The Destruction of the Temple
As Jesus walks through the corridors of history he beckons those that would follow him to come out of religion and through faith enter a personal relationship with himself. The echo of his word reverberates across the ages and in every generation as it calls men and women to salvation. While authentic faith is dynamic and moves through time, offering Christ as its unchanging place of permanence and security, religion is idolatrously attached to sacred localities and human traditions. The temple in Jerusalem, which by the time of Christ had been rebuilt, represented one of the greatest religious monuments of all time. The imposing architecture of its buildings and the aura of sacredness made the temple an outstanding landmark but also a symbol of religion, and its fixity in time and space. But ultimately all religious monuments, even the most spectacular and apparently eternal, are destined to fade into obscurity and make way for the coming of God’s kingdom. The Lord had been willing to accommodate to the building of the temple and forms of human religion for a time but made it clear that with the coming of the messianic age these compromises would disappear. Far from endorsing the permanence of the temple, Jesus announced its imminent destruction:
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”(15)
Earlier in his ministry Jesus had effectively declared the physical temple of Jerusalem obsolete and the necessity of communing with God directly in spirit and in truth, and no longer through external forms of religion:
“Sir,” the woman said, “I see that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place where one must worship is in Jerusalem.” “Believe Me, woman,” Jesus replied, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him. God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”(16)
Through the entire Scripture narrative we see a constant juxtaposition and at times a compromise between a radical prophetic faith incarnated by the prophets and God’s accommodation to forms of human religion. In Jesus we have the climax of the epic struggle between these two visions of God and the greatest representative of the genuine prophetic tradition. Jesus embodies the triumph of authentic faith over human religiosity, but also the blasting free from the many accommodations that God had had to lower himself to. Scripture tells us: ‘So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.'(17) In this sense Jesus chose to go beyond the confines of institutionalised religion, ‘outside the gate’, and by the sacrifice of himself he overcame religion itself.
The temple in Jerusalem would later become a lasting emblem of the falsehood of religion: despite having murdered Jesus, God’s promised Messiah, the religious establishment continued to go through the hollow motions of its daily worship. Ultimately God’s judgement caught up with them and the religious charade was put to an end. Jesus’s prophecy was fulfilled when in A.D. 70 Titus’s soldiers destroyed Jerusalem and literally dismantled the large stones of the temple in order to search for the gold that had melted in the burning of the structure. By the time they had finished ‘not one stone was left on another’.
(15) Matthew 24:1-2.
(16) John 4:19-24.
(17) Hebrews 13:12-13.
Stay tuned for Part Four coming mid-week.
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