Monday, February 3, 2014

TOO BIG TO FALL? (Matthew Chapter 24)

By all accounts Herod’s temple was a glorious thing.  It had taken a year and a half to build the temple proper and eight years to finish the courts.  Other additions continued on such that the entire undertaking was not finished until decades later.  The temple transversed an area of some 750 feet and was easily visible from any part of the city.  Some of the stones used in its construction were of massive proportion (over 60X9X7 feet).  The disciples and Jesus were there at the temple.  “Some were talking about the temple, that it was adorned with beautiful stones and votive gifts.”  He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down.”  (Luke 21:5-6; Cf. Matt. 24:1-2).

Jewish life revolved around the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices.  The temple was a beautiful edifice and of highest importance to the Jews—the centerpiece of their Jewish identity.  No doubt thousands had walked by, day-after-day, admiring those beautiful stones.  But Jesus saw things from a different perspective.  He spoke of a day when it would all be torn down.  That day would not be long in coming.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, was an eyewitness of the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem.  He wrote, “Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), Titus gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it (Jerusalem) had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.”

As with all other warnings—given by God to man—Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled to the letter. The glorious temple came crashing down.  Jesus’ prophecy gave rise to the disciple’s questions: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3).  Matthew Chapters 24-25 (aka, “the Olivet Discourse”) record Jesus’ response.  As with much of prophecy, this passage has its interpretative challenges. Those, like myself, who are of a dispensational persuasion, understand the passage to be speaking primarily of future events: 1) Verses 4-8--the present church age; 2) Verses 9-26--the future tribulation; 3) Verses 27-51—the future second advent and exhortation to watchfulness; and 4)  25:1-46—future judgment on Israel and the nations. The rapture, later revealed to (and through) the Apostle Paul, is not referenced in these chapters.

But, regardless of one’s particular view on such matters, there can be no doubt that judgment is coming (Cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 3:3-13; Jude 14-16).  These prophecies will likewise be fulfilled to the letter.  The temple was indeed torn down, but refuge is to be had in another.  Jesus had spoken on a previous occasion of the destruction of that temple: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).  That statement was later used to falsely accuse Him (Matt. 26:61).  But He had been speaking of His body: “When therefore He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).

Judgment is indeed coming.  More than a temple will be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:10).  How shall anyone escape?  The “glorious gospel of the blessed God” is the power of God to save (1 Tim. 1:11; Rom. 1:16).  “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…He was buried…and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).  It is the destruction of His temple (His body) and His subsequent resurrection that serves as the basis for one’s salvation.  He’s even now building a temple that will stand for all eternity (Cf. Eph. 2:19-22).

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