Jesus predicts the temple’s coming down.

Mark 13.1-4, Matthew 24.1-3, Luke 21.5-7.

All Jesus’s life, the temple had been under construction.

  1. The first temple was a tent, constructed by craftsmen under Moses’s rule, sometime in the 1300s BC. Christians tend to call it “the tabernacle.”
  2. The second was a gold-plated cedar building, constructed under Solomon’s rule in the 900s BC. Christians and Jews tend to call it “the first temple,” and 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.
  4. The fourth was also stone, started by Herod 1, who decided to take Zerubbabel’s temple and improve it to Roman standards of quality. Didn’t get finished till the 60s CE. Christians and Jews tend to call the third and fourth temples “the second temple,” and Herod’s reconstruction “Herod’s temple.”
  5. The fifth—the structure the Crusaders referred to as the Templum Domini, “Lord’s temple”—is the Dome of the Rock, a shrine constructed under Caliph Abd al Malik in 691–92. Christians don’t identify it as a temple anymore. Jews never did.
  6. Darbyists, who insist all the End Times prophecies take place in our future, figure the temple-related prophecies can’t take place unless another temple gets built. Many Jews would also kinda like a new temple. Both call this potential future temple “the third temple”—and no, no such structure needs to be built before Jesus’s second coming. Relax.

Anyway. Before Herod’s construction, the temple was built atop Mt. Moriah, on as big a plot of level ground as the Jews could find. Herod determined that simply wasn’t big enough, and 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. Yep, the Western Wall is the west retaining wall of that platform.

According to Flavius Josephus, Herod 1 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 Levites-only.) Non-interference meant the reconstruction went really slow. But it also meant it was 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.

Mark 13.1-2 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.”
Matthew 24.1-2 KWL
1 Jesus was coming out of temple, and his students came to him to show him the temple buildings.
2 In reply Jesus told them, “Don’t you see everything? Amen, I promise you: You might never find a single stone here left in its ruin.”
Luke 21.5-6 KWL
5 Someone was saying in temple how beautiful stones and gifts were on display. Jesus said,
6 “These things you see: The days will come when not a single stone will be left in its ruin.”

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, then came in and flattened the temple. There’s nothing left of it but the platform.

Jesus isn’t the first (nor the last) to predict the temple’d be knocked down. The Old Testament is full of prophets who warned the Hebrews to not assume the temple—magnificent though it was—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 and doesn’t need a redundant temple on earth. His intent is to build a temple out 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 the Jews to be saved and join his kingdom, but same as all the gentiles, it comes down to his grace and people’s faith.

Since we figure the End Times are gonna happen someday, we’d kinda like to know when. Partly because we wanna be prepared for it. Partly because some of us wanna postpone 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 something worth rewarding. 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, anyway.

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.

Mark 13.3-4 KWL
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 24.3 KWL
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 21.7 KWL
The students asked Jesus, saying, “Teacher, so when do these things happen,
and what sign appears when these things are about to happen?”

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.

Jesus’s answer, found in the synoptic gospels, is a sermon we Christians call the Olivet Discourse. I’ll start on it next week.