Luke 9 said Jesus set his face steadfastly toward Jerusalem. In light of what Jerusalem did to him it isn’t surprising that our first question might be about that it meant for Jesus. He was betrayed, railroaded, abused, humiliated and executed. He knew this was ahead.
Another question of profound and lasting consequence is this: What did it mean for Israel?
There was no doubt in Jesus’ mind what it meant for them. Look at him and listen to him.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chick under her wings, but you were not willing. See! Your house is left to you desolate.” Matthew 23:27-28
“Now as He drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19:41-44.
To weeping and lamenting women who followed him on his way to crucifixion he said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if they do these things in the green wood, what will they do in the dry?” Luke 23:27-31
In a scathing denunciation of Israel’s leaders, in whom their evil fathers were very much alive, Jesus said, “…you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt…Therefore indeed I send you prophets, wise men and scribes, some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute them from city to city, that on you might come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” Matthew 23:31-36
In the midst of a wicked world the ancient [and modern] history of Israel is marked by prolonged pain and loss and misery. God called Abraham’s physical descendants to be a special People and into a unique relationship with a spellbinding commission. Israel was to be God’s People against the gods and for the blessing of the world [Isaiah 49:5-7 and elsewhere]. As her own prophets bore witness, Israel’s history as a nation was characterized by unfaithfulness to God and God often withdrew his protection and wicked Israel’s wicked allies ravaged her [see Ezekiel 1—24 and elsewhere].
All of this Jesus knew and when he saw John the Baptist, who was, He said, “the Elijah who was to come” [Matthew 17:10-13 with Malachi 4:4-6] he knew the awful judgment would fall on Israel. Malachi 2:17—3:3 began the discussion of that judgment and chapter 4 takes it up again.
Jesus knew this also: once “Elijah” was rejected and slain, only one thing stood between Israel and calamity—”the son of the owner of the vineyard” [see the parable in Matthew 21:33-41]. The landowner sends his son as a final appeal for faithfulness from the vineyard workers and they insolently as well as cruelly kill him. No other appeal is possible. Any other appeal would be an insult to the landowner’s son and in rejecting the son they were contemptuously rejecting the landowner.
Jesus knows the judgment is merited—the generations of national apostasy made that clear but like his Holy Father he loves his People. With chest heaving, eyes streaming, and audible sobbing he sits on a hill, sickened and distressed beyond mere words at what he knows is going to happen and his place in it as the catalyst of a judgment that even now continues to work itself out.
When he gets to Gethsemane’s garden the burden is almost unbearable. With increasing intensity [Luke 22:44]. Three times he prays saying he doesn’t want to drink the cup and three times he is denied. This is no casual request from a casual man—this is a physically debilitating inner battle, this is an occasion when Jesus is so distressed he feels he is even now on the point of dying. “Grant me this!” he says three times and three times his Holy Father refuses to listen to and grant his prayer.
No wonder angels came to give him support. He is devastated! For the first time in his life he begs for release and for the first time his Holy Father denies his request. At a level deeper than any psalmist knew Jesus entered into the experience of the psalmist in Psalm 22:1-2. His prayer goes unheeded.
I do not think he is praying, “Keep me from being damned!” I do not think he is praying, “Keep me from being ‘lost’ and ‘unsaved’ in your sight and mind.” I do not think he was praying, “Do not punish me.” I do not think he was praying, “Do not be angry with me.” [Even Calvin thought that ridiculous. I’ve spoken elsewhere of the nonsense of penal substitution.]
This is a man who like his Holy Father loves his people, beyond words [he doesn’t sit sobbing and wailing on a hill over little or nothing and it wasn’t for himself he sobbed and shook and wailed]. This was a man who even while he hangs on a cross he prays, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.” Luke 23:34 and see Isaiah 53:12, last phrase. Of course this prayer embraces individuals but it is a prayer for the nation and for the nation’s future.
The cup Jesus seeks to avoid if it can be avoided has nothing to do with any threat to himself [how unlike Him that would be if he were filled with self-defense and self-protection]. His hour has finally come and it deeply troubles his soul [John 12:27] for he knows full well he is to be the one who by offering himself to his beloved People will set in motion calamity and catastrophe. Such horror that in his own generation will result more than a million and a half Jews dying and from that beginning even more when some years later Akiba announces Bar Kochba to be the Messiah and a second war with Rome crushes the nation. Sigh.
But as the representative man, in Jesus’ person faithless Israel makes confession and in his person faithless Israel dies and in his person a new Israel arises to resurrection life—a new Israel with Abraham’s flesh and Abraham’s faith and in him all those [without exception] who are truly Israel have been and will be saved [Romans 9:6-7 with 11:26-27; Ephesians 1:12; Romans 1:16; John 8:37-40; Galatians 6:16; Romans 4:13-24  and elsewhere]. In the book of Acts tens of thousands experienced the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer on the cross.
There is life and peace for Israel in their Savior Jesus Christ for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable [Romans 11:28-29].
But in being the living expression of God’s righteousness Jesus Christ does more than fulfill God’s promises to Abraham’s physical children of faith, he fulfills God’s commitment to the entire human family [Jews & non-Jews— Romans 15:8-9]. So that Jesus while he is not less than the Jewish Messiah is now more than that. The flesh, he insisted, profits nothing, it is the [S]pirit that gives life [John 6:63]. Jesus died in and to the flesh [1 Peter 3:18—the text is without the definite article “the”]. Paul too will say that Jesus, unlike the first Adam, is a “life giving spirit” [1 Corinthians 15:45-49—which is not a denial of his continued humanity, which is another discussion]. And whatever else
2 Corinthians 5:15-17 would teach us I’m certain Paul sees the end of “fleshly” distinctions—see also Galatians 3:26-29 and 6:15.
And as Isaiah 49:6 with Acts 13:46-47 [which interprets Isaiah 49:6 as referring also to Christ’s Jewish followers—note the “us”], the exalted Lord Jesus continues that redeeming work through his Body, the NT Church.
And that is the [saving] power Paul says continues in the Church as it was lived out in the now glorified Lord Jesus [Ephesians 1:17-20].
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.