TRAGEDY IN STONE:
THE SECOND TEMPLE
“I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with
him who is of a contrite and humble spirit.”
“Do you not know that you are God's temple
and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
A young couple pressed their way through the milling crowds in the temple courtyard. They wore only the
coarse garments of the peasant class, and when they spoke, it was with a Galilean accent. Yet something about them
attracted me. Maybe it was the pigeons beating around in the crude cage the man was carrying. Maybe it was the smile on
the girl’s face as she looked at the tiny baby in her arms. Whatever it was, I couldn’t resist following them
into the temple.
Other parents with babies were there, and the priest performed the ritual of dedication for each one --
efficiently, mechanically. His expression did not reflect the tenderness on the young mother’s face as he held her
baby before the altar and mumbled the blessing. This was strictly routine for him. No need to make a fuss over another little
Galilean peasant. As he handed the baby back to the mother she seemed disappointed that the ceremony -- this high point in
her experience -- was concluded so matter-of-factly.
The priest inscribed the name in the roll of the first-born. Always curious, I strained to see.
Jesus. A common name. Like Joseph or Jacob or Judas.
But suddenly a thrill of recognition went through me. The pigeons ... the Galileans ... the name ...all the
fragments fit together into a wondrous picture. I looked again at the little form in the mother’s arms and saw
disguised in all that tinyness and poverty the Child called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.” What majesty was wrapped up in that tiny bundle!
I had witnessed a great moment in history.
The Lord of glory had come at last to His temple.
He came, but He was not recognized. The guardians of the faith did not know Him for what He was -- the
Lord of their temple.
And I was troubled. For I saw there a deeper meaning -- a personal one.
Lord, I know another temple where you have often been unrecognized and unhonored. Come to it
now. Be its Lord and Master.
I saw Him come again to His temple, a boy of twelve. He watched intently the slaying of the Passover
lamb. Why was He so moved? Was He beginning to understand the meaning of His own life: the Lamb of God, suffering and
dying so the Death Angel could pass over the homes marked by the blood?
Something was stirring His emotions as He entered the temple school and sat down at the feet of the
doctors. They drew Him out with questions. He answered from Scripture. The wise men were charmed by the originality of
His thinking. But as the drift of His thought seeped through their minds it encountered bedrock. They were annoyed by His
views of Messiah. They wanted salvation from Rome. He was more interested in salvation from sin. They argued only for the
Lion of the tribe of Judah; He talked also about a Lamb. They described a conquering King; He pictured first a suffering
Servant. They envisioned glory; He saw that before glory must come sacrifice. They weighed the evidence He presented,
but rejected it. His idea of Messiah held no attraction for them.
The light of truth was shining in the temple that day. But it cut across cherished ideas and grandiose
ambitions. It was unwelcome.
The boy Jesus winced at the resistance of those leaders of Israel. It seemed to me He was feeling the first
throbs of that pain that would one day stab His heart.
But He was not through with His temple. With divine patience that refused to be discouraged He would
return to it again and again.
Lord, let the light of truth shine into this temple of mine. I would not cause You pain. If I should resist
You, return, return, Long-suffering One.
It was Passover time again. A farmer set his sheep down in the outer court. From the dust and sweat, I
gathered that he and the animal had been on the road several days. When he saw the priest approaching he held his breath.
The priest was relaxed. Stooping down, he picked up the right front leg of the animal. “Ah, look at
that scratch. Clear through the wool! This sheep is blemished. It can’t be used.”
The man waited until the priest turned to the next worshiper. Then all the compressed air in his lungs came
out in a long, trembling sigh. “The stars in their courses are against me!” he groaned. “I knew it from
the time the wretched beast slipped into a thorn bush.”
Numbly he turned to the sheep stalls. He knew what to do. Exchange his coins for temple currency -- at a
loss. Exchange his lamb for a temple lamb -- at a loss. A double loss. Hard-earned money transferred from his small leather
bag to the coffers of the priests.
As the numbness wore off, his face congealed in a hard, bitter look. “As soon as that scratch
heals, they’ll be selling my sheep for a profit,” he muttered. “But what can I do? Go all the way
home without offering sacrifice?” The man looked up to the sky. “God, Your service is hard!”
The words were suffocated in the din of cattle lowing, voices wrangling, money chinking. I wondered if
anyone would notice.
There was One who heard.
The Master was there.
This time He came in the vigor of manhood, invested with authority from above. Climbing the steps, He
surveyed the outer court. And what did He see? Religion turned racket! Priests grasping for profit. Worshipers frustrated and
Grief and anger ignited His soul, blazed through His eyes. Divine wrath burned into the consciousness of
everyone present. The haggling stopped. Money slipped from paralyzed hands. Silence enveloped the court like lava, turning
men to stone. Powerless to move, they stood before their Judge. The cattle market had become a judgment hall.
“Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of
trade!” He cried. Raising a scourge of twisted cords, He drove them all, with the
sheep and oxen, out of the temple, overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers.
Then a change came over the temple court. The former outcasts -- the poor, the sick, the sinful -- flocked
in and surrounded the Savior. Parched worshipers drank their fill of love and compassion from the Fountain. Satisfied hearts
sang praises to God. The Master reigned in His temple.
Dear God, my temple needs cleansing. Drive out the evil, and my temple will ring with praises to
The temple was the backdrop to other immortal scenes in the life of Jesus.
I saw Him on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, standing with arms outstretched to a crowd satiated
with ceremonies. “If any one thirst, let him come unto me and drink,” He
cried. The great throng thrilled to His words.
I saw Him bend in pity over a woman shrinking to the pavement in shame. The scribes had caught her in
the very act of adultery, in a sting operation designed to force Jesus to invoke on her the Mosaic code of stoning. He
challenged the accusers: “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.” Then He whispered to
her, “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.” She looked into His face, and life was never the same again.
The temple was witness to many of His profound sayings.
I am the light of the world.
“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
“Before Abraham was, I AM.”
But the priests lifted up stones to drive the Master out of His temple.
Then one day I heard a wail amid a chorus of Hosannas like a dirge in a wedding march. Jesus was making
a grand entry into Jerusalem. An excited crowd surrounded Him, shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
As the vast host crested the Mount of Olives, the temple came into view. White marble walls and gilded turrets radiated pink
gold in the stage lights of the setting sun. The crowd stood bewitched by the sight. Hosannas ceased and palm fronds
dropped to the ground.
But the King on His royal beast burst into sobs of uncontrollable grief. Beautiful temple, He mourned, why
do you reject Me? Beautiful temple, how can I give you up? How can I see you besieged by armies? How can I endure
slaughter within your walls? How can I see you leveled to the ground? If only you knew the peace that could be yours! But
now it’s hidden from your eyes!
His cries broke up my composure. Master, Master, do not weep. That is not the only temple.
“Another temple waits Thee, Lord divine;
The temple of my heart, O make it thine.”
But He still gazed with longing on His temple of stone, soon to fade in the gloom of a dark night. A look of
resolution crossed His face, checked His sobs. He would make one more attempt to conquer its walls. Once more He would
lay siege to it with love.
On Monday morning He stood watching the multitude of sacrifices, the flow of blood. In just a few more
days a fountain for sin would be opened -- the fountain of His blood. Did the priests know the meaning of the
Obviously, they were more interested in the flow of shekels. They profited from the sins of the people. The
more sin, the more sacrifices, the more shekels. It was big business!
Once more the soul of the Master burned with wrath. He cried out: “My house is a house of
prayer for all people; but you have made it a den of thieves!”
He still called it “My house.” That was on Monday. Would it be His house on Tuesday?
He wanted it to be His forever! In this last attempt He would cleanse it not only by His authority, but by an overwhelming
outpouring of love.
Evil could not stand in His presence. Once more priests and traders fled at His command, driving their
cattle before them. The temple was quiet and empty. But not for long. Soon people began bringing their sick and dying to
Jesus. Love flowed from Him in irrepressible currents, healing all their diseases. Then the blind feasted their eyes on His face.
The deaf thrilled to the music of His voice. The children hugged and kissed Him. Someone took up the strain of the day
before, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” There sat the King in His beauty, surrounded by His admirers, and
a little child was sleeping on His breast. As I saw Him there, love for Him surged through and through me.
At that moment some priests straggled back in. I looked for their reaction. They
scowled. And in that scowl they sealed their doom.
Monday, precious Monday, passed forever.
And Tuesday came.
As the Master was teaching in His temple, I could hear in His words rumblings of an approaching storm --
warnings muffled in parables. Each of His stories had an ominous ending. A vineyard owner sent his servants to collect his
share of the harvest. But year after year the tenants beat the servants and sent them away empty. Finally the owner sent his
own son. But the tenants threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do
to them?” Jesus asked. The priests pronounced their own sentence: “He will put those wretches to a
miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants!” Jesus confirmed their sentence. Some day a Rock would grind His enemies
By mid-morning the atmosphere was tense. The thunder rumbled louder.
“He sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their
“Bind him hand and foot, ... and cast him into outer darkness;
there shall be weeping and gnashing of
In the afternoon black clouds rolled over the temple. Suddenly they burst in a deluge of denunciations.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! ... Woe unto you! ... Woe unto you! You
serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?”
