The taking of Jerusalem by Jacques Molay in 1299,
Painted by Claude Jacquand (1803-1878),
Oil on canvas,
Painted in 1846
© Musée de Versailles, Paris
When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, you must realise that she will soon be laid desolate. Then those in Judaea must escape to the mountains, those inside the city must leave it, and those in country districts must not take refuge in it. For this is the time of vengeance when all that scripture says must be fulfilled. Alas for those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come!
‘For great misery will descend on the land and wrath on this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive to every pagan country; and Jerusalem will be trampled down by the pagans until the age of the pagans is completely over.
‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.’
Reflection on the painting
The new millennium in 1000 AD brought a lot of disappointment in Christendom. Many scholars at the time had predicted the return of Jesus Christ, assuming this would happen roughly one millennium after his birth. As nothing happened in 1000 AD, they then next expected it might happen around 1030-1035 CE, a millennium after His death and resurrection. But, again, nothing happened. All these predictions proved wrong. The then generation of Popes expressed that the Messiah failed to return maybe because Jerusalem was in the hands of the Muslims. So the crusades started with the objective of recovering the Holy Land from Islamic rule. In 1095, Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont.
Our painting depicts the battle of Jerusalem that never was. The painting was commissioned in 1846 following French rumours that hailed Jacques Molay as having captured Jerusalem in 1299. In reality, after Jerusalem was lost in 1244, it wasn't under Christian control till 1917, date at which the British Empire took it from the Ottomans. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus gives His prophetic description of the end of time and the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.
The purpose of Christ foretelling the history of Jerusalem in today's Gospel reading is to help us think of eternal life. The history of Jerusalem and its 52 attacks over the last 2,000 years (and all its rich history even before then), teaches us that we will probably not live to see the end of time ourselves. However, everyone on this earth will eventually experience death. That we are sure of. So we need to prepare ourselves for eternity and not be too focussed on the temporal. In the midst of all sorts of destruction around us, redemption and new life are ahead of us…
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