The questioner (and presumably all the apostles) were wrong.
The temple would not be spared.
The impending wreck of Jerusalem would be total and complete; even the great stones would be broken up and the entire structure demolished.
This astounding prophecy was not a mere clever prediction of Jesus, based upon political considerations, and the probabilities indicated by the rebellious nature of Israel and the character of the Roman authority.
Therefore, Christ was here stating the purpose and intention of Almighty God.
Since the destruction of the temple must then be viewed as contrary to the will of both the Jews and the Romans, being accomplished by providential circumstances utterly beyond the power of either to alter them, it is fitting to inquire as to God’s reasons for determining that it should be destroyed.
WHY GOD DESTROYED THE TEMPLE
- It had served its purpose, having pertained to a system that was about to be terminated. One greater than the temple had already appeared (Matthew 12:6).
- The daily sacrifices, which were the center of temple functions, would no longer be needed, after the Great Sacrifice would be offered upon Calvary, thus rendering the temple useless in its major function.
- It was in the way of the holy apostles themselves, who were so obviously awed in the account before us. It tended to blind them to the truly spiritual nature of the kingdom of God.
- All Israel loved the temple; and it would be a great stumblingblock, preventing many of them from accepting Christ.
- They loved it, along with the dazzling ritual and exceedingly impressive ceremonial – they loved it too much.
- Its official custodians rejected and murdered the rightful heir of the temple, who was Christ, bringing upon them and the temple a weight of guilt that could not be forgiven. Divine justice required that the “den of thieves and robbers” be demolished.
- Its destruction would prove an effective symbol of God’s “taking away the old” and establishing a new system. “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (Hebrews 10:3).
- The temple, through abuse by its custodians, failed of its highest purpose, which was to have recognized the King when he came, and to take the lead in accepting him and advocating his acceptance by the whole world.
- Having failed in that, it was no longer God’s house. It became, therefore, a house merely of Israel. “Behold your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).
- Any further use of the temple, after the coming of Christ, for any truly spiritual purpose, being thereafter impossible, God could not allow a building of such hallowed associations to be made a vehicle of shameful and unworthy enterprises.
- The destruction of the temple and Jerusalem was a part of the divine sentence of hardening pronounced against Israel by Christ, as prophesied by Isaiah (Matthew 13:14).
- Judicial hardening always was followed by the destruction of those hardened, with a consequence of their total removal from any historical progression; but in the case of Israel, the historical removal of those hardened was altered, a fact prophetically declared by the apostle Paul (Romans 11:25).
- However, the repeated hardening of Israel by themselves was at last followed by God’s execution upon them of the sentence of judicial hardening; and the demolition of the temple and ruin of Jerusalem were definitely a part of that sentence.
- That Israel should indeed escape total annihilation, thus enabling their “generation” to continue, was the will of God; but it was not the will of God that the most summary execution of destruction upon the temple and city should be avoided.
- Christ loved the city and wept over it upon the occasion of his sentencing her to destruction (Matthew 23:37-39).
- Before that week was out, the high priests and the temple hierarchy would demand of Pilate that he “release Barabbas unto them” (Mark 15:11), and it was appropriate that the consequences of such a choice should be received by them making it.
- Josephus devoted twenty pages to the details of how the most sordid and reprobate “robbers” took charge of the whole city, along with the sacred temple (long before the Romans came), and who “omitted no kind of barbarity, rapines, plunderings, and murderings,” over twelve thousand of the nobility alone perishing in blood.
- They filled up the Holy of Holies itself with dead bodies.
- Countless thousands of the common people were killed.
- The robbers fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals and cut their throats … in what place soever they caught them.
- All of the nobility were destroyed; and Josephus said, “I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, … that he cut off those great defenders (that is, the nobility).”
- How tragic was it that the priests demanded Barabbas; and what a fulfillment of their request was this horrible rule of robbers that sacked the city far in advance of the Roman legions! This has been mentioned in some detail here, because of its bearing upon Mark 13:14, which see.
“There shall not be left here one stone upon another” In view of the size of the stones, this must have seemed a most unreasonable prophecy, even to the Twelve.
The stones weighed over one million pounds each!
The manner of fulfilling it was spectacular. Many of the temple furnishings, and even the roof within, were overlaid with pure gold; and the fire which broke out melted the yellow metal, causing it to run down in crevices of the great stones.
Defying the order of their commander, the soldiers, using the military engines available to them, broke up and dismantled the masonry, seeking the gold.
One of the foundation stones measured in recent times proved to be twenty-four by about four feet, only a fraction of the size of the originals.
Modern investigation shows that the present wall has been rebuilt, probably on the foundation of the older one.
This “rebuilt” wall never attained any status except that of a futile attempt at starting construction.