Jesus had just been pronouncing the woes upon the Pharisees for their toxic religiosity and then arose to walk away. His time was done at the temple. The temple’s time was over. He was leaving and he wouldn’t return.
But just at the most inopportune moment, the disciples came up to Jesus to point him to the beauty of the temple. It had been, in fact, built beautifully. After the original temple that Solomon had built was destroyed, Nehemiah had returned to rebuild the temple and the initial rebuilding seems to have been finished during the reign of the Medes and Persians. Ezra says that it was finished in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the Great.
So this second temple became the center of religious life for the Jews, and as a demonstration of his greatness, Herod came and built it out even further, expanding the temple and layering it with gold and marble. This was likely intended to be just as much of a testament and a building project in memory of Herod as it was a place to worship and offer sacrifices.
So as Jesus was leaving, what do the disciples do? They look to the beauty of what man has made.
Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.Matthew 24:1
They loved the beauty of the building. They loved its splendor and grandeur. I’m imagining that maybe they said:
What do you think, Jesus? Isn’t this great?
Aren’t the Jews truly an amazing people?
The kingdom of God as represented by this temple is wonderful, isn’t it?
But of course Jesus then turns and looks at them directly and says:
“Do you see all these things?” he asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”Matthew 24:2
Any more questions?
Do we need to wonder any longer where Jesus places his priority?
His thoughts and priorities have nothing to do with the buildings. They have nothing to do with the religious trappings of Judaism. They have nothing to do with anything except the full and complete love and devotion to him with a changed heart created by the change initiated by the Holy Spirit. That’s it. Nothing else.
So he essentially tells the disciples: You like this? It is useless. It is all going away and not a single stone will be left standing on another.
And that is exactly what happens. Less than 40 years later, the Romans come through and destroy the temple. Gone. Nothing left.
And yet the Jews still go to the western foundational wall today to mourn and pray. They still march around the temple mount desiring to take back the religiosity. Take back and rebuild something that will only be torn down and destroyed yet again.
Of course, we can point our fingers at the Jews, but this is a universal perspective and desire, that we build these temples, these monuments so that we can show our “devotion”. It happens in Christianity as well, doesn’t it? We justify it saying that we are devoting ourselves to building something great for God, to worship Him, to help more people come to know Him. But if we are being truthful, it ends up being itself the thing that we serve because it lifts us up. It is, itself, what takes up the majority of our time and energy.
So we must watch out for these things. Don’t say I would never… because yes you would. We all would. We are drawn to build so that we will become known, but Jesus told his disciples that it would all be torn down. The only thing that will last will be his Kingdom. Everything else will be destroyed. Everything else will go away. Let us live today in that future reality!