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Christ's weeps over Jerusalem; the temple is cleansed


by J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) 

from his Commentary on The Gospel according to St. Luke


1. Christ’s compassion for sinners 

We learn, first, from these verses about our Lord’s tender compassion for sinners.  We are told that when he came near Jerusalem for the last time, he wept over it (verse 41).  He knew the character of its inhabitants well.  Their cruelty, their self-righteousness, their stubbornness, their obstinate prejudice against the truth, their proud heart was not hidden from him.  He knew only too well what they were going to do to him in the next few days.  His unfair trial, his handing over to the Gentiles, his sufferings, his crucifixion were all spread out clearly in his mind’s eye.  And yet, knowing all this, our Lord pitied Jerusalem!  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it (verse 41). 

We make a big mistake if we think that Christ cares only for those who believe in him.  He cares for everyone.  His heart is wide enough to take an interest in all mankind; his compassion extends to every man, woman, and child on earth.  Hardened sinners are fond of making excuses for their behavior; but they will never be able to say that Christ was not merciful and was not ready to save. 

We know too little of true Christianity if we do not feel a deep concern about the souls of unconverted people (see Psalm 119:136; Romans 9:2-3).  Christ felt tenderly about wicked people, and his disciples should feel the same way. 

2. Ignorance can be sinful and blameworthy 

We learn, second, from these verses that there is a religious ignorance which is sinful and blameworthy. We read that our Lord pronounced judgment on Jerusalem “because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (verse 44).  Her rulers were ignorant; they would not calmly examine the evidence.  Her people would not see the signs of the times.  Therefore judgment soon overtook Jerusalem.  Her deliberate ignorance left her without any excuse. 

This is a very important principle.  It is different from the world’s commonly held view. It teaches clearly that not all ignorance is excusable and that when people should know the truth and refuse to know it, their guilt is very great in God’s sight.  Deliberate ignorance will never be allowed as a plea in man’s favor; on the contrary, it will rather increase his guilt. 

3. God sometimes gives special opportunities 

We learn, third, from these verses that God is sometimes pleased to give people special opportunities and invitations.  We are told by our Lord that Jerusalem “did not recognize the time of God’s coming” (verse 44). Jerusalem had a special time of mercy and privilege.  The Son of God himself visited her. The greatest miracles that people have ever seen were performed around her.  The most wonderful preaching that was ever heard was preached within her walls.  The days of our Lord’s ministry were days of the clearest calls to repentance and faith that any city ever received.  But they were disregarded.  And our Lord declares that this rejection was one of Jerusalem’s principal sins. 

The subject before us is deep and mysterious.  It requires careful stating and delicate handling lest we make one Scripture contradict another.  There seems no doubt that churches, nations, and even individuals are sometimes visited with special manifestations of God’s presence and that their neglect of such manifestations is the turning-point in their spiritual ruin.  Why this should take place in some cases and not in others we cannot tell. But facts, plain facts in history and biography, appear to prove that it is so.  The neglect of such seasons will probably be one of the heaviest charges against their souls. 

4. Christ disapproves of profaning holy things 

We learn, lastly, from these verses how much Christ disapproves of holy things being profaned.  We read that he drove out those who were selling in the temple area and told them that they had made God’s house “‘a den of robbers’” (verse 46).  Our Lord knew how formal and ignorant the ministers in the temple were; he knew how soon the temple and its services would be destroyed, the curtain torn in two, and the priesthood ended.  But he would have us know that a reverence is due to every place where God is worshiped.  The reverence he claimed for the temple was not for the temple as the house of sacrifice but as “‘a house of prayer’” (verse 46). 

Let us remember the words and actions of our Lord whenever we go to a place of public worship. Christian churches no doubt are not like the Jewish temples.  They have neither altars, priesthood, sacrifices, nor symbolical furniture; but they are places where God’s Word is read, where Christ is present, and where the Holy Spirit works on souls. These facts should make us serious, reverent, solemn, and decorous whenever we enter them. The person who behaves as carelessly in a church as he would in an inn or a private dwelling has yet much to learn. He has not the mind of Christ. 

Notes on 19:41-48 

41. He wept over it.  Wordsworth remarks, “Christ here proves his twofold nature, by shedding tears as man for what he foretold as God.” 
43. “The days will come ...”  The predictions of this and the next verse were fulfilled literally at the siege of Jerusalem under Titus. Not one word failed. 
44. “The time of God’s coming to you.”  Poole remarks: “God’s visita-tions are either for wrath, or mercy: for wrath, Exodus 32:34; for mercy, Jeremiah 29:10. It is plain that our Saviour uses the term here in its latter, not its former sense; and that by God’s visitation is meant his visiting them by the prophets, John the Baptist, and himself.” 
45. Then he entered the temple area.  Jerome considers our Lord’s cleansing of the temple to be his greatest miracle. 
46. “It is written...” All reformation of abuses in churches should be built on God’s Word. 
47. Every day he was teaching at the temple.  The link between this verse and the previous verse should not be overlooked.  Our Lord had just called the temple “‘the house of prayer.’”  Yet he proceeds to show, by his own example, that it is to be the house of teaching as well as praying.