Luke 14:31-35 Jerusalem & the Will of Our City
by Paul Renfroe – September, 2021
Luke, whose gospel is not chronological, put the events and teachings of chapter 13 together, but why? Because in Jesus’ mind, it was the same message. Luke 13 is about judgment, and Jesus presents Himself as The Judge.
Six principles from verse 33-35 will guide our citizenship in our cities and participation in our people groups. Our city has a will, and the Bible holds the residents accountable for it.
33 Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.
Jesus pointedly says in 33, Jerusalem is the place that kills prophets. His lamentation and project over Jerusalem in 34-35 follows that train of thought.
34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city…Throughout the Bible, God reveals that He deals with cities—usually in judgment. God’s dealing with cities as entities is a key to understanding many Bible prophecies and laments like this prophetic one of Jesus.
In Genesis 4, God reveals to Cain that Sin is a personal entity. Later in Romans 7, Apostle Paul described Sin’s personal attributes, and Sin’s persistent persuasion to agree with Darkness against God. Picture a city as a collection of people all dead under this entity of Sin. So much agreement with the kingdom of darkness, so much rebellion against God, creates a “whirlwind” entity of Sin concentrated in that city. Consider a contrast from the Bible: God’s pillar of fire by night and cloud by day over Israel in the wilderness. That pillar was not only for their guidance and protection. It also signified that there was a vastly different, Holy entity shepherding them across their generations.
A city’s unified Sin entity spans the generations of city residents, and while one dies and another is born, the will of the city remains, reinforced by the successive agreement and conformity of its inhabitants to the Sin ruling their lives. Jesus soon refers specifically to that unified Will in this prophecy.
God’s dealing with Babel (Genesis 11) contains this truth about Sin as an unseen principality. The confusion of language was effective not only to scatter the people, but also to disarm the Sin entity that resulted from a united humanity attempting to supplant God.
That a city, people group or nation can have a Will is a precondition for understanding most of the OT prophecies, which are overwhelmingly to cities and people groups. Creation itself in its frustration bears the imprint of the city’s will—its garbage, debris, pollution, and weariness. The city’s residents in generations to come will have the boost to continue the long-preferred sins, simply from being in the geographical place and physical structures where the previous generations cemented the agreement with Sin.
Jesus’ hearers in the moment may not have recognized this biblical theme about cities, but it is clearly the background from which Jesus spoke. They shared that same schooling, and would have thought of Sodom, Babylon, Arnon, Damascus, Memphis, and Nineveh, the one city given opportunity to repent.
It may also have summoned the Psalmists’ encomiums to Jerusalem, where God’s favor is cited as the basis for her prosperity. And they may have identified in Jesus’ lament the approaching fulfillment of prophetic judgment such as Isaiah 29 where God’s judgment on Jerusalem is pronounced, using her nickname Ariel.
The repetition of Jerusalem, Jerusalem rhetorically introduces a lament. The statements following this repetition tell us how it would have sounded to hear it. Any hearer would have immediately known this to be a lament with judgment in it.
…that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!
So these words confirm it is a lamenting they hear. Any listener would have accepted this statement without dispute, although not gladly. For all the division in Judaism at that time, there was unity concerning the special place Jerusalem held in God’s heart and plans.
Jesus’ reference to prophets and people sent affirms the city’s special place in God’s heart; what other city could list so many that God had sent? But here Jesus fingers the failure. They rejected God’s emissaries, even killing them. Jesus thus prefigures His vineyard tenants parable in Luke 20:9-19.
The Old Testament does not contain the record of rejection that Jesus references. No prophet is described in the OT as killed in Jerusalem. But Jesus’ hearers knew the history. Previously in 11:51 He had referred to Zechariah’s murder in front of the Temple. Hebrews 11 alludes to them also, though not by names. (It is as if only one manner of death is allowed to echo throughout Scripture: the Cross of Jesus.)
How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,…
Jesus cannot be speaking of Himself. The statement He makes has a long history of generations. In His thirty years He was never once in a position to gather your children together. Nor did He in His flesh have the hen’s position to mother and shelter the chicks of Jerusalem. Therefore we have to treat this as a prophetic word Jesus gave, a prophetic lament of God in the same style as God’s laments through Jeremiah and Ezekiel. He is speaking the long-suffering of God’s heart for the city, spanning generations.
and you were not willing!
A simple declaration of fact. The city has a will. It was not willing then, and it will not be willing in Jesus’ time. It is the tacit repetition of His statement that they kill the prophets and those God sent—the actions by which the will of the city was repeatedly revealed. His recognition of the fact explains His rationale for journeying to Jerusalem in 13:33—where else could a sent one go, who has been sent to die? The city that was unwilling is the obvious choice.
Her occupants in His day have their individual accountability, as His previous parable of being locked out shows. Yet this lament lumps all of Jerusalem’s past residents with those of His day. It is His contemporaries who will suffer the judgment for all the past generations’ rejection of God’s prophets.
Is Jesus presuming that they are unable to repent? That the repentance of His contemporaries can’t wipe out the sin of the previous residents? The answer is no; in fact He conditionally prophesies their repentance (more to come).
