With hearts thrilled with joy and admiration, the disciples were gazing at the beautiful buildings of the temple. “The rays of the setting sun lighted up the snowy whiteness of its marble walls and gleamed from golden gate and tower and pinnacle. ’The perfection of beauty’ it stood, the pride of the Jewish nation.”1 Yes, the buildings! Such wonderful walls! The Jewish nation had been investing in those walls—even Herod the Great and Caesar had contributed to adorning and perfecting the buildings of the temple, and it had become the nation’s pride.
The disciples noticed that Jesus was not touched by similar admiration. Why was Jesus, usually so sensitive to details, now so indifferent? Was it that He did not see the landscape?
“One of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” (.) Yes, He was looking! He was clearly seeing not only those beautiful buildings; but their terrible emptiness! Yes, they were the pride of the nation! Those empty, marble, snow-white walls, were the reason of their pride. The Jewish nation was not concerned about the infinite sadness of not having Jehovah within those buildings! And Jesus, the Great Jehovah, was seeing, for the last time, that fundamental lack. He came to the beloved city again and again, “with salvation under His wings,” He came through His prophets, and was rejected. At last, He, the Majesty of Heaven, came in person “to His own, and his own received him not” ( ). “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?” ( ). With a broken heart, “when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it” ( ).
With prophetical eye, Christ was contemplating those very palaces and their expensive towers and pinnacles, being consumed by the huge flames of the destruction! The beautiful walls of the temple, in which for so many centuries His presence had been implored—those walls covered with gold—were seen taken by fire. The children now waving palm tree leaves for Him, He saw in the future—cursed by fear, hungered by the famine, unable to give a piece of bread to their own children when the Romans were to take the holy city. And His heart-breaking sorrow was that His help was denied! He could have saved the city! He could have spared the temple, with all its worshipers, both old and young, had they accepted Him as their Redeemer! The last hours of their long-rejected period of grace were still favorable to the salvation of themselves and their city! How different would have been the history of their nation, had they accepted the tender invitation of Messiah! But they were not ready to accept Him. In spite of all the centuries-long calls and invitations of His grace, through His prophets, the proud nation of His children was denying Him, their Only Hope! With tears of terrible anguish, the Lord wept over the proud, unrepentant city: “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” ().
Fearful was the literal fulfillment of these prophecies! The proud, self-sufficient people of Judah had rejected the implorations of its loving Father. The calls to repentance, to changes of life and deportment to harmonize with the law of liberty were boastfully rejected, and the prophets, faithfully advocating the graces of repentances and the punishments for rebellion, were one after another persecuted to death. Under a terrible deception, the chosen people of God were filling up the cup of their iniquities! And the Spirit of God, so long despised and rejected was eventually to be withdrawn. They had so long played with His grace, but, in their terrible deception they were still believing that the presence of God would continue to accompany and protect them. Micah the prophet was sizing up their fearful situation, “Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us” (). The reality instead, was to be totally different: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” ( , ). [Emphasis added.]
The satanic majesty, which they were insistently tolerating in their minds, was taking the full control over the chosen nation. “Then God withdrew His protection from them and removed His restraining power from Satan and his angels, and the nation was left to the control of the leader she had chosen. Her children had spurned the grace of Christ, which would have enabled them to subdue their evil impulses, and now these became the conquerors. Satan aroused the fiercest and most debased passions of the soul. Men did not reason; they were beyond reason—controlled by impulse and blind rage. They became satanic in their cruelty. In the family and in the nation, among the highest and the lowest classes alike, there was suspicion, envy, hatred, strife, rebellion, murder. There was no safety anywhere. Friends and kindred betrayed one another. Parents slew their children, and children their parents. . . . Satan was at the head of the nation.”2
The edifice called Israel was falling apart, as they rejected the “cornerstone,” the Holy One of Israel. For four decades, the curse they pronounced upon themselves was graciously postponed. But the dark night was approaching. . . . The Roman general Titus resumed the siege of the Romans against Jerusalem and the whole nightmare of what it means to be without God and His grace was largely displayed. It was in the time of Passover, and the millions of Israel were crowding the city.
