“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.’”
There’s a lot going on in this passage, much more than meets the eye. For instance, what’s “up” about Jerusalem? Well, literally Jerusalem is at a higher altitude than most of the surrounding terrain. But insofar as Jerusalem is Zion – God’s mountain, the place where He meets His people and they meet Him, at the temple – the “ascent” to Jerusalem has spiritual significance as well.
This typology of Jerusalem feeds the “New Jerusalem” motif popping up time to time in the New Testament. New Jerusalem is the Bride of Christ (Revelation 21: 2) with whom Christ the Groom, as the Temple (the head of Jerusalem, so to speak – literally the high point in Jerusalem), is intimately in communion. Christian commentators have traditionally seen New Jerusalem as fulfilled it the Church, an earthly entity with a heavenly image.
The writer of Hebrews nicely describes what New Jerusalem means for the Christian, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new testament, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” (Hebrews 12: 22-24)
Where are the angels (…and archangels and all the company of heaven)? Where is the “general assembly and church”? Where do we meet “God the Judge of all”? Where do we meet Jesus mediating the “New Testament in His blood” which speaks “shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins,” something far better than, “my blood cries out for vengeance” (Abel’s blood)?
Of course, this all happens in the church’s liturgy. So yes, the Church is New Jerusalem, and when Christ returns, the Church will be a manifestation of “the revealing of the sons of God” and we will see the things our faith only clings to now.
Do a quick study on New Jerusalem, and you will see the idea has been hijacked by millenarians who believe New Jerusalem is a political event or movement brought about by some charismatic leader. The Puritans, for instance, were driven by this idea, that America was to be the place of a New Jerusalem, something they would inaugurate by their political governance. If you’re wondering where the idea came from that the government is a replacement for the Church, you need to look back at some of our earliest colonists. Did you know Harvard was first founded as a “school of prophets”? Does it not remain with that same role, as its spawn sees its mission to lead America into the glorious “right side of History”?
As with all heresy – including the current Christian Zionism that looks forward to the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple – Jesus is taken out of the equation. Not so in this week’s Gospel. Jesus is central to Jerusalem’s history.
He goes up to Jerusalem with His Twelve. Why? Because He’s going to destroy the Temple and create a new people, taking ownership of it all in Himself.
Keep in mind Jesus is the Temple. He is the “Word made flesh and [tabernacling] among us.” And as He specifically said, albeit in the Gospel of John (not this week’s Luke), “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’….He was speaking of the temple of His body.”
The Temple belongs in Jerusalem, which is why Jesus needed to set His face toward Jerusalem. He, the Temple, needs to be in His home town! Yet, the Gospel reveals, there, the gentiles would destroy Him – He would be “mocked and insulted and spit upon.”
Now, we all know more than the gentiles destroyed Jesus. Jews were among them as well. They began the persecution, lying, and torture. By Jesus referring only to “gentiles,” He’s issuing a stark judgment against the former Jewish race – they’re as good as gentiles. This is the same Jesus, after all, who referred to “those who say they are Jews and are not.”
Jesus is creating a new people, a new Israel, around a new Temple, and in a New Jerusalem. From the stones, John the Baptist promised, God can raise up a people for Himself, so no one should boast that Abraham is their father. And to the Christians St. Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.”
Why did Jesus take His Twelve with Him? They weren’t persecuted, yet He said, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem.” Why did He bring them?
The apostles are key elements in the New Jerusalem. If Jesus is the Temple in New Jerusalem, the apostles are the gates, even as New Jerusalem has twelve gates around it. And so it is, the apostles are the gateway to Christ, even as we confess ourselves an “apostolic church” and are founded on the prophets and apostles. As far as we are concerned, Jesus never said a thing but that the apostles testified to it. They, their doctrines, their writings, are truly the gateway to Christ. Let us keep this in mind as we behold liberals ever seeking to establish the “true, historical Jesus stripped of all that framing by the patriarchal apostles.” No, there is not Jesus for us outside of the apostles. As Jesus said, “He who receives [an apostle] receives Me.” They are truly the gateway to Christ, the gateway into Jerusalem and its Temple.
Jesus was going up to Jerusalem with His band of Twelve as an invasion force. He was going to put to death in Himself the old Temple, under the old covenant – the old testament – and old law, tailored to an old people in an old city, and from that death He was going to bring to life all things new, a new people under a new testament, going to a new temple in a New Jerusalem.