Jerusalem has been the holiest city in Jewish tradition since, according to the Hebrew Bible, King David of Israel first established it as the capital of the united Kingdom of Israel in c. 1000 BCE, and his son, King Solomon, commissioned the building of the First Temple in the city.
The Jews wherever they are on the surface of the earth face towards Jerusalem when they pray.
“In a fashion not easy for us to understand, Jerusalem was a symbolic focus of loyalty felt by every faithful son of Israel. Its history was magnetic: the holy city, the holy Temple, the holy ritual. In Jesus’ day, the new temple, built by Herod the Great, was a shining monument of white marble and gold. “Thither the tribes go up,” said its poets; drawn by an impulse of loyalty we rarely feel towards cities. It was the focus of recollection, of power and of pious practices. The tombs of the prophets were there, venerated by those who kept white their sepulchers to preserve their memory. Once a year, or oftener if convenient, the faithful Jew visited the city. It was perhaps as much an act of defiance of Rome as of dedication to Israel.
As a loyal son, Jesus was sensitive to this impulse, but the pilgrimage which with strange prescience he knew to be his last was, we assume, less easily undertaken than earlier visits had been. It was no perfunctory holiday jaunt; it was something against which we saw immense barriers heaving themselves in his track, from which less daunting dedication would have turned back without shame or self-pity. Something in the way he walked seems to have impressed the man who later was going to record the episode. Luke says, “he set his face” (R.S.V.) and earlier versions put it ‘steadfastly’. The necessity that compelled him communicated itself to face and pace.”
Edwin McNeill Poteat