Oh Lord, as I enter into this season of Advent, I pray that you would prepare my heart once again to daily be receptive to your spirit. I pray that, through the noise of activity and business and seasonal illness, you would constantly lift my heart above the clamor to have fellowship and communion with you. Protect the small, sacred spaces I have carved out to be dedicated to you. Silence the chaos, so I can hear your beautiful voice, ringing through your word. Purify my heart, so that I may see you.
Today I’m looking at Mark 13:1-2—just a few sentences to meditate on:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And 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.”
My Bible headlines this passage, “Jesus Foretells Destruction of the Temple,” yet in the actual text, it isn’t clear to me that that the disciple is speaking specifically about the temple buildings. So I went to read the other accounts of this same story, in Matthew 24:1-2 and Luke 21:5-9, to get a fuller picture of what is going on in this text:
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.” (Matthew 24:1-2 ESV)
And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” (Luke 21:5-9 ESV)
Jesus has just left the temple, where he challenged the scribes, warning others not to be like them, and he commended the widow’s offering and faith. As he comes out of the temple, one of his disciples comments on the architecture around them. “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” Jesus responds by saying, “There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” He is predicting the literal destruction of the temple, as well as the destruction of the spiritual temple, which is Christ himself.
Two buildings will be torn down; one will be rebuilt—and that building, that temple—will last.
Over the weekend, I had a conversation about church with some friends. They were expressing to me that they do not like to use the word “church” to refer to the building that we meet in (i.e. “I’ll meet you at church.”) or even the event that takes place there on Sunday mornings (“I’m going to church.”) In their decades of ministry, they have come to see that The Church is so much more than a building or an event. In fact, I have had my own evolution in this regard. For the most part, I have stopped referring to the building or the activity as “church,” instead referring to it as my “worshiping community.”
But it is so easy to start thinking of the building as synonymous with the community that worships there. Yet the temple of the new covenant is not a building made of stones. It is a Person on whom is built a temple of living stones.
Do you hear the echo of Peter’s pen? He put it really beautifully:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:4-6 ESV)
We don’t know from any of these texts about Jesus foretelling the destruction of the temple which of the disciples Jesus was interacting with here, but in my opinion, it was Peter. Under the old covenant that God made with his people, the temple in Jerusalem was a focus of all worship. The sacrifices were given there. The Torah was taught there. Pilgrimage was made there, and for those who still worship God under the old covenant, this remains the case. Much blood, sweat, and tears have been shed over that temple over the course of thousands of years.
But Jesus is the Priest of a new covenant, in which “brick and mortar” give way to “hearts, minds, and hands.” Hebrews 8 and 9 reinforce this several times:
For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:8-13 ESV)
When Jesus referred to the fact that the temple they were admiring would be destroyed, he was giving a foreshadowing of both a literal destruction of the temple, and also his own death. Yes, the brick and mortar of the temple in Jerusalem would fall—but so would our spiritual temple, Jesus himself, when he was crucified.
Yet one of those temples would be rebuilt—never to fall again.
As I think about what Jesus said that day to his disciples, along with knowing it was a prophesy about the temple, I also think about these other passages in 1 Peter and Hebrews. Was Jesus thinking about the fact that the idea of “temple” was about to be reimagined, as adherents to the new covenant understand that the “place” of worship is no longer a building, but rather a Person, and that the “stones” of that place of worship are no longer tangible objects that are built up in one spot, but rather living stones that constantly move about, carrying light and life wherever they go?
As Jesus referred to the fact that the temple would be destroyed, was he also hinting that the new temple, with Jesus as the chief cornerstone and his followers as the stones, would be one that would never be destroyed?
As I think about the significance of the temple, of it falling and being rebuilt, of it being a fulfillment of Christ, of it being a metaphor for Christ and the church, I am pondering how it applies to me as a “living stone.” The first temple was destroyed and has not yet been rebuilt. But when the spiritual temple was destroyed, it—HE—rose again, never to fall. And while the new building made of living stones will go through stress tests, to be sure, we have a cornerstone that will never be shaken; “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9 ESV) I am a stone in the temple, and so is every brother and sister in Christ. Thinking in this way affects how I view my worshiping community, and the body of Christ at large. We will have our ups and downs—we will be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. But never again will the temple be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, or destroyed.