The Temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Initially a fairly simply design had replaced Solomon’s temple and Ezra records the disappointment of the people at this. However, by Jesus’ day, the second temple had been remodelled and extended greatly by Herod the Great who hoped to win favour with the Jews. The disciples are mesmerised by its grandeur but Jesus tells them not to be taken in. This building will soon fall. Here he prophecies the events of AD70 when a rebellion will be crushed and Jerusalem with its temple destroyed. The only remaining traces being the Western or Wailing Wall.
Such an event seems impossible to conceive of for the disciples. It sounds earth shattering and world ending. They associate it with the end of the ages. Jesus however tells them that this and other troubling events are not in and of themselves signs of the actual end but rather “birth pangs” or the beginning. For this reason we talk about the entire period between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming as The Last Days.”
Jesus focus here seems to be primarily on the events around the destruction of Jerusalem. He associates them with Daniel’s prophecy of an “abomination of desolation” -something so disgraceful and shameful that it will deeply trouble God’s people. At the same time, this event points us to Jesus’ return, associated with further imagery from Daniel where the Son of Man comes on the clouds.
Jesus says that these are things that the present generation will see happen. It is possible that this either refers to the events of AD70, in which case it was in that generation’s time. However, the word ‘generation’ may also refer to God’s people -the church as a generation together in which case Jesus is saying that “this generation, the church, will see his return.
Events like the fall of Jerusalem are foretastes of judgement and evidence of creation’s frustration. They point to the nearness of Christ, not in the sense that we can timetable his return in terms of weeks, months or years but that we know he could return at any moment. The exact date is not revealed and so we should not try to second guess it.
Big Theme: Readiness: Are we ready for what God will do?
Questions to consider
- If Jesus were to return today would we be ready?
- Just as people in Jesus’ day put false trust in the Temple where can we misplace our trust?
- How should we respond to “world ending/earth shattering” events in our time?