By the spring of AD 70 he had surrounded the city with four legions, including one camped on the very spot where Jesus wept looking over Jerusalem thirty years before.
          It was Passover. The Jews held themselves to their religious ordinances even in the midst of war, and hundreds of thousands of them streamed toward Jerusalem. Titus, cleverly, allowed the civilians to pass his lines into the city and then refused to allow any food to follow. As the food shortage grew acute gangs of men began to roam the city streets, breaking into houses searching for food. Cannibalism was reported.
          There were approximately 26,000 Jewish soldiers holed up in Jerusalem under various leaders along with more than a million civilians. Shortly, these soldiers fell to quarreling with themselves. This factionalism allowed the Romans to build siege works with complete impunity. For weeks the Romans besieged Jerusalem while control of various walls and gates surged back and forth. Finally, realizing how difficult it would be to root the Jews out of the strong points in Jerusalem, Titus backed up and settled down to starve them out. He cut down every tree within ten miles of Jerusalem and built his own wall, a wooden palisade that surrounded the city completely.
          The tables had turned. Now, Jews that had been desperate to keep the Romans out of Jerusalem became desperate to get out themselves. Those that tried to sneak through the lines were almost always caught, and an average of 500 Jews a day were thus crucified for weeks. Meanwhile, inside the city, starvation and disease were rampant. The Jewish soldiers would carry the dead bodies out of the Eastern Gate and thrown them into the Kidron Valley. One defector told Titus that the Jews themselves estimated the number of corpses they thus disposed of to be at least one hundred fifteen thousand.
The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem
Francisco Hayez, 1867
   It was now mid-July. The battle had begun in April. With the city substantially weakened Titus managed to storm and recapture Fortress Antionio. This was one of the highest points in Jerusalem and was directly adjacent to the Temple. In fact, Herod the Great had built them as two portions of the same extended set of works. Stone by stone, the Romans tore down the fortress in order to build siege works against the Temple. Once those siege works got close enough the Romans either set fire to the Temple or it was accidentally kindled. In either event, with the burning of the Temple (a massive building project of decades only just finished seven years prior) the heart of Israel was crushed.
          Stalwart Jewish zealots continued to fight on, as in the Warsaw Ghetto against the Nazis 2000 years later, in the sewers as well as in the palace. Stone by stone, the massive Temple was pulled down to build siege works against the palace, which was soon taken. The fighting in the sewers continued, but by September 8 it was all over.
The Arch of Titus
          Titus mercilessly plundered the city. An intact arch celebrating his triumph over Jerusalem can still be seen in Rome today. A hundred thousand Jews were taken in chains to Rome where they gave their lives to construct one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Colosseum. In six months 600,000 Jews were either killed, burned, or crucified in Jerusalem. Another 500,000 died from starvation, violence, and disease. The Temple, with its archives and treasury, was looted, burned, and torn apart stone by stone.
          And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto they peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. (Luke 19.41-44)

          …the crowd of millions cheered a Jesus they did not believe in. The Apostles walked beside Him into Jerusalem with dreams of glory dancing in their heads. And above them all rode Christ, with tears streaming down His face.

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