The Olivet Discourse – The Temple, The Siege and Rebuilding

27Jun11

This final introductory post on the Olivet Discourse will deal with the Herodian Temple in Jerusalem, it’s significance, beauty and destruction. We will also consider the Dispensational claim of a third, rebuilt Temple but will keep the remarks limited to how exclusively this would impact a reading of the Olivet Discourse.

THE TEMPLE

The Temple in Jerusalem in the first century was known as the Herodian Temple. The first King Herod, who was an amazing visionary when it came to building cities, had spent several years expanding and “improving” the Temple. Roman historian Jospehus described it this way;

“All the cloisters were double, and the pillars to them belonging were twenty-five cubits in height, and supported -the cloisters. These pillars were of one entire stone each of them, and that stone was white marble; and the roofs were adorned with cedar, curiously graven. The natural magnificence, and excellent polish, and the harmony of the joints in these cloisters, afforded a prospect that was very remarkable; nor was it on the outside adorned with any work of the painter or engraver. The cloisters -(of the outmost court) were in breadth thirty cubits, while the entire compass of it was by measure six furlongs, including the tower of Antonia; those entire courts that were exposed to the air were laid with stones of all sorts” (Jewish War 5. 5. 2).

Jospehus also describes how it was was layered with gold on the inside and how it was so bright that you could not look directly at it during the day for it was like looking into the sun. Others proclaimed that at night the reflection of the moon would cause the Temple to light the entire city.

The Temple was adorned with valuable jewels, layered in gold and covered with marble. It has been expanded at this point to cover 35 acres and was the center of public and religious life for the entire area. For the Jew salvation rested within it’s walls and sacrifices continued even through it’s expansion. Simply put, to the Jew, there was no more sacred place on the planet. Salvation was found in the Temple!

Information on the  architecture and such is readily available in several resources and not needed for our discussion, but could be valuable reading for understanding the love and passion for this building. For our purposes, though, the two most important things to remember are the adornments (gold, marble etc) and the salvific and emotional importance of the building to it’s residents.

THE SIEGE

The 70 AD  ransacking and destruction of the Temple was actually the final event in the Roman siege of the city of Jerusalem. Skirmishes and flair up revolts plagued the city for several years leading up to 70AD. Actually up until 63 or 64 AD there was relative world wide peace. This time was known as the Pax Romana (or Roman Peace).

A small band of Jewish zealots (believing their Messiah was soon to come) began revolting against Roman rule. Nero commanded a force, led by Roman commander Cestius, to surround the city and take control of the region. The Roman army destroyed the crops and surrounding vegetation and disrupted the water supply in hopes of starving the people to surrender.

In 66 AD Rome’s army withdrew from the city enough to allow people to enter and exit the city. Historically we know that it was at this time that several groups of Christians escaped the city and fled into the wilderness under the direction Symeon, the cousin of Jesus. A large contingent of Jews also tried to escape, but fled toward the Sea of Galillee where they were slaughtered. Where one fled to was greatly impacted by ones knowledge of Jesus’ warnings.

Soon, though, the zealots that controlled the city and primarily the temple area in Jerusalem grew stronger and more violent. Their atrocities included the slaying of several Temple priests, including the murder of the High Priest Ananus and installed their own puppet High Priest, Phannius.

By 67 AD the zealots completely controlled the Temple area and had criminal, including rapists and murderers to roam freely throughout the Temple proper. They murdered priest as they were performing sacrifices and left their rotting corpses to stay within the temple grounds. It was a true abomination.

Rome had grown weary of the guerrilla type tactics in the rebellions. The laid siege to the city in 67 AD and surrounded it. They destroyed the vegetation and crops outside the city walls and instituted Marshall Law. The inhabitants were being starved out!

At the death of Nero in 69 AD Vespasian, the Roman general leading the armies surrounding the city, returned to Roma in an attempt to lay claim to the role of emperor. He lost out to Galba, who was killed some six months later.

Titus, the new commander, was not as patient. He planned and executed several attacks against cities fortresses and after several attempts successful entered the city. The Roman’s were appalled at the death and sickness they discovered. Rotting corpses littered the streets and Josephus accounts the story of Roman soldiers witnessing a mother boiling her child in water to use as food.

The zealots retreated to the temple. Titus’ men tried to enter the Temple using a battering ram but were unsuccessful. Many historians believe Titus was a moderate and did not want to destroy the Temple, but actually wanted to use the Temple for Roman worship purposes.

Fighting increased in the Temple and a lit torch was through through a window and the Temple was set ablaze. It was the hope of the Roman army to pillage the temple of it’s abundance of wealth, but the fire rages quickly and the only safe way to deal with it was to take it apart, piece by piece.They left not one stone upon another save the Western Wall, used by the Romans for for resting, but was never part of the Temple proper. Three towers of Herod were also spared to show what a powerful city the Romans were able to conquer.

Jospehus desribes the after math this way…

Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), [Titus] Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited.

This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.
And truly, the very view itself was a melancholy thing; for those places which were adorned with trees and pleasant gardens, were now become desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down. Nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judaea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change. For the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste. Nor had anyone who had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again. But though he [a foreigner] were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it.

A THIRD TEMPLE?

There is a great cry for the rebuilding opf the temple in Jerusalem and many leading Dispensationalist argue that it is this third Temple that Jesus had in mind when He made His proclamation. There are, of course, several problems with this idea.

  1. The Herodian temple actually was a third Temple as the second Temple was demolished by Herod to make room for his Temple.
  2. There is no Biblical discussion of another temple being built – NONE!
  3. Jesus referred to “these stones” as the ones that would be torn down. He was VERY specific! I guess they will somehow have to find every stone from the original Temple and rebuild it that way. Unfortunately, not only has the building been lost to history, much of the Temple was taken and used by Rome to build other structures throughout the roman Empire
  4. The time text demands a fulfillment within a generation and there is no warrant to skip the events of 70AD to find fulfillment some time later
  5. That Temple was the one that Jesus cursed and left desolate
  6. The events of 70 match EXACTLY the prediction and prophecy of Jesus in every way

The Temple was an amazing architectural feat and the center for commerce and religious and social life for the Jews. Jesus left it desolate by both dying and making a sacrifice, once and for all and by predicting it’s utter physical destruction.

The siege was a brutal and horrific event in human history. Over one million were killed and the rest were exiled to foreign lands. Titus was so appalled by the events that he refused the great Roman honor of the “wreath of victory.” One Roman historian recounted Titus as stating…

there is “no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God.”

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