“All the horrors of starvation were experienced. A measure of wheat was sold for a talent. So fierce were the pangs of hunger that men would gnaw the leather of their belts and sandals and the covering of their shields. Great numbers of the people would steal out at night to gather wild plants growing outside the city walls, though many were seized and put to death with cruel torture, and often those who returned in safety were robbed of what they had gleaned at so great peril. The most inhuman tortures were inflicted by those in power, to force from the want-stricken people the last scanty supplies which they might have concealed.”3 Oh, the blessed city, on whose streets the voice of their divine Father had been heard for centuries, in calls of mercy, was now devoured by the curse of their rebellion.
“Those prisoners who resisted when taken, were scourged, tortured, and crucified before the wall of the city. Hundreds were daily put to death in this manner, and the dreadful work continued until, along the Valley of Jehoshaphat and at Calvary, crosses were erected in so great numbers that there was scarcely room to move among them.”4 Woeful was the fulfillment of the doom they sentenced upon themselves, when they had put their Saviour to death! ( .)
Eventually the city was attacked as by a storm. Titus clearly directed his commanders to spare the temple, if possible. But his commands were disregarded. As the Jews attacked the Roman soldiers at night, in the battle a Roman soldier flung a firebrand “through an opening in the porch, and immediately the cedar-lined chambers about the holy house were in a blaze. Titus rushed to the place, followed by his generals and legionaries, and commanded the soldiers to quench the flames. His words were unheeded. In their fury the soldiers hurled blazing brands into the chambers adjoining the temple, and then with their swords they slaughtered in great numbers those who had found shelter there. Blood flowed down the temple steps like water. Thousands upon thousands of Jews perished. Above the sound of battle, voices were heard shouting: ‘Ichabod!’—the glory is departed.’ ”5
Ichabod! Ichabod! . . . Too late were they discovering that their righteousness was but “filthy rags” and their merits of being children of Abraham, a chosen nation, were not sufficient to bring salvation! Too late did they realize that merely assuming that God is with them does not mean the same thing as being assured of His protective presence! Too late did they see that carefully sticking to their traditions and ceremonies while indulging all sorts of sins, abuses and transgressions did not ensure deliverance! Crushed by fear and despair, the Jews were witnessing the fall of Jehovah’s beloved capital, they themselves being slaughtered by the sword of the conqueror!
Ichabod! The glory is gone! What a terrible experience for such a privileged people!
A necessary question arises, though: What had gone wrong in their theology, in their religion? How could they have managed to bring upon themselves so great a disaster, while having such a merciful God? The pen of Inspiration explains: “The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ’s day was that a mere assent to the truth constitutes righteousness. In all human experience a theoretical knowledge of the truth has been proved to be insufficient for the saving of the soul. It does not bring forth the fruits of righteousness. A jealous regard for what is termed theological truth often accompanies a hatred of genuine truth as made manifest in life.”6 They were proud of being the children of Abraham. But by rejecting Abraham’s fountain of holy living—complete dependence on God by faith—in reality, they were not His children! They were trusting in their rules and ceremonies as having saving merit. In the same way they were looking to the temple as recommending them to the Lord’s favor, although His word was clear: “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the stranger, . . . Then will I cause you to dwell in this place” ().
The glory of their eternal Creator had been graciously offered to them! That temple with so inferior a structure to that of Solomon’s first temple had been promised to enjoy greater glory than Solomon’s. And the promise was graciously fulfilled. The whole heaven was comprised in One Gift; the glory of the Father, His perfect character shone forth in His Beloved Son! For three and a half years He walked, preached, and brought the heaven’s blessings. They rejected Him and His glory, exchanging it for the vain glory that men give one another! They were proud of the symbols of God’s glory, denying at the same time the Glorious One! All those symbols and ceremonies had been carefully established to point to the Messiah, the Redeemer—the core and the fulfillment of them all—had been wrongly regarded as a Saviour themselves! Thus they were laying the foundation for the later rejection of Christ.7 “They failed to discern the veiled mystery of godliness; Christ Jesus remained veiled to them. The truth, the life, the heart of all their service, was discarded. They held, and still hold, the mere husks, the shadows, the figures.”8 They were boasting with the beauty of the temple’s buildings, out of which, by rejecting Christ, they were making “a den of thieves” ( ).
