Summary: "Jesus said ’Do you see these great buildings?’ Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’" (Mark 3:2)
It is such an offensive thing to say!
Oh, I know that nothing in permanent in this life and that the greatest of our human institutions and heroic achievements will eventually pass and go the way of all flesh, but I really didn’t want to be confronted with that just now!.
And though they take our life
Goods, honour, children, wife
Yet is their profit small
These things will vanish all
The city of God remaineth
Yes … thank you Jesus (and thank you Martin Luther for putting it into song). I know that this is true. The city of God remaineth but everything else in this world is going to be thrown down. Nothing else will last the distance- neither persons nor buildings nor even our most cherished relationships. I know that. It’s just that the older I get in this life the less I feel I need to be reminded of it.
When I was a younger man, fuelled with all that adolescent energy that sends so many young people off to fight wars that never should be fought, there was nothing I liked more than a good end-time prophecy of how the world was coming to and end and how everything was going to be thrown down! If there’s going to be a battle, bring it on! If a conflagration is going to start, hand me a box of matches! Let’s get it started!
But that was some time ago and now I’m trying to build a future for my children and, in truth, I suspect that we could probably work out a pretty accurate equation about the amount of satisfaction a person feels in listening to prophecies of doom being in inverse proportion to their age.
When you are young, constant change and upheaval are all a part of the adventure. As you get older, you start wishing things would slow down a bit. Indeed, you look for something you can hold on to that is just standing still!
’Do you see these great buildings?’… ’Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’
Now, of course I’m not suggesting that Jesus only said this only for the purpose of being offensive, and yet it is worth asking why He says it at all. For if Jesus’ purpose wasn’t just to offend, it wasn’t simply to inform either. For so far as information goes, this prophecy of Jesus isn’t entirely accurate. It didn’t actually come true - not in detail at any rate!
’Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’
It didn’t happen, not exactly, not in 70 AD anyway, and I presume that’s the event Jesus was referring to - the crushing of the Jewish rebellion and the sacking of Jerusalem during the rule of the Roman Emperor Vespasian.
Jesus was entirely right of course about the big picture - Jerusalem did fall and the streets ran with blood and the temple was destroyed, but there were still some stones left, one on another, and in fact they are still there today.
If you go to the wailing wall in Jerusalem today you’ll see some ancient stones there, piled one on another. They are a sobering shadow of the once great temple that stood on that spot but that wall of stones is still there.
Now some do say that Jesus wasn’t referring to the fall of Jerusalem then but to the end of the world when those remaining stones will also be thrown down but that is difficult to maintain, given that a few verses later in this dialogue, as recorded in Mark chapter 13 Jesus says, "Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place" (Mark 13:30), and indeed the fall of Jerusalem did take place before the generation Jesus was speaking to had passed away, whereas the end of the world did not.
Jesus evidently did not speak these words about the temple purely for the sake of showing that He could make accurate predications about the future, like some all-powerful fortune-teller. Indeed, if His main concern had been to foretell the future, we might have expected Him to respond more helpfully to some of the questions of His disciples when they probed Him about the event.
We’re told that after Jesus made His pronouncement about the temple that the apostolic band retired to a quiet spot on the Mount of Olives, where the disciples were very keen to quiz their master for more information: "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?" (Mark 13:4)
And how does Jesus respond to them? Does He fill them in on the details of everything that’s going to take place? No! He doesn’t tell them anything initially, apart from warning them that they shouldn’t get too caught up in worrying about the end times and so falling prey to those who would make religious mileage out of their doomsday prophecies.