And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? (Matthew 24:1-3)
We have been looking at the context of Matthew 24, the definitive teaching by Jesus himself on the end of days. There are several things which I consider essential to a fuller understanding of this chapter.
In the last article we looked at the place of Jesus and John the Baptist in world history. They arrived on the scene in the Sovereignty of God, exactly forty years before the most catastrophic judgment which ever befell Israel in all of her long and painful history. They were end times preachers even in their own immediate context, thus the urgent calls to repentance.
Secondly we must take into account the fact that Matthew 24 comes in the context of the fact that it was in the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and that it was Passover week.
This means that Jerusalem was a swollen city, packed with pilgrims living in the open or with relatives or in Inns. The temple would have been teeming with Pilgrims assembled to purchase sacrificial lambs, and to hear the teachings of Temple Priests, itinerant Rabbis and Scribes.
One of the centuries old traditions of Passover observance was the employment of seasonal Psalms, (something like Christmas Carols). The Hallel, (Psalm 113-118) was being sung by Pilgrims as they literally came from the very ends of the earth to worship the LORD, and to celebrate the great feast of Redemption.
I distinctly remember the surprise I had upon my first Christmas as a born again Christian. I was singing Carols that I had sung all of my life, (and enjoyed) but had never realized the reality of the content of those songs.
For example “Hark the Herald Angel Sings” proclaims the second birth,”Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth…”. Upon singing that for the first time as a born again Christian, the lines exploded upon me with new meaning! I had sung those songs for years without being aware of it!
For Jews the 118th Psalm is a Passover song. It has lines that even many modern Christians are familiar with, for example,
“This is the Day the Lord has made…” and “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner”… and “ Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord…” . Who hasn’t heard or even sung those lyrics, time and again? But what do they actually mean?
Jews streamed into Jerusalem that final Passover before Calvary, singing the familiar seasonal songs, the Hallel, and entering into the Spirit of the great feast of Redemption, with all of its nostalgia and deep tradition, binding the Pilgrims together in festal solidarity in spite of the deep troubles the nation was enduring. They were doing , and singing what the nation had been doing and singing for centuries.
The problem was, that THIS WAS THE DAY, the long anticipated day, predicted by Daniel, Isaiah and Jeremiah. It was the day that the King Messiah was predicted to enter into the Holy City and to present himself to the leaders of the nation of Israel, who were to receive him as King and Messiah in the house of the LORD.
The Song portrays a drama, the conquering warrior and his retinue draw closer and closer to the gates of the city and to the door of the Holy House of God,
Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord: This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter. I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.(Psalm 118:19-21)
Then from within the House, the Leaders of the nation, the High Priests and religious leaders were supposed to recognize this day for what it was, and to welcome Messiah,
This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.(Psalm 118:24-26)
Messiah Jesus played his part, when he and his disciples entered Jerusalem, but riding on the colt of an Ass, as Zechariah predicted,
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.(Zechariah 9:9)
But there was no delegation welcoming him into the temple , and blessing him as “He who comes in the name of the LORD”. The leaders of Israel did not recognize that “This was indeed the DAY”. They “knew not the day of their visitation” and instead they fulfilled that other optional verse of Psalm 118,
The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.(Psalm 118:22-23)
Jesus quotes the Psalm in his final public pronouncement to Israel, in the temple, in his capacity as Messiah of Israel when he warns them,
“You will not see me again, until you say ‘Blessed is He that does in the name of the LORD’!”.(Matthew 23:39)