On the night he rose from the dead, Jesus instructed his disciples to preach a new message of unconditional forgiveness.
Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46–47, NKJV)
The message of grace and forgiveness was for all nations, but it was particularly for the Jews. “Beginning at Jerusalem,” said Jesus, as though he knew there would be some who would deny grace to his killers. “God’s grace is for all, but those in Jerusalem get to hear about it first.”
Then, before he ascended to heaven, he said it again. “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem …” (Acts 1:8b).
There is a reason why Jerusalem is considered the birthplace of Christianity and it is not just because Christ died there. By the Lord’s command Jerusalem was the first place evangelized with the gospel. By the Holy Spirit’s direction, Jerusalem was the location of Pentecost. And by the apostles’ obedience, Jerusalem was the birthplace of the church.
Jesus did not wash his hands of Jerusalem. Nor did he tell his apostles to give the city a wide berth. Instead, he designated the city Mission Field Number One. The apostles did what he asked, and their teaching spread all over Jerusalem. The result was nothing short of miraculous. The city that had rejected the Lord began to change, and the number of Christians in Jerusalem increased greatly (Acts 5:28, 6:7).
Jerusalem had rejected Jesus, but he never rejected Jerusalem. The Jews had spurned him, but he continued to woo them to himself. Not even death would hinder his relentless love.
As for the city, so for the temple.
The cross and the temple stood in opposition to one another, yet Christ’s cross came down while the temple stayed up. That building, so hostile to the Lord, did not tumble during the earthquake that accompanied his death. Nor was it consumed by heavenly fire when he rose from the grave.
When the Lord needed an apostle of grace, he recruited a hate-filled Pharisee. And when he needed a venue for the early church, he chose the courts of the most anti-Christ building in the world (Acts 2:46, 3:11, 5:12, 42).
Where did the apostles perform their first miracle? It was at the gates of the temple (Acts 3:2).
When an angel released the apostles from prison, where did he tell them to preach the gospel? At the temple (Acts 5:20).
And after the apostles were flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, where did they daily continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ? (Acts 5:42). You guessed it.
This is grace, and this is what God does. He redeems and repurposes. He takes those things that are opposed to him and turns them around for good.
That the Lord would choose this building and this city to demonstrate his goodness and power speaks volumes to the graciousness of a good God who does not treat us as our sins deserve.
Extracted from chapter 26 of Paul Ellis’ new book AD70 and the End of the World.