Day 206: Matthew 24:2

Yes you may well look at all these [temple buildings]. I tell you this: not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.

[This is the second of two scriptures where Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple.]

In Jesus’ time the Temple was the paramount symbol of the Jewish faith, and today in this scripture Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple is coming down.  Yesterday on Day 205 Jesus explained that God is taking the Jews’ Temple away from them because of the way they continued to treat the prophets.  They had a habit of persecuting and killing them, and Jesus was the next in line.

The history of the Temple is very interesting.  In the Book of Exodus God told Moses to build a tabernacle (referred to as a “tent of the Lord’s presence” in the Good News version of the Bible that I am using for this blog).  Here is a recreation of that simple tent (ignore the electrical box in the front).  An enclosed area within the Tent housed the Arc of the Covenant where the presence of God resided.  It was simply built of cloth and poles and it was completely portable.

The Tent of the Lord’s presence served as a tangible sign that God was with them.

Then the cloud covered the Tent and the dazzling light of the Lord’s presence filled it.  Because of this, Moses could not go into the Tent.  The Israelites moved their camp to another place only when the cloud lifted from the Tent.  As long as the cloud stayed there, they did not move their camp.  During all their wanderings they could see the cloud of the Lord’s presence over the Tent during the day and a fire burning above it during the night. (Exodus 40:34-38).

It was the place where God talked to Moses and the rest of the people.  It was the place where heaven met earth.

Whenever the people of Israel set up camp, Moses would take the sacred Tent and put it up some distance outside the camp. It was called the Tent of the Lord’s presence, and anyone who wanted to consult the Lord would go out to it.  Whenever Moses went out there, the people would stand at the door of their tents and watch Moses until he entered it.  After Moses had gone in, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the door of the Tent, and the Lord would speak to Moses from the cloud.  As soon as the people saw the pillar of cloud at the door of the Tent, they would bow down.  The Lord would speak with Moses face-to-face, just as someone speaks with a friend. (Exodus 33:7-11).

The Tent was their navigation system.  God used the tent to show the people where he wanted them to go.

On the day the Tent of the Lord’s presence was set up, a cloud came and covered it. At night the cloud looked like fire.  Whenever the cloud lifted, the people of Israel broke camp, and they set up camp again in the place where the cloud came down.  The people broke camp at the command of the Lord, and at his command they set up camp. As long as the cloud stayed over the Tent, they stayed in the same camp.  Then the cloud stayed over the Tent for a long time, they obeyed the Lord and did not move on.  Sometimes the cloud remained over the Tent for only a few days; in any case, they remained in camp or moved, according to the command of the Lord.  Sometimes the cloud remained only from evening until morning, and they moved on as soon as the cloud lifted. Whenever the cloud lifted, they moved on.  Whether it was two days, a month, a year, or longer, as long as the cloud remained over the Tent, they did not move on; but when it lifted, they moved.  They set up camp and broke camp in obedience to the commands which the Lord gave through Moses. (Numbers 19:15-23).

A secondary purpose of the Tent was to serve as the sole designated place for performing sacrifices.

The Lord commanded Moses to give Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel the following regulations.  Any Israelites who kill a cow or a sheep or a goat as an offering to the Lord anywhere except at the entrance of the Tent of the Lord’s presence have broken the Law. They have shed blood and shall no longer be considered God’s people.  The meaning of this command is that the people of Israel shall now bring to the Lord the animals which they used to kill in the open country. They shall now bring them to the priest at the entrance of the Tent and kill them as fellowship offerings.  The priest shall throw the blood against the sides of the altar at the entrance of the Tent and burn the fat to produce an odor that is pleasing to the Lord.  The people of Israel must no longer be unfaithful to the Lord by killing their animals in the fields as sacrifices to the goat demons. The people of Israel must keep this regulation for all time to come. (Leviticus 17:1-7).

Later on King David observed that other tribes had elaborate temples for their pagan gods – Baal, Astarte, Dagon, Nisroch.  David got the idea that the simple Tent that God had asked for was not enough.  He thought God deserved something flashier.

