NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
NOTE: Over the past several centuries, many theologians, Bible experts, and prophecy aficionados have tried their best to dissect this chapter in order for it to make sense when applied to the chronological history of the church. One of the first things we must take into consideration is that this chapter does not represent a continuous dialogue by Jesus to His disciples and followers without any interruptions or pauses. This is what Matthew remembers from all that he heard and that which was told to him before he joined the disciples. As in the previous chapter, Matthew assembled all the sayings of Jesus on His confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees. So now in this chapter, he puts together all the sayings of Jesus on the end of the age and Christ’s return. It is, therefore, clear that our Lord spoke of things that would happen during the disciples’ lifetime; things that would occur throughout the ages of the Church; and the things that would be seen at the end of the Christian era. When you see verses such as 8, 14, 25, 34, 36, 42 & 44 you realize that Matthew has collected Christ’s prophetic words on a variety of different occasions and several occurrences. One thing you can count on, though, it all started with His first coming and it will all end with His return, but those who remain faithful no matter in which era they live will survive to live eternally with Him in the New Jerusalem.
Verses 1-2a: As Jesus walked away from the Temple, His followers caught up with Him and began to point out the various buildings in the Temple courts. So He asked them, “Why are you admiring these buildings?”
This departure from the holiest site on Mount Zion signaled the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Never again would He teach in the Temple courts or gather crowds on a mountain side to instruct them on how they should conduct themselves in the kingdom of God. Now it was time to instruct His followers and the twelve disciples who had been with Him over the last three and a half years. But something Jesus said about the Temple being empty caused His disciples to offer Him a reality check by pointing out all the magnificent buildings that made up the Temple compound.1 In their minds, it was ludicrous to think that one day this area that was always bustling with thousands of worshipers each day would stand abandoned. What they were looking at was the Temple repaired by Herod. According to Jewish chronicler, mathematician, historian, astronomer, and astrologer Rabbi David Gans, Herod’s renovation produced an edifice that was even greater than the original Temple that Solomon built.2
This is in accordance to what we find in the Talmud: “It used to be said: He who has not seen the Temple of Herod has never seen a beautiful building. Of what did he build it? Scholars say: Of yellow and white marble. Some say, of blue, yellow and white marble. Alternate rows of the stones positioned so as to leave a place for cement. He originally intended to cover it with gold, but the Rabbis advised him not to since it was more beautiful as it was, looking like the waves of the sea.”3 No doubt, it was these very stones the disciples pointed at and admired. They were of prodigious size with enormous value.
Jewish historian Josephus also paints a picture of the Temple that stood in his day, which was during the time of Christ: “Now the outward face of the Temple in its front was lacking nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes; for it was covered all over with plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this Temple appeared to strangers when they were coming to it from a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for as to those parts of it that were not golden, they were exceedingly white. On its top it had spikes with sharp points, to prevent any pollution of it by birds sitting upon it. Of its stones, some of them were forty-five cubits [68 feet] in length, five [7 feet] in height, and six [9 feet] wide. Before this Temple stood the altar, fifteen cubits [22 feet] high, and equal both in length and width; each of which dimensions was fifty cubits [75 feet]. The figure it was built in was a square, and it had corners like horns, and the passage up to it was by an indiscernible ascent. It was formed without any iron tool, nor did any such iron tool so much as touch it at any time. There was also a wall of partition, about a cubit [18 inches] in height, made of fine stones, and so as to be grateful to the sight; this encompassed the holy house and the altar, and kept the people that were on the outside away from the priests.”4
Early church scholar Cyril of Alexandria points out his understanding of what was taking place here. He writes: “Some disciples were pointing out to Christ the magnificent things in the temple and how it was adorned with the gifts that had been dedicated to God. For they supposed that Jesus would admire with them all there was to see, although being God He has heaven as His throne! He does offer a teaching concerning them, but He had already predicted that according to the times the Temple would utterly fall. The Roman army is being gathered for this very thing, demanding the surrender of Israel itself as all Jerusalem suffers the punishment of the slaying of the Lord. For let me tell you, it came to pass that they suffered these things after the crucifixion of the Savior. But they did not understand the meaning of Jesus’ teachings. They supposed His teachings concerned the end times.”5
When Roman General Titus arrived, he was astonished, as he went about destroying the temple, at which time his soldiers plundered it, and took away “the gifts,” with which it is also said to be adorned. These were rich and valuable things which were dedicated to it, and either laid up in it or hung upon the walls and pillars of it, as was usually done in other temples. These may have included the golden lampstand, the golden table, and many golden utensils that Pompey saw, and the spoils which Herod dedicated; and particularly the golden vine, which was a gift of his. By showing all this to Jesus, perhaps the disciples were suggesting that it would be a pity if such a grand edifice should be destroyed; or how unaccountable it was, that a place of so much strength, could so easily be demolished. But Jesus had more bad news for them.
