Jesus, Jerusalem’s Destruction, and Israeli Politics
“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days” (Luke 5:35).
Today in Israel is a day of fasting and mourning.
On this day, long ago, the king of wicked Babylon began the siege of Jerusalem, which would ultimately lead to the destruction of the God’s House and the brutal exile of God’s people. ”Now in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, camped against it and built a siege wall all around it…” (2 Kings 25:1).
Meanwhile, 880 miles away in Babylon, God told the exiled prophet Ezekiel of Jerusalem’s siege. “The word of the LORD came to me in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth of the month, saying, ‘Son of man, write the name of the day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day’” (Ezekiel 24).
Israel established four fast days throughout the year in memory of Jerusalem’s destruction. Today is the biblical fast of "the tenth month" (Zec. 8:19) commemorating Jerusalem's siege. It’s a shorter fast on the Jewish calendar and lasts from sunrise to sunset. When the Second Temple was almost completely rebuilt, the Jewish people who had come back from exile asked the prophets if they should continue to observe these fast days from the Babylonian destruction.
The prophet Zechariah responded by asking if they had really been fasting from sincere hearts and performing true acts of repentance. Then he gave a profound promise: on the day of ultimate redemption, these fast days will be turned to festivals of joy (Zec. 8:19). But history has not yet seen such a Day, when the Messiah again rules from Zion in Jerusalem. And so, God’s people continue to fast faithfully in anticipation of the promise.
Instead of mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and God’s House on the Tenth of Tevet, much of the historical Church has generally celebrated it and found the desolation profoundly satisfying. Theological triumphalism sees its culmination in the judgment on Jerusalem and “the temple of the Jews.”
“For centuries Christians had appealed to the visible evidence of the ruins of the Jewish temple as certain proof that Christianity had triumphed over Judaism. One reason Christians went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to see with their own eyes the place where the famous Jewish temple had once stood.…Only by actually visiting Jerusalem could one see that the city of the Jews was no more. This sight comforted and reassured Christians.…A generation after Jerome…Theodoret from Cyrus, traveled to Jerusalem to ‘see the desolation with my own eyes.’ Standing before the ruins, he recalled the ancient prophecies about the city (Matt 24 and Dan 9) and his ‘heart exulted.’ The Jews have been deprived of their famous house, he writes, ‘as those who visit can see.’”
Was this gleeful view the same view held by Jesus and his followers? Did they abandon the ancient ways of their fathers and preach that the Day promised by Zechariah had already come? It’s hard to claim that the Fast of Tevet has become a season of joy and gladness and a cheerful festival for the Jewish people. History records no such transformation.
A Fountain of Tears
The Prophet Jeremiah had the thankless and horrible task of proclaiming the coming destruction of Jerusalem and God’s first Temple. Many prophets, Jeremiah included, pleaded with the people to heed the urgent call to turn back to God before it led to disaster. But too often the human heart’s desire to do things our own selfish way, instead of God’s way, wins the day. So also in 586 BCE.
Did Jeremiah rejoice over the destruction when it happened? Did any of the other prophets? No, not in the least. Listen to Jeremiah’s words of anguished lament,
The Lord has scorned his altar, disowned his sanctuary; he has delivered into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they raised a clamor in the house of the LORD as on the day of festival. … My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground ... Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night” (Lamentations 2:7,11; 9:1).
Moreover, the nations who God allowed to be used for the destruction were themselves severely judged for their evil. God says in Ezekiel 25,
“Say to the Ammonites, Hear the word of the Lord GOD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Because you said, Aha!’ over my sanctuary when it was profaned, and over the land of Israel when it was made desolate, and over the house of Judah when they went into exile, therefore behold, I am handing you over to the people of the East for a possession …” (Ezekiel 25:3-4).
