The Gospel text for this Sunday [Mark 13:1-13] has Jesus sitting opposite the temple. That is certainly a significant location.
The temple is a significant place, where God and man come together. But the extent of its significance was brought out by a chapter I read recently in the book, Christian Origins and the Establishment of the Early Jesus Movement (Brill, 2018). I know that seems like a long title with a big topic, but the title of the chapter gets more to the heart of the issue: “’No Stone Left upon Another’: Considering Mark’s Temple Motif in Narrative and History”. The author of this chapter is Adam Winn.
In other words, the temple is a significant topic in Mark, although it is not mentioned at all in its first ten chapters. Winn shows that the importance of the temple goes back to the beginning of Mark eleven, when Jesus enters Jerusalem. Little differences that are within this gospel account from early on show that the temple is indeed an important place.
I had not thought of the poor widow who puts the two mites into the treasury as an example of the religious leaders devouring the houses of the widows [See Mark 12:40]. That is certainly turning a positive thing into a negative one. There are other fine examples of the problems that were going on in that place.
More importantly is that God was also in charge of the destruction of that place. Given what happened, especially when the Roman army won the war over the Jews in 70 A.D. and the temple was destroyed (and the way this was portrayed), one might think that the Romans were to blame or, even worse, their Roman gods!
After all the evidence is pulled together, Winn concludes: ‘[Mark] assures them that the destruction of [the] Jerusalem temple was not evidence of Rome’s power over the God of Israel, but that it was instead of the God of Israel judging a corrupt and defunct institution, one God had already replaced [p. 310].’
Given that this gospel account was written by a Jew (John Mark) in a very Gentile place (Rome), I would think that it would be easy to focus too much on the cultures involved. Too often people focus on a man when a much better focus is on God. But what kind of God?
This is another example of how the connections between the four gospel accounts and the four living creatures could be beneficial. In Mark, Jesus is as a lion—a powerful symbol of God’s authority—and he is in charge of his own territory. He stakes out the situation on the first day, when he comes into his area. And he attacks on the second day—although other accounts have him attacking on the first day—it probably was both! He continues to stake out his territory, makes his enemies suitably mad at him, and then sits opposite the temple for a while (dismissing its importance), to help his followers regain their perspective, while his enemies regroup and attack. Jesus lets them, and then he essentially takes on the even bigger enemies of sin, death, and the devil. And, thankfully, he wins.