Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
(Matthew 24:1-3 ESV)
One of the characteristics of Matthew’s gospel is the large blocks of Jesus’ teaching. We’ve already read the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5-7], the parables of the heaven [Matthew 13:1-52], and the seven woes against Israel [Matthew 23]. Today we begin what is known as the Olivet Discourse – so called because it took place on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem.
The disciples seemingly are trying to cheer Jesus up after He had just given a harsh rebuke to the Jewish leaders. To that end they proudly point out to Him the buildings of the temple. These young men were from Galilee in the northern part of Israel where they were common laborers. It is likely they had never been to Jerusalem very often, if ever. They seem like first-time visitors to New York City who can’t help but be in awe as they look up at all the tall buildings.
But rather than being impressed with these buildings – God is never impressed with the works of man – Jesus responds with indifference – notice He calls them “things” – and with a prophecy – there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.
This prophecy was fulfilled literally about 40 years later when Rome put down a Jewish insurrection. The temple was burned and its gold melted down in the cracks between its stone walls. To retrieve the gold the entire temple was dismantled stone by stone. The destruction was so complete that the exact location of the temple remains unknown to this day.
The temple was God’s home. But notice that even so, He was willing to destroy it because of sin. No person (or country) should ever think that they are so special to God that He will overlook their sin. He will not.
When they got to the Mount of Olives the disciples came to Him and asked Him when the destruction of Jerusalem will happen, and for a sign of His coming and of the end of the age. Jesus will give His answer over the next two chapters in a teaching filled with prophecy – much of it yet unfulfilled – that was meant to prepare the disciples (and us) for the future so that they (and we) are not surprised or frightened when they happen. Prophecy, when it is fulfilled, also proves that the Bible is from God.
Notice that the disciples did not understand that these events were separate. They believed they were all related. Plus, they still did not understand that Jesus was physically going away as evidenced by the Greek word παρουσια (pronounced: par-oo-see’-ah) which means “revealing”. The disciples still expected Jesus to reveal His might and liberate the Jews.
Instead, as we now know, Jesus addressed events in the near future and the distant future. The temple was destroyed 40 years later. But His second coming and the end of the world have not yet happened.
This is a common structure in Biblical prophecy known as “prophetic foreshortening” – speaking or writing about two separate events as if they were one. This is, in fact, why Jews did not see two appearances of the Messiah in the Old Testament – many of the prophecies combine both appearances.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.