(a) Jesus’ Prophecy of Impending Destruction. Ch. 13:1–4
1 And as he went forth out of the temple, 17 one of his disciples saith unto him,
Teacher, behold, what manner of stones and what manner of buildings!
2 And Jesus said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? There shall not be left here one stone upon another, which shall not be cast down. 18
3 And as he sat on the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
4 Tell us, when shall these things be?
And what shall be the sign when these things are all about to be accomplished?
1 The occasion of Jesus’ prophecy of the impending destruction of the Temple was the awe and reverence with which the disciples regarded the spectacle of the Temple area. They were astonished at the magnificence of the construction and adornment of the sanctuary and its complex of courts, porches, balconies and buildings. They particularly marvelled at the massive size of the stones which were used in the structure and substructure of the Temple. Remarking on Herodian masonry, Josephus states that “the Temple was built of hard, white stones, each of which was about 25 cubits in length, 8 in height and 12 in width” (Antiquities XV. xi. 3). On another occasion he remarks that these huge stones were also ornate (War V. v). The buildings of the area which prompted the disciple’s comment would include not only the sanctuary itself with its magnificent façade but its series of enclosures and the related structures of smaller buildings joined to it by colonnaded courts, covering approximately 1/6 of the old city of Jerusalem. This complex of stone was one of the most impressive sights in the ancient world, and was regarded as an architectural wonder. The rabbis had little respect for Herod and his successors, but they said, “he who has not seen Jerusalem in her splendor has never seen a desirable city in his life. He who has not seen the Temple in its full construction has never seen a glorious building in his life.” 19 As a mountain of white marble decorated with gold 20 it dominated the Kidron gorge as an object of dazzling beauty.
2 Jesus’ response was the startling prediction that “not one stone will be left upon another which shall not be thrown down.” 21 The most striking feature of this prophecy is its emphatic definiteness. The double negatives, which occur twice in verse 2, 22 already suggest the total nature of the devastation, while the description “stone upon stone” removes all possible misconception about the extent of the destruction envisaged. 23 A variant of the saying is found in Luke 19:44, where Jesus addresses the city with the solemn warning that the days are coming when “they will not leave one stone upon another in you.” 24 Paradoxically, the prophet Haggai had used the phrase “stone upon stone” in his appeal to the people to resume the work of rebuilding the Temple (Hag. 2:15). Now Jesus announces the approach of a day when utter devastation will overtake the city and the Temple will be systematically dismantled.
This disturbing prophecy must be understood in the context of Jesus’ teaching concerning the Temple on an earlier occasion. It actually forms the expected sequel to Ch. 11:17. There, in a pronouncement of judgment upon the misuse of the Temple, Jesus cited Jer. 7:11. In the context of that passage the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar is seen as God’s punishment of the rebelliousness of Judah in the time of Jeremiah (Jer. 7:12–14). The failure of the Temple authorities in Jesus’ day to respect God’s intention with reference to the Temple created the climate in which its ruin was certain. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled with awful finality in the destruction of Jerusalem by the legions of Rome in A.D. 70. After fire had raged through the Temple precincts Titus ordered the demolition of the Temple in the course of which buildings were leveled to the ground. 25 Isolated fragments of the substructures and of the old city wall which have been recognized by archeological research only confirm the degree to which Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled. 26
This prophecy bears no trace of having come into existence after the event. There is no allusion to the destruction of the Temple by fire (cf. Josephus, War VI. iv. 7). Moreover, it is eminently suited to its context, since in the preceding narratives the Temple precincts have been the principal scene of Jesus’ activity (Chs. 11:11, 15, 25; 12:35) and his teaching has stressed the judgment under which Israel stands (Chs. 11:14, 20; 12:9, 40). The terminology reflects a knowledge of OT formulation, but the detail “no stone left upon another” only describes what usually took place during the conquest of cities in antiquity. 27 Jesus’ word of judgment marks a continuation of ancient prophecy, along the lines of Micah 3:12 and Jer. 26:18. 28 As the Lord of the Temple, Jesus announces its destruction in close connection with the establishment of his sovereign dignity (see on Ch. 11:11–21). The prophecy is distinctly eschatological in its significance. 29 Mal. 3:1–6 had described the coming of the Lord to his Temple in the context of judgment for the refining and purifying of his people. In this context the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 is to be understood as the judgment of God upon the rebelliousness of his people, and not simply the response of Imperial Rome to insurrection. Significant strands of Jewish literature also attributed the fall of Jerusalem to the sin of her people. 30
3–4 These verses introduce the actual discourse. The short journey from the city to the Mount of Olives furnished a most imposing view of the sanctuary area. 31 The route followed by Jesus and the Twelve probably led through a gate in the north wall of the city and then eastward across the Kidron Valley, defined on the west by the high ridge on which the city of Jerusalem stood and on the east by the gentle slopes of Olivet. Because the Temple was set at the crest of the western ridge it loomed over the valley and would have been fully visible throughout the journey. When they reached the western slope of the Mount of Olives the four disciples whom Jesus first called (Ch. 1:16–20) privately asked him to clarify his pronouncement. In a vision Ezekiel had seen the Shekinah glory depart from the Sanctuary to the Mount of Olives, leaving the Temple defenseless against attack (Ezek. 9:3; 10:18f.; 11:23), while Zechariah spoke of the Mount of Olives as the locus of redemption in the last days (Zech. 14). These rich biblical associations between the Temple and the Mount of Olives appear to inform the disciples’ question. 32
In the Gospel of Mark a question from the disciples often furnishes the introduction to a section of teaching (cf. Chs. 4:10ff.; 7:17ff.; 9:22f.; 10:10ff.). In this instance the disciples asked a single question expressed in two parallel clauses. 33 Both clauses relate to the prophecy of verse 2. In Semitic parallelism the second clause may expand or explain the first. In the Marcan formulation of the question, the second clause resembles Dan. 12:7. When Daniel asked how long it would be to the end the divine messenger replied, “when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things will be accomplished.” 34 In this context historic events are seen as the immediate prelude to the intervention of God. If an allusion to Dan. 12:7 is intended in verse 4b, the second clause indicates that the disciples understood Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in its eschatological perspective. The question of verse 4 envisions one event, the devastation of the Temple, but it is clearly recognized that this cannot be an isolated incident. The phrase “these things” in verse 4a, which clearly refers to the prophecy of verse 2 and the judgment implied, already envisions a complex of events associated with the destruction. The phrase “all these things” in verse 4b is parallel in its intention and reference. 35 What is envisioned is a judgment that will be of ultimate significance to Israel. It is assumed by the disciples that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its sanctuary is the prelude to consummation. The question provides evidence of implicit faith in Jesus’ word and deep concern.
