The Desolate Temple

Before his final departure from the Temple, Jesus fielded challenges from the “Scribes and Pharisees,” confrontations that set the stage for his arrest and trial, as well as his execution by the Roman authorities. As he left the building, he pronounced its impending judgment and destruction. From start to finish, priests, Scribes, Herodians, Sadducees, and especially Pharisees resisted him, and some of the Temple authorities became complicit in the plot to put him to death.

abandoned church - Photo by Yoal Desurmont on Unsplash
[Photo by Yoal Desurmont on Unsplash]

The 
Gospel of Matthew presents a lengthy denunciation by Jesus of the “Scribes and Pharisees” that culminates in a judicial pronouncement on the Temple. It includes literary links to his subsequent teachings on the Mount of Olives, and to Daniel’s prophecy of the “Abomination that Desolates.

  • (Matthew 23:36-38) – “Verily, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Jerusalem! Jerusalem! that slays the prophets and stones them that have been sent to her, how often would I have gathered your children like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not! Behold, YOUR HOUSE IS LEFT TO YOU DESOLATE.

Outwardly, the Pharisees appeared righteous but “within they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Their practices rendered them ritually unclean. They adorned the tombs of the prophets, claiming that if they had been alive in the “days of our fathers” they would not have slain them. But their very boast affirmed their descent from the men who murdered Yahweh’s prophets.

The Nazarene then warned the nation’s religious leaders to “fill up the measure of your fathers.” This pronouncement alludes to the prophecy of the “Seventy Weeks” in the Book of Daniel that “consummated transgression and summed up sin.” And so, in the plot to murder the Messiah of Israel, the sins of the nation reached their peak, and its destruction became inevitable – (Daniel 9:24).

The Mosaic Law warned that “DESOLATION” would result if the nation broke its covenant. Yahweh would “desolate” its sanctuaries and land because “they despised my judgments and abhorred my statutes.” In the Greek Septuagint translation of Leviticus, these warnings include the Greek verb erémoō for “desolate” - (Leviticus 26:22-35 [“your ways will become DESOLATE”]).

In the Nazarene’s pronouncement, “desolation” translates the same Greek term used by him on the Mount of Olives for the “Abomination of DESOLATION” or erémōsis. It is related to the Greek verb erémoō, meaning, “to desolate.”

The noun erémōsis is the same term used several times in the Septuagint version of Daniel for the “Abomination that DESOLATES,” and this is not coincidental. Jesus wanted his audience to take note of his scriptural allusion to the thing that “desolates” - (Daniel 8:13, 9:27, 11:31, Matthew 24:15).

“YOUR HOUSE”


This judgment would leave their house “desolate.” In this context, “house” refers to the Temple building. The sense of the Greek term rendered “desolate” does not point directly to its destruction, but to its ABANDONMENT, presumably, by Yahweh.

Ironically, that is precisely what Jesus did when he departed from the Temple complex for the last time. His departure signaled the abandonment of the Temple by God. His presence would not dwell there ever again.

This judicial sentence was on the “generation” that heard but rejected Jesu, “THIS GENERATION.” Though it might include future generations, the words were addressed to the generation that was contemporary with Jesus and rejected him as the Messiah of Israel.


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