SORROW OVER JERUSALEM’S DESERVED JUDGMENT CANNOT CANCEL THE EXECUTION OF THAT JUDGMENT (DESPITE THE HOPE OF ESCHATOLOGICAL RESTORATION)
Craig Blomberg: The harsh tone of vv. 1-36 lessens dramatically. Verses 37-39 disclose Jesus’ profound sorrow and compassion at the state of events that has brought him to this point of antagonism with the Jewish leaders. These verses play a role in the larger discourse of chaps. 23-25 somewhat comparable to the role of Rom 9:1-5 in the context of Rom 9-11. Jesus, like Paul, demonstrates the extent of his identification with his people despite the harsh words he has for them elsewhere. Jesus’ outburst also reminds one of David’s tragic lament for Absalom in 2 Sam 18:33 and 19:4. Jesus is a Jew, these are his people, and this is his holy city. To the extent that he is conscious of the divine presence within him, his agony is greatly multiplied. God’s chosen people, specially loved and specially blessed, are now spurning and killing his true representatives. How Jesus wishes it had been otherwise!
Still, even during Jesus’ ministry, this generation had more opportunity than any other to change the too frequent pattern of Israelite behavior. Even now the whole point of appealing to the crowds with such warnings is that some might still repent. “Jerusalem” is a metonymy (the use of one name or object to refer to a closely related item) for the corrupt leadership of the people. Jesus’ words betray great tenderness and employ maternal imagery. . . Here Jesus wishes he could gather all the recalcitrant “children” of Israel, to love, protect, and nurture them like a mother hen does with her baby chickens. Similar imagery recurs frequently in Jewish literature (e.g., Deut 32:4; Ps 36:7; Ruth 2:12; Isa 31:5)
Jeffrey Crabtree: The scribes and Pharisees had become the enemies of Jesus set upon destroying him; nevertheless, they too were invited to the new reality of the dawning kingdom. Despite Jesus’ stern criticism of them, he has longed for them to receive him and his message so that he could bring them into the fold of those who enjoy his benefits. If they had only allowed him, he would have gathered them with the tenderness of a bird gathering her young—thus his lament over Jerusalem, its inhabitants, and especially its religious leadership. But as it is, only tragedy awaits the capital city. Judgment is soon to come upon the temple, and the Jews would not again see their Messiah until the coming of the eschaton. Again all turns upon the reaction to Jesus. Acceptance means salvation; rejection of him means inevitable judgment (cf. 10:32–33, 40; 12:41).
Gaebelein: What a loving, sublime lamentation this is! The King is a King of Love and His heart yearns over His city Jerusalem. How He did long for them! The illustration He uses is one they fully understood, not alone by its simplicity, a hen gathering her chickens, but also because their elders had mentioned this very fact. The Rabbis spoke of Messiah under the name of the Shekinah and declared that Israel would be gathered under the wings of the Shekinah, where they would find rest and blessing. And now the Shekinah was with them. The promised One has come and they would not have Him. They turned away from Jehovah, their King. Their house — no longer “the Father’s house” — is to be left desolate. They would see Him in no wise henceforth. That this has a national significance, the rejection of them is evident. And no sooner were the words spoken than He left the temple and went away.
Grant Osborne: The lament flows right out of the preceding context. Jesus had to indict first the leaders for their hypocrisy and sin, and then in the previous verse had to extend that judgment to the whole nation. This caused Jesus deep sorrow, and he wants them to know the deep love of both God and himself for them.
By using the metaphor of a hen and her chicks, Jesus reveals his tender concern to see the people of Jerusalem get right with God. At the same time, they have already rejected his offer, and so their future is “desolate.” Yet one thing is certain: he will return as the royal Messiah.
I. (:37a) LAMENT OVER JERUSALEM’S PERSECUTION OF GOD’S PROPHETS
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!”
R. T. France: The almost wistful note of this lament over Jerusalem provides an important counterbalance to the sharpness of the preceding polemic. As Jesus contemplates what lies ahead of the people he came to save, it gives him no pleasure. He had “wanted” to gather them, not to condemn them.
Donald Hagner: Jerusalem had become heir to a tragic tradition wherein God’s messengers were persecuted and killed (cf. the ironical remark in Luke 13:33). This was true of the past, and it was to be true of the future.
David Thompson: The Greek simply repeats Jerusalem twice (Ίερονσαλημ Ίερονσαλημ). When this construction is used in Scripture, it is often an expression of deep sympathy. For example, David repeated Absalom’s name three times when he was grief-stricken over his death (II Sam. 18:33). Now carefully notice a very important point about God: just because Christ’s emotions are grieved by what could have been, His emotions did not prevent His judgment.
II. (:37b) LAMENT OVER JERUSALEM’S REJECTION OF LOVING PROTECTION FROM HER PROMISED MESSIAH
A. Desire of the Loving Messiah
“How often I wanted to gather your children together,
the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Even in the first century, the image of the mother hen protecting her chicks carried the same connotation as it does today. This was the kind of affection Jesus has always had for his wayward people, always wishing to gather them together in unified obedience, in covenant relationship with him, and in forgiving grace. No matter how deeply his people had sinned, the Lord wanted them back.
B. Rejection by the Rebellious Nation
“and you were unwilling.”
Grant Osborne: There is an interesting development from all the second singulars earlier in v. 37 to the second plural of “you were willing” (ἠθελήσατε), continued in vv. 38–39. As Carson says, “The effect is to move from the abstraction of the city to the concrete reality of people.” Jerusalem is made up of people who have joined her in rejecting God’s Messiah, and they personify the nation as a whole.
