Luke then records how Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem. “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.’ And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (vv. 44, 45).
But Jesus did not only fulfill the Scriptures concerning Himself, He also prophesied what would happen after His death and resurrection. When Jesus entered Jerusalem – an event we celebrate as joyful – Luke says that, “ Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation’” (Luke 19:41-44).
Jesus specifically prophesies the destruction of the temple, the center of Jewish worship: “Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, ‘These things which you see—the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down’” (Luke 21:5,6). These prophecies were to be fulfilled in the century that followed by the Roman army.
The Roman OccupationMuch of history throughout the world can be summarized as larger states gobbling up their smaller neighbors. In the Middle East the fourth century bc saw Alexander the Great conquer much of the ancient world, including the Holy Land. The Jewish territories were allowed a certain autonomy under their new masters for over 150 years. Then, in the second century bc, the drive to impose Greek culture and customs on all their dependents saw Judaism prohibited and the temple desecrated. The Jews revolted and, in 164 bc under the leadership of the Maccabees, the Jews seized Jerusalem and purified the temple, ushering in a period of Jewish independence. To this day Jews celebrate this restoration on the feast of Hannukah.
The next century saw Rome become the dominant power in the area. The Jewish kingdom became dependent on the Romans who ruled Syria. An abortive revolt was crushed in 40 bc and the Holy Land became a Roman province.
In 37 bc Rome appointed Herod the Great, son of an Edumean proselyte, as king of Judaea. A great admirer of Greco-Roman culture, Herod built classical cities and fortresses in his kingdom. He also enlarged and adorned the Jerusalem temple, giving it the form it had during Christ’s lifetime.
When Herod died in 4 bc, Rome took direct control of Judea, appointing a Roman procurator as chief administrator. This prompted the rise of several abortive Jewish independence movements. Jesus’ disciple Simon the Zealot – and some say Judas Iscariot as well – were drawn from these movements.
After several years of sporadic violence, a full scale revolt erupted in ad 66. The Romans crushed it and, in ad 70, they razed Jerusalem to the ground. According to the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus, hundreds of thousands of Jews perished or were sold into slavery. The temple was destroyed and its treasures taken to Rome as booty.
A brief period of independence was attained in ad 133 but was quickly crushed by the Romans. Jerusalem was captured and “plowed up with a yoke of oxen.” A Roman city named Aelia Capitolina was built on the site and Jews were forbidden to live there.
The destruction of the temple marked the effective end of Jewish liturgical worship. The prayer services of the synagogues replaced the daily sacrifices of the temple. The leadership role of the priests was taken over by the rabbis.
The New TempleFor Christians, the destruction of the temple had another effect: it reminded them of the connection between the temple and the body of Christ as the focus of worship. In the Gospel of John we read Jesus Himself making this connection after driving the money-changers from the temple. “So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’
Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’
But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said” (John 2:18-22).
The Lord Jesus was now not only the temple; for Christians He was the High Priest as well: “we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God…” (Hebrews 4:14). “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).
Jesus thus replaces, in the mind of the first Christians, temple and priest. In addition, He becomes the very sacrifice itself: “Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7). “He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
Priests Plunder the Temple“At this time, one of the priests, the son of Thebuthus, whose name was Joshua, was assured by the oath of Caesar, that he should be preserved, upon condition that he should deliver up certain of the precious things deposited in the temple. This Joshua handed over from the wall of the holy house two candlesticks, like those that lay in the holy house, with tables, and cisterns, and vials, all made of solid gold, and very heavy. He also delivered to him the veils and the garments, with the precious stones, and a great number of other precious vessels that belonged to their sacred worship.
“The treasurer of the temple, whose name was Phineas, was also seized. He showed Titus the coats and girdles of the priests, with a great quantity of purple and scarlet, which were there for the uses of the veil, as also a great deal of cinnamon and cassia, with a large quantity of other sweet spices, which used to be mixed together, and offered as incense to God every day. A great many other treasures were also delivered to him, including not a few sacred ornaments of the temple. When these things were delivered to Titus, he [the treasurer] was granted the same pardon that was given to those who deserted of their own accord.”
(Flavius Josephus, History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, VI, VIII, 3)