In Mark 13 — Jesus’ Olivet Discourse — we are told about ‘great tribulation,’ persecution, wars and earthquakes and famines, the ‘abomination of desolation,’ and the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great glory. We are told of an event in which the son is dark, the moon doesn’t shine, stars fall from the sky…
Surely, this is ‘end times-‘, Armageddon-, ‘Left Behind’-type stuff, right?
Maybe, but at least it dealt with things that the original hearers would experience. Giving us the most trouble is Jesus’ time reference that ‘this generation’ would not pass away and that the ‘gospel must be preached to all nations.’
But sometimes the apocalyptic langauge obscures a more fundamental, and much more dramatic, truth about what is going on with the destruction of the Temple.
Through the time of Jesus, the nations and people in them that wanted to access the one, true God had to do so by coming through His people, Israel, and specifically the Temple. This is why God engineered into the Temple the ‘Court of the Gentiles,’ so that the nations could come and give proper worship to Yahweh. This is why, as a result, Jesus was so angry that Israel’s religious leaders had effectively shut out the nations from Temple life by making the Court of the Gentiles a sanctified bazaar. The Temple, which represented access to God for all nations, had become Israel’s self-serving private religious club.
If the Temple were then to be destroyed, as Jesus indicated in the parable of the fig tree and the Olivet Discourse, and if God’s promise to give to Christ people from all nations, peoples and tongues were still in effect, those nations should know how to come to Yahweh without a temple in Israel.
Those nations would be told, in effect, that their access to God is no longer through a particular people, no longer through a specific city, in a specific building, but their access to Yahweh is now through a Man, who was killed but now lives, never to die again.
Those nations touched by the Roman Empire, many of which we see represented at Pentecost, would have known that Israel’s God had established his temporal abode at the Temple in Jerusalem. It was those nations that missionary Paul asserted had been reached with the gospel in his lifetime, those nations to which the ‘gospel must be preached’ before the Temple destroyed.
Must now the gospel be preached to all nations before Christ returns the final time? Perhaps, and probably, when we consider the frequent dual-fulfillment of prophecy that Scripture gives us.
But don’t neglect the impact of Jesus’ teaching about first-century events. The message to the Gentiles before the destruction of the Temple was that they could still come to Yahweh, but now through the mediation of the Son of Man, whose regime was confirmed in glory when the last vestiges of the old were confirmed in 70 AD.