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VIEWING THE TEMPLE THROUGH HISTORY
by Maurice A. Williams
2/04/2007 / Bible Studies
Imagine that you are hovering above Jerusalem, high enough that you can see the whole city. Imagine your head pointed north, your feet south, and you are looking straight down on the city. Today is the morning after the birth of Jesus. The sun's first rays slowly creep from your right but have not yet swept across Jerusalem. The rays will, in a few moments, illuminate the Temple's front wall. Covered with gold leaf, this wall will shine almost as bright as the sun. Imagine yourself closer now. The Levite on morning watch just sighted the sun's first light illuminating the east behind the Mount of Olives. "It's becoming light!" he shouts down to the others, "The East is bright!"
Someone shouts, "Is the East bright as far as Hebron?"
He looks to his right. "Yes!" he shouts back, "The light has risen."
Then the priests and Levites who were waiting for that moment begin the morning sacrifice. As the lamb is sacrificed, the front of the Temple begins to glow with the reflected light of the rising sun. The Temple is the city's tallest structure. Part of its outer surface is plated with gold. This day, the day you are watching, the savior God promised to restore all things has finally arrived. He was promised to our first parents. He will make remedy for the bondage our first parents took upon themselves and their offspring by their sin. He is the one predicted to the serpent, the one who will subdue the spirit behind the serpent. He will accomplish the mandate given our first parents to subdue and dominate everything that moves upon the earth.
The priest and Levites who are conducting the sacrifice this morning are, of course, unaware of his birth. If they were aware of it, they might have conducted the ceremony with more fervor and joy. If they realized the prophetic implications of the sacrifice they just made, they might wonder why God would allow such things to happen. And they would be apprehensive over the choices they must make as they and their fellow Judeans interact with the promised one now that he is here.
Now imagine yourself moving higher. All of Jerusalem comes into view, then the surrounding area, as you go still higher. To the southwest of Jerusalem, five miles from the Temple, under your right foot, is Bethlehem. The shepherds talk to one another, awed by what they saw. If you look to your upper right, you can see, not far away, the Magi's caravans heading toward Jerusalem. They will soon call on Herod to ask him about the new king whose star they follow. Continue moving upward and see Jerusalem in relation to Judea and Judea in relation to the neighboring countries, they in relation to the whole world. Then come back again.
As you come down, you can see ground detail getting larger. Everything blurs as you pass through the depths of time as well as space. Then you can see clearly again. You recognize that you are coming in to the same spot, but at a different age. It is now one thousand years before Christ's birth. David is king, and the Temple has not yet been built. All that exists of Jerusalem at this time is the first part of the Lower City atop Mt. Ophel. You can see it there under your knees. It looks quite different than it did when Christ was born.
David is in his dwelling on Mt. Ophel to the south. He recently offended God by ordering a census to count his subjects the way pagan kings do. He had been told not to do it, but he did it anyway. He was given a choice of punishments for his arrogance. The people whose number he impiously learned will be reduced in size to a number unknown to him. This can be done through an enemy attack or through a famine or through a contagious disease. David had chosen a contagious disease. A disease is under God's direct control, and David knew that God is merciful.
Today while you are looking down upon Jerusalem, David is looking up. He sees a vision. He sees the Lord's angel approaching Jerusalem with sword unsheathed to continue the punishment already started in the other cities. When the angel of the Lord had stretched his hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord had pity on the affliction, and said to the angel that slew the people: It is enough. Now hold thy hand. And the angel was by the thrashing floor of Areuna the Jebusite.
Now imagine yourself moving higher. All Jerusalem comes in view again, then the surrounding area, just as it did last time as you moved away. Continue upward till Jerusalem fades in the mists of time, and you can again see the whole hemisphere containing Judea and the neighboring countries. Then come in again. Everything blurs once more as time recedes ahead of you. Then you notice the smell of fresh mountain air as your vision clears. The first things that catch your eyes are the abundance of wildlife on and around the mountain. You realize that this is a very early stage in Mt. Moriah's history. There are no structures, not even a threshing floor. The highest points of the mountain, the points that will later become the foundation for the altar and the Holy of Holies, are bare rock and are plainly visible.
As you descend closer, you see a man and a boy approaching Moriah's summit. The boy carries wood on his shoulders. As they ascend, the boy asks the man: "Father, we have the fire and the wood, but where is the victim for the holocaust?" The father, very much concerned and sorrowful, says: "God will provide himself a victim for the holocaust, my son." The time is two thousand years before Christ; the man is Abraham; the boy, his son Isaac. They journey to where Abraham will make the sacrifice God asked. Abraham solemnly stops at the bare rock and sorrowfully spreads wood for the holocaust. His sorrow will soon turn to joy because God will not require that he make the sacrifice.
