When Jesus Christ looked out over Jerusalem, He wept (Luke 19:41). Why this outburst of emotion? It was not merely the realization that the city would soon be destroyed in a devastating war (vs. 43-44). It was concern over what the populace of that glittering metropolis was doing to itself to bring that devastation about. Precisely, the same human nature — the same vicious attitude of mind — which was (and is) extant all over the world was then being unleashed in Jerusalem. And the people there could no more resist it than could any other people in any other city at any other time. Outwardly the Jerusalem known by Jesus Christ had reached the pinnacle of grandeur, wealth and architectural achievement. But under the surface were vices only too familiar to the urban America of 1970. The country was wealthy, and the stakes were high enough that politicians surrendered to the dictates of greed.Herod's descendants pitted themselves against one another in a power struggle that eroded all respect for royal authority.Successive Roman governors sent to administer the province of Judea became bolder and bolder in their quest for personal power and wealth.Florus, under whom the Jewish War broke out, surpassed all his predecessors in out-and-out legal hagglings..This governor, Josephus relates,
Stripped whole cities, ruined complete communities, and virtually announced to the entire country that everyone might be a bandit if he chose, so long as (Florus) himself received a rake-off (The Jewish War, translated by G.A. Williamson, II. 14.).
In Jerusalem the people courageously sought to break the bonds of Roman oppression.And they quite understandably became desperate. Young hotheads grew restless. Rioting became a favorite pastime. In fact, unscrupulous government and civic leaders found it convenient to cover up their own crimes by inciting the mobs of the city to riot. The favorite scene for mob confrontations and riots was Jerusalem's splendid Temple of God, where hundreds of thousands of worshippers congregated on religious festivals.It was, in fact, on these festivals — Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Feast of Tabernacles — that civil strife reached its zenith (Wars, II. 1.3; II. 3.1). Violence finally became so common that armed guards were posted on permanent duty in the Temple during feasts "to forestall any rioting by the vast crowds" (ibid, II. 1.2.1). Even so, political, religious and professional agitators, gang leaders and revolutionaries still did their part.Oftentimes, the frustrated passions of an oppressed people became vented in a tragically self-destructive manner. To modern-day Americans these mob scenes would have a familiar ring.
But in the afternoon a number of men with revolutionary ideas collected, and began lamentations (complaints) of their own, piercing wails, weeping in chorus, and beating of breasts, that resounded throughout the whole city (ibid., II. 1.2).
Just to test the government's sincerity, the mob began to make large demands: tax reduction, abolition of sales tax, and release of prisoners. In Short, the Jerusalem of the first century A.D. enjoyed all the fruits of an intricate multifaceted urban civilization with which we are becoming too painfully familiar in our own day. There was violence, crime, and racial conflicts among Samaritans, Jews and Greeks, arson, looting of stores and burning of credit records, raiding of armories, gang warfare and political assassination. Unscrupulous rulers blamed the riotous mobs in order to divert attention from their own crimes. Finally,
The revolutionary party in Jerusalem cast off all restraint. Every scoundrel surrounded by his own gang, stood out from his followers like a bandit chief or dictator and used his henchmen to rob respectable citizens (ibid, II. 14.1).
The end of this spree of licentious prosperity was the War of 66-70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed and the land of Judea turned into a wilderness. As Josephus commented:
Of all the cities under Roman rule our own reached the highest summit of prosperity, and in turn fell into the lowest depths of misery, and for our misfortunes we have only ourselves to blame (ibid., pref., 4).
And what occurred in Jerusalem more than 1900 years ago has a particular significance for today. Not for the Jerusalem of today, but rather for the urban areas of the United States and British Commonwealth. In a direct prophecy to these peoples, the prophet Ezekiel wrote: "The land if full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence." (Ezk. 7:23). Especially American cities. But how many of us weep over America the way Jesus Christ wept over Jerusalem?