God goes on to describe various judgments on the Ammonites for their role in the the destruction of Jerusalem and the first Temple. “Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel, therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you“ (Ezekiel 25:6–7). God reveals further about his judgment, “I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion. And I am exceedingly angry with the nations that are at ease; for while I was angry but a little, they furthered the disaster. Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with mercy; my House shall be built in it” (Zechariah 1:14–16). And, indeed the House was rebuilt, the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem
What about the Second Temple and the Prophet from Nazareth? Luke describes how “when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you’” (Luke 19:41–44).
Weeping, Jesus cried out in prophecy, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your House is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37-38, citing Psalm 118).
Jesus was not triumphant over the destruction of Jerusalem, God’s Temple, and all it represents. He wept! Just like Jeremiah, Jesus pleaded with his people to return to God. Yet, he saw dangerous signs in the hearts of men. Idols were not set up at every street corner like in times of old. But the rabbis said of those days that people were filled with such “baseless hatred” for each other that it led to inevitable disaster (b.Yoma 9b). Such hatred without cause is mentioned in the Psalms (35:19; 69:4) and Jesus described the spirit of that age in the same way (John 15:18-25).
Jesus had the horrible task of warning of the coming destruction of the Second Temple, the City, and the Land. He wept because he loved Jerusalem and his “Father’s House” (Luke 2:49). Zeal for God’s Temple consumed him (John 2:17). The disciples who had walked with him daily, made it the very center of the Jesus-movement throughout the Book of Acts. The House of the LORD was in their hearts like it was in the Master’s.
Paul writes: “If anyone destroys God’s Temple, God will destroy him. For God’s Temple is holy, and you are that Temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17). This applies to God’s people when his presence dwells in our midst. But Paul’s argument only carries weight because Paul considered it to be true of God’s physical Temple first. The brutal Roman Empire did meet its end. Any theology that is tempted to join the ancient Ammonites or Romans in their gleeful celebration over Jerusalem and the profaning of God’s House, had better take warning!
All Who Mourn Over Her
Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet of the first destruction and exile. Jesus was the weeping prophet of the second destruction and an even darker exile. What should followers of Jesus do while remembering the Fast of Tevet? Should we not do as our Master?
We remember that God has given a special promise for these fasts. Zechariah declared, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the LORD: I have returned to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the LORD of hosts, the holy mountain” (8:2–3). The prophet continues, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month and the fast of the fifth and the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore love truth and peace” (8:19).
In other words, God gives a special promise that those who fast and mourn on Asara BeTevet (the “fast of the tenth” month) will see it turned to joy in the final Redemption. The Apostle Paul teaches that Gentile believers are called to rejoice with his people Israel. Roman’s 15:10 quotes Deuteronomy 32 to declare, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people!” Deuteronomy goes further, stating “Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His children. He will take vengeance on His adversaries and repay those who hate Him; He will cleanse His land and His people.”
Should we only rejoice with Israel and not also “mourn with those who mourn?” Isaiah says “Be glad for Jerusalem and rejoice over her, all who love her. Rejoice greatly with her, all who mourn over her” (Isaiah 66:10). How much more so since God says the Temple Mount is literally his throne on earth? It is like the landing strip of Heaven. As God says in Ezekiel 43, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever” (43:7).
“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”
The Ascension of Ben Gvir
This Tenth of Tevet is historic in its own way.
In commemoration of the fast day, new Israeli government member Itamar Ben Gvir ascended the Temple Mount as the first Israeli minister to visit God’s Holy Hill in five years. He is part of Netanyahu’s new conservative government which was just sworn in on Thursday after having won a broad electoral victory. Ben Gvir is the Israeli leader currently causing the most consternation and panic in newsrooms and governments around the world.
As a religious Jew and a strong supporter of Jewish freedom and security, Ben Gvir has been given a key position as Minister of National Security. It is a natural placement since he was elected largely by the public sentiment that politicians were handicapping the security services from properly doing their job of ensuring public safety and stopping terrorism. His position also gives him some significant influence over policy on the Temple Mount since he essentially heads the Israeli police.
