TALE OF THE ARCH

“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” Mark 13:2

Not long before Jesus’ crucifixion, he was teaching in the temple. His disciples were marveling at the magnificent structure when Jesus predicted that it would be totally destroyed. While “Solomon’s Temple” took only six years to build, Herod’s grand monument had been many years under construction and would not be completed until 63 AD, long after Jesus’ death. To say, or even to think, that the temple would be entirely ruined was not only an affront to God but also to the king. How dare Jesus make such a pronouncement?

In 2018, long after Jesus and his disciples walked and talked on earth, Sam and Kassi, two of my grandchildren, and I were touring the Forum in Rome when we came to the Arch of Titus, dedicated to the Roman general (and future emperor) who had sacked Jerusalem in 70 AD. Interestingly, Titus’ father, Emperor Vespasian, and the empire were short of funds due to the profligate Emperor Nero. So what did nations and empires do to fill their coffers? They went to war. And it just so happened that at that time Israel was rebelling against the Roman Empire.

The need for money and the need to put down a rebellious population coincided, and Titus was on the march. After a brutal siege during which the population was starved and eventually massacred, the temple in which Jesus had preached and taught and healed was destroyed with “a river of blood [pouring down the sanctuary steps] and the bodies of those killed at the top slither[ing] to the bottom” (Josephus). And not one stone was left upon another.

So, what does this have to do with Titus’ Arch? When one looks carefully at the insides of the Arch, carved with precision and great detail are depictions of the menorah from the temple at Jerusalem and the table of shewbread, both wrenched from the holy place and brought in triumph to Rome along with thousands of Jewish captives. While the Arch was erected to honor Titus, that great general “reportedly refused to accept a wreath of victory, saying that the victory did not come through his own efforts but that he had merely served as an instrument of God’s wrath” (Philostratus).

Decades prior to the event, Jesus, Son of God, pronounced the end of God’s presence in Jerusalem.

Father, your word is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword. Your word foretells and forth-tells. Help us to be mindful and obedient. You are sovereign. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.