18 A longer form of the text, which refers not only to the destruction of the Temple but states that a new Temple will be raised up, is found in D W it Cyprian: “there will not be left stone upon stone that will not be thrown down, and in three days another will be erected without hands.” The expansion is an interpretation of Mark in accordance with John 2:19 since it employs the verb ἀνίστημι rather than οἰκοδομεῖν (as in Mk. 14:58). Such expansions are not uncommon in Codex D. See C. H. Turner, “Western Readings in the Second Half of St. Mark’s Gospel,” JThS 29 (1928), pp. 8 f.
19 TB Sukkah 41b (Baraitha); Baba Bathra 4a (Baraitha). For a full bibliography on the Temple see G. Schrenk, TWNT III (Eng. Tr. 1965), pp. 230 f. and for a reliable account of the Herodian Temple as reconstructed by archeological research see J. Simons, Jerusalem in the Old Testament (Leiden, 1952), pp. 381–435. Cf. A. Parrot, The Temple of Jerusalem (London, 1957); R. K. Harrison, Archaeology of the New Testament (New York, 1964), pp. 18 f.
21 F. Flückiger, op. cit., pp. 404 f. has argued that the original form of Jesus’ words contained the double prophecy of the destruction of the Temple and the building of a new sanctuary. He bases his argument on the longer formulation in Ch. 14:58 (cf. Ch. 15:29; John 2:19). On this understanding, the announcement of the destruction of the Temple is not simply a judgment oracle but is at the same time a prophecy of messianic redemption. Against this proposal, however, see L. Gaston, op. cit., pp. 12, 67–243. L. Hartman, op. cit., p. 220 rightly observes that the shorter and longer forms of Jesus’ words have existed side by side in the tradition from the beginning.
23 In the use of ἀφεθῇ and καταλυθῇ an aorist subjunctive replaces the future, a change that often suggests emphasis. See E. D. Burton, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek3 (Edinburgh, 1955), p. 78. The verb καταλυθῇ (“thrown down”) is itself an emphatic compound.
25 Cf. Josephus, War VII. i. 1: “Caesar [Titus] ordered the whole city and the Temple to be razed to the ground.” For a wealth of information see F. M. Abel, “Topographie du Siège de Jérusalem en 70,” RB 56 (1949), pp. 238–258. The conquest and destruction of the Temple are reviewed on pp. 252–255.
26 Cf. J. Simons, op. cit., p. 435: “If Christ’s prophecy about the destruction of the Herodian Temple, not a stone of which was to remain in place … referred to the temple proper or to the entire block of buildings within the outer enclosure, no prophecy has been fulfilled more literally, since the very site of the sacred edifice and the disposition of all the accessory buildings have become matters of discussion.”
28 For later prophecies of destruction prior to A.D. 70 see TJ Yoma 43c, 61 (Baraitha) and TB Yoma 39b; Josephus, War VI. v. 3. For details see J. Neusner, A Life of Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai ca. 1–80 C.E. (Leiden, 1962), pp. 105–110; L. Gaston, op. cit., pp. 442–444. Cf. C. H. Dodd, “The Prophecy of Caiaphas. John XI, 47–53” in Neotestamentica et Patristica (Leiden, 1962), pp. 134–143.
30 E.g. TB Shabbath 119b, where there are a series of formulations, “Jerusalem was destroyed only because …,” and a variety of transgressions are recounted. Cf. Testament of Levi 14:1; 15:1, “Therefore, my children, I have learned that at the end of the ages you will transgress against the Lord, stretching out hands to wickedness … Therefore the Temple, which the Lord shall choose, shall be laid waste through your uncleanness, and you shall be captives throughout all nations. And you shall be an abomination unto them, and you shall receive reproach and everlasting shame from the righteous judgment of God.”
33 The parallelism has been widely recognized by interpreters. Cf. C. F. Burney, The Poetry of Our Lord (Oxford, 1925), pp. 16, 20 f.; M. Black, An Aramaic Approach to the Gospels and Acts3 (Oxford, 1967), pp. 105, 117; L. Hartman, op. cit., pp. 221 f.; G. Minette de Tillesse, op. cit., p. 425; L. Gaston, op. cit., p. 12 et alia.