35 Behold, your house is forsaken.
The previous statements were descriptive; now comes the predictive. Jesus makes a declaration, not lightly. He would know from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 that “forsaken” would be His own cry from the Cross. Of all people, Jesus understood the dread abandonment to hell’s machinations contained in that word. Jesus chose “forsaken” because He is giving a prophetic word of judgment. He uses the verb is rather than will be because it is an unconditional, unalterable, settled judgment that is certain to occur. Although forty years will pass prior to its execution at the hands of Rome, the forsaking of Jerusalem is as good as done.
And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Jesus ends His prophetic judgment lament with an invitation to repent and a conditional promise of restored favor upon the city. The vocal welcome for Him that He describes represents a complete reversal of killing prophets and stoning those sent. It is a city’s welcome, a will of the city to bless one sent by God.
This invitation to repent will be fulfilled in part in His soon-coming entry into Jerusalem, when this exact welcome will be shouted by the masses. Yet their shout that day will not fully signify the repentance Jesus is speaking of. The same masses will call for His crucifixion just 5 days afterward. The city’s leaders never endorse the welcome or support it; to the contrary they identify the crowd’s welcome as a threat to Jerusalem. The high priest himself declares that Jesus must be killed (John 11:49).
Therefore we pray for a future time when Jerusalem does repent, when from top to bottom she welcomes the One God sent her.
Because the promise of restored relationship is conditional upon Jerusalem’s repentance and welcome for Him, Jesus is not saying it will happen. In fact, nowhere in the New Testament is such a reunion prophesied or promised—or even described. The closest thing is the approach of the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ in Revelation 21.
What did Jesus’ apostles hear from Him, and repeat? The apostles’ preaching presumed the will of cities, and cities’ complicity with their Sin rulers. Their targets are individuals, but they address cities to find them. For effectiveness Paul went to places of influence when he penetrated a territory. He recognized the will of people groups (such as the Jews and the Gentiles) in the patterns of his listeners’ responses.
But the apostles neither teach it specifically, nor use it in their persuasive efforts. They preach judgment across the board, and Jesus as the Judge. They call for individual repentance. The NT introduced a new power that resides in individuals, the poured out Holy Spirit of God. This is the focus of the apostles. All the description they give to cities, nations, and other people groups is entirely the result of its redeemed citizens’ individual wills.
Six principles from Luke 13:33-35 undergird our own city’s will, and our own influence as its residents.
First, we consecrate ourselves to Him as His disciples, with every other value or priority a distant second. We do not come to our city or group only as citizens of our country or members of people group. We follow Him. He was quite clear in Luke 9:23. If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. Denying our personal preferences and eschewing our personal aggrandizement, we exert our influence for His name’s sake.
Second, we must exercise diligence that we do not contribute to our city’s agreement with its Sin ruler. From the words we speak, to our business and household behaviors, to our pet sins and rationalizations, far greater is at stake than whether we are good people and go to heaven, or whether we can fall back on repenting and forgiveness for the sins we choose. Our city has a will. Are we reinforcing its choice of Sin’s rule?
Third, in denying ourselves to follow Jesus, we must accept that we are sent to our city. The identity of being sent ones is an essential one for Christians. As the Father sent me, so I send you. (John 20:21) As the prophets and Jesus were sent to Jerusalem, so are we sent to our city and region—and so, like them, must we accept persecution. Jesus promised a great reward, and gave us the strategy of dusting our feet and leaving to the next place when rejected. (Matthew 5:12-13, 10:14, 23)
Fourth, we must expect and prepare for His judgment of our individual influence in our city. All our deeds are recorded in God’s books for reading at our judgment (Revelation 20:12). Each of our deeds and all our words will be weighed. Did our sin lend power to the Sin over our city and region, and continue the corruption of Creation under our feet?
Not only our contribution to our city’s Sin will be recorded and read. In one of Jesus’ telling of the three stewards parable, they are entrusted with cities and rewarded with cities. He taught that we who follow Him shall rule the earth on His behalf. If we bear the trust well with His help, our influence will be expanded from our city to other cities, and to regions.
Fifth, the conditional promise in His lament guides us into actions of civic influence. The first and foremost is evangelism, as was the apostles. If our city or people group is to welcome Him, we have to lead others to follow Him individually, and be filled with His Spirit individually. By persistent diligence in this way, we seek to counteract, castrate and replace the Sin ruler that has been created over the city’s history of spirit-death and its generations of willful sin.
Influence like this also calls us into political activity, that our leaders may not be like Jerusalem’s those fateful five days. If our city is to give a welcome to Jesus from top to bottom, we must be influential in elections. Our electoral system places the accountability for our leaders upon us. If we disdain political influence as dirty, then we default to the continuing rule of Sin over our city and people group.
Most civic influence occurs outside electoral politics. Parent organizations for schools, prayer walks, chambers of commerce, industry and professional associations, and hobby clubs all provide a place for our influence.
If we do wield the influence, that is. Sixth, with meekness we self-identify as the appointed rulers. We come not as mere contributors to our civic and political actions. We come not as cogs in the wheels of the existing leaders. We come instead as the ones who will inherit the earth for our meekness (Matthew 5:5).
As the inheritors of earth and the delegated rulers of God’s kingdom, we carry ourselves with all the filling and boldness He gives (Acts 4:31). And like Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, we evidence the meekness of servants—I have made myself servant to all, that I might win the more.
Holy Spirit, please fill us with Your boldness, and Your power to influence our city for Your Kingdom.
34 “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 brood under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”