JESUS AND THE TEMPLE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 14, 2019
In the center of old Jerusalem stood the Lord Jesus Christ. He was there for His last Passover. He was there to inaugurate what Christians now call Holy Week. In those final days of His first coming, Jesus chose to talk about His second coming. It all seems to have something to do with the Temple.
In the center of old Jerusalem stood the Temple, in more ways than one. It was the most imposing building in a city filled with great architecture. It was the most important site for religious activity in Israel. For many in Israel, the Temple was their religion, as many turned their faces in prayer not upward to God, nor downward in humility, but toward the Temple.
Jesus Said the Temple Must Come Down
5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” 8 And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am he!’ and, The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 9 And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. 13 This will be your opportunity to bear witness. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. 17 You will be hated by all for my name's sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
The original Temple had been inspired by King David, built by King Solomon, and destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. It had been rebuilt after the exiles returned from Babylonian captivity under the leadership of the likes of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel. It had been extravagantly remodeled by Herod the Great in an effort to curry favor with the Jews and solidify his political power in the region.
By the time of the first coming of Jesus Christ, the Temple was a symbol of personal pride and spiritual decay. Like the hypocritical religious rulers who ran it, the Temple was polished as a pearl on the outside but as empty as a poor man’s pockets on the inside. It was beautiful, but barren. Jesus said the time would soon come for the Temple to come down.
The disciples wanted to know when. Before Jesus told them when, He told them how. The Temple would be destroyed from within by heretical Christology put forth by religious and political power grabbers who are actually anti-Christ. Real religion will be scarce. World peace will prove elusive. Natural disasters will increase. Real Christians will be persecuted.
In congruence with some of the calamities described in the book of Revelation, Jesus’ prognostication of problems reveal the continual cycles of complications caused by sin. They are as old as man and as common as a cold. Jesus was speaking in double-entendre, too, predicting not only of events that would happen in between AD 30-70, but also of signs of the times that would reveal themselves between AD 70 and Armageddon.
That’s how, but to answer the disciples’ immediate question of when the Temple would be torn down, Jesus accurately predicts an event that transpired in AD 70.
Jesus Said the Temple Will Come Down
20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, 22 for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written. 23 Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
By rejecting Jesus Christ in AD 30, the Jews rebelled against God. Furthermore, they enlisted the aid of the despised Roman Empire to carry out their plot against the Christ. The partnership that formed the cross of soured, however, after Jesus arose and His followers dispersed to spread the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. After rebelling against God, the religious rulers of Israel led their people in a rebellion against Rome.
By AD 70, many devout followers of Christ had been run out of Jerusalem by the same religious establishment that crucified Christ. After informally expelling the Christians, the Jews took various actions to expel Roman officials and tax collectors. They declared their independence. They hunkered down within the walled city of Jerusalem. They trusted their Temple, to which they prayed and in which they paraded, would protect them from harm.
Trusting in the Temple of God rather than the God of the Temple proved worthless. Roman soldiers surrounded the city of Jerusalem, broke down the walls, killed innumerable Jews, and destroyed the Temple. God watched what God had predicted and the Temple came down.
This was the Temple where Jesus preached and taught. This was the Temple that was the center of religion and society in Israel. This was the Temple that was taken apart, stone by stone. The spot where the Temple stood became vacant, the Jewish people were dispersed, the land began to experience various occupations under a variety of Gentile rulers and Palestinian peoples, and the carrying out of Old Covenant ritual worship ceased.
The Temple was gone. The Temple remains gone. But since AD 70, the question has been, will the Temple ever return?
Jesus Said the Temple Will Return in the Last Days
25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Jesus’ Jewish followers would have been genuinely confused at this juncture. They admired the Temple and thought, like all Jews, God has to have a Temple. Will the Temple be rebuilt? When will the Temple return to the center of Jerusalem? Since Christ has been rejected by the soon-to-be-torn-down Temple, will He return to a new Temple? Jesus answers with more prophecy and a new parable.
The heavens and the earth are shaking now. For the first time in history, scientists have photographed a black hole in the heavens. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times reported this week that natural disasters on earth are the worst ever, and “Ever is a long time.” Almost all would agree that many of our religious leaders are apostate and our political leaders seem to have lost their ever-loving-pea-picking minds. Surely the time is ripe to “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
To the prophecy Jesus adds a parable. He will come again when the fig tree leafs. The generation living on planet earth when the fig tree unfurls will witness the second coming of Christ. Parables make points, symbols represent people, and truth is told in the form of a folk tale about a fig tree. So what’s with the fig tree?
Fig trees are found in the first days of the garden of Eden and in the last days of Armegeddon. Figs are found sixty-eight times in Holy Scripture, literally and fig-uratively (pardon the pun). A figurative fig tree, when found in Scripture, is often a symbol for the nation of Israel. This is one of two interpretations. Both of them are urgent.
If the fig tree in Jesus’ parable is Israel, then consider these facts. Israel disappeared as a nation when the Temple was destroyed in AD 70. The Temple is gone. The Jewish people were dispersed into many nations until Adolph Hitler rounded up as many Jews as he could, gassed six million of them, and left the rest in the concentration camps liberated by the Americans and the Russians. The survivors had no nation of their own anymore, and had not had, since AD 70.
This changed in 1948. The Israel we know now was born then. If that’s the leafing of the fig tree, then people who were born in 1948 will live to see the second coming of Jesus Christ. By the way, over seventy percent of people born in 1948 are still alive today, but even those with the best genes can only expect to live for another decade or two. No one can know the exact time of Christ’s return (ref. Matthew 24:36), but can we know the time frame? Does this parable mean that Christ will come between now and the next ten or twenty?
Before we get overly apocalyptic, know that the mainstream interpretation of the parable does not identify Israel as the fig tree. But even if political Israel is irrelevant to spiritual prophecy, the second coming of Christ according to this discourse could come during any generation at any time that has experienced a whole lot of shaking going on among the heavens and the earth and the nations. That’s our generation, so the second coming of Christ can and will happen sometime between right now and whenever God has chosen. So, what are we going to do?
Jesus Said Come to the Temple
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” 37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.
We should watch for the Temple, wait for the Temple to return, and come to the Temple. Or, watch and wait for the Temple to come to us.
“Watch yourselves,” Jesus said. The Apostle Paul said it this way: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (ref. 2 Corinthians 13:5). If you are a Christian, then the second coming of Christ and its accumulative apocalyptic events are of no worry to you. Not only can you gladly watch for the Temple, you and your fellow Christians are the Temple (ref. 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:21)! The Temple has returned!
And, the Temple will return. Consider John the Beloved Apostle’s famous last words: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (ref. Revelation 21:22). The day Christ returns is the day the Temple returns, for the Lord Jesus Christ is the Temple to which all saved people will gather for glory and eternal life.
And so Jesus begins and ends this sermon with the Temple, in the Temple, about the Temple. The Temple has gone away, it has returned, and it will return for all the world to see and “stand before the Son of Man.”
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org