Reading Time: 9 mins

Holy Week’s Trio of Jerusalem, Temple, and King

Reading Time: 9 mins

Jerusalem, temple, and king, all three bespoke of Yahweh’s kingship, as well as of His Kingdom and presence on earth and all the blessings bound up with it.

Jesus’ life seemed to revolve around Jerusalem, the royal City of David, and, of course, its crown jewel, the Temple, the architectural wonder of the Mediterranean world which was, in Isaiah’s distant day, God’s earthly throne (Isaiah 37:16).

The cherubim were icons of angelic beings mounted on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, bowed toward the presence of God “seated” between them. The ark itself was God’s throne situated in the inner sanctuary of the Temple (God’s “palace”), not in Heaven but in the royal city of Jerusalem, here on Earth. Heaven and Earth were understood to overlap at the point of God’s throne. The Temple, therefore, implied God’s kingly presence and unmatched authority.

Jerusalem, temple, and king,[1] all three bespoke of Yahweh’s kingship, as well as of His Kingdom and presence on earth and all the blessings bound up with it. All four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) wanted their readers to think deeply about Jerusalem, the Temple, and Kingship, what they are, what they symbolize, and what has taken place in Jewish history through this potent combination. They wanted their readers to hold this symbolic trio close in mind because they come to bear on Jesus directly, never more so than in this fateful week of His life about which they had devoted so much of their Gospels. This was because, in Jewish thinking, Jerusalem and its Temple served as the epicenter of divine activity and, so, were understood as Earth’s spiritual center, the very the heart the created universe. So much so that Jerusalem became a metaphor and reference point for future works of God and the hope of the world, as well as the hallmark for authentic God-human relations and communications. If it did not happen through the Jews and, more specifically, at Jerusalem in conjunction with the Temple, then it presumably was not of God. And if God was going to do something, if He were going to reveal and empower His messiah, then it would happen in Jerusalem’s Temple. Every eye, therefore, was fixed on the temple mount of David’s city. The auditors of every preacher should be too.

All of this was intensified by kingdom considerations, such that were daily rehearsed in King David’s psalms. “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His Kingdom rules over all,” wrote David (Psalm 103:19). Every kingdom has a king, and so the very mention of Jerusalem or Temple sparked the idea of God’s rule, God’s presence, God’s promises for Israel, summed up in the synonymous terms “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” And those terms invoked ideas of God’s King, a king like David, who was to rule over God’s people from within God’s land and capital city. Indeed, from His Temple presence in Jerusalem, it was understood that God “rules over all,” even over the Gentiles. That was the Jewish worldview. This was the world running right. But it was not the reality Jesus’ contemporaries knew or experienced. Instead, Caesar established his throne in Rome, and it was Caesar’s empire that ruled. So, for first-century Jews, parallels abounded between their troubled situation and those of the generations enslaved in Egypt or exiled to Babylon even though they were in the land of their forefathers. In short, the Judeans of Jesus’ day were in exile. They were held captive by another lord, another god, Caesar.

And if God was going to do something, if He were going to reveal and empower His messiah, then it would happen in Jerusalem’s Temple.

Jesus, of whom it was said from His birth was “Christ, the Lord,” who would “save His people from their sins” (Luke 2:11; Matthew 1:21), is thus presented by the Gospel writers as inescapably drawn to Jerusalem and its Temple because it was the city of God’s (and therefore Israel’s) King. Rome was meeting a direct challenge in and from Jerusalem. So, if there was to be a climatic unveiling of Jesus’ messiahship and claim as the world’s rightful lord, then it had to happen in Jerusalem. No other place intimated legitimacy.

God, the biblical writers explain, was not arbitrary when it came to divine, kingly representation. David had been specially chosen on account of his being a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), that is, the heart of a shepherd. Yahweh was to be known as this kind of king: One who shepherds His people with shepherding qualities of patiently leading, tirelessly caring, and wisely protecting. David celebrated his shepherding God in the Twenty-third Psalm.

But there was more involved than representing God’s care and responsibility for His flock, Israel. The shepherd-king and his lineage occupied a double representative regency. First, as we have seen, God’s “anointed king” represented the Lord God Himself. Second, the messiah/king represented the people of God’s Kingdom just as presidents and prime ministers represent their respective peoples today. From Jerusalem the king mediated, judged with equity, dispensed grace and mercy, displayed generosity, exemplified holiness and righteousness, and held the responsibility to protect and provide for God’s land and people, just as the LORD intended. That was the high calling of this representative regency. He was to emanate God’s will and ways and remanate His people’s worship and obedience. Emanate and remanate. Reflect and emit. The messiah played roles for God and man, mediating for both, embodying both.