Lightning streaked through the downpour and struck the temple.
BEHOLD, YOUR HOUSE IS LEFT UNTO YOU DESOLATE!
The crowd stood stunned while the storm spent itself. I looked at the Master. He too was spent. Only a
few drops were falling now. I looked for the source and saw His eyes.
Agony was written there -- the agony of the separation struggle. It was so intense that I turned away. In that glance I saw the end of the
long-suffering of God, the limit to the divine patience. It was the mysterious farewell of the Deity.
Slowly the Master turned to leave the temple. Never would He enter it again. The temple was no longer
His. I heard its death sentence: “There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown
Spirit of God, forbid that I should ever know the horror of eternal separation from You.
For forty more years the temple stood in stately grandeur. The crowds were still awed by its magnificence.
But the keepers of the temple were filled with strange forebodings. The torn veil exposed the emptiness of the Most Holy Place. No ark. No Shekinah. And
no more visits by the Master.
Then came doomsday.
Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem. The siege was horrible. When the soldiers finally broke through the city walls, thousands fled to the
temple for refuge. Another entered with them, unchallenged. His name was Death. Titus ordered that the temple be spared.
But blind rage took control of the army. Infuriated soldiers set fire to the gates and buildings, and slaughtered people right and
left. Blood ran down the temple steps like water. I heard the screams of the dying, the roar of flames, the crash of falling
buildings. Above the din someone was wailing, “Ichabod! Ichabod!” -- the glory is departed!
Fire spread to the holy place. A soldier hurled a firebrand, setting ablaze the cedar-lined interior of the
temple. Golden interiors shone red in the wild light of the flames. Pavements were red with gore. The mountains round about
Jerusalem illuminated the night with a red glow. An ethereal structure of heat and light -- a temple of fire -- she stood in red
glory. Then she writhed and twisted, and -- exhausted -- fell.
The temple that had refused to surrender to the siege of Jesus’ love fell in bloody surrender to the
siege of Roman armies.
And then, before my very eyes, the flames spread, leaping wildly over mountains, over valleys, over
oceans. They seethed from every cavern and hissed over every sea. The fire in old Jerusalem had become a conflagration
that enveloped the whole world.
It was the lake of fire.
I looked in astonishment and saw it filled with wrecks of temples -- thousands, millions of them. Temples
built by God to be His dwelling place. Temples that would not recognize their Lord and Master. Temples that closed their
doors to the light of truth. Temples full of the traffic of sin and love of gain. Temples that resisted the yearning love of the
Master. Temples, temples, everywhere ... destroyed in the lake of fire.
And I fell down before the Master.
No, Lord, I cried. This temple was not made for flames. You made it for Your dwelling place.
I open its doors to You now. Empty it of sin. Fill it with Your Presence. Let it stand forever, a monument to Your power to
transform a human life.
1 The first temple was built by Solomon (completed around 950 BCE) to
replace the portable tabernacle built by Moses. It was destroyed by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. The
second temple was built on the return from exile under Zerubbabel in 515 BCE. Five hundred years later, around 20 BCE,
Herod the Great began its restoration. Construction continued until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE. Because
Zerubbabel’s temple was never torn down all at once, Herod’s temple is traditionally called the second
temple. See IDB, s.v. “Temple, Jerusalem.”
2 Isaiah 9:6.
3 John 2:16.
4 John 7:37.
5 For the whole story, read John 8:1-11.
6 John 8:12.
7 John 8:32.
8 Vv. 58-59.
9 See Luke 19:41-44.
10 Shapcott Wensley (librettist) in J. H. Maunder’s Olivet to
Calvary, a Sacred Cantata (London: Novello and Company, 1940), No. 3, “In the Temple,” p. 10.
11 Zechariah 13:1.
12 Matt. 21:13, quoting Isa. 56:7 and Jer. 7:11.
13 For this scene, see Matt. 21:12-16.
14 Matt. 21:33-41. Jesus’ parable draws from Isaiah’s
parable of the vineyard in Isa. 5:1-7.
15 Luke 20:17-18, AV. For the background to this parable, see Psalm
118:22-23 and Dan. 2:34-35.
16 Matt. 22: 7. See the whole parable in vv. 1-14.
17 V. 13.
18 For all the woes, see Matt. 23:13-36.
19 V. 38.
20 V. 37.
21 Matt. 24:2.
22 Matt. 27:51.
23 As predicted by Moses in Deuteronomy 28:52-57.
24 See Josephus, Wars of the Jews, IV. 2 to V. 1.
25 Malachi 4:1; Revelation 21:8.