Matthew McCraw: However, we hear these sorrowful words concerning the people’s attitude towards Jesus’ compassion: “but you were not willing!” Unlike those baby chicks that run to their mother for protection and sustainment, the people would not come to Jesus. They rejected Jesus’ love. They rejected Jesus’ protection. They rejected Jesus’ Messiahship.
III. (:38) LAMENT OVER THE TEMPLE’S IMMINENT DESTRUCTION
“Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!”
Jeffrey Crabtree: ἰδού, “look,” here introduces an emphatic statement of judgment.
Richard Gardner: The judgment to befall the temple is characterized by the twin tragedies of God’s withdrawal from the sanctuary (that is the loss of God’s protective presence) and the desolation that will come at the hands of Israel’s enemies (cf. 1 Kings 9:7-8; Jer. 12:7; 22:5; Tob. 14:4).
Grant Osborne: It is debated whether “your house” is Israel as a whole (Hill), Jerusalem (McNeile, Manson, Senior), or the temple (France, Luz, Nolland; Davies and Allison say the latter two), but it is best to see not an either-or but all three as intended (Carson, Hagner).
The idea of being left “desolate” (ἔρημος) pictures the absolute destruction of AD 70. The noun (and verb) are also used in Rev 17:16; 18:17, 19 to depict the “ruination” of the great prostitute and Babylon the Great; in Rev 18:2, 21–23 it is described as a virtual desert, a ghost town. Such is the picture of Jerusalem (and the temple) here, soon to become a wasteland, virtually uninhabitable (for OT background, see 2 Kgs 21:14; Jer 12:7; 22:5). This connotes both abandonment by God (Ezek 8:6, 11:23) and destruction.
R. T. France: Jerusalem’s failure to respond is to have drastic consequences. “Your house,” especially when spoken in the temple courtyard, naturally refers to the temple building6 which would be visible from there, and the more explicit prediction of 24:2 confirms this reference. In that case there is a sad irony in that what was described in 21:13 as God’s house is now “your house,” and it has been left “to you,” because God has abandoned it, as Jesus himself is about to do in 24:1; see comments there on the echo of Ezekiel’s vision of God leaving the temple. There is a special poignancy in the juxtaposition of “house” (a place meant to be lived in) and erēmos, “uninhabited,” which describes not so much its physical dissolution as its being deserted; its consequent destruction will merely complete the process. The desolation of God’s house was predicted in similar terms by Jeremiah (Jer 12:7; cf. 26:6), and erēmos here perhaps echoes the LXX erēmōsis in Jer 22:59 (cf. 24:15 with its echo of similar erēmōsis language from Daniel). See the comments on 16:14 for Jesus’ echoing of Jeremiah’s prophecies of disaster on Jerusalem. For the theological background to this theme see 1Kgs 9:6–9: when God’s people forsake God’s way, the “house” will be “cast out of my sight” and ruined.
Jeffrey Crabtree: Jerusalem’s rejection of Jesus meant judgment. The temple (24:15) and the city proper (“your house”) would fall (Lk. 21:20-24). Instead of life and prosperity there would be physical desolation and ruin (v. 38). The destruction of the city in A.D. 70 fulfilled this prophetic warning (Osborne 862). Jesus gave this warning during Passover week when Jerusalem was literally overflowing with people. It would have been hard to imagine that Jesus’ words would be fulfilled, especially so soon.
IV. (:39) LAMENT OVER JERUSALEM’S SEPARATION FROM HER MESSIAH UNTIL THE SECOND COMING
“For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me
until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
David Turner: a bittersweet promise that the abandonment will cease only when Jerusalem genuinely understands Ps. 118:26, the text shouted by the crowd at the triumphal entry (Matt. 23:39; cf. 21:9).
Michael Wilkins: The Christological implications of Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 118:26 are profound. The same words were cited in 21:9 at Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, shouted by those identifying him as the messianic Son of David. Now as Jesus cites the same passage, he identifies himself with God, Israel’s Savior, the Coming One, who will once again come to his people after a time of great judgment, when they will have no other choice but to acknowledge him as Lord, either in great joy or in great sorrow.
David Thompson: Christ’s Judgmental Promise to the City
Things are dark for the nation Israel right now and it has been for a long, long time. However, there are bright, shining rays in the future for Israel. God is not through with Israel forever. There will come a day when the nation will see Jesus Christ again and she will be praising God for His appearance; in fact, they will be saying, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” They will see the One they pierced (Zech. 12:10). Zechariah predicts the day they will see Him will be a time of great mourning, and that is so true. They will be in the Tribulation and the antichrist will be trying to exterminate every Jew and were it not for the grace of God, he would succeed. But in the darkest hour of Israel’s night, Jesus will come and she will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Now it is important to see that not every Jew will be thrilled when Christ returns, but a remnant will. The Pharisees and scribes won’t cry blessed is He who come; they will be burning in hell (Matt. 23:33).
Charles Swindoll: Yet even in spite of the just judgment of the people of Jerusalem, sent on account of their hardness of heart, Jesus never ceases to reach out His hands to gather them into His embrace. Matthew 23:39 looks forward to a day when the hearts of the Jewish people will be softened, and they will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” The apostle Paul echoed this same hope for the future restoration of Israel when he wrote, “A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26). This is certain because “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29).
D. A. Carson: So Jesus leaves the temple and goes away (24:1); and his words, which have dealt with judgment on Israel and with the consummation, evoke his disciples’ two-pronged question (24:3) and lead to the Olivet Discourse (chs. 24–25).