The Fall of Jerusalem

This coming Sunday is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Cycle C. Throughout this week of posts we have considered St. Luke’s extended commentary on Jesus’ warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple. While our gospel reading ends at Luke 21:19, most commentaries include an additional five verses as part of the commentary.

20 “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand. 21 Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. Let those within the city escape from it, and let those in the countryside not enter the city, 22 for these days are the time of punishment when all the scriptures are fulfilled. 23 Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

In verse 20 Jesus describes Jerusalem’s coming destruction signified when armies surround it. Jesus had already predicted this in 19:41-44, Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem. Because of his focus on the near event of Jerusalem’s fall, Luke’s version of this discourse does not include certain details from the other Synoptic gospels. He does not include Jesus’ words about this being a time of unprecedented tribulation. He does not mention the Lord’s decision to cut short these days so humanity will survive. He lacks any comment about events not coming in winter. Most important, he does not discuss “the abomination that causes desolation”; he mentions only its desolation. The focus throughout is the city’s destruction, a destruction that encompasses, but is not limited to, the temple. This will be a time of tension, but it is not yet the end. A phrase unique to Luke shows the distinction. Jerusalem will be trampled on until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. The judgment on Jerusalem remains until that time is completed (v.24).

When the time of destruction comes, it will be time to flee and hide. Those who are in Judea should head for the mountains, where they can hide in safety, while those in the city should get out. Those in the country should avoid the city. The destruction will be total; the nation will suffer. These events will fulfill all that has been written. The allusion is to prophetic warnings of the price of the nation’s covenant unfaithfulness (Deut 28:32; Jer 7:14-26, 30-34; 16:1-9; 17:27; 19:10-15; Mic 3:12; Zeph 1:4-13). The reference to God’s pattern of judgment suggests a typological connection here: this judgment is like others before it and like ones that will follow it.

The destruction will be a dreadful time for the most vulnerable people, especially pregnant mothers. Distress and wrath will overwhelm the people and the land (19:44; 23:29). Death and imprisonment will be the fate of many citizens. “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (v.24) Be assured, Jesus warns, the nation will be judged and the temple abandoned. Israel’s fall is not the end of God’s plan, however, for one more decisive stage remains. The coming of the Son of Man (Luke 21:25-38)

The following gospel focuses on that coming as we celebrated The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Image credit: Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez. Oil on canvas, 1867. Public Domain

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