Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mathew 24:1-2 NKJV)
Reading “Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus” (Joachim Jeremiah, ed. Cristiandad (spanish edition),) page 44, based on Josephus and different Midras, we know that the facade of the Temple was covered with gold plates with the thickness of a Denarius (the thickness of a coin as 1 euro today), and of a size each of 1 square cubit (45 cm side). There was also a huge mirror of pure polished gold at the entrance that reflected the sunlight inside.
From the ceiling hung chains of pure gold, and there was a vine made of gold that was wrapped around the hall. New shoots were added to it as the offerings came in, and it was only the priests who were permitted to set foot in that courtyard, who hung them by adding them to the vine tree. We are not talking about the furniture or the gold that covered the interior, I want to talk only about what could be seen from the outside at first sight.
In that context, before that image, we must place these two verses. Jesus leaves the Temple, not the temple itself but the atrium where the Jews could enter, but from which the imposing façade covered with gold could be seen. Before leaving, the disciples want to take one last look at the magnificent view the Temple offers, pride of their Jewish identity and religious heritage. “Look, Master, how beautiful”… I imagine they could have said.
Yet Jesus throws them a jar of cold water. “You see all this? I assure you, there will not be one stone left upon another that will not be removed.” Evidently, the fulfillment of this prophecy came at the hands of Titus’ army, in 70 A.D. Despite the general’s order not to touch the temple, a soldier threw fire inside. The fire was so intense that the gold plates (exterior and interior) began to melt and the gold seeped into the cracks between the stones and tiles of the building. The soldiers were in the habit of taking booty after the battle. And in order to collect every last gram of gold, they began to remove each and every stone from the temple.
But what strikes me most is the importance God gives to things, and what His priorities are. It is true that God gave instructions for the construction of the temple, but he never asked for such luxury. God, who “owns the gold and silver” (Haggai 2:8), does not need us to give him gold to decorate His house, beyond what he asked for for educational purposes (the candlestick, the table of bread, etc.)
The proof is in the little importance Jesus gives to that golden sight that blinded the eyes of his disciples. For Jesus the most important thing is people. That is why this incident triggered the rest of chapter 24 where we are shown the vanity and futility of things. The important thing is salvation. Running away to save one’s life. Jesus gives instructions to follow when Jerusalem was besieged by the Romans forty years later. What Jesus cares about are the Jerusalemites and not the temple nor its gold.
In my life I have heard on some occasions: “We need a worthy, representative building that is a symbol of the church”. But dignity has a different measure for each human being… God does not want “sacrifices, but mercy” (see Hosea 6.6). At the moment when the material is to the detriment of the human, we make a serious mistake.
I honestly believe that God is much more pragmatic and functional than we think.