The destruction of the Jerusalem temple happened very quickly. Herod’s Temple was in fact Zerubabbel’s temple, built somewhere between 538 and 520 BC. Far from being the country taken into captivity, Judah was by that time a small province, stretching no more than 25 km, 15 miles from Jerusalem. A small province had a small temple, nothing like Solomon’s Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians.
Herod the Great had taken the Second Temple, Zerubbabel’s temple, and greatly enlarged and beautified it. It became one of the most magnificent buildings in the Roman world. Jesus prophesied that this temple would be destroyed.
The Gospel of Matthew is written as a series of six narrative sections, telling the story of Jesus’ life, interspersed with five sections of teaching. The beginning of the Gospel links back into the past of the Old Testament. This, the last of the teaching sections, links forward to the future. Advent is a time when we look forward to the return of Christ.
Abomination of desecration
‘So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination that causes desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equalled again.
22 ‘If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Messiah!” or, “There he is!” do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you in advance.
26 ‘So if anyone tells you, “There he is, out in the desert,” do not go out; or, “Here he is, in the inner rooms,” do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.
The destruction of the Temple happened like this;
In order to quell a Jewish insurrection, Roman troops entered Jerusalem in 70 CE, with orders to leave the temple alone. Which they did. The Romans did not destroy Herod’s Temple, it was destroyed because fires lit to impede the progress of the Romans, which were intended to be small and localised got out of control. Fires built to protect Herod’s temple eventually destroyed it.
Jesus’ prophesy was fulfilled, all the stones were cast down. The wailing wall is built from temple stones, but is not a remaining temple wall but another wall built from the stones nearby.
This is still part of the advanced warning, in verse 25 Jesus says, “See, I have told you in advance,” What started with a warning that wars and rumours of wars were not signs of the end, the disciples’ question was in two parts, about the destruction of the temple and of the return of the Christ to Earth, we are still in the answer to the first part of the question here. The added words, an aside to the reader to know what the abomination that causes desolation, is probably added by Matthew because he is writing shortly after the destruction of the temple, it has been destroyed, the prophesy was accurate.
I would like to point to the verse in Daniel which points to the abomination that leads to destruction, but that would mean quoting three chapters, 9, 11 and 12. Daniel is a book written in exile when Solomon’s temple had been destroyed and Zerubbabel’s temple had not yet been built. When Daniel speaks about the abomination that leads to destruction in the temple the immediate context id the destruction of the temple that Solomon built. Daniel is giving words of comfort to exiles that despite their land being taken, despite the temple of God being destroyed, despite the persecutions they are suffering God is still in control.
Jesus takes Daniel to point to the destruction of the Temple and to comfort his followers that despite God’s temple being destroyed again, despite the persecutions they are to face that God is still in control.
And another warning, some will take the destruction if the temple to claim that they are the Christ who will come at the end of the age. Do not believe them, says Jesus, they are not the Christ and the destruction of the temple is not the end of the age.
I used to believe in a form of belief in the end times where the presence of the temple was necessary for the return of Christ, called dispensationalism. I no longer believe that is necessary, Matthew was very particular in the way he compiled his Gospel. That his disciples would face persecution is said through the Gospel from the first teaching section, known as the Sermon on the mount. To have him saying something different in the last teaching before his death, resurrection and ascension, although I firmly believed this in the past, I now find to be an inconistant reading of the Gospel.
My belief that Jesus is coming again has not wavered. In fact I consider it to be stronger than in my dispensationalist days. The sffitmations from the Communion service are sure:
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again