Verse 2b: “Let me tell you what will happen. They will all be destroyed. Every stone will be thrown down on the ground. Not one stone will be left on top of one another.”
Jesus was on solid ground with His prognostication because it had been prophesied once before: “Other people will make jokes about Israel. I made the Temple holy. It is the place where people honor Me. But I will tear it down. This Temple will be destroyed. Everyone who sees it will be amazed. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do this terrible thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will say, ‘This happened because they turned away from the LORD their God.”6 Not only that but Daniel saw it in the future: “After the 62 weeks, the Chosen One will be killed. He will be gone. Then the people of the future leader will destroy the city and the holy place. That end will come like a flood. War will continue until the end. God has ordered that place to be completely destroyed.”7
And could it not also be that Jesus was talking about the same thing Micah says: “Leaders, because of you, Zion will be destroyed. It will become a plowed field. Jerusalem will become a pile of rocks. Temple Mount will be an empty hill overgrown with bushes.”8 Years ago when I visited Jerusalem, one of my European Bible School students, who was born in Bethlehem, was my guide. We climbed to the top of the Temple Mount on the same level as the Islamic Dome of the Rock. While the Dome is ornate and colorful, the area where the Temple once stood was full of weeds and looked totally forsaken. It was hard to imagine that a magnificent Temple once stood there.
Two early church fathers speak about the meaning of no stone being left upon another. Origen writes: “After Christ predicted everything that was about to happen to Jerusalem, He who had preserved the Temple left it, lest it collapsed while He was still in it. The Temple stood safe and secure as long as the Word and the kingdom of God were with the Jews, as did all things Jewish. Subsequently, however, the kingdom of God was taken from the Jews and given to the Gentiles, as it is written, ‘The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to the nations who produce its fruit.’9 Both Jesus and the kingdom of God were then established among the Gentiles. Therefore, neither Jesus nor the kingdom of God is to be found among the Jews, because they were abandoned ‘like a booth in a vineyard, and like a hut in a cucumber field, and like a city besieged,’10 on account of the crime they committed against Christ.”11
Then, Hilary of Poitiers shares his impression: “The magnificent splendor of the Temple’s design was shown to Christ immediately after He had warned of Jerusalem’s desolation, as though to move Him. Yet He said that everything had to be destroyed and the scattered stones of its entire foundation demolished, for an eternal temple was being consecrated as a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. This eternal temple is the man who is made worthy of becoming God’s habitation through knowledge of the Son, confession of the Father, and obedience to the commandments.”12 If by the destruction of the Temple, God was putting an end to the daily sacrifices and irreverent commercial activities going on there, it was accomplished. From 70 AD to this very day, the sacrifices have never been restarted because no Temple has been rebuilt.
Perhaps bishop Hilary was referencing what Jesus told the woman at the well in Samaria: “Believe me, woman! The time is coming when you will not have to be in Jerusalem or on this mountain to worship the Father . . . But the time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”13 This is also echoed by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians in Corinth: “You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit that you received from God and that lives in you.”14
1 See Matthew 23:38
2 Sefer Tzemach David: A Chronicle of Jewish and World History by Rabbi David Gans, Prague 1592
3 Babylonian Talmud, op. cit. Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Bava Bathra, folio 4a; Cf. Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Sukkah, folio 51b
4 Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Bk. 5, Ch. 5:6
5 Cyril of Alexandria: Commentary fragment 266
6 I Kings 9:7-9 (Cf. Jeremiah 26:19)
7 Daniel 9:26
8 Micah 3:12
9 Matthew 21:43
10 Isaiah 1:8
11 Origen: Commentary on Matthew 29
12 Hilary of Poitiers: On Matthew, 25.1
13 John 4:21-23
14 1 Corinthians 6:19