Today's Gospel from St. Luke presents us with the account of Jesus' giving his followers an account of coming attractions, so to speak. The group is marvelling at the beauty of the Temple (the version built by King Herod the Great).
It must have been a magnificent building. From the blog eschatologytoday, comes one rendering of what the temple must have looked like:
While it does not show the costly stones and fancy adornments, we could imagine that they were somewhere within the temple precincts.
For Ancient Israel, the Temple was the end all and the be all of their faith. They believed that it was God's dwelling on earth. It was holy and sacred ground. The Temple was the only place in all of Ancient Israel where sacrificial offerings were made. Pious Jews made the trek to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices for various occasions and circumstances. The Blessed Mother and St. Joseph made the trek to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice of two turtledoves when they presented the infant Jesus in the Temple. They returned some 12 years later for Passover. The most sacred area was the Holy of Holies, as it was God's space. In fact, this area was so highly regarded that the high priest only entered it once a year during the Day of Atonement.
As a Catholic, the only frame of reference that I have to compare the Temple with is St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
However, this comparison is not really a fair one on many levels. While the temple of Ancient Israel was the only place where sacrifices could be offered, the Church teaches us that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered in every Catholic Church around the world. While Ancient Israel believed that God specifically made his dwelling in the earthly Temple in Jerusalem, the Church teaches us that Christ dwells in every Tabernacle housed in every Catholic church throughout the globe. Still, as a frame of reference, I believe that St. Peter's would be somewhat of an equivalent to the Temple of Ancient Israel because it is the most identifiable church in all of Christendom.
I have never been to St. Peter's Basilica. The closest I have come to marvelling at its beauty is through the EWTN/CTV/Vatican Radio joint broadcasts of the Papal Masses. Whenever the camera pans across the basilica's interior, I must admit, I gape at the beauty, majesty and sheer wonder of this magnificent building. I suppose that I would have had the same reaction to Jesus' words that his listerners had as they heard him tell them plainly that the Temple was going to be destroyed. It would have been shocking to hear this. It's akin to my watching St. Peter's Basilica fall to the ground in the movie 2012. While a priest friend of mine brushed off my sadness over the scene, the reality is that some day, it could very well happen, and, not just to St. Peter's, but, to the whole world.
Now, Jesus was not strictly speaking only about a particular building being destroyed. His comments cover many levels. Yes, the Temple was destroyed in AD 70. But, Jesus is also referring to something else, the Temple that is His Body. His words come right before His Passion. According to the Synpotic Gospels, Jesus only travels to Jerusalem once during his public ministry. He goes to Jerusalem to die. Now, in St. Luke's Gospel, Jesus goes twice as a child, the first time for His presentation (the ritual for every first-born male) and at the age of 12 for Passover. But now, His journey to Jerusalem comes as the fulfillment of all that God has promised through the Covenant. The true High Priest, the true Lamb of Sacrifice, who had already entered the Temple twice before, now comes to initiate the new and everlasting Covenant, sealing it in His own Blood.
A priest friend of mine told us that there were, so to speak, three temples. The first temple was the temple of creation, where God built the heavens and the earth. This was actually symbolized in the Holy of Holies by a huge curtain on which were depicted the cosmos, the earth and the stars. This curtain was the one that was torn in two when Jesus died. The second temple was the one first built by King Solomon (which was destroyed by the Babylonians), then rebuilt after the exile and then once again by King Herod the Great. This one, as noted before, was destroyed by the Romans. The final temple is Jesus, Himself. In fact, in St. John's Gospel account, Jesus refers directly to the temple of His Body.
When Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple, he is not merely referencing what the Romans were going to do. He also predicted his own Passion and Death and He was also foretelling the end of the world. In St. John's Gospel, Jesus tells the crowds that in three days, he would build again the temple that they destroyed. He meant the temple of his body and the three days were a reference to his Resurrection. When he rises from the dead, Jesus' body is a glorified one. "See, I make all things new," Jesus says in the Book of Revelation.
As far as the Temple in Jerusalem was concerned, that was destroyed, nearly pulverized, by the Roman invasion of the City of David in AD 70. Jesus had warned the Christians to be mindful of the signs of the times and flee the city. Heeding Jesus' warning, the early Church fled Jerusalem.
We are now in the interim between the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the end of the world. We do not know when the end will come. Jesus told us that the time and date are reserved only to the Father. But, the Church presents us with these readings not to scare us, but, to give us hope. As for the new temple and the new creation, we can look with hope as we read what St. John tells us towards the end of the Book of Revelation: