The greatest leader in Israel’s history was King David, who lived over 1000 years before Christ. As a youth, he had killed the giant Goliath, and as a man, he was constantly fighting and defeating Israel’s enemies, which led to the twelve tribes of Israel choosing him as king. Toward the end of his forty-year reign, David wanted to build a house for God, a great Temple in Jerusalem—but because of all the bloodshed he had been involved in, the Lord decreed that the Temple would be built by his son Solomon. After King David’s death, Solomon—using the costly stone, marble, and gold his father had stored up—ordered the Temple’s construction by the most skilled engineers and artisans. It took seven years to build, and was truly a magnificent structure—but it was destroyed when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem some 400 years later, in 587 B.C.
When the Jewish people returned from exile after half-a-century, they rebuilt the Temple, but on a smaller and much less lavish scale. This building also stood for about 500 years; then, about fifteen years before Jesus was born, King Herod the Great decided to replace it with a truly amazing structure, a wonder of the ancient world. He tore down the old Temple, leveled off the temple mount in Jerusalem, and created a 35 acre plateau, with giant retaining walls to hold the earth in place. On this plateau Herod built large porches and halls supported by massive columns; these surrounded huge, open courtyards. In the center was the Temple itself: a large, impressive building covered with marble and adorned with gold and precious stones that gleamed in the sunlight.
Herod was technically a foreigner, not a Jew; for this reason, and because of his cruel, violent, and paranoid nature, he was very unpopular with the people. He hoped he could buy their gratitude and loyalty by giving them this wonderful new house of God. In this he failed—the people still hated him for his wickedness—but the Jews were delighted with the Temple, the construction of which was still underway during the life of Jesus. Most Jews assumed the Temple’s existence assured Jerusalem’s salvation; after all, they thought, God would never allow anything to happen to the city which housed His home. In this they were sadly mistaken, as Jesus Himself had warned. The Jews revolted against the Roman Empire in 66 A.D.; four years later the Roman Tenth Legion arrived, besieged Jerusalem, and eventually stormed and conquered it. In the process the Temple was destroyed, as Jesus had foretold, and the people either killed or taken away as slaves.
The Jews had believed it was the Temple that guaranteed their ongoing existence as a people, but this was not true—they’ve miraculously kept their identity for almost 2000 years without a Temple in which to worship God. The Jews still exist as a race, and now as the reborn nation of Israel, because God had chosen them as His own people, and because they’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to remain faithful to Him. It’s a part of our human nature to be worried about the future, and to make contingency plans and take certain precautions against possible disaster. Such precautions can be good and wise, but we also need a “spiritual insurance plan”—and today’s readings show that doing the will of God is the only sure way to prepare for the future.
In the Gospel of Luke (21:5-19), Jesus warns that His followers may face various types of suffering and distress—but, He promises, if they try to do God’s will, they have no reason to worry or fear. The Book of Malachi (3:19-20) develops this theme: the Day of the Lord will be terrible for evildoers, but a healing experience for the just. The prophet Malachi describes the Lord’s judgment as the intense heat of the desert sun—it will wither and consume the wicked, but the righteous will instead experience the sun’s healing rays. To be prepared for our encounter with God, however, we must be active in doing the Lord’s will. Some of St. Paul’s converts in Thessalonika (2 Thes 3: 7-12) were trying to be prepared for the Day of the Lord in the wrong sense—they thought Jesus would return very soon, and thus didn’t bother working or fulfilling their responsibilities. Paul corrected them, giving himself as an example: just as he had worked to support himself while he was with them, so all of them were expected to keep busy and do their part within the community.
When the Roman army invaded the Holy Land in 66 A.D. to crush the Jewish revolt, all the Christians resisted the natural inclination to take refuge behind the walls of Jerusalem, for they remembered Our Lord’s command to flee to the mountains instead of returning to the city (Mt. 24:16-18), and as a result, they were spared. The Jewish inhabitants of the holy city, however, were eventually all killed or enslaved. 6000 of them died when the Temple was destroyed by fire, for a false prophet had promised God would save them if they fled into the Temple for safety. In today’s world there are many false voices or prophets attempting to lead us astray, especially in an election year. Politicians claim they alone have the answers to society’s problems; slick advertising campaigns try to convince us we can be happy, successful, and popular if only we buy and use certain products; financial planning firms and investment services suggest that the purpose of life is to make money and become materially prosperous; sports, movies, and other forms of entertainment present themselves as being an essential element in human happiness; ads for social media and the latest technological devices try to convince us we’re missing out on what truly matters if we’re not tuned in, hooked up, or plugged in.
All these false prophets are trying to get us to take refuge in this world and its passing values—but Jesus has a very different message for us, telling us that we will be saved only by trusting in Him and persevering in our faith. This means, above all, trying to know and do God’s will, despite this world’s temptations, allurements, and opposition. Listening and responding to God is the only sure way of preparing for the future. If Jesus appeared in our church right now, we might say, “Lord, isn’t this a beautiful building we have?”—just the way His disciples pointed out the wonders of the Temple. Jesus might respond, “Yes, this church is very beautiful, but the time will come when buildings no longer matter. On that day your salvation will depend not on wonderful buildings or impressive structures, but on whether you’ve humbly tried to do My Father’s will.”