Christians have long been fascinated about the “Last Things” — that is, what will take place at the end of time. If you’re familiar with the subject, you may have noticed some passages seem to suggest that Christ and the New Testament authors believed the end was just around the corner.
For example, Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse, “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with power and great glory … Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (Matt 24:30, 34). And the book of Revelation begins by saying, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show his servants what must happen soon …” (Rev 1:1).
Did the first Christians expect the world to end in their lifetime? The answer is no. They didn’t expect the “end of the world” as much as the “end of the age.” Their present age was to be replaced by the Messianic age (the “age to come”), and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple signaled that change.
The Olivet Discourse begins with the apostles admiring the temple and Jesus’ prediction of its destruction (see Matt 24:1-3). This prediction was fulfilled when the pagan Romans destroyed the temple on Aug. 10, AD 70. Since the temple was the center for the sacrifices prescribed in the Old Testament, its destruction put a definitive end to the Old Covenant and ushered in the “age to come” where Jews and gentiles worshipped God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which fulfills all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant.
But if you look closer at these and other related passages, you’ll notice they speak of the destruction of the temple and yet point beyond the temple to something greater. To understand why this is so, we need to dig a little deeper into the biblical background of the temple.
Some may be surprised to find that God was the first temple builder, as Scripture describes God’s creation of the cosmos as one who is building a temple. For example, Psalm 78:69 says God, “…built his shrine [sanctuary] like the heavens, like the earth which he founded forever.” God laid down a foundation (Job 9:6, 38:4-6, Psalm 18:15 , Heb 1:10). Like a wise master builder, He marked out and measured the cosmos (Job 38:4-11, Is 40:12) and raised its pillars (1 Sam 2:8, Job 9:6, 26:11, Psalm 75:4). The cosmos, therefore, is described as a temple written large — a macro-temple.
Conversely, the tabernacle built by Moses and especially Solomon’s temple are presented as a miniature model of God’s creation, a micro-cosmos. Scripture presents several interesting parallels that point to this connection. For example, God finished creation on the seventh day (Gen 2:2-3) and Solomon finished building the Jerusalem temple in seven years (1 Kings 6:38). Not only was the temple completed in seven years, but its dedication took place on the seventh month (1 Kings 8:2) and the feast of its inauguration lasted seven days (1 Kings 8:65)! God rested on the seventh day of creation and the temple is called “God’s resting place forever” (Psalm 132:14). Even the builder of the temple, Solomon, harkens back to God’s completion of creation since his name, Solomon, means “man of rest” or “man of peace.” Dozens of other examples could be given, but this is enough to show that the temple was seen as a miniature model of God’s creation.
This explains why the New Testament passages about the destruction of the temple also seem to point beyond the temple to the end of time. If the temple was a model of the cosmos, the destruction of the temple, in a mysterious way, models for us the consummation of creation, the end of time.
Gary Michuta is an author, speaker and apologist and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.