By Peter Amsterdam
February 16, 2021
Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem is recounted in the three Synoptic Gospels.1 Along with addressing the destruction of the temple, these passages also include information regarding the last days.
The original Jewish temple was built in Jerusalem by King Solomon. It was destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, who took many of the inhabitants of Israel to Babylon. In 538 BC, the Jewish people were allowed to return to Israel under King Cyrus of Persia. By 515 BC, the returnees had completed building the second temple. The second temple was a rather modest building; however, Herod the Great, during his reign as king of Judea (37 to 4 BC), remodeled the temple. After that, it was considered one of the most beautiful buildings of its time.
In the Gospel of Mark, we are given an account of Jesus’ response to a comment one of His disciples made regarding the temple.
As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”2
When Jesus left the temple, He likely passed through the Golden Gate in the eastern wall of the city, crossed the Kidron Valley, and went toward the Mount of Olives. As He ascended the mount, He and His disciples could look down upon the beautiful complex of buildings on the Temple Mount.
The disciple’s comment about the wonderful stones and buildings was no exaggeration. Though King Herod had been dead for some time, his project of rebuilding and expanding the temple area was still underway. The Jewish priest, scholar, and historian Josephus described one of the large stones used as a building block for the temple as 45 × 5 × 6 cubits; elsewhere, he commented on a stone measuring 25 × 8 × 12 cubits. One cubit is approximately 18 inches, so these stones were huge. One author wrote:
In the latter part of the twentieth century, a large stone on the second tier of the western foundation wall was discovered whose dimensions are approximately 42 feet long × 14 feet wide × 11 feet tall. Its weight was estimated to be 600 tons.3
Josephus wrote that from the top of the Mount of Olives, the whiteness of the stones, its gold trim, and gold-covered roof of the temple sanctuary made the Temple Mount look like a snow-capped mountain and was a blinding sight.4
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.”5
Jesus pointed out all of the buildings in the temple complex and prophesied about their destruction. This was likely a shock to those listening, as these buildings were made of massive stones, giving the impression that they would always be there.
It’s interesting to note that in most Old Testament judgment prophecies, it was specifically stated, or at least assumed, that if the people were to repent, the judgment would be avoided. For example, in the book of Jeremiah we read: If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.6 However, in Jesus’ prophecy of destruction, there was no such mention of the avoidance of judgment. The destruction of the temple, and of all of Jerusalem, was coming.
In the time of Jesus, Judea was under direct Roman rule. Over the decades following Jesus’ death, the anger of the Jewish people against their Roman oppressors grew; and in AD 66, the people revolted. The Roman military, under the command of the Roman general Titus (who in AD 79 succeeded his father as emperor of Rome) put Jerusalem under siege. The siege lasted for about five months, and in August of AD 70 the Romans entered the city. They destroyed the temple and the whole temple complex, sacked the city, and killed much of the population. Those who were not killed were dispersed throughout the empire, most of them sold as slaves.
As [Jesus] sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”7
While Jesus sat facing the temple from the Mount of Olives, four of His disciples—two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew8 along with James and John9—privately asked for more information regarding the things He had spoken about. The disciples wanted to know when these things would happen and the sign that would be associated with them. These were natural questions to ask, as the disciples wanted to know how to be forewarned and prepared for “these things.” One author wrote:
The disciples’ specific question, “what will be the sign?” reflects Jewish concern with signs as evidence either of the truth of a prophet’s utterance or as warning of impending events.10
This is seen in the book of Exodus: Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”11 And in the book of Isaiah: “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”12
Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.”13
Jesus warned that some would come and claim to be the Jewish Messiah, or agents of the Messiah. This may be in reference to those who later did claim to be the Messiah, such as Theudas, Judas the Galilean, John of Giscala, and others, each of whom played a role in the rebellion against Rome. Others mentioned in The Jewish War, a book by Josephus written around AD 75, were Judas of Sepphoris, who was a “brigand-chief who plundered the royal arsenal”; Simon of Perea, a former royal servant who assumed the “diadem” and plundered the royal palace; Athronges the shepherd of Judea, who assumed the title of “king”; Menahem son of Judas of Galilee, who rode into Jerusalem as a “veritable king” and murdered Ananias the high priest.14 These men all took part in leading the people astray, which resulted in the destruction of the temple and of all of Jerusalem.
Back to Jesus’ answer:
When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.15
Jesus assured His disciples that when these things He spoke of would come to pass, the end of the human era was not happening yet. He made the point that God is in charge, and He was allowing all of this to take place according to His divine plan. As one author wrote:
Even as the birth pangs of a woman ultimately end in birth, so the birth pangs described in [Mark] 13:7–8 will ultimately be followed by the destruction of Jerusalem.16
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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1 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
2 Mark 13:1.
3 Bahat 1995:39.
4 The Jewish War 5.5.6, 222–223.
5 Mark 13:2.
6 Jeremiah 18:7–8. See also 1 Kings 21:20–29 and Jonah 3 & 4.
7 Mark 13:3–4.
8 Matthew 4:18.
9 Mark 1:19.
10 Evans, World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27–16:20, 305.
11 Exodus 3:11–12.
12 Isaiah 7:11.
13 Mark 13:5–6.
14 Evans, World Biblical Commentary: Mark 8:27–16:20, 308.
15 Mark 13:7–8.
16 Stein, Mark, 599.