This was the most solemn denunciation ever uttered against Jerusalem. After denouncing the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, who, while they worshiped the temple, were working with a hatred inspired by Satan to destroy the only One who made the temple sacred, Christ bade adieu to the once-hallowed courts. He quitted the temple forever, declaring, "Your house is left unto you desolate." Matthew 23:38.
Henceforth a cloud blacker than sackcloth hung over the once-favoured nation. Looking into the future, Christ saw the gates of Jerusalem burst open by the Roman legions. He saw the walls broken, and the beautiful stones, which had been laid with artistic skill one upon another, torn down, so that not one was left standing. The Arm strong to save had become strong to smite.
Solemn judgements had been pronounced against Jerusalem by the prophets. Its iniquity and crime had once caused it to be destroyed, and its people carried captive to Babylon. In their humiliation, many sought the Lord with repentance and confession; and when they returned from captivity, they seemed for a time to reform. In His mercy, God forgave them, and gave them His blessing. "I will not contend for ever," He declares, "neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips; Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him." Isaiah 57:16-19.
But the leaders of the people did not remain converted. They did not, as faithful sentinels, keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgement. Again and again the Word of the Lord through His prophets was rejected. Then God sent His only begotten Son with a message of mercy; but they refused to receive Him, and said, "This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours." Mark 12:7. Christ "came unto his own, and his own received him not." John 1:11.
The time of the greatest responsibility for the Jewish people was when Christ was among them. And had they but known it, this was also the time of their greatest privilege and blessing. But they refused every overture of mercy, and rejected the Son of God, and thus made themselves guilty of the greatest of all sins.
Christ charged the whole nation with this sin. In rejecting my servants and prophets, He said, you have not only rejected them, but the Son of God, whose you are by Creation and by Redemption. You would [receive] none of my counsel, you despised all my reproof. If you are destroyed, you yourselves will be responsible. I have offered you help because I loved you, but you would not come unto Me, that you might have life.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" You have refused to see in Me a merciful Saviour, offering your redemption. When God's heavy judgements fall upon you, you will still refuse to see in Me a sin-pardoning Saviour. But you will one day long for the Deliverer who was once among you, and whom you would not receive.
Thus with power and authority our Lord reproved the Jewish nation. "Ye shall not see me henceforth," He continued, "till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Matthew 23:39. When the Jewish people see Christ again, they will ask no sign. That day will not be to them a day of joy, although, as they see the One they rejected, the acknowledgement will come from their lips, with overwhelming power, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Mark 11:9. When Christ comes in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, they will praise Him whom they once cursed; but it will then be too late.
Jerusalem was lost because of its obstinate refusal to acknowledge the truth. This the world is doing today. Men refuse to see the truth that is plainly revealed in the Word of God. A "Thus saith the Lord" is regarded as of no account, while the words of men are given great authority. And as the inhabitants of Jerusalem were punished, so will those be punished who refuse to receive truth. God would have us realise that by the city of Jerusalem a world is represented. Christ's utterances regarding the destruction of Jerusalem are ever to be connected with the more terrible destruction of the world.
The disciples were unable to understand Christ's words with reference to the temple. They called His attention to its massive stones, saying, "Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here." Mark 13:1. The stones of the temple were of the purest marble, of perfect whiteness, and the pillars supporting the porches were of massive dimensions. How such stones could be overthrown, the disciples could not comprehend. They could not understand words which doomed to destruction the walls that had withstood the devastation of armies. Their ideas were vague, and it was difficult for the Lord to make His lessons intelligible to them.
As the attention of the rejected One was called to the magnificence of the temple, what must have been His thoughts! The view before Him was indeed beautiful; but He said, sadly: I see it all, and the buildings are indeed wonderful. You point to these stones as apparently indestructible, but listen to my words. I tell you solemnly that the day will come when there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down. Forty years after Christ uttered this prediction, His words were fulfilled to the letter. In the siege of Jerusalem it is stated that more than a million people perished, and that many were led into captivity.
Christ's words had been spoken in the hearing of a large number of people; but when He was again alone, Peter, James, John, and Andrew came to Him, saying, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" Matthew 24:3.
In His answer, Jesus did not take up separately the destruction of Jerusalem and the last great day of His coming. He mingled the description of these two events. When He spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem, His words referred also to the final destruction that will take place when the Lord rises out of His place to punish the world for its iniquity. The entire chapter in which are recorded Christ's words regarding this, is a warning to all who shall live during the last scenes of this earth's history.
Turning to His disciples, Christ said, "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." Matthew 24:4-6. Many false messiahs will appear, claiming to work miracles, and declaring that the time for the deliverance of the Jewish nation has come. These will mislead many.
These words were fulfilled. Between the death of Christ and the siege of Jerusalem, many false Christs appeared. But this warning is given also to those who live in this age of the world. The same deceptions practised prior to the destruction of Jerusalem will again be practised. The same events that took place at the overthrow of Jerusalem will take place again.
"And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet." Matthew 24:6. Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, men wrestled for the supremacy. Emperors were murdered. Those standing next to the throne were slain. "All these things must come to pass, but the end [of the Jewish nation as a nation] is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." Matthew 24:6-8. As the rabbis see these signs, Christ said, they will declare that they are God's judgements on the nations for holding His chosen people in bondage. They will say that these signs are the tokens of the advent of the Messiah. Be not deceived; they are the beginning of His judgements. The Jewish people have looked to themselves. They have not repented and been converted, that I should heal them. The signs that they argue as tokens of their release from bondage are signs of their destruction.
Review and Herald, December 13, 1898.