The heart of Jesus is a heart full of compassion for those who are suffering, even when that suffering is the fault of the one being afflicted and even when the afflicted is acting in opposition to Christ.
As Jesus approached the cross, we see this compassion in His lament for Jerusalem. Having just foretold a judgment upon the scribes and the Pharisees of the Jews for the violence they would inflict upon His followers in the days to come (cf. Matthew 23:29-36), He cries out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ (Matthew 23:37-39)”
Jesus would go on to foretell to His apostles that there was coming a day when the stones of the Temple in Jerusalem would be torn down, each one, resulting in the complete destruction of that structure (cf. Matthew 24:1-2). He further commanded His disciples to flee the city when they saw the armies marching against it (cf. Matthew 24:15-16).
As we follow the history that unfolded, everything happened just as Jesus predicted. He was arrested, tried, crucified and then rose from the dead even as He said He would be (cf. Matthew 20:17-19). Following the establishment of the church, the scribes and the Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews began a persecution against the followers of Christ, a persecution which included bloodshed and executions (cf. Acts 8:1-3). Even as these things were going on, the relationship between the Jews and the Roman empire were continuing to deteriorate finally culminating in the march of the Roman armies against Jerusalem. In AD 70, less than forty years after the church of our Lord had been established in Jerusalem, the city was destroyed by Rome, the Temple was demolished, and the Levitical priesthood was brought to an end. However, the Christians who were in the city at the time of the siege, heeding the words of Christ, left the city prior to the destruction and thus were spared from the death and suffering which befell those who remained.
Did Jesus take pleasure in the fate of His persecutors and detractors? His lament shows He did not. He wanted to save them from the fate which was coming, but they would not accept or listen to Him. Yet those who did accept Him listened to His words and so escaped the doom which befell those who did not.
There is a parallel here to our own response to Christ. John, in his Gospel reflects on this, saying, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:10-12; ESV).”
Jesus looks to the future of all men, and recognizes that there is coming a judgment upon sin. He commands us to, “repent,” saying, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luke 13:3).” Jesus also tells us, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matthew 7:24; ESV).”
When we understand the compassion of Christ, and the desire of Christ to protect and shelter, as a hen might gather her chicks, those who are heading towards certain disaster, we can better understand His command to “repent.” Like His Father, Jesus is not wishing that any should perish (cf. 1 Peter 3:9). He wants all men to come to repentance because He wants all men to be saved.
When the Jews heard the warnings of Jesus they did not heed them. They did exactly what Jesus warned them they were going to do, and the result was exactly what Jesus said it would be. They were foolish men building a house upon the sand, and the house collapsed.
The wise man does not grow offended at the warning, but recognizes the truth of the situation: if we do not repent and turn from our sins, accepting the salvation of Christ, we will perish. The compassion of our Lord means salvation; but only if we are willing to listen to what He has to say.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.