God rewarded Abraham for his faith. God promised that Abraham's offspring would multiply and be as numerous as stars in the sky or sand on the beach, not only from his son Isaac but also from his first son Ishmael. "And as for Ishmael I have also heard thee. Behold, I will bless him, and increase, and multiply him exceedingly: he shall beget twelve chiefs, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bring forth to thee at this time next year."
Now back away; and, as you back away, watch in your imagination the descendants of Abraham as they increase and multiply. First there were Ishmael and his branches of Abraham's seed passing down through Ishmael's twelve sons. Then there were Isaac and his two sons Esau and Jacob who passed down Abraham's seed through Jacob's twelve sons and Esau's fourteen grandsons. Then there were more branches through Abraham's six additional sons by his wife Cetura whom he married after Sarah's death. Watch as his progeny multiplies. They become whole tribes and whole nations, not only the twelve tribes of Israel, but tribes and nations of Arab and other Semitic peoples as well. Imagine them as numerous as sand on the beach or as stars in the sky, and wonder how can God be God to so many peoples with so many conflicting ideas.
Now imagine yourself coming back again. Just hold your arms close to your body and fall. When you feel close enough, spread your arms to slow your descent. As you get closer, you can see that Mt. Moriah is much different than it was during Christ's time. It is now A.D. 638. The whole Temple site is ruined. The platform marking the outer courts that King Herod improved is still intact, but not one building is standing. As you draw closer you can see, and smell, that the platform is being used as a refuse dump. Where the Temple once stood now stands a deep layer of human excrement. The Byzantine Christians piled it there in a misguided attempt to humiliate the Jews.
Just outside the city, you can see a caravan approaching. When it gets close, two men with one camel break off and approach the wall. One man is Omar, Caliph and successor to Mohammed. Only twenty eight years before this occasion, Mohammed led the Arabs out of paganism into faith in the Most High God, the God who spoke directly to their common father Abraham. Mohammed told his followers to accept circumcision to mark themselves as descendants of Abraham and, like Abraham, to be submissive to God's will.
Until then, most Arabs had embraced pagan religions even though they were Abraham's descendants. Their neighbors to the east, the Persians, had also worshiped pagan gods. The Persians fought often with the Byzantines. Their success pushed Christian influence away from the Arabs, consolidating the Arabs in their acceptance of paganism. In A.D. 533, after many fruitless wars, proving that both empires were too strong to defeat the other, they signed an "Eternal Peace Treaty." The two empires agreed to accept the status quo. This gave Persia a free hand to dominate all Arabs. Thirty seven years later, Mohammed was born. Forty years later, in 610, Mohammed called the Arabs out of paganism. Thirty four years after that, only about one hundred years since the eternal peace had been signed, Mohammed's followers launched a holy war against the Persian empire and conquered it.
A few years later, the Moslems attacked the Byzantines and forced the surrender of Jerusalem. This day, the day we are looking down on Jerusalem, is 105 years after the eternal peace was signed. Omar ibn Khattab, Caliph of all Islam, is approaching Jerusalem to accept the city's surrender from the Christian Bishop Sophronius. He is walking. The other man, a man who is subordinate to him, is riding the camel. Omar is doing this humble act in accord with Mohammed's teaching. He also wants to show his profound respect for the city where the Most High God spoke to Abraham. He wants to emulate the ancient prophets and patriarchs who were submissive to God's will.
When Omar reaches the bishop, he will accept the surrender. He will pledge not to mistreat the inhabitants. He will then ask to see the holy shrines made sacred by the God of Abraham. He especially wants to see the rock where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. In your imagination, watch the bishop's face as he realizes the rock his conqueror reveres so much lies buried under tons of human excrement. Imagine also Omar's shock and disbelief when he realizes what the Byzantines have been doing. He immediately gets on his knees. With his own hands, using his own cloak, he begins cleaning this holy place where Abraham expressed faith and where David and Solomon built the Temple (Klein, Temple Beyond Time, p. 135).
How inscrutable is God's Providence. How quickly and inexplicably prophecies come true. And how difficult it is for us to understand why God lets history unfold the way it does. And yet most of us, like the Byzantines of that age, so disgrace what God has already done that we are not entitled to understand why and how God brings prophecies to fruition. This day, the day we are watching, and every day afterward, all the tribes descendant from Abraham, be they Jew, Christian, or Moslem, will at least recognize the God Abraham worshiped.
