Jesus life has just been threatened. The Pharisees have warned Him that the Tetrarch, Herod wants Him dead. You would think Jesus would be at least mildly concerned. After all, Herod is not one to give empty threats. Herod was the ruler of Galilee. Herod could have Jesus killed if he wished; he could have Jesus’ disciples killed if he wished; he could have Jesus family killed if he wished. In Galilee, the treat of death from Herod is not to be taken lightly. But Jesus not only appears unconcerned about Herod’s threat, He scoffs at Herod. Jesus says, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’” Jesus treats the treat of Herod with scorn. Why? Because Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, we all know about it. The city that was the ancient capital of Israel and Judah; the home of the temple of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the foundation of the hope of God’s chosen people. We all know about the place, but do we truly understand what Jerusalem means; what it represents? What Jesus says here is utterly amazing, but to understand what He’s saying, you have to understand Jerusalem.
The first reference to Jerusalem in scripture is in the book of Genesis, where Melchizedek king of Salem and priest of God Most High came out and blessed Abram. This city ruled by Melchizedek later became the city of David; the city in which Solomon built the temple. This city and the temple contained within its walls was the very center of the Jewish world (politically, socially, and religiously). Without the temple and the sacrifices conducted there, the Jews could not exist as God’s chosen people. Why? Because without the sacrifices carried out at the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews could not atone for their inability to keep God’s law.
But to understand just what that meant to the Jewish people, we need to understand what Jerusalem actually means. It is not as simple as you might think. You may have heard that the word Jerusalem means “City of Peace” and that is not incorrect, but that is only one of nine equally valid definitions. You see, the name Jerusalem is made up of two root words and each root word has three different definitions. The root word Yir’eh can mean city, but it can also mean home or foundation. The root word s-l-m can mean peace, but it can also mean safety or completion. So Jerusalem can mean the city or home of peace or the foundation upon which it is built; it can mean the city or home where one finds refuge or the foundation upon which our safety is built; and it can mean the city or home where one finds completion or the foundation which will result in completion (the beginning and the end).
Now, what is so ironic about these different definitions of Jerusalem is that none of them in truth reflect what we know of the place that bears the name. Jerusalem is a city in turmoil in arguably the most strife ridden places on the globe and it always has been. David never found peace in his city, he had to flee this home of refuge when his own son took it by force, and the work he began there he could not finish. The ancient Jewish city of Jerusalem was repeatedly ravaged; by the Babylonians, the Romans, the Christians, the Muslims, and the Jews themselves. There has never been peace in Jerusalem. There has never been safety in Jerusalem. And nothing built there by human hands endures.
Jesus does not fear the threats of Herod, because He is on His way to Jerusalem. He is not going there to find peace, but suffering. He is not going there to find refuge, but death. So what Jerusalem is Jesus on His way to? He is going to the Jerusalem of beginnings and endings. He says it Himself. Jesus says, “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.” Jesus is on His way to His death; He is going to the finish of His course. Jesus is going to Jerusalem, the city of peace safety where they kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to it; this home of refuge that has been forsaken. Jesus is going to this Jerusalem to complete His mission. What place could be more fitting to kill the Lord of life than Jerusalem?
In truth there are two cities of Jerusalem; two cities of God. There is the city of God whose foundation is the law, and there is the city of God whose foundation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The city of Jerusalem we see – the city founded on the law – is not a city of peace and refuge, it is a city of turmoil, and suffering, and death. For through the law we find not peace but the shame of our sin; through the law we find no refuge, but only God’s judgment. But the city that is hidden; the city founded on the free gift of faith in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the city which is the Body of Christ, this is the true Jerusalem.
Jesus came to old Jerusalem to lay the foundation of New Jerusalem. Jesus came to the city founded by the law to fulfill the law. Jesus came to the city of the temple to sacrifice Himself for our sins once, for all. Jesus, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes… Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!”