I’ve never been to the land of Israel. But the trip is on my list, and given what I am blessed to do for a living, it’s important to me. So, for now, I haven’t stood on the Mount of Olives or dipped my toes in the Sea of Galilee. And I’ve never been to the Western Wall, that last vestige of the once grand temple complex that’s become the holiest site on earth for many Jewish people. But one day I hope to, and when I do, I imagine I won’t be able to stop myself from weeping. I’ll close my eyes, stretch out my hand, and touch a bit of redemption history—so near to the place where God’s glorious presence once dwelled with His people, the spot where heaven touched earth so long ago.
The Western Wall isn’t just a reminder of what has been. It’s also a testimony to what God is still doing. At a moment when Jesus’s disciples were beginning to think Jesus would step forward as the Messiah and the rightful King of Israel to send the Roman legions limping back to Italy, Jesus made a startling declaration about the temple: “These things that you see—the days will come when not one stone will be left on another that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6). The temple would fall, just as it had in the days of Jeremiah. In a passage that appears to place an imminent military attack within the shadows of the end of the world, Jesus’s words must have shook His disciples to their core or, at the very least, confused them a great deal. Destruction was coming soon, not triumph, at least not triumph in the way Jesus’s friends were thinking.
Within a generation, the Roman general Titus surrounded Jerusalem, laid siege to the city, and demolished the temple. Jesus’s words came true: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that its desolation has come near…. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all things take place” (Luke 21:20, 32). No wonder the Lord wept when He saw the city earlier that week (Luke 19:41).
There is a first-century monument in Rome commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem, that moment of supposed victory for the empire. Just a few feet from the famous Colosseum, the Arch of Titus stands. It depicts conquered Jewish slaves and the treasures of the temple being led in procession from the holy land. I have stood beneath the arch and seen this relief, carved in white marble like some ancient photograph. I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up.
A few days after Jesus prophesied about the destruction of the temple, He was beaten and bloodied. The Romans were not in retreat, but were instead nailing the true King of Israel to a cross. By outward appearances, all hope was lost. But in reality, Jesus’s death was a triumph—over sin, the curse that infects this world, the powers of darkness, and death itself. He died so that His people—and people from every nation, including Rome—could have eternal life. The temple no longer stands in Jerusalem, but something better exists in its place. Jesus died so that God’s glorious presence would dwell not in a building made by human hands but within every person who places their trust in the Son of God.
Written by John Greco