Jesus replied, "Yes, look at these great buildings. But they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!" – Matthew 24:44 NLT
Chapter 13 of Mark parallels chapter 24 of Matthew, which I covered in yesterday's blog. So today I want to concentrate on the brief exchange between Jesus and the disciples that set up the whole end times teaching by Jesus. As they were leaving the Temple grounds, the disciples comment on the beautiful buildings. "Teacher, look at these magnificent buildings! Look at the impressive stones in the walls" (Mark 13:1 NLT). They were obviously impressed by the architectural wonder of the Temple. Watch the following video from the History Channel for a little bit better idea of the magnitude and magnificence of the Temple and its courtyards.
The structure about which the disciples were commenting was actually the third Temple. The original one, built by Solomon, the son of David, was destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians as part of God's judgment for the unfaithfulness of the people of Judah. Prior to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Solomon's Temple, God had warned the people that He was going to judge them. "The Lord said to Jeremiah: ‘Stand in the gate of the Lord’s temple and proclaim this message: "Listen, all you people of Judah who have passed through these gates to worship the Lord. Hear what the Lord has to say. The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says: Change the way you have been living and do what is right. If you do, I will allow you to continue to live in this land. Stop putting your confidence in the false belief that says, ‘We are safe! The temple of the Lord is here! The temple of the Lord is here! The temple of the Lord is here!’ You must change the way you have been living and do what is right. You must treat one another fairly. Stop oppressing foreigners who live in your land, children who have lost their fathers, and women who have lost their husbands. Stop killing innocent people in this land. Stop paying allegiance to other gods. That will only bring about your ruin. If you stop doing these things, I will allow you to continue to live in this land which I gave to your ancestors as a lasting possession”’” (Jeremiah 7:1-7 NLT). God was calling for a change of heart. He was calling the people of God to repentance, much like Jesus had been doing in His day. Yet, they believed they were exempt from judgment because they had the Temple of the Lord. In other words, as long as the Temple was around, so was God. After all, it was His earthly dwelling place. The Temple had become their guarantee of God's abiding presence. But God warned them to change their ways. They were unfaithful, unrighteous, dishonest, corrupt, and an embarrassment to the name of God. They had made an idol out of the Temple and worshiped it more than they did the God who they believed dwelt within it. It reminds me of the story of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant recorded in 1 Samuel 4. The Israelites had no king at this time. They were surrounded by various groups of people who constantly harassed the attacked them. One of their greatest enemies during those days were the Philistines. On this particular occasion, the Philistines attacked the Israelites and killed 4,000 of their men. After regrouping from their defeat, the Israelites come up with the idea to bring the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh were it was kept in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle. The top of the Ark was called the Mercy Seat, and it was here that the presence of God dwelt within the Tabernacle. This was long before the construction of the Temple by Solomon. The Ark was never to leave the Holy of Holies, but the Israelites disregarded this fact and brought it to the battleground, in the hopes that it would bring them victory. When all the Israelites saw the Ark arrive in their camp, they shouted for joy. Even the Philistines heard all the commotion and became fearful. But when the battle took place, the Israelites were defeated again, this time losing 30,000 men. Not only that, the Ark was captured by the Philistines.
In both of these stories, we see a people who had made false gods out of the Temple and the Ark. These two things were never intended to be worshiped or idolized. They were never meant to replace having awe for God and obedience to His commands. They were no guarantee of His presence or His pleasure. God allowed the Ark to be captured and the Temple to be destroyed. He would later arrange for the recapture of the Ark and the rebuilding of the Temple, but the people would continue to live in disobedience and unfaithfulness. By Jesus day, with a relatively new Temple provided by Herod, the Israelites were feeling pretty good about themselves once again. It was a beautiful structure that was a drastic improvement on the second Temple built after the return of the people from exile. It was a magnificent structure and was the pride of the Hebrew people. But Jesus warns the disciples that this building would be destroyed just like the first Temple. Why? Because nothing had changed. The people of God were still unfaithful. They were religiously zealous, but failed to recognize the Son of God standing in their midst. They fully believed that their attempts at keeping the law, coupled with their special designation as God's chosen people and the presence of the Temple, would protect them. But Jesus told them, "How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation" (Luke 19:42-44 NLT).
In 70 A.D. the words of Jesus would be fulfilled as Titus marched against Jerusalem and destroyed the city and the Temple. More than 6,000 Jews lost their lives and the once beautiful Temple would be leveled and left as a pile of rubble.
For the disciples, this news would have been disturbing and unbelievable. How could God allow His Temple and the city of David to be destroyed? Even they failed to remember that this had all happened before. They didn't recognize the similarities between ancient Israel and their own generation. They were convinced that the Temple was a sign of God's favor. It had become an idol in their lives, replacing reverence for and obedience to God. They believed their keeping of the Law and their adherence to the sacrificial requirements were all that they needed to keep on good terms with God. But on more than one occasion, God had warned the people of Israel that it wasn't sacrifices that He wanted.
"I am sick of your sacrifices," says the LORD. "Don't bring me any more burnt offerings! I don't want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don't want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats. Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices? The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils! Your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath day, and your special days for fasting -- even your most pious meetings -- are all sinful and false. I want nothing more to do with them. I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them!" – Isaiah 1:11-14 NLT
But God would also make it clear what He really wanted from them.
"Wash! Cleanse yourselves! Remove your sinful deeds from my sight. Stop sinning!Learn to do what is right! Promote justice! Give the oppressed reason to celebrate! Take up the cause of the orphan! Defend the rights of the widow!Come, let’s consider your options,” says the Lord. “Though your sins have stained you like the color red, you can become white like snow; though they are as easy to see as the color scarlet, you can become white like wool." – Isaiah 1:16-18 NET
Heart change. That was what God wanted. And it is still what He wants from us. It is what Jesus was teaching to His disciples. He had come to make a new covenant with the people of God. A covenant that would not be based on the law. Jesus had come to set us free from the keeping of the law. Paul reminds us, "So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don't get tied up again in slavery to the law" (Galatians 5:1 NLT). He goes on to say, "For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God's grace" (Galatians 5:5 NLT). Jesus came to provide another way, a better way, to be made right with God. But the people of His day could not stop worshiping their religion and rituals. They were obsessed with earning favor with God. It was all up to them. It was all tied up in the Temple and with the sacrificial system. But with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, the sacrificial system would be eliminated. There would no longer be a Temple or a Holy of Holies. There would be no altar on which to sacrifice unblemished lambs for the forgiveness of their sins. But God had provided an alternative.
The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christcame into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer.You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin.Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—as is written about me in the Scriptures’” – Hebrews 10:1-7 NLT
The Temple would be destroyed, but it would not eliminate man's access to God. The sacrificial system would cease to exist, but a final sacrifice had been made. God had provided a way for men to be made right with Him through the death of His own Son. His own body would be destroyed, but God would raise it up again three days later, defeating sin and death once and for all. In just a matter of days, the disciples would witness all of this. And their lives would be transformed forever by the power of the Holy Spirit. Their message would no longer contain praise for the Temple and admiration for the sacrificial system. They would preach Christ crucified and glorified. They would tell of salvation by faith through Christ alone. They would spread the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout the known world. And we are the beneficiaries of their efforts.
Father, thank You that we don't have to try to earn our favor with You. That we don't have to go through some kind of overwhelming impossible religious rituals to gain access into Your presence. We don't need a Temple or a priesthood. We have full access to You because of what Jesus has done for us. Amen.