“Ben Gvir had Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount as part of his campaign platform. He has described the current police policy of prohibiting non-Muslim prayer as being racist. Equality of religion is mandated by Israeli law, but the law permits the police to curtail this right for security concerns that prioritize Muslim violence” (Israel365 News). However, as part of a broader coalition, Ben Gvir has agreed to some form of the “status quo” on the Mount. At the mere news of Ben Gvir coming to power, Jordanian King Abdullah II began issuing dire warnings to Israel on CNN, not to cross red lines at “Jerusalem’s holy sites.”
In typical and wildly hyperbolic fashion the Palestinian Authority called Ben Gvir’s peaceful, 15-minute visit an “unprecedented provocation” and an “attack on Al-Aqsa.” Hamas in Gaza has issued its own threats at the news of the Jewish leader walking freely around Judaism’s holiest site. Al Jazeera English news commented the visit by flat out lying, stating that it is an “unprecedented provocation” since “only Muslim worshippers are allowed at the site.” In reality, hundreds of thousands of non-Muslims visit the site every year.
“Our government will not surrender to threats from Hamas,” Ben Gvir said at the end of his visit, which concluded without immediate incident. “The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel. We maintain freedom of movement for Muslims and Christians, but Jews also go up to the site, and those who make threats must be dealt with with an iron fist,” he said.
Rabbi Yehuda Levi, co-founder of High on the Har—a pro-Temple Mount organisation—praised Ben Gvir’s actions. “It’s about time that a minister of the Israeli government ascended to the Temple Mount…the fact that most ministers do not ascend and have never even been to the site is a much more shocking story,” said Rabbi Levi. “What Ben Gvir did is praiseworthy and should be the rule, not the exception…We are putting out a call for all the MKs and Ministers to do the same. This sends out an unmistakable message that we are not afraid to go to our holy sites…[The Temple Mount] is the real heart of the Jewish people.”
Are we living in times of change, drawing closer to the fulfilment of God’s promise in Zechariah? Rabbi Yehuda Glick, famed advocate for human rights on the Mount, asked the same after Ben Gvir’s ascension, “Is this [promise] what we are seeing unfolding in front of our eyes? I am praying to Hashem, God Almighty; Let it be.” Before the rebirth of the Jewish State in 1948, two Jews who merely took a wrong turn and entered the Temple Mount were beaten to death by Muslim mobs. Today, Israel’s new, Bible-believing Minister of National Security in the sovereign State of Israel peacefully ascended the Temple Mount in memory of the Tenth of Tevet. That in itself is an astounding historical development.
Will it lead to violence? “In September 2000, a visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon and a Likud party delegation to the site was blamed for sparking off the second Intifada. Most experts discount this version of events, assigning blame to Arafat who used Sharon’s visit as a handy pretext” (Israel365 News). Arafat had already planned to launch the deadly wave of terrorist attacks.
Appeasement toward Islamist threats has also shown itself to be at least as deadly a game to play. Peace through strength is often the sole option on the table in the Middle East. Moreover, should Islamist intimidation and threats of violence prevent justice itself from being upheld for those in the right? These are questions Israel’s new government will have to wrestle with in the days ahead.
Every Sabbath, Jews in Israel pray the following prayer, and it is as apt now as ever:
“Our Father in heaven, Israel’s Rock and Redeemer, bless the State of Israel, the first flowering of our redemption. Shield it under the wings of Your loving-kindness and spread over it the Tabernacle of Your peace. Send Your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and counsellors, and direct them with good council before You. Strengthen the hands of the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them deliverance, our God, and crown them with the crown of victory. Grant peace in the land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants.”
John Enarson is the Christian Relations Director at Cry For Zion, helping Christians understand their history with the Temple Mount and how it relates to biblical theology and the Jewish people. John currently studies at the Scandinavian School of Theology.
 R. Wilken, The Land Called Holy, (Yale, 1992) 143; cited by M. Kinzer, Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen, (Cascade Books, 2018) 28.