Jerusalem and the Temple were the foremost concrete symbols of this messianic rule by proxy or, again, were at least supposed to be so. For, over time, both institutions came to embody all that was antithetical to these ideas: Corruption, extravagance, injustice, and even idolatry.

The people ascending Mount Zion with Jesus that Palm Sunday acutely felt these tensions: The blessing and oppression of Jerusalem, Temple, and King and yet held out hope that all three institutions would be remedied by a man after God’s own shepherding heart. Plus, there was this, Jesus, it was reported, hailed from “the house and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4). Indeed, He was from the shepherding town of Bethlehem where David originated. Expectations would be heightened given the words of Micah 5:2: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me One who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” Certainly, Matthew made this connection and preserved it in his Gospel (5:2). Bringing these ideas, traditions, hopes, and expectations to bear on a key location at a poignant moment, as Jesus seemed to be doing, carried the potential for something truly prophetic and biblical, but also potentially explosive, or disastrous, if the authorities opposed His claims and turned the crowds against Him.

Jesus had already publicly embraced David’s role of representation when He said, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives the One who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40). He put it in different ways at different times, but it all amounted to the same: He represented His kingdom people before the one He called “Father” and He represented the Father before His kingdom people. Similar sayings from Mark 9:37, Luke 9:48 and 23:34, John 6:46 and 14:9, doubtless spread like wildfire and only increased expectations on the ascent to Mount Zion.

He represented His kingdom people before the one He called “Father” and He represented the Father before His kingdom people.

As Adam was to represent God the shepherd-king and humanity in his covenanted regency but failed (Genesis 3), so too others were covenanted to fulfill this regal vocation to be truly human unto Yahweh (such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).[2] But they likewise failed, ever casting eyes forward to the One who could fulfill humanity’s vocational obligations, as well as defeat the enemies of God: Sin, the forces of evil, and death.

This is where David, the son of Jesse, comes into the story and history of Israel and how it came to bear upon Jesus’ riding into Jerusalem the week of Passover. David is chosen through anointing to represent Yahweh as God’s King and, at the same time, to represent the would-be kingly people (Israel) who represent the would-be kingly nations or Gentiles (1 Samuel 16).[3] Again, the bigger picture of God’s global kingdom never fades from view. The LORD’s Jewish king was to reign over the Gentiles (non-Jews), not the other way around.

Despite the glories of his kingdom, as well as that of his son Solomon, David and his descendants failed in the impossibly burdensome vocation of double representation. They were messiahs, but failed messiahs. Indeed, even the Davidic kings who followed, like Jerusalem and the Temple, became living contradictions to what the reign of God on earth through humanity was supposed to be. They came to embody oppression and ungodliness. Again, eyes were cast forward to the future. Not David, but one from David and like David... and like Moses and like Abraham and like Adam (Deuteronomy 18:17-18; Genesis 3:15; 5:3). The Davidic line itself needed a representative as its prophetic, priestly, and kingly roles diminished, then altogether vanished. David’s throne was split, usurped, and then vanquished for centuries. It was still vacant in terms of a legitimate king in the time of Jesus, a millennium after David and Solomon. History needed a new Adam who would bring forward the qualities of Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, David, and Solomon to restore God’s Kingdom since the promises of God were never retracted or abrogated. They abided throughout the ages as the Word of God. And the people who eagerly followed the itinerate preacher from Nazareth around the countryside and now to the City of David longed to see God’s promises in their Scriptures come to fruition.

The uphill march to the City of David, with the shepherd-king’s very own “songs of ascent” (Psalms 122, 124, 131, 133) on their lips, would have flooded the minds of all pilgrimaging Jews with thoughts of Israel’s golden age under David and the hope of its return along the lines foretold by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Being a conquered people, oppressed by Rome, lorded over by the “divine” Caesars, and harassed by their own Jewish shepherds, Jesus brought fresh hope from one who it was known came from “the House and lineage of David” (Luke 2:4), who taught the people saying “I am the Good shepherd” (John 10:14), and who “had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34).