Now back away. As you back away, catch a glimpse of the Moslems down through the succeeding years revering the rock upon which stood the altar: clearing it, washing it, anointing it every day with perfume. They will build a beautiful dome over it. They will care for it until such a time as the Most High, in an unfathomable way, shall decree what will happen next. Now come in again. When you are close enough to make out the city's outline, you can see that it is much larger. As you get closer you can see that it is modern times. It is 1917, December 9, 1917. Several months earlier, Arthur Balfour, British Foreign Secretary, declared Britain's intention to support Jewish claims for Palestine as their national home. Five years in the future, the League of Nations will accept their claims. But, today, December 9, 1917, the British are still conquering Palestine from the Ottoman Turks.
As you come closer, you can see British warplanes flying over the Temple mount. The Turks have prepared for the British assault, but they do not have antiaircraft artillery. The British bombers fly over the city to encourage surrender. The Turks do not want the holy shrines damaged during a bomber attack. Cognizant that their resistance cannot stop the bombing, they will retreat without firing a shot and allow the city to fall unharmed into British control. As you hover over Jerusalem, the Turks watching the warplanes are coming to that realization.
For almost thirteen hundred years, Moslems controlled the temple site, save for a few brief periods during the Crusades. When John wrote about measuring the Temple, he prophesied that the outer court was not to be measured. It had been given to the Gentiles. Moses spoke of a proviso in God's law concerning land. The land that God gave the twelve tribes was not to be taken away from them or their descendants. Even if their descendants sold it, or otherwise lost possession of it, it was to revert to the original heirs within fifty years. "And thou shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of the land: for it is the year of jubilee. Every man shall return to his possession, and every one shall go back to his former family . . . .. In the year of jubilee all shall return to their possessions. When thou shall sell anything to thy neighbor, or buy of him: grieve not thy brother: but thou shalt buy of him according to the number of years from the jubilee . . . .. The more years remain after the jubilee, the more shall the price increase: and the less time is counted, so much the less shall the purchase cost . . . .. The land also shall not be sold forever: because it is mine, and you are strangers and sojourners with me. For which cause all the country of your possession shall be under the conditions of redemption . . . .. . . . the buyer shall have what he bought, until the year of the jubilee. For in that year all that is sold shall return to the owner, and to the ancient possessor."
Now as you move away, let your imagination span through the next fifty years from 1917 to 1967. They are years of bitter conflict as the Arab nations insist the Jews shall not possess the land. Arab nations once allied with Britain, now chaff against British control. They helped the British defeat the Turks. They felt Britain should have placed the land in their hands. Repatriation of Jews becomes more serious, and for the Jews more desperate, as Nazi Germany murders six million Jews during the Holocaust. Repatriation turns Palestine into a powder keg as Arabs and Jews struggle for control when the British prepare to leave in 1948. When the British do leave, the surrounding Arab nations attack the new Jewish Commonwealth. But by incredible, almost impossible, victory for the Jews, they defeat the Arab armies and maintain their independence.
There are more confrontations, even another war, but the new Jewish Commonwealth cannot be extinguished. Finally in 1967, a serious war erupts as the surrounding Arab nations, again in a concerted effort, try to extinguish Jewish independence. This war will last six days. The Arab armies will be defeated. The Temple site will be conquered from Jordan. Fifty years after Britain publicly promised that the Jews could possess their ancestral homeland, Jerusalem and much of Palestine will fly the Israeli flag. Jeremiah, 2580 years ago, prophesied that something like this would happen. Think what this might mean as you move farther and farther away. Could this be the end times of the Gentile era? If so, will the Gentile nations who resist God face the same disasters the Judean nation faced at the beginning of this era?
Let us move back in time to the beginning of this era. We will see how Jesus responded in his heart when he reached his ultimate confrontation with his enemies. We will see how he chose to deal with those who did not want to obey and whom he did not want, not yet anyway, to force into obedience. The years flee away as you come closer. Then you see the city clearly on that Friday when Jesus came face to face with his opponents. He had God's power at his disposal. He could easily have forced all his opponents into absolute and total obedience, against their will, merely by himself willing that they obey. But he did not want to do that. To do that would destroy their liberty. If he forces them against their will, he would get obedience, but what a sorrowful experience it would be for him. Their bodies would do what he wants because he has the power to make it so. On their faces would be the expressions he wants; through their lips would flow his words; in their minds would be his thoughts.
Only in their wills could they resist. They would will what they want, and he would instantly flood them with the force he possesses to compel obedience. Their defiance would never be put into thought, much less into words and deeds. Their choice to disobey would immediately be stifled by an overpowering compulsion to do what they choose not to do. Their complaints would be drowned with words they do not want to speak. Their resentment would be smothered with thought-control of unimaginable magnitude, the degree of magnitude that only God can generate. It would be infinite, untiring, and everlasting. What agony for God to deal this way with individuals who are totally dependent upon God. What unimaginable hell for those individuals who experience it.
