The Olivet Discourse: The temple’s coming down.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 March
Mark 13.1-4 KWL
1 As Jesus was coming out of temple, one of his students told him,
“Teacher, look at the stones; look at the buildings!”
2 Jesus told him, “You see these great buildings?
You might never find a single stone here left in its ruin.”
3 As Jesus was sitting on Olivet Hill, opposite the temple,
Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew were asking him privately,
4 “Tell us when these things happen,”
and “What sign appears when all these things are about to end?”
Matthew 24.1-3 KWL
1 Jesus was coming out of temple,
and his students came to him to show him the temple buildings.
2 Jesus told them in reply, “Don’t you see everything?
Amen, I promise you:
You might never find a single stone here left in its ruin.”
3 As Jesus was sitting upon Olivet Hill, the students came to him privately,
saying, “Tell us when these things happen,”
and “What sign appears of your coming, and of the end of the age?”
Luke 21.5-7 KWL
5 Someone was saying in temple how beautiful the stones and gifts on display were.
Jesus said, 6 “These things you see:
The days will come when not a single stone will be left in its ruin.”
7 His students asked Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
so when do these things happen,
and what sign appears when these things are about to happen?”

These are the passages which introduce what Christians now call “the Olivet Discourse,” Jesus’s explanation to four of his students about the near future and the second coming. It took place on Olivet Hill (KJV “the mount of Olives”), hence the name.

It begins with people praising the temple. Mark says it’s a student; Matthew says multiple students; Luke keeps it vaguely “someone.” Jesus’s response was it was all coming down. And four of his kids later privately came to him and said, “When?” Understandably so. You’d wanna know when such a thing might happen—same as Christians today always wanna know when Jesus is returning, or when the End will come.

Jesus’s answer in Acts doesn’t satisfy such people whatsoever:

Acts 1.6-7 KJV
6 When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

To them, “It’s not for you to know” is unacceptable. They insist on knowing. They’ve even created timelines. Really complicated timelines.

Jesus told his students some stuff, and today I’m gonna start digging through this stuff. Bear in mind I’m gonna interpret it in its historical context, so it might sound a little different than what you’re used to. That’s because the “prophecy scholars” who usually quote the Olivet Discourse, don’t care about historical context, don’t care how Peter, James, John, and Andrew would understand this passage, and especially don’t care that parts of it were fulfilled about 40 years after Jesus said it. Because they insist every bit of it happens in the future. They got it in their timelines. Tribulation is coming!

Yeah, I’m no fan of fear-based Christianity. It’s all a scam to get you to stop thinking, buy their books, vote for their candidates, and grant them power over you. Let’s submit to Jesus instead, shall we?

The impressive temple.

Olivet Hill is on the east side of Jerusalem. When you look down from it nowadays, you get an excellent view of the eastern city wall, and the Dome of the Rock right there. They tend to use that view for the tourism photos.

Jerusalem nowadays.

Where the Dome now is, the temple once was. So Jesus and his students would’ve had this kind of view looking down from the hill… assuming a tree or monument wasn’t in the way.

All Jesus’s life, and therefore all his teenage students’ lives, this temple had been under construction. Seriously. This was the fourth temple, also called “Herod’s temple,” ’cause Herod 1 started the renovation of the second temple in 20BC, which’d be 13 years before Jesus was even born.

Yeah, I know; many Christians call it the second temple. It’s not really.

  1. The first temple was a tent, constructed by craftsmen under Moses’s rule, sometime in the 1300sBC. Christians tend to call it “the tabernacle.” Still a temple, portable though it was.
  2. The second was a gold-plated cedar building, constructed under Solomon’s rule in the 900s BC. Christians and Jews tend to call this “the first temple.” If you’re only gonna call it a “temple” once it’s in a permanent structure, okay it’s the first temple. (But not really.) It got burnt down by the neo-Babylonians in 587BC.
  3. The third was probably made of stone, same as most buildings in ancient Israel. It was built under the Persian governor Zerubbabel bar Šealtiel in 522BC after Babylonian Jews returned to Judea to re-establish Jerusalem. Those who consider the second temple the first, call this “the second temple.”
  4. The fourth, “Herod’s temple,” was also stone. Herod decided to take Zerubbabel’s temple and substantially improve it to Roman standards of quality. He had priests trained to do the construction, and had everything rebuilt. Everything. Very little was left of the original building. But people still call it “the second temple” because the sacrifices continued despite the construction—which didn’t finish till the 60s CE. The Romans destroyed it soon after.
  5. The fifth is the Dome of the Rock. Yeah, it’s a Muslim shrine, constructed by Caliph Abd al Malik in 691–92; it’s not a temple. But when the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem in 1099, they called the Dome the Templum Domini/“Lord’s temple,” and worshiped Jesus in it. Clearly Christians don’t identify it as a temple anymore. Jews never did.

Darbyists insist there’s gotta be a future sixth temple (which yeah, they call the third) because their End Times timeline includes a lot of prophecies about the temple, so they insist there’s gotta be another temple built in the future. And hey, many Jews would also really like a new temple. But no such structure needs to be built before Jesus can return. Relax.

Before Herod’s renovations, the temple was built atop Mt. Moriah, on as big a plot of level ground as Solomon could find. Herod determined that simply wasn’t big enough. He had a wall built round the hill, had it filled with earth, and had that be the level platform on which the new temple was constructed. It’s still there. The Western Wall is the west retaining wall of that platform.

