MISSING CHRIST’S FIRST VISITATION
As Jesus approached Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, he wept over the city because they did not recognize the appointed time of his visitation. There were numerous prophecies indicating not only that Jesus was the Messiah, but also that the timing of his arrival was at hand in the first century. The Wise Men from the East recognized the appointed time (Matthew 2:1-9), as did Simeon of Jerusalem, Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:22-38), and many others. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law largely did not. Their failure to recognize the times and the arrival of the Messiah led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple. Luke 19 records the words of Jesus before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, just days before his crucifixion. His statement begs a couple of questions. First, “How did they miss that he was the Messiah?” And second, “If there was an appointed time for his first coming and they failed to recognize it, could we also miss the appointed time for his promised return?”
When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” – Luke 19: 41-44 NIV
Let’s start with the first question. There were many ways they should have recognized the appointed time. You could argue that his miracles alone testified to the fact that he was the Messiah. He was a son of David, was born in Bethlehem Ephratah to a virgin, fled to Egypt, grew up in Nazareth, ministered in Galilee, was preceded and affirmed by John the Baptist, and he had just ridden through the East Gate into the Temple Mount on a donkey, all in fulfillment of different Bible prophecies . He also appeared at the appointed time—483 years (sixty-nine times seven) after an edict by Artaxerxes to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy of seventy weeks. [I’ll have a lot more to say about that in my soon to be released book, Witnessing the End.]
Finally, and most importantly, Jesus directly told the Pharisees and the teachers of the law that he was the Messiah, the Son of God sent by his Father (John 10:22-40). So, there were both signs and direct revelations that they missed or refused to recognize. Prophecies were fulfilled right under their noses, but they didn’t see them or just couldn’t believe them. And as a result, they suffered the pronouncement of Jesus in Luke 19, when thirty-seven years later the temple and all of Jerusalem were destroyed in AD 70.
We can’t just blame the religious leaders for not seeing what was right in front of them, though. Jesus also said some things to the disciples that they couldn’t understand, either. For example, he told them directly that he was going to be killed and then would rise from the dead three days later (Mark 9:9-10, 31-32).
As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant. – Mark 9:9-10 NASB
For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him. – Mark 9:31-32 NASB
Jesus used very plain language, and yet the disciples couldn’t comprehend what he meant. But how can that be? Why wasn’t what he said clear to them? The disciples just couldn’t imagine how the literal words Jesus was telling them could be true, and therefore they reasoned that they must mean something else. It wasn’t that they didn’t hear him or didn’t understand his words. Mark wrote that the disciples “seized upon that statement” and then discussed what it meant. When a rational and truthful person makes a fantastic statement, it is logical to assume that it was meant as a metaphor or hyperbole. An example would be: The runner flew down the track. A problem arises, however, when a literal statement is wrongly understood to be outside the realm of possibilities . When that happens, it can cause us to misunderstand the simplest of statements. Since this happened to both the Pharisees and the disciples, we must also be on guard against making similar mistakes when interpreting prophecy.
COULD MANY ALSO BE CAUGHT UNPREPARED FOR CHRIST’S SECOND COMING?
This brings us back to the second question: If there was an appointed time for his first coming and they failed to recognize it, could we also miss the appointed time for his promised return? And the obvious answer is, yes, we could. To avoid making the same mistake, we need to know the specific signs that the Bible tells us to watch for, and we need faith to believe them. Jesus promised to return (John 14), and he gave many signs of his return (Matthew 24 & Luke 21). He also told us to watch so that we would recognize that the time had arrived and not be taken by surprise.
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” – Luke 21: 34-36
While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. – 1 Thessalonians 5:3-5 (emphasis added)
There were very serious consequences for not recognizing the time of Jesus’ first visitation. The Scriptures teach us that Christ’s return will surprise people “like a thief” who are in the darkness with their “hearts weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life” and aren’t watching. Accordingly, we must be “always on watch” and praying that we can “escape all that is about to happen,” so that we will “be able to stand before the Son of Man” when he comes. I think we can be pretty sure from these verses that those who are looking for his appearing will not be taken by surprise, though. We can also be sure that it will be even more disastrous to fail to recognize the signs of Jesus’ second appearing than it was at his first appearing.