On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem as an unexpected King claiming his unexpected Kingdom, and doing so, Jesus received an incredibly warm welcome from the people of Jerusalem who showed up in great numbers to hail him as their King.
And yet, Jesus was able to see through their praise to recognize that they were still rebellious against his actual reign. As much as Jesus was the unexpected King, the people of Jerusalem were unexpected rebels. Luke records the scene:
41And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43For 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 44and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Luke 19:41-44)
This was a day of great joy! the people were rejoicing and praising God with a loud voice and shouting praises to Jesus as their King who had come in the name of the Lord. Recognizing that Jesus was a King who would bring peace (even if they did not realize the means by which Jesus would bring peace), they announced benedictions: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
But in the midst of all this joy, we find Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. We only read twice in the Gospels specific accounts of Jesus weeping, and the other time he weeps is when his friend Lazarus had died (John 11:35). The author of Hebrews gives us a bit more detail about Jesus’ tears, writing:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7)
Apparently, Jesus wept frequently as he prayed, crying out to God as he prayed for himself and for the people that he had come to save.
But here, in Luke 19, Jesus begins to weep in the middle of a party. As everyone is celebrating his rule and his reign, Jesus breaks down into tears over Jerusalem.
Why does he weep so bitterly despite being surrounded by such joy? Because Jerusalem was a rebellious city.
Now, we might expect Jesus to give these disciples the benefit of the doubt, especially as they lavished on him such expansive praise. It seems strange that Jesus’ most poignant recognition of Jerusalem’s rebellion should come at the height of Jerusalem’s recognition of Jesus’ Kingship, but that is exactly what is happening here.
In fact, it is precisely because the people of Jerusalem have come to greet him that Jesus is so deeply troubled by their rebellion. At the core of their hearts, Jesus perceives that they want nothing to do with him–at least, not on his terms. Certainly, they have uses for Jesus that they would be happy to direct him toward, but they do not actually want Jesus to be their king.
So, in the midst of this celebration, Jesus sees firsthand the joy of what his coming reign ought to be. He is able to see and smell and feel the celebration that should come to hail the incarnate Son of God.
And yet, Jerusalem still rejects Jesus’ terms of peace. “There would be peace,” Jesus says, “if only you had known the things that make for peace! If only you recognized the peace I offer you, turning from your sin and flying to me–and only me–for salvation.”
But these unexpected rebels who had intended to enthrone Jesus actually reject him.
This was to be a day of joy and salvation and victory, but now their King turns the tables on them, insisting that the things that make for peace are now hidden from their eyes. They did not recognize their time of visitation, and now their time is up. Judgment is at hand, and Jerusalem stands on the brink of utter, complete annihilation.
“Visitation” in the Bible refers to God’s visiting his people for one of two purposes (or, sometimes, for both): either for salvation, or for judgment (see John Piper on this passage). Jesus had visited his people just as Zechariah had prophesied in Luke 1:68: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…” But because of the hardness of their hearts, God’s visitation of his people through his Son Jesus Christ became a visitation of judgment and not of salvation.
Don’t miss, though, the radical gospel truth even at this moment in salvation history: the judgment of God’s visitation would fall first on Jesus Christ, and only then on the rebels who rejected him. Jesus was heading into Jerusalem to receive the full wrath of God’s judgment against sinners in order that he might offer peace to those who believe in his name. Jesus faced unexpected judgment so that we could receive unexpected salvation.
But by 70 AD, Jesus’ prophecy had come true. Rome marched against Jerusalem, razing it to the ground so that no stone remained on top of another. Even still, this judgment is nothing compared to the judgment that Jesus himself will bring when he leads his own armies when he returns, destroying his enemies forever.
Even now, Jesus offers terms of peace. Repent from your sins and believe the gospel, that Jesus Christ has received judgment on the cross in your place, for your sins. Would that you knew the terms that make for peace!
But a day is coming when the terms that make for peace will be hidden from your eyes, blocked out by the radiance of the glory of Jesus Christ as he comes to judge the world. Do not remain rebellious, but kiss the Son while there is still time, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way.