Sunday, February 12, 2012

Temples Old & New

Remember,  I have told you ahead of time. – Matthew 24:24  (NET)

It is quite likely that, as the message of Jesus went forth and as the church presented itself, through and in union with their risen Lord, as the new Temple, that Jesus’ words about the fall of the Temple that was to take place relatively soon had an important place in talk of Him.  Why would this not be the case?  It would be odd if this was not the situation at hand.  Why can such a thing be said?  Well, we have to consider the question in accordance with the fact that the issue of Jesus, as Messiah, was a primarily a Jewish issue.  Salvation for the world was to be through the Jews, and any proper understanding of the role of the Messiah cannot be divorced from the history of Israel and God’s role for His chosen people.  Why would the Jews, especially, whose lives were oriented around the Temple, shift their allegiance from the Temple (and therefore the God represented by the Temple) to Jesus?  It is a legitimate question.  If they had the Temple, then why would they need to seek God in some other place or person? 

However, if the Temple fell, as Jesus predicted it would, and if the message about Jesus and about His words included the insistence that Jesus was, in fact, the new Temple, that the Temple continued in those that believed in Him as Messiah (as the place in which God, by His Spirit, truly dwelled), that God had raised Him from the dead, and that He was the Son of Man that had now gone before the Ancient of Days and received the power of the long-awaited kingdom of God, then a shift in allegiance would be a very natural thing to occur.  If the Temple fell, and did so in line with Jesus’ predictions, and if it was all tied-up with Jesus’ ministry, His crucifixion, His Resurrection, His ascension, the witness of the church, and the coming of the Son of Man to receive kingdom authority, then it would be more than clear that God had acted just as decisively within history as He had when the Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians. 

If the Temple had come to its end, and if the person that had predicted such a thing, who had been said to have been raised from the dead by God, was also reported to have insisted that He received His kingdom in conjunction with that, which is the strident insistence of Jesus in Matthew (chapter twenty-four), Mark (chapter thirteen), and Luke (chapter twenty-one) as He speaks about the fall of the Temple and then answers His disciples’ questions concerning that fall and then explains how they will be able to know when it will happen along with will be associated with it (the coming of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days in reference to Daniel seven), then it would make all the sense in the world to travel all the way down that path, worshiping Him and honoring Him as so deserved.  Of course, historically, we know that the actions of Gentile Christians did much to dissuade the Jews from traveling that path.    

It would be one thing to go and preach a risen Lord.  That would be a matter of meta-physical speculation and, when you get right down to it, faith.  It would be quite another to go and preach a risen Lord, with a desire to accurately share the message that He preached, speaking about God’s kingdom coming through Him, with that tied to the fall of the Temple, while the Temple of Jerusalem still stood.  With a clear understanding that Jesus did, in fact, predict the fall of the Temple, then it may very well have been the most important issue at hand in confirming the witness of the early church.  The destruction of the Temple, with it occurring within the time frame that Jesus very clearly gave in one of His most straightforward answers, and as it appears that this is actually something that He must have said (otherwise it would not be so stringently reported and insisted upon by the Gospel authors), would be the thing that, rightly and understandably, gave weight to all other claims about Jesus. 

Frankly, if He was truly going to be considered as a legitimate prophet, then the Temple had to come crashing down, as He did.  It would be one thing to predict such a thing in a time of relative peace and stability under the Romans, and another thing altogether to insist upon such an occurrence when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies and the Jews are in the process of open rebellion against Rome.  Here, we think about Jesus’ statement that many would come in His name (Messiah, Son of Man, etc…), claiming to be the messiah (Matthew 24:5), in the midst of wars and rumors of wars.  We think about His talk about people saying “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There He is!”, while adding that those that say such things during times of duress are not be believed (as it is only natural to make predictions about the possible destruction of the Temple when the Jews are in open revolt against Rome).  So when Jesus says “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (24:24), and then adds, “Remember, I have told you ahead of time” (24:25), we are able to make better sense of this. 

Jesus spoke about the fall of the Temple “ahead of time.”  Yes, Jesus made His prediction in association with the time of relative peace and stability.  This was risky stuff for Jesus.  There is great faith on display.  If He was to be held up as anything but a failed messianic pretender, then it was necessary for the Temple to be destroyed.  The Resurrection only mattered if Jesus received His kingdom as the Son of Man, and He had very clearly said that He would come to His reign when the Temple fell.       

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