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Jesus has warned Israel repeatedly of the consequences of rejection. Now with language reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets, he begins to spell out the result of the nation's failure to embrace him. As sand trickles through the hourglass, a warning about Jesus' well-being prompts his expression of concern for the nation's welfare. As occurs frequently in this journey, words addressed to Jesus lead to a challenge of popular perception.
The warning is that Herod wishes to kill Jesus. It is debated whether the warning was sincere or a ruse to get Jesus out of the area. Nothing hints at a ruse. Regardless, Jesus does not fear Herod. He tells the Pharisees who warn him, "Tell that fox, `I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' " By calling Herod a fox Jesus may be saying either how clever Herod is, as in the English idiom, or how destructive he is, more consonant with ancient expression (Neh 4:3; Lam 5:17-18; Ezek 13:4; Darr 1992:240-46 prefers the latter). Contextually an allusion to destructiveness is slightly more likely. Jesus' fate on the third day has to do with completing his course with his death. He has nothing to run from.
Jesus knows his fate. Prophets perish in Jerusalem. His ministry will continue until that time has come. If this Gospel were a movie with music in the background, the beat and mood would suggest time's quick and fateful passing. Jesus knows the clock hands are moving toward to midnight and the bell will toll for him. But he will face this as his destiny (note in v. 33 the use of dei, "it must be").
But even though Jesus is headed for death, the tragedy is not his. It is Israel's. In a strong prophetic lament, Jesus cries out for the nation and its capital city: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem." Its life story has been to kill and stone the prophets. It has made a pastime of rejecting God's will. Speaking for God and using the first person, Jesus declares how God has longed "to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings." Here is a tender portrait of God's mothering love. It has been God's desire to love and protect his people. But you were not willing. Israel has consistently rejected such gentle care.
So the judgment comes: your house is left to you desolate. The language recalls the words of the prophet of exile, Jeremiah (Jer 12:7; 22:5), warning of approaching exile for a disobedient nation. Jesus makes clear later that what awaits the Jewish nation now is a similar judgment at the hands of Rome (Lk 19:41-44). Rather than being under God's shadow and protective wing, they are exposed, empty and at risk. That is what sin and rejection of God's way often bring.
The suffering has a duration. The desolation will last until they say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." When they recognize that Jesus has been sent from God, blessing will return. The language of this statement is from Psalm 118:26. The original psalm described the priests' blessing of the worshiping entourage as it approached the temple, probably led by the king. The Jewish people must acknowledge "the one who comes" (Lk 3:15-16; 7:18-19, 22).
Jesus' words appear to hold out hope for the nation's future. In fact, Luke 21:24 and Acts 3:12-26 suggest that the Old Testament hope for Israel has not died. The "time of the Gentiles" does not permanently shut out Israel. As Paul says in Romans 11, branches that were broken off can be grafted back in. But for now Israel is in an exposed condition. And though the warning here is national in scope and points to Israel, the implied application is clear enough: for any of us to live outside of relationship with Christ is to live exposed, desolate in a world of spiritual promise.