Jesus was not harsh out of hatred.
Behind his sharp rebuke in Matthew 23 was a deep love and longing for his people to hear his message, repent of their foolish pride, and live in faith.
The love of Jesus is evident in how he brings the sermon to a conclusion:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house 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 uses the imagery of a hen to describe his own feelings toward those who rejected him. It is significant that Jesus describes himself with feminine attributes—it is significant in that it shows a divine nature that transcends gender and also in the contrast it provides.
Jesus finished a harsh message about coming destruction by describing his desire to nurture rather than judge. His words express profound sadness and deep disappointment before ending with a promise: “For I tell you, you will not see me again until…”
Before answering that, there are a coupleother points that can be extracted from the example of Jesus:
1) Criticism is more loving than indifference…
We live in a time when legitimate criticism is characterized as persecution or hateful. Be too blunt or honest and pretty soon you’ll have the niceness police on your case. Criticism feels unpleasant. However, rebuke can be extremely beneficial to a person who is truly humble and open to correction.
The importance of receiving rebuke is mentioned in Proverbs:
My son, do not despise the Lord ’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12)
And expounded upon by the Apostle Paul:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Hebrews 12:7-9)
Paul says that if we are not disciplined by God then we are illegitimate and not true children of God. Rebuke, according to Proverbs, shows love.
Good parents discipline their children because they love and want the best for them. They realize that uncorrected attitudes and behaviors will cause more future pain for their children than a rebuke. Discipline, therefore, is a preventative medicine against a deeper more permanent harm.
It is easy to be nice to someone in order to avoid trouble. In confrontation there is risk. Many prophets lost their lives for speaking truth to power. At very least criticism can come at the cost of loss of popularity and friendship. As a result, people play nice for their own sake, to keep people off their case, and not out of love.
I personally do not waste my time trying to correct a person I do not love. Why would I?
A good rebuke is not a hit-and-run attack. No, rather it is part of a true concern for the well-being of another and a part of a longer term investment to help another person reach their better potential. Sometimes, when an audience is especially stubborn and unreceptive, there is a need to ratchet up the rhetoric until there is a change.
2) The future is being created by us…
Many religious people are fatalistic. Yes, they might claim to believe in “free will” or choice, but then revert to an “it is what it is” fatalism and using God’s sovereignty as an excuse.
In Jesus we should be free—free to overcome our human limitations and able to create a better reality. That’s what it means to created in the image of the Creator. That’s what it means to partake of the divine nature. And, therefore, with faith, there is agency and choice.
Those whom Jesus addressed also had a choice, and that choice is recorded in the last words of the Old Testament:
See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. (Malachi 4:5-6)
The “or else” in the passage above indicates two options. Either their hearts will be turned or there will be total destruction. History was dependent on their choice and the future depends on our choice—repent or die.
We know that many did not heed the warning and that Jerusalem was destroyed. Many of those in the audience may have ended up in Gehenna (the literal “hell” Jesus spoke about) because they refused to hear and repent. Many of us will follow them to our own destruction unless we choose the abundant life.
In the end, fatalism is simply another form of faithlessness. Often when we say, “It is what it is,” the truth is that we are simply unwilling to put in the effort or step out in faith. Life is what we make it. The future we get is always a choice and we should choose Jesus.
3) When will we see Jesus again?
I don’t know.
That is your choice.
I believe Jesus will return in those who choose to turn, who acknowledge him as Lord, receive his Spirit and follow him.
Jesus gave this promise:
Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. (John 14:21)
Jesus longs to reveal himself to us today.
(Artwork: Stanley Spencer)