Luke 9:51 informs us, “…he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Up to this point Jesus was moving from one town to another with the message of the kingdom, performing healings and casting out demons. He would continue this preaching, healing and exorcizing but now something takes precedent: His face is set to go to Jerusalem.
It is possible that Saint Luke is connecting his readers to the prophecy in Isaiah 50:6,7: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting…therefore I have set my face like a flint.” Indeed Christ’s face, like solid flint-rock, would not be turned away or distracted as He heads to Jerusalem. It will continue to be an immovable rock as He gives His back to striking and His face to spitting. Then as the prophecy continues into Isaiah 53, God would send Him to be “…cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people.” (53:8b). This atoning death is what His immovable face is set to face.
Appropriately the face of Jesus is focused on going to Jerusalem. This Temple-centered city is both God’s city and it is “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Thus God’s Son, the greatest prophet, would say of His impending death: “…it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 13:33f). He must go to His city to face a prophet’s death.
Why is His stone-like face chiseled so that He cannot turn away from death, even death on a cross? This is His necessary goal, as repeated by Jesus and then as echoed by His Apostles in their epistles. Indeed, “The Son of man…must be killed.” (Luke 9:22, etc.). He must be stricken for mankind’s transgressions; He must be put to death for our offenses and raised again for our justification (Rom. 4:25). As He dies in our stead we now confess with St. Paul, “…far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Gal. 6:14) His face is set to go to the cross which will be Christianity’s boast and the heart of mankind’s salvation.
After His death and resurrection our Lord’s face is set toward “Jerusalem” in a different way. In the Revelation of John an angel invited him, “’Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he …showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.” (Rev. 21:9f). Heavenly Jerusalem stands as the cleansed bride of Christ. Jesus, as the loving husband, has His face set toward her constantly, and not merely to the Jerusalem that marks the heavenly realm. For even now we are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), and as St. Paul would attest, already now “Jerusalem above…is our mother.” (Gal. 4:26). She is presently our mother, because from this Jerusalem (The Church) we have been born again in Holy Baptism. Christ in love will never turn away from His heavenly Bride who is one with her children. His face is forever set so that His countenance remains lifted upon us in the peace wrought by His cross and empty tomb.