Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No Return to the Temple

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
(Matthew 24:1-2 ESV)

Adolf Schlatter: "When Jewish forces manned the temple walls to turn back the attack of Roman legions, there had to be a partial devastation of the temple. Then a portion of the temple courts was burned down. Such damage to the temple was a bitter blow to Jewish authorities, but it did not leave them without hope. When the battle was over, the people quickly used their resources to restore the temple to its earlier perfection, and the damage was quickly repaired.

Were these events comparable to what would take place after Jesus left the temple? Did he now leave the temple with his followers so as later to lead them back into it? Might they expect, first, judgment to be rendered that would bring woe even to the temple but disrupt it only temporarily, because it would be restored when the day of Christ comes?

With thoughts like these, did the disciples understand what Jesus was doing when he left the temple? No! He leaves nothing standing; every stone will be ripped out of its setting; all that will remain is a pile of rubble. There is no restoration for the temple and the worship ceremonies it housed and the Jerusalem of old... But with this verdict Jesus by no means proclaimed only unrelenting wrath and the absolute validity of the judgment that punishes irredeemable guilt with unending death. He simultaneously sets forth deeply religious testimony to the sanctity of the new covenant. The new covenant truly makes the old one old. The old has passed away, and there is no way back to it...Jesus used such strong language to disengage the disciples entirely from the temple, so that they would not pour new wine into old wineskins but rather learn from him how God's grace visits them. (Do We Know Jesus?: Daily Insights for the Mind and Soul, pg. 394)

This short devotional by Schlatter is packed with insight. First, for Christianity as a whole, we must beware of anything that would take us back to operating under the auspices of the old covenant. Second, and more personally, what Schlatter says of the temple is, in many ways, true of the Christians new life in Christ. How do Jesus and the apostles talk about coming to Christ? Jesus talks of a new birth (John 3:3). He speaks of taking up one's cross and following him (Mark 8:34). The apostles speak of dying to the old self, allowing it to be buried, and being raised to newness of life with Christ (Romans 6:1-5, Colossians 2:12, 3:3, 1 Peter 2:24). Why such decisive, even harsh, language. To show us that we can't expect a mere reformation of a slightly flawed character when we come to Christ. Or, in Schlatter's words, 'to disengage us entirely from self'. Once you come to Christ there is no return to the autonomy of self. God's grace is more radical. Thank God.

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