Feb 5 2013 - Matthew 24:1-28 – The destruction of the Temple
Jesus' disciples were country folk from Galilee. The newly built Temple in Jerusalem filled them with a sense of awe. But as they spoke to Jesus of its splendour, he told them that it would be utterly destroyed. In their minds, such a cataclysmic event must amount to the end of the world, at least, the world as they knew it. So they ask Jesus, "When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). The rest of Matthew 24 records Jesus' answer to their question. And what a perplexing answer it is. Certainly it has challenged and divided Christian understanding down the centuries and, I suspect, will continue to do so until the Lord returns.
Part of the confusion arises perhaps from the way in which the New Testament seems to bind together things that we think of as quite separate events. Firstly, it links the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple with the final judgment of God. The destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple is an act of God’s judgment on a rebellious people that anticipates the greater judgment to come. Those who had rejected Christ – who had refused the shelter of his wings – will not escape the day of God’s judgment. Before many years have passed, Jerusalem will be destroyed by the power of the Roman Empire and the Temple will be torn down. Nor will they be safe in the final day of God's judgment. The destruction of Jerusalem foreshadows the greater and more cosmic day of God’s visitation. But Jesus’ followers, having been warned by his words, fled from Jerusalem before the judgment fell.
But the New Testament equally links the death of the Lord Jesus Christ both with the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple and the greater judgment to come. Caiaphas thought it good that Jesus would die on behalf of the people (John 11:50). Caiaphas was thinking only of threats from the Roman Empire and that Jesus' death would save the Jewish nation from destruction. But his vision was too small. As the Suffering Servant, Jesus endured the judgment of God on behalf of a rebellious people. God's judgment day has already come.
In the death and resurrection of Jesus, the end of history has broken into the middle of history. The "end of the age" has come; the age to come has arrived. The "making of all things new" which will mark the age to come has broken into a world grown old. A greater Temple has already come, one which, though destroyed by the hands of men, was recreated in three days by the power of God. The crucified Christ is the place of perfect sacrifice which tears down the curtain that separates a sinful people from a holy God. It is in Jesus that God has come to dwell with us and in Jesus, raised from the dead, that he displays his glory.
None of this promises an easy life to those who follow Jesus – read Matthew 24:9-14. But it does promise us a secure future, safe under the shadow of his wings. It is also a call to be busy about the work of the kingdom; "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (24:14). We are the bridgehead through which the kingdom is invading and conquering the kingdom of this world – through which the age to come floods into this present age. We inhabit the time between the ages.
Heavenly Father, thank you that Jesus, through his atoning death and victorious resurrection, saves us from the wrath to come – there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Thank you that, in your grace, you have brought me into the kingdom of your dear Son. Help me both to proclaim the good news of your kingdom and to work tirelessly for its coming. Spirit of the risen Saviour, flood the nations with your saving grace and transforming compassion.