King David was settled in his palace, and the Lord kept him safe from all his enemies.  Then the king said to the prophet Nathan, “Here I am living in a house built of cedar, but God’s Covenant Box is kept in a tent!” Nathan answered, “Do whatever you have in mind, because the Lord is with you.”  But that night the Lord said to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David that I say to him, ‘You are not the one to build a temple for me to live in.  From the time I rescued the people of Israel from Egypt until now, I have never lived in a temple; I have traveled around living in a tent.  In all my traveling with the people of Israel I never asked any of the leaders that I appointed why they had not built me a temple made of cedar. (2 Samuel 7:1-7).

In other words, God said that he didn’t want a Temple. He said there was nothing wrong with the Tent.  Despite the fact that God didn’t want it, David’s son built an elaborate Temple in 957 BC that was known as Solomon’s Temple.   And it had cedar on the inside but the outside was all stone.  Definitely not portable.  But then again the Temple had a different function from the Tent.  Unlike the Tent, it was used primarily for performing animal sacrifices, although it also had a couple of other purposes.

Instead of talking to God intimately in the Temple as they had done in the Tent, the idea was that people would pray “toward the Temple.”

If any of your people Israel, out of heartfelt sorrow, stretch out their hands in prayer toward this Temple, hear their prayer. Listen to them in your home in heaven, forgive them, and help them. You alone know the thoughts of the human heart. Deal with each person as he deserves (1 Kings 8:38-39).

The Temple was a place of learning. Instead of listening to God, like they did in the Tent, they listened to each other.  Although, as it says in Ecclesiastes, this was a step up from the stupid sacrifices.

Be careful about going to the Temple. It is better to go there to learn than to offer sacrifices like foolish people who don’t know right from wrong. (Ecclesiastes 5:1).

The Temple was built to impress strangers and also, presumably, to intimidate Israel’s enemies.

When a foreigner who lives in a distant land hears of your fame and of the great things you have done for your people and comes to worship you and to pray at this Temple, listen to his prayer. In heaven, where you live, hear him and do what he asks you to do, so that all the peoples of the world may know you and obey you, as your people Israel do. Then they will know that this Temple I have built is the place where you are to be worshiped. (I Kings 8:41-43).

Solomon’s intent was to build a grand palace-type thing that would entice and entrap God, rather like one might lure a bird into a cage.

Now I have built a majestic temple for you, a place for you to live in forever.” (I Kings 8:13).

God wasn’t altogether happy about any of this and he warned Solomon that his presence in the temple was highly conditional:

After King Solomon had finished building the Temple and the palace and everything else he wanted to build, the Lord appeared to him again, as he had in Gibeon… But if you or your descendants stop following me, disobey the laws and commands I have given you, and worship other gods, then I will remove my people Israel from the land that I have given them. I will also abandon this Temple which I have consecrated as the place where I am to be worshiped. People everywhere will ridicule Israel and treat her with contempt. This Temple will become a pile of ruins, and everyone who passes by will be shocked and amazed. ‘Why did the Lord do this to this land and this Temple?’ they will ask. People will answer, ‘It is because they abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their out of Egypt. They gave their allegiance to other gods and worshiped them. That is why the Lord has brought this disaster on them.’” (I Kings 9:1-2,6-9).

Around 600 BC (300 years later) the prophet Jeremiah warned that God was very unhappy about what was going on in the Temple.  It’s interesting to note the similarities to the things that Jesus said and did throughout his ministry, including Day 179 when he went to the Temple in Jerusalem and overturned the tables of the moneychangers.  Here’s what Jeremiah said:

The Lord sent me to the gate of the Temple where the people of Judah went in to worship. He told me to stand there and announce what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, had to say to them: “Change the way you are living and the things you are doing, and I will let you go on living here.  Stop believing those deceitful words, ‘We are safe! This is the Lord’s Temple, this is the Lord’s Temple, this is the Lord’s Temple!’

“Change the way you are living and stop doing the things you are doing. Be fair in your treatment of one another.  Stop taking advantage of aliens, orphans, and widows. Stop killing innocent people in this land. Stop worshiping other gods, for that will destroy you.  If you change, I will let you go on living here in the land which I gave your ancestors as a permanent possession.

“Look, you put your trust in deceitful words.  You steal, murder, commit adultery, tell lies under oath, offer sacrifices to Baal, and worship gods that you had not known before.  You do these things I hate, and then you come and stand in my presence, in my own Temple, and say, ‘We are safe!’  Do you think that my Temple is a hiding place for robbers? I have seen what you are doing.  Go to Shiloh, the first place where I chose to be worshiped, and see what I did to it because of the sins of my people Israel.  You have committed all these sins, and even though I spoke to you over and over again, you refused to listen. You would not answer when I called you.” (Jeremiah 7:1-13).