If God so wanted, God could forever postpone using force, but why should that be done? Sin, disobedience, cannot go on forever. From the beginning of God's revelation through Moses even to the revelation through Jesus, God always made it clear that human disobedience will not be tolerated forever. If God were human, God would risk life itself, if humans were minded to take it, rather than use force. God's Word did become human. In the human confrontation Jesus had with the people of his own generation, he did refrain from using force. He did so right up to his death.
Come in closer. As you come closer, you can see him hanging on a cross on a small hill just outside the city walls. People surround him. They taunt him saying: "If you really are the son of God come down off the cross." How can he control his human emotions so effectively? Almost anyone else, if he could, would come off the cross. But if Jesus comes off that cross, then he will come down off the cross of our wills, the crosses you and I have given God. That would be the end of our ability to disobey, ours and everyone else with us. Scripture prophesied important events in Christ's life long before his birth. He was to be the Pascal lamb. Many things the Israelites were told about the Pascal lamb have some bearing on Jesus. They were told not to break any bones in the Pascal lamb. The Pascal lamb was offered as a sacrifice to make recompense for sin, to stay God's hand poised in retribution. It was the Pascal lamb's blood that spared the Israelites when God disciplined the Egyptians.
As you look down into the city you can see that it is getting late. The Temple officials observing the crucifixion are impatient because Jesus is not yet dead. They send men to ask Pilate to order Christ's legs broken to hasten his death. If you look closely, you can see the men going northeast toward the Praetorium outside the north wall. Jesus could endure his sufferings forever. He has the power to lay down his life and the power to pick it up again. But his mission was to fulfill Scripture. The lamb's bones are not to be broken if the sacrifice is to be acceptable. It is time now for him to die before the men return. He stirs one more time on the cross. The people become silent. You can hear his words: "It is consummated. Father into thy hands I commend my spirit." His heart, already filled with sorrow, literally breaks as the muscles rupture with the intensity of his sorrow, and he dies.
Back away now, and for the last time move away from Jerusalem. As you move away, try to get a wider perspective on this day's events. What do they mean for the people of that city? What do they mean for all people? As you leave, you can see that things are happening below. A storm moves in, darkening everything. An earthquake shudders The Temple mount. Everyone in the city had all day been nervous because of the trial and crucifixion. Now their anxiety turns to terror because of the storm and the earthquake. In the sky, brilliant flashes of lightning illuminate the clouds. On the ground, the earthquake opens tombs. The dead mingle with the living amid frightening peals of thunder and cries and moans of people convinced the world is ending. If God were like you and I, this would have been the end. Two or three mega flash thunderbolts and a massive earthquake, and all would be finished. After all, the promised savior has been killed. It is time to judge all humanity.
But this is not the end. It is a new beginning, the beginning of the end times, assuredly, but a new beginning anyway. With this new beginning, there will be a new temple. It will not be like the old, built by human hands. God will build this temple. It will be built of people marked by baptism. It will span through time and through space, in heaven and on earth. Jesus will regulate this temple as a head regulates the body. He will nourish it and bind it together, giving it identity and unity as the vine gives the grapes. It will be wonderful to behold.
As you catch your last glimpse of this holy place, let your mind's eye look through the ages and see how this new temple spans time and place. Imagine people through the ages that have followed Jesus. Start with the apostles at the last supper. Imagine Mary's fifteen lonely years after her son died. Imagine the approach of his disciples. At first they were a small gathering, about one hundred individuals. Thousands joined them on Pentecost, the day the Church got its official start. Their gathering grew rapidly as the Church spread among the Judeans. It was a Judean Church then, almost exclusively Judean. They were the elect allowed now for the first time to enter the "Holy of Holies" and eat at God's table. They were joined later by Greeks, Romans, and Gentiles from other nations. These are the others that join the elect, the others who are too many to count. These others come from all nations and all strata of society, following Christ despite disapproval and opposition from those who do not believe. The Church grows and spreads until ten times twenty four years later the elders of the Roman Empire, and the emperor himself became Christian. Under them, and after them, the Roman Empire will be remade into a Christian society.
Imagine that you see those who have left this life before you and now reign with Jesus. They passed from death into the first resurrection. They reign with Jesus right now in a spiritual way. They already have been given dominion over everything that moves upon the face of this earth. They strengthen us in our struggle, for the struggle is in this life. They are now worshiping the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Son through the Incarnation of the Lamb that was slain but now lives. They, and all the angels with them, even before you began imagining it, have been singing beautiful songs of praise and joyful happiness and eternal gratitude in the heavenly counterpart of the new temple.
Maurice A. Williams
Author of "Apocalypse: Four Horsemen Three Woes." http://www.geocities.ws/mauricewms2003.
Williams is a semi-retired Director of R&D and still works as a consultant. He is married, lives at home, and has four children and six grandchildren.
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