The temple! Or, at least what used to be the temple, is the prize of Jerusalem. It is said to be the holiest place on earth. It was once the place in which the Holy of Holies was kept! The same temple the curtain tore and the rocks split open at the death of Christ. God’s Spirit once dwelled in a temple on earth, and that temple was right here in this city on a very elevated stone foundation, called the Temple Mount. Today, after much war and revolt, religious control on the Temple Mount belongs to the Muslims. There they have their own holiest site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Across from this mosque is a monument to Mohammad, who is believed by Muslims to have ascended from that very spot (ironically, where the Temple of Solomon and then Herod’s Temple once stood as a high place for God).
Touring the Temple Mount did not go as expected. What the whole group thought would be a very spiritual experience turned out to be an uncomfortable one at best. Of course, every girl had to wear clothing from neck to ankle, which meant a lot of us were tying scarves last-minute to hide unexpected flashes of skin. Our guide, Chris, was then quickly yelled at by some guards because of using the word “temple” in his talks with us. The hardcore muslims on the Temple Mount deny the very existence of the first two temples that once stood there and which were dedicated to God. It is a very tense religious environment, one I had heard of before but never really experienced. Another guy on our tour was also threatened to be kicked out by a guard for putting his arm around his wife. PDA was a no-go. Eventually, our tour was circled ceaselessly by a man whispering into a walky-talky until we left the grounds.
Some of us said they were disappointed because they wanted to have more of a moment with God at the place His temple once stood, but a wonderful thing about Christianity is that we believe God is carried in our hearts–not contained within any place or thing. Still, I wasn’t dispirited, because I feel it was probably similar to how the disciples felt when they preached at that very spot thousands of years ago, and they were being persecuted left and right at the mention of the name of Jesus. It’s funny how so much changes with time, and yet so much also stays the same.
Our moment of real reflection came not on top of the Temple Mount, but actually at the bottom. Our awesome guide took us to the steps of the mount, right outside where the entrance and exit to the temple would have been at the time of Jesus. We could even see the three arches where the entrance stood! He brought us straight to the spot Jesus would have been standing when he preached Matthew 23, his warning against hypocrisy. There, as we read, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing,” we could look out onto the Mount of Olives just to our left.
It was one of those moments where you read a text and think, “Wow, this is real. And it happened right here.” Where we sat was the spot Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, who boasted about how much better they were than the former patriarchs of the Bible who were led astray by idols and false worship. The first temple period’s sin was the worship of false gods, but as our guide pointed out, Jesus warned those belonging to the second temple of it’s destruction because of the self-righteousness of the religious leaders. Instead of idolizing false gods, people had turned to idolizing themselves. I couldn’t help but wonder, how much has changed since then?
Also, I think about Jesus claiming to destroy the temple and then raise it again in three days. Everyone who reads this verse knows he’s talking about his body, but when you’re standing at the bottom of a MASSIVE structure that was built with the complete agenda of worshiping God, you realize how much it meant for Jesus to reconstruct a third temple that will never be destroyed: himself.