Not One Stone Left Upon Another

All thanks and acknowledgement to my pastor for this insight.  I don’t know about you, but for myself I typically don’t look for much insight from the book of Leviticus.  But this is clearly an exception.

In the synoptic gospels (Matthew 24:2, Mark 13:2, Luke 21:6) we have Jesus announcing to His disciples, and everyone within earshot on the Temple Mount, that all the stones of the Temple complex would be thrown down, and “not one stone left upon another”.

Was this just a forecast of the future?  Or was there something more profound in this pronouncement?  Was there indeed something communicated in this message that all of the scribes and Pharisees in his gathering would have instantly recognized as significant beyond just the ravings of a trouble making holy man?

Well, indeed, it seems there was.

To understand the full gravity of this pronouncement, one would have had to have been completely conversant with the Pentateuch and its Mosaic Law, as surely the scribes and Pharisees among His hearers would have been.

In Leviticus 14 we find a series of instructions regarding the cleansing of leprosy.  The later part of this chapter has to do with the dwelling in which “leprous disease” is thought to be present, and the duties of the priest in dealing with the matter. (Here we shouldn’t think that somehow a house actually contained visible signs of the leprous bacteria, but merely that it contained some form of growths – perhaps molds – that were characterized as “leprous”, to underscore their uncleanness.)

Leviticus 14:33-47 (ESV) The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, [34] “When you come into the land of Canaan, which I give you for a possession, and I put a case of leprous disease in a house in the land of your possession, [35] then he who owns the house shall come and tell the priest, ‘There seems to me to be some case of disease in my house.’ [36] Then the priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest goes to examine the disease, lest all that is in the house be declared unclean. And afterward the priest shall go in to see the house. [37] And he shall examine the disease. And if the disease is in the walls of the house with greenish or reddish spots, and if it appears to be deeper than the surface, [38] then the priest shall go out of the house to the door of the house and shut up the house seven days. [39] And the priest shall come again on the seventh day, and look. If the disease has spread in the walls of the house, [40] then the priest shall command that they take out the stones in which is the disease and throw them into an unclean place outside the city. [41] And he shall have the inside of the house scraped all around, and the plaster that they scrape off they shall pour out in an unclean place outside the city. [42] Then they shall take other stones and put them in the place of those stones, and he shall take other plaster and plaster the house.

[43] “If the disease breaks out again in the house, after he has taken out the stones and scraped the house and plastered it, [44] then the priest shall go and look. And if the disease has spread in the house, it is a persistent leprous disease in the house; it is unclean. [45] And he shall break down the house, its stones and timber and all the plaster of the house, and he shall carry them out of the city to an unclean place. [46] Moreover, whoever enters the house while it is shut up shall be unclean until the evening, [47] and whoever sleeps in the house shall wash his clothes, and whoever eats in the house shall wash his clothes.

These are the only verses in the Bible having to do with cleansing a structure, or ultimately destroying it because of uncleanness.  So it is easy to see why these are precisely the verses that would have come to mind for the Jewish authorities who heard it.

The context of Jesus’ statement is that He and his disciples some days ago entered the city – the same triumphal “Palm Sunday” entrance where He rode in on the foal of a donkey and people worshipped Him with “Hosannas”, laying down palm fronds and their cloaks in His path into the gate of the city (Matthew 21).  Upon entering the Temple, He finds and confronts the corruption of the sacrifice-selling merchants encamped within the Temple grounds, and drives them and the moneychangers out from the Temple precinct. For the few days following this “cleansing” He has been teaching, via parables, in the Temple, while being questioned throughout by the Sadducees and Pharisees listening to Him.

In response to this cynical questioning by the religious authorities, He finally chastises them for their hypocrisy (Matthew 23) and makes it clear that, for all of their deceitfulness and unrighteousness now, and as well, as representatives of their ancestors who murdered the prophets and righteous, the blood of those righteous is now on their hands, and they will pay the price.

Matthew 23:36 (ESV) Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.

After this pronouncement, as they are leaving the temple, His disciples turn and point out to Him all the wonder of the Temple and its surrounding buildings.  At this point, in surveying the grandeur of the scene, He makes His prophetic statement of judgment.

Here He has taken on the role of priest within the Law in Deuteronomy.  The Priest has inspected the structure (along with the hearts of all those serving in it), after having given it more than ample time for its corruption (the murdering of prophets of God, even on the Temple grounds; making deceitful oaths; profiting from worshippers, etc.) to abate and be reformed.  He finds the corruption has not abated, and therefore has found it to be permanently diseased — unclean — for which the action required by the Law is clear: tear it down and get rid of it – within this generation.

Most people understand Jesus’ statements here as prophecy that was fulfilled by the 70AD destruction of the Temple, and all of Jerusalem, by Titus, and so credit Him.  But few understand the origins of, or rationale for that prophetic judgement.  Jesus was simply applying the Law and pronouncing God’s righteous judgment on what had become a house permanently defiled with spiritual disease.

This was not just prophecy, but His judgment on the Jews for their failure to live righteously.

 When you understand this context, the whole scene becomes considerably more impactful and meaningful.

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