PMW 2018-082 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

This is the third and final article in a brief series showing how the destruction of the temple in AD 70 pointed to and even symbolized the destruction of the world at the Final Judgment.

In the last article I noted that the Jews believed the temple was permanent, existing as long as the world would last. Thus, many scholars comment on this religious perspective in Judaism regarding the temple’s relevance to the world order.

The temple’s relation to the world

Lee I. Levine (2002: 246) notes that the temple “was where God dwelled, this was the cosmic center of the universe (axis mundi), the navel (omphalos) of the world that both nurtured it and bound together heaven and earth.”

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Randall C. Gleason (2002: 111) points out that “the Jewish connection between Temple and cosmos was such that the glory of the Temple in Jerusalem symbolized the stability of the Jewish world.”

Shaye J. Cohen (1982: 24) agrees: “the temple was more than a building and more than the home of the sacrificial cult. It was the sacred center of the cosmos, the place where heaven and earth meet.” He continues: “the temple was more than a building and more than the home of the sacrificial cult. It was the sacred center of the cosmos, the place where heaven and earth meet.”

Peter Hayman (1986: 176) cites Sefer Yesira regarding the “edges” of the universe: “the Holy Temple [is] exactly in the middle, and it supports them all.”

The temple’s decor and the world

That the temple’s destruction points to the world’s destruction would be fueled by the temple’s decor itself. For, according to Josephus, the Jews believed that the temple veil and the high priest’s vestments each picture the fact that “God made the universe of four elements” earth, sea, air, and fire (Jos., Ant. 3:7:3 §183-84).

Then later, he explains the colors of the temple veil as “a kind of image of the universe” (J.W. 5:5:4 §212–13; Ant. 3.6.4; 3.7.7). This is because “the Temple, its vessels and even the high priest’s vestments were depicted as representing the entire universe and the heavenly hosts” (Shemuel Safrai and Menahem Stern 1974: 1: 906). As Seth Schwartz (1990: 42) notes, Josephus’ description of the special temple articles “are said to symbolize parts of the cosmos [and] may imply that for Josephus the Temple as a whole symbolized the cosmos as a whole.”

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And this information is not simply a Josephan peculiarity. In Sirach 18:24 we read of the high priest: “on his long robe the whole world was depicted.” Schwartz (1990: 43) argues that this statement “clearly implies the cosmic nature of the priestly vestments.”

Philo agrees, noting that the high priest’s dress seemed to be “a copy and representation of the world” (Spec. Laws 1:16 §84) and was arranged so that it provided “a representation of the universe” (Spec. Laws 1:17 §95). He (Mos 2:24 §122) points out that “some who have studied the subject” see the shoulder stones on the high priest as “emblems of those stars which are the rulers of night and day, namely, the sun and moon.” The twelve stones on the breastplate are emblems of “the circle of the zodiac” (Philo, Mos 2:24 §124).

James Davila (2005, 17) therefore writes that “the Jerusalem Temple is a microcosm of the universe.” D. D. Kupp (1996, 133) agree that “the Jerusalem Temple explained YHWH’s active presence in his created order and functioned as a spiritual and symbolic microcosm of the macrocosm.”

Thus, at Christ’s death the temple veil (picturing the stellar universe) is “torn in two from top to bottom” (Mk 15:38//). The rending of the veil, then, was a “clear sign of impending destruction of the Temple” (Richard A. Horsley 1987: 162). In fact, due to its embroidery with the starry heavens “its tearing would be an apt symbol of the beginning destruction, not only of the temple (which itself even as a whole symbolized the cosmos) but of the very cosmos itself” as the new creation process is begun in Christ’s death (Gregory K. Beale 1997a: 189).

So just as Christ’s overthrowing the moneychangers’ tables pictured the overthrowing of the temple, the destruction of the temple with all of its cosmic imagery pictured the destruction of the world at the Final Judgment. The temple is a microcosm of the cosmos and therefore it destruction symbolizes the destruction of the world itself.

I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.

If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!

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  1. Dawn October 12, 2018 at 10:02 am

    While I agree with preterism, I have a question. If the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. foreshadowed the destruction of the world & ushered in the vindication & the Age of the Messiah, what would be the corresponding viewpoint for the previous temple destruction by Babylon? I know the Old Testament prophets used similar language as John’s Revelation to indication changes in the world order but, to my understanding, Jewish thought embraced two ages – The Age of the Law & the Age of the Messiah. If the Temple’s destruction announced the transition to the Age of the Messiah, why did the earlier event not do so as well? And, also, if I remember correctly, the Old Testament used the images of world dissolution to speak of Babylon’s destruction, not the temple. If that is the case, why assume that the temple’s destruction prefigures the world’s end rather than a change in world order?

  2. Kenneth Gentry October 12, 2018 at 10:10 am

    The Babylonian destruction did not end the old covenant, whereas the AD 70 destruction did. The Bible knows of two ages, which we call BC and AD.

    I will be demonstrating in my forthcoming commentary on Matt 21-25 that Jesus initially limits his ministry to Israel (Matt. 15:6; 15:24), but gradually opens up his ministry to the world (see especially Matt. 28:18-20). Both ages have a conclusion: the old covenant age ends in judgment on Israel; the new covenant age ends with judgment on the world (and its consequent end to history). We must not see Jesus as merely a Jewish sage, but rather as the universal Lord, which Matthew strives to demonstrate.

  3. Dawn October 13, 2018 at 7:20 am

    I’m afraid I may have posed my question poorly. I understand what you say & thank you for the response but I still am pondering this. I whole-heartedly believe in Jesus as the Lord & Savior. I do not mean to question His significance & I agree that the 70 A.D. destruction is the conclusion of the first age. I am more wondering why Jewish culture did not see two very similar events (destruction of the Temple by Babylon & Rome) as having the same impact? Or is it that they DO see the two as the same & therefore do not accept that the 2nd event by Rome is the ending of the 1st covenant?
    By the way, I have read some of your stuff on Revelation being a divorce enactment between Yahweh & Israel. Is that going to be available in more detail in any upcoming book?

  4. Kenneth Gentry October 15, 2018 at 10:37 am

    Actually, Josephus links AD 70 with the Babylonian destruction of the temple in his work:

    War 6.4.5 249-253: “So Titus retired into the tower of Antonia, and resolved to storm the Temple the next day, early in the morning, with his whole army, and to encamp round about the Holy House; but, as for that House, God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of the ages: it was the tenth day of the month Lous, [Av,] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon.”

    The Jews did not accept it as the end for them, however, because the Babylonian Captivity did not end Israel’s special relationship to God. They saw the temple’s AD 70 destruction as another example of God’s chastening of Israel for her sin. The Old Testament gives many examples of God’s chastening, and yet maintaining the divine relationship. So, just as they missed the coming of their Messiah, they missed the ultimate meaning of AD 70.

    At AD 70 biblical Judaism ended and rabbinic Judaism ascended. Reading the Mishnah and Talmud shows a greater interest in tradition than in Scripture, in “the fathers” than in the Bible. This is why Jesus declares them to be blend and calls for their judgment.

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