A mid-week devotional from Central Presbyterian Church helping us to help prepare our hearts for the day ahead. If you would like to receive these in your inbox, please let us know. Find the complete archive here.
Wednesday September 15th, 2021
Jesus Foretells Destruction of the Temple
13 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Shortly after Moses received the 10 Commandments on tablets of stone from the Lord on top of Mt. Sinai, God commissioned the building of a special box, the Ark of the Covenant, to house His divine law. During their wandering in the wilderness, all the way through the conquest of the Promised Land and the period of the judges ruling over Israel, the Ark was kept within a curtained off area of the Tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies, inaccessible to everyone, save for the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement. Due to the nomadic nature of God’s people, the Tabernacle was a moveable tent that not only housed the Ark of the Covenant, but also served as the center of sacrifice and worship to the Lord God of Israel.
As they looked at the temples and practices of their pagan neighbors, the people of Israel longed to replace the Tabernacle with a more permanent place of worship. In fact, you may recall that the great King David — slayer of giants, leader of men, author of the Psalms, and man after God’s own heart — desired more than anything to craft a house fit for the Lord. But because of David’s sin, and all of the blood shed by his hands, the Lord did not permit David to build Him a house. Even so, the Lord promised David that his son, a king of peace, would not only build a house for His name, but would also be a king whose royal throne would be established forever. So it came to be that Solomon commissioned the building of what is known as the First Temple, gilded with gold and precious stones and shone prominently above Jerusalem for nearly 400 years until it was destroyed in the Babylonian invasion in 587 BC.
After nearly 50 years in exile, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah explain the work to both re-inhabit Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Even upon completion the Second Temple was not nearly as grand as the first, and many of the sacred objects used in worship, including the Ark of the Covenant, were either lost or destroyed during the Babylonian invasion. The Second Temple remained largely unimpressive until undergoing a massive expansion and renovation during the reign of King Herod the Great.
First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described the temple this way: “The exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either mind or eye. For, being covered on all side with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up that it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was not overlaid with gold was of the purest white. Some of the stones in the building were forty-five cubits in length, five in height and six in breadth.”
Herod’s temple in Jerusalem was not only visually impressive, but for the people of Israel, it was literally the most sacred ground on earth. 2 Chronicles 7 tells us that the moment Solomon closed his prayer of dedication for the temple, “fire came down from heaven and consumed the bunt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house.”
Herod restored the Temple to its rightful place as an architectural marvel known throughout the ancient world. And, as often happens when we behold magnificent feats of human ingenuity and achievement, such as Notre-Dame in Paris or the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, for a moment one of the disciples paused to remark rather innocently at the grandness of its design. Encased in gold with individual stones as big as boxcars on a train, the temple seemed to perfectly represent the privileged relationship between God and His people.
But Jesus was not nearly as impressed by either the structure or the contents of the building as His disciples were. Just as the Scribes and Pharisees were merely masquerading as workers of holiness, Jesus knew that the temple, and all of its grandeur, would soon be exposed for what it was. The temple, like every great accomplishment of man, could never be anything more than finite. Just like everything else on the planet, the temple had an expiration date, which Jesus warned would be much sooner than anyone dared imagine.
And although Herod the Great was anything but a great man—recall his desperation to destroy the infant Jesus—the true problem was not the patron or the priests, but that the people trusted in the Temple for something it could never deliver; the forgiveness of sins. As God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be.”
Regardless of how many prayers were offered or animal sacrifices bought and performed daily at the Temple, numbering on special occasions well into the tens of thousands, Hebrews 10:4 tells us that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Or, as Dr. Ligon Duncan recently remarked, “No sacrifice that was ever given in the Temple was ever able to atone for a single sin.”
At the temple, Jesus saw a people who were like sheep without a shepherd, desperate to be restored to the Lord their God. But their priests were corrupted, their Temple inadequate, and their sin too great to be repaid. Just as no amount of gold or precious stones could ever be enough for a suitable habitation for the God who created the universe, no amount of animal blood could repay what was owed to the Lord God Almighty, absolutely perfect in majesty, glory, and splendor.
As Jesus looked at Herod’s Temple, He knew the true mediating work between holy God and sinful man that He would accomplish in just a few days. The Son of Man was in fact the true Temple of God, and not only the place where God would come and reveal His glory to us, but also the Lamb of God, who became the sacrifice for us, the only one whose blood could take away the sin of the world.
Prayer for Today:
Gracious Father, today we echo the words of David as we ask, who are we, that You are mindful of us? How can it be that You, the Author of Life, would give up Your own to ransom us? How is it possible that though Your knowledge of us is perfect, so that You know even our most shameful and secret sinful thoughts and desires, You would deem us to be worthy recipients of Your great love? Even our most impressive accomplishments pale in comparison to the true radiance of Your righteousness. We ask that we would remember that our standing before You has never been in our own hands. You are the true Temple we could never build. You are the Lamb that we could never provide. And Yours is the love that we cannot live without. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.