Even after they had cruelly crucified the Son of God, the Father’s tender heart had insisted on seeking to save them! For another 3½? years, the apostles went on to proclaim salvation through Christ’s blood, calling the nation to repentance. And then, even after they sealed their rejection as a nation by the blood of Stephen, the Lord graciously postponed the penalty of their crimes, giving their cursed children a chance to decide for themselves. . . . And they chose! They chose for their house to remain “desolate,” deprived of the glory they were rejecting, exactly in the same way their fathers did when they crucified Christ! And now, terrified by the desolation, they were crying over the huge fire flames devouring the holy walls of the temple: Ichabod, the glory has departed!
What about you and me, today? “From eternal ages it was God’s purpose that every created being, from the bright and holy seraph to man, should be a temple for the indwelling of the Creator.”9 Are we a temple for the habitation of the Holy One? ( .) Or is it only a pretense as we unconsciously repeat the history of the Jewish people? Are we resisting Him in the same way they did? Are we, through our thoughts and actions, putting Him to death as well? Do we experience the same opposition of the inner heart, feeling that “We will not have this man to rule over us”?10
“The same danger [the deception that destruction to the Jewish nation] still exists. Many take it for granted that they are Christians, simply because they subscribe to certain theological tenets. But they have not brought the truth into practical life. They have not believed and loved it, therefore they have not received the power and grace that come through sanctification of the truth. Men may profess faith in the truth; but if it does not make them sincere, kind, patient, forbearing, heavenly-minded, it is a curse to its possessors, and through their influence it is a curse to the world.”11
Do we have Christ, or are we choosing to be “left desolate,” a curse for ourselves and through our influence “a curse to the world”? Are we the church of God shining forth the glories of His character? “The Jewish people cherished the idea that they were the favorites of heaven, and that they were always to be exalted as the church of God.”12 But they failed to bring God into their life, as the only fountain of righteousness. “They rejected the Light of the world, and thenceforth their lives were surrounded with darkness as the darkness of midnight.”13 Ichabod!
Do we have the truth, or have we only subscribed to cold, empty, unable-to-save theory of the truth? The truth is not a theory; it is a Person! “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (14), He says! “He that hath the Son hath life” ( ). And if we have Him, the fountain of Life, then we bring forth His fruits! “On this earth, the earth whose soil has been moistened by the tears and blood of the Son of God, are to be brought forth the precious fruits of Paradise. In the lives of God’s people the truths of His word are to reveal their glory and excellence. Through His people Christ is to manifest His character and the principles of His kingdom.”
“Christ’s prediction regarding the destruction of the temple was a lesson on the purification of religion, by making of none effect forms and ceremonies. He announced Himself greater than the temple, and stood forth proclaiming, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ He was the one in whom all the Jewish ceremony and typical service was to find its fulfillment. He stood forth in the place of the temple; all the offices of the church centered in Himself alone.”15 Then do the ceremonies and the rites have any meaning today, or should we leave them aside altogether? By themselves, they don’t have absolutely any power to help or change the sinner’s life. We cannot trust them at all for having any saving attributes, as the Jews were mistakenly believing. But in connection with Christ, pointing to Him and bringing Him to the sinner as the only Hope, they have their positive role:
“The righteousness which Christ taught is conformity of heart and life to the revealed will of God. Sinful men can become righteous only as they have faith in God and maintain a vital connection with Him. Then true godliness will elevate the thoughts and ennoble the life. Then the external forms of religion accord with the Christian’s internal purity. Then the ceremonies required in the service of God are not meaningless rites, like those of the hypocritical Pharisees.”16
May this be our experience! Understanding our complete impotence to do any good, and our total dependence on Him for any righteousness, let us cast ourselves into His arms! Let us claim His merits and His grace to become ours, by faith in Him! Today is the day of our visitation! Today the dear Lord Jesus may tell His and our Father: “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them” (). Today we may make sure our call and our election! And then, if the Lord grant us any tomorrow, “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” ( ). May God make us a tree fruitful for His glory, full of the fruits of the Spirit! May He make us “a savor of life unto life” for all those around us! May He help us see Him—the First and the Last—in all our services, ceremonies and Christian duties! And, as He daily gives us the grace to become more like Him, may He grant us the privilege to be taken one day to the New Jerusalem, He Himself being its Temple! Amen!