Sunday, March 8, 2009

Olivet Discourse: Part 2.

 In Part 1 of this series on the Olivet Discourse, we had discussed the setting of the discourse, namely in the shadow of the temple of Jerusalem. Today we will continue our examination of the discourse. 

- "And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? By no means will be left here a stone upon another, which will not be thrown down." (Mk. 13:2)

- "But he having answered said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, by no means will be left here a stone upon a stone which will not be demolished." (Matt 24:2)

- "These things which you see, the days will come in which there will not be left a stone upon a stone which will not be thrown down." (Lk. 21:6)


     This destruction of their temple (and in fact all of Jerusalem) is due to their failure at recognizing the advent of the their Messiah on earth (Lk 19:41-44: Mk 11:12-19; 12: 1-12, et al.) and the visible corruption taking place in the house of the Lord, a corruption which was just a symptom of a much deeper spiritual cancer that had taken root in the Jews of the day. This prediction of Jesus stands as a testament for all time on who he is since the validation of his words took place astonishingly accurate1

Christ here is not simply stating a physical event that will occur at the ransacking of Jerusalem. He is using Jewish prophetic language that would be familiar to all Jews hearing the discourse2. The prophets of old spoke in the same manner concerning the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC through enemy armies; 

- "They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the LORD...Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit; they refuse to know me, declares the LORD...Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD, and shall not I avenge myself on a nation such as this? I will take up weeping and wailing for the mountains, and a lamentation for the pastures of the wilderness, because they are laid waste so that no one passes through, and the lowing of cattle is not heard; both the birds of the air and the beasts have fled and are gone. I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a lair of jackals, and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant." (Jeremiah 9:3-11; Cf. 26:16-18). 

The very last passage of the Old Testament speaks of this destruction. The Lord will send Elijah (the eschatological Elijah / John the Baptist, Matt 11:14; 17:10; Mk 9:11-13; Lk 1:17) before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes to turn the hearts of some of the Jews towards God. This conversion was not total however bringing them the threatened decree of utter destruction (Mal 4:5-6; cf. 3:12). 

 Thus we see the unfolding of the discourse as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman armies. The Old Testament is replete with examples of God using enemy forces to discipline the Israelites for disobedience, sometimes at the extreme of raising Jerusalem itself. Jesus our Lord stands in this Jewish prophetic tradition stating a similar disaster to befall Jerusalem for its ultimate sin, namely the rejection of its long foretold Messiah.


1. Some critics point to the western wall blocks that still stand today (pictured above) to discount the words of Jesus, so E. P Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus. (London: Penguin, 1993) 257. Many scholars have responded that this objection does not stand since this particular support was not part of the temple itself but barely a support for the platform of the temple. I would argue that even if a few stones were left upon each other today this would just highlight the fact that Jesus is following Jewish prophetic hyperbole, not to be taken literally. This seems to be the case when Mark uses the word ιερου in V.1 and 3 to describe the "temple." This refers more widely to the entire temple complex including things such as the columns surrounding the inside walls and the other buildings on the temple mount etc. If Mark would have wanted to identify the temple structure proper alone he would have undoubtedly used ναος as in (14:58; 15:29, et al). Cf. for the eye witness account of the utter devastation on Jerusalem, Josephus, Jewish Wars. 7, 1-3. 

2. A good starting work on Jewish prophetic hyperbolic language in general and Jesus' use of it in particular see Robert Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible; Playing by the Rules. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1994). 

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