The Palm Sunday journey ascending Mount Zion held all these powerful notions in tension in the grand but tragic story of Israel. For hundreds of years Jews felt the burden of these broken, yet open-ended covenants and longed for that new covenant promised to Jeremiah and Ezekiel which would bring a fresh set of circumstances into divine-human relations and so change their fortunes completely and permanently. It seemed pretty certain with the passing of centuries that the existing covenants needed justice, required reconciling before a new covenant would materialize. Blood would be required, an atonement, “For without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” no reconciliation (Hebrews 9:22). Justice must be obtained through propitiation but no less through the accomplishment of the Messiah’s righteousness before the Law (Matthew 5:17).

Justice must be obtained through propitiation but no less through the accomplishment of the Messiah’s righteousness before the Law.

One, therefore, did not think of Jerusalem without thinking of the Temple or David’s throne or the presence of God. Each was tethered to the other and all were implied. They were always meant to do so as far as the biblical prophets were concerned: Jerusalem, Temple, and King. Foremost in all their considerations was the hope Mount Zion exuded and the Scriptures promised. God is present with His people to rescue them, to shepherd them, and to establish a new and more glorious covenant through the reestablished throne of God’s servant David. Jesus, conscious of all these themes, enriched the meaning of His approach to Zion at the outset of Holy Week. Jerusalem, Temple, and Kingship were converging in one climatic week.

In a certain sense, all the Passover pilgrims were play-acting. Jesus, the disciples, and the crowds all knew God was not really in the Temple anymore. So, the people play-acted like He was until His promised return. Centuries earlier, Israel’s sin and obstinance drove God’s presence, His glory presence or Shekinah, from Solomon’s Temple (Ezekiel 10:15-19). His presence was always conditional, part of the covenant they refused to keep. Not only did the LORD vacate Jerusalem but He sent the Babylonians to completely destroy it in 587/6 BC. This was the one thing most of the various Jewish sects from the Essenes to the Pharisees in Jesus’ day held as a common hope: The Lord would suddenly return to His Mount Zion Temple to reign, thereby liberating Israel and ending her seven-century-long virtual exile as a conquered people and shepherd them anew through “His servant David” within a new and everlasting covenant, the one promised by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Malachi said it was all to start with a herald, declaring the nearness of the Kingdom of God. Then Yahweh or at least His shepherd-king would appear and establish the new covenant with its gracious terms for divine-human relations (Malachi 3:1). Jeremiah spelled out the covenant more fully in 31:31-34. This was the best of all possible news but not a word of it had come true as of yet. Rome ruled, not God’s messiah, at least, not yet.

Still, hope mounted. After four hundred years of prophetic silence, there was excitement in the air about a prophet in the desert evoking images of Elijah. Malachi’s prophesy, they said, harkened fulfillment: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (4:5). More momentous yet, there was an itinerate preacher declaring news about God’s fast approaching Kingdom and validating His claims with never-before-seen miracles. The hundreds of thousands who gathered in Jerusalem for Passover week had been hearing for two or three years about this prophet from Galilee “like Jeremiah” (Matthew 16:14), who proclaimed good news, “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19), engendering thoughts about the “new covenant,” saying: “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:14). His name was Yesu Hannozri, Jesus of Nazareth, the descendant of David. It all hinged on his being a legitimate heir. Matthew made this point explicit in his opening chapter, blasting royal trumpets, heralding the King’s arrival, the advent of the Lord. Jesus, says Matthew, is the descendent: David’s son, God’s son. Jesus is, therefore, heralded as “the Christ.” Matthew’s genealogy tells its readers that Jerusalem, Temple, and Kingship converge on Jesus. This announcement would prove astounding, audacious, and dangerous as Jesus’ Temple encounters and expulsion from Jerusalem for crucifixion would prove. But they would also prove this: Kingship comes by way of blood atonement through the Temple of His body.

[1] My recognition of the potent combination of Jerusalem, Temple, and King emerge from N.T. Wright’s observations in Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 490-93.

[2] Consistently, these men were shepherds in their own rights, too. God desired to be known through them as the shepherding Lord in anticipation of David and, supremely, Jesus “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11).

[3] C.S. Lewis makes much of this idea that all of humanity was really created to be kings and queens of the earth, ruling and reigning as God’s vice-regents on earth. See Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56).