Jesus’ Prophecy and the Destruction of the Temple
A skeptic recently claimed that Jesus’ prophecy regarding the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem has proved false.Note the following text:
“And Jesus went out from the temple, and was going on his way; and his disciples came to him to show him the buildings of the temple. But he answered and said unto them, ‘You see all of these things, do you not? Truly I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down’” (Matthew 24:1-2).
It is alleged that when the Romans invaded the city, wreaking devastational damage in A.D. 70, the temple was not totally demolished. Rather, the “Wailing Wall” is standing yet. Thus, supposedly, the Lord’s prophecy was not fulfilled.
The original temple was constructed in the days of Solomon, but that structure was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587/6 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-17). When the Jews returned from the Babylonian Captivity (536 B.C.), the project of rebuilding the temple was begun (Ezra 1:1-4). The work was stalled for several years, but finally was completed in 515 B.C., due to the prophetic urging of Zechariah and Haggai (cf. Ezra 6:15). There was some destruction of Jerusalem’s walls again in the days of Antiochus IV (169 B.C.).
Herod the Great (who slaughtered the infants in attempting to eradicate Christ—Matthew 2:1ff) reigned from 37-4 B.C. (a calendar error accounts for the 4 B.C.). One of his ambitious projects was to remodel the temple and expand the surrounding area.
In a confrontation with the Lord near the commencement of his ministry, the Jews claimed the building project had been underway for forty-six years (John 2:20). It is one of the oddities of history that the temple project was not completed until A.D. 64 — just in time to be destroyed six years later as a result of Jewish rebellion.
Herod’s enterprise was phenomenal. The king enlarged the platform area around the temple considerably, building massive retaining walls that were filled in with dirt and stone. The walls had huge stones (one measures 39 ft. long by 13 ft. wide). The area enclosed was about 172,000 square yards. The “Wailing Wall” was a part of this retaining system.
The Romans invaded Jerusalem in August of A.D. 70, after a five-month siege. A full account of the bloody conflict is found in Josephus (Wars V, VI). The temple was destroyed on the 10th day of the 5th month, according to Jewish tradition — ironically, the same day of the year upon which Nebuchadnezzar had burned down the first temple, some 656 years earlier!
The Alleged Problem
Let us now address the alleged problem in Christ’s prophecy. Does the “Wailing Wall” constitute an argument against the accuracy of Christ’s prophecy? It does not.
First, Jesus’ language could have been hyperbolic, simply signifying a complete destruction. Hyperbole is common to all languages as a technique for matters of great emphasis.
Second, this wall actually was a part of Herod’s “platform” project to extend the temple compound area. It was not related to the temple structure itself; the disciples asked about the “buildings,” not the city walls.
In his book, The Archaeology of the Jerusalem Area (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), Harold Mare, former president of the Near East Archaeological Society, notes: “We do not have any remains of the Herodian temple itself because of the devastating Roman destruction in A.D. 70” (p. 141; emp. WJ).
Another scholar declares: “Strictly speaking, the Temple proper is not a matter of archaeological consideration since only one stone from it and parts of another can be positively identified” (H.T. Frank, An Archaeological Companion to the Bible, London: SCM Press, 1972, p. 249). That “one stone” was from the small wall separating the Court of the Gentiles from the sacred compound.
Jesus prophesied correctly!
Scripture references: Matthew 24:1-2; 2 Kings 25:8-17; Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 6:15; Matthew 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 4; John 2:20; 1 Thessalonians 5