According to Flavius Josephus, Herod had Levites trained in stonework so they could do all the construction without ritually defiling the building and interfering with the daily sacrifices. (Certain parts of the temple were required to be Levites-only.) Non-interference meant the reconstruction went really slow. But it also gave the workers time to make it really impressive. Some of the stones used in construction were the size of a bus. Go to Jerusalem and take the Western Wall tour; they’ll show ’em off.

Awfully hard to move such stones into place. Just as hard to knock ’em over, or destroy them. But Jesus told his students all the stones they found so impressive… were coming down.

And in the year 70, that’s exactly what happened. The great tribulation took place: The Romans came and surrounded the city, starved out the Judeans, breached the wall, charged in, and flattened the temple. There’s nothing left of it but the platform.

Does there need to be a temple?

You may be aware the Holy Spirit built himself a temple out of living Christians. Arguably that’s the only temple he cares about.

But for the longest time humans have insisted—and still insist—there needs to be a temple; there needs to be a physical location where we can interact with the Almighty. And yeah, the LORD spelled out what his tent in the center of the Hebrews’ camp oughta look like, and stated that if Moses needed to speak with him, he oughta go to the tent. But still: Does God need a physical building for his presence to be contained?

St. Stephen voted no:

Acts 7.47-50 KJV
47 But Solomon built him an house. 48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, 49 Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? 50 Hath not my hand made all these things? Is 66.1-2

And I’m with Stephen. The Holy Spirit has a house he’s made of Christendom, and Jesus himself said we don’t need another.

John 4.21-24 KJV
21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

(Yeah, this is also a subtle prediction there wouldn’t be a temple in Jerusalem much longer.)

Jesus isn’t the first (nor the last) to predict the temple’d come down. The Old Testament is full of prophets who warned the Hebrews to not assume the temple—magnificent though it was back then—was a permanent landmark. ’Cause the Hebrews regularly made that mistake: They figured God would never let foreign invaders touch his temple. He’d do as he did in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and melt ’em for daring to touch his stuff.

Thing is, the Indiana Jones movies may be really entertaining, but they never got God right. He didn’t spare his people, his temple, or his own Son: If sin needs to be destroyed, God has no trouble destroying whatever it takes to get sin destroyed. Don’t fool yourself.

God already has a temple in heaven; Rv 11.1 heaven kinda is his temple. He doesn’t need a redundant temple on earth. His intent has always been to build a temple of his followers, whom he lives in and among. 1Co 3.16 The Herod family might’ve built an impressive structure, and there’s nothing wrong with approving of their job. But man-made structures are never permanent. Only God-made structures are.

Christians still make this mistake. We assume God would never let something he loves—something which serves him so well!—be destroyed. It’s naïve of us, considering God lets lots of people suffer martyrdom for Jesus. God lets churches be dissolved, ministries be shut down, Christian schools close, cities and homelands be invaded, and people die, all the time.

Do any of our favorite preachers, any of the best servants of God we’ve ever seen, get to live forever? Not yet. And since God cares for people far more than institutions, why should we assume institutions automatically get to last till Jesus returns? God considers everything and everyone to be expendable. ’Cause we are.

Everything will pass away. Everything. We Christians are coming back, but everything else will go. So let it go. Enjoy it while you have it; keep it functional in case the generations to come still wanna use it; but don’t cling to anything that’ll pass away. Let it go.

So… when?

The Prophets taught, and Pharisees believed, one day the LORD’s Day would come. Messiah would appear and vanquish the nations of the world, then take his throne. Humanity would be judged for our sins, and punished where appropriate. God’s grace would be extended to Israel, and they’d live in peace and harmony forever, under Messiah.

Christians and Muslims believe the very same thing—and since both our religions identify Jesus as Messiah, we’re not looking for potential Messiah candidates like the Jews are. We figure Jesus will just show up in the clouds, like the scriptures describe. But obviously Christians and Muslims have widely varying beliefs about how that’s gonna look. Christians have multiple End Times theories; Muslims do too.

Where Christians agree is we don’t figure God’s grace automatically extends to Israel. It extends to those who believe in him and follow him, and clearly not all Israelis or Jews do. (For that matter, not all Christians do either.) Certainly God wants all Jews to be saved and join his kingdom—same as all gentiles. But it comes down to his grace, and people’s faith.

Since we figure the End Times are gonna happen someday, we’d like to know when. Partly because we wanna be prepared for it. Partly because some of us wanna delay it: They don’t actually want Jesus to return till they fulfill certain life goals. Sometimes they first wanna rack up a certain number of good works, figuring when Jesus is handing out rewards Rv 22.12 they wanna have good karma. And sometimes they wanna meet the right person… and maybe have sex with ’em, ’cause they’re pretty sure sex will be abolished after the resurrection, Mt 22.30 and they don’t wanna miss out on that, at least.

Well regardless of whatever wacky beliefs various Christians hold, we all believe the End eventually comes. And we’re all kinda curious.

As were Jesus’s students. Since Jesus mentioned the temple’s destruction, and they couldn’t fathom a world without it—’couldn’t fathom Messiah bringing in his kingdom without one—they leapt to the conclusion Jesus had to be talking about the End. So they asked. The Olivet Discourse is Jesus’s answer.

But I’ll get to what he says in it, later.