Search the Scriptures: The Lord’s Compassionate Commandment

The heart of Jesus is a heart full of compassion for those who suffer, even when that suffering is the fault of the afflicted and even when the afflicted act against Christ.

As Jesus approached the cross, we see this compassion in his lamentation over Jerusalem. Having just announced judgment on the scribes and Pharisees of the Jews for the violence they would inflict on his disciples in the days to come (cf. Matthew 23:29-36), he exclaimed: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem , the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How many times would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you did not want it! See, your home 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 predict to His apostles that a day would come when the stones of the Temple in Jerusalem would be torn down, each 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 story as it unfolded, everything happened just as Jesus foretold. He was arrested, judged, crucified and then raised from the dead as He had announced (cf. Matthew 20:17-19). Following the establishment of the church, the scribes and Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews began a persecution against the followers of Christ, a persecution that included bloodshed and executions (cf. Acts 8:1-3 ). Even as these things were unfolding, relations between the Jews and the Roman Empire continued to deteriorate, eventually culminating in the march of Roman armies against Jerusalem. In AD 70, less than forty years after the establishment of our Lord’s Church in Jerusalem, the city was destroyed by Rome, the Temple was demolished, and the Levitical priesthood came 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 before the destruction and were thus spared the death and suffering that befell those who remained.

Did Jesus rejoice over the fate of his persecutors and detractors? His lamentation shows that he did not. He wanted to save them from the fate that was coming, but they didn’t accept it and didn’t listen to him. Yet those who accepted him listened to his words and thus escaped the fate that befell those who did not accept him.

There is a parallel here with our own response to Christ. John, in his Gospel, reflects on this saying: “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, but the world knew him not. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. But to all who received him, who believed on 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 on sin. He commands us to “repent,” saying, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all equally perish (Luke 13:3). Jesus also tells us, “Whoever therefore 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 Christ’s compassion and Christ’s desire to protect and shelter, as a hen might gather her chicks, those heading for some disaster, we can better understand His command to “repent.” Like his Father, Jesus does not want anyone to 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 Jesus’ warnings, they paid no heed. They did exactly what Jesus told them they were going to do, and the result was exactly what Jesus said it would be. They were foolish men building a house on sand, and the house collapsed.

The wise man does not take offense at the warning, but recognizes the truth of the situation: unless we 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 a minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. The views expressed in the article are the work of the author.

Brandon D. James