‘Jesus left the temple and was going away, when the disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple’ (Matthew 24:1). The reason for their ‘sightseeing’ remarks is obvious when we remember what their Master had said a little earlier:
‘O Jerusalem … See, your house is left to you desolate. For … you will not see me again, until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”’ (Matthew 23:37-39).
They hoped he’d been using exaggerative, metaphorical language. ‘Wow, Lord! Just get an eyeful of this magnificent house of God. Herod wasn’t all bad – he spent a fair bit o’ brass on this place’ – after all, they were down-to-earth Northerners, like English miners from South Yorkshire. But he was adamant as he answered them:
‘“You see all these, do you not?’ [a bit of Manchester twang?] ‘… there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down”’ (Matthew 24:2). The Roman army would soon enough demolish the lot, as he went on to describe to them in detail in a quiet, private seminar on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3-35).
When he dramatically ‘left the temple’ it became a ‘corpse’ that would attract those ‘vultures’ [or ‘eagles’, Greek/English New Testament – as displayed on their regalia] (Matthew 24:28). Indeed, their demolition of the temple in 70AD would be a foretaste of the ultimate ‘coming of the Son of Man’ (Matthew 24:27) – an invasion by ‘the day of the Lord’ in ‘this generation’ (Matthew 24:34), for he himself would authorise that Roman blitzkrieg!
Keep a sense of perspective
The disciples had merely been impressed by the grandeur of the religious edifice. And, as Thomas Austin-Sparks once preached, ‘… we are just like them. However spiritual we may think we are, the fact remains that we are tremendously influenced by temporal standards. It is a continuous battleground … even as what the religious leaders … of our time regard as important … has a good deal of influence with us.’
But, as Chris Adams of Oswestry wrote in a letter to the daily newspaper, The Mail in summer 2015: ‘Has the Church of England not read the Bible? Jesus came to save sinners, not the planet. In the end, the earth and the heavens will be destroyed [and replaced by a new universe] – 2 Peter 3:10 [‘But the day of the Lord will come, … and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up”, King James Version]. Now that’s what I call global warming!’
So, does it imply we should not ‘save the planet’, and neglect our gardens and homes and health because Jesus said: ‘Do not labour for the food that perishes but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you’ (John 6:27)? Well, no, for God also gives us ‘this day our daily bread’, that still has to be cultivated. But at the end of the age, every garden, computer and driverless car will go out ‘with a roar’, only so that the ‘new heavens and new earth’ can at last become a reality. Meanwhile, we who are part of that ‘new creation’ must continue to ‘put off’ the old and ‘put on’ the new in thought and word and deed.
All the same, we must not act as the imaginary caterpillar who, on seeing a butterfly flutter by, sighs about his many sunburnt feet, yet vows, ‘You’ll never get me up in one of those!’ ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure’ (1 John 3:2-3).