Does this sound like Jesus or what?  Jeremiah’s prediction was right, and both the Temple and the city of Jerusalem were destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC.  Everything was reduced to rubble.

Construction of the Second Temple was started in 538 BC and completed in 515 BC.  It wasn’t nearly as grand as Solomon’s Temple, but it was upgraded several times between the time of its dedication and the time of Jesus.  About 20 BC it was rebuilt in grand style by Herod the Great.  The one who killed all of the little boys in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus.  The father of the Herod that killed John the Baptist.  It was known, in fact, as Herod’s Temple.  This is interesting because Herod the Great was not a Jew by birth.  Even though he was the King of the Jews, his Jewish credentials were considered by many to be unacceptable. So the Temple in Jerusalem was named after someone who many did not consider to be a Jew.

This is a reconstruction of Herod’s Temple, the Temple Jesus was talking about in this scripture.  Very fancy.

On Day 205 Jesus says, And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty.”  In today’s scripture, Jesus says, “Yes you may well look at all these [temple buildings]. I tell you this: not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.”

Notice that Jesus doesn’t call it “God’s Temple.”  He calls it “your Temple.”  Jerusalem’s Temple.  The people’s Temple – a monument to themselves and their pagan roots.  God never wanted a Temple and I don’t think he spent much time there.  It was a place where people busied themselves in the name of God instead of doing the things God wanted them to do to bring about the Kingdom of God.  They didn’t really want the Kingdom of God.  They were pretty happy with their flashy little Temple.

Of course Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the Temple turned out to be correct.  After Jesus’ death the Jewish zealots organized an armed rebellion against the Romans.  The Romans retaliated by destroying the Temple during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  After another final violent revolt against the Romans in 135 AD, the city of Jerusalem was razed and all of the Jews were once again sent into exile.

The Jews were apparently in no hurry to get back to Jerusalem to rebuild because of the emerging Rabbinical movement.  They were establishing a new patterns of worship in small, local synagogues that didn’t include blood sacrifice.  So the site of the Temple in Jerusalem was abandoned and lay in ruins for 600 years until the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock on the site in 691.  This pretty well precluded the Jews from building on that same site.

Technically Jesus’ prophecy was not 100% correct.  He said that “not a stone will remain.”  Actually, way around on the back of the Dome of the Rock, The Western Wall of the Temple still stands.  It is called the Wailing Wall and Jews go there to pray and lament about the good old days when the Temple reigned supreme and all was right with the world.

I think the Temple had to go because it reinforced their violent tendencies.  It’s kind of like dogs.  If you want to train them to kill you should give them a taste of blood and raw meat.   Maybe all that time they spent in that Temple throwing blood around day and night stimulated their violent instincts.  Maybe the sounds of death and suffering emanating from the Temple every day as they carried on the business of animal sacrifice numbed them to the cries of the people in their midst who were suffering.  Maybe all that killing, day in, day out, desensitized the Jews and made it easier for them to accept the death of innocents a little too easily.  Maybe all that violence in the Temple made it easier for them to murder a totally blameless but nevertheless inconvenient person like Jesus without ever even considering that it might be offensive to God.

The Tent of the Lord’s presence in the days of Moses was a place where people met with God and sought his direction.  ’The Temple, Jerusalem itself, and all those sacrificial Laws had become an idolatry (See Day 123).  Throughout his ministry Jesus warned that rampant legalism had replaced the will of God in the hearts and minds of the Jews.  The Temple was a place of pride and death and violence, a symbol of the alienation of the people from their God.  It was not a place of love.  It was inherently bad for the Jews and all of humanity.  Because it wasn’t a place of forgiveness, peace, harmony, and love of God, the Temple was – contrary to appearances – weak and unsustainable.  And so it went away.

My husband doesn’t like vintage buildings very much.  If a building is impractical or in poor condition, he doesn’t care about its history.  “Tear it down!” he says.  Well, that’s what God said about the Temple.  “Tear it down!” and his word became reality.  And I say good riddance to bad rubbish.  Ba-bye.

What does this scripture say to you?

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