The synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) all have places where Jesus speaks of the significance of the forthcoming destruction of the temple (Mark 13; Matthew 24-25; Luke 21). In Jesus' day, the temple was intact. By the time the gospels were written (according to most biblical scholars), the destruction of the temple was either imminently pending (for those who see an early date for Mark), under way (for those who date Mark around 66 CE), or a horrible reality (for those who date Mark around 70CE and Matthew and Luke later).
No matter which date we accept, the destruction of the temple was a singularly devastating event for the people of
, including early Jewish Christians. It was not only devastating in a way that any attack on a populated city is devastating (although that's bad enough). It was devastating because of the supreme significance of the temple in Judean theology. As some New Testament scholars point out, the temple was often considered the place where God's presence was most distinctly experienced, radiating outward to Jerusalem, then Israel, and ultimately to the world. Israel
In other words, the destruction of the temple was almost unthinkable at every level. And yet, by the time the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John were written - as well as the book of Revelation - the temple had already been destroyed. With that destruction came mass displacement - the 'diaspora' as it is usually called - of people leaving their homes, their communities, their extended families, and becoming refugees in search of acceptance somewhere else within the
Roman Empire's reach. One has to wonder how many good, pious, hard-working, victims of Rome's imperial overreach were traveling with their families, scrounging for food, and all the while wondering, "My God, my God, why have your forsaken us?"
When the Scriptures use over-the-top language to describe the “Great Tribulation,” it is no accident. That over-the-top language is poetic language, the only appropriate way to signify horrendous tragedies of this magnitude.
So … next time, we’ll look at poetic language and how one interprets it, particularly this far away from the event itself.