"Temple of Human Hands," Pastor Fred Kinsey
The Lukan journey of Jesus has reached its destination point! Way back in chapter 9, is where Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” and he would not be turned away, rushed, or distracted. He will soon face his ultimate temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mt of Olives. But first, Jesus is teaching in the Temple daily, and probably staying overnight at Mary and Martha’s house in Bethany, all the while knowing that Jerusalem is infamous for killing its prophets.
In Jerusalem, Jesus will spend most of his time at the Temple, the center and symbol of Israel, the location of the presence of God, on earth. In the Gospel of Luke, we see how central the Temple is to the lives of Jesus and his followers. It began the moment Jesus was born and his parents took him to the Temple to fulfill the law that every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord, and they offered the prescribed sacrificial pigeons. And most notably, it was on that day that Anna and Simeon, “led by the spirit,” identified Jesus, just one week old, as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel; thanking God for the coming redemption of Jerusalem.”
Then, at the precocious age of 12, when the extended family from Galilee took Jesus on his next journey to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, he slipped away from them all, not to go play with the other kids, but to sit at the feet of the Rabbi’s in the Temple, and discuss learnedly about Torah. And they were “amazed at his understanding and his answers!” Though his parents were angry that they had to look for him for three days, and probably grounded him till Yom Kippur!
So the Temple was important in the life of Jesus and his followers, just as it was for every Jew. He loved that it was the presence of God and seat of religion and politics, and when Jesus first arrived after “setting his face to go to Jerusalem,” he made a public demonstration in the Temple. As soon as he entered the temple he began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer;’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” And then he entered the Temple every day to teach, leading up to the night in which he would be betrayed, at the height of the Passover festival.
Somewhere during these days after their arrival in Jerusalem, they heard people “speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.” But Jesus told his Disciples and followers, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
The Temple was indeed a glorious building in the time of Jesus! It had been rebuilt by Herod the Great just 50 years before to show off how proud he was to have captured Jerusalem, and not be outdone by any other temple in the empire. Its gold façade shone like the sun, and the magnificent stones of the temple mount made every visitor marvel at its magnificence!
Jesus died and rose again around the year 30, and the second Temple would be set afire and destroyed by the Romans (in their war against the Jewish insurrectionists) in the year 70, the time at which Mark was writing his gospel, followed by Luke and Matthew in the 80’s, and John in the 90’s. So as Luke was writing, he would have already known that the Temple stones were thrown down, as Jesus predicts here in chapter 21.
Saint Paul too, never saw the destruction of the Temple. All his Letters we have in the New Testament were written earlier, after Jesus’ death, in late 40’s thru the early 60’s when Paul was martyred in Rome, but before the Temple’s doom in 70.
Even before its destruction for some 200 years, this was a period of great unrest, and widespread oppression, resulting in a massive underclass. Poverty – brought on by high taxes, a debt economy, and subsistence living wages, were conditions that gave rise to apocalyptic hopes and dreams – for a time when the tables would be turned and the justice of God would break through, usually not without a time of conflict or war, and perhaps natural disasters too.
Jesus quotes these common place apocalyptic themes in his prediction of the end of the Temple and end of this present age. But amidst all this chaos and carnage, Jesus has a message for his followers. In the verses after our reading, which are a continuation of his prediction, he tells his followers “when you are surrounded by armies, flee to the mountains, …Those inside the city [of Jerusalem] must leave it, and those in the country (like the Galileans he knew) must not enter it.”
Jesus wanted his followers not to get involved with fighting a losing battle against the mighty Roman Empire. And in Jerusalem, the Temple, and most of its people, were slaughtered. Jesus counsels, that like the Exile to Babylon, God was using foreigners, the Romans in this case, to condemn this present age, symbolized in the destruction of the Temple a second time.
Jesus wanted his followers to wait for ‘the Son of Man coming with power and glory.’ Then they should ‘stand up and raise their heads,’ he said, ‘because your redemption is drawing near!’ And, ‘Son of Man’, is the way Jesus referred to himself, especially as the coming resurrected one.
Our redemption and our salvation, is in Jesus the resurrected one, who is also the one who rises up as the new nexus, the new location, of worship, after the Jerusalem temple is destroyed. God wants the followers of the Messiah, who is the new temple, built not with human hands, those who come out of hiding in the hills, who wait in safety to live a new day, who “endure” through the apocalyptic perils – to testify to the truth of Jesus as the foundation stone of a new resurrected and spiritual temple – and to be ready to come into the New Age.
So for all who are followers, the resurrected Jesus is the new location of God, who is worthy of worship and praise.
We don’t believe we need to rebuild the physical Temple to prepare for Christ’s 2nd coming – like the fundamentalists and those arming themselves for Armegeddon, fixin’ for a fight. Jesus, our resurrected Lord, is our temple, made not with human hands, but who is alive and sits on the right hand of God. The new age has dawned and the return of Christ will be a new age where heaven and earth are united, and we have no need of human built temples, when spears will be made into plow-shares, for the Lamb will be our temple, and there will be no more death.
As Jesus was just starting his public ministry in the gospel of Luke, he recalled Isaiah’s prophecy, ‘that the spirit of the LORD God is upon me.’ And as he ends it now in Jerusalem, he shows his love for the temple, defending its honor and visiting daily, even as he knows of, and predicts, its destruction. For Jesus is the cornerstone of a new beginning and a new age. He is the temple, built not with human hands, but by the hand of God, for our inclusion and our salvation.
The Rabbi’s that Jesus sat with as a boy, would go on to transform Judaism into a portable religion in their diaspora, after the Temple’s destruction, centering their followers around the Book of the Torah, in synagogues and congregations, much like the house-churches and congregations that sprang up from east to the west, as Christianity spread out from Jerusalem. And ever since, our fates and survival have been tied together.
As the followers of Jesus – the Gentile nations who have been grafted on to the tree of God’s chosen people – we are called to enact that realm of God that the ancestors of Jesus first proclaimed. Let us testify to the peace and love and power, Jesus has taught us, as together we worship the ‘rock of our salvation,’ the ‘cornerstone’ of our Temple, not made with human hands, who is Christ our LORD.