“Jesus, Are You Sure?”
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 24:1a As Jesus left and was going out of the temple complex, . . .
Jesus left the temple, never to return. What good is a temple if its God is gone? What good is a church if God’s blessing is gone? A fable tells of two men counting a bumper Sunday offering. One said, “The church can no longer say ‘silver and gold have I none’.” The other replied, “Neither can we say ‘rise up and walk’.” God’s blessing is what matters.
A few days after Jesus’ words here, Israel let God’s glory be crucified nearby. They let the glory slip away. Let’s choose not to repeat their failure.
Matt. 24:1b His disciples came up and called His attention to the temple
The Twelve, stunned at Jesus’ dire prediction regarding their beloved temple (23:38), in essence asked, “Are you sure? Should you reconsider?” Israel was rightly proud of the temple. King Herod was evil incarnate, but had a flare for architecture (Phillips). He could dazzle the eyes. Josephus the Jewish historian said Herod kept 10,000 men working on the temple for eight years.
An engineering masterpiece, one of the world’s architectural wonders, the temple’s polished white marble was as beautiful as a snow mountain. It glistened in the sunlight, and was impossible to look at if the sun glanced off it at the right angle. The front of the temple was sheathed in plates of gold.
Some of its foundation stones were 40 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 16 feet deep, weighing over 100 tons each. One of its foundation stones weighs over 500 tons. No piece of machinary on earth would be capable of moving it. How were these stones set in place? Theories abound, but we are not sure.
Matt. 24:2a Then He replied to them, “Don’t you see all these things?”
The Twelve thought they understood things clearly, but could not believe the magnificent building before them was but a beautiful shadow of a wrongly abused reality that was going away. They could not see the ugly invisible spiritual essence masked by the beautiful visible physical image.
What mattered most was what had been happening on the inside of the worshipers, not what was being seen on the outside of the worship center. The corrupt religious leaders had forgotten that holiness matters most.
Jesus’ question to them applies to us. Do we see our world as it really is? Are we wearing spiritual glasses? Earth’s physical stuff looks reliable. A city skyline is impressive, seemingly impregnable. Big buildings intimidate, but as we learned on 9-11, can also be ultimate proofs of false security.
Beautiful structures cater to our pride, but “a tower soon becomes a tower of Babel” (Buttrick). Do we see the subtle danger in things of Earth?
J. Vernon McGee and his wife often drove around southern California to enjoy the local beauty. After seeing one marvel after another, J. Vernon would sometimes say to his wife, “We must remember. We don’t see it as it really is. All of this is under God’s judgment. It will all pass away.”
Skyscrapers, money, governments, cars, houses, and all other physical things will pass away someday. If we miss this fact, we will misjudge life, thinking money will always save us, feeling material things will always be around to satisfy us, and deciding well-built homes will always shelter us.
If we deem this world to be our ultimate destination, things go awry. We begin to think our brains are smart enough to figure life out, and believe we can accomplish life’s most important activities in our own strength.
When we judge everything in light of the here and now, we miss the point of our existence. To be successful in Christian living, a believer must live pondering the there and then, and weigh every detail of life on its scales.
How can we know if we are not doing this well? Certain telltale signs betray us. If we live without seeing the spiritual as supreme, our Bibles grow dusty (We leave them at church, and don’t miss them till the next Sunday.), our tithes are coveted and withheld, and our Sundays are taken up with absenteeism from church; worship of God is replaced with catering to self.
Let me give a concrete example of how it can look for us if we learn to accurately distinguish the two worldviews. Jobs can define us, and we like making money to buy what we want. Yet many of us are miserable at work.
Could our worldview be part of the problem? Would it be different if we took a spiritual look at our workplace rather than a material one? What if we first and foremost saw ourselves not as employees, but as missionaries?
What if we decided God by His own sovereign choice put us in that specific environment not for the work, but for the workers, especially those who are far from God? Learn to take the spiritual look, the everlasting look.
The ultimate issue is perspective: here-and-now versus there-and-then. We urgently need to get it right. Otherwise we invite disaster, as Israel did.
Matt. 24:2b “I assure you: Not one stone will be left here on another
that will not be thrown down!”
Losing God’s smile is catastrophic, yea cataclysmic. Israel paid a severe price for neglecting the spiritual. As Jesus predicted here, the temple was dismantled stone by stone 40 years later, in 70 A.D. Once Titus had retrieved all the molten gold, he left in charge of the city General Tertentius Rufus, who had the city plowed up, fulfilling the prophet Micah’s prediction from 700 years earlier, “Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become ruins, and the hill of the temple mount will be a thicket” (3:12b).
Josephus, the Jewish historian, said the city was so utterly destroyed that a passerby would not have known the place was ever inhabited. Pliny the Elder, a Roman lawyer and author, described Jerusalem in 77 A.D. as a funeral pile, a city which had been and was not. The destruction was so devastating that we do not know precisely where the temple sanctuary stood.
Matt. 24:3a While He was sitting on the Mount of Olives,…
Jesus sat where He could look down on Jerusalem and see the temple He had just left. The view of the temple from this vantagepoint would have been breathtaking. It was by far the best panorama of the temple available.
This was an appropriate place to discuss the destruction of Jerusalem coming 40 years later. Due to its strategic advantage—it looked down on the city—the Romans chose this very spot to begin their siege of Jerusalem.
Matt. 24:3b . . .The disciples approached Him privately and said,. . .
The 12, deciding Jesus really had meant what He said, did the natural thing. They asked when it would happen. Their question received the longest answer Jesus gave to a question. This Sermon on the Mount of Olives is His second longest discourse, superceded solely by His Sermon on the Mount.
Their hard questions resulted in some hard-to-understand answers. As we study Matthew 24, humility will help. “I don’t know” may be said often.
This chapter is proving to be a hard nut for me to crack. I jokingly say I am tackling it because I can’t skip over it without your knowing I cheated.
Richard Glover expressed the feelings of many Bible commentators, “This is the most difficult chapter in the Gospels to expound.” Among those who agreed with him was my Grandpa Hill’s seminary professor, A. T. Robertson, who may have been Southern Baptists’ best Bible teacher ever.
If this chapter stumped Dr. Robertson, we had best make our way forward humbly. With this disclaimer having now been stated, “Let’s go!!”